Thirteen years ago Andy Roberts decided to listen to that niggling feeling in his gut. While he was rampantly climbing the career ladder in corporate finance in Sydney and London, a number of push and pull factors led him to seek a vastly different career path. He emerged with new qualifications and a new career teaching people about mindfulness, positive psychology, emotional intelligence and yoga.
After 20 years dividing his time between London and Sydney, Andy has made Townsville his home for the past 12 months. Stretching himself throughout the local community working with Ozcare and Carers Queensland to teach mindfulness, help stressed-out teachers at local schools, and run regular classes and workshops at Learning Partnerships, Live and Breathe Yoga and Lighten Up NQ, Andy’s dream is to see people devoting as much time and energy into developing mental fitness as they do with their physical fitness.
“Having spent all those years in a very stressful job, I think I have an ability to take the findings from yoga, mindfulness and positive psychology and make them accessible to people”
“A typical day for me here in Australia is writing courses, running wellbeing workshops and teaching yoga classes,” Andy says from his house near The Strand, where he’s multi-tasking and prepping a casserole for dinner as we chat. “At the time when I left my career there were a number of things happening – I’d gone to the Hunter Valley with work friends and ended up teaching them some Tai Chi that I’d recently learned. It was the first time I’d taught and I thought, ‘Wow – I love it; I’ve found the thing I’m looking for’. It wasn’t that I was dissatisfied with my career, but after 12 years in corporate finance I had stumbled across something that I loved immediately – teaching.
“At the time, I was so full of ego and confidence that I didn’t think about the cost of following my dream. I gave up a lot financially, especially when my friends were getting promoted and buying their second homes, but it’s totally paid off. There’s no way I’d have accrued as many new friends and experiences over this amazing time – I’d probably be overweight and recovering from a heart attack at the rate I was going.”
Andy was in London at the time of his career transition, and in 2004 he set up a wellness company called Breathe London. He chose the name to reflect a night in his corporate past-life: He was stressed out doing due diligence reports at 2am, when a colleague grabbed him by the lapels and told him to: ‘BREATHE Andy, just BREATHE!’.
Breathe London has a team of 20 mind and body therapists and runs courses for organisations like the House of Commons, Amerada Hess and KPMG. Andy is dividing his time between London, his new Townsville home and running courses in Sydney and Brisbane.
He enjoys spending time in beautiful North Queensland because it allows him to focus on his major passion, which is making yoga, mindfulness and positive psychology accessible to people in stressful jobs.
“My work life is pretty amazing at the moment,” he says. “This Tuesday I’m teaching yoga to a group of ladies who are all fulltime carers – it’s one of their few sources of respite for the month. I find it really uplifting, especially as my mum passed away last year and she was about their age.
“Also, on the corporate side, I did some training the other day for a local franchise and the staff started calling me the ‘Dalai Lama of Townsville’ (laughs). My friends would definitely not describe me as the Dali Lama! I’m inspired by amazing leaders like him, but my approach is very down-to-Earth: Having spent all those years in a very stressful job, I think I have an ability to take the findings from yoga, mindfulness and positive psychology and make them accessible to people.”
In 2005 Andy studied Sivananda yoga in India (Vrindavan), which he describes as “just dreamy” with an amazing mix of religions that co-exist – there would be the 4am call to prayer for Muslims, who were surrounded by Hindu temples, Christian churches and the frequent sound of laughter. “You’d see some amazing things,” he recalls, now onto the salad part of the dinner prep. “One day I was at the market and buying some bananas when a monkey ran off with my glasses. He was perched way up high and I had no way of getting them. Then the fruit seller looked up, winked at the monkey and he came down. I had to pay for more than just the bananas – stitched up!”
But then Andy’s practical economics mind starting asking questions, which led him to wanting to understand more about the evidence-base behind wellbeing.
“I’d studied bodywork in Sydney in 1999, life coaching in 2002 and became a yoga teacher in 2005, but the rational economist wanted to know more about why these things made me and my clients feel so good,” he explains.
“Then in 2006 I found what I was looking for: An article in a paper entitled ‘Can you train your mind to be happier?’, and this introduced positive psychology into my life.”
Andy immediately enrolled in the first Masters degree program in positive psychology outside of the US: “It was an awesome qualification. I specialised in introducing mindfulness into organisations and learnt so many amazing evidenced-based techniques. It has opened so many doors and I’ve been blessed to teach positive psychology, mindfulness and emotional intelligence courses all over the world – and now in Townsville.”
He’s a great believer that – for too long – there has been this great separation between mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing.
“Too many clinical psychologists ignore the importance of exercise, diet and posture to good mental health – physios, PTs, yoga teachers, nutritionists and body workers have so much to teach the psychologists. And, similarly, psychologists have so much to offer yoga teachers and people in the fitness industry,” says Andy.
“Australia has the second highest rate of anti-depressant usage in the OECD and statistics say that obesity rates in Townsville are going the wrong way. My dream is that, one day, for every hour of physical exercise we do, we spend an equal amount of time developing good mental fitness because they are so interconnected – when the mind is healthy, the body is healthy.”
Andy is combining this dream with his passion for teaching in a series of courses that he has coming up this month and April, covering everything from mindfulness in the workplace and positive psychology for building great mental fitness, to a three-hour stress management workshop and an introduction to Sivananda yoga session.
At the end of the day, he says it’s all about developing kindness and compassion for others, but also ourselves. “We have an evolutionary bias towards the negative because it was a way to survive,” says Andy, “But this in-built negative bias plays out at home and in the workplace when we focus on what other people have done wrong, or don’t give ourselves the time out we need for our bodies to repair because we are too caught up in everything else.
“We need to appreciate our strengths and praise others for theirs.”
Andy’s three ways to perpetuate positivity
- Do random acts of kindness – studies on this show that the happiness level is boosted in both the giver and recipient. And it’s contagious.
- Remember how good things are – keep a gratitude diary where you take note of something you are grateful for each day (Grateful in April is a good opportunity to start)
- For the workplace: At the end of the day jot down three things that went really well and say why – sometimes we don’t stop to celebrate what we have achieved.
Through Breathe Australia Andy has the following courses coming up: Mindfulness in the Workplace, Positive Psychology for Mental Fitness, a three-hour Stress Management Workshop and an Introduction to Sivananda Yoga session. For more information, see the Courses and Workshops section of our calendar.