March 1, 2019 § 10 Comments
By Sweta Srivastava Vikram
For the past six months, I have been going through different doors of hell when it comes to my health. At one point, I wasn’t sure if I would make it alive. For almost five months, I couldn’t read or write for the most part—the fear of not being to write, ever, was right at the same level as my fear of not being able to survive. But I am here, and today I am writing this article. Such is the power of the human mind and body.
Life happens suddenly and mostly when we aren’t planning it. Towards end of summer 2018, I went from winning an award and organizing a book tour for my novel Louisiana Catch to hiking 12 miles to suddenly ending up in the ER. And this is when I eat right, exercise daily, meditate, teach yoga, say gratitude, and lead an overall mindful life. One could argue that what’s the point of living a healthy and balanced lifestyle if you are going to end up in the hospital fighting for your life. Fair enough. Here is my counter-argument: I came back from the dead and my body is healing because I have made it a point to prioritize my physical and emotional health. I went from not being able to open the front door to our apartment to taking the subway last week. Even my family physician as well as the surgeon were shocked (in a good way) that I wasn’t depressed despite everything I have been through. I always remind them (to not jinx it) that none of this is per chance. Yoga has taught me that if I can’t change my situation, I better learn to alter my attitude. I attribute my journey of healing and recovery and staying mentally strong and re-establishing my relationship with creativity to the six things below:
Make the right food choices: How you eat is as important for your overall health as what you eat. It’s easy to get distracted with a plethora of information and diet trends out there. And if you are a foodie like me, things get even more confusing. Should I eat gluten? Leave gluten? What about dairy and grains? Is Keto good? How is it different from Paleo? If you have a health issue, that’s different; otherwise, listen to your body since it holds the ultimate wisdom. Pay attention to how foods react with your body. Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel emotionally. Revisit the food intelligence your grandma shared. We are all busy…I know…so keep it simple. But pay attention to what you put inside your body. For instance, avoid caffeine and alcohol and other stimulants close to bedtime as they can interfere with your sleep cycle. Avoid eating heavy and spicy meals late at night.
Cultivate a daily meditation practice: Meditation is a writer’s best friend. It can change both the function and structure of the brain to support self-control. Meditation can calm the nerves, lower anxiety, alleviate stress, protect your energy, offer perspective, create stronger focus, help better connect with your creativity, formulate newer ideas, and teach you about acceptance. Bruce Lee explains meditation beautifully, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Soothe away stress: Think about what happens to our body when we’re stressed or anxious. It reduces the immunity and turns our body into a host of diseases. The heart rate increases as our mind races. A combination of the above affects the quality of our thoughts. Stress activates areas of the brain that make us more alert. It also elevates production of hormones, including cortisol, that interfere with and disrupt normal sleep-wake cycles. One can reduce stress and anxiety through meditation, yoga and, sometimes, chamomile tea.
Power of positive thinking: Our mind is always occupied by thoughts and they influence our every action. Can you imagine how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power? We don’t write that book because we think our work is too unimportant and nobody would want it. We don’t send in our essay or story or poem to any publications because we assume rejection in return. We don’t live the life of our dreams because our negative thoughts have decided for us that we aren’t worth it. We don’t take care of our health because we believe we are too weak to push our limits and will never feel better. So, do you see how we become our thoughts?
This doesn’t mean that we pretend all is well and there is sunshine everywhere. It just means that we fight our inner demons—the ones that nudge us about our failures and fears and insecurities and end—with our positive thoughts. For every negative thought that emerges, we respond to it with a positive thought. Say your gratitude for the good in your life. I promise, it makes the most arduous of days bearable.
Exercise with joy: Not everyone wants to run a marathon. Not everyone cares about doing a headstand or showing up to a Barre class or a CrossFit session. Good news: you don’t have to. Find out what works for you. It could be walking or running with a buddy or climbing stairs or some other form of physical activity. But exercise with joy because it can help with your brain health and memory. Exercise can improve the quality of your sleep and energy levels. Overall, it can make you feel happier. Yes, as writers, we don’t need to dwell in darkness and depression to be creative because that kind of mindset is both dangerous and unproductive.
Get your sleep on: There is a stereotype about writers and poets (maybe, creative professionals overall) that we all need the silence of the dead night to be at our creative best. Bouncing off of walls as we carry our sleep-deprived bodies through deadlines, it’s romanticized. Not all of us are night owns. If anything, research shows that night owls might have to deal with health consequences of their lifestyle. Research shows that messing around with your sleep cycle can disrupt hormonal balance in the body. It can birth pessimistic thoughts. Research shows that “night owls are nearly twice as likely as early risers to have a psychological disorder and 30 percent more likely to have diabetes. Their risk for respiratory disease was 23 percent higher and for gastrointestinal disease 22 percent higher.”
Move your body: As writers, we sit for extended periods of time. Refilling cups of chai and coffee. Looking out the window, talking to our characters, mulling over ideas, doing research on our laptops, and reading through piles of books. While the coziness of this arrangement might sound good, research showsthat too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Set an alarm and get up from your seat. Do some stretches or neck and shoulder rotation or get a drink of water. Whatever it takes, move.
Nothing is more important than your health. If you nurture your mind and body, they nourish your creativity. To quote Jim Rohn, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
Sweta Srivastava Vikram featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time,” is a best-selling and award-winning author of 12 books, social issues warrior, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press 2018) is her debut U.S. novel and won the “Voices of the Year” award. She lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of violence and trauma. You can find her here: Twitter (@swetavikram), Instagram (@swetavikram), and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta).