Our health consists of habits formed over a lifetime. What we eat, how we move, the thoughts we think -- all of these contribute to the ways our bodies respond to our environment. We become more powerful as we consciously choose and create these habits. What better new year's gift to give yourself than creating one new healthy habit.
The following steps will take you through the process of choosing and integrating one habit that will enhance your life in a positive way and become part of the foundation for a healthy balanced life.
Create Your Activity
1. Choose Wisely
Choose something you want to do, rather than something you think you should do. Choose something that you want to do tomorrow and also three years from now. Choose an activity that you can do given the present circumstances and resources of your life. If, for example, you want to join a gym make sure there is one that you can easily get to and that is open at hours that are convenient for you. Make sure that you can afford the cost of membership. I believe that each of us already knows of at least one thing we can do to improve our lives. If you have a long list of things, choose the one that feels most meaningful to you.
2. Think Small, Stay Simple
Begin with a small, achievable task rather than elaborate, unattainable goal. Focus on the task itself. If you dream of writing a novel, you might want to begin by setting aside a certain amount of time each day to write. Focus on the activity, rather than the goal. Goals are admirable, but generally achievable only if we focus on the activities that are necessary for their fruition. Thoreau said, “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
3. Be Creative
Sometimes we are in situations where we are unable to do the things we want to. Here’s where creativity comes into play. If your activity is to spend an hour each week at the ocean but you live in landlocked Iowa, you might get a video of ocean scenes, a CD with the sound of waves breaking on the sand, suntan lotion and some shells.
4. Commit to the Activity
Commit to spending at least one hour each week on this activity for the next three months. This can be 10 minutes everyday, 20 minutes three days a week or one hour once a week. If you cannot or do not want to commit to one hour a week, choose something else. If you are already committed to spending time each week that supports a balanced life, than commit to bringing more attention to that time. (See Step 10.)
5. Write It Down
There is something about the act of writing something down that solidifies it. It serves both to define the action and as a symbol of intent. There is a shift that happens when something goes from idea to tangible form. There are many ways of writing something down. You can do it very privately, on a folded up piece of paper or in a journal. You can write something and put it on your mirror or refrigerator. Just as the action itself comes from an inner, personal space so will the writing of it. Do what feels right to you.
If this activity is worth doing, it is worth doing now (or at least within this week.) This piece is often the most difficult. Waiting for the perfect moment may mean putting off something indefinitely. Just start now.
7. Begin Again
None of us are perfect. Our lives are complicated. Stuff unexpectedly happens. So if you are unable for whatever reason to do your chosen activity for a day, a week or even a month, begin again. Learn from your experience. Sometimes it takes a few false starts to develop a good habit. In the long run you are better off starting again then giving up on something important to you in your life. I once read that the people who succeed the most are also those who fail the most. Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
8. Get Help
Bring into your life people who support you in your journey towards health whether it’s a friend, a medical care provider or a significant other. Sometimes we need help. Intervention is often necessary to keep our bodies healthy.
9. Reward Yourself
Taking care of yourself is an accomplishment. Often our busy lives do not support choices that keep us healthy. Acknowledge the time and effort put into your new habit. Congratulate yourself. Tell your friends. Go wild!
10. Bring Intention to Your New Habit
Rather than going through the motions, use your time each week to connect more deeply with yourself. Good health is a sensory experience. If you are eating healthier take this opportunity to fully taste your food. If you are spending an hour each week listening to music or looking at art, fully see or fully hear. Whatever you have chosen to do be sure to notice your breath. We cannot live for more than a few minutes without breathing. The quality of our breath, the way we breathe, to a large extent determines the quality of our lives. Whatever you are doing you are also breathing. As you embrace your newly chosen activity, breathe deeply into your lower abdomen.
GO BACK TO STEP ONE
Whether you have successfully integrated a new, healthy habit into your life or have experienced three months of hell, or most likely, are somewhere in between, go back to step one. Learn from your accomplishments as well as your mistakes. You now have the advantage of experience in this process.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), said “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”
Take a moment to reflect on this. As humans we often focus on the things that we have done wrong. We could be better, smarter, richer, thinner... fill in your own adjective. I encourage you to begin a practice of remembering and acknowledging all that is right with you. Do it now, as you read this.
1. Focus on your body. Write down all the things that are right about it. For example,
2. Focus on your actions. Write down a list of all the things that you have done to take good care of yourself and those that you love.
3. Focus on your thoughts. Write down all the thoughts that lift you up. Look to your favorite quotes for inspiration.
4. Focus on your emotions. Make a list of times when you felt complete, happy and at peace.
5. Focus on your connections. Make a list of all the positive connections that you have had with people in your life.
6. Focus on your accomplishments. Make a list of your accomplishments over the past year. Include projects big and small.
You are an amazing being!
Revel in this. Take your list of all that is good and right with you and post it on your bulletin board or on your refrigerator. Acknowledge yourself fully and completely.
When you find yourself being critical about something that you have done, switch to being gentle. Surround yourself with love and kindness. Lift yourself up when times get hard.
Look at your list of all that is right with you EVERY DAY. I promise that this practice will transform your life.
Acupuncture plays close attention to the cycle of the seasons. As shown in the diagram, each season corresponds to a particular element and organ. Balance between these entities is key for achieving harmony in the world and health in the body.
The earth element comes into play at this time of year. This element is a central one. It is activated in late summer and also for short periods of time at the end of the other seasons. The earth element is associated with transformation. It's perfect in helping us make the shift from the relaxing, playful days of summer to the busyness of work and school.
Each element in the five element system has a corresponding organ, emotion, color, season and tissue. For the earth element, the organ is the spleen-pancreas (our digestive system), the emotion is ruminating or over-thinking, the color is yellow, the season is late summer and the tissue is muscles.
Here are ways to keep your spleen energy strong and improve your health at this time of year:
Use the wisdom taught by Oriental Medicine over the ages to help you in your life today.
We each have approximately 206 bones in the body. Bones are living things that are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. Bones are strong – ounce for ounce they carry as much weight as reinforced concrete. Unfortunately, our bones tend to weaken as we age. Until about age 30, we make new bone faster than we break down old bone. After that we lose more bone mass then we gain, which can result in osteoporosis, a condition where bones become brittle, porous and subject to fracture.
Here are a few things that you can do at any age to keep your bones functioning well.
1. Include weight bearing exercises in your daily routine. These exercises cause small amounts of damage to the bone. Osteoblasts, cells in the bone marrow, respond by creating new bone to repair the damage, which results in denser, stronger bones.
2. Get sufficient amounts of calcium. The body doesn't produce calcium, so we need to get it from our diets. There is some controversy about the appropriate amount of calcium that we need on a daily basis. I tend to side with Dr. Walter Willet, Chair of the Nutrition Department at Harvard University School of Public Health, who recommends getting 500-700mg of calcium daily for adults, a little lower than the US recommended daily requirement.
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that dairy, a high source of calcium, weakens the digestive system. Instead include spinach, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, kale, sardines with bones, soy products, quinoa, amaranth and parsley in your diet. If you take a supplement, take no more than 250mg at a time with meals since the body has difficulty absorbing more than this.
3. Don't forget about Magnesium and Vitamin D. It's important to have sufficient amounts of magnesium to help with the absorption of calcium. Aim for approximately 400 mg a day. Foods rich in magnesium include whole grains, dried seaweed, soybeans and soy products, foods with dietary fiber, nuts and seeds, beans & legumes.
Vitamin D increases the intestinal absorption of calcium. In earlier times, when we spent more time in the sun and before the advent of sunscreen, our bodies manufactured enough of this vitamin. Today, particularly during winter months, you might need to take a supplement. Recommended amounts are 2,000 and 4,000 IUs a day of vitamin D3. If you have a deficiency, correct it with 5,000 to 10,000 IUs of vitamin D3 a day for three months—but only under a doctor’s supervision. (Higher doses should ideally be combined with vitamin K, and many better supplements combine these two vitamins.)
4. Limit caffeine and alcohol. These can lead to bone loss. Have no more than 2 cups or glasses of each per day.
5. Avoid long-term use of steroids. These can lead to lower bone density.
6. Massage the acupuncture point Kidney 7. Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that the kidneys are associated with bones. Find this point two finger widths above the ankle.
Headaches come in a variety of forms from tension headaches to migraines. Causes include structural, hormonal and immune system imbalances, sinus congestion and one of the most common culprits – stress.
Whatever the cause, headaches can be debilitating – wrecking havoc with the best of lives.
Here are some simple suggestions to get relief:
The most important thing is to begin to find relief. On your calendar, write down the day and time of day when you have a headache. See if you notice any patterns. Start practicing the above suggestions. See if they make a difference. Keep track of how you are doing. By paying attention, YOU can become a healthier, happier person!
Oriental Medicine teaches us that we need to rest. Our active yang side needs to be balanced by our receptive yin side. Just as day turns into night, activity gives way to rest. This is one of the primary rhythms of our lives. Western science is finding evidence that this can be verified by studying the brain.
Scientists have known that memories are formed and consolidated during sleep. In addition, a study published in the journal, Science, provides evidence that waste products that accumulate in the brain are removed to a much greater extend during sleep. Those zzzzs are truly important.
Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. For some of us, we just don’t allocate that much time. In our fast-paced culture, it’s easy to burn both sides of the candle. So it’s important to ask, “Am I allowing myself to get sufficient rest?” If not, it’s time to take a look at your calendar and make some adjustments.
Other people are in bed at a reasonable hour, but have problems falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Here are some suggestions.
Here's to sweet dreams!
One of the great strengths of Eastern thought is its ability to allow for the existence of two opposing forces or ideas at the same time. With this in mind, I offer you some suggestions for maintaining balance throughout the holiday season. My suggestions embrace the notion that the yang side of the holidays – the parties, eating, gift-giving, decorations and commercialism – can be balance by the yin side – the soul, the heart and the connections we have with ourselves, our memories and the people we care about. By slowing down a little and paying attention to our inner, yin side, we can find and create special meaning at this time of year. Here are some ideas to help you explore ways of doing this. These are only my ideas. Please take them, mutate them and transform them into your own.
Expectations run high over the holiday season. We try hard and mean well. Often the fruits of our labors pay off. The table looks beautiful. We purchased the perfect gift. Our children/spouses/friends are happy. But once in awhile, we say or do the wrong thing. We arrive late. We forget someone’s name. We become entrenched in old emotions that shadow a present situation. We become depressed. We feel inadequate. We run from our darker sides.
By acknowledging our imperfections we uncover our humanity. The notion of perfection is a human construct designed to cover up our truest selves. In accepting the self as imperfect we give others the room to be imperfect as well. We allow for forgiveness and healing. We bring light to our darker, murkier sides.
Eat for the Soul
Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, your grandmother’s pumpkin pie, Hanukah latkes, Christmas cookies, eggnog…. Add your own favorites. These are foods we wait an entire year for. They contain the tastes joyously stored in memories of years gone by. These are the foods that speak to our souls. There is room in our stomachs for the comfort foods of our youth during the holiday season. The saturated fats, sugars and calories are balanced by the joy these foods bring. Happy souls can make for happy bodies when these foods are eaten in moderation. Keep the following in mind:
B. Resist the candy jar.
C. Give or throw away excess foods.
Remember to eat slowly and relish the special tastes of the season. This is what holiday food and meals are all about.
Shop from the Heart
Gifts are expressions of love and gratitude. They needn’t be flashy or expensive but they do require some thought about the person you are giving them to.
Whether giving or receiving a gift, connect with the heartfelt thought that goes along with the present (both the gift and the moment in time.)
Slow Down and Listen
It’s a busy and emotionally laden time of year. It’s easy to hear words and make choices without really listening. Our yin side is a receptive one. Learn the value of taking in and making space for what someone else is saying. Learn the value of checking in and making space for what you are feeling.
As we come together in times of celebration, it is the connections that we make with each other that are the foundations of the memories of years to come. By listening more carefully we can create strong foundations and a lifetime of memories.
To this season of darkness, cold and winter the holidays bring light and warmth. Yin is balanced by yang. May we all find this balance within ourselves.
Bonnie Diamond, Licensed Acupuncturist
Tuesday & Wednesday & Thursday, 10am-8pm
247 Northampton Street, #27
Easthampton, MA 01027