Updated: 2 days ago
Prioritize your well-being. Do not stint on self-compassion. Neglecting our well-being can lead to compromised physical and mental health, bitterness, and resentment. By prioritizing your health, you serve more effectively. You assume radical responsibility for your well-being. You have more to give and are more inclined to give willingly from your fullness.
When I am rested, relaxed, calm, and centered, I am more creative, thoughtful, generous, and compassionate. Conversely, when I am exhausted, I am more irritable, more myopic, less patient, less tolerant, more prone to illness and injury. The quality of my work suffers. My health suffers. I am emotionally spent and unavailable for those I love most. I am easily triggered. The trigger occurs in context. Preconditions can influence the way we enter an emotion. Pre-conditions can be physiological (rested/tired, healthy/ill, sober/intoxicated, satiated/hungry, calm/stressed, etc.), emotional (i.e., if we are saturated emotionally that feeling may carry over into the next experience), or cognitive (i.e., how skillful we are in reframing, self-regulating, or managing strong emotions). The state I'm in shapes the stories I tell myself. So, I attend to pre-conditions.
I take a pro-active approach, daily and intentionally promoting those conditions that encourage resilience, health, calm, joy, and clarity. I do not compromise on this!
Here are practical, actionable steps I take to promote my own good. My regimen has changed over time and will continue to evolve as I grow older and learn more. This is the most current iteration. Each strategy is research-based. I've highlighted and linked to relevant pages for those who want to learn more.
1. Breath work
I begin my day with several minutes of pranayama, or breath work. I'll do different exercises to slow the breath down or practice breath holds. I use the Wim Hof Method, and other variations (pranayama techniques, breathing exercises, etc) to induce a hypometabolic state- I slow the breath and heart rate. I wear a pulse oximeter and use a stethoscope to measure my performance. I usually do 3 to 7 rounds of breathing in the WHM. After several rounds, oxygen saturation reaches 100%, breath retention is over 5 minutes as CO2 levels rise (O2 levels drop below 60), heart rate drops into the high 50s-mid 60s. Several times a week, I'll take a CO2 tolerance test. This is a measure of pulmonary capacity and may be correlated to one's ability to manage stress. The Wim Hof Method is pranayama packaged in a new way. I modify the WHM with bhastrika, kapalbhati, and bahya pranayam, nauli kriya, and sodarshan chakra pranayam.
I carve out an hour each morning for meditation (which includes breath work). This centers me. I set intentions for the day. Formal meditation ends and the informal practices begin. I may focus on a mantra for the day. "Choose love" is an example of a mantra I may repeat to myself throughout the day. To choose love means giving over getting, compassion over judgment, acceptance over resistance, forgiveness over blame, equanimity over craving, love over fear. When I get to a choice point, when I'm tempted to react- rather than react- I respond from an energy I choose to come from.
I meditate midday and at the end of the day. I meditate midday to give the mind a rest and at the end of the day to reset the mind.
3. I wake up before sunrise to meditate, as the sun rises, I am exercising outdoors. Presently, I am open ocean swimming and running. I swim even in winter (rain or snow). This is not only for cold exposure and exercise, but to promote a better night's sleep.
When we open our eyes, natural sunlight triggers photosensitive ganglion cells in the retina. This activation primes the superchiasmatic nucleus which sets our circadian clock. The superchiasmatic nucleus is a pacemaker which communicates with the body. The body secretes cortisol to rouse us from sleep. The superchiasmatic nucleus communicates with the pineal gland, which produces melatonin to induce sleep. The sunlight, exercise and stress of cold prime my sympathetic nervous system in the morning. I am strengthening my stress tolerance.
All of my meals are plant-based & nutrient-dense. I practice intermittent fasting & eat between 6:30-2:30. Benefits of this discipline include: a 5 fold increase in human growth hormone (after 12 hours), increased insulin sensitivity, autophagy/cellular repair (after 16-18 hours), weight management, increased metabolism, improved heart health (reduction in amyloids), increases in brain-derived neurotropic factor (which aids in the growth of new brain cells), and a slowing of the aging process. Sometimes, I will prolong fasting for two or more days. After 24 hours, liver glycogen stores are depleted. We start running on ketones. Ketones are an appetite suppressant. After day 2 or 3, the hunger pangs are diminished. Ketones are antioxidants, which provide more oxygen. The body works more efficiently with less. Ketones are a more efficient fuel than glycogen, so the thyroid isn't working as hard. Inflammation drops. The gut gets a reprieve. After 48 hours, stem cells are stimulated which promote healing and repair. After 72 hours, we experienced greater immune functioning. We increase our resistance to stress.
I eat a big breakfast and began adding one clove of garlic after learning of its benefits. It is rich in Vitamin C, B6 and manganese. It also contains traces of other nutrients. I enjoy a big lunch between 12 and 2 and skip dinner, giving my body time to digest. I found this works best for my constitution and helps with sleep.
I drink plenty of water and juices. I have a cup of water as soon as I wake up. Juicers are relatively inexpensive & allow you to create many delicious blends. Among my favorites are 1. apple, carrot & turmeric root, 2. celery, apple, pear & ginger. Celery juice, by the way, contains powerful anti-oxidants that help reduce toxicity while boosting immunity. Celery juice activates the gut by restoring hydrochloric acid which aids in digestion. It's an anti-inflammatory and helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. 3. protein shakes with ashwaghanda, an ayurvedic herb. Benefits of ashwagandha include: increased energy levels, improved concentration, and stress relief (measurable decreases in cortisol levels of 14.5-28%). It has anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects. I use oat, almond, hemp, or other nut milk as a base. I usually add three or more of the following ingredients: bananas, berries (black, red, raspberries, strawberries), mangos, pineapples, peanut butter, flax seed, hemp seed, chia seeds, and frozen spinach, kale, or collard greens. The drinks are nutritious and delicious.
I stop drinking around 3 or 4, so as not to disrupt my sleep. Occasionally, my last drink is moon milk, which consists of oat milk or nut milk (e.g. coconut, macadamia, almond, etc.), coconut oil, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, cardamom, ginger, and triphala. Triphala works as a natural laxative, is anti-inflammatory, and has other medicinal and beneficial properties.
I supplement with glucosamine/chondroitin to support healthy joints and recommend nootropic stacks. Nootropics are supplements designed to enhance cognitive functioning and overall health. Rather than buying my vitamins, minerals, and supplements separately, I sometimes buy a stack (which contains the vitamins, amino acids, choline donors and herbal adaptogens to promote focus, clarity and overall cognitive health). I supplement with Magnesium L-Threonate, Apigenin, and L-Theanine at night. Sometimes, I'll drink tart cherry juice or eat kiwi prior to bed. These also aid in sleep.
The benefits of exercise are many as most are aware. I integrate exercise into my day. I cycle to work several days a week. I do yoga, high intensity interval training and core training with my students daily. Because calisthenics can be performed anywhere, I do 1-3 minutes of light exercise throughout the day. I use a push-pull-leg split. On a push day, for example, where I'm isolating the muscles of the chest, I may drop during a break and hammer out 50-100 pushups. Over the course of the day, these add up. I log from 250-1,000 push-ups using this method. I also added pliability training exercises and use foam rollers, peanut balls, and bands to lengthen and soften muscles.
Our perceptions and attachments are the root cause of many distresses. I monitor my thinking throughout the day. By remaining mindful, I find it easier to detach from thoughts. When eating, we eat; when walking, we walk- as Buddhists are fond of stressing. By engaging fully in whatever we are doing, we can cut mental elaborations. I use the BlipBlip app to signal reminders every 20 minutes.
9. Neti pot
Several times a week, I'll use a neti pot to irrigate and flush out mucus and debris from the sinus cavities. This enhances nasal breathing and improves O2 delivery.
There are many benefits to journaling: we express what is alive in us, we set goals, we document our progress, we record ideas, brainstorm, relieve stress by brain-dumping, we self-reflect, improve our creativity, keep a record of experiences we might otherwise forget. Micro-journaling is a more concise and brief variation of journaling. There are many apps that enable this. Because of character limits, brevity and clarity are encouraged.
I read or am read to daily. Over the course of a year, I may finish between 50-150 books or more. It's a way to strengthen empathy, practice perspective-taking, and learn from the experiences, research, and wisdom of others. Many public libraries offer digital libraries to patrons. I use Libby, Sora, and Hoopla. All free.
13. Compassionate communication
Communication is a skill that we can practice each time we interact with others. Marshall Rosenberg's Non-violent communication technique is the one I use most often. I listen for the speaker's feelings and true needs. I try to listen for what they genuinely want to express and do not take the words at face value. With compassion and empathy, we can have deep, authentic and meaningful conversations with others. These connections can develop a degree of closeness, understanding, and trust the heart longs for. To be seen and heard is a gift we can give one another. This is one of the simple acts of kindness we can extend to others.
14. Working Signature Strengths
A signature strength is a character strength which are grouped into 6 main classes: wisdom & knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, transcendence. Signature strengths points to our deepest values- for one it might be curiosity, for another honesty, for another social connection or teamwork or prudence. My top signature strengths are curiosity, love of learning, appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, self-regulation, and perseverance among others. Daily, I search for ways to exercise these strengths. This post, for example, is the fruit of curiosity and love of learning. I was curious to learn how to optimize my potential and learned self-regulatory techniques which, I hope, are of value to readers. You can identify your signature strengths by taking the survey.
When I say no to a request, I am saying yes to some other value like peace, health, self-discovery. I am sincere about prioritizing my well-being. I put it above ambition, getting ahead, or promotions. I am more passionate about promoting peace, joy, compassion.
16. Sauna & Ice Baths
I purchased a portable UV sauna for under $300 and a steel stock tank for less than $150. At the end of each day, I treat myself to the sauna and sit in heat (130-140 degrees F) for about 15 minutes, then sit in a tub of ice for 10-20 minutes. Ice baths reduce inflammation and improve recovery by changing the way blood and other fluids flow through your body. Blood vessels constrict when the body is exposed to cold; they dilate when we exit. This process helps flush away metabolic waste- including lymph, a clear fluid made up of white blood cells and fluid from your intestines. While the heart circulates blood around the body, the lymph nodes don’t have a pump. Ice baths constrict and open vessels manually, which helps stagnant fluids in the lymph nodes circulate. Increased blood flow floods the cells with nutrients and oxygen. I began open ocean swimming year-round. I can tolerate the frigid waters off the coast of New England even on the coldest winter days.
Sometimes, I'll sit in the ice bath prior to work. It helps with alertness. Dopamine is also slowly released, so that I experience a high sense of well-being. And if I cycle to work, even better.
Just as we intellectually appreciate the value of exercise and diet, so do we understand the value of sleep. Because I have sleep apnea, I am especially mindful to control what I can. The measures I've taken to ensure a good night's sleep are many. Much of what contributes to a good night's sleep is already included here: exercise, relaxation techniques, a proper diet, no late meals or drinks, a cooler body temperature, and brain-dumping. Others include sleep tape, sticking to a schedule and bedtime rituals: microjournaling, gratitude, meditation and self-hypnosis. I also practice deep breathing and retention before bed. Because of sleep apnea, my oxygen levels fall, but deep breathing techniques help improve oxygen efficiency. I found this more effective than the CPAP machine and get better sleep.
What does not appear on my list of daily-dos are those things I do not do. I do not watch television. I am not on social media. I do not seek distractions or engage in meaningless activities. Nor do I stress myself with must-dos, including the disciplines listed here. If I don't get to them, that's fine. I cycle on and off routines; I modify them and adapt to changes.
This life is too brief and precious. May you find the daily disciplines that work best for you. If anything on the above list resonates with you, experiment for a few weeks. May you celebrate and cherish the gift of life you've been given.