It’s nearly 2015! How does the time fly so fast? We must have been having tons of fun! With all the hope, possibility and potential of the new year sitting right around the corner – and our resolutions sitting on ready – I’m reminded of all the past accomplishments and progress of the last year and inspired for future successes. Many of my year’s best moments revolved around 10 practices or habits that I’ve incorporated into my life over the past twenty years to make myself feel happy and healthy, whole and well. These “paths to peace” help me unwind, enhance my sense of well-being and shift my energy when I need it. In my vernacular blog lingo – they help me to be more Zen. All have had a special place and time in improving my life since I began practicing them and all can be life changing when they become habits. I hope you’re inspired to take action and try some of them to advance your life and increase your health, wealth, wisdom and happiness…
Denny’s Top 10 Wellness Habits:
1. Yoga – any style, anywhere, as often as I can get to it! Yoga always makes me feel centered, balanced, aligned, strong, loose, calm and clear. Yoga means unity and brings together the best of physical, mental and spiritual exercise and connects the parts of our being together through the breath. My favorite forms are Ashtanga (power) yoga and Restorative yoga, both of which I’m certified to teach. The daily practice of doing my own yoga at home has freed me from neck and spinal tension, rehabilitated my once shoddy knees and given me much greater flexibility, strength, breath control and mental focus. It is such a complete exercise form and miraculous “nerve tonic” that simply doing twenty minutes of yoga each day can drastically improve your joint and cardiovascular health, muscle tone, nerve and immune response, digestion and lower your blood pressure. Try a simple program of repeating Child’s pose and Down-dog pose in succession every morning for a few minutes to start and build your practice slowly from there. If it wasn’t for yoga I’m sure I’d be tied up in knots right now!
2. Acupressure and Energy Work – Therapeutic acupressure, acupuncture, Reflexology, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Shiatsu, Reiki, Haptonomy and other forms of mainly Eastern energetic bodywork therapies can be fantastically effective methods to help the body heal itself. Whether it’s mind over matter or matter over mind, accessing the body’s natural energetic centers, like the chakras, tsubos and meridians, through specific therapeutic practice can unlock one’s potential for health and restore one’s sense of well-being. The power of touch, such as the “laying on of hands,” can not be over-estimated for it’s curative effects. I have tried several forms of energy therapy to reduce anxiety, heal old emotional wounds and improve my concentration. I became certified in acupressure and Reflexology over ten years ago when I realized it’s unique potential for helping others. I still use it to this day to help friends and family in need of pain-relief. I also learned Jin Shin Jyutsu, or self-acupressure, to hone myself in times of ill health or scattered energy. I highly recommend learning this method for yourself.
3. Hynotherapy and Self-hypnosis – I became certified in Hypnotherapy in 2005 because I found it fascinating as a method for reprogramming the mind for desired behavioral changes. I learned all I could about the power of suggestion and how the subconscious mind works as an autopilot response to keep us safe and confortable, even in our bad habits. I realized I could help others “rewire” their thoughts to let go of past hurts and self-imposed limitations so they could experience more out of their lives. I also became adept at self-hypnosis or auto-suggestion, the process of reprogramming your own mind through self-induced relaxation, visualization and retraining of the subconscious. It’s empowered me to achieve great feats of memorization, overcome apprehension with public speaking and develop greater confidence in business and creative endeavors. Hypnosis can help you stop smoking, lose weight, overcome insomnia and phobias or enhance your performance in any field. Digital audio-visual hypnosis programs that use neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) or anything by life coach Jon Mercer can also work wonders for whatever behaviors you want to change. All things are first a matter of mind!
4. The Arts – Be it acting, singing, music, dance, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing or participating in any kind of performance or artistic expression, the arts have been my lifesaver for years. Some people are naturally more creative and need to express themselves in that way to free their spirits and live their purpose. I definitely fall into that category, but I know many people who are more “critical” than creative minded who have greatly benefitted from exposure to the arts and some form of self-expression. Seeing a work of visual or performing art can help you relate more to the human condition and allow your spirit to feel great depths and heights of human emotion. It can be freeing, healing, calming, exciting, thought provoking, inspiring and life-affirming to experience art in any form. I’ve performed as an actor and singer since I was in Middle School and love to write and tell stories. This passion led me to obtain two academic degrees, star in two Off-Broadway shows, perform in my own comedy troupe for two years in Manhattan and fill the leading role in a two-act comedy, “The Year of Independent Living,” at this year’s Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. I know the power of the arts first-hand and can attest to it’s magical ability to transform your life and open up your heart, mind and spirit. Those who’ve gone through traumatic experience, dealt with mental illness or have been in need of physical rehabilitation have turned to the arts to help the body and mind heal via the soul’s expression. I say, pick up a pen, paintbrush or piccolo and have at it! Do it for yourself… do it for the love of art!
5. Fitness and Weight Training – I started strength training when I was seventeen but never got serious about it until I was about nineteen, a sophomore in college. I discovered yoga about that time, too. Once I really got into it, there was no turning back. Still, I’ve had fits and starts, dry spells with waning enthusiasm and booms where I was fully committed to regular weight training, cardiovascular exercise and regular flexibility and stretching components to my workouts. Everybody is different and needs different types of exercise to remain engaged. I tried running but that really killed my knees and some competitive sports but they never satisfied my personal desires when it came to feeling physically fit. I seem to do best with a combination of yoga, swimming and weight lifting. It really makes me feel strong, supple and energized. Having been a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor for over fourteen years, I know there’s a lot of information out there and it can be confusing and conflicting. If you try various workouts you’re bound to find something that will work out for you. Experiment, go with your interests and vary your routines until you find the right fit. A great rule of thumb is to make flexibility 20-30% of your total workout bout, strength training 40-60% and cardio another 20-30%. Doing your workout in that order also promotes the most efficient use of the body’s energy supply systems, not wasting too much energy on cardio early on and feeling too tires for strength training which builds and maintains muscle – the key to your metabolic rate and fat burning. That way you do 12-18 minutes of stretching, 24-36 minutes of strength and 12-18 minutes of cardio at the end to manage your workout in a 60 minute time frame. If you subscribe to the “afterburn effect” workout, you might want to stick with only strength training for 15-20 minutes, which supercharges your metabolic rate to burn calories for much longer periods of time than traditional exercise models. There’s always more to learn when it comes to fitness so I encourage you to keep researching and stay active! And don’t forget to feed your muscles!!
6. Deep Breathing Exercises – There are many ways to breathe and we’re simply not taught how magnificent breath control is in beating stress, regulating the emotions, opening blood vessels, managing the heart rate, energizing the body, stabilizing mood and deepening mental focus and relaxation. The breath is the most essential element needed for life. We can scarcely live more than two minutes without it. Yet we take it so for granted. It’s really a miracle that the exact right atmospheric and chemical conditions exist to sustain us through the magical air we breathe. Feeling grateful and joyful for each breath we take is the essence of living in grace. The Ujjayi pranayama, a type of yogic throat breathing practiced in Ashtanga yoga, is called the “victorious breath” and deeply connects you with the universal life force energy known as prana. But there are many types of simple deep breathing techniques that can help you find a tranquil state of body and mind like “reverse breathing,” where you inhale through the mouth like sucking through a straw and then exhale out the nose completely, which clears the sinus cavity and calms the central nervous system. Diaphragmatic breathing, where your belly rises and falls with each breath is also deeply calming and expands breath capacity. Focusing on certain body parts, like the eyes, fingers and toes while breathing can deepen your sensation of relaxation, too. Simply yawning and sighing in succession can also make you feel peaceful, light and free. Try sitting or lying down comfortably with a hand, a book or a pillow on your abdomen and watch as it slowly lifts and lowers as you breathe deeply. Notice each exhale taking a bit longer than the last. Feel the natural rhythm and flow of the breath deepening as you simply observe. The navel will drop lower into your abdomen as you exhale more deeply and feel more relaxed. Do this each night before bed and notice how well you sleep! My breath has always been there for me in my times of need and I keep just practicing so I never forget how to do it right.
7. Writing and Journaling – For the better part of twenty years my journal has been my constant companion and confidant. When I was just out of college it became vitally important to record my thoughts and feelings so I could later make sense of them when all other reason failed. I’ve used a spiral notebook to record my ideas for books, sketch comedy and movie concepts. I’ve written a children’s book, short stories, poetry, stage plays and screenplays and I keep aspiring to be a published author because it inspires me to challenge myself such goals. Writing is how I make sense of the world, which can often seem nonsensical. Whether it’s creative writing, blogging or journaling, I always seem to be putting my ideas down somewhere so I can remember them and reference them when needed or simply express how I’m feeling in the safest, clearest way I know. It’s a form of therapy for me and I highly recommend getting into a regular writing routine for anyone who needs to structure their thoughts and understand the way they think. Who doesn’t need that? I wrote my “morning pages” as instructed in Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way” for years – just writing out 3 pages of stream of consciousness journaling, long-hand, each morning until I would hit creative or cathartic pay dirt. I have resolved many personal issues this way and found spiritual enlightenment through the patient, regular task of writing. Many times it saved me from a sticky situation and protected my relationships and goals from rash, unregulated emotion and poorly planned action. Dumping your psychic garbage and sorting through your thoughts in a journal can help you do the same. Whether it’s writing lists, poems, lyrics, memoires or anything at all you want to express you’ll notice the act of jotting it down can make you feel better than all right.
8. Meditating and Praying – Transcendental meditation has been a stalwart companion in my search for truth and inner peace for many years now. It easily brings calm and serenity to my life and has become easier and more fulfilling the more I practice it. Any form of meditation doesn’t have to be done cross-legged (called zazen in Zen Buddhist practice) for hours at a time to be of benefit. Finding one’s inner power, purpose and patience can come in just a few minutes at a time once the practice has been mastered. Simply listening to the breath with laser-like attention can make for an effective meditation practice. Guided visualization, brain entrainment music like binaural beats or repetitive motions can also be utilized to induce the trance-like state associated with deep meditative focus. Yoga is said to be form of moving meditation and prepares the body for the quiet stillness where oneness of body, mind and spirit can be attained through relaxation, focus and breath. Meditation can also be described as listening to one’s higher self, the wisest inner voice that is connected to universal knowledge, where the answers to all of one’s needs and wants can be found. Prayer, on the other hand, is where one’s questions or requests from the universe, creator or higher power are directed. It doesn’t really matter what you believe, who you think is in charge or who you pray to when you take up the act of prayer. There is no true separation of energy in divine terms and your prayers are being heard by the powers that be, whomever they are. Since we’re all connected to the universe, our creator and each other, the energy of prayer creates ripples that eventually come back to us – so it’s best to stay positive and pray only for good, for the best possible outcome for all. But prayer, like meditation, is a private act and very personal, so I won’t espouse my beliefs as definitive or dare thrust them upon you as superior. I have faith that all good people who pray or meditate do it for the right reasons and I respect all beliefs that cause no harm. I believe that if you’re a good person and practice your spiritual beliefs in positive ways, it all gets heard by the same benevolent, supportive power and the answers we need are given to us in accordance with the energy we radiate and with what we can handle. Both prayer and meditation can help heal the body, mind and spirit and should be considered when other methods of self-improvement fall short.
9. Traveling – I think broadening one’s horizons is essential in developing a wider perspective on life and opening up one’s sense of adventure, possibility, wonder, enrichment and enlightenment. Making more of one’s own life is what we all want. When we travel we add new people, cultures, customs, languages, art, food, wisdom, stories, music, spirituality and social understanding to our concept of life and how we fit into it. I have been lucky enough in my life to travel extensively through Europe and North America to sacred sites and natural wonders and have seen and done amazing things that forever enriched my sense of self and of the world. From the Acropolis in Athens to Stonehenge in England; from the Duomo in Florence to the Louvre in Paris; from the cliffs of Moher in Ireland to the palace of Knossos on Crete I have experienced ancient history and architecture, the greatest works of art ever produced and nature’s most awe-inspiring vistas first-hand it and it made me grow and appreciate the world I live in so acutely. Traveling to Chichen Itza in Mexico, hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Brice and Zion national parks, seeing the Grand Canyon up close and even viewing the New York City skyline at night have all shown me what magnificent opportunities and possibilities, both natural and man-made, that this world can offer. My big bucket list trips still include the Big Island of Hawaii, Machu Picchu in Peru, Bali in Indonesia and an African safari in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. I can only imagine how much visiting those places will reshape my worldview and remind me what a gift my life is. I can’t wait to find out! Even exploring local vistas that are new to me, like the Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, FL where the legend of the “fountain of youth” originated has made me a richer person for having the experience of visiting… and was fantastic for my skin tone!
10. Teaching and Volunteering – I’ll keep it simple and true: teaching and volunteering are two of the most fulfilling things I’ve done. I’ve taught all kinds fitness classes and wellness workshops to preschoolers, seniors and everyone in between and it’s always a joy to help people learn and grow. I’ve volunteered for various charitable fundraisers and foundations as a singer, yoga instructor, server, non-medical assistant and caregiver and it always feels great to help those less fortunate than myself. I always walk away feeling more fortunate and grateful that I donated my time and energy and that I got to make a difference in some else’s life. Selfless acts of kindness remind me to be thankful for my life and to be humble, to give generously of my heart and rejoice in alleviating someone’s suffering and savor the pleasure of feeling their gratitude and seeing them smile or hearing them laugh. It’s those little things we do that mean a lot. Volunteering and donating time, effort, energy and money, advocating for others well-being and supporting worthy causes for those in need uplifts the spirit. Helping children, seniors, the disabled and the diseased and all of God’s creatures, big and small, makes this world a better place to live in and your life a bigger light in the world. Teaching anyone to help him or herself is the easiest way to guarantee their betterment and the future benefit of others. So pay-it-forward and give of yourself, make a difference and fight for what you believe in, spread your wisdom and compassion far and wide. The boost to humankind will be worth it and the rewards for your soul will be immeasurable.
I also practice giving gratitude or counting my blessings daily, which always makes me feel more connected with the goodness and abundance in my life. Each morning I’ll think of at least ten things I’m grateful for, like my health, friends, family, my home, my clients, my food and drink, my cat, my car, my computer, my imagination (and much more) to start my day in a healthy frame of mind. Then at night I’ll think of the best thing that happened to me that day and recall all the many good things in that process of remembering, too. That helps me go to sleep in a peaceful, joyful way. Try counting your blessings instead of sheep the next time you need to rest. This is my feel-good motto: “If you’re alive and thinking, be in love and thanking!”
I hope these 10 Zen practices help promote wellness and fulfillment in your life as you move forward and grow this coming year. Thank you for taking this journey with me and sharing in my adventure of enlightenment. May the promise of 2015 inspire you to be your personal best, reach for your dreams and achieve your goals… even the sky is not the limit!
~Be well, all year, all your life!