Not all habits are bad. Happiness is a habit too. Thict Naht HanhI just received the November issue of Shambhala Sun magazine in the mail. On the cover is, “Get off the Wheel of Habit.” This issue has arrived not a moment too late. I’m at a true place of transition and growth and feeling my way into making more conscious decisions about what I want and need in my daily life, my social life, my professional life, my home, and my health. I assess and see I’ve made some incredible strides forward and can feel a sense of pleasure in the accomplishments. I also see where I am struggling. This magazine’s focus offers a lot of insight and techniques for shifting habits … and helps me recognize some spots I’ve been refusing to really address. Habits can be comfortable after all, so changing or creating them takes a bit of planning.

From Vegetarian to Paleo
Given the health issues with which I’ve struggled in the last few years, I’ve had to make some major changes to heal my digestive system, hormonal system, and the resulting low energy levels. I’m not done yet, but I’ve come a long way, baby! My current Primal/Paleo diet is completely different from the conventional ADA approved food pyramid diet of five years ago, and it’s extraordinarily different from the decade of vegetarianism I adopted when I moved back from Germany and discovered American meat made me vomit. (Seriously, that WILL put off even the most avid carnivores!) It wasn’t until my body started shutting down and demanding the nutrients only meat provided that I caved in (I literally dreamed of meat … and yes, I know, eating meat is very unusual in the yoga world!) It also helped that by that time, the option to buy local, organic, and grass-fed/free-range meat was available. But eating whole, unprocessed foods TAKES A LOT OF WORK … well, certainly more work than someone who got very used to the convenience of the microwave, Whole Foods prepared food counter, and the delicious indulgence of Chinese take-out. But, there aren’t any shortcuts for me now—there certainly can’t be any take-out!—and if I hadn’t developed a few habits to help me with it, I’m not so sure I would have made it.

Helpful Food Habit: I plan the menu and shop for the entire week and cook/prep several meals on the weekend in order to save time during the week. AND … I created a closed group on Facebook made up of friends who are also striving to find the right balance in healthy paleo/primal type diets. Having support and a way to exchange ideas and recipes makes eating this way a whole lot easier.

The Grizzly Bear is Alive and Well
The change in my diet has affected a lot of healing, but my stressed-out adrenal glands still haven’t figured out that I’m not actually being chased by a grizzly bear. They’re still pretty sure I’m in mortal danger on a regular basis. Angry grizzly bear13+ years of corporate stress took its toll and finding the patience to heal this issue has NOT been easy and it’s the last big health hurdle I need to get over. It’s impact is felt in almost all facets of my life because sleep continues to be an issue for me, and quite frankly, without adequate sleep, the rest will never be as effective as it could be.

There are foods (primarily sugar) and beverages (primarily caffeine and alcohol) which I need to eliminate in order to give my adrenals as much rest as possible. I’ve cut back on both these things, but I’m Irish and oh me oh my, how I LOVE a good strong cup or two of tea in the morning! However, even I must admit that having a racing heart and shaky hands is probably not something I want to continue to experience. So, I’m going to have to establish a new morning ritual (aka “habit”) to make my mornings feel good. And I need to consciously avoid sugar and alcohol when I’m out with friends or when I’m inclined to indulge because, ‘it’s the weekend!’ That’s a habit that I share with many of my fellow Americans and it’s been strongly established for a long time. If I want to fully heal my adrenals it’s long past time for that habit to shift into something else. I also need to add in certain foods/supplements (sodium is a big one. My levels are low … what happens when you eliminate processed foods!) I know all of this will take time, practice, and a whole lot of compassionate patience. My adrenals have been over-stressed for years. One year away from the stress-filled corporate job isn’t enough time to get them feeling like they belong to a zen monk.

Helpful morning habit: Find or make an herbal tea or chai that I find DELICIOUS to make my morning tea ritual feel good.

Helpful weekend habit: Envision a truly relaxing evening/weekend and determine what that looks like. Decide what activities will support my need to feel indulgent and relaxed while still serving my main goal of healing my adrenals.

The Need to Slow Down
One of the habits I’m trying to bring back is regular exercise, but I’m learning I need to redefine what that means for me. I spent many of my early years running and doing things like push-ups and crunches to maintain physical health, but I’m finding that my body just can’t manage running right now. Yoga is the journey of the self through the self to the self. When I discovered yoga, I *loved* it, but it always supported my other activities. Now, I’m finding that yoga needs to be my primary activity because among many of its great benefits, it doesn’t stress my adrenal glands while I do it (the grizzly is NOT welcome on my yoga mat!) My body, my mind, and my heart want a lot more regular yoga and some low-key hikes (4000 footers are on hold for now). But my need for positive habit creation is running smack into my wall of impatience; going slower feels so … odd. It’s exactly what I need, however, so now I plan my week’s exercise, too. I need to put my activity in my calendar. And just labeling a chunk of time, “exercise”, doesn’t work. I need to put down what I’m doing: yoga class, or hike in Lincoln Woods, yoga at home, or walk w/Lisa. (YES, wrangling a friend into planned physical activity is a grand way to get it to happen!)

Helpful Exercise Habit: Plan each activity for the week and put it in the calendar. Make plans with a friend and have a back-up plan if weather doesn’t cooperate.

What it all comes down to is we’ve got habits, good, bad, or otherwise. We enjoy and reap the benefits of some and struggle with others. Negative habits can continue to erode our visions for ourselves and impact our health, while positive habits can help us live healthier, more fulfilled lives or simply help our day feel less chaotic. I think shifting, eliminating, and creating habits becomes most successful when we apply a mindful quality to the endeavor. Breath by breath, step by step is really the only way to do it. And, of course, cultivating an attitude of compassionate gentleness during the entire process. Creating more stress by beating yourself up doesn’t help. I’ll make mistakes, you’ll make mistakes and it’s ok. In truth, your intention and effort is what counts. Keep starting over, keep putting forth effort and you will effect change.

“On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow.” ~Bhagavad Gita (2.40)

I’d love to hear how you support yourself when trying to change or establish a habit.


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