The start of the New Year always seems to bring our attention to changes that we can make in our health. A new exercise plan, a new way of eating, a detox program . . . these are frequent subjects that many individuals commit to or intend to explore in the New Year. These lifestyle change goals represent such an interesting approach to health and behavior change overall. This seems to be a patterning of the human condition, that is, it seems we base our ability to achieve personal commitments around tangible timelines but many times these goals are add-ons as opposed to a restructuring of the paradigm.
At Functional Formularies we feel there are other components of health, which are just as important as nutrition, yet often neglected. Most people tend to be pretty good at addressing one area, yet, there is a disconnect when it comes to addressing the whole being, creating an existential nutrition crisis of sorts.
Why? Our understanding of health is often monolithic or one-dimensional. This makes it more difficult to create room in our daily routine. We tend to focus on one aspect: the physical, the mental, or the spiritual. How often do we ask ourselves about the balance in our life or about our ability to cultivate a deeper, richer experience overall? These are New Year inquiries that would seem to serve as launch pads for the long-term, foundational behavior changes required for better health all-around.
Many cultures around the World look at health in a much more comprehensive light. Some Mediterranean cultures for instance, place as much value on family and community time as they do on their cuisine, which tends to get most of the attention. In Japanese culture, art and several forms of martial arts in particular, are an integral part of health and happiness. In the Masai culture of Kenya and East Africa, art in the form of dance is seen as essential for both the health of the individual and the health of the tribe. These components of lifestyle, incorporated into a daily routine, ensure that we will use the other side of our brain, which is often neglected in favor of our analytical and frontal-lobe-dominant thought process.
In the most scientific approach, we could do better by simply examining the time we spend between the two different divisions of the nervous system: the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Most of us are already way out of balance in this area of human physiology, with the only real parasympathetic activity occurring during sleep. It is quite likely that even sleep itself has become elusive. Does it make sense to join a fitness center or embark on any new venture that will require cramming more into an already full day?
Why don’t we look at the time we spend laughing with our children or our close friends as an essential aspect of our health? When was the last time we decided to cook a meal without a recipe and strictly from our imagination? Although the weather for many of us might make this a seemingly distant dream, gardening can be a very restorative and creative part of our life. We don’t have to work on a Bonsai tree to do this. We can simply nurture and cultivate a variety of plant life. The key is to find a place where we can be immersed, creative, expressive, and free. Free of the restraints brought on by our thinking too much, especially the thinking that goes something like, "I really should be. . ."
Too much of our time in this modern world is already spoken for, committed to, or put in a checklist of some sort. Not enough of our time is devoted to nourishing our soul. Most of these modes of nourishment are free. Nature can be found everywhere. Laughter is always available. We all have a child somewhere within us that needs to be reacquainted with some of Life’s greatest gifts.
So in 2017, in addition to finding the time to move our bodies more and in addition to learning new ways of incorporating more fresh, organic vegetables into our menu, maybe we see the forest. Maybe this New Year’s we make more of a shift in consciousness. Maybe we commit to stepping out of the break-neck pace at which we are living life in order to notice or appreciate all that is. Maybe we set aside a few moments every day to reach out to someone whom we love and tell them so. Or maybe we take a few moments each day and love ourselves. What a radical idea!
These might sound too vague or abstract to that part of our brain that demands order and more of a schedule; that is to be expected when most of our day is already allotted to a wide variety of commitments. If this is the case, then this New Year’s resolution probably warrants a closer look at what we think health and a healthy lifestyle really means.
"If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am"~ Cyril Cusack
John Bagnulo MPH, PhD. - Director of Nutrition