Daily Practice: The Key to Health and Happiness

What you do regularly either breaks you down or builds you up.  Whether it is brushing your teeth or continuing to round your shoulders and tilt your head forward at the computer, the little things are responsible for the big things.  This is a prevailing theme in yoga.  Yoga is a practice. While you might feel great after a yoga class, you don’t begin to develop the life-changing benefits until you practice with consistency and dedication.  This does not necessarily mean practicing asana (posture) everyday either.  Yoga is any practice related to the balancing and unification of the self.  A daily practice, no matter how small, can be a revelatory and transformational tool to purify and balance the self.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” -Lao Tzu

The Value of Daily Practice

lSnaking-River

A healthy daily practice can strengthen the body, hone the mind and open the heart.  However, perhaps the greatest gift of daily practice is that it inspires curiosity and awareness of the self.

Imagine you are floating down a vast river and cannot see the bank on either side. Without the bank to offer perspective, you cannot judge the speed of the current.  It is only once you gain sight of the bank that you can begin to understand the rate at which you are being swept.  And to truly comprehend the speed of the current, you must pull yourself out of the river onto the bank and look back at that which was moving you.

This river represents our daily life: our ego, our fears, our attachments.  It is easy to get taken along by these “fluctuations of the mind.”  So easy, in fact, that these fluctuations often become who we are and identify with.  We lose sight of the bank, which represents truth, as we get flushed here or there.  We swirl in an eddy of fear, get tossed through the whitewater of insecurity, and become stuck in a hole of self-destruction. The river determines our direction and dominates our being.

The snaking stream has it’s calm sections, where the water is agreeable and all seems well.  A shallow, slow passage provides comfort.  Serene sunset views offer some entertainment.  But there is a raging waterfall up ahead.  The point where you realize you’ve been out of control.  You can either wait until the banks narrow and the water picks up speed or you can swim towards the bank and pull yourself to shore.

A daily practice helps gain perspective.  It is your decision to begin swimming towards the bank.  After a few days and weeks of establishing healthy habits, you begin to observe subtle changes.  It becomes clear that YOU are in control of your life.  Daily practice is much more than eating breakfast everyday or exercising regularly. Eventually, it is about liberation; pulling yourself onto the bank.

Now, you might be saying, “Whoa, Colin.  You’re floating me down a metaphorical river here, and I’m just trying to figure out what to eat each day.”  I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious.  A daily practice does not require constant seriousness.  By all means, splash around in that river. Jump off some gal dang rocks.  Just take a few strokes toward the bank each day, be aware of your form and enjoy the swim.

“Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves.  It is a daily practice.” -Thich Nhat Hahn

Creating A Positive Lifestyle That Lasts

The first step to establishing a daily practice is finding regularity in the “simple” things: Eating, sleeping and exercise.  Numerous studies (and common sense) show that regularity in these areas is the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.  I know, you’ve heard this before.  But have you truly practiced healthy regularity in these foundations of life for an extended period of time?  It makes all the difference.

In Deepak Chopra’s series Growing Younger (1994) he discusses a UCLA study that identified seven lifestyle habits that prove more important for longevity than income, physical condition or even genetic inheritance.

The research showed that people with longer lifespans tended to:

  1. Sleep 7 or 8 hours regularlyimgres-1
  2. Eat breakfast almost every day
  3. Avoid eating between meals
  4. Maintain normal weight
  5. Exercise regularly
  6. Use alcohol in moderation
  7. Never smoke cigarettes

(Chopra, Deepak. (1996). Growing Younger. Virginia: Time-Life Video.)

The body and mind are intricately related and codependent.  Each emotion or feeling in the mind has it’s physical counterpart. (e.g. When we are sad or tired, most humans tend to hunch their shoulders and collapse their chests.) So, if we begin taking care of the physical body through healthy routine, we begin seeing improvement in the mind.  (e.g. Conditioning the chest and shoulders in addition to getting adequate rest will inspire confidence and alertness.) Establishing regularity in the above areas so as to keep the body healthy is one of the quickest and most tangible methods of improving one’s mind and life.

Does adhering to these seven lifestyle habits sound impossible or completely unappealing?  Try picking just one or two to acknowledge throughout the next few weeks.  Simply bringing awareness to your habits and their effects is a fantastic daily practice that will inspire you.

Recommended Morning Practice

I was never a morning person.  After three alarms (yes, three) I would rise with sleepy eyes and hurriedly stumble my way through a quick breakfast, throw together lunch and get to work just in time.  Since adopting the following morning routine, I realize how my mornings set the tone for the rest of my day.  I now rise early,  leisurely follow my practice, and feel wide-eyed and energetic through the entire day.

  1. Rise at least 1 hr and 30 minutes prior to departure Oil Pulling
  2. Oil pull for 20 minutes (Can be done whilst showering, or reading, or…. facebooking.  Best done while meditating.)
  3. Swish and gargle with salt water
  4. Tongue scrape
  5. Brush Teeth/Floss
  6. 5-10 mins pranayama (breath control)
  7. 20-60 mins asana practice
  8. Drink 10 oz of room temperature lemon water
  9. Eat a hearty bowl of oatmeal or a Green Smoothie
  10. Sit, digest and visualize my day
Tips For Establishing This Practice

Rise at least 1 hr and 30 minutes prior to departure

The best way to wake up early is to go to sleep early!  Try to get to sleep by 10 pm each night, and don’t eat anything after 6 pm.  This is difficult at first, but it helps you sleep and lose weight naturally.

Oil pull for 20 minutes

Oil pulling is at the center of my morning routine. It is an ancient Ayurvedic technique that helps reduce the amount of bacteria, fungus and toxins in the body.  Check out my Ayurveda page for more on this incredibly effective practice.

Swish and gargle with salt water

After spitting the oil out, wash the mouth with warm salt water. (Just use regular table salt). The salt water acts as an antimicrobial and helps rinse out any toxins which may be left in the mouth.

Tongue scrape

Tongue scraping after oil pulling is great.  It helps eliminate bad breath, improves your taste and just works.  Some people say, “Well I brush my tongue.  Isn’t that fine?”  Not really.  Brushing your tongue tends to move bacteria around, letting it settle back into tiny nooks and crannies.  With a tongue scraper, you remove the bacteria right from the source and dispose of it immediately.

Brush Teeth/Floss

Which comes first?  Brushing or flossing?  As long as you’re flossing to begin with, you’re going to be fine.  But a number of dentists recommend brushing first, spitting out without rinsing, flossing while there is still some paste in your mouth, then rinsing.  This allows the floss to extend the benefits of the paste deep in between the teeth.  I recommend using a natural toothpaste such as Nature’s Gate.  It uses baking soda as opposed to fluoride to help clean and whiten your teeth.

5-10 mins pranayama (breath control)

Pranayama is an extremely powerful tool for improving health.   Sit in a comfortable seated position with a lengthened spine, open collarbones and a lifted sternum.  Some mornings I will utilize advanced techniques (See my yoga section) and other mornings I’ll simply take five deep, full breaths.  Either way, you are awakening the lungs and extending oxygen to parts of the body that don’t receive it during the course of your natural breath.

20-60 mins asana practice

This is the best part of my morning.  I begin with a few Cat Cows to warm up the spine. At the very least I do: 1-3 Quarter Sun Salutations, 3 Half Sun Salutations, 3 Surya Namaskara A’s, and 3 Surya Namaskara B’s, followed by Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), Trionasana (Triangle), Prasarita Padottanasana and Sukhasana with a twist.

Drink 12 oz of room temperature lemon water

This is my first intake of the day.  The water should be room temperature so as not to shock the nervous system and waste precious energy.  The lemon is a powerful detoxifier.  Drinking a full glass of water prior to eating awakens the organs and helps initiate the digestive system.  If this is the only part of your morning routine, that is much better than nothing.  Check this great blog out for more benefits of lemon water in the morning.

Eat a hearty bowl of oatmeal or a Green Smoothie

A bowl of oatmeal keeps me going all day until lunch.  I. Love. Oatmeal.

  • 1/2 cup Old Fashioned or Steel Cut Oats
  • 1/2 apple cut and cooked in oats
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1 tablespoon organic local penut butter
  • Handful of mixed nuts and dried berries
  • 1/2 handful of flaxseed granola
  • Dash of Cinnamon

A Green Smoothie leaves me feeling light, energetic and ready to take on the day

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 3/4 cups green grapes
  • 1/4 Bartlett pear
  • 1/2 medium avocado, peeled
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh broccoli
  • 3/4 cup fresh spinach, lightly packed
  • 1 1/4 cups ice cubes

Sit, eat, digest and visualize my day

How you eat, where you eat and what you do afterwards is extremely important.  Enjoy your nourishment and allow it time to properly digest before taking on the day.

Daily Asana Practice

Daily Asana Practice will be here soon!  In the meantime, check out the Asana page for a few physical actions to keep in mind during your next class (and during the day!)