Health & Happiness (6 Essential Steps)
Ayurveda says that there are 3 pillars of health: Diet, Sleep, & Sex. After I dive deep into the importance of these 3 pillars, I will share with you another 3 essentials that you are probably already practicing. In fact, you’re hopefully eating (diet), sleeping, and having a healthy amount of sex. But the question is, are you doing it right?
1. Diet. No, I’m not talking about restraining yourself from sweets or starving yourself all together. I’m talking about a healthy, balanced, nutritional diet. Kale is one of the most talked about superfoods nowadays. 10 years ago, you could ask a regular American family if they liked kale and their answer would most likely be, “no.” Today, it’s all the rage! Kale is rough, hard to chew, and sometimes not all that tasty raw. Yet, we find ourselves at the local Sweetgreen salad spot and ordering a “fad” favorite option for the base: kale. Kale is actually pretty hard to digest raw. What I mean by this, is that if it’s not cooked, chewed really carefully, or finely blended into your shake, your body is likely to pass it out in your stool. Essentially raw kale is fiber and roughage, exactly what you need to clean out the colon. However, your body doesn’t get to absorb kale’s super powerful vitamins and minerals like potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B-6, the list is endless! It’s like eating corn. It goes in the body the same way it goes out. It has no nutritional value to your body other than pushing the other stuff (poop) along. So you can eat all the raw kale salads you want, but are you actually digesting every morsel of it? The answer? No. So as I dive into diet, it’s important to know a few things.
A. The strength of your digestion is essential! This being said, if you’re the type of person that always goes to the potty right after eating and your stool is soft, it’s likely you’re suffering from acute malnourishment. The small intestines is in charge of macro (carbs, fats, proteins) and micro (vitamins and minerals) absorption/nutrition. It absorbs all the good stuff from the food your stomach muscle just blended up. It you’re someone who often suffers from constipation or slow digestion and bowel movement, it’s likely you’re accumulating toxins in the gastrointestinal tract that gets passed around to other parts of the body, like the joints for example. Ever feel achy, sluggish, and tired? Could be an accumulation of toxins hanging around in your body… More recent studies point fingers at gluten. Coincidence? I think not. A sign of proper digestion is a feeling of long lasting energy, lightness before, during, and after eating, and one simple bowel movement every morning to rid to body of the food it processed the day before. Ayurveda says that almost all diseases come from the gut. When your gut is healthy, you are healthy.
B. It’s not about what you eat. It’s about what you digest. Remember what I said about kale? You can eat all the raw kale you want, but if you can’t digest it, you’re not absorbing the nutrients. The golden rule: What you can digest becomes your strength. What you cannot digest becomes your weakness. If you cook you kale and chew it properly, you’ll get all the nutrients you need from it! If you eat it raw and poop it right out, you missed out on a heck of a lot of nutrients and sometimes the roughage, if excessive, can wreak havoc on someone’s digestive system that is already troubled.
C. Everything in moderation! Lunch should be your biggest meal! It’s when the sun is highest in the sky and our digestive system performs its strongest. Breakfast should be ¾ of the size and dinner should be ½ the size of lunch. If you have glycemic index (sugar control) problems, have 5 small meals a day, but everyone is welcome to two small, healthy snacks a day. Between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and before dinner. And if you LOVE sweets, don’t stop yourself from having some. Just have control over how much you consume. MODERATION!
Got it? Let’s review. In order to have a healthy diet you must have strong, healthy digestion and you must understand that it’s not about what you eat but about what you can digest. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION! (This also applies to all things in life… wait until you read about sex.) Because everyone is different this means no one digests the same. So I ask that you proceed with caution as I lend some advice to the readers about diet planning.
i. DRINK LOTS OF WATER! Drink anywhere from 16-32 oz. in the morning when you wake up, an hour or so before you eat breakfast. Then drink water throughout the day but hold off an hour before eating. While eating, it’s okay to sip on a little water. Too much water while you eat can alkalize those helpful digestive enzymes that break down your food and make it that much harder and longer to digest.
ii. Lots of vegetables! And balance them on with some roots (potato-like veggies), stems (asparagus-like veggies), flowers (broccoli-like veggies), and leafy greens (kale-like veggies). A little bit of everything, preferably cooked, is beneficial to everyone! This should be the biggest portion on your plate.
iii. Fruit for all! However, if you are diabetic or diabetes runs in your family, limit yourself to 2 fruits a day.
iv. Whole grains! Yes, grains are good and the list is endless! Quinoa is another craze right now and it derives from South America. So if you or your ancestors didn’t grow up eating it, it might not be as easily digested as other grains you are used to eating. Because my family is Italian, organic whole wheat is easy for me to digest in moderation! If pasta has been in your diet for generations, it’s likely your DNA has picked up on it making it easy for you to digest it. Just limit yourself to one cup if weight or glycemic index is an issue for you.
v. Protein! But don’t overdo it! Too much protein can lead to kidney problems. Most vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have protein but you can always get more from legumes (lentils, beans, etc.), and/or lean meat and dairy if you are not vegan/vegetarian.
vi. Make your plate naturally colorful! This not only makes you happy to see it but it will contain so many vitamins and nutrients you need to survive!
vii. Try to cook most of your meals! Shop organic and local if you can, and if you can’t, tell your body that the food you are eating is helping to keep you alive and happy!
viii. Lastly, eat peacefully. Enjoy your food. Take your time. Chew slowly and chew a lot. Let the teeth do more work than your stomach to make the digestion process easier on the organs. “Dieting” should be enjoyable. We should love and appreciate the food we’re eating. When we are happy, our body functions optimally.
Diet and nutrition doesn’t just apply to food. Everything we see, do, touch, smell, and hear are digested by us in one way or another. For instance, you and a stranger had an aggressive interaction. Now, you are left processing the experience. Mean words were exchanged and you can’t help but feel angry. We may not have complete control over our environment but we can try our best to control what we eat, what we apply to our skin, who we surround ourselves with, and where we live. Yes, there are circumstances that may prevent this kind of control but just note that everything we process is considered nutrition. But if you just a few small changes to your diet, you can get one step closer to a happy and healthy life!
2. Sleep. OH BLESSED SLEEP! I don’t know about you, but sleep is one of my favorite things to do! But there is such thing as overdoing it. And there is definitely such thing as underdoing in. On average, a healthy adult should sleep an average of 7-8 hours every night. You should be in bed with your eyes closed by 10pm and wake up by 6am! This is just one of the general rules that everyone should follow. (Though, I know it’s not possible for those who work in the night or irregular hours - but there are other things you can implement in your sleep schedule!)
So much is happening to your body while you sleep. You spend all day working, cleaning, cooking, organizing, this and that, by the end of the day your body and mind need to recharge. That’s what sleeping is for. Here’s a list of a few things happening to your body while you’re asleep:
The brain processes information and files away the memories to make new connections. The cerebrospinal fluid cleanses the brain tissue by carrying away the waste products and brings nutrients to the brain. It’s like cleaning your desk or room. Once you completed organizing and cleaning, your stress level drops and you feel more grounded and ready to take on the world!
The heart rate lowers and the involuntary action of the heart proceeds without disruption! Plus, blood pressure lowers (because obviously stress does, too- DUH!)
Your breathing slows down and regulates. You return to a normal breath, the yogic breath, of the belly inflating on the inhale and deflating on the exhale. As adults, we forget how to breathe correctly and we actually have oppositional breath! But we’ll dive into that another time. Your breath becomes longer and deeper allowing the lung tissue to absorb every inch of oxygen and nutrients without being disturbed.
The immune system strengthens and fights invaders like bacteria and viruses. Ever been sick and sleeping it off seemed like the only thing that worked? Yeah, well that’s why.
The digestive system chills out. So any of my late-eaters out there, this piece of information might be helpful to contribute to the diet part of your life. Try not to eat a large meal before you go to sleep. Give your body some time to digest before heading off to bed. Otherwise, it’ll sit in there all night.
Your muscles are repaired while you sleep because the body releases a growth hormone to fix up all the abuse you did to your body during those vigorous workouts, or just the wear and tear of a long day as a human being!
Where you sleep is also very important! Reading in bed: an Ayurvedic no-no. We associate bed with sleep, so when we read in bed it disturbs that association. Find a quiet place to read that’s not your bed. The bed is for sleep and sex only!
Definitely do not watch the news before bed either. Or anything that is over stimulating and makes you feel anxious and upset. In fact, you shouldn’t look at a screen at least two hours before bed. The blue light that is in screens keeps the brain alert and wired leading to difficulties falling asleep.
Your bedroom should be a quiet place that lacks excessive stimuli. Your bed and pillows should be firm and comfortable to support spine health. Avoid painting your bedroom bright colors like red! Favor light, mellow, pastel colors for your bedroom walls and decor. And make sure the temperature is appropriate and there is good air circulation. A plant would only enhance a bedroom, so I highly recommend!
Now, that we’ve discussed what’s happening in the body while we sleep, let’s talk about what happens to the body when there’s an excessive amount of sleep. Ever sleep more than 8 hours and still feel exhausted? It’s likely the problem is that you’ve slept for too long! Too much sleep promotes sluggishness, weight gain, and even diseases like heart problems, obesity, and diabetes! I remember being a little girl and hating naps! Then as a college student all I enjoyed (other than drinking and partying) were naps! But napping is only acceptable for few groups of people:
1. Young children
2. Elderly people
3. Pregnant people
4. Sick people
5. Complete, utterly, overworked exhausted people
If you’re not any of the above, skip the nap and get to bed by 10pm!
3. Sex. We all do it. But how much is a healthy amount and how does it improve our health? It really depends on the person and the state of their health to begin with. What’s really cool about Ayurveda (which isn’t tied to any religion at all) is that it doesn’t restrict sex to procreation/reproduction. In fact, Ayurveda says that sex can help to regulate the downward motion of movement in the body like menstruation. And orgasms not only connect us deeper to ourselves and our partner but are helpful in relieving stress and boosting immunity! However, according to Ayurveda, too many orgasms can deplete our tissues in the body. Think about it. Ever have sex more than once in a day… I bet a lot of you reading this have had more than 3 orgasms in one session! (Insert blushing emoji.) But it can be extremely tiresome. Fun, but exhausting for the body. It’s basically a workout and if you actually hit the gym on the same day, you’re depleting a lot of your energy. Since it’s such an “athletic” activity, Ayurveda advises that you have sex when you are most energized during the day and that’s typically between 6-10 am and 6-10 pm. Ideally, one should have sex 3-5x a week during the heavy, sluggish, cool months of the year like late winter and early spring. And during the summer, fall, and beginning of winter, limit yourself to sex once a week. Most important rule of all, pee after sex! And if you have time, shower. Then sleep naked or put on comfortable, loose-fitting clothes.
*Please note that sex can be done with yourself through masturbation or with a partner through CONSENT.*
The next part of this article is based on what I think is essential to lead a long, healthy, and happy life. Though the 3 pillars of health according to Ayurveda likely touch upon the following, I believe it’s best to further discuss!
4. Physical Activity/Exercise. (This totally applies to nutrition- what we do with our bodies- and even overlaps with the importance of sex. But for today, I’d like to discuss it separately.)
When I was a kid, playing outside was the best thing to do! Nowadays, kids are glued to their devices. Not only do these devices mess up children’s sleeping patterns, they hinder kids from wanting to learn how to ride a bike or kick a ball around with some friends in the yard. Some form of physical activity is necessary to get the circulation to flow properly. It not only promotes healthy circulation but it maintains a healthy weight and strength and flexibility that is necessary to be healthy! On top of all the physical benefits of exercise, it makes us feel happier and less stressed! Great forms of exercise are walking, swimming, biking, jogging/running, dancing, yoga, playing a sport, restraint training, and healthy and safe (professionally guided) weight lifting. Any activity that gets the heart pumping while simultaneously strengthening and stretching the body is considered exercise!
5. Hygiene. (Also could apply to diet and nutrition!) Here’s how to do it:
Wash your hands every time you enter a home or before your eat! Not only in your home but in the home of others. When you travel, you pick up a ton of germs! This should go without saying, but always wash after using the toilet, too.
Shower your body once a day. You have to clean the places that collect bacteria like the armpits, creases, and privates. If you’ve got stinky feet, lather them up with some soap, too. However, soap isn’t need everywhere! Some soaps are harmful to the skin and strips away the natural oils. Warm water running over the body should do the trick. But definitely use soap on the armpits and tushie. Ladies, soap isn’t necessary near the vagina. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ and soaps often kill your good flora (bacteria) and create an environment for bad bacteria and yeast to grow. Use warm water and a cloth or your hand to rinse and clean the area well!
Wash your hair when it gets too greasy! Oil collects bacteria, that’s why your hair starts to smell after days without washing. But don’t overwash your hair either! Overwashing strips the hair of its natural oils that protect the scalp and keep your hair healthy and shiny!
Clean under the nails! Bacteria love little spaces to infest and if you have a cut and scratch it, you’ll likely infect it.
BRUSH YOUR TEETH, FLOSS, and OIL PULL! Brushing your teeth not only keeps the cavities away but it cleans out the harmful bacteria your body is trying to get rid of. Same for flossing. Get all that yucky stuff that gets stuck between your teeth out. You can tell when someone doesn’t floss because their mouth will smell like an unkempt nursing home. Sounds harsh, but sadly, true. That’s the smell of decay. Oil pulling (swishing oil in the mouth) is great to strengthen the gums and teeth. I use coconut oil but sesame oil is also useful!
Pee after sex! And shower. It’ll prevent you from getting urinary tract infections!
It might not sound like hygiene but I consider it so. Clean your mind and your life of things that no longer serve you like meaningless gossip, hurtful thoughts about yourself or others, abusive relationships. Ditch it all and clean your slate. It makes a big difference. When you clean the mind and your life of negativity, you begin to present yourself in a strong, confident, and loving manner. The way you should always be perceived. ;)
Keep it all clean!
6. Mindset. Finally. The last piece of the puzzle- mindset. Your frame of mind is so important for your health. When you’re happiest, your health is optimal. When you’re sad, nervous, angry, you notice changes happening in your body. That’s because your hormones begin to fluctuate. But keeping a cool, calm, content outlook on life changes everything! Take time in the morning to be grateful for another day alive. Meditate on it and monitor your breath while you’re at it. (Pranayama aka breathing techniques are also the key to a long life but I’ll talk more about that another time.) Slow the breath and slow the mind. Find a reason to be moderately excited for your day, week, month, year, and push through your day with positivity. Smiling is proved to release endorphins in the body that are responsible for your happiness! And laugh! Please laugh. It’s the best medicine.
Life is too short sometimes. We can follow all the rules above but we can’t always control our surroundings. Control what you can. Eat properly, get enough sleep, have sex once a week, exercise, keep clean, and smile while you do it because you never know when that soul inside you will leave the vessel you call the body. Take care of yourself for not only you but the people who love you. Ayurveda says, “I belong to you. And you belong to me.” I say, “And we are better together.” So who’s with me? Let’s get to a state of health and happiness together!
In Health & Happiness,