Earlier this summer, I camped with my kids and a group of other families. We’ve been doing this long weekend together for many years and in my family, it is the highlight of the summer.
One of the great things about the weekend is how much time we are outside. There’s the twenty-six mile bike ride. (I didn’t do that this year, but the new world champion is a six-year-old.) There’s swimming and volleyball and yoga on the riverside. Why don’t we do more yoga outside?
And there was one moment when one of my kids was feeling sick: the result of the twenty-six mile bike ride and overdoing it at the candy shop (some people call it a gas station) that is the half-way point.
So there I was, lying on the ground with him in the woods, thinking about the power of the earth to cleanse our bodies. Many of us have so little contact with the earth. We go from homes, to cars, to indoor gyms, to offices, to the grocery store and back home again. All with air-conditioning. All with concrete and more between us and the actual earth. Mowing the yard may be as close as some of us get to outdoor activity.
But our bodies want to be outside. And this got me thinking about what else our bodies want. My body got a lot of what it wants on the camping trip: riverside yoga, gentle walks, lots of hugs from people I love, some great thinking, singing with others, and good food.
There are five things that I think a body wants every day. We can throw in a couple more that are nice, but these five are what your body really needs to be healthy, clear and strong.
1. Sleep. Sleep is undervalued in our Starbucks-on-every-corner world. And yet eight hours a night makes the world a starkly better place to live in. People who sleep eight hours a night are less irritable and less stressed. They’re more productive, they can think better. They keep excess weight off more easily, and they have better sex. If you think you’re doing just fine on six hours a night, try eight for six weeks and notice the differences in your life. Try a bedtime and a wake-up time. It will change your life.
2. Good food and water. Real food, like fruits and vegetables and whole grains, will make your body happy and better able to help you do what you want. This doesn’t include food served out of a package or at most restaurants. Teach your body to crave salads. It will. And really, the eight glasses of water a day thing? It’s true: at least eight. Water is part of the on-going flushing system our bodies needs to keep things moving (next point). When we give our bodies nourishing foods, our bodies become healthy, calm, and vibrant.
3. Movement. We don’t have to be ambitious athletes. We don’t have to be the best or to push ourselves into shape. What we need is to move every day. Our muscles and minds need to move together. We need to align our tissues to our tensions — to release them all. And sweat. Sweating means that stuff is moving. A healthy body is a body that is moving stuff through: moving food through, moving emotions through, moving through whatever comes. Living well requires movement.
4. Mindfulness. We can call this whatever we want: paying attention, noticing how we behave, counting to ten or responding instead of reacting. But if we want bodies that are healthy and strong and ready to face the challenges of life, we must bring our minds and hearts along. It’s just that simple. One doesn’t do well without the others doing well. So learn to meditate. Take quiet baths by candlelight. Think before speaking. Breathe before moving. Notice.
5. Hugs. I’ve written about hugs in this space before. We just all need to touch one another more. When we are embraced by another, our bodies release a hormone associated with loving feelings. Hello? Don’t we all need that? I’m lucky to come from a place where hugging is the preferred form of greeting. There is a pile of research that says that touch is critical for our well-being. So if you’re not a hugger, work into it. Hug the people close to you. Often. And then start asking others if you can give them a hug. Get the good juices running through your blood.
6. Go outside. Breathe real air. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Roll down a hill. Walk in the woods. Plant a garden. Hear the ancient birdsong, the crickets, and the buzz of a bee. Jump in a lake. Walk in the sand. Climb a tree. Discover a new plant. See life teeming all around and your part in it. Your body, your mind, and your heart will all recognize their place.