You have just celebrated Chinese New Year. It is two months into the 2018 and already you find yourself feeling fatigued and eating too many of the wrong foods. You promised yourself that this year would be different. You made some resolutions to adjust your lifestyle. The initial enthusiasm and motivation to kick start your healthy plan has faded rapidly. But you’re not alone. Getting healthier is the top resolution people make for the new year, though most of us give it up before the year has even begun.
Chinese New Year takes place on the second new moon after the winter solstice. It heralds the start of Spring and wood energy. Wood energy is about pushing upwards, and growth with lots of determination. Just think of the strength a green shoot needs to push up through the soil towards the sunlight? Doesn’t it make sense to make lifestyle changes when the external energies are working to support us?
If you feel you’ve lost control of your health or other important parts of your life, the Chinese New Year is a wonderful time to find your balance once again. In the West, the New Year often brings a renewed focus on diet and exercise. In the East and Chinese philosophy, however, the New Year means looking at the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. In traditional Chinese medicine, health and wellness are seen in terms of balance. Everything — physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual — is connected. Your physical well-being impacts your spirit, or what is called shen
Here are six simple ways to make a fresh start for 2018.
1. Get Fitter Faster
Although I am a strong proponent of trying to slow down certain aspects of our fast-paced and hurried lives, this is one area in which ‘fast’ sometimes pays dividends. A lack of time is the biggest barrier to sticking with an exercise plan. Although in an ideal world, a long leisurely walk would be wonderful, it is mostly unattainable.
“Exercising at a high intensity in intervals known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is extremely effective for fitness and general body health,” explains Dr. John Babraj of the University of Abertay, Dundee, and author of The High Intensity Workout. “The secret is to go as fast and as hard as you can during the high-intensity periods, then rest, or continue at a very slow pace, to recover. Interval training has demonstrated improved weight loss, fitness attainment and increased stamina.”
2. Increase movement and body awareness the Eastern way.
Tai chi and qi gong are ancient exercises rooted in China that combine movement with breath work. Practicing them on a regular basis helps connect body and mind, which builds qi (healing energy in traditional Chinese medicine). Tai chi is a slow, fluid form of exercise that is fantastic for balance, strength and stamina. Because it requires concentration, it is also good for the mind. Qi gong is a meditative practice which can be done in active or seated fashion. Qi gong helps you mentally declutter, manage stress, and gain mental clarity.
3. Put your hand on your heart
You are feeling overloaded and overwhelmed. You’ve tried some yoga sessions and are struggling to meditate. Whilst there are numerous apps and high tech gadgets that you could try, a simple low-tech, no-app technique is to simply put your hand on your heart. It may feel quite weird, but you are actually hacking your stress response.
“This will signal the brain to reduce anxiety,” explains Kristin Neff associate professor at the University of Texas. “Even if you don’t believe it will work, your brain and body will respond, she says. “We are programmed to calm down with this particular movement.” Keep your hand there for a minute or two, or until you feel calmer, and take a few deep breaths to boost the effect.
4. Two and Five
You have tried it all and yet we all know that diets don’t work. All the lost weight – plus more – creeps back on. There is some evidence that eating much less for just two days of the week and eating relatively normally the rest of the time leads to weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and sustainability as a lifestyle pattern.
There is no doubt that dieting forever is impossible. The two-day trend is often called ADF or Alternate Day Fasting. This term is incorrect as there is no real fasting. Contrary to what the detox gurus tell you, fasting is not physiologically healthy. The secret is to cut down to between 500-700 calories on your ‘low intake’ day. “Do opt for protein and nutrient-rich vegetables rather than sugar and carbohydrate foods on these days”, advises Dr. Marilyn Glenville, author of Fat Around the Middle. “Never eat fewer calories than this, as it could slow your metabolism or lead to missing out on nutrients,” she urges.
Surprisingly, people tend not to binge on the ‘normal days’ when they can eat more. They gravitate towards healthier foods. The deprivation of constant dieting is the factor that leads to binging.
5. Start “Chunking”
Chunking is a favorite new word being used by performance coaches. “It is the process of breaking down large things into smaller components,” says psychologist Wendy Jago, author of How to Manage your Mammoth: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting Things Done.
“Chunking can help tackle overwhelming projects just by taking small steps every day,” explains Jago. It is so easy to understand why we so often give up on wonderful projects and commitments. “Identify one thing you want to fulfill in 2018 and write a list of all the steps you need to make it happen. Each time you achieve one, it will encourage you to continue,” encourages Jago.
6. Nourish your Shen
In making a new start, connect with yourself and your loved ones to renew your spirit. Here are some easy ways to do it:
Unplug from electronics.
Enjoy the silence for one hour a day. This is especially important before bed to promote a deeper sleep.
Slow down and connect with friends.
Seek out friends who nourish your soul and support you. You know who they are. Have tea or coffee, or take a walk together.
It doesn’t have to be anything luxurious. Take the time to enjoy a long, hot shower or bubble bath. Modern life is so busy. We can be consumed with our busy lives, which makes it easy to lose our sense of self. But we know when that happens, and that’s our cue to reconnect — body, mind and spirit.