When reading personal development blogs you do not often read about health issues: what you should be eating, how you should exercise, how to lose weight and how to develop healthy habits. All of these issues are considered to be not related to personal development and they are discussed only on fitness, diet and general health blogs.
I would like to challenge the opinion that creating a healthy and balanced body is not part of personal development. What is personal development after all? Here is a definition of personal development from Wikipedia (it is not the most reliable source of course but that’s the best definition I could find.)
Personal development for individuals refers to actions or aspirations oriented towards one or more of the following aims:
building or renewing identity
developing strengths or talents
identifying or improving potential
building employability or human capital
enhancing lifestyle or the quality of life
Some of the oldest personal development practices is religion. Take a look at Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism or any other religion. What do they have in common? Their beliefs are different but all of them use the body as a temple for the spirit. They use exercise (martial arts, yoga, ritual dances) together with dieting (fasting, moderate eating, vegetarianism) to create a healthy and strong body that is as important as a strong and healthy spirit (soul). It is a simplified look at religious practices of course and I won’t go any further into digging into the roots of the mind-spirit-body connection.
I believe that your body deserves as much attention as your mind and spirit do. I do not know a lot of smart and highly intelligent people who claim to be eating at MacDonald’s or BoJangles on a frequent basis. Neither have I seen a lot of overweight out-of-shape people who claim to be living a happy life. I looked at a few of the most popular bloggers and I haven’t found any who would fall into the category of FUU! (fat, unhealthy and unfit.) (You can check for yourself if you look at Leo Babauta, Gretchen Rubin, Darren Rowse, Tim Ferris, Chris Guillebeau, Steve Pavlina and many others.)
If you are looking for personal development then you should focus not only on your spirituality and virtues, you should also focus on your body. Here are a few ideas how you can start caring for your body today while pursuing your personal development goals:
Start cardio exercise. Intense exercise increases the production of mood-boosting chemicals in your body (endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine). The next time that you are trying to fight depression or looking for a way to be more positive about life just go for a run, a brisk walk, sign up for a cardio class at your gym or try one of the more challenging sports (rock climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding etc.)
Eat in moderation. Moderate eating is not only a surefire way to lose and maintain weight, it is also a way to promote your brain health (prevent Alzheimer’s disease in particular) and to develop discipline. Overeating is the sign that you cannot control your emotions or desires. Learn to control how much you put in your mouth and regain control over your emotions.
Do some Yoga. Yoga is the oldest Mind and Body technique that has proven its efficiency in personal development in the course of thousands of years (nobody can tell for certain how old Yoga is, but most scientists agree that it is at least 2000 years old). Yoga focuses on stretching, balance, breathing and motion that trigger a release of negative emotions in the body. I was surprised to find out that Yoga is especially effective for men as compared to any other form of exercise.
Sleep better after exercise. Sleep deprivation is one of the causes of depression, exhaustion and burnout. Regular exercise has been proved to solve this problem and to ensure deep and sound night zzz’s.
Skip the fast food and junk food. If you are looking for a calm and peaceful life then you should skip your next trip to a fast food restaurant. I admit that they are convenient when you are in a rush or somewhere on the road, but making them your everyday favorite is not a good idea. How do you feel after eating fast food? Do you feel energetic and agile or do you feel bloated and lazy? I think that the second one is closer to the truth. An unhealthy diet rich in trans fats, saturated fats and refined carbs adversely affects cognition, memory and learning (for more information please go here )
Raise your self-esteem with exercise. A lot of personal development tips focus on raising one’s self-esteem. Regular exercise can help you to improve your self-image and become more confident of yourself.
Boost your memory and attention with exercise. Neurons in the brain connect with other neurons and with skeletal muscles. The connection is ensured by acetylcholine (a primary chemical neurotransmitter for memory and attention). I do not want to get too deep into medical terms that I do not completely understand that is why I am going to put it simple. Your muscles activate certain chemicals in your body that are responsible for memory and attention. If you do not use your muscles then the connection is lost and the chemicals are not released into the body. Your memory and your attention suffer. For a more scientific explanation of this connection please go here
Eat a balanced diet. Chinese are the masters of describing balanced eating. The Yin and Yang concept shows how important it is to nourish your body with foods of different origins. Food does not only influence your health, it influences your thoughts and your inner balance. There is a deep connection between what we put in the mouth and how we feel afterwards (I am not talking only about overeating and satiety). Certain foods will make us calm and serene while others will energize us and prepare for action. Eat a variety of foods and textures to balance your life in general. More info here
Walk to clear your head. Walking is the best way to find solutions to problems that have been bugging you for a long time. When you walk you increase blood circulation as well as the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Walking is not strenuous that is why your legs do not use too much oxygen and glucose as they would during more strenuous types of exercise. If you do not want to take 10000 steps daily for your health then you can take them for your brain.
Balance your life with balance exercises. Basic exercises for balance have been linked to decreased anxiety, stress and worry as well as to a better emotional balance. Try exercising on unstable surfaces (BOSU, fitball) or practice some of my favorite exercises for balance: Tree Pose (try it with your eyes closed), Warrior III and Half Moon Pose
Eat for your brain and your mood. Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, tryptophan, folate and other B vitamins, low glycemic foods, and chocolate are linked to a better mood and brain function. Keep your diet rich in nuts, brightly colored veggies, whole grains, oily fish, fruits and berries and enjoy better health as well as a mood boost.
Become mindful through mindful eating. Eating is a powerful sensual experience that engages all our senses. You can practice gratitude, mindfulness and deep spiritual connection with the world around you while eating an apple. Shoveling down a cake or the whole pizza is not a sign of a mindful person (neither it is a sign of a healthy person.) Next time that you eat, experience the food deeply with all your senses. First look at it and pay attention to the color and texture. Then smell the food. Does this smell remind you of anything? Is it a smell that you remember from your childhood or is it a smell of fall or summer? Is it a smell of a holiday? Taste a little piece and feel the texture. Do you like this taste or would you rather avoid eating this food? Hear food as you chew it. Be aware of all your senses when you are eating.
Strengthen your spirit through exercise. If you look at exercise seriously (think about competing in a marathon or a race) then you will find out that it is a trial not only for your body but also for your spirit. If you want to succeed in any sporting event or get the body you’ve been dreaming about for many years then you need to master your spirit together with your body.
Through knowing your body you can connect with the world around you. Whether you are looking for spiritual growth, increased self-awareness or improving your potentials you must know your body first. Your body is a gift that was given to you in this life and you must take care of this gift in order to live a life full of accomplishment, deep meaning and joy.