Wellness for beginners 

So, you want to get healthy in 2016? Here's 10 ways not to fail

click to enlarge "Every time I try and meditate, I fall asleep." - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • "Every time I try and meditate, I fall asleep."
  • Michelle Craig

Yes, we're well aware that every publication and its sister rolls out some "New year, new you!" happy-talk bullshit when the calendar turns.

But let's be honest: The actual human ability to stick with a wellness regimen is pretty daunting for most of us. Time, economics, fatigue and the basic struggle with willpower conspire against us, and most of us see our New Year's resolutions in ruins by early February.

You want to lose weight? Eat better? Get outdoors? Get more exercise? You want to do all of those things, right?

But it all seems completely overwhelming. We hear your objections. Hell, we even included 'em in the tips that follow.

Break it down. Prioritize. And for God's sake, start small. Heck, even attacking just one of the following 10 directives — slowly, mind you — is better than sitting on the couch with a bag of Cheetos, right?

To prove to you that all of these things are really plausible, we'll start with the one that seems really daunting for a broad segment of the American population:

1. Do yoga

"How do I start? There's no way I can bend like that!"

There'd be no need for yoga classes if everyone could already bend like that. Yoga's benefits extend far beyond flexibility to include reduced heart and respiratory rate, improved sleep, lower stress levels and even better sex. It's encouraged by everyone from your family M.D. to that tattooed twentysomething in the leopard-print leggings who pulls your triple latte every morning. Indianapolis sports dozens of yoga studios, so there's no shortage of classes to try. Think yoga's too expensive? IndyYogi.com has a calendar of local classes that cost $5 or less. Breathing Space's classes are all donation-based, so you pay what you can. Your gym membership may include in-house yoga classes.

Keep trying different classes until you find the right fit. Some styles of yoga will make you sweat, others may chill you out. Think about what you're looking for before you sign up, and ask for class recommendations at the studio based on that. Learning from a human being will be a thousand times more beneficial — and safe — than trying a yoga handstand routine you found on YouTube. Most studios offer specials for newbies, especially around the New Year, so don't be shy about asking for deals.

click to enlarge "It's called 'downward frog,' right?" - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • "It's called 'downward frog,' right?"
  • Michelle Craig

2. Eat more green stuff

"I know I should eat more fruits and veggies, but I work like 60 hours a week. I don't know how vegans do it. Plus everything tastes weird."

Don't go straight from eating meat and potatoes at every meal to a raw vegan diet based around sprouted wheat berries and celery juice. You'll hate yourself and ultimately fail. Try to remember to include at least one colorful item in every meal, and not the kind of color that comes in a Jell-O shot. Apple slices, berries of any kind, baby carrots and mini-cucumbers are user-friendly foods that make good snacks, or sides to your usual lunchtime slice of pizza. Too busy for anything but fast food? Ask for extra lettuce, tomato and guac on your burrito. Every little bit counts.

Juices and smoothies are also a great way to sneak extra produce into your diet. Eating a whole head of kale would take, like, forever, but you can drink its equivalent in less time than it took to write this sentence. If you don't want to make your own, places like Natural Born Juicers or Georgetown Market make delicious blends. You won't even know you're drinking beets/spinach/parsley.

RELATED: Running to fight cancer

3. Attain a semblance of work-life balance

"Like I said, I work 60 hours a week. Work IS my life!"

Flexible schedules and work-from-home options mean that you may be answering emails at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. How do you draw the line and keep your sanity without losing your job?

Taking a cue from Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Workweek: Try chunking your time. Chunking time means scheduling your day so that you maximize productivity while minimizing interruptions. Instead of starting a sales report (or whatever work-related task) and stopping three times in the middle of it to answer emails, chat with a coworker, and respond to a text, set aside a full hour for that report. Put up a do-not-disturb sign. Put away your phone. Close your email. Focus on one task at a time.

One way to do this is to set aside certain time slots each day for answering emails, and then enable an auto-response during the rest of the day that explains your schedule to coworkers and clients. For example, you could answer emails from 9:00-10:00 a.m. and 4:00-5:00 p.m. To cover your butt, make sure your auto-response offers the option to call if it's an emergency. You'll be amazed how many emergencies cease to be so when someone has to pick up the phone. Increasing productivity and minimizing interruptions during each workday means less working during non-work hours.

Alyssa Pfennig of YogaExec recommends making simple changes to balance work and life.

"Lasting lifestyle change and work-life balance starts with small steps ... Set up a quiet and clean space you can go to each morning or evening, whether at home or work, and take a minimum of 10 minutes to sit in silence, meditate or gently stretch."

click to enlarge "Anybody got a peeler?" - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • "Anybody got a peeler?"
  • Michelle Craig

4. Get creative

"I can't draw, I can't write, and I'm definitely not gonna start singing."

Creating is one of humanity's most vital acts. Where would we be if Da Vinci decided to turn on the sixteenth-century version of Netflix instead of paint the Mona Lisa after a day of dissecting corpses? What if Harrison Ford finished constructing cabinets instead of reading lines for George Lucas while the real actors were away? Star Wars wouldn't be the same.

Hilene Flanzbaum, Ph.D., is the Director of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Butler University and heads a multi-pronged effort called Writing for Wellness. She believes that artistic expression can be a safe space for emotions that may not be expressed otherwise.

"One of the things that makes us unwell is keeping our emotions inside — and feeling that it is our obligation to do so. Getting into a space where somebody says to you, 'Okay, now you have to focus on what you're actually feeling,' and putting that on paper is just a way of finding some relief. It doesn't mean that it solves the problem, but we live in a culture where expression of sorrow or grief is really not welcome in the public sphere and people are suffering these things all the time. Where are the acceptable places where one can share these feelings that are not positive? It's not Facebook.

"When you get into these [Writing for Wellness] groups, you're given permission to feel what you feel, and that's healthy."

Tapping into your creative side doesn't mean that you need to write the next great American novel or paint a masterpiece. Journaling for five minutes can be an outlet. Or doodling. If you have kids, use their art projects as an excuse to make your own. Don't be surprised when your 4-year-old wonders why Dad is hogging all the fingerpaint.

RELATED: NUVO's holiday gift guide included some worthy charities

5. Give back

"I'm a barista. I can barely afford to feed my cat, and I don't have time to volunteer in between art classes and shifts at Starbucks."

Find something you're good at and see if you can apply it to a worthy cause, even if you can only help out once a year. It doesn't have to be a big nonprofit. Maybe you can help your neighbor with a bad back come in with his groceries. Or you could clear out that stack of old towels and drop them off at Southside Animal Shelter. Maybe you can volunteer a couple hours at your annual neighborhood festival. Or buy a sandwich for that guy standing on the corner of I-65 and 29th.

If you're giving money, you don't have to donate a lot to make a difference. Few organizations have a minimum donation, and if they do, you probably don't want to give them anything.

Gerry Justice has volunteered over 1,000 hours at Wheeler Mission since 1995, and has served on the board there since 1998. He credits his mom with being his "service mentor," something that he believes is critical to the process. He's also given 110 blood donations. "That's an easy one," he says, "doesn't cost you anything."

Why is he so devoted?

"Honestly, it's a little bit selfish, because it makes me feel really good ... it's good for everyone. We can be so wrapped up in ourselves and buying stuff — just do something for someone else."

click to enlarge "Appalachian trail? Sure. Right after my nap." - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • "Appalachian trail? Sure. Right after my nap."
  • Michelle Craig

6. Lose weight

"Gluten-free? Paleo? Raw? Weight Watchers? Ketogenic? Macrobiotic? I just wanna lose this beer gut, not change my life."

Losing weight seems simple — eat well and exercise — but if you've ever tried to do it, you know it's not. What works? What doesn't? What's a passing fad?

According to Jackie Dikos, a registered dietician who owns Nutrition Success, there is no "one-size-fits-all popular diet plan."

A good way to get smarter about what goes in your mouth is to track food intake, because you can't change what you don't understand. Start a food diary and write down every item that you eat, even those two tortilla chips you munched on while staring at the pantry.

Dikos says it's more important to think about ingredients than count calories. "I encourage purchasing foods that contain only ingredients that make sense if you made them living on a farm. For example, if you can't reach in a cookbook for a recipe for a food dye or preservative, why eat them?"

That sounds great in theory, but what if you're short on time and can't make farm-fresh meals?

"...Washing a fresh apple or bell pepper and eating it whole is just as convenient as opening a package of crackers. When dining out, aim for a meal rich in vegetables, fruit, lean protein, nuts, seeds and whole grains. The more a food is covered in fried coatings and sauces, the more likely unwanted ingredients are in your food."

YOU MAY LIKE: Back in March 2014, we profiled several vegan eateries

7. Exercise

"I think I hate running. And I hurt my back/wrist/knees/entire body doing Crossfit."

Yeah, running can be hard, but any physical activity requires some level of discomfort. But discomfort means growth. Every time I get out of bed for that early morning yoga practice instead of sleeping in, I'm deepening a neural pathway of discipline. When my quadriceps burn from holding my leg in the air, it means they're getting stronger. When I fall out of a pose in front of the entire class, I'm getting humble.

Learning to embrace discomfort can be invigorating, but don't do it to the point of pain or injury. Celebrate your inner badass with every butt-burning pedal up that hill. Let out a warrior cry as you finish those last reps in the squat rack. Have a Rocky moment as you complete your run — singing "Eye of the Tiger" is optional, but recommended.

Scott Spitz trains long distance runners, endurance athletes, and beginners through White Pine Distance Training.

I asked him how someone can get from "Fuck this, running is too hard," to "Fuck this, I'm going running!"

"Focus on enjoying the day-to-day experience. Most runners have a surge of inspiration at the idea of reaching a goal, but as the excitement of the first weeks wear off, they feel demotivated. Successful runners [find] accomplishment in the experience of each running day. Sometimes that excitement is reaching a new distance, running a new workout, finding different routes and terrain, or just rewarding themselves for the work they completed."

His advice for beginning a running plan is to establish a solid base of regular running, or run/walking, before moving on to more ambitious courses.

click to enlarge "Paul George has NOTHIN' on me." - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • "Paul George has NOTHIN' on me."
  • Michelle Craig

8. Go outside

"But it's cold! Or hot! And I live in an apartment complex where the closest thing to wildlife is that hairy guy who lives in the basement unit."

Healthy, happy people spend time outside. Just look at an REI catalogue. Those people glow. The good news is that you don't have to take up backpacking or ice-climbing to get the benefits of outdoor time.

Matt Shull is a master instructor of primitive skills and the owner of White Pine Wilderness Academy. He suggests starting close to home and making a ritual out of your outdoor time.

"The importance of nature connection for humans in the digital age is essential, and it can start with just minutes a day at home. Turn off your phone and step on your porch or balcony, or just go out your front door and take a deep breath. Tune in with your eyes, ears, nose and skin. Listen for the quietest sound you can hear. Observe a bird, a squirrel, a house cat, or even your dog. Notice how they connect to nature, notice how they are so connected to nature that they are nature...To observe is to connect."

Think it's too cold? Bundle up. Make sure you're wearing layers and that your head and hands are protected. It's rare that the temperature drops so low that your ten-minute ritual outside becomes impossible.

RELATED: More on Matt Shull

9. Get the annual physical

"Doctors are for when you get sick. Why should I go when I don't feel like I have the plague?"

Check your insurance plan. It probably covers preventative wellness visits 100 percent. Why? You may stop a future problem before it starts. Anthem isn't doing this out of the goodness of its giant corporate heart. Preventing disease, rather than treating it, means you're less expensive to them, which means that it's less expensive for you, too. Don't have insurance? Check out Indy's Gennesaret Free Clinics.

Dr. Ann Collins is an M.D. with Nourish Wellness Family Medicine. She believes that the annual exam is "an excellent practice."

"It allows a designated time for reflection on the state of one's current health ... Life is hectic for many of us, and when we are busy it is often difficult to see the health consequences of our daily habits. Eating on the run, forward head posture at sedentary jobs, and insufficient physical activity contribute to common conditions like back pain, GERD, headaches and digestive concerns. Left untended, these conditions over time can contribute to more serious problems like diabetes, cancer, depression and anxiety disorders."

"The physical is a time in which both patient and physician can explore the 'state of the state.' When a physician better understands all of the factors affecting a person's health, she is in a much better position to advocate for a patient's health."

click to enlarge "Who bought tickets to the gun show?" - MICHELLE CRAIG
  • "Who bought tickets to the gun show?"
  • Michelle Craig

10. Meditate

"Who has time? Or anywhere QUIET? I have three kids, two dogs, and a full-time job."

Dr. Collins practices meditation and suggests it for her patients because it promotes "...improvements in autonomic regulation, prefrontal cortex activity and size — our executive function region, decreases in heart rate and blood pressure, and reduced rates of symptoms related to anxiety and depression."

"Meditation is a valuable tool in helping a person to learn to interact with and control the autonomic nervous system." She explains that "Dysregulation of the ANS can result in symptoms experienced by patients: palpitations, shortness of breath, digestive irregularity, inattention, and urinary frequency."

Sounds great, right? No one wants to feel out of breath and have to pee all the time. But how to begin? There are as many different ways to meditate as there are humans. Try starting with a guided meditation that can be played through earbuds. This accomplishes two goals: 1) External sounds are blocked out, meaning fewer distractions, and 2) Someone's voice is there to help maintain focus. If you can't sit still, try a walking meditation, or memorizing a yoga sequence. Movement can be meditative, too.

Keep in mind that meditation doesn't need to take up big chunks of time. Start with five minutes. Or three. Find a comfortable place to sit or walk and close your eyes. Place your hands in your lap and begin breathing in and out of your nose, letting thoughts come and go, but returning to awareness of the breath. The practice is not finding long stretches of time with no thoughts — it's in that gentle adjustment of refocusing attention to the breath.

Wellness Resources

Here are some of the places to go for more info on the wellness tips we've covered:

Breathing Space Yoga: "Come as you are, pay what you can."

5026 E. 62nd St., 900-2312, breathingspace.yoga

The Four Hour Workweek: Tim Ferriss' bestselling guide to maximizing output. fourhourworkweek.com

Georgetown Market: A local, organic grocery store.

4375 Georgetown Road, 293-9525, Georgetownmarket.com

The Good Earth: Another local, organic grocery store.

6350 Guilford Ave., 253-3709, good-earth.com

Indyyogi.com: This site has a pretty comprehensive list of all the places to practice — searchable by zip code.

Natural Born Juicers: Cold-pressed juice and raw foods.

865 Mass Ave, 797-4254, naturalbornjuicers.com

Nutrition Success: Don't know about you, but we tend to trust a sports dietician who posts her marathon times on her website. Nutritionsuccess.org

White Pine Distance Training: RUN.


White Pine Wilderness Academy: GO OUTSIDE.

841 W. 53rd St., 774-6360, whitepinewilderness.com

YogaExec: "YogaExec helps individuals find and maintain balance between their personal and professional lives through the integration of yoga and mindfulness."

682-0841, yogaexec.com

Your doctor: When's the last time you had a physical?


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About The Author

Emma Faesi Hudelson

Emma Faesi Hudelson

Emma Faesi Hudelson has too many dogs. When she's not taking care of them, she's practicing or teaching Ashtanga yoga, making vegan enchiladas with her husband, or telling undergraduates not to use semicolons.

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