I'm not suggesting that you call off Christmas or cancel Hanukkah and retreat into selfishness. No way. Santa forbid. I'm just saying that if you don't pay extra special attention to your own health and wellness this time of year — inhaling joy, exhaling tension — you'll burn out trying to care for others.
Give, give, give. That's what the December holiday season can feel like. So let me give you permission to take, take, take some time for yourself to realize your own deep desire to be healthier and happier, more active, less stressed.
It begins with your acknowledgment that you — not your doctor, your mate, your employer — are responsible for your health.
Your wellness isn't the result of a five-star medical plan or even good genes, though that helps. Yes, sickness and disease can get in the way and push us off course. But that doesn't change the essential truth that, for the most part, you're in charge: The exercise you get, the foods you eat, the stupid TV shows you don't watch, the anger you let go of — these are the conscious moves that dance you down the path to being the joyful, active, well-rested and easily loved person you long to be.
Last week, we talked about giving gifts to others. I suggested that less stuff and more gratitude was the way to go. This week, I want to suggest five gifts you might give yourself this holiday season.
Ok, I confess I've mentioned these things a zillion times before: exercise more, eat smarter, stress less, blah-blah-blah. The fact is, like Rudolph's hoofs on your roof, you can't hear this stuff enough. It's like yoga. You have to keep coming back to the same basic postures time after time, discovering something meaningful every time, until eventually it all sinks in and you wake up to your freedom to make smarter choices.
When that happens, the struggle is over, the spirit is engaged, and suddenly you've joined a gym, lost 10 pounds and given up diet colas forever.
GIFT NO. 1: GET MOVING. There is no substitute for moving your body, challenging your heart, juicing your joints. You can't fake exercise, you can't hire someone to do it for you, you can't avoid the bad-health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. The trick is to find activities you enjoy and do them often enough so that NOT doing them feels bad. Then you're hooked. When you're hooked on regular exercise, life is very sweet.
GIFT NO. 2: DAZZLE YOUR DENDRITES. The mind is a terrible thing to waste on Twitter and "Desperate Housewives." To keep your body vital, you must churn your brain with challenging activities. Do puzzles. Study a foreign language. Tutor a child. Play bridge. Take a course in bicycle repair. When you stop learning, your brain goes to sleep, and the next thing you know, you're dead.
GIFT NO. 3: RELISH REAL FOOD. You can't fool Mother Nature. She despises fake foods, processed foods, foods with additives and pesticides, foods that are genetically modified or artificially sweetened. It's everywhere, and it's toxic, and it's your job to read labels and resist. There is plenty of wholesome, delicious, real food out there. Find it, eat it in modest portions, and support the conscious people who grow it.
GIFT NO. 4: STRETCH. As you age, your body grows tighter, less flexible. The good news is it's never too late to unlock a tense body and experience less pain and more energy. Give yourself the gift of s-t-r-e-t-c-hing any way and anywhere you can: at your desk, in your kitchen, at the gym. Don't say you'll try. As Yoda teaches, "Do, or do not. There is no try."
GIFT NO. 5: THINK IT, DO IT, BE IT. Your thoughts influence your health to a remarkable degree. Negative thinking — I'm too fat, too lazy, too klutzy — gets in the way of making positive change. So do anger, jealousy, intolerance. Happiness is a choice. Hallelujah! You can learn to live your life with kindness and compassion.
That's why yoga was invented. Meditate on that, not your flabby thighs, and awaken this holiday season to your body's natural desire to be healthy, strong and Cinnabon-free.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! DECEMBER IS FOR DIGGING DEEP
"The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment, to give up what you are, for what you might become." — W.E.B. DuBois
Marilynn Preston — fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, http://marilynnpreston.com