In her pursuit of health and happiness, the worldly singer
turns to richly diverse sources.
By Allan Richter
I’ll be your keeper for life as your guardian
I’ll be your warrior of care your first warden
I’ll be your angel on call, I’ll be on demand
The greatest honor of all, as your guardian
-From “Guardian” by Alanis Morissette
In “Guardian,” one of her more recent songs, Alanis Morissette sings a pledge of protection and care to her son Ever, now 3½. On the album from which the song comes, “Havoc and Bright Lights,” the singer explores themes of motherhood, politics, spirituality and philosophy. As underscored by the many roles she sings about—keeper, warrior, angel, guardian—Morissette is the sum of many parts culled from her extensive interests, made even broader by her world concert tours.
Apparent in the multi-ingredient and multicultural soups she enjoys preparing for her family and friends, the theme of blending those parts and interests was a recurring one in a wide-ranging interview with Morissette. It rears its head in the styles she embraces in her yoga practice. And it shows up in her music, at once raw, powerful and beautiful.
The theme of blending also is evident in Morissette’s approach to health and happiness. She is well-read and draws from diverse wells of expertise to shape her thinking about everything that really matters, from food to relationships to health and spirituality. Those latter dynamics are a family affair;
her twin brother Wade is a yogi and musician whose blend of yoga she heartily embraces.
Morissette spoke candidly from her Los Angeles home just before heading off to Maui to write a book aiming to shed light on some of her insights.
Energy Times: You embrace natural approaches to health and happiness. What are the origins of that thinking?
Alanis Morissette: My temperament is highly sensitive. I could speak for hours about what that means, but how it shows up for me is that I’m very attuned to very subtle things, whether it’s food or minerals or lighting or sound or smells; overstimulation happens pretty easily.
So what led me to inquire about some of the harder things in my life and write about them is that I felt overwhelmed pretty quickly out of the gate. I had a really low tolerance for suffering, my own and in other people. I’m an empath, so from a very young age I would try to understand why there is unease or unrest or disconnection. I think it started from before I could even speak, according to my parents.
ET: It sounds like they are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, that sensitivity lends itself very well to your creativity and art. On the other, it can make the world a little overwhelming.
AM: Exactly. It’s a package deal. On the one hand, it creates great art. There are some incredible insights and a rich inner world that I dwell in as often as possible. I’ll go into a country, land on the tarmac and will be overwhelmed with a lot of information that maybe otherwise I wouldn’t be. That has led me to want to create a lifestyle that allows me to not only manage that but also allows me to serve other people in their tenderness and their humanity, too. I’m at peace with the fact that I am what I am.
ET: How does that lifestyle manifest itself in terms of the way you live and the way you treat your body with food and diet and spirituality and fitness?
AM: I’m very aware of food as medicine. My son is vegan and I’m about 80% vegan; my vegan friends hate it when I say that.
Being in the sun—I’m very affected by not having enough sun in my eyes. The sun helps us create vitamin D.
Community is huge. In cultures around the planet, really, the village is disappearing. With that comes this rise in depression and rise in this sense of disconnection among people. You don’t have to look too far beyond the fact that communities have dissolved to find why that might be the case. I have sort of a nomadic community in that I spend time in Canada, I have family up there, and we’re going to go to Maui for awhile. I’m writing a book, so I’m going to work with a few different writers over there.
ET: You meet your fans after shows. I guess that’s part of that as well?
AM: Yes, as often as I can. Some days I just don’t have it in me.
ET: Tell me about the book you’re planning to write.
AM: I’ll be talking about that which I have experience in, so recovery from eating disorders, work addiction and commentary on fame and the artistic process, using my own life as a case study. I have so many teachers in my life I’ve either been trained by directly or whose books and workshops I’ve been obsessed with, so I’m constantly inquiring into the journey. It’s a spiritual, psychological, energetic, animal thing.
ET: You’ve talked about understanding people who are overweight instead of judging them.
AM: I know a lot of people who sort of have “fatist” beliefs. They just avoid people who are overweight. They don’t even talk to them, they won’t look at them. That’s so separatist and distressing for me. Instead of vilifying someone for yo-yo dieting, which I have in my life, maybe we should think, “Oh something must be happening if there’s an extreme going on here.”
ET: Tell me about the eating disorder you’ve wrestled with.
AM: Yeah, through my teens I’ve had it. I had anorexia and bulimia, so I was doing both depending on when you caught me. Then I’ve had varying numbers on the scale over the years. Being in the public eye, there’s a lot of bullying that goes on online in general, but then specifically about what we look like in Hollywood.
ET: I wonder what you learned from Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live (Little, Brown), which you cite on your blog as important source material for your health. How have Fuhrman’s book and your readings of The China Study, the huge nutritional survey, changed your diet?
AM: They’ve made me think more in terms of being nutrient-focused versus caloric. Really, just focusing on the level of nutrients in foods, the difference between what nutrients and vitamins and minerals are found in sunflower seeds versus almonds.
Joel Fuhrman is really explicit on every nutrient and phytochemical found within the foods we eat, so I started viewing food as this sacred fuel that has to be delicious because sensuality is paramount to me. So if there is a perception of a plant-based diet just being seeds and berries, which by the way is not a terrible thing, but if the perception is that having a plant-based diet is somehow not delicious, we might benefit from throwing that on its head a little bit so we can get a little more creative in the kitchen and actually have veganism or a plant-based diet be identified more with deliciousness and sensuality.
ET: What would be an example of that in your diet?
AM: I cook a lot. I cook at least two or three times a week here at my house. I make a ton of soups, so I’ll put a ton of vegetables in and I’ll give it more of an Asian flair with some of the spices that I use or I’ll make it really hot. Or I’ll make a cauliflower soup. I’m obsessed with soups. In our house, I want to make it so that the healthy version is the delicious version. That’s a challenge for moms and parents in general. In soups, you can bury some things that may not be the No. 1 choice. I’ll also make quinoa with garbonzo beans in an Indian dish. My greatest culinary joy is when I turn to my family or friends and say, “What country?” They say, “Thailand.” Then I spend the next couple of days putting together the best version of a Thai soup that I can. Or they’ll say, “Mexico,” so I’ll do my homework.
ET: You mention that you are 80% vegan. What’s the other 20%?
AM: I eat a lot of fish. I’m obsessed with oysters. I say that with a little bit of shame, because I can hear my vegan friends “tssk tssking” right now.
ET: You mention the importance of vitamin D. Do you take it in supplement form?
AM: Sometimes as a supplement. On the road I used to have a lamp because I was in backstage areas and on the bus overnight, and I just had a hard time sitting outside for an hour or two. So sometimes a light, sometimes vitamin D supplements but I’m happiest when I’m on the beach in the sun.
I also sometimes take a multivitamin. My husband is an aficionado with the minerals and herbs, and he loves Chinese medicine, too, so I’m often taking the minerals he’s handing to me. But my mainstays are multivitamins, and you especially want to get that B12 in there if you’re going with the veganism approach. There’s a lack of it in plant-based diets.
ET: What flavor of yoga do you subscribe to?
AM: If there’s any word that indicates what I’m up to, it’s integration. So I love blending, whether it’s the essential oils that I’ve collected around the planet or yoga or even the style of design in my home. With yoga, first of all I think my twin brother is one of the best teachers for this very reason, is that he’s so well-trained and has spent a lot of time in India and has had a lot of teachers. He sort of blended it all together into an integrated practice, and that’s what I do. There’s some gestalt in there, there’s some flow series, with hatha.
ET: It sounds like a yoga soup.
AM: That’s right! (laughs)
ET: What, else do you do to stay fit? I don’t take you for a gym or treadmill person.
AM: I was a gym person for a while. I was running marathons for charity; I found attaching a charity to an athletic endeavor gives you an incentive beyond the physical payoff. There can be an emotional and social one as well. I had a lovely New York Marathon experience and in San Francisco, too. I’d like to run marathons again, but not anytime soon.
ET: How has parenting changed your view and lifestyle?
AM: I had post-partum depression. It was a real wakeup call to realize the fallout of there not having been enough community and my not having been that great at reaching out for support. To survive in the music industry as a woman, I had to become a little more masculinzed. That vulnerability and receptivity, I hadn’t cultivated those qualities in myself.
So when it came time for me to reach out for help, it was outside of my wheelhouse.
I believe very much in attachment parenting, so I breastfed Ever until he was finished [earlier this year]. I’m obsessed with stages of development; if people understood these stages, we’d have so many more answers about why we behave the way we do as adults. Certainly applying this knowledge to my son and our interaction has been incredible. I feel like I’m a student. Every time I’m with my son I’m learning how humans work.
ET: What are those stages?
AM: The first is the attachment stage, having this deep bond that happens with the primary caregiver. Attachment parenting is sort of an umbrella term that people often equate with lengthy breastfeeding, but really it’s an approach to creating a deep bond with your child and being consistent. The second is the exploration stage; the key there would be to create safety and freedom for the little one. The third stage is identity. It’s really important for caregivers to mirror this so children can form a sense of identity in life; they achieve that by being mirrored as consistently and accurately as possible. The fourth stage is competence, so you want to help them in doing things themselves and step away when they don’t need help.
These main four stages are very intuitive and they require a lot from the parents if we want to do it well. That’s where community comes in. These first four stages of development put a lot of pressure on the parents and teachers and other adults around young people, so community is key.
The fifth and sixth stages I’m not as obsessed with because they’re later, but I think they’re about intimacy and compassion and service, developing the capacity in the teen years to forge functional connections with people.
ET: You’re a fan of Harville Hendrix, PhD, whose book, Keeping the Love You Find: A Personal Guide (Atria), you’ve said changed your view of relationships. How did it enlighten you?
AM: It created such profound self-awareness. It clarified things by explaining why I had some of the tendencies I had, to be maybe the pursuer in the relationship or being the person who runs away or shuts down. It brings you through that whole journey in such an intelligent, compassionate, spiritual and clear way that relationships were no longer a mystery anymore.
I believe that a committed partnership could offer a kind of healing that less committed relationships simply could not offer. One great quote is that the healing is commensurate to the degree of commitment and intimacy in a relationship. Even in a professional relationship, that becomes a hotbed for some mutual healing. The professional world could benefit from a little healing, to be honest. It can be harrowing for the sensitive artist.
Writing this book is actually a bit of a lifesaver. There are certain perspectives that come from being in the heat of fame, wanting to comment on what’s happening politically, socially and culturally in the world.
ET: What spa treatments soothe you?
AM: Ideally it would be a hot springs somewhere. Locally there’s the Beverly Hot Springs. Deep tissue massage. I love when the practitioner can blend their sensibilities, approach it from a very holistic way, with a sense of spirit, deep compassion and skill.
ET: What is your take on the therapeutic benefits of music?
AM: There’s the universality of it. In Japan, China, India and all these places where I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of playing, there are a lot of people in the audience who don’t speak English, and yet there’s this visceral response. I’m convinced that sound waves can move energy and change vibration. I know that’s certainly the case with me. Whether it’s crystal bowls for me, whether it’s meditation music, whether it’s chanting—my brother creates such beautiful kirtan [chanting] music and I love going to his live shows—anything that can involve this healing quality I’m a big fan of. I’m still a student of it. I’m learning what it actually means on a scientific level because there have been a lot of studies about how sound affects cells. I have a profound fascination with it all, what it means to be human, what we are doing here and how we got here.
ET: It’s obvious that you don’t discount the negative side of life. You once said, “We’re taught to be ashamed of confusion, anger, fear and sadness, and to me they’re of equal value to happiness, excitement and inspiration.”
AM: Are frustration and depression my favorites? No. But they are usually an indication of something. So part of how I get back to wellness is by walking through the valley of challenge.