As a yoga teacher, I help new students overcome major health issues very effectively. However, after that beginner phase passes, many people cycle back to their old, unhealthy habits. Like most Americans, they are overworked, stressed out and run down. They resort to self-medicating with substances like sugar, alcohol or marijuana.
While a strong yoga practice will help you reach a new level of health, in order to sustain it, you need to focus on your well-being off the mat. Here's how:
1. Eat dinner early.
The key to starting your day refreshed is to prepare the night before. Your final meal of the day should be something light and easily digestible like a marinated salad or a vegetable soup. Eat it earlier in the evening – as early as 5 p.m. if possible. When you're finished, close your kitchen for the night. This way you have the rest of your evening to be productive, connect with loved ones and burn calories. This simple shift in your schedule lends itself to an early bedtime. After you eat, allow yourself to get tired, unplug and get into bed by 10 p.m.
2. Get restful sleep.
A complete, undisturbed sleep cycle will keep your mind sharp and your body energized. To wake up every day feeling great, shut off your cellphone and avoid screens after you finish dinner. Make it a point to not engage in thought-provoking or emotionally-charged conversations, since a passionate argument or deeply meaningful discussion will set your mind into a tailspin. It's difficult to sleep when you are stressed out and analyzing your thoughts. Instead, try to spend time with those you love. Go for a walk, clean the house or play games at night. Keep it light-hearted and positive. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and set to a comfortable temperature to sleep.
3. Establish a morning routine.
Get into the habit of waking up early – preferably before sunrise. You should have a complete bowel movement upon waking. If you have difficulty doing so, drink a full glass of warm water to aid in the process. The morning hours are ideal to move your body and breath. Get outside and go for a hike, take a walk or ride your bike. This is also a good time to practice yoga or get a workout in. After you move and stretch your body, take a moment to sit still and quiet for a couple minutes each day. Enjoy something simple and relatively small for breakfast. A smoothie, a bowl of oatmeal or an egg are great, light meals to begin your day.
4. Balance your workouts.
While yoga is one of the best ways to open and strengthen your body while avoiding injury, it shouldn't be the only exercise you do. Make sure you do workouts that strengthen or harden your body in addition to those that open and soften it. If you only stretch or practice restorative yoga, you will lose some of the muscle that's so important as you age. Incorporate some basic strength training such as bodyweight exercises like burpees, pushups, planks and core work. Simple weight training is also a great way to maintain strength.
5. Eat a plant-based diet.
You do not have to be a vegan or even a vegetarian in order to be a yogi. But it's important to eat nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of vegetables – ideally those that are grown locally. One way to include more plants in your meals is to prepare a different salad each week for dinner. This way you are sure to get more vegetables in your diet and to save yourself the hassle of deciding what to make. Eating more plants will make you feel vibrant and energized.
Make time in the morning after you practice yoga or exercise to sit and meditate. After you move and connect to your breath, it's easier for your mind to stay grounded and clear. Keep your meditation very basic and accessible. You can either sit comfortably on the floor or a chair, or you can even lie on the ground. Just be sure you are in a position to be still and undisturbed for five to 10 minutes.
As you start your meditation, close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. After a couple cycles of breath, relax your jaw and begin to breathe deeply in and out through the nose. Count each inhalation and exhalation up to 10 and then back down to zero. If you lose track, start back at one.
Do not try to completely shut off your mind. Instead, just notice your thoughts as they arise. Do not respond to them, but acknowledge that you are experiencing them. This allows you to see yourself through a lens that is much bigger than yourself and your thoughts. Over time, you will start to become more accepting of yourself and grateful to be alive.