Our daily habits have an effect on our overall health. In this article, we look at how and why routine and habits can positively influence our health.
Establishing routine in our lives is key to better health. Routines need not be very rigid, but should serve as a general structure and will help with discipline. We tend to dislike routine in favour of the belief that we like to go with the flow and do things when we feel like it. The Taoist notion of going with the flow is definitely a worthy concept but it can only express itself in the context of a stable, peaceful, and grounded lifestyle.
Having routines in daily life means our nervous system can predict what is around the corner. At a time when our systems are overwhelmed by information and stimuli from all directions, predictability offers reassurance. This is in contrast to much of human evolution when our ancestors were at the mercy of the elements, not knowing where and when the next meal would come from, nor the location of the next shelter. Human evolution has granted us modern-day-dwellers a great deal of stability, convenience and prediction when it comes to habitation and diet through having fixed homes and steady reliable food supplies. The rest is up to us!
- Regular meal times. You do not have to be very strict, but you can establish regular meal times by having a two-hour window for each meal. For example, breakfast from 6-8am, lunch 12-2pm and dinner 5-7pm. This would be more of a challenge for people who work irregular hours.
- Meals should decrease in size as the day progresses with breakfast being the most substantial and dinner the smallest. This is the opposite of what many people do. Breakfast is often skipped altogether, or is just a cup of coffee. Lunch is something quick and on the go, while dinner tends to be the main meal of the day. Our metabolism, or digestive fire is, from a traditional perspective, dependent on the great fire source in nature, the sun. As the day progresses and the sun goes down, so does our digestive fire; hence it’s important to have a smaller and more easily digested meal in the evening. If you have no appetite in the morning for breakfast, this most likely is due to an imbalance in your system.
- Chew your food well, slowly and until the food is soft and pasty. Think of this as a form of meditation, a time to slow down and be mindful. Do not eat while distracted with texting, emailing, working, or driving. Distraction will hinder the smooth descension of food in the gastrointestinal tract causing belching, bloating and indigestion. Eating in a social setting from time to time is nourishing and part of the human experience and is not considered a distraction unless the setting is either too chaotic or too emotional.
- Start your day with a cup of warm water. This will help gently wake up the internal organs and wash away the mucus build up in the gastrointestinal tract from the day before. Use water from the cold tap that has boiled and then let cool down. Do not use warm tap water for drinking or cooking as it has too many impurities.
- There is a trend for people to squeeze juice of half a lemon in their water first thing in the morning in the hopes of either cleansing the system or losing weight. The sourness of lemon juice is too astringent for the internal organs. We want to gently wake them up and help them expand, not contract through astringing. A few drops of lemon juice are okay for flavour but not half a lemon.
- Do not drink too much liquid with meals. A small amount of warm water or herbal tea after a meal is fine, but drinking water or cold drinks during a meal will put the digestive fire out by diluting the stomach acid as well as cooling it down, preventing digestion of food.
- Do not rush after a meal. Stay seated for fifteen minutes or so to allow further descension of food. Getting up in a rushed manner and embarking on vigorous physical activity or even returning to a desk job that requires mental concentration will interfere with digestion by sending the energy to the muscles of extremities or up to our head, rather than down to the gut.
- Incorporate more “wet” foods in your diet on a daily basis. Examples of wet foods are oatmeal, congees, soups, stews and ramen. Drinking water is less hydrating than eating wet foods. The water content of wet foods is far more readily assimilated as compared to drinking straight up water, which is more of a detoxifier and a cleanser as it washes away. Due to our fast-paced life, we incline towards foods that are quick to prepare, which tend to be drier in nature such as pasta, pizzas and sandwiches.
- It is crucial to leave at least a couple of hours between the last meal of the day and sleep to allow for proper digestion to happen. Going to bed with a full stomach or with an active digestion is one of the biggest no-no’s!
- Strictly speaking there should be no snacking after dinner until you break the fast the next morning with your breakfast.
- Incorporate 15-20 minutes of a movement/stretching exercise as part of your daily routine. This will prevent stagnation and blockages to build up and will help with the smooth flow of energy in the body. It need not be anything strenuous – gentle yoga, tai chi, qigong, walking or a short hike in nature.
- As the day progresses and the evening approaches, aim to cut down on mental and physical activities and do more relaxed and gentle things to calm the nervous system in preparation for sleep. Dim the lights couple of hours before bed and avoid looking at screens during this time.
- In warmer seasons, take cool showers and end them with a warm splash to adapt to the warmer climate. In colder seasons, take warmer showers and end them with a cool splash. Doing the complete opposite of what the season feels like will weaken the system.
- Dry your hair after showers, especially if you have long hair that covers the neck and shoulders. Leaving hair damp and exposed to cool air or drafts allows the moisture to settle into the muscles of neck and shoulders, causing tension and contributing to headaches, poor sleep, inability to concentrate and poor vision.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach as it will create a whole slew of issues, from neck and upper back problems to inability to focus. If you are prone to sleeping on your belly, it is an indication of digestive imbalance in your system. Best to train yourself to sleep either on your side or back.
- Get yourself exposed to the sun whenever possible and be in nature a few times a week to neutralize the stressors of modern life.
Wishing you a smooth transition into fall.
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