The Power of Ancient Wellness: Author from Knaresborough shares traditional remedies for stress, depression and anxiety with latest book

Modern life is full of stress, but traditions going back hundreds of years can help, says Gill Thackray. She talks to John Blow.

When Gill Thackray returned from working with a hill tribe in the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand, she had a realisation.

“I came back and I had a job in London, and everybody was really stressed. And actually, they were probably more stressed, or they seemed to be more stressed, than the people that I'd worked with in the refugee camp,” she says.

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“For me, it was quite interesting that we had so much more but it wasn't wasn't making us any happier.”

Gill Thackray pictured by Viv Dutton.Gill Thackray pictured by Viv Dutton.
Gill Thackray pictured by Viv Dutton.

Having worked initially as a teacher at the camp, Gill was struck by the resilience on show despite the trauma they had suffered. Gill, originally from Knaresborough and now of the Lake District, decided to retrain as a business psychologist and runs Koru Development, which helps to “create sustainable high performance individuals, teams and organisations”, and has worked with the likes of United Nations and the Southbank Centre.

Now she has released The Power of Ancient Wellness, a guide to incorporating traditional remedies and activities into modern living.

It is split into three “pathways” – mind, body and spirit – aiming to help people deal with unsustainable pressures.

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She says: “If you look at the data for the last 15 years, people are more stressed. So if you do comparisons with the 1970s and the 1980s, the bell curve shifted and, actually, what used to be considered clinical levels of stress is the everyday now. So I think people are more stretched at work, people are concerned about the climate - especially young people - the cost of living crisis, all of those things. I think it really impacts how people feel, and what they do on an everyday basis.”

Gill has lived, worked and studied in China, Tibet, India and Thailand, studying the science of healing and ancient wisdom traditions. She is a trained shamanic practitioner, and teaches qigong and yoga.

“A lot of positive psychology that we use now for wellbeing and for resilience overlaps with with a lot of these techniques that have been used for hundreds of years,” she says.

"For example, there's mindfulness in the book. So when we're stressed we know that whatever the mindfulness practice is, that it will activate the parasympathetic nervous system. So we've got all of the science behind that now but obviously when people were practising that hundreds of years ago, they didn't know that.”

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Gill offers a number of tips for those experiencing winter blues as January gets under way: get outside and connect with nature; stay in touch with friends and family; eat a healthy diet; move; and try incorporating meditation into your day.

Another includes settling in with a mug of cacao. “It has been used in ceremonies for centuries,” says Gill, 52. “Indigenous cacao keepers believe that the plant has a spirit.”

It can also help to create a gratitude ritual by writing down three things for which you’re grateful. She adds that research from Harvard Professor, Michael Norton, has shown that rituals “help us to feel more in control, more positive and less overwhelmed”.

The Power of Ancient Wellness, published by Michael O’Mara Books and illustrated by Anna Stead, is out now.

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