The number one cause of all problems, whether they be physical, mental or emotional is stress. Recent research has increasingly confirmed the important role of stress in cardiovascular disease, cancer, gastrointestinal issues, skin problems, emotional disorders and lowered immune systems. In fact 75-90% of all visits to your doctor are for stress related complaints. I don’t know about you but that is a massive statistic and one that can be reversed with the proper support and guidance.
Nourishing ourselves is not only beneficial for our wellbeing, but also crucial if we are to live our lives optimally and fully. When most of us talk about nourishing ourselves, we think diet. However, I believe it is important to view nourishment in a more holistic sense. If we just focus on our physical bodies through diet and exercise, we could possibly neglect our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing as well. So, for me nourishment refers to what nourishes our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical bodies with a holistic and complete focus. This article is divided into four sections addressing how to sustain and nurture all four of our body systems in order to live a stress-free life.
Physical nourishment begins with what you put into your body. All of us have probably heard the saying “you are what you eat.” Yes, it may be a cliché it is also true. I for one can vouch for the benefits of changing to a clean diet. Growing up I used to eat lots of junk food; chocolate, chips, processed and refined biscuits, pastries and bread. I had low energy levels and my digestive system was struggling. Five years ago I started cleaning up my diet; I became a vegetarian, reduced and eliminated dairy, processed and refined sugar and gluten. I’m not saying eliminating meat, dairy and gluten are best for everyone. However, reducing at the very least processed and refined foods such as sugar and white flour will set you on the path to greater health. Incorporating and increasing vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and ethically sourced meat (if you’re a meat eater) are the cornerstone of what experts deem as a healthy diet. Focusing on when we are hungry and full - instead of emotional eating, eating until our plates are empty or boredom - will ensure that you are eating for all the right reasons.
Exercise is equally as important not only to your physical body, but the other three bodies as well. It has been reported that exercise not only makes you physically fit, but can also reduce anxiety, depression and stress. There is no right or wrong way to exercise, what works for one person might not work for another. For example I don’t like running. However, I love walking, swimming and yoga. Different people resonate with different types of exercise more than others. The most important thing is to do something you LOVE. Exercising at least three times a week, for about 30-60 minutes is the agreed upon average by professionals. For me personally, I practice yoga for 30 minutes as soon as I wake up every morning, and I go for a 30-minute walk with my toddler everyday. I can tell you right now I didn’t used to exercise this much before having a baby and I can definitely feel the positive effects it has on all aspects of my life. I have more energy so I can chase my little man around all day; I am living in the present and have more clarity of mind to focus on my studies.
Nourishing our mental bodies is probably the least likely talked about. However, it is fun, challenging and gratifying. Just like our physical body we also need to tone and workout our mind.
Many people, me included have what the Tao terms “the monkey mind.” Our minds are running rampant, controlling our lives, and playing scenarios in our heads about possible futures or regretful pasts and torturing our actions. How many of you lie awake at night thinking about your grocery list, the things you need to do tomorrow or what you should have said to your co-worker when they mocked you today at lunch? This used to be my mind all the time, and can still be some of the time when I am not focused on the present moment.
Research has shown that we have between 45,000 and 51,000 thoughts a day. That’s about 150 to 300 thoughts a minute. Research has also shown that for most people 80% of those thoughts are negative. All of these repetitive thoughts are poured into creating your reality. When you start making conscious positive thoughts, you actually become more aware of the negative thoughts that are always threatening to take over.
So how can we wrangle our little monkeys so they are tame and living in the present; not the past or future? The first is meditation. Like exercise there is no right or wrong way to meditate. I know when I first started (and even still occasionally now) my mind wonders. When this happens just gently and lovingly bring your attention back to your breathing. Your breathing is always in the present so it will always bring you back and away from persistent thoughts and worries. There are many different types of meditation and the fastest way to discover them is with Google. However, for now the easiest form of meditation is focusing on your breathing. The cool air coming into your nostrils, and the warm air exiting as you exhale; the feel of your stomach rising and falling with each breath in and out.
Other activities you can practice to work out your mind is reading, learning a new skill, studying, being aware of your internal mind chatter and bringing yourself back to the present, resting your mind, having positive outlooks and goals, reflecting and having a healthy self-esteem. This list is by no means an extensive list of what your mental body can accomplish but it is a starting point.
Next week you can read Part 2 of Nourishing Yourself to a Stress-Free Life where we will discuss Emotional and Spiritual Nourishment.