My Favourite Micro-Actions for Macro Change
If your health has been flaring, the last thing you're likely to be able to face is the effort and mental stamina to start implementing changes to your daily routine and lifestyle. You know it'd probably be helpful, but pain or illness flares can take every piece of energy, mental and emotional space you can find, just to get you through the day.
It's from this place that I came up with the idea of micro-action: small changes, micro small, that will still create big change, despite feeling so small that they're not a burden to you now.
In my last blog, I wrote about how micro actions work. Read that blog here.
I've had such an easy time over the last month or so implementing some great micro-actions into my life that I wanted to share the ones that really are producing real change in my health and mental/emotional well being.
Light exposure first thing in the morning
This was the first micro-action I implemented, because I identified that improving my sleep was really the first goal in getting my health back into balance. Exposing yourself to natural light as soon as you wake up helps set your circadium rhythm by triggering melatonin production patterns that will help your brain put you to sleep at bed time.
So I began getting up (whenever felt good) and then sitting by a large window, where I would be flooded with natural light. I commited to sitting for ten minutes.
That's the kind of activity I can handle - get out of bed and sit still.
This felt like it began to affect my sleep after only 3-4 days. But more than improving sleep, it gave me a really still, peaceful start to the day, a focus for getting out of bed, and an easy first achievement for the day.
I've also found that the act of watching the birds, the trees, the butterflies and the regular comings and goings of the neighbours to be really grounding and calming. I feel more connected to the nature that surrounds me and to life outside my house - which is really valuable during lock downs.
Stretching, morning and night
The best micro-actions are always those that feel good in the body. And stretching always feels good to mine. I know not everyone's body can move as well as mine can, but after a year that's involved a lot of sitting in one place and a reduction in exercise and incidental movement, stretching is so important to ensure joint and muscle issues don't arise or worsen.
Because I'm a yoga lover, I've based my stretching on really simple yoga stretches.
- I start by putting my arms straight up in the air, then circling them down and then up into prayer position. Then reverse back to holding them above my head. I do this several times to open my shoulders.
- Next, I 'swan dive' down to a forward fold, as best I can. My hands reach the floor though my knees are bent, specially in the morning. I hold this position for some time, enjoying the back-of-leg stretch.
- Next I go through a yoga high-to-low push up, but heading to all-fours and then gently lowering to the ground also works. From lying on my stomach, I push my shoulders up, stretching down the front of my body, (a cobra pose for the yoga people). This is also a back bend that helps spine flexibility.
- Next, push back to child's pose - push yourself back till you're folded over your legs, with arms on the floor out in front of you, forehead on the floor. Take some deep breaths here.
- Finally, I push from child's pose to down dog - an upside down V shape, with hands and feet on the floor. A breath or two here as well.
- Step forward, back to a forward fold. Then life your torso up to standing with a flat back, hands above head. Then circle your hands back down and into prayer position.
That's my morning & evening stretching routine. I do that about three times.
This simple stretching routine leaves me feeling like blood and oxygen is moving through my body - energy is active and open. I have also combined it with a simple prayer or mantra process, which I talk about below. It helps me feel like I'm connecting in to my body to start and end the day, and to my spiritual side. And that's always a good idea - it's only when I'm conscious of my body that I can give it what it needs.
I know for many people, any kind of fasting is just too hard. I get it - dieting has never been something that I've been all that good at. But mostly, I think my diet-resistance has been because it's always been motivated by the desire to lose weight. And that motivation is largely one of self judgement and non-acceptance, which is bad for just about everything that's good for us.
Intermittent fasting - the choice to have a long period in each 24 hour block in which you do not eat anything - has actually been fairly easy for me to implement and has worked well for improving digestion and helping with weight loss (though to be fair, without some movement the weight loss has been minimal).
I've chosen to return to intermittent fasting on about 5 days in the week simply because I know it makes me feel better, lighter and it works with my daily routine well to help me get to bed earlier and without feeling full of food when I get to bed (making sleep less peaceful).
I generally get up, have some water with a squeeze of lemon in it (while I'm sititng near the window for my morning sunlight exposure), then I may have a cup of tea (preferrably a herbal tea - no milk) and put off eating until at least 10.30am. Later if possible.
I may have a snack or two between then and my main evening meal, which I usually have between 4.30 and 5.30pm. I do a yoga class two evenings a week, at about 6pm, and then by the time that class is done, and I've cleaned up the kitchen, had a shower and done a few other pre-bed things (tidying up, making plans for the coming day, my evening stretches, showering etc), I'm happy to be in bed by 9.00pm. I'll read, or not, and sleep early.
This is my usual day. And I eat only between 10.30am and 5.30pm. That's a 7 hour window, leaving 17 hours without eating anything (it helps to stay in bed for 10 of them!!). I'm not perfect at this, by any stretch. I sometimes eat earlier because I'm hungry or have a later snack for the same reason. And there are days when this doesn't really work because I'm having dinner with friends or need to be in meetings that mean dinner is later. That's fine. I know most days I stick to this plan because it's easy and it leaves my body feeling great. And I get to snack through the day if I want (something I love).
Perhaps the simplest of all micro-actions, walking is easy because it can be gentle or fast-paced, depending on how my body feels. It can be shorter or longer, I can choose to listen to podcasts, music or nothing while walking. I can walk to the store and kill two birds with one stone, or I can walk by the water and enjoy the view. It's very adaptable and leaves me feeling good. Movement is good.
But, at the moment, I know if I walk for over 20 minutes, I'm going to need some recovery time before I get back to work or whatever I'm doing, after the walk. I need to rest and let my body generate more energy. So timing is important when you're fitting this into your day.
Simple Prayers and Mantras
As I mentioned in the stretching section above, I have employed a simple prayer and matra practice with these stretches. I don't know if others feel the same (let me know if you do!) but there's something about praying with my body, movement as part of the practice, that helps me connect with my spirit and connect my spirit to the higher power within the universe.
And if you're not that kind of spiritual person, that's ok. Using the stretching routine as a mantra practice or as a connection to your deeper self also works well.
I move through the stretching routine I've outlined above, till I reach child's pose, where I stop, breathe deeply and express how I feel. I may express an emotion or a worry, a fear or a need. It may be about something in the day ahead of me or just my health and feeling unable to do much. I ask for what I need to move through the day with this as part of my reality. It's simple and true and honest.
I then move through the rest of the stretching routine, and when I return to standing with my hands in prayer position, I take a deep breath and listen for the voice of the Divine. If that's not for you, listen to your higher self or for an inspirational thought, in response to what you've expressed in child's pose. This is usually where I am reminded that I am supported, that the light outside, the abundance of nature and the beauty of the world are all there fore me to enjoy, that I am here to expand in hope and joy and freedom and I am supported in that by something bigger than just my feeble will and struggling body.
It's a beautiful practice and one I highly recommend. And in the evening, I express my frustrations, regrets or disappointments of the day in child's pose first, then listen for the comfort from the Divine when I return to standing position. Next it may be an expression of gratitude for the good things of the day in child's pose and a connection with the Divine in the joy and gratitude when standing.
If you try this practice, I'd love to know what you experience.
And what about you?
What micro-actions have you employed that are making macro change possible? I'd love to have you share them and maybe help me and others to find greater health and happiness through them.