Being Happier and Healthier at Work: Five Lessons from the Huichol People

After graduating from college, I set out on a quest that would change my life. I traveled to the rugged Sierra Madres in Central Mexico in search of the somewhat mysterious and legendary Huichol people living high up in the mountains, known for their visionary artwork and traditional ceremonial lifestyle.

On the third day of my trek, I became totally lost and dehydrated, and fell unconscious. When I awoke, I was surrounded by Huichol scouts who had come to rescue me. Their shaman, Don José Matsuwa, had a vision that a young man was lost and needed their help. I ended up living with the Huichols for 12 years and apprenticing with Don José, who lived to be 110 years old and adopted me as his grandson.

Years later, I met Mark Allen, a nationally ranked triathlete who was struggling to win Ironman competitions. Using the Huichol shamanistic techniques that I learned, I taught Mark how to think, move, breathe, act, and feel differently. Mark went on to win six international Ironman championships. Meanwhile, I helped Brant understand the psychology, physiology, nutrition, and fitness requirements of an ultra athlete.

Combining our expertise, we now teach body-soul fitness seminars all over the world, which blend ancient shamanic wisdom with the latest scientific findings on nutrition, fitness, mood, and stress.

People often ask us to give them the secret to work-life balance. Our answer: work and life aren’t two separate things! Learn to live in balance all the time, and then your workplace life and your personal life will feel more integrated.

During my time with the Huichols, I observed that these beautiful people laugh all day long, rest and relax while they work, are exceptionally healthy and happy, and live to unbelievably old ages. Despite the demanding physical work of keeping their mountain village humming and thriving, there was always plenty of time to tell or listen to a story, to play a game, or to be still and take in nature.

Unlike us, the Huichol people don’t wake up each day bummed out that they have to go to work. What’s their secret? What can the Huichols teach us about work-life balance?

We have adapted some of their beliefs and practices into simple strategies you can try right away in the workplace. They will make an enormous difference in the way you feel about your job and the time you spend there.

Let repetition inspire you.
If you struggle with boredom from doing the same activities over and over at work, do what the Huichols do when they have to plant an entire hillside with corn by hand, one kernel at a time. They embrace the repetition. Start to see chipping away at the same tasks day after day as a powerful way to accomplish your financial and professional goals.

Work faster by slowing down.
The person who rests walking up the mountain will reach the summit faster than the one who tries to do it all at a sprint. If you have a pressing deadline, before charging into the task, take time to think things through, break it into smaller parts, finish one piece completely before going to the next, and consciously slow down. Your productivity will soar, and your stress will vanish.

Change “to-do” into “to-do-some-more.”
If you’re like most of us, you put off working on large or dreaded projects even as the deadline gets closer, and then eat yourself up with worry at night obsessing about them. The Huichols might say that you can’t finish a task until you start it. Go down that to-do list and commit to working on each one for just 5-10 minutes. That’s it. Then do something else. Once you start a task, it’s easy to pick up where you left off, and doing 5-10 minutes a day will finish the task before you know it.

Go outside.
Researchers recently proved what the Huichols have always known: that nature has a calming effect on us. New studies found that people who took frequent walks in the woods had less depression than those who routinely stayed inside. You can use this wisdom to replenish your brain and body at work. Commit to a short trip outside daily, even if it’s just stretching on your building’s roof terrace or walking around the block. The fresh air and sunlight on your skin melts away the anxiety — and the effects last.

Introduce change.
For the Huichol people, every day brings a new challenge and routine, which is why they don’t seem dull or listless, the way we sometimes get when the monotony of our office job drags us down. One way to stay mentally fit is by mixing up your daily routine. If you work 9-5, try working 8-4. If you always check your email first thing, do something else for the first hour. Rearrange your office furniture. Make phone calls standing up.

About the Author

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Shaman-healer Brant Secunda and six-time world champion Ironman Mark Allen are body-soul fitness experts and seminar leaders known for blending ancient shamanic wisdom with the latest scientific findings on nutrition, fitness, mood, and stress, and turning them into fresh tips and advice for improving health and well-being. Their new book is Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to Healthier, Happier You (BenBella Books,

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