New You programme, week 4: go for it
The 18th of January is (apparently) the most depressing day of the year. Whilst there’s little evidence behind this pseudoscience, January can be a blue month for some following the end of the year excesses and the thought of a good few months of cold ahead.
So in this final week, I share my hints and tips to put a positive spin on life, helping to motivate, raise spirits and put a spring in your step. Using Ayurveda, India’s ancient health system, as a guide, I will explain how to keep focused and motivated through creating some simple healthy habits that will make it easier to follow the tips I shared in weeks 1, 2 and 3.
Ayurveda is based on a belief that the universe is made up of three governing forces, or ‘gunas’ – rajas, sattva and tamas:
- Tamas is an immobile, still and steady quality. It is heavy and, in excess, causes obstruction or lack of perception. This is the force that helps you relax or fall asleep. However, too much tamas can zap motivation and make you feel depressed. Conversely, too little, you’re likely to feel restless and fidgety. Tamas are that feeling of lowness after a night of excess and they are highest in winter.
- Rajas is the quality guna that generates activity, change and disturbance. It is mobile, dynamic and excitable. When you are full of activity, energy and passion you are full of rajas.
- Sattva is light and luminous and holds the capacity for happiness. It is conscious and intelligent, moving inwards and upwards. Ascendancy, insight and wisdom are all sattvic qualities. When you are full of love, openness and calm you are full of sattva.
There are some simple ways to balance these different energies, helping to put in check the winter tama blues.
- Have a laugh. Researchers form the University of Oxford believe the ability to belly laugh was unique to early humans, enabling our ancestors to form much larger tribal groupings than the ape-like species that lived alongside them. Studies have also shown that laughter can decrease cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. There’s no doubt that laughing raises your spirits and heartbeat, giving you an instant energy boost that’s good for your immune system too. A great Indian adage says, ‘Sau rogon ka dawai, hason! Yeh hain mera bhai’, which means ‘There is medicine for one hundred diseases, but laughter is my healing brother!’
- Work out. Just like laughter, exercise is another fantastic way to release the body’s own anti-depressant, endorphins into your body. Moderate exercise such as swimming or jogging can help to release these natural chemicals into your body. It’s why we feel so much better after exercise.
- Be sociable. The New Year isn’t the time to be stuck in on your own. Research shows that being connected and going out with friends can help you live longer through lowering your blood pressure and reducing inflammation in the body. It’s also great for the brain and can even help to lower the risk of lower or delay your risk of memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. With a growing array of wonderful juice bars and eateries specialising in healthy, tasty meals using local and organic ingredients, a demanding detox target is simply no excuse for not meeting friends for a drink or a catch up over a bite to eat.
- Ditch the junk. Avoid foods which are stale, under or over ripe and over processed with refined ingredients are full of lifelessness. So swap take-aways, heavy or ready meals with a light menu full of fresh and colourful fruit, vegetables and pulses.
- Waking up before sunrise. In Sanskrit, the daily routine of rising half an hour before sunrise starts your dinacharya. ‘Din’ means 'day' and ‘acharya’ means 'to follow', meaning your ‘daily routine’.. Ayurvedic wisdom holds that the more you sleep during daylight hours, the greater the heaviness and tamas you bring to your body. So try beginning your day just before the sun rises which at this time of year is around 8am if you live in London and later further north…so its really rather casual!
- Set yourself a target. Don’t ignore the power of the our New Year resolution where we make a promise to ourselves to do something inspiring. The trick is to set yourself simple, achievable goals which you can easily integrate into your lifestyle. I find that if I write it down or draw a picture of it, somehow, magically it moves closer from a dream to a reality.
- Find your inner silence. Inner peace is at the heart of outer peace. Try and learn a simple meditation technique that you can practice everyday. How long for depends on who you are but I like the adage that goes’ everyone should meditate for 20 minutes a day, unless you are really busy when you should meditate for an hour.
- Keep calm and take ashwagandha. The perfect herb for the 21st Century, ashwagandha has two key benefits: core calmness and inner vitality. It allows us to adapt to the stresses of everyday living, so that we are not wasting energy. This deeply nourishing herb gently rebuilds immunity and strength and slows ageing. It is perfect for periods of pressure. Take it with warm almond milk to enhance its nourishing properties.
- Go for it. You are your best boss, your best doctor, your best inspiration. It’s all within you to create your future. No one else can. Wave that magic wand, see your vision and follow what you believe. The more engaged you are in your life, the more alive and energetic you are likely to feel. So, what are you waiting for? Just go for it.