By Georgina Berbari
Art by: Dana Trippe
As 2020 comes to a close, here at Luminary we take a chance to pause and reflect truthfully on the year passed. This year, we put together nine of the best new year’s resolutions to cultivate a gentle and healthy year, committed to peace, happiness, and quiet freedom.
Being conscious about the way you are breathing is a seemingly small but incredibly powerful form of self-care. The way you breathe has such a huge impact on how you feel in general, but this is often overlooked. Typically, we do not breathe correctly. Sure we take our automatic inhales and exhales—but this is merely to survive.
There is a tremendous amount of evidence supporting the positive effects of proper breathing. Deep breathing serves to relieve stress, improve mental clarity, and benefit one’s overall health. Using the full capacity of your breath to quell your anxious emotions is highly calming and restorative to both the mind and body.
This means replacing shallow chest breathing with complete inhales and exhales. Inhale fully into your belly and let it expand out; exhale slowly and notice how this intentional release feels.
2. Be kind to others
It seems that the more advanced our society becomes, the less we emphasize the importance of altruism. However, there are numerous studies citing the psychological and interpersonal benefits of kindness.
It would be nice if in 2021 we had as many people as possible making an effort to spread compassion. After all, if our shared Being and universal experience wasn’t clear already, it certainly is now. We all went through an extremely difficult year. Making an intention to treat others with kindness is an essential part in sustainable, collective healing.
3. Observe how you talk to yourself
When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you say to yourself? What about when you mess something up at work? Personally, I have an extremely harsh inner critic that has taken a lot of work to coexist with. However, in order to be kind to others, we must start with ourselves.
It’s not easy by any means. Self-love is a long and difficult journey for some. But there are small ways you can combat this critical voice weighing you down such as pausing and observing it, rather than indulging it.
Noticing and holding space for my own inner critic has helped me realize that while I will never be able to fully silence it, I can choose how I want to respond to these thoughts. Then, in honoring this hurting part of myself I can say “interesting. I don’t think that me messing something up at work means I’m stupid and worthless. Thanks for your input though.” I can let go and find comfort in the fact that when you non-judgmentally pay attention to negative emotions, they weaken, but positive ones expand. I can remember that I have a choice to speak kindly to myself. And the more that choice is made, the more natural it begins to feel.
Ancient practices have so much to teach us, if we are willing to learn. Meditation has both scientific and metaphysical benefits ranging from disease mitigation to brain fortification; from increasing longevity to heightening your connection with the divine. Moreover, meditation helps us lengthen the pause between inaction and action.
With a consistent practice, meditation is often life changing. Try starting with five minutes a day and commit to this for a month. And if meditating isn’t for you, that’s OK. You can practice mindfulness in any moment, if you are willing to be present. There is a Buddhist saying that goes: “When, for you, the thought contains just the thought, then you will be free”.
5. Connect with nature
Our ancestors knew the vitality of honoring Mother Nature—somewhere along the way we began taking our earth for granted. According to a study published in the International Journal of Wellbeing, there are three major theories that address the question of why connecting with nature is beneficial to our wellbeing: biophilia, attention restoration, and stress reduction. The biophilia hypothesis posits that our ancestors’ wellbeing and survival depended on connecting with nature. Humans have begun living in urban environments only recently therefore, the need to connect with nature likely remains an innate part of who we are.
Earthing (sometimes called grounding) is a practice that realigns one’s electrical energy by reconnecting them to the earth. The official Earthing site elegantly describes the practice of grounding as follows: “Just as the sun gives us warmth and vitamin D, the Earth underfoot gives us food and water, a surface to walk, sit, stand, play, and build on, and something you never, ever thought about—an eternal, natural, and gentle energy.”
The central theory surrounding Earthing is that it affects the living matrix, or the central connector between living cells. Within the matrix exists electrical conductivity: This electricity acts similar to antioxidants by functioning as an immune system defense.
Findings published in the Journal of Inflammation Research postulate that through Earthing — or any activity in which your bare feet/skin come in contact with the earth — the natural defenses of the body can be restored. Various studies have cited Earthing’s ability to improve chronic fatigue, chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety/depression, and cardiovascular disease. Further research is needed in order to confirm these benefits, however, there’s little harm in simply reconnecting to nature — all the more reason to give Earthing a try.
6. Practice gratitude
“Gratitude practices are associated with reduced levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,” Amanda S. Brown, MSN, PMHNP-BC a Nurse Practitioner at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Associate in Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center tells New Lum.
Your practice could be as simple as mentally reciting five things you’re grateful for each morning or as contemplative as gratitude journaling therapy.
If you’re practicing mental recitation, open your eyes in the morning and picture a blanket of gratitude draped over your body. As you breathe, savor the openness in your chest and lungs. On your inhale, think about each and every single thing that brings gratitude into your life. Exhale anything that doesn’t serve you, and smile to yourself for the things that do.
For gratitude journaling, write down everything that you are thankful for over the past year and what you are most looking forward to in the new year. Reflecting on personal achievements and manifesting new goals are a vital step for self-care and self-growth.
7. Treat your body with care
Care for your body by experimenting with intuitive eating and gentle nutrition. Say no to diet culture and fatphobic rhetoric and instead turn inward and see what your body is asking for, apart from external influences such as family members and the media. The media is often saturated with false messages which we internalize without questioning.
Try turning away from the screen as much as possible. Simply taking a walk in nature could serve to replenish you more deeply than you imagined. Walking has been shown to be valuable in improving mental health, particularly depression and the physical benefits that time in nature bring are significant. And know that any way you move your body that brings you joy (dancing, yoga, biking, running, lifting weights, and so on) will serve to markedly boost your body’s endorphins and overall well being.
8. Set boundaries
Most people understand that self-care is an essential part of staying physically and mentally healthy. However, for many people, learning to practice self-care regularly can be a process that feels challenging.
A crucial step in protecting your own energy is to set boundaries. According to Nick Bognar, LMFT, in these times where people’s comfort with disease risk is so highly variable, we need to be prepared to use the word “no”. “[No is] always a good word to have command of, but never more than now,” Bognar says. “If you don’t want to do something, or don’t feel safe doing something, get out that kind, gentle-but-firm ‘no’ and use it liberally.”
In 2020 we were bluntly reminded that death does not discriminate and that we have little control over life’s circumstances. Is there someone that you’d like to try to forgive? Maybe it’s a loved one that hurt you. Maybe it’s an acquaintance you are holding animosity towards. Maybe, it’s forgiveness for your Self.
Tara Brach, a psychologist and Buddhist teacher has numerous meditations surrounding forgiveness of the self and others which I highly recommend. ““Forgiving is a movement of your heart not to carry aversive hatred or blame,” Brach says. “That you can care about someone and still create boundaries… Each of you has this wisdom, heart, being place that intuits that there really isn’t freedom in the moments that you’re carrying blame and judgment.”