8 Ways to Get into the Best Mind-Body Shape of your Life
by the Chopra Center for Wellbeing
Whether you are seeking peace of mind, your life’s purpose, a loving relationship, freedom from an addictive behavior, health and vitality, or inner awakening, the starting point of every journey is having a clear intention – then taking action to fulfill your dream.
The Law of Least Effort
To start on a path of rejuvenation and mind-body vitality, we need to be willing to move beyond old patterns and ways of behaving. This doesn’t require high doses of willpower or effort – in fact, trying too hard to change tends to create a lot of resistance that dampens our enthusiasm and depletes our energy. It’s usually much more effective to focus on practices that enhance our mind-body dialogue.
The body and mind are inextricably connected, so every time we have a thought, we set off a cascade of cellular reactions in our nervous system that influence all the molecules in our body. Establishing a healthy dialogue between our thoughts and our molecules helps us shift from imbalance to balance. And when we’re in an optimal state of dynamic balance, we naturally tend to listen to our body with love and reverence and make choices that support balance, happiness, and wellbeing.
Here are our top eight suggestions for awakening a healthy conversation between your mind and your body, which will in turn help you get into the best mind-body shape of your life.
1. Relate to Your Body Consciously
Most of us were trained to live from the neck up, valuing the mind and the intellect over the body. Yet our body is our most reliable guide to balance, happiness, and health. Every day it consciously tends to us, never losing focus or attention. It stands by us without asking for any rewards, and it sustains every cell through the universe’s infinite supply of energy and intelligence. We can return this faithful service by consciously relating to our body, and cultivating a bond based on trust, consideration, and loving appreciation.
You can develop a healthy, intimate relationships with your body by cultivating the following qualities:
Trust. In every second, billions of cells in your body are carrying out millions of infinitely complex operations to keep you alive. The few times that your body has become distressed or ill are miniscule in comparison with its faithful, steady functioning. You can trust your body by allowing its signals of comfort and discomfort to guide you rather than talking yourself into denial or judging what you’re feeling.
Consideration. Treat your body lovingly, like the loyal companion it is. Instead of making it submit to relentless stress, loud noise, excessive physical demands, and emotional toxicity, nurture your body. Offer it basic considerations, including rest and regular daily rhythms and routines.
Loving Appreciation. Your body is going to serve you for a lifetime, and it will be much happier if you lavish it with love, attention, and affection. Most people treat their body like an old model of a car, judging its appearance and complaining about the need for repairs. If you treat your body like a beloved companion, giving it what it needs most, your relationships will grow more comfortable, fulfilling, and intimate.
2. Quiet Your Internal Dialogue
Our minds are engaged in a constant inner dialogue about the past and the future. Meditation takes us beyond this noisy chatter to a state of pure awareness, which is sometimes referred to as "the gap." In the gap, we experience the bliss of present moment consciousness, which dissolves old thought patterns, long-standing stresses, and fatigue. This state of restful awareness also opens us to deeper creativity, intuition, and fulfillment.
Numerous scientific studies show the benefits of meditation on mind-body health and balance, including a decrease in hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and addictive behaviors. At the Chopra Center, we find that the most powerful benefits of meditation come from having a regular, daily practice.
We offer instruction in Primordial Sound Meditation, a mantra-based meditation practice that is easy to learn. You can receive instruction in Primordial Sound Meditation and your personal mantra at any Chopra Center signature event – or go to choprateachers.com to find a certified teacher near you.
3. Know Your Dosha
In Ayurvedic medicine, every person has a unique dosha or mind-body constitution. Your dosha is like a blueprint that outlines the innate tendencies of your system. For example, you may easily gain weight and feel resistant to change when you’re in a stressful situation, while someone with a different dosha may experience anxiety and weight loss. Knowing your dosha will help you make the most nourishing choices for your physical health and emotional balance.
Here is a brief overview of the three basic doshas in Ayurveda:
Vata: If Vata is your predominant dosha, you will tend to be energetic and on the go. When you’re in balance, you’ll be creative and enthusiastic and have a lean or slender body. When Vata is out of balance, your mind will tend to race and you may feel overwhelmed or anxious. You may experience insomnia, indigestion, and exhaustion.
Pitta types tend to have a medium build, medium strength and endurance, and a strong appetite and digestion. If your dosha is Pitta, you will have a sharp intellect and enjoy a good challenge. When Pitta becomes imbalanced, you may experience heartburn, ulcers, hypertension, and inflammatory conditions. On the emotional level, too much Pitta manifests as anger, sarcasm, and irritability.
Kapha types have a powerful build and great physical strength and endurance. They are calm and caring, with a relaxed personality. However, when Kapha is out of balance, it manifests as weight gain, fluid retention, allergies, and sluggishness. Excess Kapha can lead you to hold onto possessions, jobs, and relationships even when they are no longer nourishing.
Ayurveda offers specific recommendations for each mind-body type. Take the dosha quiz here to identify your mind-body type and learn how to nurture your balance and health.
4. Become Timeless
The flow of linear time is a psychological event. When you’re trying to make a deadline and you say to yourself, “I'm running out of time,” this internal dialogue speeds up your biological clock, as your heart beats faster and your body releases high levels of adrenalin and stress hormones. If you develop a habit of affirming, “I have all the time in the world,” your biological clock will start to mirror that sense of peace and timelessness.
Being timeless also requires that you cultivate deep awareness. Our mind is like a river whose surface is constantly shifting as one thing after another grabs our attention. While the river flows fast on the surface, it is nearly motionless at the bottom.
Meditation opens you to the still, silent depths where the timeless merges into time. When you emerge from your meditation session, you carry some of that peace and calm with you into your daily activities. As you meditate with regularity, you stop struggling against the universe as you gradually shift from time-bound awareness to timeless awareness, which is characterized by happiness, self-acceptance, creativity, leaps of imagination synchronicities, and a sense of infinite possibilities.
5. Make Restful Sleep a Priority
Do you usually wake up after a night’s sleep feeling refreshed, clear-minded and energized? Or do you have to drag yourself from bed, feeling tired and groggy? Many people exist in a state of chronic sleep deprivation, which affects every aspect of their health and outlook on life. Over time, inadequate sleep disrupts the body’s innate balance, weakens the immune system, contributes to weight gain and depression, and accelerates aging.
Although sleep medication can provide a temporary altered state that resembles sleep, it doesn’t offer the level of rejuvenation that comes with “unaided” sleep.
Restful sleep is essential for health and vitality, yet it is often neglected. As renowned sleep expert Ruben Naimon points out, as a culture we seem to value the waking state with its attendant outward activity over the sleeping state and descent into more internal levels of awareness.
As the ancient Ayurvedic physicians recognized, sleep nourishes us at the deepest cellular level. Ayurveda teaches us to ride nature’s waves rather than fight against them, flowing in rhythm with our body’s natural cycles of rest and activity. To find recommendations for an Ayurvedic sleep routine, please click here.
6. Eat Fresh, Delicious, Healthy Food
Next to breathing, eating is our most vital bodily function. To create a healthy body and mind, our food must be nourishing. Ideal nutrition comes from consuming a variety of foods that are prepared and eaten with awareness.
A simple way to make sure that you’re getting a balanced diet is to include the six tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) in each meal.
Focus on eating a variety of fresh and freshly prepared foods, while eliminating, or at least limiting, items that are canned, frozen, microwaved, or highly processed. These are “dead” foods that weaken health and accelerate aging.
When you sit down to a meal, turn off the TV and other distractions. When you put your attention solely on your meal, you are able to savor all the flavors and are less likely to overeat. Eating with an attitude of awareness and respect is one of the best ways to nourish body, mind, and spirit.
7. Exercise Regularly
Our bodies are designed for movement, yet many of us associate exercise with pain, boredom, or drudgery rather than with lightness and feelings of wellbeing. We may completely avoid exercise or, if we do manage to “will” ourselves to exercise, we may remain disconnected from our body and our feelings as we move.
In contrast with the “no pain, no gain” mentality, Ayurveda and other Eastern healing traditions view exercise as a way to experience the pleasure of moving, breathing, and circulating our life’s energy. It’s meant to leave us feeling invigorated, centered, and ready for rest of the day.
The secret is finding some physical activities that you like and that are suited to your mind-body type, or dosha. To find specific recommendations for your dosha type, click here.
Exercise offers prompt returns on your investment. You will begin to notice definite improvements in your wellbeing within a week or two, including improved mood, greater energy, and better sleep.
8. Choose Love
Replace fear-motivated behavior with love-motivated behavior. Fear is the product of memory, which dwells in the past. Trying to impose the past on the present will never wipe out the threat of being hurt. That happens only when you find the security of your own being, which is love. Motivated by the truth inside you, you can face any threat because your inner strength is invulnerable to fear.
If you are holding onto a painful experience from the recent or distant past, the unprocessed anger, disappointment, or hurt contributes to toxicity in the body that prevents you from experiencing your true potential for health, happiness, and love. You can begin to release this toxicity by taking a few minutes to quiet your mind, then ask yourself, “What am I holding onto from the past that is no longer serving me in the present?”
Once you have identified what you want to release, spend some time journaling about how your life will be different when you change. Then create a releasing ritual that declares to yourself and to the world that you are letting go. You might want to write a release statement and burn it.
If you are having a hard time moving beyond a painful event in your life, consider attending the Healing the Heart workshop at the Chopra Center. In a nurturing, supportive environment, you will be guided intensive, loving process to release emotional pain and then fill the newly created space in your heart with love and self-nurturing behaviors. Our next Healing the Heart workshop takes place this January at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. Learn more here.