The total fail of the fat-free ’80s and ’90s taught us that fat isn’t perhaps the villain we made it out to be, and that following a low-fat diet not only isn’t the cure to obesity but also may actually make things worse. That’s because fat plays an important role in giving us energy, building […]
Do you suffer from anxiety, poor digestion, or lack of focus? When life’s demands overwhelm us, Angela Wilson, Manager of Evidence-Based Yoga Curriculum for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, explains in her R&R retreat lecture Cultivating Inner Strength, our nervous system gets out of balance. Through the practices of yoga meditation, and mindfulness, however, we can build resilience in order to be fully aware of all our experiences.
As Angela explains, there are two main branches of the nervous system. There’s the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response in reaction to stressful situations. It’s a hot, reactive state, which increases heart rate and primes the body for action. The other branch is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated when the body is relaxed. The parasympathetic supports a cooling, restful and state. It soothes the system, aids in digestion, and can be fostered through yoga practice.
A few weeks ago, I came across an article from The Atlantic called “New Reasons to Drink More Tea.” Though I didn’t really think I needed more reasons to enjoy my daily green tea, I read on just to see how science was catching up to what us tea devotees already know: A cup or two of tea a day not only keeps the doctor away, but it also keeps us in tune with the joyous rhythms of life.
The article says that scientific studies are, in fact, starting to show all kinds of health benefits from drinking a few cups of green tea—and in some cases black tea—a day. Benefits range from weight loss to heart health to increases in bone and muscle strength. Plus, as Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science at Tufts University, points out in the article, “It’s really important to remember that tea is a plant.” He explains that the flavonoids extracted from tea leaves are similar to the beneficial phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. So if we can’t eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables, he suggests, why not count tea as one or two servings?
When I read this, I instantly thought of my 16-year-old daughter. Though she eats a basically sound diet thanks to the fact that we only have quality foods in the house, I have to say that she isn’t exactly a huge fan of kale. However, she loves starting her day with a cup of green tea.
The inherent balance of body, mind, and spirit is our birthright, our natural default, and is always available to us. And what a blessing that is!
Consider the strangely discordant nature of our being. There’s the spirit, already connected to all—deeply quiet, the essence of peace. There’s the mind, eager to rush out of that seat of peace into the illusion of control, into yesterday, while wildly scanning tomorrow. And, finally, there’s the body, which holds the contradictions between the mind and the spirit.
Our minds become the primary operating filter through which we exist. As the mind takes over our experience, our access to the body’s signals weakens and our connection to the spirit diminishes. In order to find the balance between body, mind, and spirit, the mind needs to be trained. Without its training, we deprive ourselves of the depth of information available to us through the body and the spirit. Try these tips to train the mind and re-balance your life:
• At a red light, take three deep breaths. This brief break can help reestablish homeostasis, the body’s relaxation response.
• At work, set an alarm on your phone for a specific time mid-morning. At that point, walk to the restroom, allowing every step to be one of mindful presence. Splash water on your face. Be there, feel it. Enjoy this refreshing, balancing break.
• Take a few minutes at the end of your workday for a mindful transition: Do some simple stretches; go for a short walk. As you release the stress of the workday, you’ll be more relaxed and more available when you return home.
Look out the window. How many ways can you notice the rebirth of the earth? Take in the color of the grass, the bright hues emanating from the flowers. Listen to the sounds of the birds rejoicing in life. We, too, are of this earth and share this capacity for renewal. Unlike the flowers and grass and birds, however, we need to consciously shift our behavior in order for renewal to unfold.
Here are some steps to help you cultivate that unfolding. These actions require focus and commitment, but as you take them, relax into the flow. Be the creator of your life. Generate circumstances that inspire you to come alive.
Approach something differently: Perhaps you can shake up your morning routine. If you usually get up and read the paper, try going for a walk or meditating instead. Eat breakfast outside instead of in your kitchen, or give yourself some time in the morning to write a poem. Break out of your weekend routine and plan an adventure—an excursion to the beach or a museum, a picnic with friends. Make a date with yourself to do it. Schedule it into your calendar. Create a perfect playful day for yourself.
Is there something creative that you’re interested in pursuing? Give yourself the time to explore it. Watercolors? Pottery? Find a class, and enlist a support group for yourself as you investigate this interest.
Have you started a new class or ritual lately? Have you done something completely outside of your comfort zone just to try something new? Share with us!