Last week, I wrote a column about things you can do to improve your health that don’t have anything to do with physically moving your body. They were more attitudinal steps you can take to decrease stress and see things from a different, healthier perspective.
With that in mind, I headed into my own week with a renewed sense of optimism and intention. I recently taught a chair yoga class to seniors at an assisted living center in my neighborhood. I’ve done it before, but it inspired me a great deal on this particular day. A mixture of chair yoga and (optional) standing poses supported by a chair, we spent 45 minutes moving, breathing, stretching and ended with meditation.
Teaching these classes made me realize that there’s always something available to us on a physical level that we can do to improve our health. Lots of people tell me they can’t do yoga because they can’t touch their toes.
Well, I can reassure you that not once in the class I taught to those seniors, was there ever a suggestion made to touch your toes. Sometimes, people I work with get injured or have other changes in their body that affects their ability to practice a more traditional yoga practice. Despite injury or other changes, there’s always something you can do to move, breathe deeply and improve the health of your body.
Often, people have more physical capability than they think: it’s more their way of thinking about their bodies, their physical abilities and the judgments they place on themselves that stands in the way. We’re our own worst critics and we live in a culture that emphasizes youth, beauty and quick fixes.
These two factors make working on our health even harder. Just as the road to financial health is hard work, the road to physical health is a commitment and takes work. But the payoff is enormous. Living longer, taking less medication, decreased back pain, greater overall health, decreased medical bills and a brighter outlook on life all are available to you if you take care of the body you have.
Here are some easy things you can do to improve your physical health:
- Walk as much as you can. Walk to work, park at the end of the lot when you go shopping. Walk in your neighborhood. Walk your dog; offer to walk your neighbor’s dog!
- Incorporate deep breathing into your day to relieve stress and trigger the relaxation response.
- Take stretching breaks during the day: from your desk chair, reach the arms up and stretch; forward fold. From standing, reach up to sky, then arms by your sides. Repeat three times, incorporating inhalations as you reach up, exhaling as your bring arms by your sides.
- Practice balancing on one leg for five breaths. Switch sides. Balance is one of the first things we lose as we age and it’s critical for our overall health. If you know the yoga tree pose, do that at least once a day.
- Shoulder rolls: Roll shoulders up towards ears and down. Repeat 10 times. Shoulders are one of the tightest parts of the body. This exercise releases tension in the neck and shoulders.
- Before getting up in the morning, hug knees into chest and squeeze. Take five deep breaths. Place feet flat and make a “windshield wiper” action with knees, side to side, 10 times. If you can do this on the floor, even better.
- On floor, come to hands and knees. Keeping arms straight, drop belly down like a hammock and gently lift chin. Take a deep breath in, pushing chest forward. Then, on the exhale, pull belly button up towards spine and round back. Repeat 10 times.
Best thing to do daily for your mind: Meditate. Sit in a chair or on a supportive pillow on the floor. Close your eyes for five minutes and take deep breaths.
Great things you can do to improve your health:
- Limit drinking alcohol;
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco;
- Eat more fresh food and less processed -- the closer to its natural state, the healthier it is;
- Get regular check ups including regular preventative testing;
- Be compassionate with others as well as yourself.
Live a long, healthy life!