Updated: Jun 2, 2019
The last piece of my formula for slow living and environmental wellness is to take care of your body.
Along with our planet, your body is the only home you’ve got. And something amazing happens when you start taking care of it: you become precious.
By connecting with our physical selves, we see the beauty and complexity of our bodies. It doesn’t take long to see this reflected in other beings and in the world at large. When we take care of ourselves and see that other creatures have the same needs that we do, we become more compassionate.
There’s actually research showing that yoga and meditation can increase empathy (1). By tuning into our own bodies and understanding them better, we more readily understand our body language and the body language of others.
Taking care of your body is a kind and altruistic act. As with your mind, the healthier your body is, the more available you are to take care of others and the less care you require. If you struggle to move around your house and perform everyday tasks, your capacity for, say, volunteering at the community garden is likely lower than someone who is in great health. A healthy body also demands fewer resources from our medical system and from the planet itself.
I’m not going to give you a prescribed plan for how to live a healthy life, because each of us does it differently, but here’s my overarching philosophy.
What’s Good For Our Bodies Is Good For The Earth
We’re in a unique time where scientific research is rediscovering the old-fashioned way. We’re realizing that the way our great great great grandparents did things was healthier for us and the earth than some of our current practices. It’s like when you think of a really great invention only to realize it already exists.
Technology is a wonderful tool and has brought us countless life-changing improvements. In some cases, though, we’ve plowed forward without thought to the intrinsic benefits of doing things the old way. Usually, the old way is dictated by Mother Nature.
Take a field as an example. In nature, wild fields are inherently diversified with different species of grasses, flowers, herbs, shrubs, etc. Each plant saps the soil of specific minerals and nutrients, and enriches the soil with others. By maintaining a variety of plants, the field replenishes its own soil and continues to flourish year after year.
Most commercial farmers in the US alternate between the two biggest money-making crops: corn and soy. Both of these pull nitrogen from the soil, requiring farmers to supplement with nitrogen fertilizer. This can be costly and/or harmful in excess (2). At some point, someone realized that if farmers add wheat into their rotation, it will replenish the nitrogen in the soil, eliminating the need for fertilizer. Plus, planting wheat can reduce the presence of weeds and control pests. By diversifying their crops, farmers can save money and produce more (3).
Another argument for simplification involves cattle. Production of beef is one of our greatest contributors to greenhouse gasses. Most cows raised for beef are given feed largely consisting of corn. The production of corn requires resources like any other crop. Plus, cows weren’t meant to eat corn; they naturally eat grass. On a diet not optimized for their bodies, many experience digestive issues, increasing the need for medication.
Some farmers are returning to simplicity, allowing cows to graze freely in pastures. By walking on and eating the naturally-occurring grasses, the cows stimulate growth. And because cows eat the tops of the plants but don’t uproot them, carbon locked in the soil remains in the soil rather than being released into the air and contributing to greenhouse gasses. Some say that raising cattle in this way could possibly neutralize the production of beef (4).
Long story short: the healthiest way to produce beef is by letting cows do what they’ve been doing naturally for thousands of years! How ironic that it’s taken us decades of damage and scientific studies to learn that letting nature be (aka doing nothing) is best for everyone.
A more accessible example is exercise: the traditional Natives American lifestyle didn’t involve body pump. People moved their bodies in order to live, hunting, gathering, walking, building, cooking, playing, dancing. They followed herds of buffalo so they’d have a consistent source of food. They stayed healthy by moving as part of life.
Today, we drive to the gym, use machines to exercise, then drive to the grocery store to buy pre-prepared and packaged food. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe.
I’m obviously not suggesting we all throw up our hands and return to the 1600’s, but what if we simplified things a bit? What if we walked to and from the grocery store? We’d get a workout from the walk and by carrying our groceries home. We’d experience the meditative benefits of walking outdoors. We’d move in a way that our bodies have evolved to move (and save ourselves the cost of a gym membership).
To take care of our bodies and the earth, all we have to do is listen to Mother Nature. She’s been waiting patiently for us to figure out she’s been right all along.
To keep both my body and the earth healthy, I move a little every day, eat with the environment in mind, practice holistic medicine, and get enough sleep.
Move Your Body a Little Every Day
Right now I’m doing two kinds of physical activity regularly: yoga and walking. I try to do yoga five times a week in the morning, and I take my dog on a long walk every day.
It took me a long time to ditch the mindset that exercise has to be prescriptive. Our culture feeds us the notion that “working out” has to equal 60 minutes at the gym or going for a run x miles long. We ask others how much exercise we need a day before asking ourselves what feels good.
I don’t think it has to be so cut and dry. Some days 5 minutes of stretching may be all you need. Other days you might crave a 3 hour bike ride.
Adopting a dog has shown me the beauty of walking outside. I honestly get as much out of our daily walks as he does. It’s meditative and provides a block of guaranteed me time—or rather, ‘us’ time.
Having a dog makes me get outside and move every single day, even if it’s for 10 minutes. Spending time outdoors connects us with the earth—some research points to crazy benefits of walking barefoot (5)—and reminds us of our place in it. It activates our senses and physically requires that we slow down. It brings us into contact with other people, with the seasons, with nature. It reminds us of the value of nature.
I have yet to meet someone who’s spent time in a national park and doesn’t support environmental preservation.
Our bodies are built to walk. We’re efficient at it, and as long as we keep up the practice, we’ll be able to do it (almost) our entire lives.
My philosophy of a little movement every day might not sound like enough exercise, and maybe it isn’t for some people. I do think, however, that if you’re conscious of what you put in your body and listen to it carefully, a little is really all you need.
Eat to Save the World
Scientists have found that one of the heaviest contributors to climate change is the production of animal food products.
The demand animal products put on our earth is pretty shocking. As I mentioned, beef in particular is a massive contributor to carbon emissions. For each pound of beef consumed, about 30 pounds of carbon emissions are released. Compare that to about 15 pounds of carbon per pound of chicken, and less than 2 pounds of carbon per pound of lentils. There’s a great chart demonstrating this on the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health.
I’m not vegan or vegetarian, so I can’t in good conscience advocate for adopting one of those diets. However, if you want to know how to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, reducing your reliance on animal products is one of the most accessible and impactful ways to start.
I personally eat meat about 4 times a week, and it’s typically poultry as opposed to beef. I don’t eat a ton of dairy, and I’ve been experimenting with vegan baking. Overall, the vast majority of what I consume has been planted rather than herded or processed.
While I don’t think veganism or vegetarianism is sustainable for everyone, I absolutely think a primarily plant-based diet is.
Maybe you need to eat meat more frequently than a couple times a week, or maybe you need the protein boost that eggs provide first thing in the morning. That’s totally fine—but I encourage you to consider other ways you can eat more environmentally-friendly.
Could you put coconut creamer into your coffee instead of half-and-half? Could you cut down on the portion sizes of meat and supplement with hearty vegetables, grains, and beans? Instead of eating 1 hamburger a week, could you eat 1 a month?
Eating a plant-based diet will do wonders for your health. As Hippocrates advised,
“Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food.”
Try Preventative & Holistic Medicine
All of us have a direct line to Mother Nature: our bodies. When we tune in and listen to what our bodies need, we inherently know how to care for them. The best way to do this is to take care of your body—before you get sick. Remember the trope “prevention is the best cure”?
We value Western medicine highly in our culture—and we absolutely should. It’s an incredible resource we have at our fingertips. Never will you hear me say that you don’t need to go to the doctor, have recommended screenings or tests run, or get procedures when you need them.
However, I do think that we’ve become too reliant on medicine to “fix” us rather than taking care of ourselves in the first place. I highly recommend using holistic medicine as a supplement to Western care.
Eating healthy is obviously a huge part of this, but holistic or traditional medicine is another area often overlooked. Holistic medicine teaches us the how our body’s systems are deeply intertwined, how the parts make up the whole.
A friend of mine, an incredible herbalist, acupuncturist, holistic practitioner, and witch goddess, shepherded me into my first experiences with holistic medicine. If you’re in Denver, you must check out Natalie Franciose, Point of Balance. She’s not only amazing at what she does, but she’s incredibly kind and a wonderful listener. In my initial consultation with Natalie, we talked about everything from digestion to exercise preferences to sleep patterns and more. Just by asking questions, she helped me make the connection between the “quirks” of my body and how I’m treating it. Once I realized these connections, I felt a little silly for not having realized them before—but we’re simply not encouraged to!
For example, one of the reasons I went to see Natalie was because I was having frequent stomach aches, intense ones, shortly after I ate. They were happening just about every day. We talked about how eating cold and/or raw foods is harder on the digestive system and can cause stomach aches like the ones I described. We also talked about the microbiome, the system of bacteria that lives in your gut, and how it can fluctuate in and out of health.
Natalie recommended I alter my diet to include more warm meals than cold, and more cooked vegetables than raw. She also recommended I take a tincture of bitters shortly before meals to aid in digestion. I did all of the above, and my stomach aches immediately disappeared. After a few months of using bitters regularly, I stopped getting stomach pains even when I forget to take them.
By simply understanding more deeply how my body digests food, I was able to make changes that instantly improved my well-being. The herbs in the bitters helped regulate the bacteria in my gut, aiding in digestion and freeing me of stomach aches.
Acupuncture can do something similar for stress. Herbal supplements can re-balance your hormones. Incorporation of specific foods (and/or omission of others) can decrease inflammation.
Checking in with your body now, before something goes wrong, can keep you balanced and feeling good.
SLEEP, for Goddess’ Sake!
We value busyness in our culture: If you’re not busy and running around all the time, you’re not doing enough! You should be constantly stressed and never have a moment to spare for yourself! If you have time for self-care you’re not working hard enough!
Mmmmmmbogus. If you’ve read any of the posts in this series by now, you know I’m all for moderation, the slow and steady. And if you’re able to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, for goddess’ sake, do it.
The idea that everyone needs eight hours of sleep a night is a generalization; depending on age, lifestyle, stress level, etc. you might need seven or you might need nine (6). Because of technology, the increased intensity of jobs, noise and light pollution, and other lifestyle factors, 35% of people aren’t getting enough sleep (7). Folks, being chronically sleep-deprived is terrible for you. It’s linked to all kinds of health problems, difficulty thinking critically and remembering things, premature aging, weight gain...the list is endless (8).
If you feel like you’re too busy to get enough sleep, think of it this way: you’re more productive when you’re well-rested. By not getting enough sleep, you’re actually wasting time doing things inefficiently.
Benefits for your mind:
When you take better care of yourself, you see yourself as something worth taking care of. Your confidence and self-worth skyrockets. You’re also able to think more critically, be more creative, and get more done, all of which allows you to offer more to the world.
Benefits for your body:
Pretty obvious, eh?
Benefits for the earth:
Being healthy—by eating healthy, taking preventative care of yourself, exercising, and sleeping enough—means you demand fewer resources from the earth and have more to offer in return. Plus, eating a plant-based diet saves enormously on carbon emissions.
Benefits for your wallet:
Y’all, being healthy is SO MUCH CHEAPER. Eating plant-based means you save at the grocery store (and buying in bulk means you save even more). Sleeping enough, exercising enough, and taking preventative measures means you save on medical bills and prescriptions. Being healthy means you are able to be more productive and work more, which means you can earn and save more (9).
All of these ideas emerged after I decided to decrease my use of plastics. I was motivated because of the planet; I wanted to curb the plastic pollution being dumped into our oceans and the resources being burned to create it. As soon as I dove into a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, I realized the benefits were so much deeper and richer than I ever could have imagined. I felt happier, calmer, more content, more connected with nature. Wellness practices fell into place with little effort. My capacity for empathy and sacrifice expanded, and with it the realization that I can create a ripple of change.
I began to slow down time, something I’d subconsciously been craving for years.
Sharing my personal experiences was initially a means of processing my ideas and organizing my research. It has now swelled into a revelation: that healing our earth and healing ourselves are inextricably linked.
Mistakes are inevitable along the way, but they cannot deter us from starting the healing process. Our future, our children’s futures, and the earth’s future depend on us becoming well. Let’s take the first step together.
For more on how to slow down and tune in, check out the rest of the series!
(1) Yoga & meditation increasing empathy: https://search.proquest.com/openview/caa57979739dac673ffbcaf023535315/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y
(2) Negative effects of nitrogen fertilizer: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/negative-effects-nitrogenrich-fertilizer-environment-72041.html
(3) Benefits of diversifying crops: https://www.agriculture.com/crops/wheat/adding-wheat-to-cnsoybe-rotations-helps_144-ar46231
Documentary called “Sustainable,” available on Netflix
(4) Benefits of grazing cattle: https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/they-eat-what-what-are-they-feeding-animals-factory-farms
Documentary called “Sustainable,” available on Netflix
(5) Research about walking barefoot: https://www.collective-evolution.com/2017/08/24/studies-show-what-happens-to-the-human-body-when-we-walk-barefoot-on-earth/
(6) How much sleep do we need: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessive-sleepiness/support/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
(7) 35% of people not getting enough sleep: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html
(8) Detriments of being sleep-deprived: https://www.wired.com/story/youre-not-getting-enough-sleep-and-its-killing-you/
(9) Healthy people earn more: http://money.com/money/collection-post/3653222/health-care-costs-retirement/