Sunday, November 11, 2007

Key steps to look after your body

The body is a temple for our soul, our living essence. As such, it is to be honoured and respected and serve as a vehicle for our highest expression. The body is not the whole picture but we cannot build a life that serves us if our bodies are not functioning at their optimum level.

The basic components to look after the physical part of our being are:
  1. correct breathing and posture,
  2. adequate rest and relaxation
  3. healthy intake of food and water

Let us examine each of these principles in more depth, starting with the first - correct breathing and posture.

In this modern day world, many of us have developed incorrect habits regarding our breathing and posture, and yet breath is fundamental to life. Indeed, we have whole systems devoted to this aspect of our wellbeing, Hatha yoga being the most widely known in the West today. Hatha yoga is one branch of Yoga that is also a complete system in itself, dealing with care of the physical body in order to allow the higher mind functions to develop.

The importance of breathing cannot be underestimated. If we stopped eating, we would only survive a few weeks at most; without drinking water, a few days. If we stopped breathing, however, we would only survive a few seconds.

Firstly, it is important to breathe through the nose. The nasal passage has filters which filter out harmful bacteria in the air, and they also warm the air so that it can enter the bloodstream at the correct temperature. We do not eat through our nose and so, we should not inhale through our mouth. Just this practice of being conscious and breathing through the nose will strengthen the body's immune system and its capacity to fight against colds, flu and the like. If we choose to breathe through our mouth, then cold, unfiltered air enters our system and may cause us to be more susceptible to disease.

We should also breathe from the belly, which can be termed "low breathing". A lot of us are prone to mid and high breathing, with our shoulders drooping and chest in a concave position. Often we breathe from the center of our chest or, even worse, the upper part. This is not efficient for the lungs as it has to work three or four times as hard to get the required amount of oxygen and prana (chi) into the bloodstream.

If you can imagine that your lungs are like a pair of balloons, that will help you imagine how to breathe. When you blow up a balloon, the air enters the bottom of the balloon and then rises to the top. Likewise when you breathe, air should enter the lower abdomen and then rise to the middle and higher part of the chest. Daily practice should help correct any bad habits.

Posture is vital too. If we can keep our shoulders back and keep our chest sticking out, then we have a greater chance of maintaining correct breathing habits. Moment to moment vigilance is required and it takes practice. However, the benefits far outweigh the price.

It would be good to imagine a hook at the back of the crown pulling your head up; it should be a gentle, relaxed pulling which will help you to keep yourself correctly aligned.

The next principle we shall briefly examine is rest.

Rest and relaxation are essential for both our minds and bodies. Have you ever tried to do anything after having a bad night's sleep? Have you felt moody or irritated, argumentative with virtually everyone who crosses your path, lacking the inner strength and desire to accomplish minor tasks? We each sleep approximately eight hours every day, which equates to one third of our lives. This is a key insight! Nature has designed us this way so that we may recuperate and regenerate.

The infinite intelligence that created us is perfectly capable of restoring us to full and glowing health but we must allow ourselves that possibility by ensuring that we get enough sleep. Whilst we are asleep, the powerhouse that we know as the subconscious mind orchestrates an intricate dance between the trillions of cells in the body and will faithfully restore us to radiant health, if we will allow it.

The reason we do not always return to radiant health immediately is because the subconsious mind is a faithful servant and will always obey the commands of our conscious minds. A lot of us unconsciously give our subconscious minds commands that adversely affect our health. We should, however, not beat ourselves up because of this but rather realise it is a process of awakening.

We move through each and every day passing through a variety of 'states' - happy, sad, moody, joyful, etc. The key is to know when we are tense, irritable, moody or any other disempowering state and let it go. Learning how to let go of the past, how to let go of worry and get in touch with the peaceful, all-knowing, wise part of yourself is a critical step in acheiving a healthy body and life.

Finally, we will merely touch upon the last principle of nourishing our bodies through food and drink.

Quite often when we eat food that is not particularly healthy (crisps, chocolate, sweets etc.) it is mainly because we are not listening to our bodies. We are listening to our minds - to the programmes running there which have come from clever advertising, or because our mental and emotional bodies are out of balance and we need a quick fix. If we always need to eat sugary foods, it might be apt to ask ourselves, why does life not taste so sweet to us? What "hole" or "gap" are we trying to fill?

Generally, we should try to eat lots of high water-content food. That is, lots of fruit and vegetables. It is not really advisable to drink excess amounts of water (the usual saying touted about is to drink "2 litres" a day) because it passes straight out of body. It makes no sense to drown our systems in water.

The best way to drink water is to sense when your body is giving you signals to drink water or eat more fruit and vegetables. The mouth will often feel dry or parched, yet we have become so accustomed to ignoring or misinterpreting that signal that we fail to act in timely manner. In a lot of cases, we confuse thirst with hunger and actually eat more than we need to.

A good tip I learnt the other day was to eat fruit separately from your meals. Apparently, fruit goes straight into the small intestine and the fructose is immediately converted into glucose for the brain and nervous system. You should allow approximately 15 minutes before consuming other foods, so that you do not feel bloated.

You can also try to eat meat/fish and vegetables together, and starchy carbohydrates (pasta, potatoes etc) separately from meat and fish. This comes from the principle of food combining and allows the body to process energy from food in a far more efficient and beneficial manner. Try it and see if this is your truth.

There are endless books and conflicting pieces of advice. As such, it is vitally important to begin to listen to your body again and honour your intution. "In"-tuition means to be taught from within. It is a gut feeling and a sense of knowing that cannot be shaken. Too often today we give our power away, so stop and listen to your body!

Do not blindly follow advice. Listen, try something new out, see what works for you.

Disclaimer: The information in this article constitutes neither medical nor nutritional advice. Please consult your doctor or nutritionist if you are at all unsure about what you may or may not eat.