Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cleaning House

As I was recently completing my seasonal house cleaning, packing away clothes and other items to contribute to Goodwill, I started thinking about the meaning of "cleaning house" and the importance of applying this cleansing method to other aspects of our lives.  As I went through closets and drawers and put aside the items that were no longer useful or no longer had special value, I couldn't help but think, shouldn't we be applying this cleansing process to ourselves as well?  Wouldn't we be healthier and happier if we could regularly clean out the clutter in our bodies and our minds?

There is a lot of information available on various short and long term digestive cleansing programs.  While I am eager to reap the health benefits, I've been reluctant to try a cleanse.  I didn't want to feel deprived or set myself up for failure.  And then I read Kathy Freston's book, Quantum Wellness.  She describes a cleanse program that includes real food and won't leave you feeling starved.  She recommends avoiding only five things for 1-2 weeks: meat and animal by-products, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and gluten.  I believe it's important to be realistic about what you can accomplish and I've found that taking small steps is the best path to success.  I've been leaning into a vegetarian diet over the last two years, and while I still eat seafood occasionally, I've gradually given up all other types of meat.  I don't need caffeine to get me through the day, and natural sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar are already staples in my cabinet rather than refined sugars or artificial sweeteners.  Gluten seems to be in everything these days, but there are also quite a few gluten free breads and baked goods on the market.  And while I still enjoy a glass of wine or other cocktails, alcohol is not a daily habit for me.  Giving up all animal by-products (including eggs and dairy) can be challenging, but some surprisingly good vegan substitutes are available.  My goal is to start with a seasonal cleanse, giving up these five things for at least five days, and to build from there and continue to lean into healthier eating habits all year round.

In addition to cleansing my digestive system on a regular basis, I've also realized that I need to work on clearing my mind of unproductive thoughts.  Our fast-paced culture has us constantly on the move and thinking about what's next on our "to do" list, but we often neglect to take advantage of the present and enjoy where we are now. I've read that the health of our digestive system is directly related to emotional health, so it makes sense to work on cleansing our bodies and minds together.  I've started going to acupuncture sessions to assist with keeping my digestive track flowing properly and in bringing overall balance into my life.  I've learned that the goal of meditation is not to always turn my mind to a blank page, but to be able to acknowledge stressful thoughts and let them go.  "Let Go" has become my mantra for relaxation.  Whenever my mind starts to wander to other responsibilities or commitments and my thoughts start spiraling out of control, this is the phrase that brings me back to the present moment; the right here, right now.

Just as cleaning house becomes easier and more effective when done on a regular basis, we can also reap the same benefits by regular cleansing of our bodies and minds.  The yard and exterior of your house may be immaculate, but if the inside isn't maintained, it will deteriorate and lose value.  Likewise, it makes us feel good to look nice and present ourselves well on the outside, but it's critical to attend to our insides with the same thoughtful care.  Take a few moments every day to reflect and connect with where you are; relax and let go.  Eat consciously rather than mindlessly and consider if the food you are choosing is actually providing nourishment to your body.  You can tear down a house and rebuild or leave an old house behind for a new one, but you only have one body in this lifetime. A cleansed body, healthy mind, and strong spirit will help to sustain you for many years to come.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What is Wellness?

If I had been asked that question 5 years ago, my answer would have been much different than it is today. I would have considered myself "well" because I had a good paying job and was able to travel on nice vacations with my husband, because I lived in a nice house at the beach and was often surrounded by fun activities and friends, because I had a loving and supportive family, and because I considered myself to be basically healthy and active. While those are all great things, my definition of wellness changed when I ended up in the hospital the day after Thanksgiving 2009. After a sudden onset of abdominal pain that quickly became unbearable, I ended up in emergency surgery to have my appendix and part of my severely infected colon removed. I was in the hospital for a week and on medical leave from work for another month while I recovered and learned how to eat and digest food again. The doctors indicated that it was not diverticulitis (more common in older adults) and they had no real explanation as to why it happened, other than it was an infection that had been building over a long period of time. I had no alarming symptoms and had always thought I was in good shape. I had run several 5K and 10K races and three half marathons. I hiked, biked, and did yoga. I ate my vegetables most days. How did this happen to me? My answer is that it was years of toxic build up from the environment and overly processed foods. During my recovery, I realized that I needed to be much more conscious of the things that I was willingly putting into my body. I started reading more books on health and nutrition and thinking more about how short our time on this earth really is, and how important it is to live with purpose and make every moment count. This was the beginning of my journey to true wellness - total health of body, mind, and spirit.

So if I were asked the same question today, I would say that wellness has nothing to do with how much money you make, the vacations you take, where you live, or how many races you've run. Wellness, to me, is providing strong nourishment to your body, mind, and spirit on a daily basis. It's eating healthy, staying active, being present in each moment, and embracing the light that surrounds us. It's living mindfully and understanding how your choices impact your life and the lives of those around you. It's finding your passion and purpose in this world and using it to make a positive impact. So, am I well? Well... I'm getting there, and my hope is that writing this blog will provide me with a creative forum to find my true purpose and stay on the path to total wellness, and maybe even help a few others along the way.