If you found your way to this blog you most likely value health and are looking for ways to improve your wellness practices. Finding the right balance of yoga, meditation, diet, and sleep enhanced my yoga practice and life. This blog explores five healthy habits (listening to your body, physical activity, eating well, spending time outside, and sleep) that improve overall health and well-being. Incorporating healthy habits into your days can decrease pain and stiffness and increase energy, calm, focus, and happiness.
The ethical observance of Sauca, purity, in yoga is the additional work we do to ready our bodies and minds to get the most out of our time on the mat or more broadly in life. “For each of us Sauca is a journey of discovery. What works for you? Dairy, no dairy; meat, no meat; lots of sunshine, very little sun; lots of stimulation, or quiet solitude; long ambles or power walks. We each find our own way to health and balance. We are on the path that leads to the truth, and the means for determining the truth is our own individual experience.” (Gates & Kenison, p. 233). In this vein, the healthy habits suggested here are categories to investigate and learn what health and balance means for YOU in each area.
Healthy Habit #1. Listen to Your Body
Yoga teaches us to turn inward and pay attention to the messages our minds and bodies are sending us. For example, my yoga practice has helped me know when I need to stay in, instead of being social (because it will make me more tired); when I need to do a Restorative class instead of a Vinyasa class; when I need to get up from my desk and go for a walk instead of pushing through for another hour.
Ask yourself: do you ignore hunger sensations, building stiffness in the body from sitting, or the need to go the bathroom when you are working? Pay attention to the signals your body is sending you; get up and address those feelings the first time you notice them instead of the last. Becoming more attuned to the signals our bodies are sending us can be enhanced by carving out time everyday for stillness and quiet. Try meditating for 15 minutes or curling up with a book, rather than scrolling on your phone or being in constant motion.
Listening to your body is the first healthy habit because learning to observe and know what works for you shapes the other habits you put in place to support your well-being.
Healthy Habit #2. Be Physically Active
Bodies are made to move. With that said not all bodies benefit from the same type of movement or exercise. This habit may take some exploration to find the best activity for you. Once you identify your preferred type of physical activity consider these questions:
- What time of day do you most ENJOY being active (mornings, mid-day, evenings)?
- What time of day works in your schedule to exercise?
- What length of time works for your body and schedule (a full hour or 30 mins)?
- Is a daily practice or every other day schedule best for you?
- Do you like to do the same activity all the time or is variety across the week better for you?
Taken together, the answers to these questions can help you plan out a weekly physical activity schedule that is manageable and sustainable. Map it out, block off time in your calendar, set a reminder and make it happen.
I also recommend you re-evaluate your physical activity schedule seasonally. Here in New England, we spend a lot more time outside in the summer than we do in the winter. Maybe evenings are best for you in the winter when the days are shorter, but mornings will work better in the summer months. If you are a parent, your school-year practice schedule may look different than your summer practice schedule.
Healthy Habit #3. Fine-Tune Your Diet
I do not believe there is a one size fits all approach to diet. Nutrition is not my area of expertise, but I will share some anecdotes on how diet has affected my health and wellness. I have participated in cleanses that eliminate meat, sugar, caffeine, wheat/gluten, dairy and alcohol. Through these experiences I have learned that my flexibility increases and stiffness in my body decreases when I eat less sugar and gluten (which can increase inflammation in the body). I drink less alcohol than I used to because I recognized how much my energy levels decrease the day after I have a glass of wine. This is a great area of wellness to explore one area at a time. How do you feel when you eat less sugar or more leafy greens? How does eliminating caffeine affect you? What foods agree with you and which don’t?
Healthy Habit #4. Spend Time Outside
With more people working from home and participating in online activities it is easy to move through your day without leaving the house. At the height of the pandemic, especially when my kids were home from school and sports were canceled, there were days on end I didn’t leave my house (!). Getting outside is an incredibly easy way to bring more balance and health into your days. Being outside almost always brings us into the present moment and gives our brains a break from work, screens and our worries. Smell the fresh air, feel the sun on your face, hear the sounds of the woods or your neighborhood. Go for a 15 minute walk and just focus on your surroundings. Eat your lunch outside in a sunny spot. Taking 15 minute breaks to walk or be outside are great ways to refresh, improve your mood and increase productivity when you return to your work or relationships.
Healthy Habit #5. Prioritize Sleep
We all know getting enough sleep is important to our wellness. But do you have a sense of how your daytime/bedtime routines, diet, caffeine and alcohol affect your sleep? Keeping a sleep journal can be a helpful practice to improve your sleep. You can document your daily activities, food choices, bedtime routine, how you slept, how long you slept and how you feel the next day. For example, I have learned that making time to meditate at least 15 minutes a day improves how quickly I fall asleep, and how deeply I sleep. I also sleep more soundly and worry less at night when I’m not drinking coffee.
How to Get Started
If you are motivated to deepen your wellness practices by moving more, eating better, getting outside and prioritizing sleep, I recommend delving deeper into one area at a time. EXPLORE each healthy habit and find out what works for your body and your routine. Then OBSERVE how the changes feel in your mind and body. Learn, listen and integrate the wellness practices that work best for you into your weekly or seasonal routine.
Gates, R., & Kenison, K. (2002). Mediations from the Mat. Anchor Books, United States.
Want to learn more about the benefits of yoga & meditation ? Check out our “Five Game Changing Benefits of Yoga Every Day” blog.