Most of the time, despite the neglect and abuse we all too often heap upon them, our bodies serve us wonderfully well. But that’s no excuse to overlook them when we’re developing positivity plans. On the contrary! To be at our best, we need optimum health. Our bodies deserve our utmost attention and care.
When you think about it, your body is your very best friend and most valued possession. It’s been down every road you ever walked, knows all your deepest secrets, has suffered your most severe pains, and experienced your highest pleasures. It breathes your breath and beats your heart and heals your wounds. It delivers all the sights, sounds, fragrances, flavors and textures of the world to you. Where would you be without it!
Miraculously, the body’s needs are few: air, water, food, and rest. It likes to move and to be kept at a reasonable temperature. Given adequate supplies of those basics, it will take you far.
The Practice: One Step Toward Radiant Health
To kick your health quotient up a notch, read over the list of basics below and choose one thing – just one – that you can begin doing daily that would give your health more zing. Which basic have you been neglecting most? Your nutrition? Exercise? Sleep?
First, think about where you want to put your attention. Tune into your body and let it help you choose. Then decide what one thing you could do that would move you toward greater health in that area. Make it something small and specific that you can add to your daily routine with only a minor adjustment. You’re not looking to overhaul your entire lifestyle here, simply to bring your attention and care back to your wonderful body so that you can support it in supporting you.
If you decide to focus on breathing more deeply, for example, you can set aside ten minutes every day to practice. If you chose the area of nutrition as your focus, you could start with something as simple as deciding to pack a healthy lunch instead of buying fast food on your lunch hour. Here are 25 lunch ideas for you from Eating Well.
To help you stay focused as you learn to make the change a natural and permanent part of your life, track your success with it for a month. (See Keeping on Track: Three Tools for the Road for a couple of good, free online tracking programs.) And decide on a rewarding token or experience you can give yourself after you have successfully practiced your one thing for 30 days.
Breathe, Baby, Breathe
Are you breathing deeply, slowly and well? If so, you’re gaining these benefits:
- You’re reducing stress, promoting longevity, helping yourself prevent high blood pressure, and easing asthma;
- You’re releasing endorphins—our natural painkillers. You’re sleeping better, having fewer headaches, backaches and other stress-related aches and pains.
- You’re clearing your mind and helping yourself stay focused
- You’re strengthening your abdominal and intestinal muscles.
Slow, deep breathing bathes and nourishes every cell of our bodies with life-living oxygen, and carries away toxins from our blood streams. Yet good breathing is probably the most neglected health habit of all.
Good breathing means you’re breathing from your abdomen, your core. An article on deep breathing at Discovery Health beautifully describes how it’s related to maintaining your positivity:
“When you breathe with your abdomen, you create a center; when you have a center, you are more confident and coordinated; when you have confidence, you have much more potential and are not afraid of challenges. In effect, you are bringing back the potential that God gave you. You are not afraid anymore. ”
I especially liked this visualization in part 2 of the article that describes how to breathe from your core. It’s from Nancy Zi, author of the book, The Art of Breathing:
To fill the lungs more deeply, she advises, “Lower the diaphragm muscle by expanding the abdomen. When this happens, the lungs elongate and draw in air. You don’t breathe into the abdomen; you allow it to expand comfortably all around its circumference — back, sides and front. Proper core breathing is really the foundation for all things — it’s the foundation of health.”
“Where is the core?” the article continues. “It’s below the navel a few inches or so. It isn’t a thing, you can’t see it: it’s a sensation. Zi likes to use the image of a lotus blossom when teaching people how to breathe from their core:
“When you inhale, imagine a blossom opening within your abdomen; when you exhale, the blossom closes. You open from the center of the blossom, the core. What causes the petals to open is the energy from the core; the more you breathe from the core, the more you stimulate and nourish its energy, and you become more in control.”
You can find three great breathing exercises from Dr. Andrew Weil—one for energizing you, one for relaxing, and one for meditation—here.
Have a Drink
Turns out there’s a lot of urban myth and misinformation about how much liquid you need. The best advice? Drink enough to keep from being thirsty. And what should you drink? You can’t go wrong with water. Ditch the soda pop, cut down or cut out the caffeine. But you already knew that. Just do it!
Get Your Moves On
Move! Stretch, build some stamina and strength. That’s the whole formula. Pick whatever means you please and put it in motion. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a good beginner’s guide. (And whatever you plan choose, my personal hint is that exercise always goes better if you do it to music or with a friend.)
Whole foods? Organic and locally grown or not, whole foods are the ones that come wrapped in nature’s packaging: Fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. If you like, add fish, meats, poultry and dairy that’s as near the source and messed with by humans as little as possible. (Choose grass fed meats, free range chickens, and wild seafood, for example.)
The benefits? When you give your body the fuel it was designed to run on, you’ll see your energy soar. You’ll sleep better, heal faster, and have a stronger, more powerful immune system. Studies prove that eating a varied diet of fresh, yummy whole foods reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer and type 2 diabetes. And as an added plus, whole foods are generally cheaper than processed.
The drawbacks? You’ll have to learn to cook. But don’t worry, this lost art is more easily mastered than you might think. Here’s a list of user-friendly cookbooks to get you started (or to give you some fresh ideas, if you’re already at home with the range):
Catch the Early Train to Dreamland
In her book Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, Marci Shimoff quotes a study from the journal Science that says the quality of our sleep has a greater influence on our ability to enjoy our day than household income or marital status.
Cheat yourself of sufficient sleep (meaning fewer than 7-8 hours every night) and you’ll reap irritability, poor concentration and memory, a low stress threshold, social ineptitude, and just plain tiredness. Yuk! Sleep six or fewer hours and you triple your risk of a car accident.
Go to bed early for three nights in a row and see how your mood changes. (Shimoff calls this “catching the 10 pm angel train.”) Indulge in a 15-20 minute afternoon nap. If you have trouble sleeping, do some online research to learn what factors contribute to easy sleep. To get you started, here are “Ten Tips for Better Sleep” from the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes something as simple as a change in the temperature of your bedroom or removing some of its clutter can make all the difference in the world.
A Final Word
One of the very best things you can do to optimize your health is to continue building your positivity. Adding more gratitude, kindness, pleasure, mindfulness and meaning to your day keeps those happiness hormones pumping right through your energy streams. Immerse yourself in positivity and you give every other health practice a giant, measurable boost. It’s a wonderful feedback loop: positivity feeds health, which in turn feeds positivity. So pick a practice for notching up your health today. And as you work on building it into your daily routine, smile. Have the best of both worlds; you deserve it.