So now that you have cleansed your soul on Rosh HaShanah and promised HaShem that this year you will perform more mitzvots, learn more Torah and will be a better person, what’s left? Well if I may suggest, let’s work on protecting and healing the body that Hashem has lent you, to house your neshama for your visit here on earth (and may you be blessed for may happy years).
Let’s begin with some basics, and to do this we’ll compare the body to a favorite machine of ours—the car. In order for your car to run properly it needs gas, oil, and other fluids. But if your car sits for too long these fluids get thick and congeal and your battery probably dies as well. The best way to keep a car intact is to make sure it has gas, clean oil and that it moves. Both of these factors also work for our bodies. In order to stay healthy, with plenty of energy, we need to eat beneficial foods (or gas), stay hydrated (radiator, brake and transmission fluids), consume good oils and move around, or else our battery dies.
A master herbalist I was once working with said that if your clients can change only four small things in their lives, they will be surprised at how much better they will feel in just a few weeks. Here they are:
- Make sure to drink filtered water every day, and yes, eight cups a day are required for proper hydration. Many people suffer from chronic exhaustion due to dehydration.
- Switch your oil to olive oil in as many of your foods as possible. The extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil is the healthiest, but it has a pungent flavor. This form of olive oil is best used at room temperature over salads, soups or meat. For frying and baking one should use the extra light olive oil.
- Change your salt to sea salt. Regular salt is mined from the ground, but salt coming from the sea is richer in minerals.
- Add berries to your diet.
Now let’s discuss the issue of exercise. We know that there are those avid exercisers who passionately love going to the gym, and the hikers who get exhilarated climbing big hills, and you even have yogi’s who enjoy contorting their bodies into abnormal positions while trying to breathe deeply, and then there are some of the rest of us. There exists a population of people who wonder if exercise means bending down to tie their shoes, or working their biceps mean opening the refrigerator. While this is not altogether bad—and we should always be encouraging—it certainly isn’t sufficient. The old saying is in fact true—that if you don’t use, you’re bound to lose it—meaning that things in your body, like a car, will not function properly unless it is moved. Many of my clients say, “Hey, I have never moved my body much, so what could be the problem?” Unfortunately, the problem is that as we age, circulation becomes more difficult because the heart is a muscle that needs to be kept stimulated, in order to maintain proper blood flow. Moms also ask, “Hey, if I bend down to pick up my kids’ toys and stomp up and down the stairs yelling at them isn’t that exercise?” The answer is: perhaps a little, yes, but sadly a lot more no. It will increase your circulation, but during stressful times your body produces a harmful chemical called cortisol, and your heart will not benefit from nervous movement in the same way as it does from endurance movement. During endurance movement the body stresses physically, but the mind remains at ease! Imagine now that you decided to walk three times a week, during the first ten minutes you might have nervous thoughts, “Are my kids okay at home,” “Gosh I forgot to buy gefilte fish for Shabbos”. Concerns like these will produce the hormone cortisol, but after the first ten minutes of nervousness, you begin to relax and feel the wind on your face, feel your muscles moving, and think of how great it is you are finally exercising. Now your body will begin to produce the wonderful hormone of oxytocin, which will help heal both your body and your mind.
Ideally, your goal during exercise should be raising your heart rate for a steady twenty minutes, at least three times a week. So if your only form of exercise is walking, then begin at a slow steady pace and gradually increase it to a slightly more aggressive speed; which you can maintain for a full twenty minutes.
It was many years ago that my teacher, the herbalist, demanded that her clients consume lots of berries, and she did this before all of the current studies have confirmed the amazing healing properties of berries. Researchers Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Ph.D., and Marshall G. Miller have found that, “recent research increasingly shows that eating berry fruits can benefit the aging brain. To analyze the strength of the evidence about berry fruits, they extensively reviewed cellular, animal and human studies on the topic. The review concluded that berry fruits help the brain stay healthy in several ways. Berry fruits contain high levels of antioxidants, compounds that protect cells from damage by harmful free radicals. The two also report that berry fruits change the way neurons in the brain communicate. These changes in signaling can prevent inflammation in the brain that contribute to neuronal damage and improve both motor control and cognition.”
So, to recap, let’s drink water, change to good oils, use sea salt, eat berries and exercise. That doesn’t sound too difficult does it? By taking on these little changes you can have a year where your soul, body and brain have the power and energy to accomplish all they need to, down on earth.