Historically, I have not been a great manager of my body.
I’ve let my choices be dictated by preferences—eating, drinking, doing what I like, and avoiding what I don’t like. But this way of living has not been entirely effective. It’s produced injury, confusion, insecurity, depression, anxiety, and a host of other things that happen when I don’t take my role as manager seriously.
These past few years have been an experiment in understanding what it actually means to be a good manager of my body. Is it about aligning my choices with my preferences or is there another barometer that I should use to determine what to do and what to avoid in life?
I am starting to see that a life led by preferences is not necessarily effective, and doesn’t produce the outcome that I most desire: lasting happiness.
When I sit down to evaluate whether I am living the way I want to, there are a few things that stand out to me as points of entry: food, exercise, and the mental influences I choose to keep in my life.
It seems like every time I think I know something about how food works with my body, I find a new piece of information that directly contradicts what I thought I knew.
If my goal is to feel better in my life, in both good situations and challenging ones, then food has to be part of the formula.
In order to make food more simple and empowering for me, I now categorize it into two buckets: energy and celebration. These buckets don’t signify hard and fast rules, but rather enable me to eat intuitively without spending my whole day thinking about what I’m going to eat.
Eating for energy means that I know the energetic components of my food: how much energy the food will provide, how long it will take for the energy to kick in, and what additional effects it will have on my system (inflammation, lethargy, depression).
I eat mostly plants, drink a lot of water, track my consumption (I don’t do this formally, although I have many friends who use spreadsheets or apps for tracking), and do time-restricted eating.
And, of course, there are still times where it’s best to eat only what I want to eat, which I refer to as celebration. But celebration only works if I’m eating for energy most of the time, and engaging in celebratory eating when it’s actually, well, a celebration.
I want my eating to be something that energizes and enables me to enjoy whatever task is at hand without feeling deprived or bogged down by my choices.
The human body is designed to move, so it makes sense that I feel a sort of depression when I neglect this need. Not only is the body designed to move, but it’s designed to move in a variety of ways, under a variety of circumstances.
The thing is, for the past 10 years, I have focused on getting the majority of my exercise from my yoga practice. Because I love yoga so much, it always seemed like a great fit to have my practice accommodate the entire spectrum of my movement needs.
But squeezing in cardio, strengthening, stabilizing, stretching, coordination, endurance, and stamina in every yoga practice, and repeating this practice day after day, year after year, has probably not been one of my better life choices—and has not been effective either.
In fact, it’s led to repetitive stress injuries, unbalanced strengthening, and a general not-fun vibe that happens when I expect too much from one thing.
Our bodies need cardio, whether we’re trail running, doing HIIT exercises, jumping rope, cycling, swimming, or—yes—even sweaty Sun Salutations. Cardio strengthens our heart, improves our ability to run and move, and gives us a sense of accomplishment.
Our bodies also need strength training, whether we’re using our body weight to build strength in yoga, lifting weights, or using kettlebells. Building sustainable strength requires us to place our joints in optimal positions, and strengthen the soft tissue around them to support loaded movements.
Our bodies also need what I think of as friendliness. Our bodies want us to know about our joints, our connective tissue, the potential for our range of motion. Our bodies need us to develop our proprioception—our ability to localize each part of our body in space, our coordination, and stability.
They also need us to know how to take care of them in recovery.
Mindful movement activities that encourage us to pay attention to what we’re doing as we’re doing it are useful for building this intelligence. This is where yoga fits into the recipe, along with other low impact forms of exercise such as pilates, or tai chi.
Being a good manager of our bodies means having a thorough understanding of its needs—what makes it feel good, what makes it feel capable, what makes it feel alive.
The last thing I look at when I ask myself whether I’m being the best manager of my body that I can be is: What are my mental influences? What am I reading? What am I listening to? What am I surrounding myself with?
To be a good manager of my body in this regard means surrounding myself with influences that help me understand the nature of who I am.
This includes what I’m reading—books, news sources, different media. It also includes what I’m listening to, such as podcasts, lectures, and points of view from the people in my life.
It includes entertainment, such as what I’m watching on Netflix or the events that I attend. It includes who I regard as my teachers in life and what messages they are sharing. It includes who I follow on social media and what value I receive from those interactions.
And it includes what is showing up in my inbox every day, and ensuring that the influences that roll through are ones that are adding value to my life in some way.
Influences are what help us become smarter, bust through false belief systems, and reorganize our self-perception, and how we view the world.
For anyone who feels a little out of tune in any of these three areas—food, exercise, and mental influences—I’m here to say: You’re not alone. We are all learning how to manage our lives and find happiness.
It happens little by little, through persistence, and trial and error—the goal is not a magical, overnight transformation.
The goal is to be able to look back at our lives in three months, six months, a year from now, and see that our lives have suddenly become closer to what we want them to be.