Monday, December 17, 2012

Ten tips for a healthy, holistic holiday

Make this holiday season one you really enjoy and feel good about, and during. Why wait until January to slough off bad habits and to start doing what will make you joyful and inspired? Joy ought to be what the holidays are all about! Try out these techniques, and go find some now!

1. Breathe, deeply and with your belly.
When someone tells you in the heat of the moment “to take a deep breath,” it can sound condescending. But if you seriously start the day with deep breathing, even just a few minutes, maybe those moments won’t get so heated. Belly breathing activates the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system to help you calm. If you breathe only into your chest instead, the sympathetic branch stays engaged, putting you in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight. So breathe into your belly even before you get out of bed, or before you make breakfast, in front of a candle, under a tree (or next to the tree in your living room), or every time you hit “Send” or “Post.” You’ll be amazed how much happier your body will be for the extra oxygen.

2. Leave the sugar to someone else
Yes, Virginia, it is possible to go an entire holiday season consuming no sugar whatsoever. But the suggestion here is simply that you stop using it in anything you make, drink or eat. If there are so many goodies out in the world, and if you know you won’t abstain or be able to keep the kids from overindulging, then just be sure not to add any yourself. If you must bake sweets, experiment with using honey, molasses, or maple syrup, or stevia. Or coconut flakes. Or just a lot of applesauce and some extra spices and natural vanilla flavor. Be the person who brings something to the party that won’t make the kids go crazy. Load it with nuts if there are no allergies and let the richness of those sustain you blood sugar levels. Sugar not only causes up and down mood swings and contributes to sleep problems, but it can also weaken your immune system and make you more likely to catch the cold of that snotty kid running through your neighbor’s living room.

3. Let go of negative emotions
If you’ve never heard of Emotional Freedom Technique, prepare to be wowed. This technique of tapping certain spots on your body can seriously make some of those annoying things that have weighed on you for years – frustrating conversations, stupid mistakes, hurtful words – just melt into thin air. A newer technique called WHEE (a combination of EFT and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR)  is even easier: you simply tap yourself on your forehead alternating your index and middle fingers while you affirm that “Even though” you feel (whatever emotion), you love and honor yourself. Be sure to rate your level of the feeling before you start (1-10) so that you stop when you notice the level has gone down to zero or the feeling has shifted to something else. It may sound too good to be true, but watch videos online and get ready to meet your new self without all that baggage.

4. Go to bed by 10 p.m.
It’s tempting to stay up late shopping online, wrapping, baking, or visiting with family. But our bodies really do need to do important work in the night, and they need us to be sleeping to do it effectively. The liver and gallbladder need to detox, but they can’t do that effectively if you are engaged in activity. There’s a whole lot of interesting chemistry related to times of rest and even seeing lights after a certain hour. (Give your pineal gland the rest it wants and turn off the tablet after dark!)  

And, as tough as it may seem, try to keep kids’ bedtimes relatively stable and as early as you can. The book NurtureShock makes a powerful case for consistency and for adequate sleep. Even losing a half-hour for a few days in a row can dramatically alter how kids perform on tests. Imagine, then, how they must feel. Talk about sleep as something they are so lucky they get to do! Isn’t it true we all wish we didn’t have so much work and responsibility that we could spend more time sleeping? Help your children value rest!

5. Stop eating by 8 p.m.
It might seem like some kind of sacrilege to suggest, but your body will thank you if you let it do its nighttime rituals of cleansing without having to instead digest a whole bunch of new food. Ayurvedic practitioners might even say to stop by 6 or 7 p.m., but 8:00 seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Eat what you want, even a lot if you have to get yourself out of a nighttime snacking habit. But then Just. Be. Done. You may be surprised to find yourself sleeping better. It might feel good right away or take your body a few days to adjust, but before long it will just be what you do.

6. Eat with intention
Okay, so maybe there is a theme here. It’s about fully enjoying what you’re doing rather than doing it to get by or just because you are distracted or frustrated. This is especially important with food, because what we put in really does become who we are. If you’ve got an emotional attachment going on with, say, eating and stress, try EFT (see above), but if it’s just a matter of habit, just pay attention and start a new habit. Chew enough and slowly enough that your body gets the signal it’s full. Sit and eat and only eat so that your body can use its energy to digest. If it gets the signal that there is stress afoot – like, say, that a bear is chasing you – your body is not thinking to itself, “Let me break down this food.” Instead it’s saying, “Let’s pump the adrenaline so that we survive to make it another day!” Drink only a little – and nothing iced or cold – with food so that your digestive juices don’t get diluted or the digestive process stalled by having to bring everything up to body temperature.

7. Limit screen time
Whether you or your kids have sensory issues or not, everyone can benefit from a little less blinking on the boob tube, especially at a time when there are so many extra things to take in, from decorations to performances to tasty treats. It might seem like relaxation to sit in front of the TV, but give your senses a rest and watch only what is really important to you. At other times, light a candle, read a book, play a board game, draw a picture or, have a simple conversation, if you must have some kind of input, just listen to some music if you don’t have the means to play an instrument yourself.

8. Move your body
Some people say you need to exercise a minimum number of consecutive minutes per day; others tell you multitask your muscle-time and just walk further in parking lots and do squats each time you pick up something for the floor. How about instead you just make the commitment to spend some time – even five minutes – just moving your body and not trying to accomplish anything else. Whether you sweat or not doesn’t matter. Just get outside, or on the stairs, or on a bouncer, or on your yoga mat, and tell yourself this is a gift. If you do it every day, it will start to become something you look forward to, and then you can try to up the minutes or set greater goals.

9. Get outside
Even if the gym or your treadmill at home are what gets you moving your body in any kind of weather, do make sure that you also have some connection with the natural world. Studies show that spending time in nature can improve mood and concentration and provide a whole lot of other great benefits. You don’t need to read a research report to see for yourself. Even if you just get to the local park to shuffle through leaves or to sled down your neighbor’s hill, make sure you spend some time without walls around you.

10. Say thank you
Showing gratitude is not just the domain of lofty quotes by revered thinkers; it is an everyday act that can totally shift how you feel and how others around you feel. If people feel appreciated by you, they feel better and go out to spread the good karma. We might be in the habit of thanking people for gifts or for having us over to their home (and if we aren’t, start now!), but we can also develop the habit of showing gratitude for their very existence. It’s fun to practice: say thank you to every person you can for anything you can think of. Start with the cashier, the people who hold the door and other usual suspects. But go on to thank the people who do volunteer work, even if they do it all the time, and anyone who performs any action that in any way makes your life easier or more enjoyable.

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