The Tools to Participate in Your Own Well Care

Here are four ways you can relieve stress, reclaim your health, and improve your life.

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These are tense times for many Americans who are concerned about healthcare reform. Many of us are asking what the new terms could mean for our families and ourselves. As we listen to pundits unpack the overall impact of the changes, there’s an immediate way to relieve our stress. We can turn our attention to wellness. We can ask what we and our families can do now to stay healthy?

Healthcare is more disease care than health care. While we need and deserve to be cared for when we become ill, there are practices we can use to optimize our health and well being before we get sick. They include many of the practices used in Ornish Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Dean Ornish and his colleagues have spent over 35 years researching how lifestyle choices can preserve and protect our health, and even reverse disease. The best part is that you can take an active role in these practices.

The Four Pillars of Our Wellness

Nutrition, fitness, social support and stress management are four very powerful pillars of lifestyle medicine that can help us reclaim our health. Research continues to support that they improve our lives.

  • Choosing a low-fat vegetarian diet reduces heart disease and some cancers.
  • Thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise is associated with less anxiety and depression.
  • People with strong social support have longer life spans.
  • Yoga and meditation reduce stress, which plays a major role in most chronic illness.

Rather than waiting for the doctor to heal us, the nurse to care for us, the surgery to fix us, we can turn inward and use these four pillars to begin to participate in our own care.

What Does Wellness Look Like?

If we develop an internal locus of control, we are more likely to feel empowered to care for ourselves by seeing the relationship between what we do and how we feel. In contrast, if we are relying on factors outside of us to make us well, this supports an external locus of control and leads to feeling helpless, hopeless and disconnected.

How to Develop An Internal Locus of Control

Stress management and yoga gives us the tools to massage the muscle of self-reliance. There are five stress management techniques that can be used daily to help us take our health into our own hands.

1. Postures

These slow gentle movements improve flexibility and strength while they articulate the joints. These practices also help to embody awareness so we become better listeners when our body is offering us important signals about our health.

2. Relaxation

These techniques help us to rest in a way that is deeper than sleep. Through them, we can restore a sense of balance to our body and mind so healing can occur.

3. Breathing

How we breathe affects how we think and feel and how we think and feel affects how we breathe. When we slow down our breathing, it has a powerful impact on our sympathetic nervous system by up regulating the relaxation response.

4. Meditation

A regular practice improves concentration and allows the mind to rest. It cultivates creativity, meaning and joy.

5. Imagery

Using guided imagery, you use the mind to support healing or to imagine a positive outcome. It can also reverse negative thought patterns that can have an adverse affect on health.

A Daily Practice to Strengthen Your Internal Locus of Control

  • Sit in a chair or lie on the floor. Allow yourself to be comfortable.
  • Begin to relax your body.
  • Draw attention to your own heart.
  • Breathe as if your heart is breathing and just relax into the safety and comfort of your own heart.
  • Quietly and internally begin to ask your heart a few simple questions.
  • Is there something I can do to support my own health and well-being?
  • What do I need to be healthy and whole?
  • Is there something I need to be aware of that I might be overlooking in regards to my own health?
  • You may have other questions to ask as well
  • Repeat all or some of these questions several times, and then pause and listen. Even if there is no answer right away be patient and sincere. It is the practice of asking and listening that strengthens your relationship with your own inner wisdom and inner healer.

This article originally appeared on Ornish Living.

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness and reduced stress levels are not only good for your heart. Read about additional benefits in Feeling Sluggish? Yoga to Improve Your Digestion and Energy.

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