Sunday, June 30, 2013

Health as Art

We often look at art as something outside of us---a painting hanging on a wall, an ornate vase, a moving photograph. If we look at art through a different lens, we can see that the first and most beautiful work of art begins with the body itself and the potential that it holds for life and health. Without even stepping into a museum or a gallery, we can wake up every morning and picture the art we want to see in our bodies and health.

What is Health as Art? First, it involves recognizing all the coordinated events that the body is designed to carry out on a daily basis. From digestion, to immunity, to muscular strength and circulation---the body creates an artful display of physiology every day that helps us get the nutrition and energy we need to do what we want. It all happens without you even having to think about it.

Next, it's interesting to look at the connection between inner and outer health. Constant communication happens in the body to let us see outwardly the health that we're experiencing inwardly, and vice versa. When we feel better in our health, we tend to look better too. This reflection of health is boosted when we really pay attention to the body's signals both inside and outside.

Health is also like art in that each individual is unique. Every body is different from the next, and what it takes to uphold health and beauty for one person is different from the next. As you get to know yourself and your health better, you can find ways to reflect the most artful expression of your unique health.

Health isn't usually described as artful, but it definitely is. Inner health is what allows each of us to bring vibrancy and health to anything we create, whether it's related to writing, drawing, work, music, or just about any other activity. Health isn't just an isolated event, it's woven throughout everything that we do.

Just like any art, you want to see an honest expression of it in your health. Feeling this type of health begins with you instead of anything outside of you. It's great to eat well, exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle but first you want to get in touch with your body's physical and mental-emotional expression. It gives you all kinds of clues into the best ways to support a truly artful expression of your health.

This week, try and appreciate the art that your body demonstrates just by doing what it naturally does. Pay attention to it, and see what you learn about yourself---and your health as art.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What is Success?

What is success? Does it involve reaching a goal or an ideal, making a lot of money, gaining recognition or popularity? You can say that success has many different definitions depending on how you look at it. While success can have a lighter healthy side to it, it can also wear unhealthy disguises that feel oppressive, heavy, and full of unhelpful pressure. When the idea of success becomes larger than you as an individual, it may be time to take a step back and ask yourself what you're really seeking.

As a rigid idea, success can neglect the journey that you go through as an individual living life, overcoming challenges, and going for what you want. It can imply that unless you get approval and praise from the outside world, that what you're doing doesn't have real meaning and worth. When success takes on these forms, it actually discourages you from using your true potential and talents in favor of the single-minded pursuit of the final outcome.

Success can also lecture to you that you can't enjoy your journey or what you're doing until you've reached the final destination. Now that's a thinker, and a bit of a catch-22! If you have to wait until you reach the end to feel truly satisfied, when do you get a chance to relish and learn from the journey? Truth is, this type of thinking doesn't let you enjoy the achievements and challenges that you experience along the way toward reaching your goals.

Following the one-sided path of success can leave you feeling like you missed out on what's really important to you, whether you reach your goal or not. It can become an endless waiting game for something that you no longer feel a real connection with outside of the idea of success. You may end up sacrificing real experiences in favor of chasing success, success, success.

Sound familiar? It's a challenge that each of us uniquely faces to put success in perspective so that the idea of it doesn't consume us and leave us feeling burdened, tired, and perpetually dissatisfied. When the word S-U-C-C-E-S-S starts making you feel a lack of excitement and motivation about what you're doing, it can be helpful to put a creative spin on it. What does that mean?

Instead of forcing yourself to aim for success, it can help to give yourself more open-ended encouragement that sounds like:  Let's see what I can do!  When you ask yourself what you can do---instead of how you can guarantee success---your goals are allowed to live and breathe along with you. And you're free to live and breathe alongside your goals. This freedom can open up unexpected new doors and opportunities that you would have never encountered by just staying on the single-minded path of success.

It's also helpful to ask yourself, "If I were encouraging a kid or someone else to go for what they want, would I use the same tactics I'm using for myself?" Sometimes we push ourselves the hardest, using unrealistic expectations that we would never use to encourage someone else. By asking yourself this question, you can get some outside perspective on whether your approach to reaching your goals is helping you or hurting you.

Achievements feel most worthwhile when they're coming from you as a real person---not from the idea of success. Focusing on what you're really capable of (and what you WANT to do) lets you pay attention to health and learning lessons in a way that is not blocked by the rigid idea of success. Afraid that your goals will pass you by if you look at them through this lens? Don't worry, you'll be surprised by how your goals are infused by new life and energy with this approach.
Now, let's see what you can do!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Break the Rules, and Enjoy

Rules, rules, rules. They're everywhere! We have no choice but to pay attention to rules on a daily basis, and obviously certain rules are there for a good reason. At work, at school, in traffic---rules exist, and that's the way it goes.

There are instances, however, where you just gotta break the rules. Think about your favorite authors, musicians, mentors, and teachers. Did they follow every itty bitty rule in the book, or were there times where they tastefully stepped beyond rules to do what they really wanted or to create something new?

Some rules are self-imposed, and it's helpful to re-evaluate these rules once in a while and decide whether they're serving you or not. Have you made certain restrictions for yourself and your life that may be holding you back? Whether we realize it or not, each of us has rules we follow regarding our health, work, activities, and other areas of life. Some of them are useful and are there for a reason. Other rules can limit your health, your potential, and your enjoyment. These ones are not necessarily helpful.

For example, it's great to keep an overall healthy and well-rounded diet to get necessary nutrients, support your body, and sustain energy. Dietary rules can be useful. If you're restricting every meal, however, by putting 100 rules in place on what you can and cannot eat---that's another story. Overdoing the rules on diet can backfire and restrict your health and your enjoyment of meals.

Let's look at another example. Say you want to learn how to write fiction and are very excited about writing your first story. You pick up a couple of self-help books on this topic, and you decide to follow every rule in them so that your writing is perfect. When you start writing your story, instead of feeling creative juices flowing, you feel the weight of each rule you're following. Now writing has become a chore.

In these examples, if you were to choose reasonable rules, they would serve as general guidelines to help you along the way toward a better diet or a good story, respectively. In excess though, the rules can stifle your health and your creativity.

Think about the self-imposed rules you adhere to on a daily basis. Are there instances where you'd benefit from loosening them up? This week, try breaking a couple of your rules that might be making you feel suppressed, stuck, dissatisfied, or bored. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Health as More Than a Band-aid

Each of us has areas of health that feel stronger, and then there are areas that feel weaker. Can you picture which is which in your health? It can be tempting to want a quick fix for the weaker areas---take a pill, find a supplement, try a new exercise technique, drink more water, sleep 8 hours, and the like in terms of health tips. You decide to use all these health tips, and "voila" you expect to feel better in a week or two. But why is it that you don't quite feel better yet?

Health tips can be useful when used the right way, but there are often deeper layers from which health needs healing first. If a specific area of your life feels stuck, unbalanced,or neglected, your body will ask you to pay more attention in the best way it knows how--through physical and/or mental-emotional health symptoms. Health, just like life, takes courage to uphold and support. It's great to keep health tips in your mind and practice them when you get a chance, but also pay attention when it's time to dig deeper to support your health.

Digging deeper means going beyond the superficial definitions of health and discovering your own that are unique to your life. How do you know when you're feeling healthy, and how can you tell when you're not feeling yourself? First of all, you have to check in with yourself to see if you notice the difference. Everyone does on some level, but try looking at your health with a new lens if you feel out of touch with what you're going through.

Next, remember that you've had meaningful life experiences and that what you've learned from them can help you handle what you're going through today. Health isn't just about blood pressure readings and lab results. Health also comes from the confidence that you feel ready to handle challenges in life. When you experience moments of doubt surrounding this confidence, find a way to back yourself and your health too. The supportive feedback you have toward yourself counts just as much, if not more, than what you hear from others.

Finally, remember that you care. At times, life can feel consumed by thoughts of image and status quo. Promises of "What looks good---is also readily accepted" swirl through the air as readily as oxygen. Still, you must find a breath of fresh air for yourself amid this mentality. Remember that you care on a level beyond image, acceptance, and, or otherwise.

Real health is about more than covering things up with a literal or metaphoric Band-aid. Real health involves you as an individual and what you go through in your life. Because of this, you are your best healer deep down. Sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to access the true power that you possess.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

What Routine Can Do for Your Health

While you're sitting at home, it can be easy to ask yourself, "What am I missing out on?" The mind has a habit of making ordinary activities feel not good enough sometimes. It can be tempting to constantly search for the latest and greatest thing out there. "What is everyone else doing, and what are the consequences of missing out on that?"

The truth is, the "latest and greatest" has no real end in sight. There is always something new that people are talking about, passing on, and seeking. Regular 'ole routine, however, has something great and healthy going for it too. The habits you've developed for a typical day can offer you steady comfort, grounding, and rhythm. Your routine can help support you through high days, low days, times of transition, and times of uncertainty.

Which routines are your favorite? Habitual activities allow you a moment to reflect and experience peacefulness. For example, maybe you enjoy doing laundry around the same time each week. While you're methodically getting clothes out of the dryer, folding them, stacking them, and putting them away you might enjoy listening to music or watching a T.V. program. What does laundry have to do with health?

The time you spend on something as familiar as laundry presses the brakes on the usual high-paced traffic of the day or the week. While you're folding away, you can think about whatever you want. If you want to temporarily ignore worrisome thoughts of workplace drama, unattended errands, or upcoming deadlines, you have the freedom to do that! If you'd rather simmer your thoughts/worries on low during your routine, you can do that too. Routines give you the opportunity to interact with thoughts less intensely, and they may even help you gain new perspective on a situation you're experiencing.

Routine doesn't have to be hum drum and boring. It can be reliable and medicinal in its own way. In a way, everyday routines are healthy "me" times. Your time is your own, and you get a chance to hang out with yourself.

Routines aren't always about chores like laundry either. Maybe you go outside and pick up mail at a certain time each day. You walk to the bus station and wait for the bus. You return library books and grab a few more. You enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a cup of tea at night. You catch a favorite show on the television. You listen to a quirky radio program on your way to work. It can be anything!

This week, notice which of your routines give you a chance to enjoy spending time alone. Have fun with your routine, and let it support your health in the natural way that it can.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Art of Relaxation

Ever had the feeling that everything is rushing at you way too fast, and way too forcefully? Life has a habit sometimes of testing you in challenging ways all at once. What do you do when this happens?

Often, our minds tell us that we have no choice but to keep up with all of it at once. Time to be Superhuman, right? If you ask the body what it needs during this time, it will tell you a different story. It will tell you to learn the Art of Relaxation, both during your "on" times as well as your "off" times. The effects of ignoring this lesson often trickle not only into health, but also into all the activities and tasks you're trying to keep up with.

The Art of Relaxation involves some key ingredients to make it work well for your body, mind, and overall enjoyment of life. Let's go over them one by one:

1) Don't worry too much about what others are doing! The mind will tell you that Sue, and Mindy, and Kate (for example) are all able to manage exercising five times a week, starting their own businesses, raising families, cooking a different meal every night all while working a full-time job. Will this thought process help you in the Art of Relaxation? NO! So, let yourself off the hook in not comparing your stress and relaxation thresholds to other people's levels.

2) Do you feel like you have to "get back to" your responsibilities first before you're allowed to relax? Is that nagging bill bothering you, or your coworker who's demanding that memo? Do something different for a change, and get back to yourself first. If you were to e-mail or call yourself right now, what would you tell yourself? Think about the suggestions you could give yourself about unwinding and letting loose a bit. Be creative on how you can breathe some fresh air into your life without outside hindrance. Be selfish! After you take a breath, you'll feel readier to handle everything else.

3) Take it one step at a time. Sometimes when we get super busy, the thought of relaxing and unwinding becomes yet another task. You may hear your mind chastising you for not being more chill, or scolding your body for having under eye bags, skin breakouts, indigestion, fatigue, or other physical evidence of stress. Now is not the time to yell at yourself for not having it all together. Take relaxation off of your "To Do" list and place it in a more respectable position of "You Time." You deserve the Art of Relaxation, and even though no one else will remind you of this regularly, it's still true.

The rest is up to you! What do you want to do, when you're not doing? Go for a walk around the neighborhood, maybe. Read a suspenseful or thought-provoking book. Draw or paint something. Learn a new instrument. Just lie on your bed and listen to music. Cook something new. Tune out for a bit in whatever way you choose.

As you embrace the Art of Relaxation, you'll see that it is medicine for your health, your soul, and your life. Practice it regularly, and you'll get better at it.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Here's to Your Quirks!

Whether anyone's around or not, what do you most enjoy about yourself? What makes you You?

Each individual has unique traits that are hard to describe, yet can make that person not just endearing to others but also to themselves. What are these unique traits called? Maybe French speakers would call it a "Je ne sais quoi," meaning something which can not be described with words. These traits can also be called your unique "quirks."

Quirks include the little habits you have without even remembering how they got there. Think about your preferences, food cravings, a few of your favorite things, and anything else that makes you smile or feels familiar when you think about it. Even if no one else is "into" your quirky habit or preference, you still like it regardless of what anyone says. Some quirks are chosen, others just appear over time without you realizing it.

Quirks are a part of who we are, and therefore they are also a part of what makes up health. Some healing and medicinal arts even take your quirks into account before choosing your ultimate remedy or treatment. For example, Homeopathy asks a number of quirky questions as they assess your health profile, including questions about your food cravings, temperature preferences, and whether you keep your room messy or tidy.

Ayurvedic medicine not only finds out your body type and physical traits, but it also explores mental-emotional traits and quirks. Practitioners look into whether you have a creative streak, like to be a perfectionist, enjoy being your own boss, and a number of other behavioral nuances that help make up the individual that you are.

Sometimes a tendency arises to notice other people's quirks and see them as unique and interesting, while simultaneously ignoring our own. What makes it possible for us to appreciate other people's quirks is the fact that each of us has our own. It's healthy to enjoy your personality, so go ahead and celebrate the quirks that you have.

Can you think of an example of a T.V. show you like to watch that celebrates quirks? One popular show that continues to entertain years after its original airing is "Seinfeld," and this is largely because it touches on those unnamable expressions of life that each of us possesses--Quirks! Here are some questions to jog your mind on your signature quirks:

What's your favorite color or number?
What are a few of your favorite things?
What special things do you do in the morning or before bedtime that comfortably set your schedule more than a clock ever could?
How do you talk to your pet?
What is the first food you'll look for in the kitchen when your stomach growls?
What's your favorite cereal?
Do you eat slow or fast? Sip or gulp? Enjoy leftovers or not? Prefer sweet or salty?
Chuckle softly or bust up uncontrollably?

Arguably, no two people will have the same answers to all these questions. No two snowflakes are alike, fingerprints are singular, and you are you. Let your quirks make you laugh. Let them shine. Enjoy them and embrace them. Let them help you through challenging times. And you'll see something cool take place--your quirks will support you in your health at the same time.

Wanna share your quirk? Comment below!