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It’s January, and suddenly everyone seems interested in gym memberships, diet overhauls, and cleaning up their act.
Every third commercial on TV is for exercise equipment or workout clothing. Every other article on my Facebook feed is about diet cleanses or losing weight.
Regardless of how high personal health ranks as a priority, almost all of us get at least a little indulgent during the holidays.
So, how do we reset?
How do we refocus on nourishing foods, exercise and mindful movement, proper rest, and meditation?
If significant lifestyle changes are the goal, how can we establish healthy supporting habits?
For the first two decades of my life, I was blind to the impact of food, exercise, meditation, and self-care on my mind, body, and quality of life. Around the time I turned 30, my eyes slowly opened to the connection between bodily and mental input and my activities. I saw the connection not just about my weight, but in my skin, energy level, mental clarity, emotional health, and so much more.
It took several years, but I discovered that a combination of an improvement in diet, yoga, exercise, and meditation vastly improved how I felt, looked, slept, and navigated life.
The biggest thing that motivated me to consistently make better lifestyle choices was the realization that I was making an investment in myself and my health. Not just my current health, but that of my future self and body.
These are the steps I take now to stay well and strong for as long as I can—may they be of benefit:
Nourishing my body
When I began cleaning up my diet by cutting out fast-food, processed foods, and sweets, I looked at it as a personal challenge of sorts.
I challenged myself to find out how many healthy things could I eat in a day. In this way, my focus wasn’t on the loss of french fries and brownies, but on the delicious options of fresh fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, leafy green salads with a rainbow of veggies for lunch, and beautifully roasted vegetables on quinoa for dinner, just as an example. Sometimes this is called the “crowding out” approach, in which the healthy foods gradually overtake, if not totally replace, the less healthy options.
Focusing on nourishing foods that left me energized, yet feeling light and buoyant, I began to see that I felt physically better overall. This positive feedback loop made me want to stick with a healthy way of eating. A mistaken revert to fast-food would leave me feeling crappy, thus proving to me that we are indeed what we eat.
It took me several years to find the way to my current style of eating. And adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to improve my overall health.
Investing in my health
Instead of “treating myself” to a day off, I found the kinder thing was to find an activity to move and strengthen my body. I viewed a run outside as an investment in my cardiovascular health—keeping my heart and muscles strong while releasing stress and tension.
Weight-bearing exercise was an investment in my bones, keeping them strong so I will hopefully remain active well into later life.
Mindful movement like yoga and Pilates keeps my muscles pliable and supple, preventing the stiffness and tightening that may or may not be inevitable with age. Mindful movement also reinforces a mind-body connection and greater body awareness.
Now I make physical activity a priority every day. Whether it’s a run, yoga practice, a long hike, or HIIT workout, I feel better when I exert my body each day. I honor my body by reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to accomplish the activity at hand. When reframing the experience with gratitude, my attitude shifts—and I’m able to enjoy the run, workout, or yoga practice.
Connecting to my source
Meditation is a chance to pause in between the activity, providing the opportunity to sit with yourself and connect to your source. I’ve heard it described that prayer is when we talk to God (or the universe) and meditation is when we listen. This stillness is only as far away as our ability to pay attention to our breath.
When I first established a regular meditation practice, I noticed how the calm and centeredness I felt during meditation carried over into the rest of my day. By sitting and observing my thoughts and patterns, I slowly found myself responding to life more—and reacting less. Reduced stress and calmer days provided all the incentive I needed to continue with at least 10 minutes a day of meditation.
If seated meditation sounds too daunting, try walking, guided, mantra-based, loving-kindness, mindfulness, or Zen meditation instead. The key is finding what works best for you.
Self-reflection and self-expression build upon a meditation practice. This process looks different for everyone, ranging from journaling to mindful movement to creative endeavors. It’s a process of asking the questions and allowing the answers to come through in your writing, dancing, creating, or any form of self-expression.
Who are you? What do you want? What is your purpose? These are the soul questions we should all continually ask, regardless of how old we are or where we are in life.
Why continually ask? Because my answers to those questions when I’m 25 will probably look very different from when I’m 45, and different again when I’m 70 years old. Discovering who we are and expressing that is a lifelong journey that never stops unfolding. Setting aside time for this exploration is key to emotional health and to reaching our full potential as individuals.
Our health on a spectrum
Each time we choose what to eat, how to spend our energy, and how to treat our body, we move in one direction or the other on that spectrum. If we find ourselves having moved too far on the spectrum away from health, we can always reset and find our way back.
At some point, those choices became about protecting and maintaining the well-being and vibrancy I’d created. “Treating myself” to a sugary dessert or over imbibing during a night out was no longer worth it, because I could clearly feel the impact those choices made on my body and energy. The concept of treating myself took on a vastly different meaning—instead of indulging, it meant truly nourishing myself.
Once I started investing in myself by regularly choosing to support my health and well-being, I started feeling better physically, mentally, and emotionally—and witnessing this progress made it easier to continue and build upon my good habits.
Making these choices was like putting money in the bank, and the more I did this, the more I saw my wealth (health) bloom and grow.