8 Wellness Essentials to Live a Life of Vitality

 
vitality.jpg
 

Research has shown that those who remain vital and well throughout their lives engage in several areas of health and wellness that go well beyond making healthy food choices. While nutrition is absolutely a big part of health and wellness, it is one facet in a much larger view of living a long, healthy, happy life. There are eight areas that seem to be consistent practices amongst those that do find themselves healthy and vibrant in mind, body and spirit all throughout their lives.

These eight areas that create longevity and a strong, healthy mind and body are:

1.    A large social support including family, friends and community groups

2.    Close core relationships

3.    Well-nourished through whole, healthy enjoyable foods

4.    Restful sleep

5. Active throughout much of the day/consistent movement

6.    Curious, open-minded and continue to learn ALL throughout life

7.    Remain willing to take on new challenges no matter what their age

8. Consistent meditation practice

If you are rushing through life getting poor sleep, inconsistent movement and are isolated don’t fret! Just know that this is the right time to evaluate how you prioritize your health and wellness within your life. If the foundation is not set, most likely you are not seeking out new challenges because you feel that there is so much yet to do with your current ones. Wellness is about creating the time needed to nurture healthy relationships, learning and growing as well as healthy cooking in order to eat well and meditation. 

Think about it this way, what is the cost to your life if you don’t begin to shift your ways and create wellness within your life now? Your body is very forgiving, it wants to be in balance and to feel well. Today is just the right day to re-evaluate and create a new wellness routine that will support your vitality and longevity. What healthy changes can you begin to make today if your hope is to live a long, healthy, happy life?

When you begin a wellness journey, it is helpful to start with just one area that you would like to improve within your life. A complete overhaul is generally not possible and most likely not sustainable (you can read more about that here!) The focus for this post is about not just knowing what you need to do, but actually doing it! If you were to select one area from the seven areas on the list that could benefit your health for the better starting today, what would it be? Why would you start there? The thing is, we are all aging at this very moment, so why not continue to do so in a way that feels as though you are expanding, growing and encouraging vitality!?!

After you consider the above questions about where to start, it would benefit you to think about why you aren’t prioritizing your health and well-being? What blocks do you face? Are they motivationally based, timing or something else? What fears do you have to change, grow and live in a space of vibrancy? Take time to think these through in order to help yourself live your priorities.

I know that when I get stuck, it is usually because I fear that I’ll have to give up something I enjoy despite whether or not it is good for me. That’s not the most useful line of thinking, right!? Do you do this too? If so, know that restriction is not what improving your health is about. Wellness is about what you add to your life and when you do, to be able to notice and grow what improves for you within your life.

I talk a lot about healthy eating and the importance of a healthy lifestyle, (it’s kinda my thing!). While I love talking about all things food related, I will be detailing each of these eight areas of wellness over the next few weeks as reminders (for myself included!) that wellness is a wholistic journey! You can’t ignore or avoid areas of wellness because they aren’t convenient to you, or because of any other excuse. Vitality is a process, and if you want to create a full and vital life, it requires that you take action and that you dedicate yourself to well, yourself—your own well-being.

So, are you with me? Are you ready to address the process of living a full and vital life, even if it means giving up some things that are difficult to let go of, or adding in elements that are unfamiliar? Keep your eyes out for detailed ways in the posts ahead to improve your overall health, vitality and wellbeing!

Embracing Nonjudgment

 
flower.jpg
 

Nonjudgment is a key concept within mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. Nonjudgment means not having a reactive response to what is occurring, not responding—especially in a stressful manner—to whatever is true right now.

Nonjudgment can be a challenging concept to embrace because it is part of the nature of the mind to judge. However, this function of the mind/thought is not for the sake of beating yourself up or passing judgment onto others. The purpose of the capacity of the mind to judge is to engage the ability to make the best choices for yourself in the moment.

Unfortunately, judging and responding in an emotional way to that formulated judgement has become something that happens more rampantly. This internalized or passed onto others judgment is contributing to deep suffering on many levels. When you judge yourself, you create a feeling of being not good enough, unworthy and increase your stress.

When you judge others in a way that triggers a negative opinion of them, you are most likely activating your ego rather than your true self. In this ego space you are not allowing yourself to be accepting or compassionate towards their reasons why they have/do/are…whatever it is you are basing this judgment upon. This creates a limit to the connection you could experience with that person and also creates a cloud around a more clear decision to not subject yourself to that person.

When you embrace the concept and action of nonjudgment, you are not considering something as good or bad, right or wrong. You are not passing your internal opinions and values onto another but practicing the ability to deeply accept the truth of what is presented before you. When you practice nonjudgment, you are able to connect with a level of inner freedom and peace that allows you to experience less stress and an overall sense of lightness and wellbeing.

If you feel that you operate often out of a space of constant judgment, know that increasing your capacity for nonjudgment and deeper acceptance is a practice. It takes time, effort and focus to cultivate within. The most effective way to build your ability to practice and be in a state of nonjudgment and acceptance is through a consistent mindfulness practice. The second is through deep self-reflection.

While creating a consistent mindfulness and meditation practice has a number of benefits, today’s focus is specific to the ability to practice nonjudgment and acceptance. Your ability to accept others directly correlates to your capacity to accept yourself. If this feels like a little off-putting to consider, that’s ok, that’s just your ego responding and your ego is sensitive, guarded and most likely a little fragile. I know that mine sure is, which is why this practice is so, so very important. Without the internal barometer of mindfulness, meditation and self-reflection, we get stuck operating out of the needs of our ego. This will not increase our capacity of joy but will only create a temporary experience of survival and safety. But fear is always lurking out there—which ironically only breeds more judgment and nonacceptance. Nonjudgment allows you to release your ego based fears.

There are several mindfulness and meditation practices that offer the ability to grow in your capacity for deeper acceptance of yourself and others and allow the judging mind and ego to rest and feel safe. The most accessible is as simple as connecting with the rhythm of your breath. When you mind wanders, first, make note if it is a thought riddled with judgment (not to judge yourself, only to build awareness!) and then label it as a just a thought, then let it go. This will occur over and over and over again throughout the course of a minute. Initially this practice can be quite exhausting, but absolutely worth the effort. I recommend that you start slowly here, with just one minute and increase from there.

The second phase needed to build acceptance and the ability to practice nonjudgment is deep self-reflection. With deep self-reflection you are taking a closer look at your thought process. In this phase you become curious about your biases, your judgments, how they came to be and why they occur. Do you judge people for their appearance? Do you judge people for their material possessions? Do you judge people for their voice, their tone, their speech patterns, their words? Do you judge other people for what they do and the choices they make? These judgments may happen, however in deep self-reflection you can begin to understand why. This self-reflection practice gives you the ability to become aware that you are not your thoughts. Regardless of the emotional response that may or may not be conjured up by a thought, you can practice in the space of the witness to label it as a thought, or a process of your mind, and then let it go.

Earlier I may have triggered your ego by saying that your capacity to accept others is equal to your capacity to accept yourself. If you find that you judge others, how much time do you spend judging yourself? How much time do you spend commenting internally or out loud because of your appearance or your material possessions or for you what you say, do or the choices you make? Often the ego deflects this internal pain and suffering onto others and it creates this internal anxiety that is underlying, well, pretty much everything. It is deeply uncomfortable and unsatisfying, and I believe that most of us live in this space unconsciously much of the time. 

If you are ready to heal from these internal patterns of thought, feelings and behaviors, today is the day to begin a mindfulness practice. If you are ready to dig deep and understand how these patterns arose in order to ensure that they remain at bay, then today is the day to begin deep self-reflection.

Meditation: How & Why

 
Meditation: How & Why
 

This past weekend I taught an eight-hour workshop on meditation to a wonderful group of aspiring yoga teachers. I am always so inspired by this particular training and how, with guidance and support, meditation becomes demystified and so much more accessible. Throughout the past few years of teaching this workshop, I am always struck by how this core element of yoga is so difficult to begin and to consistently stick with—and yet it is such an amazingly simple practice that increases ease, health, comfort and joy in life. Meditation is a practice. It is essential to remain dedicated and consistent to reap the benefits of meditation.

If you are unfamiliar with how meditation fits into yoga, I’ll give you a quick overview. Yoga is an eight-limbed system that can create inner peace and the ability to truly know yourself on the deepest level. It allows you to become the highest expression of yourself. Yoga is not a religion and actually can compliment every religion quite nicely. Often people mistake yoga for exercise or just stretching, which, of course it can be, however, the yoga postures are just one element of the eight limbs. While they are indeed an important element, they are not the “be-all-end-all” of what yoga truly is! You can learn more about eight-limbed path of yoga by reading my blog here.

The purpose of the physical postures within the eight-limbed path of yoga is to create a comfortable and strong physical body to assist in the ability to draw your awareness inward. The physical postures create the ability to concentrate without being distracted by aches and pains in your physical body. The postures also create strength in your body in order to sit comfortably for an extended period of meditation without your body becoming yet another distraction—your mind will be enough of a distraction to contend with!

Now that you know a bit about how meditation fits into the structure of the aspects of yoga that you may be more familiar with, I’ll get to the goods about how to meditate and why bother meditating in the first place. Meditation is the process of bringing your awareness into a single pointed focus. You find ONE thing to focus on and attempt to keep your attention on that ONE thing. Many people tell me “oh I’ve tried meditation and I can’t do it, my mind just won’t be quiet.” I always say, well of course it won’t! Nobody’s mind can go from its typical state of noise-noise-noise to perfect stillness in one minute! The purpose of meditation is not to empty your mind, but to offer a space for it to create less thoughts, more distance from them so you don’t identify yourself as your thoughts and more clarity and awareness of your internal world.

Once you select your single point of focus—which could be your breath, a word or phrase, an image or anything you find to be worthy of your focus—you aim to keep your attention on that ONE thing. As you begin this process, I can guarantee you that your mind will wander and wander and wander. Your mind will tell you things like—this is boring, pointless and stupid—or it will get caught up in your laundry list of to-dos’ or worry about that meeting or wonder what so-and-so meant when they said…blah blah blah… sound familiar? This is where the practice comes in. You have to put forth effort to bring your attention back to your ONE point of focus over and over and over again.

Let’s say your mind wanders one hundred times during your practice, then you aim to bring your attention back to your chosen point of focus one hundred and one times. With practice, you begin to find space between your thoughts and the distractions become less and less. Let’s say in a typical minute your mind has sixty thoughts. If you meditate for one minute and have forty thoughts in that minute, that may still feel like a lot of noise, however, it’s still fewer thoughts invading your mind!

I always encourage those new to meditation to begin with just one minute a day. For one week, commit to one minute per day and the next week increase to two minutes and so on. Over time it will become more and more comfortable and the minutes won’t feel like an eternity. There are many meditation apps out there, I prefer Insight Timer because it is free and has a ton of nice guided meditation options or you can use the timer which rings a bell at the beginning and end of the time you set for your practice. You can find meditation classes to take and of course there are plenty of books to read. However, the most important thing is not to get caught up in the learning about it—it is something that must be experienced consistently to gain the benefits—I recommend that you just get started. Meditation has to be practiced as it can be difficult to talk about as language diminishes the practice. Really we have to talk around what it is like because it is more about the experience.

So you might wonder, WHY meditate? If you haven’t noticed, meditation has gotten a ton of press recently. It is being studied profusely and all of the studies seem to be offering quite promising benefits to our health and well-being. Benefits include stress reduction, improved sleep, delaying the aging process, reducing cognitive decline, improving emotional well-being and self-awareness, increasing attention span, increasing compassion and kindness plus many more. Who doesn’t want all of these? Um, yes please!

Do you have one minute right now? Of course you do! Choose a point of focus, anything from paying attention to the rhythm of your breath or a word or phrase such as “love” or “be still” or an inspirational image. Turn on a timer for one minute. Anytime you notice that your mind has been pulled to a distraction (sounds in the environment, sensation in your body, thought or emotion), release the distraction and return your attention to your chosen point of focus. When you try it, let me know your thoughts and experience. I’d love to hear how adding in just one minute or more of meditation daily impacts your life.