Healthy practices to start now!
by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
Summer weather in Manitoba this year certainly had a later start. In June, we found ourselves wondering when summer would arrive, and we reminisced about the hot weather the previous year. The consensus when I talk to people is to, “Enjoy each good day when we get it!” This certainly applies to discussion of our summer weather, but also to how we ought to approach each and every day – with gratitude and appreciation for what we’ve got.
Although summer weather always makes it easier to engage in fun and calming activities, I have realized that time for relaxation should be a priority all year round. Even 15 minutes a day to put responsibilities aside and have a mental “time out” can go a long way towards long-term health and wellness.
Why not start that daily practice now? Here are a few ways to incorporate relaxation into your daily life, no matter what the weather and no matter what is going on in your life:
A regular sleep routine
An astounding amount of research emphasizes the importance of adequate sleep for children and adults. A sound sleep increases our ability to concentrate, improves memory, reduces the risk of heart disease and other serious illnesses, lowers the incidence of depression, and helps the body to repair itself. So, during these next couple of months, make it a goal to have healthy sleep habits. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, limit technology in the evening, and engage in soothing activities such as baths and quiet reading. A wise friend told me that her secret to a good night’s sleep is to, “Treat yourself like a baby!”
Write down your thoughts and feelings
Research has shown that journaling reduces stress and can improve physical health and well-being. Writing worries down allows our thoughts to slow down and our emotions to be processed. It can be a tool for self-discovery or a way to problem-solve and figure out what the next step should be. Many people have shared with me that it is helpful to journal and then physically close the notebook and put it away.
The 4-7-8 breathing method
This strategy is a relaxation tool that is easy to remember and can be done at any time. Dr. Andrew Weil developed this strategy with the aim to decrease stress and anxiety. It can also help you to fall asleep at bedtime if your worries and thoughts are keeping you awake. This is because it forces you to focus on your breathing instead. The basic steps are to:
1. Exhale fully by parting your lips to make a whooshing sound until your lungs are empty
2. Close your mouth and inhale slowly for four counts
3. Hold for seven counts
4. Exhale for eight counts, making another whooshing sound
5. Repeat for at least four cycles
Research supports that the daily practice of mindfulness meditation reduces stress, depression, and anxiety levels. It focuses on being in the present moment, and not replaying the past or worrying about the future. Meditation allows us to explore how our mind works without any kind of self-criticism or judgment. The result is that we have more compassion for ourselves and for others. Below is a simple beginner’s script to mindful meditation:
- Start by getting into a comfortable position that will not allow you to fall asleep. Try sitting in a comfortable chair or sitting on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Close your eyes or allow your gaze to centre on one spot, unfocused.
- Gently lean your head to one side and then the other. Roll your shoulders slowly in one direction, and then the other. Allow your whole body to relax.
- Bring your attention to your breathing. Without trying to change your breathing, notice how it feels to inhale and exhale. Notice the flow of the air as it enters your body, and then leaves it.
- If you find that your attention wanders to something else, or if random thoughts come up, notice them, but do not dwell on them. Let the thoughts pass.
- Bring your focus back to breath and notice how you inhale and exhale repeatedly.
- Feel the air enter through your nose, into your body, filling your lungs.
- Notice the pause right before the air exits your lungs and out through the nostrils.
- Pay attention to the sounds that your breath makes.
- Picture the air as it enters your body, nourishes it, and then leaves again. Feel your chest and stomach expand and contract as breath occupies and leaves your body.
- Now as you inhale, meditate on the word “calm”
- As you exhale, the breath will leave on the word “calm”
- On the next breath… inhale…. Calm….
- And exhale…. Calm…
- Continue to pair each inhalation and exhalation with “calm.”
- Be aware of how your body feels.
- Embrace what this sensation feels like to you.
- See how your breath is calm and flowing, and how relaxed your body feels.
- Now it is time to gently return to the room and reawaken mind and body.
- As you keep your eyes closed, pay attention to how your feet feel, your hands, and how your head feels. Feel the chair or the floor underneath you and how it feels to be supported.
- Take note of any sounds around you.
- Start to wiggle your toes and fingers.
- Stretch out your legs and arms gently and slowly.
- Shrug your shoulders slightly and tilt your head from side to side gently.
- Feel your consciousness come back to the room that you are in and open your eyes slowly.
- Stay in position for a few moments longer and notice the serenity that is in your body right now.
- Slowly start to move your body and bring your mind back to full awareness of the room that you are in. Come to a standing position, do some light stretches, and return to your daily tasks, feeling a new sense of energy within you.
Starting these simple wellness practices today while we have more relaxing weather can be a good way to ensure that these healthy habits continue when fall and the busy season arrives!
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.