ByÂ Dr. Maoshing Ni
In the quest for living a long and healthy life, many of us feel overwhelmed by all the things we are supposed to be doing. Just how are we supposed to fit in exercise, meditation, cooking nutritious food and all the other healthy things we should be doing on top of work, relationships and parenting responsibilities? We could start with a 30-hour day, or we can make simple, practical changes to our daily lives that gradually turn into lifelong habits.
A great Chinese sage from my heritage, Lao Tzu, promoted a practice called wu wei, which means effortless being and doing. Effortless being means to be natural, adaptive and unforced. Effortless doing means not applying unnecessary energy or force to anything.
In the context of bringing about healthy changes in your life, this means working with yourself as you are now without trying to alter your whole lifestyle at one time. It means working with the schedule you have, the relationships you have and the health you have, exactly as they are, only adding small changes little by little.
If you approach new changes to benefit your health with rigidity, you will be more likely to miss a day, then two days, then a whole week, and then perhaps beat yourself up a little and give up on the whole plan. Instead, adopt an attitude of wu wei and make tiny incremental changes in your day, fitting the items in where you can.
Here are some simple tips, in the spirit of wu wei, to get you started on your longevity quest:
Notice your breath
When you feel particularly stressed out, take a moment to look at how you’re breathing: you’ll probably find it to be shallow and irregular. Unknowingly, many of us have forgotten how to breathe over the years. Instead of deep, diaphragmatic breaths, we take shallow breaths from the top of the lungs, which can result in feelings of anxiety. Proper breathing is important not only to mitigate stress, but also to dispel the toxins and wastes from our bodies.
To de-stress, close your eyes and breathe deeply, slowly and rhythmically for 10 counts, three times a day. This activity requires very little effort, and could possible help you work up to a daily meditation practice, which is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, protect your heart, and lengthen your years. A guided meditation that can help you on your path is Meditations to Live to Be 100.
Turn off the screen and tune into your food
It’s tempting for efficiency’s sake to check emails or catch up on news during meals. But for your longevity’s sake, when it’s time to eat, just eat. For one meal a day, try sitting down at a table and put everything else to the side, the newspaper, computer and TV. Take a few moments to consider what the food you are about to eat will do for your body. Then take your first forkful and enjoy the taste and sensations, chewing until your food is no longer solid. When we are distracted and hurried, we often forget to chew, and because your stomach does not have teeth, this can interfere with digestion. Over time, slowing down and becoming aware at your meals will lead to improved digestion, better absorption of nutrients, and joyful eating–all of which will benefit your longevity.
Take a 20-minute walk every day
In my two decades of investigating the daily activities of centenarians, I found that every one walked for at least 30 minutes a day, and most walked more than an hour. Aside from producing proven benefits for your heart, walking is the perfect low-impact exercise for promoting digestion and encouraging cleansing of the lymphatic system. Make it more motivating by walking a dog or giving yourself a pleasant destination.
Eat 5 different colors every day
For thousands of years Chinese medicine has observed that there are five elemental energies in our bodies, represented by wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Each of these elements also corresponds to a color: wood to green, fire to red, earth to yellow and orange, metal to white, and water to black, blue and purple. In traditional Chinese medicine it is believed that health and longevity depend on a balance of all five elemental energies. Try eating a diet that includes the five elemental energies every day. For each category of food–vegetable, fruit, nuts, beans and grains–eat all the five corresponding colors. For example, your daily vegetables should include something green (possibly spinach), red (perhaps a beet), orange (yam), white (cauliflower) and dark-colored (eggplant.)
If this sounds a bit esoteric, consider this: in the categories of fruits and vegetables, the pigments that give the skins their coloring are packed with powerful antioxidants crucial for maintaining health, preventing cancer, and protecting against environmental toxins. Start small with just two different colors a day in all the categories, then add one color a day, and before you know it, you’ll be up to five a day.
The trick to bring these life-lengthening changes into your life is to work your way gradually and without any undo force to the full goal. To sum it all up with a message from another sage, Confucius said it best when he stated: “It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop.”