This year, we’ve explored countless aspects of wellness. We’ve learned from fitness experts that functional, intentional exercise can cultivate energy, strength, and stability (and in less time than careless, high-intensity work). We’ve studied the different methods of meditation; the healing benefits and methods of daily practice. And we’ve whipped up simple, nutritious meals that sing with the flavors of spices and herbs instead of artificial flavorings and highly-processed ingredients.
Here, we recount the greatest lessons we’ve learned and how to implement these strategies into day-to-day life. You’ll find that often the most effective approach is also the simplest—and that true wellness is a seamless process that works synergistically with the rest of your life. Pick up these pearls for 2019 to start the year off fresher, healthier, happier, fitter, and more relaxed than ever before.
1. Eat Whole, One-Ingredient Foods
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be confusing. Clean eating is fairly simple, says best-selling cookbook author, culinary nutritionist, and wellness expert Amie Valpone. It’s all about focusing your diet around one-ingredient whole foods—a full apple, an avocado. Eating foods in their original state helps your body naturally detoxify, manage blood sugar levels, and fill up without overdoing it. Simplicity is key. Focus on recipes such as salads, soups, and bowls that call for whole foods that promote both health, well-being, and longevity.
2. Focus on Your Hips
“Your hips are required in every moment you make,” says certified personal trainer Brian Bradley. Your hips are the epicenter of the body, your anchor when you’re walking, sitting, throwing a ball, or swinging a golf club. Yet, too often, the hips are ignored.
Incorporate daily movements to activate and align the psoas, (the strongest muscle of the hip flexor group). Doing so creates a cascade of functionality throughout the body to the spine, the shoulders, the knees and ankles. When your body is connected and functional, your workouts and everyday movements are more efficient and effective. To light up your hip flexors, try these power moves.
3. Adopt a Bedtime Meditation Practice for Deep Sleep
Have you ever slept a full eight hours only to wake up feeling tired? It’s likely because you didn’t spend adequate time in a deep sleep state—the sleep phase that’s crucial for rejuvenation, recovery, says Sanjeev Verma, Sonima’s Vedic astrologer and meditation advisor. Reaching deep sleep states involves entering a complete state of relaxation. Fortunately, it’s something that can be fine-tuned in your waking hours.
This 10-minute meditation from Verma works you through a checklist to ensure you’re relaxed for sleep. You’ll check in on the tension throughout your body, learn to let go of stressful thoughts, and bring positive memories front and center. In time, deep sleep comes easier and you wake up refreshed and energized.
4. Embrace the Power of Repetition
There are times (in life and in yoga) when we’re unsure about how to move forward; when we feel disconnected from our true selves. These times of ambiguity or challenge can be accompanied by a tendency to drift from our regular practices or to switch back and forth between teachers. But receiving conflicting advice can inhibit you from progressing, says Andrew Hillam, Sonima’s yoga advisor. Maintaining a consistent practice with one teacher, however, builds progress over time.
“By staying with a single teacher, practicing a single kind of yoga, and concentrating the mind in only one direction—those kinds of difficulties (sic) are less likely to arise and can be more easily overcome if they do,” he says. Instead of fearing challenges? Face them head-on with consistency.
5. Work Smarter, Not Harder
In our fast-past society, fast-paced workouts, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), have gained traction. But Bradley says most people exercise with incorrect form, creating harmful compromises. “Usually, people go through a HIIT movement so fast that they become shoulder and arm dominant, and they’re no longer using their hips to drive the exercise,” he says. It’s something that can further stress the body and have counterproductive results in the long-run.
But when you slow down and focus on form and alignment through low-intensity deliberate movements, you do the opposite. This favors functionality over speed and activates deep, stabilizer muscles that contribute to balance and mobility.
Low-intensity training requires just the minimum effective dose of movement so that you yield results without diminishing returns. “The low-intensity moves teach your body’s parts to work better together. It will clear up imbalances and help re-establish functional movement patterns stemming from your hips and pelvis,” says Bradley.
6. Commit to Your Community
Seeing others practice will motivate you to also practice. When you build relationships with other students and teachers, and work together with a group of people, you more fully integrate your practice into all aspects of your life. This builds momentum and positive energy in a way that a solitary practice might not be able to.
“It is very important to have a connection to a local yoga shala,” says Sharath Jois, the lineage holder of Ashtanga yoga. “In many respects, a yoga shala is not unlike a temple, or a place of worship where we go to get connected, detach from material things, and dedicate our efforts to a practice.”
7. Teach Your Children to Meditate
“Meditation is a lifelong practice,” says Verma. That means that children are no exception. “By laying the foundation of mindfulness for your kids—or any child in your life—you’re providing them with an invaluable tool that will see them through life’s inevitable ups and downs,” he says.
Instilling mindfulness into children’s routines can help them gather self-knowledge, become aware of their breathing, and relax—all skills that stay with them and help them build healthy lives, Verma explains.
Age is an important consideration in properly introducing your child to meditation. This guide explains how to introduce kids of all ages the fundamental practice.
8. Never Drink Cold Water
“Water has a deep and rich history in Vedic tradition, the basis of both Ayurveda and yoga,” says professor of Ayurvedic medicine Jayagopal Parla. But Ayurveda follows certain rituals for hydration. For one, Ayurveda suggests that you never sip cold water. “Warmer water is thought to have metabolism-boosting benefits in Ayurveda, as well as health-promotive effects on the gut and digestive systems, and may help to prevent gas and bloating,” he says. To maintain good health, keep your water warm or room temperature when you’re feeling thirsty.
9. Expand Time with Meditation
In a culture of busy-ness, meditation offers a great benefit: more time. “When the mind is more present and focused, you have an enhanced understanding and comprehension of a given topic or task,” says Verma. “When that becomes a regular part of your working style, it profoundly impacts your ability to learn and work at a high level.”
Greater focus helps you to be more efficient with your everyday tasks and responsibilities. What’s more, this higher level of concentration improves the quality of your work and being. With a strong meditation practice, Verma says you might, for example, be able to complete a 30-minute task in just 20 minutes. “Through meditation, you can relax, and you can transfer that aura of calm to your efforts,” he explains. With leftover time, you might find more moments for relaxation or dive into your tasks in a deeper, more focused way.
10. Practice Yoga to Keep Distractions from Derailing Your Spiritual Path
No matter how well-intentioned, even the most disciplined people can’t control life’s everyday unpredictabilities. “Too often, we let distractions and other situations outside of our control affect us as if we could have done something to create a different outcome,” Jois says. “We think too much about our desires for something better, or become anxious about tragedy or loss.”
Focus your attention on your inward journey with yoga. It’s one way to remove outside stressors and craft a stronger inner peace. “Regardless of the method, when yoga is approached without the chatter, in a silent and humble manner, the more effective yoga will happen within you,” says Jois.
11. Wake Up on the Right Side
In Ayurveda and yoga, a commonly practiced tradition is to fall asleep on the left side and wake up on the right. Why? “Falling asleep on the left side encourages secretions of the liver. It also positions the stomach at the bottom of your body as well as leaves the right nostril open and the left nostril closed,” says Parla. In yoga, the left side of the body is the thinking or creative side, and the right side is the accomplishing or completion side, he says.
Optimize your positioning by turn toward the right when you wake up. This will increase the movement of your bowels, creating an urge to go to the bathroom. “If you do this for 10 to 15 minutes when falling asleep and waking up, that’s enough to reap the benefits,” says Parla.
12. Learn to Tune into Emotions, Needs, and Body Language
To cultivate positive and healthy relationships it is essential to be a conscientious and active listener. Make a daily commitment to pick up on how receptive people are to what you’re saying and how you are behaving. Learn to take in sensory data in your interactions with others, including facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and choice of words. Be present and consider your own choice of words and demeanor.
This level of attention locks you in the present moment, helping you collect clues for how to respond next in conversation and move gracefully forward through your relationships.
13. Master the Art of Theta Through Meditation
In an increasingly hectic world, it’s all-too-easy for our internal peace can be drowned out. However, tapping into a strong, grounded base helps you meet life’s demands when they come knocking. This 20-minute meditation from holistic health expert Lisa Hedley guides you back—toward a state of mind that helps you free up tensions, stressors, and anxieties. Throughout your time spent in the meditation, brain waves to drop into what’s known as a “theta state,” where deep levels of healing can take place. The result: a stronger, more resilient you.
14. Get Outside
“Going outside moves you to another level of consciousness—it gets you to think differently,” says Bradley. “Nature gets you out of your head and into your heart. And your heart is your instinct.” Yet, today, children and adults spend less time outside than ever—approximately 13 percent of their time. The result, argues Richard Louy, author of Last Child in the Woods, is something called Nature-Deficit Disorder, a lack of outdoor time that takes a toll on quality of life.
Time in nature has been shown to positively affect symptoms of ADHD, reduce stress, and improve cognition. Getting outside—in a park, forest, or a swim in the ocean—should be an everyday priority.
15. Remember, Progress Requires Patience
Rewarding progress comes only when the body and mind are ready, and no sooner. Even with complete dedication, it can sometimes take years to master new poses or move onto more advanced sequences. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, or discouraged by that. Unfortunately, your desire might outweigh your abilities.
But there’s nothing wrong with the plateaus. Be patient while you master the basics—this is the foundation of more complicated work. Turning your attention to your body, breathing, and mind will help build the strength and mental capacity that progression calls for.
16. Acupuncture Can Aid Fertility
The 3,000-year-old practice of acupuncture—in which thin needles are inserted into acupoints on the body—has powers when it comes to pregnancy. “Women come in not only because they’re frustrated with Western medicine, but because of the success we’ve seen over the past 20 years in helping women get pregnant and deliver babies,” says licensed acupuncturist and board-certified herbalist Liz Carlson, LAc, co-founder of Common Point, a modern acupuncture clinic in Tribeca, New York.
It’s thought that the practice allows women to decompress, something that can play a role in fertility. “Inserting the needles prompts a release of endorphins and feel-good chemicals, like norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, which help move the brain out of stress mode. It essentially stimulates the body to heal itself,” she says. It’s often far more affordable than IVF, too.
17. Chronic Pain Can Be Emotional
It seems all too logical to blame pain on physical injury, a repeated strain or harmful event. Yet, sometimes, pain is coming from a deeper, emotional place—a psychosomatic manifestation of stress or negative feelings. After all, when we experience stress, the body absorbs it. And some researchers believe that the mind can repress emotions, funneling pain to the body, which might show up as back pain.
A dedicated and trusting yoga practice can provide the confidence and calmness needed to hear and heal your body and eliminate stress. When stress is seen for what it truly is, physical symptoms serve no purpose and might very well go away.
18. Add Moringa to Your Plate
“A tree native to India, but also grown in tropical environments around the world, moringa has been used medicinally for centuries, which is why it’s often called the ‘miracle tree,’” says Janet Zand, Sonima’s naturopathic medical advisor. The leaves of the moringa are nutrient-dense and preliminary research suggests that the tree might have anti-diabetes properties and may help protect the brain.
Moringa is most commonly seen as a powder. Incorporate into your daily tea or smoothie for a boost of calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin A, protein, and amino acids!