One Teacher Changing Lives Through Education,
Yoga & Running
One Teacher Changing Lives Through Education, Yoga & Running
My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who have helped shape my journey and continue to inspire me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia in both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it. My next Wellness Warriors podcast guest is a beautiful Kat Cacavas.
And her story is absolutely magical. She has been an athlete, first of all, a dancer, a runner, and achieved so many different things in life that have led her along her pathway towards a yoga inspired journey, creating her own business, created connections, yoga. She’s also an accredited practicing dietitian and has taken on,
I think one role at the moment, which is one of your passions in life. So career work, all these different things make up who you are. I’d like to start with just asking you a little bit about your journey and your background. Let’s start with the dancing and running. How did that all happen?Kat Cacavas: Thanks Felicity.
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. And if I may, I’d love to acknowledge, country before we go down our path of having more of a chat.Felicity Cohen: I’d love to hear a bit about that. Kat Cacavas: Beautiful. So I’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional custodians on whose lands that we’re sitting today.
So we’re on the Bundjalung speaking, sorry the Yugambeh speaking country of the Bundjalung nation. And I paid my respects to their elders past and present.Felicity Cohen: How did you learn a little bit about that and, and have the understanding and ability to acknowledge exactly where we are and what that represents?
I’m fascinated.Kat Cacavas: It’s something that I’m really interested in and passionate about sharing. So thanks for asking. I have always through growing up, being exposed and had a really strong awareness of our indigenous communities in Australia. And that’s come fed through my, my family and then into my professional life, where I have had the absolute privilege of working with lots of indigenous communities, both in urban, rural, and remote areas of the country.
I spent time living and working in central Australia in far North Queensland and really being welcomed onto other indigenous countries. So the purpose of an acknowledgement of country is for us to pay our respects and to become more aware that although, there’s been settlers here for a little over 200 years for somewhere between 60 and 80,000 years or three thousand generations of families, there have been people living here before us.
So it’s bringing that awareness and enlightenment to other people who may not have had that idea that, yeah, there’s been people gracing these lands and caring for these lands for a really, really long time.Felicity Cohen: What a wonderful sense of acknowledgement and opportunity to show appreciation. And I think really something that we don’t all necessarily think about enough.
So I absolutely love that. My father, who is 90 years of age is launching a book in June of this year and his book is actually around, a 200 year history of an Australian Jewish family of which I’m part of. So I really understand and relate to that story of, you know, what does 200 years look like and being six generation Australian, but also thinking back to the custodians of our land and really acknowledging indigenous people.
So I actually love that. And thank you so much for giving us that opportunity to acknowledge for the opening of our podcast today.Kat Cacavas: Thanks. Felicity Cohen: So let’s get back to the start and all about you and your beautiful journey. So I know you were a dancer before you became a runner. Tell me a little bit about that part of your life.` Kat Cacavas: Sure. So I have been in tutu’s and on a stage since I was about four years old. I did start as a classical ballerina and also started to do other types of dance, jazz, tap aerobics, African dance. And I’ve just thrived and enjoyed that opportunity to learn, to move my body, to become aware of my body.
And then also to share that joy with other people. And so from, as I mentioned, a young age, all through my schooling and well into my twenties as well, I continued dancing and I also in the, in similar time started running. So in primary school, I started to enjoy cross country running and athletics. And that then,
developed through high school and then leaving high school, the distances kept increasing. So suddenly I’d signed up for a 10 kilometer or a 14 kilometer or half marathon and eventually a full marathon. And so these days I’m probably doing a little bit more running than dancing, combining yoga in there, which for me is a moving meditation.
It’s an opportunity to dance on a mat. And so I’m really loving the combination at the moment of, of those two, particularly.Felicity Cohen: What do you think running has taught you most about life in general? Kat Cacavas: Running has taught me a lot about life. I think if I was to choose one word that really resonates with me around running it’s community.
And I have been really blessed to be part of many running communities, both here in Australia and in other parts of the world too. And it is something that unites people and brings like-minded people together. And then in that space, so much magic happens. So we, we have the benefits of physical health.
We have the benefits of mental and emotional health. We have the benefits of friendship and all of these things combined. Other reasons that I continue to run, even when it’s poor, right? Like this morning!Felicity Cohen: Don’t tell me you ran this morning, like, wow. My goodness. I won’t tell you that I maybe might have abandoned mine.
Okay. That’s fantastic. And I really relate to, the sense of community and empowering others within a community, teaching people how they can step outside their own comfort zones, be more and be better and be greater than they might’ve ever imagined and using, running as a vehicle. And I think that’s something that you’ve done a lot through how you’ve worked with,
others in a variety of communities with running, tell us a little bit about where that journey has taken you.Kat Cacavas: Well, as briefly mentioned, I have found myself attached to running communities in different parts of this country. So it tends to be, you know, if I’m living, I’m from Melbourne originally. So my original,
running communities were around where, where I was born and raised. And then beyond that, it seemed to be the first thing I seek when I moved to a new place. I spent some time living in Alice Springs, for example. And one of the first things I did was look for a running group. And from that develop some of my closest connections and most wonderful experiences while living in the desert.
Same when I came to the Gold Coast four years ago, literally the first thing I did was jump online and search for running groups, which is how I came to meet beautiful people like yourself, Felicity. And that has been the pattern. So wherever I’ve gone, it’s, it’s looking for perhaps a local park run or a local running group.
And that has also included my time living in West Africa. So I did spend a number of years living and working in Sierra Leone. And one of the first things I did over there as well was seek people to join me for runs through the African villages. And so the connections that I have established through that opportunity continues to grow and develop.
And although at this point in time, we can’t physically be in other countries in the world. I still have a really strong connection to my friends and community over in Sierra Leone who are continuing to run and providing them opportunities to continue running, including going to the annual Sierra Leone marathon is something that gives me a lot of purpose and joyFelicity Cohen: I love that. Let’s just go back to Alice Springs. What took you to Alice Springs? Why did you end up there and what were you doing there? Kat Cacavas: Great question. As I mentioned, I did spend a number of years living in Sierra Leone, West Africa. And when I returned back to Australia, it wasn’t necessarily by choice.
It was around the time that Ebola was rife in West Africa. And so what happened was a number of my, myself and a number of my colleagues and friends, we weren’t able to continue our work there. They, I was working in a school and a university and all of those institutions closed and it became very difficult to live in and operate in the country.
And so I came back to Australia and to be honest Felicity, I felt quite lost and I had returned to Melbourne. And although most of my family and beautiful friends are based down there. Something wasn’t quite jelling after having this incredible experience living over in a country where we didn’t quite have as much access to material objects, as we do, for example, in Australia.
So I was in this point of my life where I was quiet, I was struggling. And then a job opportunity came up in Alice Springs. And I remember reading the job description. And one of the points was you must be willing to drive out to remote communities on terrible roads in four-wheel drives, or sometimes go in small planes to get there.
And I thought. Oh, my gosh. I think this job is calling me. And so shortly after that, I moved to Alice Springs and my role in Alice Springs was as a dietitian and public health nutritionist. And although Alice was home base, most weeks I was out, in remote indigenous communities, some of which were around two hours out of Alice Springs and some were about nine.
And so what would happen is I would leave Alice Springs and I would be embedded and absorbed into these beautiful communities all over the desert and work from that public health, nutrition and dietetics perspective. So either seeing people, one-on-one in their health clinics or working more broadly in the community.
So looking at the schools, at the childcare centers, at the little remote stores, where that was the main place where people would access their food and how could we support those stores to be more health promoting. It was a really wonderful experience. And as I said, it was just such a privilege to be welcomed into these different committees.Felicity Cohen: So there’s such an incredible need in those communities. I’m very well aware of what has happened in those communities, in terms of the infiltration of Western model of, you know, food availability and in those stores, that all of a sudden there there’s access to, to Coca Cola, for example, to high sugar dense, you know, nutrition that’s perhaps not necessarily,
the best of choices and the health-related problems that have grown, evolved and emanated from availability of Western culture. I think must be quite a shock to someone arriving there first time around, you know, the role of a dietitian in those communities is so vital. What kind of impact do you feel you were able to make there?
And we know, you know, incidents of type two diabetes is, is chronic and prevalent as are so many other, lifestyle diseases that relate to poor quality nutrition, and hence, you know, overweight and obesity. How do you feel you’ve made an impact in that community?Kat Cacavas: Yeah, look, it was, it was an ongoing challenge to try,
and as you rightly mentioned, how can we work around the systems that are in place, and the access that a lot of people have, which was not to necessarily, you know, every year we would go and we would assess the quality of the food, the affordability of the food and the variety of the foods. And honestly, it, it was quite, it was poor.
It was beyond poor. And, so when people have access to only a limited amount of items to begin with when the quality of the fruits and vegetables, the things that you couldn’t even pick up and pretend to buy, you know, they’re really, they’ve got enough he’ll battle to begin with. And, so what, what I found were some of the more successful stories while we were there, it was really taking that community approach, speaking to community members, hearing what it was that they felt would support them in their journeys to having better access to health.
And, some of my favorite stories were certainly creating a men’s cooking group and that would, it was just the best. And so alongside a male Aboriginal health worker, because that’s really important from a cultural and respect perspective for myself as a female to be working with men that I definitely needed to be working with my male colleagues.
And again, very privileged that the men felt comfortable to have me there, but it was a cooking program that they designed and that every week they would come and they would create these amazing foods. And what we did is we were very mindful of what was available in the community. So the foods that we made in the community, we purchase the ingredients from the local store so that they then knew that they could replicate what we were doing.
And so we wove in all of our health messaging through this opportunity is hands on opportunity to learn, to cook together as well. The highlight of that program was the finale, which we turned into a, My Kitchen Rules, if you like. And so what happened was the gentleman had the recipes that they were going to cook.
They cooked a main and a dessert. We started at a, at a hub. We raced to the supermarket, they ran around the little, the store, they ran around the store, got what they needed to cook up the feast. And then they went back to the kitchens and they prepared. And then we had the community come and the community ate the food.
That the males had prepared and we had a community judging panel. So some of the elders in the community sat on that panel, they tried all the different foods and you should have seen the pride that existed in these males in community that they had created this, they had made this, and literally you could have heard a pin drop when we announced the winner, it was a drawer and it had to go to a recount.
So it was, it was just a really incredible experience. And, it brought community together. As I mentioned, not only were there skills shared, we gave every participant, an electric fry pan with the knowledge that actually some of the biggest challenges are access to equipment, you know? And so most families would have electricity on a regular basis or an electric fry pan was a better option than having a gas stove, for example, or an electric stove, which was always getting broken.
So the winners, won electric fry pans, actually gave all participants electric fry pans. And then the winners won these big utensil packs to really go home and keep this up. For me, you know, the finale was, was a massive highlight going on the journey with the men was, was really enriching. We went from having 20% of the males in community,
having had their adult health checks so their yearly health check to screen for all the chronic diseases, do full blood tests, sexual health checks, mental health checks, 20% before the program. And by the time we’d finished over 90% of the men had felt comfortable enough to go to the clinic and have their health checked on.Felicity Cohen: That is just the most incredible story. And honestly, we need a big round of applause for that. That is just phenomenal. And congratulations on being a part of that, that is just mind blowing and so needed and so valuable and fantastic. I absolutely love it. What about the kids? You know, children is something that is very close to my heart.
I’m very passionate about driving behavioral change and supporting children who are, as we know, we have a population where childhood overweight and obesity issues are also escalating at a rate that is phenomenal and scary, and intervention and approach, appropriate approach to support kids is something that, you know, so many different sectors of working towards finding that solution.
Did you see, and I know, you know, kids, when we’re looking at this self-esteem is a big part of it. You know, we want children to have great positive self-esteem so they can perform well and achieve well in schools. It’s a big part of that whole dynamic and story. What did you see with kids and were you able to help the children in, in Aboriginal communities?Kat Cacavas: I’m so glad you asked, because my second favorite project in these Aboriginal communities in central Australia was a huge community wide experience that started within one of the local schools. And what had been noticed in this community was that the rates of childhood overweight and obesity were escalating.
And rather than having that, how can we get the kids to come to the clinic? How can we get the families to bring the kids to the clinic? We ended up going to the school. And so what evolved from that was, again, a beautiful community driven project. The school was involved. The local store was involved
again, we ended up bringing some indigenous hip hop artists to community. We wrapped this whole program around a week of fun activities, that health and wellness was the center of it. So we did activities within the classroom, we did activities outside of the classroom. The students were engaged with trying new foods.
And then all of these activities that were able to be linked back to curriculum as well. So they tried foods, they were able to use their mathematical skills to create data, you know, who liked which foods from that information. We then created what we call a snack pack with their favorite foods. They designed labels for those snack packs and the snack packs ended up being sold in the local store.
So the kids could go in and see what they’d created and then be really proud of it. And instead of going into the store and perhaps choosing their normal options at the store, which might have been a packet of chips or an ice cream, or as you mentioned before, a soft drink, they would go and choose their snack pack, which had a healthy option of foods that they’d chosen as well as a bottle of water.
And so it was a really beautiful kind of full circle experience the kids also, as I mentioned, worked with these hip hop artists, they learned songs, they learned a dance routine and they performed it for their whole community where we also put on a big cook up. So as I mentioned, it was, it was a community-wide event.
It brought everybody together and it influenced different parts of the community as well. So from that particular experience and adding to, I guess years of, of working with kids because like you I’ve always been passionate about working with kids that started as a kid’s ballet teacher. I’ve taught kids, swimming, kids yoga, and then suddenly I thought it’s time for me to turn this passion and see how I can also weave that into my career.
And that’s when I went back to uni and studied my masters of teaching. So it was inspired by this journey. I thought I want to understand more about curriculum. I want to understand more about childhood education or development and how can I work more meaningfully with kids because that’s where we need to start now.Felicity Cohen: I love it. And it’s a great message of positively empowering children and learning by doing and getting them involved in a program where they’re taking action positive action for themselves, that they can feel so self satisfied with their own engagement. And I absolutely love the approach. I think that’s spectacular,
and something that I think I kind of engage in a similar style, with what we’re trying to achieve for children here as well. So yeah. Thanks for putting all of that work together. I think you’re amazing for doing that. So let’s talk now about prior to Alice Springs, I’m so fascinated about your time in Sierra Leone.
What took you there? What you learnt there and all the wonderful things that you were able to achieve and do there?Kat Cacavas: How much time if we got?
So it’s coming up to my 10 year anniversary since first arriving in Sierra Leone and, a lot of people do wonder what took me from Melbourne to Sierra Leone. It’s a great question. My auntie actually adopted children from Sierra Leone, so she adopted twin boys. And so I have a direct family connection to the country.
And when I found an opportunity to go and volunteer in Sierra Leone, I thought, I love to go and learn more about where my cousins are from. And so what began as a six week volunteer opportunity somehow turned into three and a half years of living in the country and having a range of different experiences there.
And as I mentioned, continual connection and commitment to the communities in Sierra Leone.Felicity Cohen: So you were working there in a school and university, teaching and also working as a dietitian at the same time?
Yes.Kat Cacavas: So, yeah. My day job, if you like was working at an American international school, they first employed me as a French teacher. Felicity Cohen: Wow. Kat Cacavas: I do speak French. Felicity Cohen: I have to be careful what I say. Kat Cacavas: No that’s okay. So that was wonderful. And I really, really enjoyed that experience. And then I stepped into a classroom where I taught year two so kids that were around kind of six, seven years of age, and it was beautiful to have that class and, in the evenings
I actually taught at a college where I was teaching into the early childhood education course. And this was for Sierra Leonean adults and I taught health and nutrition. So it was just wonderful. I loved the combination of, of my work over there and yeah, working with both the kids and the adults too.Felicity Cohen: So then how
did you actually get involved in inspiring
all sorts of people to get involved in running while you were there? How did that kind of integrate with your whole program? Where did that come from?Kat Cacavas: So when I first arrived in Sierra Leone and I was living in a remote village and as someone that enjoys running, I wanted to continue running. So I said to the, and at that point I was working with orphans and I said to the kids, I’m going to go for a run tomorrow morning.
Would anybody like to join me? And a few of them said, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. So, a agreed upon time, I arrived and kids started running towards me and I’ll never forget this first run in Sierra Leone because here came, here I came in my Lulu Lemon, top and shorts and, my nice shoes. And the kids came in their clothes that might not have, you know, were ripped or torn or their shoes that were sometimes non-existence so some of them ran in bare feet, some of them ran in plastic sandals, some ran in shoes that, you know, the top was falling off the bottom
as we ran. But they just had the biggest smiles on their faces and off we ran through the villages. And as we ran through the villages, we had the African mamas and the Papas and the kids, all just laughing and smiling and waving to us and the joy that it brought the communities and that it brought me was just something that I’ll never, ever forget.
And so every time that I was back in the village, we would go for runs. Fast forward two years from then I decided to sign up for my first marathon, the Sierra Leone marathon. And part of this, I really dearly wanted some of the kids from the orphanages to be able to join me. So it was quite an undertaking, we brought kids from three different
orphanages in the country to the central location, where the marathon was, and then they participated in their first ever running event. We had 25 kids and some of their carers and they all didn’t do the marathon. You know, there was a five kilometer event, 10 kilometer event and a half and full, and they chose the distance that they wanted to
try and, cover. And they just were incredible. And it’s, it’s an experience that I know they’ll never forget. And certainly I will never, ever forget my first marathon. We also used the opportunity to raise some funds. And so together with this story, we raised around $10,000 and that went directly back into the orphanages to work on some projects that the kids
had dreamt up. So things that they felt that they needed to enrich their lives. And so that was 2013. I was still in the country in 2014, we came together and we ran again. And then every year, since then, although I haven’t been able to be in the country for the marathon, I’ve made sure that the kids have traveled again and had the opportunity to participate.Felicity Cohen: That is amazing. You also been back a few times since and been able to take donations of shoes. Which is just phenomenal, trying to help make sure that they’re well equipped and that they’ve got the things that they need to run with. What would you like to do next when you actually have the opportunity to go back to Sierra Leone?
And hopefully that that’s a reality that is not too far off in the distant future. What does that look like for you?Kat Cacavas: This little marathon project is growing some wings and, my first hope is to be able to take some people back to Sierra Leone with me. So two years ago now I went back to Sierra Leone with my auntie and my cousins.
And it was the first time they’d been back home since they were adopted. So they went back as 12 year old boys. And so it had been about 11 years. So they had no recollection of their country. But this was such a beautiful opportunity for them to connect with their identity, to understand a bit more about their country, to travel around, to make those connections.
It was such a beautiful experience showing off Sierra Leone to my auntie and my cousins. And I came back to Australia and I thought, gosh, I’d love to give more people that opportunity. So it planted a seed, and from there, I started to just talk about it and suddenly I had a few people who really liked the sound of this.
And last May, May, 2020, we had planned to go to Sierra Leone. There were a group of around 12 of us that were going to come together from Australia, from the UK, from the US, and have an experience in Sierra Leone. And we timed out trip with the Sierra Leone marathon, then COVID hit. And so nobody was able to travel.
The plan is on hold let’s say, and what will happen as soon as it’s possible is that that group is so committed and we will be waiting for the day that we can commit to going back to Sierra Leone. In the meantime, as I mentioned, they’re that committed that we’re still talking about it and still thinking about what can we do for now until we can get back there.
And as you brought up in the past, I have been very lucky to receive beautiful donations of pre loved and sometimes brand new running shoes, running clothing, hats, drink bottles, things that people might’ve had in excess that they didn’t need anymore. And so before this trip two years ago, I actually filled my little car boot, Mazda three, with donations and drove them down to Melbourne where we packed them up into 15 bags and nearly gave the ladies
at the airport, a little bit of a heart attack, but we got all of the donations to the kids in the villages. This idea has grown because it’s not so easy to ship a small amount to Sierra Leone, you may as well ship a container. So suddenly this dream has grown, and we are currently starting to collect items.
As I mentioned to sending in a container to Sierra Leone, it’s going to be way too much for our marathon team and even some of the other running groups that I’ve connected with in Sierra Leone. So the plan is to open Sierra Leone’s very first not-for-profit sports store.Felicity Cohen: Oh, my goodness. I am absolutely in love with that idea.
And I would love to see how we can help you. So maybe even via the Wellness Warriors podcast, if people are listening and they want to get involved and they want to make a donation, I hope they’re going to get in touch with me because that is amazing. And we also have a beautiful community here. Our weight loss warrior community are an exceptional group of people.
So hopefully I can be a part of supporting and assisting you drive that dream. I love it, it’s beautiful. I absolutely relate to that sense of, I guess being a little bit disrupted when you’ve lived an experience that’s bigger than possibly imaginable outside of Australia. So for me, that first experience was actually boarding school in Israel at the age of 14.
So that sense of complete another world and coming back to Australia and reintegrating into a society that didn’t quite match. So, you’ve used all sorts of different things to find your tribe. And I think it, when you’re coming back from those big other world experiences, refinding your tribe is possibly what you’ve been doing through, through running, but also through yoga, as being a big part of your journey and finding yourself, but also finding your tribe.
Tell me a little bit, a little bit about, sorry, tell me a little bit about how you actually became integrated into that whole yoga journey. When did that start?Kat Cacavas: I started yoga, it’s been over a decade now. And as I mentioned before, I really connected with it because for me it was a, an, a way to keep dancing and to build strength and resilience, both on that physical level and also that mental and emotional level.
And almost instantly. And I was really fortunate to have a beautiful yoga teacher to help introduce me into this space. And I, I fell in love with the practice straight away. And I remember saying to her, I want to become a yoga teacher. And she said with all due respect Kat, keep following this art, keep following this practice for a little bit longer.
And you’ll know the time when you are actually ready to become a yoga teacher. And it was almost hard to hear in the beginning, but I’m so grateful that she was that honest with me because it did then take me on a journey of really deepening my practice, deepening my understanding, having the opportunity to practice in India on helipads in Sierra Leone, you know, learning from others, starting to share with others and feel into how I enjoyed that experience as well.
And it was when I found the teachers that I really wanted to learn from. And they had a course that they were offering. I knew. And so about 18 months ago now I went to Bali and spent a month immersed in a coconut forest and living, eating, breathing, yoga. And it was an incredible transformative month.
And since coming out of that journey, I’ve really enjoyed sharing yoga more and more and more, and have built both an online community, and that was one of those, I guess, shifting points during COVID when, you know, everybody transitioned to online. So how might that look for yoga? And it’s been really fabulous and that community is so committed that even up to now, we make twice a week and I will have people joining from as far as the Torres State Islands,
all the way to Canada and everywhere in between. And so it’s just a really beautiful way of continuing to share. And, often the people that are joining might be our friends that are living in rural and remote parts of this country or other countries that don’t necessarily have access or regular access to yoga.
So that’s been a really beautiful offering. And then the other way that yoga has gone for me is combining it with running. And so I’ve, as I mentioned, deepened and deepened my practice, but also started thinking about how can this benefit us, who run, how can it benefit us from that physical level in terms of building strength in our bodies and lengthening our tight, tight muscles?
How can it benefit us from that energetic level as well? So we have a huge focus on breathing, accessing our oxygen, using that oxygen in a more productive way. And then how can we also build our strength, determination, patience, and resilience. And as a beautiful example, we did a yin based class this week, where you hold poses for a longer time.
And the metaphor there is not just that, we’re on that physical level, really supporting our body and our muscles and everything in between, but on that, again, that mental and emotional level, it’s about sitting in that period of discomfort, knowing that there is an end and that the end is going to feel really good.
And so that again, can be really translated to maybe when you’re running a tough session uphills or a speed session. Well, maybe when you’re in that race space and you really need to channel something quite deep to get you to that finish line. And so I’m really enjoying this journey of combining yoga for runners and the community uptake is really fabulous.
So the class that we do it’s once a week on the Gold Coast here is just growing and blossoming and a lot of regulars combined with a lot of new faces who were curious, and we had to move to a bigger hall because we outgrew our last space. So I’m just feeling really excited by how runners are starting to add into their non-negotiable schedule, not just their long run and their speed session and their heal session, but their stretch
session as well.Felicity Cohen: Oh, I love the term non-negotiable session. I’m actually going to incorporate that into my routine right now. You know, one of my promises to myself at the beginning of this year was I’m going to do more yoga and getting there is often the challenge. I love that, you know, first of all, we did have to pivot last year.
We didn’t have a choice pivoting to doing so much via zoom. Although, you know, when you’re doing yoga, so much of that is about disconnecting from technology. How we used it to be engaged, involved, and still doing those things that were so important for mental and physical health. It was really a fantastic medium and growing that and extending that I think is really valuable for community.
And you can build community through that online space. And, for us, we’ve also been the beneficiaries of having you online for our weight loss warriors, which was amazing. And we’d love to see more of it, but yeah, you’ve taught me something. The non-negotiable I’m actually going to make that part of my life right now.
So thank you for that little teaching. Love it! Yeah. I think, you know, I have already learned before that with yoga, I feel that you can actually increase your vo2 max and your breathing changes in terms of how you can actually run better and more efficiently. So there’s so much that you can learn as well, not just from better breathing techniques, but also all of the teachings from stretching.
There’s so much to learn through yoga.Kat Cacavas: Absolutely.
And even this morning, I received a message from one of, someone who’d been in class last night and they said ‘I had the best sleep that I’ve had in a really long time.’Felicity Cohen: How good is that. Kat Cacavas: And I often get that feedback. That this beautiful evening opportunity to just move our bodies in a gentle, subtle way, then sends people off into their beautiful slumber.
So, yeah.Felicity Cohen: That’s pretty spectacular.
Teaching us to slow down. Yeah. There’s there are so many benefits of yoga. Tell me a bit, I’d love to learn a little bit more. And I think for our wellness warriors listening today, some of the major benefits of yoga, what do they look like?Kat Cacavas: Look again, the list is almost endless, but from the physical health perspective, you know, can be a really wonderful way to, to achieve some weight maintenance
for example, to build strength, to build tone, to build elasticity in those muscles, mobility around your joints to actually reverse, almost that aging process. So it really does regenerate our body in a really positive way. It’s really can be well used for injury prevention and even mindfully, it can be used through injury as well.
So it’s something that, you know, a lot of people say I can’t do yoga, I’m just not flexible enough. I’m not bendy. I almost hear it every single week. And. It’s a common myth that you need to be able to touch your toes, for example, to be able to do yoga and absolutely you do not. And there are shapes that, you know, you might start to feel that you are able to stretch further or for longer.
And there’s some, our bodies are all different. And so there might be some shapes that you might never be able to do the same way that someone on the mat next to you is doing. And that for me is one of the biggest teachings. Yoga is about non comparison. Yoga is your journey. And it’s about meeting where you’re at in that moment of that day, which might look different to how you feeling that morning, or might even look different to how you were yesterday.
So it’s about really being kind to yourself and meeting yourself exactly where you’re at. So I guess we’ve kind of transitioned from some of those physical, those body level benefits. We haven’t even touched on those benefits for chronic disease management, which are endless. If we were to kind of work our way through this and end up somewhere here in our head, you know, the benefits for managing mental health are huge for supporting anxiety, for, you know, helping us to find focus, for helping us to feel calm, relaxed.
You know, a lot of those breathing techniques and nobody ever needs to know that you’re doing it. You can be so subtle and suddenly you can bring that sense of calm energy back yourself. For me, it’s about learning all of those little self-help tricks. And that’s what I often say in my class. You may wish to put this in your toolbox.Felicity Cohen: A hundred percent agree with you. And there are things that people can pull out in the middle of a stressful busy day at work, just sitting at the desk. So a yoga breathing technique, you know, the benefits for adrenal fatigue, for people who have got high levels of stress, you know, for so many people how they can actually look at the benefits from a mental health perspective, as well as physical.
I think yoga combines them all and is valuable for all of us. So hopefully we can, you know, empower more and more people to look at attempting yoga and seeing the benefits.Kat Cacavas: Don’t be afraid. Felicity Cohen: We definitely need more of it in our lives. So current career, tell us a little bit about what are you actually doing now? Kat Cacavas: Look, I feel very, very lucky at the moment with my current job. And many people have asked if I wrote my own job description. I didn’t, but I think I manifested this opportunity. And it fell into my lap and I am just loving the journey. I am able at the moment to combine my two professional careers of being a dietitian and a teacher in a really meaningful way, we are launching a nutrition education program in schools in some disadvantaged
areas of Queensland, the program is called “Pick of the Crop”. And so the idea is that it takes a holistic approach to nutrition in schools. And so that includes working with local farmers and growers to try and bring more of that produce into schools, to try and encourage students to understand where food comes from, so that soil to stomach mentality, and to also open up people’s eyes to the agricultural industry, which is such a huge and important part of our country here in Australia.
That’s one component. A second component is looking at teaching and learning opportunities in schools. So how can we build on what’s already happening in curriculum to make some really meaningful and exciting opportunities for kids to learn about food, nutrition, and health. So that’s where I really start to get creative and work with the schools and,
the point of this program is not for them to feel that they’re burdened and that they’ve got to change things, and they’ve got to add things, but to integrate into what they’re doing and just start to look at how can we maybe teach that a little bit differently so that the messaging is loud and clear for the students and the wider community.
The third component is looking at what exists in schools already in terms of encouraging students to have access to fruits and vegetables, for example. And I should pause here and just mention that, you know, this whole project has come about because we know kids don’t eat enough vegetables across the country, less than 1% of kids are meeting the vegetable targets.Felicity Cohen: Wow. Kat Cacavas: It’s slightly better for fruit. Yes. Felicity Cohen: What a statistic. Kat Cacavas: It’s hugely alarming. Felicity Cohen: When you say less than 1%, what would that mean? What are they eating in a day or a week? Kat Cacavas: Look, if you were to look at a regular sized plate of foods, there would be maybe a quarter of it that had vegetables on it. And that might be what, what a child might have over the course of a week, and that’s a national statistic.
So this is, this is a widespread problem. So what the overall aim of this program is, is to find ways that we can bring more vegetables and fruit opportunities into schools, encourage kids to become more aware of these different foods. Maybe try some of these different foods and hopefully eventually start eating more of these different foods.
So that is the overall aim of the project with that, if there was even a higher aim, it’s in response to the high rates and increasing rates of childhood overweight and obesity. So if I go back into that third little layer that we’re working on in schools, it’s looking at opportunities that perhaps already exist in schools to boost vegetable and fruit intake.
So whether it’s through breakfast clubs, for example, whether it’s through, encouraging kids and families to bring a piece of fruit or vegetable to school every day and pausing at a point during the day where everybody stops and has something to eat together, which is a really, it’s got so many benefits.
Some schools are opting to have a, have a try day. So, you know, bringing these new and different vegetables and fruits into the school so that we’re exposing kids to more and all of that then has learning opportunities that reach out of it. The other layers are looking at those wider school environments.
So it’s one thing to be teaching in the classroom, but what if the kids then go to the tuck shop and the messaging is inconsistent, and this is really, this has been an ongoing challenge in this space is that they’re learning one thing here, but then they go to the tuck shop, they can order another thing, and then they have their school disco and they can, you know, have all the foods that they’ve just thought, hang on,
I thought that wasn’t what, what was, in inverted commerce, healthy diets. So it’s around transforming those other food related opportunities in schools, building school vegetable gardens as well. And the last layer is how can we communicate with parents and carers to get this message beyond the school gates and into the homes.
So it’s a multi-component exciting opportunity. And as I mentioned, I just feel like I’ve fallen on my feet with Health and Wellbeing Queensland who are supporting this project.Felicity Cohen: Amazing. I absolutely love it. And it resonates really enormously with me, especially because of my, Project Grit and what we’ve achieved and already with our study and where we hope to take it for the future.
And one of the big learnings out of that was how children actually learnt to make better discretionary food choices through their education on this program. Just learning the value of healthy food and how did that help them, not just to feel, but how is that going to help them perform at school. So there’s so much to teach them and so much to be gained.
And unfortunately this is not just an Australia wide situation that’s exclusive to perhaps children in underprivileged environments, but it’s Australia wide and it’s also worldwide. So it is a huge problem to tackle. And you know, with many people who wish to take this onboard, I hope that we’re going to achieve so much in, in changing that whole status quo for children of the future.
And for me, it’s all about, you know, reducing that childhood overweight, obesity, critical situation. You know, the statistics around increase in type two diabetes, even in kids is, is a phenomenal situation that we actually have to work towards. Reducing a hundred percent and hopefully eliminating over time.
So, I’m really excited to see that, you know, you’re part of that whole big, you know, let’s fix this problem. So congratulations, the role is obviously perfect for you. We’ve heard so much about your passion, your purpose, and what’s driven you up until now. I think the world’s got so much more to see from you.
So I, I really believe that, you know, the world of Kat Cacavas and everything that you’re going to teach us in the future across so many different levels of what you’re doing in life. We’ve got a lot to, to watch and see as you evolve. So congratulations on all you’ve achieved so far. We’re very lucky to have you here on our podcast today.
I like to finish the podcast with just the one question for you for all of my guests. What does wellness mean to you?Kat Cacavas: What a beautiful thought. For me, wellness, again, has that holistic view, so, it’s feeling a sense of, a sense of love for ones self. And then once that manifests internally, it can also affect how you operate externally.
And that would include, you know, the types of people that you might choose to spend your time with. It might include the types of foods that you choose to nourish your body with. It might include the type of exercise that you choose to, again, enjoy the experiences that you share with yourself and with others.
So, yeah, I think wellness for me starts with self love and then emanates from there.Felicity Cohen: What a beautiful message to finish on. I absolutely love that. And that’s a big part of the message that we’re sharing with patients this year is all about, self-love, self-care, is really important to start with that and hopefully all the rest is in a follow.
Thank you so much. Please join me in thanking beautiful Kat Cacavas for joining me on the Wellness Warriors podcast. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here today.
It’s been wonderfulKat Cacavas: to have this chat. Thank you for the
opportunity.Felicity Cohen: Thank you.
Thank you for joining the Wellness Warriors podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you online with us.
If you enjoy the series, please leave your review, subscribe and follow it. And we look forward to sharing many more stories with you in the future.