Practicing good health is easier said than done, with the degree of difficulty varying with our genes and personal circumstances.
But it is possible to “bend the curve” of life in a healthier, happier direction.
We spoke with five people who possess long experience in holistic health, and asked them how they start each day on the right foot and keep things as healthful and peaceful as possible.
1) Begin each day with a centering practice.
Devoting a small block of time to yourself each morning can help set the tone for the day. Meditating upon waking relaxes Dr. Frank Lipman, founder and director of the Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in NYC, and helps him feel less agitated. “I get clarity from equanimity,” he says. “I'm much more focused with my patients.”
Alternate nostril breathing gives Dr. Annemarie Colbin, author of Food and Healing, an energizing mental boost. “It brings oxygen to my brain,” she says.
Practicing gratitude each morning helps Chrissa Pullicino, public relations manager at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, keep perspective when it comes to stress: “Focusing my attention and energy on the blessings in life makes me more content.”
2) Take breaks to refocus between tasks.
When Dr. Colbin founded the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in 1977, classes were taught out of her home in the evening. “I was starting a whole new day when everyone else was done,” she says. It was essential to reset her mind, which Colbin achieved by practicing Transcendental Meditation.
Nowadays Colbin also indulges in computer card games, as they help “wash out” her brain.
Dr. Lipman shuts his office door in between patients to practice restorative yoga poses, which are classic yoga poses completed with the aid of props. “There's nothing like it when it comes to rejuvenation,” he says. “And all I do is lie there for ten minutes.”
3) Pare back your schedule when needed.
Being realistic about daily goals helps with efficiency and maintaining a sense of balance.
“When I first started my practice, I would pack it all in on certain days and spend the rest of the week recovering,” says Adele Reising, a NYC-based acupuncturist. “Now I pace myself to avoid being tired all the time. If you're always zoning out, it's time to reassess your schedule.”
Reising also looks for signals to herself that she's on her way to being stressed: “If I'm too tired to get out of bed or skip one of my daily rituals, I'll move things around in my schedule so I have more time to take care of myself. I maintain good habits when I'm not stressed.”
4) Take mealtime seriously.
Whether it's breakfast, lunch, or a late afternoon snack, taking the time to be present when eating is as nourishing for the mind as the body. “No matter how busy I am, I carve out about 45 minutes to have lunch,” says Dr. Tom Francescott, founder and director of the Rhinebeck Cooperative Health Center. “I've made the choice to create the time for myself.”
Reising will often schedule lunch dates to pull her away from the office: “If you work while you eat, that can be hard on digestion—blood is going to your brain and not your stomach.”
5) Get there early.
Part of any winning strategy against stress is to learn how to avoid it altogether. “I always get to work or wherever I need to be early,” says Dr. Francescott. “When I'm late, I end up trying to catch up all day. It's less stressful to ease into your day.”
Reising agrees, saying, “The days where I fly in without time to unpack my bag—those are not good days. When I get to the office early with time to put things away so I'm waiting at my desk for my first patient, that day is going to go smoothly.”
6) Spend time outdoors.
Engaging the senses by communing with nature helps maintain a sense of well-being. “So many of us don't spend enough time in nature, which is part of the bigger constellation of issues we face today as we spend more time indoors and tuned in online,” says Dr. Francescott. “I take walks where I'm mindful of each step, the trees and smells. It's good for anxiety as it calms you down.”
The changing of the seasons can also have a profound calming effect. “Looking at the leaves in the fall stimulates the eyes and affects you on a visceral level,” says Reising.
[Editor's note: Learn about research on this topic in “Get Out! Nature Boosts Brains and Spirits,” from a recent issue of Vital Choices.]
7) Set aside time to disengage from work.
Give your mind a chance to shift from working gears to leisure mode. “After work I sit in silence and run through the day, breathing in and out in a meditative posture,” says Dr. Francescott. “It gives me closure and I can leave the office at the office.”
Dr. Lipman winds down at home before dinner by laying in a restorative yoga pose or listening to world music: “I like the rhythm of African music in particular. It feeds my soul.”
Flipping through catalogs before bed helps Dr. Colbin halt a racing mind. “They're so content-free that they put me right to sleep,” she says.
[Editor's note: The same can't really be said of the Vital Choice catalog, which features tidbits about food and health, salted throughout … but it's nothing heavy, just a light seasoning!]