As you stand on the threshold of the end of one year and beginning of another, you may pause to reflect on what you hope the earth’s next trip around the sun will bring. Perhaps you long for new opportunities, an improved financial situation, better relationships, more stillness and calm, or a deeper spiritual connection. No matter what your desires may be, the New Year can often feel like a launch pad for turning your dreams into action and desires into reality.
Underlying all your desires, however, is one underlying assumption—that you will have the physical health and vitality to enjoy the fulfillment of all other intentions. This master intention can often get overlooked amid the exciting plans of goals and wishes for the year to come. However, as the saying goes, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” Your mental and physical well-being lays the groundwork for the manifestation of all other desires. Your unique mind-body is your personal vehicle to fulfill all your desires, up to and including enlightenment; therefore, it makes sense to take deliberate steps to nourish both your mind and body going into a New Year.
Your current state of well-being is, to a very large degree, the result of the choices you have made throughout your life. As an Ayurvedic expression reminds us: “To know a person’s experiences from the past, examine their body now. To know a person’s body in the future, examine their experiences now.” So, if you wish to nourish your mind and body for the new year, you need to choose the experiences that will lead you in the direction of total well-being.
Setting Your Intentions
Making nourishing choices boils down to a foundational preparatory step: intention setting. You need to be very clear about your well-being desires. An intention isn’t a willy-nilly wish or fantasy. A focused intention with a particular outcome is driven by the specific whys you want to manifest the desire. Your intentions should have a forward pull, drawing them toward manifestation. Like a baby leaving the womb, your focused intention knows no going back—it’s going to happen. Once you’ve clarified your intentions, take one more step and commit to writing them down and reviewing them every day. Doing this helps to solidify your desires and generate the momentum to lead you toward your goal.
4 Foundational Practices for Nourishing Your Mind and Body
With your intentions set, you are ready to awaken the wellness potential of you mind and body. While there are many approaches to mental and physical health, the wisdom traditions of Ayurveda and yoga are time-tested systems of holistic well-being that recommend four key practices, each of which has a powerful and transformative effect on mind and body. When practiced together, they can trigger healing down to the deepest level of your being.
Practice 1: Meditation
From a yoga and Ayurvedic perspective, meditation is without question the most foundational approach to complete well-being you have at your disposal. The act of allowing the mind to settle into progressively quieter levels of awareness has a profound impact on every layer of your being. Through meditation, you awaken the restful awareness response of your nervous system, which reverses the stress-laden effects of the fight-or-flight response. As your mind begins to tap into its own inherent stillness, your respiration and heart rate slow down, blood pressure reduces, stress hormone levels normalize, muscle tension releases, circulation returns to a more balanced state, and digestive equilibrium restores itself.
On a mental level, brainwave coherence is increased, mental focus is sharpened, attention is expanded, and mental tension and anxiety are reduced. In addition, the stillness of meditation helps to boost creativity, awaken intuition, and deepen your connection to spirit and higher states of consciousness. The profound calm experienced through regular meditation eventually begins to seep into every level of your being, literally transforming your mind and body from the inside out. Anyone can learn to meditate and begin to bring the profound benefits into their lives in as little as just a few weeks of regular practice.
Practice 2: Pranayama (Breathing Practice)
Throughout your entire life, no matter where you are or what you are doing, your breath is your constant companion. Breath is life, and its movement is both the backdrop and guiding current of every experience you have. Breath is the carrier of prana—the primordial life force, the current of vitality that governs all your mental and physical functions. This prana can be regulated and channeled through various breathing techniques known in Yoga and Ayurveda as pranayama. These practices can calm, balance, cleanse, or invigorate your mind and body to enhance overall well-being as well as provide you with profound feedback into the connection between your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual bodies. Incorporating breathing practices into your wellness routine will have a powerful effect on your physical and mental state.
Practice 3: Yoga (Asana) Practice
Far more than a stretching or calisthenics routine, the poses or asanas of classical yoga practice represent a complete science of mind-body integration. Each pose or “seat” is entered into by bringing your awareness into your body, adjusting your position and posture, and experiencing a corresponding shift in your awareness. Yoga is an expression of consciousness in motion in which you have an engaging and present-moment, in-body experience. Yoga poses enhance all qualities of physical and mental fitness: flexibility, balance, strength, and, to a degree, cardiovascular conditioning. In addition, asana practice strengthens two key mind-body attributes: Proprioception and Interoception.
Proprioception is the sense of your body in space (position, speed, rotation, etc.) and in relationship to its limbs. Regular yoga practice helps to stimulate specific proprioceptive neurons located within muscles, tendons, and joints. This feedback is registered by the brain and helps you gain an enhanced level of bodily awareness.
Interoception is a similar sense of awareness, however, it’s directed toward the internal state of the body as experienced through the respiratory, digestive, reproductive, or nervous systems (heart rate, temperature, hunger, etc.). The strengthening of both proprioception and interoception help to improve upon your ability to self-regulate (voluntary control over your internal and external states of being).
Introducing asana practice into your wellness regimen will help to energize, balance, and restore your body and take your overall mind-body awareness to new levels.
Practice 4: Ayurvedic Routine
Ayurveda, yoga’s sister “Science of Life” is a complete mind/body/spirit wellness system dating back thousands of years to ancient India. One of Ayurveda’s foundational principles is the balancing and alignment of your personal mind-body system with the elements and forces of the universe. A key approach to nurture this alignment is by following a daily Ayurvedic routine known as dinacharya. This daily routine is designed to harmonize your personal rhythms with those of the cosmos. In practicing dinacharya, you cultivate homeostatic balance in your mind-body system and lay the foundation for a life of clarity, regularity, and holistic well-being.
What follows is a basic Ayurvedic routine, as laid out by Dr. David Simon in his book Vital Energy:
- Awaken at sunrise without an alarm clock
- Meditate in the morning
- Eat breakfast when you are hungry
- Make lunch the main meal of the day
- Take a short walk after eating
- Meditate in the late afternoon
- Eat a light dinner
- Perform light activity in the evening
- Be in bed with the lights out by 10:00 p.m.
When adopting an Ayurvedic routine, it’s important not to be compulsive or try to accomplish all these steps at once. Incorporate a few components at a time and gradually increase the number of steps as it feels comfortable. If practiced with regularity, by harmonizing your rhythms with the rhythms of nature, dinacharya will help you to increase in your overall sense of well-being and vitality.
These tools—meditation, yoga, pranayama, and dinacharya—can help form the backbone of a nourishing and healthy New Year. Remember that true health is a higher state of awareness from where all other desires may be fulfilled. Have the intention to nourish your body and mind through these practices this and every year and relish in the richness a life of total well-being can bring you.
Join Chopra Chief Meditation Officer, Roger Gabriel, on the Chopra iPhone app for a FREE 7-day program designed to help you regain balance as you enter the new year. Through daily meditations and inspirations, you'll learn to let go and create space for the new, while nourishing mind, body, and spirit.