“To ensure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life.” ~William Londen
Who doesn’t want to be healthier and happier?
Too often we focus on one and not the other and wonder why we achieve neither. We neglect to realize that health and happiness often go hand in hand.
I spent my teens trying to lose weight because I thought being skinny was the key to happiness.
I spent my twenties ignoring my health, abusing my body, and looking for happiness in superficial relationships and my status at work. And I got sick.
In my thirties, I searched for inner harmony through spiritual practices, but I hid my emotions by overeating.
Finally in my forties, I’ve realized that health and happiness aren’t so complicated, but they don’t come from one aspect of our lives. Not from your dream job, your ideal weight, or even the perfect relationship.
Each of these fulfills one aspect—physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Neglect one and you create a void. And fixate on another, like your physical health, and you’ll end up imbalanced too.
Obsessing over weight loss, I neglected my emotional and spiritual voids that caused overeating. When I was consumed with my status at work, I neglected my physical health. Now, I pay attention to all sides with a few simple lifestyle choices.
You can achieve a healthier and happier life without feeling overwhelmed. The following five steps will help you along your path.
1. Eat lightly.
So you’re thinking, what does it mean to eat lightly? It sounds terrible and impossible, right?
I used to think so. Until I tried.
Learning that yoga has a philosophy of eating, based on how foods impact our minds, changed my life.
Sattvic foods cultivate mental clarity, luminosity, and lightness of spirit. Tamasic foods and overeating create a dull, heavy mind. And rajasic foods make us agitated, hyperactive, and anxious.
Sattvic foods include seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and ethically sourced animal products. Eat these, and you won’t feel heavy or dull. Minimize processed, stale, and old food that is tamasic and leave you feeling lethargic and muddled. Use rajasic foods with caution—when you need a perk, have a coffee, a bit of sweet, or spice.
And eat mindfully by digging a little deeper. Are you really hungry? Are you filling an emotional void? Or maybe just procrastinating? Eat before you’re hungry, and you’ll never know when you’re full.
Learn to eat lightly for mental clarity and physical health, and you’ll feel better than you thought possible.
2. Breathe deeply.
The breath is your gateway to a calm, clear mind.
Deep breathing creates physical and mental space, strengthens your immune system, and decreases inflammation. I’ve witnessed hundreds of yoga students experience diminished pain, better sleep, and less anxiety thanks to simple breathing exercises.
A veteran student refused his cortisone injections because the deep breathing and simple chair yoga helped him more. His case worker reported, “I was seriously blown away because he’s been a constant challenge due to his pain. He’s one of those cases where you wonder how to help such a severe case of chronic pain…and then there was yoga!”
Experience the benefits of deep breathing for yourself with the following simple practices:
- Lie on your back with bent knees and your feet planted on the floor, hip-width apart. Put a heavy book on your abdomen between the bottom of your rib cage and your belly button. Inhale, and raise the book toward the ceiling. As you exhale, relax your abdomen. Repeat this twenty times.
- Sit upright on the floor or in a chair.Place your hands on the sides of your ribs, and move your ribs into your hands. Keep the area between your ribs relaxed. Imagine that your lungs inflate like balloons as you inhale, and then deflate as you exhale. Now exhale for double the count of your inhale. If you inhale for four, exhale for eight.
Practice a few times a week, and create a relaxed, deep pattern of breathing and a calmer mind.
3. Live moderately.
Can you distinguish the difference between needs and desires? We need basics such as food, shelter, and transportation. But we desire expensive clothes and fancy cars.
Satisfying desires doesn’t make you happy, and more possessions create more work. Because the more books, clothes, gadgets, and cars that you have, the more you have to worry about. People in your life bring you more love than possessions.
Recently, I felt like I was drowning in my clutter. I delved through all my clothes. If I hadn’t worn something in a year and also didn’t love wearing it, goodbye. I gave clothes to friends, and the rest went to Goodwill. Same process with books. Releasing possessions decluttered my mind and home.
Each day you’re presented with a myriad of choices. Do you eat out or cook at home? Do you buy the new style of yoga pants?
Find the sweet spot where you have enough to satisfy your basic needs but you’re not over-consuming to satisfy desires. Your body needs nutritious, non-fancy food. Sure, it’s a treat to dine with friends at your favorite restaurant sometimes. But dining out frequently isn’t a need; it’s a desire.
Your body needs some daily movement for health. But does it need an extreme workout? And is this something you’ll maintain?
Moderation might not be as sexy as extremes, but it’s better for your long-term health.
4. Cultivate cheerfulness.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Viktor E. Frankl
Frankl was imprisoned in the WWII concentration camps of Nazi Germany where most of his family perished. In the midst of his suffering, he realized that his captors couldn’t take away his power of self-awareness. He could decide within himself how his experience would affect him.
Frankl spent his time rewriting his last psychology book in his head and on scraps of paper. Through his mental, emotional, and moral disciplines, he slowly gained his own internal freedom from his captors. He lived to become famous for his work on our power of choice based on self-awareness.
The process of cultivating cheerfulness through self-awareness is a key to happiness. Self-awareness is finding your permanent self beyond your emotions, fears, thoughts, and physical body.
You’re born with inner joy. For many reasons, you lose this state as you mature. You can’t necessarily change what happens to you, but you can change how you respond. Your power lies in your response to your own thoughts and external negativities.
Do you believe your critical thoughts? Learn to notice them, examine their truth, and challenge rather than believe them.
For example, like you, I juggle lots of responsibilities. Yesterday, I realized I hadn’t organized a fundraiser, so my first thought was, “You’re behind. Why are you so forgetful and selfish?” Then I examined the thought, “Well, I took care of my son all afternoon, and I had no time to do anything else. Mommy duty wasn’t selfish.”
See the choice? My final response was self-compassion, different from my initial judgmental thought.
Allow yourself space to respond rather than react. Over time, you’ll develop the power to separate your true self from your thoughts and emotions. And then you’ll feel happier.
5. Maintain an interest in life.
Keep your mind and spirit healthy by pursuing your passions. What makes you happiest and peaks your interest? Is it supporting a cause, supporting your family, your profession, or time in nature? Get clear on what’s important, and make it a priority.
And being a lifelong student will keep your brain healthy. Our minds are like muscles, and the more we use them, the stronger they get. People who learn more tend to be healthier and happier.
One of the miracles of the Internet is the wealth of information at our fingertips for little or no cost. Over the years, I’ve taken food photography, writing, marketing, and habit-changing courses.
Think about the things you’ve always wanted to know more about, create a list, and look for courses and books. Many universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT offer free online courses. Or if you go the non-traditional route, you can find incredible Internet courses on meditation, writing, marketing, psychology, and design all at your fingertips.
Keep your life interesting by following your passions, even as hobbies, and you’ll feel happier.
The Power of Simplicity
Feeling healthier and happier isn’t as complicated or elusive as you think.
Eating vegetables and fruits doesn’t seem sexy, but when you eat well, you’ll feel great and glow from the inside out.
Simple breathing exercises might not seem as heroic as acrobatic yoga postures, but they’re a more direct route to your inner happiness.
Buying less is certainly not always appealing, but less chaos and clutter certainly will promote clarity.
So stop procrastinating and doubting, and take the first step!
You won’t believe how far these simple steps will take you toward your health and happiness.
Happy woman image via Shutterstock