'Back to the Basics' for the New Year
It’s easy to get overwhelmed within the world of holistic healthcare. As we begin to explore the best ways to take care of ourselves, we are met with contradictory information in every direction. We decide to go gluten-free but later learn that the gluten-free products we’ve been buying are loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats. Fats “clog your arteries” yet, Dr. Oz says omega 3,6, and 9s are imperative to brain function and decrease inflammation. Some nutritionists say grains are good for you, others don’t. Even your acupuncturist confuses you! He/she tells you to eat warm/cooked foods when you’ve been of the belief that cooking vegetables depletes their nutrient content. It’s a frustrating, confusing, never-ending chase to answers that will always be disputed by one source or another. If you’re reading this post, you are likely proactive about your healthcare so, I’m willing to bet that you‘ve experienced the frustration and confusion I am talking about.
During some of my years in New Mexico while attending graduate school for acupuncture, I worked in the Whole Body department of Whole Foods. Here, I had access to any vitamin, supplement, herb, enzyme, or probiotic I wanted and, I attended routine trainings from nutritional companies like New Chapter, Natural Factors, Host Defense, and more. I began to believe that I needed to incorporate many external substances besides food into my diet, in order to achieve optimal health. My bureau was filled with dozens of jars and bottles of pills, capsules, and tinctures. I even earned the knick-name, “Supplement Santa”, when I pushed all these suggestions on to my family members, gifting them with multi-vitamins, probiotics, fish oils, and the like, for the holidays. During the period of a couple years, I experimented with Paleo, gluten-free, and sugar-free diets, liver and gallbladder cleanses, and more.
And, you know what? I felt worse than I ever had. I felt anxious, not knowing what the best option was, and I was hard on myself when I couldn’t maintain my elaborate regime.
In believing I needed all these things to be healthy, I had taken the power away from the innate wisdom of my body by trying to control it.
So, instead of attempting to add more to your life this New Years, I suggest we take a step back and practice some BASICS of healthcare, with consistency, by incorporating the following simple, commonsense actions:
1. Drink More Water: Our bodies are 80% water. Need I say more? Okay, I will… dehydration can be the source of many health problems, not limited to, headaches and increased aches and pains (when the body is dehydrated, the blood is thicker, meaning it doesn’t flow as smoothly, worsening the sensation of pain). A good estimate as to how much water you should drink is to divide your weight in half and drink that amount of pure, clean, water, in fluid ounces, throughout the day.
2. Quit Late-Night Eating: During sleep, our bodies are finally free to focus on cleansing, detoxifying, repairing, and healing. When we eat within 2 hours of bedtime, we are giving our organs a different job to do. I had a professor who claimed that his plantar fasciitis patients resolved their conditions by discontinuing late-night eating. I’ve yet to see this clinically, but it speaks to the power of this strategy.
3. Keep your abdomen warm:
The abdomen, known as the Hara in Japanese acupuncture, is an immensely crucial area of the body. Entire styles of acupuncture rely on diagnosing and resolving all conditions via the abdomen. An increase of just 2 degrees in the temperature of the abdomen will increase immunity by 80% and many neurotransmitters are made here, which govern our moods. If that’s not enough inspiration for you, 90% of Serotonin is made in the gut and low serotonin levels cause sugar cravings. So, perhaps instead of making a (very sad) resolution to never eat chocolate again, check in with your abdomen every once in a while and give it a rub!
As one of my favorite people, Tony Robbins, points out, we spend most of our lives in boxes. We get out of the box which is our bed, into the box, which is our house, then walk to another box, our car, and yet another, our indoor office space or cubicle (literally, a box!), then return our box house in our box car, only to repeat the process the next day. Our bodies crave movement and expansion. We need to create space in our bodies and one of the best ways to do this is to implement a stretching routine. Try just 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night can make a significant difference in how you feel throughout the day. (Stretching in bed counts- why not?)
5. Breathe With Awareness
Breathing is something that we do all the time; being aware of our breathing instantly brings us into the present moment. It’s no coincidence that the word “inspire” has the same origin as the word “inspiration”. Breath brings life into the body. We can use our breath to relax our bodies and even, control our nervous system. According to Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, exhaling for a longer period of time than inhaling up-regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs rest and relaxation. Make an effort to be check in with yourself and become aware of your breath, at least a few times each day. Are you breathing from your chest? Change that: take 5 deep breaths into your lower abdomen and continue to do so for as long as you can maintain that rhythm while carrying on with whatever you are doing. Eventually, you will begin to breathe this way naturally and feel much more at ease in everyday life.
6. Chew More: Too few people recognize the importance of chewing properly. The process of digestion begins in the mouth. Foods, especially, carbohydrates, must be mixed with saliva and chewed until liquid, to release their full nutritional value. Spending too little time chewing will make you feel heavy, cause gas, and leave you undernourished. Paul Pitchford, the author of the indispensable book, Healing with Whole Foods, recommends counting the chewing of each bite thirty to fifty times at the beginning of each meal. It helps to put down your fork/spoon between bites. He also mentions that if you are under pressure at meals, simply chew, and let the chewing relax you.
7. Practice Gratitude: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy”. Our brain is made of neurons and the more we think of something, the closer the neurons grow to one-another. Things like our name and address have very close neural connections while, things like the name of our second grade teacher are a bit further. By changing the nature of our thoughts, we can literally rewire our brains. Focus on what you are grateful for and make it a common practice throughout the day. Each time you have a negative thought, think of something positive. Maybe, choose to write down 3 things you’re grateful for at the end of each day, making sure to find new things each day.
Wishing you the very best for the year ahead. And, when you fall off-balance, as you inevitably will, may you remember to 'bring it back to the basics'.
Allison, L.Ac. of Basic Balance, PLLC.
Please Note: In cases of certain serious illnesses, not limited to cancer, I believe elaborate vitamin/supplement/herbal regimes can be extremely helpful.