What can Los Angeles teach us about wellbeing?

Angélique Heijligers


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Podcast Transcript

Wouter: In this podcast, Angélique Heijligers. Angélique is a well known Dutch Lifestyle & Wellness journalist and trendwatcher, currently living in Los Angeles. Amongst other magazines she is a regular contributor for Vogue magazine, who even recently labeled her ‘the fitness goddess’. But Angélique is probably best explained trough her and her partner’s life project called Stadswild. Stadswild events are well-curated experiences for your body, mind & spirit. In a world that is dominated by distractions, loud noises and smartphones, it is Stadwilds mission to help you to strengthen your body, clear your mind and find stillness in the midst of chaos. You can join their urban workouts, become a Secret Yogi or a Silent Night Runner. Besides their large and loyal community, also companies like Adidas, Lululemon and EY enjoyed their experiences.

In the podcast we explore what Los Angeles teaches us about wellbeing. What can entrepreneurs, start-ups or marketing executives learn from LA's desire for wellbeing and spirituality? What can we as individuals worldwide learn from the LA lifestyle? Why do we collectively have such an increased need for balance? Or how can companies use concepts from LA?

Wouter: Angélique, very good morning to you.

Angélique: Good morning!

Wouter: Today's topic. Definitely health and wellbeing. From your Los Angeles perspective. From your professional perspective. Which is, health and wellbeing. Vogue Magazine labeled you the fitness goddess, wasn't it? Which is good! Look it up. The most recent Dutch Wellness Special?

Angélique: Yes! 


Wouter: To kick it off today and for our audience to be able to visualize a little bit what we talk about. Please, you live in Venice Beach, talk us through a typical Saturday or Sunday morning in Venice Beach California?

Angélique: Well, we go to the gym first. On a normal weekday, going to the gym is somewhere between 5am and 6am. Because this is a city that wakes up very early. So on Saturday, you can take it easy and you can go to the gym at 7 or 8 in the morning. Haha. So that's a plus! After that, you go to the local farmer's market. To get your vegetables and your fruits. Everything that's locally grown. Which is a really wonderful experience, because every product there has a story. So that really nice to stroll. And then you have coffee. Lunch maybe, with friends. And later in the afternoon, you go to the beach. Because then it's more calm and quiet. Maybe enjoy the sunset and see some dolphins jumping out of the ocean. That's also very nice here. You can see dolphins, seals, and pelicans here at the beach.

Wouter: Oh wow. So, I was just gonna say 'heaven', but then it made the click. Because that's why they call it 'the city of angels'. Haha. There must be something with Los Angeles.

Ok, for today, health and wellbeing. It's a focus but still, it's very broad. Let's try to grasp the things you see during your day. What you see is trending amongst people. What makes them tick. And let's see you got some good concepts or commerce as good examples. Because we must admit there is something more progressive in Los Angeles. That is the urge for people more? meaningful experiences. What do you see taking place with that sustainable movement? People urging and longing for a more balanced life.

Angélique: Well the funny thing is, LA has always been a city, well you know, nature is out there. You have the ocean, you have the hills, you have the mountains. In between, there's a hectic city. But there's always a way to decompress here. That's also why I like LA a lot. Because they know how to work very very hard. But they also know how to decompress. What I see here is really an urge for, you know, we are at the beginning of the digital revolution. You really notice how technology is changing our daily life. And people are looking for a way to balance that out. To go offline and go hiking in the mountains or in the hills. Or also the shaman thing is a really big thing. The Silver Lake shaman is a very big thing.

Wouter: Let's zoom in on that later on. Because shamanism, it's extreme. Obviously, for Western standards. Ok, let's zoom in on it later.

Let's take it from a bird's eye view. Obviously, we see an increased need for balance, in the broadest sense. The digital era causes people to urge for a more balanced life. Why do you think we experience such an increased need for balance and meaningful experiences?

Angélique: Because I think as long as you experience stress, you have that need. And burnout rates are extremely high at the moment. And I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that we're 24/7 connected with the whole world and everyone and everybody around this globe. But it also causes a disconnection with life itself. With yourself, with the people around you, with your family or things that matter. I think that is something we haven't figured out yet. I mean, this digital revolution is a new reality for everyone. The world is changing now at such a high speed, I don't think we can manage that very well, yet.

Wouter: So what are the Los Angeles people doing against that digital ear? What is their behavior? What do they do differently in a good way?

Angélique: Well, yoga obviously is very big here. And meditation. In fact, this is really interesting. You don't have to go to a yoga or meditation studio to experience that. So it's more integrated into your lifestyle. You can do meditation anywhere. I mean, you see people, they do their workout at the beach and after that, they do their meditation on the beach. So it's more part of their lifestyle, you know what I mean?

Wouter: Yeap.

Angélique: And as a whole, wellness is not something that's done in a spa. Haha. It's bigger than that. A big part of the conversation here now is the earth and sustainability. That makes the conversation about wellness very different. It's really part of our health, and also the health of this planet.

Wouter: Yeah! So, let's try to put things in comparison maybe or in perspective. Obviously, you've experienced your life in Amsterdam, Europe. You moved to Los Angeles. You had your reasons. Yes, it's a very lovely city. Start to compare. What is a typical Amsterdam city slicker and what a typical Los Angeles person?

Angélique: Amsterdam people are very down to earth! And also, they have their opinion and they are not afraid to speak their opinion. LA people say it in a different way. They can say stuff like 'Ok that's great, I will call you back!'. Which means 'No, I'm not interested in what you're offering'. Haha. You have to figure that out a little bit. They bring everything in a friendly way. Amsterdam people are brutally honest. So yeah, that's a big difference. I can imagine Amsterdam people will experience LA people as superficial. I see it differently. I see it as they are friendly to strangers. And polite. So that's a big difference. But you just have to know, that if people say 'I will call you back', it's a no.

Wouter: If we look at the 6am workout and then continue to the beach for your meditation. Is it necessarily a good lifestyle? And, do you think Europe should integrate it more? The rest of the world!?

Angélique: I think so yeah. Amsterdam is a small city compared to other major cities in the world. It's very crowded at the moment. And it's hard to go out of your head with so many things to do. And your to-do list. And you're on your bike and you have the fight in traffic because people are all over the place. It's calmer here in LA. I mean, the city is huge, and there are a lot of people. But it doesn't get to you that much. I think also, yeah, everybody will benefit from taking some time off social media. Taking some time off. Be by yourself. Do some meditation. Go spend time in nature. It doesn't have to take a day. Even if you do it on a daily basis for only fifteen minutes or so, it will definitely help you to unwind.

Wouter: So there we go. Because, for me at least, quite a big learning. Bullet point one will be: disconnect. The people in Los Angeles are good at disconnecting. Even though they live in such a massive city, they can disconnect. What other learnings do you see from the LA lifestyle, from the LA people?

Angélique: They have an open mind to new ideas. That's also a big difference with The Netherlands. We are more focused on tradition and we also have this Calvinist heritage or background, so that's slightly different. LA is a city that embraces new ideas. They also see money of course. Haha. They know how to market new ideas. But they have an open mind towards news idea. I mean, there's a reason why yoga and meditation were picked-up here in such an early stage. Because people thought, let's give it a try. As of in The Netherlands we were like 'Ahh, I don't know'. Haha. So, LA is faster in picking things up.

What's a big con, is that it's a city that is ruled by cars. So that's very disconnective. The streets are quiet because everybody is in a car, which is actually a lonely place if you think about it. And in Amsterdam, you go out and you see a lot of people. It's more social.

Wouter: The yoga for instance. There must be something right with it? Being cynical here! Because on the one side you're saying, yes open for ideas. So if they see the business model, they will invest. That's from the money side. But there's such a big motivation behind health and wellbeing. You mentioned shamanism. Wow! You know, there must be a motivation compared to an argument to do it. Business would be the argument. So, what is the big motivation for wanting to grasp such a spiritual far stretch?

Angélique: Well, let's not forget that this big crisis thing isn't that long ago. So I think people really put some thought into what do we really need from life? Did this capitalism make us very happy? No, I don't think so. That's also I think one of the reasons why people are looking back at, some kind of universal truth? And nature is always right in a way. You can always rely on and trust in nature. It holds still many secrets and some `things we as human beings have not figured out yet, how it all works. So there's a wisdom in it. And I also think, technology is such a thing of algorithms and what is right and what is wrong, very divided by numbers. And nature works in a different way. And I think we also want to sense what it means to be in this setting of more mystery and more intuition. There's something about that. I really see this thing called forest bathing, going spend time in the woods, will be the next yoga thing. I really believe that's the new yoga.

Wouter: Wow. Have you done it? Take us through the experience! How does it....? Ah, pretty simple how it works but maybe you can describe your first good experience?

Angélique: Well, it's a Japanse concept. It comes from the eighties. There's a lot of scientifical research done in Japan on the effect of nature. It's just a fact, we come from nature. So I think everyone senses when you go into the woods, within an hour or so or maybe even less, there's something good happening with you. You can unwind, you can let go of your problems. Everybody experiences nature as beautiful. Or in a way, it makes more sense to be out in nature. And that is something people are now rediscovering. Which I think is a good thing, haha.

Wouter: Oh yeah, haha. It got lots to do with grounding, I think. Was it bare feet?

Angélique: You don't have to do it necessarily bare feet. You can do it, touch the ground. The thing about forest bathing, this is an important thing, it's about wandering in the woods. It is not about you have to go from A to B in a certain amount of time or so. You just go into the woods and just let it happen. Whatever it is. Maybe you want to hug a tree. Maybe you want to go barefoot, maybe not. Just let it happen as it is. I think that is why it so attractive to a lot of people. Because this world we live in is very demanding. And forest bathing doesn't demand anything.

Wouter: But still, I'm gonna do it on purpose. Because from a Dutch questionable point of view, isn't it just going for a walk in the woods?

Angélique: Yeah! It's so simple! Isn't that beautiful, how simple life can be?! Haha!

Wouter: It also reminds me of the talk we had prior to the recording. Because we talked about how difficult it is to put complex things into a simplified theory. You know, solving world problems. And learning yoga is difficult. You mentioned it as well. It is a threshold for people to go into the yoga studio, especially for men. So I can imagine that there's a good thing in a walk in the park, in forest bathing. Because it's a very complex thing, in an even more simplified identity compared to yoga. It's a simple as that.

Angélique: It is really simple. That's the beauty of nature. You know how complex it is. Yet you also can trust it. You can rely on it.

Wouter: Tsja! I'm gonna have a discussion with a couple of CEO's and just let them react to the concept of forest bathing. Not do it, but talk about it first. And try to compare their business to the aspect of simplifying and going for a walk in nature.

Ok, beautiful things about people. Inspiring new concepts. There are luckily some statistics that show that 43% of people have a commonly associated thing with mindfulness as a health aspect. So pretty much wellbeing became so normal that people say it's a part of my normal health and wellbeing thinking. Which is good. And yes, Los Angeles is very progressive in connecting their commerce, their brands to a thing as mindfulness. And so what you see is brands facilitating meaningful experiences, or encourage mindfulness, or 'moments of contemplation'. What do you see? You walk the streets of Venice Beach California on a daily basis, what do you see? Could you give a couple of examples?

Angélique: Well, there are many shops that provide workshops. And pop-up events. And obviously, if you're a yoga brand, you do yoga and meditation. But if you're into fashion, for example, they are offering workshops in crafts, in like sewing. And how to learn it and how to do it with your hands. And they have this attention to details and take your time for it. That's also something that calms the mind. And also learn to understand how much time and effort is put into it. What makes craftmanship is the time and effort and the human ability to build something from scratch and with your own hands. So I really like that and as an experience, it's also very mindful.

Wouter: So you see the workshops. The temporary pop-up shops. Do they do it for the experience primarily, or do they do it for sales? What do you think?

Angélique: Well, sales. Haha. It's America. Haha.

Wouter: Yeah yeah yeah, obviously. It's a little bit on purpose. But I'm trying to find the connection between...

Angélique: Well the thing is, you can do your shopping online. It's a major timesaver to do your shopping online. To have people come to your shop you have to think of something. Other than just another sale.

Wouter: But it adds to building the story of the product.

Angélique: Yes! The thing is with brands nowadays, consumers want to be part of the solution. I really believe that. The new consumer is a conscious consumer. So, we also talked about, for instance, Patagonia. What I really liked about one of the concepts they did was repair the jacket you once bought 10 years ago maybe, and come into the shop and repair it for you. I love that because it's sustainable. If you buy a product once and you take good care of it, it's that most stainable thing you can do.

Wouter: From a brand perspective, or the retail shop perspective, their focus is to connect with people. You mentioned that we are increasingly becoming more conscious. So, asking more from the brand. Let them cooperate, the consumer. What do you see as the common denominator of the shops? The places you go. You see the workshops. They try to make a connection. There's increased consumer that is more conscious. What common denominators do you see?

Angélique: Well, sustainability is a big thing. I thought about what Ikea did? Letting go of all the single-use plastic. You know, the straws and cups and everything. And I thought, that's a pretty good example. Ikea is not on top of your mind when it comes to sustainability. But what they showed was, we're doing the best we can. And I think that speaks to a lot of people. Because this is also the world we live in and it's very hard to do everything 100% right. But doing the best you can, I think that speaks to a lot of people.

Wouter: That's good! Let's continue into a little bit of a brainstorm. Let's talk about your ideal product. Your ideal brand. A perfect world. It does exist. Let's build Utopia here.

Angélique: Stop making stuff. Haha! We don't need so much. Whoever came up with this idea that you need so much stuff. I mean, like fashion retailers, they have a new collection every year. Everybody knows what happened to H&M. I think people are really getting tired of that. We see also, for example, H&M has this new brand Afound. I don't know if you've heard of that. Their collection exists only of curated stuff. So they bring out products they see and curate. That's what they sell. With this message of 'you only have to buy it once and will last for years', which is a very different approach.

Wouter: But still, we want growth. We want to sell more. How do I sell more without selling you another product?

Angélique: Well, maybe sell a service. Something that is nonmaterial. That is also what I notice here. People spend a lot of money on experiences. Not necessarily on stuff. Going to a fitness class here costs around $30. And people pay it willingly. Or a tarot session costs me like a hundred and fifty bucks for just one hour talking to someone. Or being heard. Having a conversation. There are still a lot of things to be sold without making stuff.

Wouter: Massive insight. Because the tagline would be, upsell through experiences.

Angélique: Yeah!

Wouter: So, I'm very much allowed to sell you one product. Either it is $10 or $10,000. And I will upsell you experiences.

Angélique: Yeah, that might very well be the case. You see that tarot and oracle cards are a big thing here. You also have this shop called The House Of Intuition. You can buy these cards for $40 or so, and then they also offer you readings for $150. So, the money comes from something different, not from the product itself.

Wouter: Wow. Insightful! Ok, we had the brand point of view. Your ideal company. Stop selling products.

Angélique: Stuff.

Wouter: Yeah, stuff. Haha. Important addition. Stop selling stuff. Now the ideal customer. Because yes, we live in the perspective of yoga and mindfulness and a holistic point of view. But there are still a billion people left to transform to the right way of thinking. I'm not trying to say that another way of thinking is wrong, I hope you understand what I mean.

Who is your ideal consumer? You mentioned the person is more conscious. Thinks with the brand. Thinks with the product. Describe your ideal world.

Angélique: Well, the social media thing. I mean, it's there, it's not gonna disappear. But I would like to see a world where we find a new way of dealing with it. Because everybody is looking at their phone. I think my ideal consumer would be a consumer that is open to more human experiences. Like a genuine conversation with the people in the same room. Not necessarily on your phone and the other side of the world. Also to make a conscious decision 'how long will this product last?', 'do I need to buy it or can I share it with other people?', so that not so much stuff has to be made. I think going way-way back into the old days when we also started trading stuff. I have an orange, you have a bike, I give you an orange so I can lend your bike for an hour. Maybe something like that. Maybe money should not be such a dominant factor in our world.

Wouter: Good! I can fully hear what you say!

Angélique: In an ideal world. I really understand will also always be a thing. But maybe we should not chase money as hard as we do now.

Wouter: Obviously we are in a massive transition. Trying to cause something very very big. A completely different view on everything we do basically. But the human thinking. Also from the person itself, would be a good one. This morning I wrote something down. Because you've got this social repsonsibility aspect. Which is a weird paradox thing with social media as well. Because it's an a-social media sometimes. But it should actually be human responsibility. We need to be more humane. And that comes from both sides. The company and also the consumer.

Angélique: Yeah! Maybe brand should also take a little bit more responsibility. Not always trying to please the consumer but also give them insights on how they make their products and how they also try to be more humane. So people can think about it and can relate to it. Stand for your values and show your values.

Wouter: I was just about to ask you. Let's say I'm the board of directors of whatever company. Either it is a sewage company or a company that is already on the flow of trying to make their brand and their whole stakeholder management more sustainable. What do you see say to those entrepreneurs or business people? What can they learn from what you see in Los Angeles?

Angélique: I don't know if that answer lies in this city. Haha. Because it's America and capitalism is big here.

Wouter: What would you say? Let's focus on your perspective?

Angélique: Do you really need to grow more? Yeah. I fully understand how complex this thing is. You obviously have a major responsibility to the people that are working for you. But still, do you really need to grow? Can you not just stay where you are and see what happens? Maybe it's good enough. Because what will growth bring you? It will always cost you new things. And it will always raise new problems. Maybe you should just stay and see where it goes. It's like yin yoga. You know, you can either fight or flight. Yin yoga teaches you to stay and see what happens exactly where you are right now. And that can be a very interesting lesson. Maybe the biggest learning we can have from yoga and meditation is not chasing happiness but being ok where you are now. This moment.

Wouter: And listen to all the different advice you gave during this talk. Love it Angélique, I very much love it. The metaphor of yin yoga for business. Yes! I concur. Haha. And I hope a lot of people. I hope there will be a time that many poor people, the plural of society, will understand that metaphor. I think it was a beautiful final thought. I was about to ask you your final thought and it squeezed in between already. Maybe you want to leave a final, final remark?

Angélique: No, I think to try to be ok where you are right now is quite a big challenge in itself already.

Wouter: Yeah. That's from the company's point of view. What do you see if you look at the main struggle of humanity, of people? Maybe the city people all over the world?

Angélique: Well, the thing is. I said it the other day to someone. The big difference between living in the city or spending time in nature. When you live in the city you always feel it's not enough, it's never enough and you'll always need more. And the funny thing is, the moment you connect with nature, you really feel in your entire system, fully understand, that it's enough. You don't ask for anything else. The biggest moment I had was when I was in Africa. I always thought I would have that big spiritual moment, that big spiritual experience in Asia. Actually, it happened in Africa. I was in the middle of nowhere and there was something about that moment. I saw the wild animals and I was like, this is all there is and it's perfect, it's peaceful and it gave me such a sense of peace. And I thought, if I would die now, that would be totally fine. Because I don't matter so much in the whole equation. If you're in the city you really feel like 'oh, it's all about me and it's never enough'. You don't have that in nature. That's maybe a bit heavy?! Haha

Wouter: Definitely not. Not for our audience. Definitely. It's beautiful. I'm actually a little bit struck by it. Because it's true. Stop the impulses and stop questioning. And that will lead to a good silence. And that's also maybe what we need in society. And in business and economy.

A bit more silence. We're not gonna stop moving. Otherwise, we'll be dead. But we can be a little bit more silent.

Angélique: And there's also more to our human capacity than just making money and being the smartest with figures and stuff like that. That's also this big thing we have. Our emotional values. Somebody said it's called this God Hole. There's something inside humans and every living creature that is open to this divine energy. So, let's say maybe that's a hopeful insight for the future. Haha.

Wouter: I will add to the show notes, a link to 'divine energy'. Maybe even as simple as Wikipedia, or we will dive into something bigger. Haha. Angélique, thank you so much. What have you got planned? What is ahead of you? I would love to continue the talk for hours and hours. From a professional point of view, what are you gonna do?

Angélique: I'm in the process of writing a new book. And by the end of this month, there's the Stadswild Silent Night Run happening in Amsterdam. Running in silence with 148 people through Amsterdam with all kinds of experiences along the way. And no phones allowed. And the reason we run with 148 people because it's Dunbar's number. Exactly the amount of people you can handle as a human being to have meaningful interaction with.

Wouter: Ok. Wow. Yeah, I know of the run and yes, I will also insert some pictures and links. Can you give a little bit of a sneak preview from the book? And otherwise, we'll just link it.

Angélique: It's about connecting with yourself in the morning.

Wouter: Good! Good!

Angélique: And the world around you.

Wouter: I will insert it. Angélique, I think we are gonna round it up. It has been a beautiful talk. Thank you so much for all the insightful Los Angeles perspective. And from what you do and your view on the world. And, thank you!

Angélique: Well thank you Wouter. And have a lovely day.

Wouter: It's nightfall here now. Haha. You've got your day ahead of you. Enjoy your day. Thank you so much for this talk. Stay in touch!

Angélique: Yes, talk soon!

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