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Month: November 2016

7 Self-Care Rituals to Practice Every Day

7 Self-Care Rituals to Practice Every Day

“Self-care” has become a cultural buzzword of late — and thank goodness for that! In a society that seems to value productivity, achievement and economic gain above all else, it’s important to periodically hone in on the other aspects of life. (Ahem, the ones tied to your own well-being.) Self-care can mean anything from taking a walk in the park during your lunch break, or reserving a few minutes each night to meditate or color. For others, it can involve writing their thoughts in a journal or practicing some yoga.

At its core, self-care is simply the act of performing with intention any action that brings you physical, mental, and/or emotional pleasure and allows space for introspection. To get a daily self-care routine down that truly works for you, try experimenting with different activities that make you happy. Whether you’re new to self-care or you’re looking to expand your practice, these free rituals offer a great place to start.

7 Simple Self-Care Rituals to Relieve Stress

1. Get outside.
It sounds so simple, but turning off your computer (or the TV and smartphone) and getting outside is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Research has shown that being in nature can help reduce blood pressure and muscle tension, slow the production of stress hormones, and might even reduce mortality. Experiencing the great outdoors is also good for your mental state. Those calming sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the wind enable you to feel more relaxed and balanced. Stick at it, and they may even quash feelings of anger, fear, pain and stress, too.

And then there’s this: Being one with nature can help you feel more connected to other people and the world as a whole. Simply taking a walk around the block, going on a short hike, or sitting in the grass for a while is a powerful act of self-care.

2. Give coloring a try.
There’s good reason behind the rise of the adult coloring book craze. Breaking out the crayons, markers or pencils is similar to art therapy. Art therapy has been shown to help people clarify their feelings, resolve emotional conflicts, reduce anxiety and improve their self-awareness. It’s also just a great act of creative expression. There’s even some research to suggest that coloring may have a meditative effect.

3. Journal.
Keeping a diary shouldn’t end in elementary school. People of all ages can benefit from free-writing their thoughts, feelings and experiences. And if you don’t like pressing pen to paper, then you can simply use the notepad on your computer or the notes app on a smartphone. Journaling allows you to clarify your thoughts and feelings, identify possible solutions to interpersonal issues or internal conflicts, and generally get more in touch with yourself. The bonus is that you’ll be able to thumb back through the pages to follow your growth over time.

4. Meditate.
When it comes to self-care, meditation is arguably one of the most accessible — and effective — strategies around. It requires no money, special equipment, or experience whatsoever to meditate for the first time. While there are many meditation techniques, they all center around one common theme: focusing on internal presence and stillness while allowing the mind to go quiet. Whether you practice for 10 minutes or an hour a day, meditation yields impressive benefits, like reducing mental and physical stress and improving concentration and immune system function.

5. Practice yoga.
You don’t need to pay for a studio membership — or be an expert-level yogi — in order to reap the benefits of yoga. Thanks to cheap yoga apps and free online tutorials, you can enjoy all of these benefits of downward dogging in the comfort of your living room. Just a little om time each week can help decrease stress, release physical tension and improve psychological well-being, self-awareness and overall relaxation.

6. Spend time with animals.
It’s not just dogs that are humankind’s best friend. Spending time with animals of all stripes has been shown to improve people’s mental and physical health. (Heck, it may even improve relationships with other humans!) Even if you don’t own a pup, you can play with horses (equine therapy), catsit for your friend, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Having a furry friend by your side can help you relax, reduce your blood pressure, and bring a whole lot of joy to your day (trust us on this one).

7. Take a bath.
A long, hot soak in the tub is just what the doctor ordered. Taking a bath has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and assist in the release of physical and emotional tension. In fact, the soothing elements of H2O have been known for to help treat anxiety and pain. If you want a one-two punch of self-care, try adding some essential oils to the water so you can reap the benefits of both bathing and aromatherapy.

As you begin a self-care practice, expect a process of trial and error as you figure out what feels most pleasurable and relaxing to you. Once you’ve identified your favorite self-care activities, make a point of turning them into a series of daily, weekly and monthly habits. (For example, you might choose to meditate every day, practice yoga once a week, and volunteer at an animal shelter once a month.)

Is Forest Bathing the New Meditation?

Is Forest Bathing the New Meditation?

That is, until an aggressive burpee (or was it the kettlebell lift?) sparked some serious back pain that sidelined me for a few weeks without my usual calming Rx. (Cue: More stress.) So, like the 45 percent of young adults in America that fight anxiety on the reg, I had to explore alternative routes to zen.

While I was recovering from my back injury, I was invited by Ben Page, founder of Shinrin Yoku LA and a forest therapy guide, to try a Shinrin Yoku session. My first reaction was, “What the heck is forest therapy?” My second thought was, “You mean like being one with nature?” I’m the ultimate skeptic, but since I enjoy a good hike, I thought I’d see what all the buzz was about.

We agreed on a time to meet for our walk through Franklin Canyon, a stroll that would include something called “invitations” (similar to activities) and “council” (group discussions). Invitations and council are designed to improve mental and physical health. My guess was that there’d be no Beyonce music involved, and that I’d have to settle for the rustling of the trees. I told Ben I was game, and we got a forest bath on the calendar.

Shinrin Yoku: The Origins of Forest Bathing

In the 1980s when Japan was experiencing a tech boom (much like what we’re seeing in the United States today), many people’s health suffered from the stress of it. Medical professionals began exploring new ways to treat this “epidemic” and found real evidence that an escape to the woods could be the best form of therapy.

“In Japan you go to the doctor and he says, ‘OK I need you to go do two hours of Shinrin Yoku,’” Page says. The Forest Therapy Society of Japan certifies trails for Shinrin Yoku by taking blood samples from 100 participants before the hike, walking them down the trail and then measuring the natural killer (NK) cell boost count to see if it has increased. NK cells are responsible for keeping cancerous tumors at bay. And some research suggests it works: An independent study on nature therapy and preventive medicine found that a two-hour walk in nature for three days in a row increased NK cell count by 50 to 56 percent.

The Health Benefits of Forest Bathing

In addition to reducing stress and anxiety, Page says Shinrin Yoku proponents believe the practice might also help prevent cancer. “The reason it’s called forest bathing in Japan is because trees shower themselves in things called phytoncides, which help trees attack cancers and microbial growth, so the tree is keeping itself healthy,” he explains.

According to an independent study, “Japanese people living in areas with lower forest coverage had significantly higher standardized mortality ratios for cancers compared with people living in areas with higher forest coverage, suggesting that forest environments may partially contribute to decreased mortality ratios for some cancers.”

The study goes on to say that NK cells can kill tumor cells by releasing anti-cancer proteins, like perforin. Some research also suggests that a walk through some lush foliage had dramatic effects on a person’s immune system and overall wellness. “Studies show that Shinrin Yoku is a natural antidepressant, boosts immune function and even increases your creativity and mental functions,” says Page.

Recognizing the very powerful implications of this practice, Amos Clifford (Page’s mentor), got to work. With a background as a wilderness guide and rights of passage guide, he decided to bring a guided version to the United States in 2012. The result: The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides & Programs. Today, the organization has 130 forest therapy guides globally, who take anywhere from one to 18 participants on a nature walk for three hours.

Forest Bathing: I Walk the Walk

When I met Page and another forest therapy guide for our hike in Beverly Hills, I realized I was overdressed in my fitness gear and CamelBak hydration pack. This was not going to be the strenuous hike I’d prepared for. In fact, the walk is meant to be easy and relaxing. “Slowing down is actually one of the hardest things for people to do. We’re not used to moving slowly,” Page says.

In order to fully focus on the forest therapy, we were asked to power down for the next three hours (#PanicMode). Each walk includes “invitations,” or activities that awaken your senses and maximize your therapy. They’re meant to help participants relax and avoid obsessing over their worries and concerns. Each invitation is followed by a “council meeting,” where participants are asked to share their experience. These experiences vary from very direct (“I was bored”) to emotional (“This invitation made me realize I haven’t truly grieved my mother’s death”) and everything in between.

“That’s the magic of council, you get your experience. It’s yours,” Page says. According to forest therapy gurus, these simple moments of reflecting help us become more present and more in tune with our emotions.

The first invitation we had was called “The Pleasure of Presence,” which is meant to awaken the senses by touching our fingers to our nose, closing our eyes and listening to the rustling of the leaves. These simple tasks made it easier to be more present and focus on my own experience. This invitation did force me to take a beat. All of which I shared in council when it was my turn with the talking stick.

If These Woods Could Talk…

Our second invitation involved following Page’s lead — and pace — as we threaded the forest and touched trees, plants and other delights of nature along the way. Whenever the sounds of others would cloud my thoughts, Page would start playing a soothing tune from his flute. I immediately re-focused my mind to the matter at hand.

We did several other invitations and council sessions, including one that involved sitting and talking to a tree (yes, you read that correctly) for 20 minutes on your own. “The forest is not going to intrude on your personal space. It’s really going to honor that and be like ‘I’m here if you need me but I’m not needy,’” Page said. I have to admit I felt a little silly (OK, really silly) sitting next to a tree, while bystanders looked at me wondering what was going on. I prayed they didn’t Snapchat this weird interaction, and then scolded myself for using this time to think about social media.

But once I got over the awkwardness, I really took in the beauty around me: the view of the pine needles intertwined above me, the sap seeping through the bark. It was a real lesson in stopping and looking around every once in a while.

The day ended with a tea ceremony, so we could reflect on our experiences and share any final thoughts. We sipped rosemary and pine needle tea and snacked on fruits and nuts.

A Walk With Nature: The Assessment

I realized that while I thought this would be like a meditation session — and it was — for me, it was more about using the time for personal therapy and for discovering what deep down could be reconciled for some inner peace. I recognized how distracted I am by technology and how my thoughts traveled from one idea to the next when I had the time to just sit and think.

Page had emailed me when I got home: “I hope you continue to feel the calm and relaxation throughout the week,” he wrote. “According to research, the amount of time we spend in nature should continue to make you feel good for a week,” he added. And indeed I felt good and refreshed in the days following my forest therapy.

The benefits of Shinrin Yoku are so vast that the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs has been working with major health insurance companies to incorporate their program into health plans in the near future, Page says.

Forest Bathing: A New Self-Care Practice

But it’s important to note that one forest therapy session doesn’t mean you’re cured for life. You need to incorporate some type of forest therapy into your life regularly in order to reap its benefits, experts suggest. That can be as simple as: “Just go outside, find a tree, and sit under it for five minutes,” Page says. Or if you’re up for a little more of a commitment, you can find a forest therapy guide using this locator. With the short-term benefits I experienced, $30 for each guided walk seems to be just as invigorating and therapeutic as a self-help seminar or even a wellness retreat.

And remember, forest bathing is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical help or mental health support. But if you have a few hours to take in some fresh air, sunshine and some alone time with nature, you have nothing to lose.


9 Healthy Breakfast Recipes Ready in 15 Minutes or Less

9 Healthy Breakfast Recipes Ready in 15 Minutes or Less

9 Healthy Breakfast Recipes You Can Whip Up Fast

1. Acai Breakfast Bowl Recipe
Night owls, meet your new morning savior: the smoothie bowl. More substantive than a shake, this colorful breakfast is topped with high-fiber cereal or granola, and hefty slices of potassium-rich banana. Plus, did you know acai is packed with antioxidants, fiber and heart-healthy fats? Just blend it, mix it and serve it — your prep work will be done in five minutes flat.

2. Vietnamese Coffee Protein Smoothie Recipe
This two-for-one deal serves up your morning dose of caffeine, while also counting as a filling meal. If you like to hit the gym in the a.m., you’ll be happy to know that java makes a great pre-workout drink. Sip on this before a sweat session and the coffee-induced buzz you’ll get may increase your endurance.


3. Chocolate Banana Protein Pancake Recipe
If you’ve never met a pancake you didn’t like, here’s a version that’s crazy easy to make on your own. With just 275 calories per serving — and 22 grams of protein — these flapjacks provide serious morning fuel. Make a batch post-workout to maximize muscle recovery and stay energized all day.


4. Mocha Protein Shake Recipe
Talk about a morning win: A grande mocha from Starbucks will set you back 360 calories, while this protein-packed shake only tallies 254 — and with a third of the fat! Chocolate protein powder lends plenty of rich taste to your glass, along with 28 filling grams of protein. Stir in some cold brew and you’ll get that caffeine kick you were looking for, too.


5. Avocado Toast, Three Ways
This trendy restaurant dish is a cinch to make from start to finish. Top your toast with smoked salmon, radishes or tomatoes — and add an egg on top if you’re feeling ambitious. Bonus: Avocados are packed with more potassium than a banana, making them a totally acceptable morning snack.

6. Orange Creamsicle Protein Smoothie Recipe
Can’t start your day without a tall glass of OJ? This citrus-infused smoothie will give you your fix, while also imbuing your breakfast with 29 grams of protein. Choose a fortified orange juice to ensure that you get plenty of bone-building calcium alongside your vitamin C.


7. Antioxidant Fruit Salad with Bee Pollen Recipe
Just one look at this mouth-watering berry-packed salad might be enough to inspire you to wake up five minutes earlier to make it. The fruits alone will be satisfying and delicious, but add some vanilla-infused raw honey if you’re in the mood to #treatyoself today.

8. Banana-Oat Protein Smoothie
No time for overnight oats? This oatmeal-infused smoothie will hit the spot — and be ready in mere minutes. Two bananas guarantee you’re getting plenty of potassium, and vanilla protein powder amps up the protein count to 30 grams per serving. The dash of cinnamon you’ll add at the end is the proverbial icing on the cake.


9. Low-Calorie Blueberry Yogurt Parfait
Sneak in more than a third of your recommended daily calcium intake with this simple breakfast recipe (that can double as dessert, too!). Just take two types of yogurt, fresh blueberries, preserves and a few graham crackers, and you’ll have a parfait that blows away anything you’d get at McDonalds.