James Davis On Why Meditating Doesn’t Work For Him – And What He Does Instead

James Davis On Why Meditating Doesn’t Work For Him – And What He Does Instead

For James Davis, fitness is not merely a career; it’s a deeply ingrained part of his lifestyle that developed in his formative years. The co-founder of 38ºN has operated luxury fitness retreats in Ibiza and London, with plans for new retreat spaces in the pipeline. He shares insights gained from a lifetime of physical fitness and motivating tricks for those who struggle with mindfulness.

38ºN 38 Degrees North
Claire and James Davis, co-founders | Image courtesy of 38ºN

What led to your initial interest in health and fitness?
I was fortunate to attend a school that put a big emphasis on sports. I wouldn’t say I ever excelled at any one discipline but was a solid all-rounder, and got to represent my school at rugby, rowing, fencing and judo. That left me with a good appreciation of exercise and from then on, I made it part of my life.

What was your first healthy holiday experience?
I’d done a few surfing and yoga holidays, but it was heading to Formentera (the sister island of Ibiza) to compete in a triathlon that led to me settling in Ibiza and setting up a fitness retreat business.

Who are some of your role models?
My wife Claire, who is also my business partner. She is so strong, determined and organised. We train together pretty much every day and she inspires and motivates me. Another role model, although he’s a fictional character, is Rocky Balboa: he’s someone who never gives up and gives it his all. We have the quote, “It ain’t about hard you hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and keep getting up,” on our wall.

38ºN 38 Degrees North
James and Claire workout together daily | Image courtesy of 38ºN

What advice do you have for people looking to initiate a lifestyle change?
It’s never too late. It’s never the right time, but conversely the right time is always now. We often put things off because we don’t feel ready – you know what, you’re never ready and if you wait for the right moment you could wait a long time. Do your research, have a plan, but don’t overthink it. If you focus on what could go wrong you’ll never do it. Focus on what could go right. If you want to transition to a healthier lifestyle, start one step at a time: look at your nutrition, your training, your mindset, have a goal and work towards it steadily.

What can guests expect from a 38N retreat?
We offer a luxury, transformative experience. Our model is to work with leading resorts to provide the level of accommodation and amenities that our clients expect. Alongside that, we offer our training, nutrition workshops, mindset workshops and more. We’re all about balance, so we have good healthy food, hard but fun training that gets results and plenty of variety.

We want clients to find the thing that resonates with them so they’re motivated to continue once they leave. We’re about sustainable change for the long term, so a big take-away is our training formats where clients learn they don’t need hours in the gym to get results. Our clients tend to be sociable so they’ll often head out for dinner, enjoy some wine or a cocktail; all fine by us. Happiness and health is one of our mantras, and you can have both.

The mental aspects of wellness are just as important as the physical. How do you recharge mentally after a stressful situation?
I’ve tried meditation but I’m just too restless. For me, working out strengthens me mentally and always lifts my mood. My meditation time is a short run along the coast or through the countryside. I get mental clarity, stillness and inspiration. Playtime is important too – always make time for fun, especially with your partner. We advocate balance, so we’re not all protein shakes and training. We enjoy a drink, a dance and a night out too.

38ºN 38 Degrees North
Finding a balance in Ibiza | Image courtesy of 38ºN

What do you do to maintain a healthy sleeping pattern?
In Ibiza everything happens late: people don’t go for dinner until nine or 10pm. We’re normally in bed by then! We try to be in sync with nature. It’s really life-affirming to see the sunrise so we try to do that at least once a week. Generally, we’re up around that time most days. We eat dinner early and get to bed early. Given how much we train, sleeping isn’t normally an issue for us.

Could you share some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had at 38N retreats?
We are so incredibly grateful that we love what we do. We’ll train together in our free time and love training the clients. For us, it’s so rewarding to see clients get fitter and shock themselves with their positive results over the course of a retreat. There are often tears of gratitude – we love it. We have clients that have come to us four or five times now and loads that we keep in touch with and update us on their progress. We’ve had people totally transform their lives after coming to us – leaving jobs, moving to a new country or just initiating healthier changes. To see people become happier and healthier – that’s a great reward.

How did you choose the retreat locations?
I’d been going to Ibiza since the mid-1990s, including stints working at Ministry of Sound, and I kept going back year after year. Eventually, I was going to the clubs less and less and spending more time in the great natural beauty of the island. I was looking for a change away from corporate life in London, and Ibiza seemed ideal. Back then no one was really doing fitness retreats and certainly not the luxury end of the market – everyone told me I was mad at the time. We’ve just launched new retreats in Marbella, too.

38ºN 38 Degrees North
A different side to Ibiza | Image courtesy of 38ºN

What advice do you have for people once they’ve left a retreat, to continue their health and fitness journey?
We’re big on educating clients on our retreats: we’ll explain the protocols we’re doing, show them ways to train super effectively in a short block of time and we give nutrition workshops and handouts. We want to equip people with the knowledge to make the right choices for them and sustain a healthy lifestyle. We post a lot of workout videos online for people to follow, and some retreats such as our Body:Fit Plus have a 28day follow-on programme. On DNA:Fitness, we tailor-make a personalised follow-on programmes based on the client’s genetics, goals and training preferences. We also offer virtual coaching programmes allowing people to train at home with our support.

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Amanda Sheppard

The former Art & Culture editor at Time Out Hong Kong magazine, Amanda is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Asia's world city. Amanda grew up in Asia, loves hiking, stand up paddle boarding, and a day well spent outdoors. Her last holiday sunrise trekking along Indonesian volcanic landscapes gave her a taste of the healthy holiday bug, and she’s been on the lookout for her next great adventure ever since.

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