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The importance of creativity and nature for your health with Ben Heath

 
Photograph: Ryan Sheppeck

Photograph: Ryan Sheppeck

Ben Heath is a poker player turned photographer. He also happens to be my brother. What he does for a living can be tough and I found it interesting to hear that he has turned back to creativity and the natural world as a way to improve his health and be happier. 

Thanks to technology we live in a world where anyone can sit at a computer and earn a living without ever having to leave the house. Sounds great, doesn't it? But this lifestyle comes with it's downfalls too. It means shutting ourselves always from everything that comes naturally to us and staring at a screen for hours on end. It can mean staying awake until the early hours of the morning, and then struggling to sleep, it can mean not seeing sunlight for days on end and it can mean high levels of stress caused by biological imbalances. There are some careers that can take quite a toll on our general wellbeing if we’re not careful and one of those careers is poker. (I know poker has been around for a long time but technology has made it accessible to a whole new demographic who, like the rest of the world, are starting to care more about their health.)

Ben is a professional poker player and knows first-hand about the consequences of living a mentally, and physically, demanding lifestyle. When he first started playing I knew little about the poker world, even now I don't know a lot. But, what I do know is that the lifestyle can be tough, the emotional strain it can put on you can be intense and the the fact that most people just think you play a game for a living, or don't work as much as they do, is frustrating. 

  1. However, despite the criticism and funny looks Ben has worked extremely hard and had great success with poker. But, after a few years of late night tournaments online, flying to beautiful countries but only seeing the inside of a casino and a diet consisting largely of Red Bull the chosen route became significantly less appealing. And, over the last year or two Ben has changed his lifestyle dramatically. He still plays but less frequently, he makes time to explore the outdoors in countries he visits, he has completely altered his diet and has taken up bouldering and photography. 

It's incredible how nature plays such a large part in our lives. Even when we try to shut it out it will find its way back in, and you'll be glad it did. 

I wanted to dig a little deeper and show you the side of a poker player you don't often see so here are a few questions I asked Ben to answer plus some of his beautiful photography.   

Q: How long have you been playing poker?

A: I’ve been playing poker professionally for about 3 and a half years now but played as a hobby for a few years before that during my time at University.

Q: When did you realise you could make a living from playing poker?

A: I think I was aware that there were people out there who made a living from it when I was at University, but I didn’t really understand much about it then. After University I started talking to people in a Skype chat and learning a bit more. I realised that there were a lot of people out there making a good living from poker, this was late 2013 I guess.

Q: What is there about the life of a poker player that people don’t know?

A: It’s maybe not something that people don’t already know about but something that not many appreciate until they have done it and that is the fact that the highs and lows can really get to you. I’ve had a lot of people tell me things like ‘it must be nice playing a game for a living’, and sure, it is great and I love it, but it’s also got its drawbacks. Having no fixed income and sometimes playing long hours every day for months just to come out at a big loss can be tough to deal with. The big wins come a lot less often than it appears from the outside, and we don’t so readily advertise our big losses. I got a lot better at detaching my emotions from the results, or maybe just reducing my emotions, but it was hard to do at times without reducing them in other aspects of life which isn’t something I want to happen. I’ve found bringing back some creative outlets into my life has started to reverse that trend.

Q: What strains does the lifestyle put on you?
A: The travelling can get very tiring. Earlier this year I had to fly Melbourne to LA, LA to San Jose, San Francisco to Vegas, Vegas to Panama, Panama to Vegas and then Vegas to the UK over a 6 week period. It sounds great on the surface, but the majority of the time in these places is spent inside casinos.

The swings can also have an effect. Although you learn to put it aside and not think about the money whilst playing, it still takes its toll sometimes. Especially when you’re winning/losing such large amounts every trip and don’t know which it will be. I think a lot of players feel the strain from the lack of financial security especially at the beginning. 

Q: You’ve recently taken up photography. Does photography help you to switch off?

I’ve recently started spending more time on it, yeah. At first it was because I wanted to have memories of the poker trips which had a tendency to all blur together in my mind and phone photos weren’t really cutting it, but quite quickly I realised that I loved it just for the act of photography itself. I find it quite hard to shut my mind off to the things going on with poker and other work and I find when I’m taking photos I just forget about all that and focus on the world I can see through the lens. It’s invaluable to me now and along with climbing the best way for me to switch off for a bit.

Q: You travel to some incredible places with poker, which is your favourite so far?  

A: I have been really lucky in that respect. Tournament poker can make you travel a lot and the games are often in great places. I think my favourite is actually Las Vegas. Before I went I didn’t think I’d like it at all, I thought it would be a bit like what you see on TV and in films like The Hangover, but after spending some time there I started to really love it. Of course, it’s like the films if you want it to be, but there’s a whole other side to it, the climbing gyms are some of the best I’ve been to, there’s endless hiking 30 mins drive away in all directions in places like Red Rock and Mt. Charleston, and the food is crazy good (and healthy). 

Q: A lot of your Instagram shots are landscapes. Do you find getting out into nature helps take your mind off poker for a bit?

Before photography I used to really enjoy hiking when I found time during the summers in Vegas because it would completely take my mind off poker. I find it really easy to forget how many distractions we have these days and how much noise there is everywhere, it’s incredibly relaxing to just go out into the wilderness into the silence and walk for a few hours. Plus, the photography is pushing me to do it more and more since a lot of great places to shoot tend to be a little bit off the beaten track, which is an added bonus for me.

Q: As someone who earns a living from technology what value does nature hold for you?

A: I think for a while at the start of my poker career nature was not an important part of my life at all, I was spending so many hours playing online and it was very easy to let everything else take a back seat. Now that I’ve started to bring it back to the forefront I’ve realised how important it is to me and how well it compliments poker and my other interests which are very much tech based. I’m looking for ways to integrate it into my day-to-day life now and really think I couldn’t go back, it makes me way too happy.

"I find it really easy to forget how many distractions we have these days and how much noise there is everywhere, it’s incredibly relaxing to just go out into the wilderness into the silence" - Ben Heath 

It's easy for all of us to forget how much we have going on around us and how unnatural it is to be constantly switched on. It's important for our physical and mental health that we learn to slow down and appreciate the world in which we live. Our bodies are thousands, if not millions of years behind our minds and they know what we need all we need to do is listen. 

Follow Ben on Instagram: @ben__heath