5 Simple Practices to Balance Your Body This Winter
by Katie Papo (Ambika)
We all know how easy it is to fall out of balance — especially in winter, when we gravitate more toward heavy comfort foods and become less active. Although eating warmer, heavier foods and slowing down in the winter are actually good and normal, when we go too far, we know it.
Here are 5 simple tips to bring some balance to your life this winter. Practice them now and not only will you feel better, it will be less of a challenge to gear back up in spring.
1. FOCUS ON YOUR BELLY
At mealtime, once you have eaten 1/4 of your food, close your eyes and focus on your belly. Ask it how it feels. Ask it if it would like you to slow down, to chew more, or to breathe more between each bite. Repeat this process again after you’ve eaten half of your food, and then 3/4 of your food. Each time also ask your belly if it wants you to stop eating and to give you a signal if it does. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to have this conversation.
It is so easy to overeat if you lose your focus because you are doing something else at the same time. Watching television and sitting at the computer are likely the two most distracting things you can do that lead to overeating or eating foods that do not agree with your body. If it is really a challenge for you to stop overeating, let go of the television for a week and see if it makes a difference. Or limit yourself to only your favorite shows. It is important to meet yourself where you are.
If you can get rid of these major distractions, you will be much more aware of what you are eating, how much, and how you feel. Also try not to get caught up into any heated conversations while you’re eating. This can make for big distraction potential and upset digestion. You want to keep it light, like your food.
Meditation, which emphasizes the observation of thoughts without judging them, has been scientifically shown to weaken cravings. The mind is always racing outwards, thinking of desires — the things that we don’t have — and chasing the next bit of stimulation. And food can be very stimulating (especially junk food), which is why we crave it so much. Through meditation, we teach the mind to “sit still” and focus on the breath or the mantra. Through a daily meditation practice, we see the nature of the mind, and how it is always chasing the next craving or desire. The more we can return to the present moment and focus on where we are now, rather than focusing on what we’re lacking, the more we can unravel our food cravings and loosen their hold on us.
Meditation is more than just a stress-reliever. It has also been shown to help people make progress with their health goals, especially if you tend to fall into habits that do not serve your highest good. In relation to food, meditation can help make you a more mindful eater. Research has shown that individuals with eating problems generally aren’t paying attention to whether they’re actually hungry or full — they’re just eating!
Mindfulness exercises can help heighten your awareness of your wants and actual needs and keep your mind focused on the experience of eating, rather than eating with your body while your mind is distracted.
3. EXERCISE WITH INTENTION
The “boot camp” model that took many countries by storm is now losing its popularity as more people realize it's less effective than originally thought. Excessive exercise may help you lose weight in the beginning, but from a general health and longevity standpoint, this is not an ideal habit. Your exercise regimen should give you energy, not deplete you.
Asanas (yoga postures) are excellent for the body in themselves, but Swami Sivananda also recommends swimming, running, walking, or other exercises depending on your temperament. Pay attention to the specific benefits of the exercises you choose. For example, yoga exercises benefit your internal organs and glands, which will ultimately help your digestion and hormonal balance, two important elements in keeping a strong, healthy body. Swimming is easy on the joints and helps to coordinate breath with movement. Dancing instills confidence. Many exercises have benefits that are worthwhile, and make sure to start with the exercises that you love most, and that feel the best for your body.
4. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE INFLUENCES
It does not help your personal growth to surround yourself with naysayers. Don’t bother discussing your self-care plans with people who can’t support you all the way. When you’re working to change from the inside out, you are your own best ally and most important confidante.
It is very common to experience setbacks; don’t beat yourself up! Just because you trip down one step doesn’t mean you need to throw yourself down the whole flight of stairs. And even if you’ve already thrown yourself down the whole flight, get back up and take the first step back up. Take one step at a time, and be patient with yourself. You will regain your motivation, little by little, because it gets easier after each step you take. Before you know it, you’ll be back in the game. As an added benefit, you’ll have the wisdom of having embarked on the journey in the first place.
5. GET QUALITY SLEEP
When we are tired, our willpower is shot. That is often why it is so difficult to stop cravings for junk food at night. When we are well-rested, we have much more control of ourselves, our emotions, and our reactions to the environment around us. This can include our reactions to other people, to situations at work, and especially our interactions with our own selves. When we have a good sleep, we can think clearly, react from a place of emotional and mental reason, and make smarter decisions.
Most people need between 6-9 hours of quality sleep, depending on their diet and general lifestyle. The problem is that sometimes even when we get enough sleep, it can be poor quality or disturbed. Start to pay attention to the environment in which you sleep, and see how you can make your sleeping space more dark, calm, and peaceful. If you have trouble falling asleep, try listening to a guided relaxation, practice yoga nidra, or engage in simple deep breathing.
Small changes can make a big difference. Often, when you make one small conscious change, it has a ripple effect. Try these practices out and see what works for you. Make adjustments as needed. Use this winter as a time to come into deeper relationship with what makes you feel good in your body and your mind.
Katie Papo (Ambika) is a Sivananda Yoga teacher and director of Shane Diet & Fitness Resorts in New York State. She is also a certified sports nutrition specialist, fitness trainer, holistic life coach, and weight-management specialist who emphasizes integrative approaches to stress management, self-care, and eating.