The Road to Wellness, Week 2

Zen and the Art of Monkey Training

"I don't think there are barbecue chips on the Road to Wellness," Ms. D opined, as we ambled away from the Semiahmoo Marina in Blaine, Wash., after enjoying a sunset cruise around Semiahmoo Bay complete with wine, cheese and chips. But we'd had a great time, and it was Friday (cheating day), so we cut ourselves some slack.

Our Road to Wellness went through the Pacific Northwest this past week—a change of scenery and welcome respite from the Mississippi heat. We tried to focus a bit more on the relaxation side of the Road and less on the exercise side, which means we just barely fit in the three walking sessions I'd planned by the time this column was due.

We did have access to a nice kitchen, so we made cereals in the morning, ate fruit throughout the day and stuck to lighter pasta dishes some nights while loading up on dinner-style veggies on others. If there was a bump on the Road, it was at a little Mexican restaurant in Mt. Vernon, Wash., north up I-5 from Seattle, which was a surprising and refreshing change from the DixieMex we encounter too often here in Jackson; fresh tortillas, whole beans and flavorful cheese were mixed with a variety of red and green chile sauces to create the enchiladas, burritos and other concoctions. I did order Corona Lite, however, and tried to go easy on the appetizer tortilla chips.

The rest of the week was about relaxing whenever possible. We took one particularly long walk in a light rain, bundled up against the chill and enjoying nearly every second of cold. I got a chance to play a round of golf, which, while perhaps not the best exercise, can have a calming effect. (If you don't take it too seriously.)

One of the things that Ms. D did to relax is read "Zen for Americans," which is actually an older book (turn of the 20th century) that compiles the lectures of Zen Master Shaku Soyen. That started a conversation about meditation.

Meditation is often thought of as a relaxation technique; in fact, meditation is really more about disciplining your brain. Have you tried to concentrate on one thing—like balancing your checkbook or quietly reading a book—but found your mind buzzing about other things, like your retirement or tuition or dinner or next week's presentation? That's the sort of problem—monkey brain—that sustained mediation practice is supposed to overcome. The ultimate idea is that you discipline your mind in order to bring about peace of mind.

So, this week on the Road to Wellness, I recommend you at least read about some sort of relaxation or meditation technique. The easiest one I know of is a mindful breathing technique that Dr. Andrew Weil teaches (http://www.drweil.com): Sit in a quiet area and focus on your breathing by inhaling for four beats, holding your breath for seven beats and exhaling for eight beats. Focus as much as possible on your breath and the counting; if your mind wanders, bring it gently back to your breathing. Try this for different durations and at different times during the day to see if it helps you relax.

Along with the breathing, I suggest you grab a book about meditation—I've recently enjoyed "Discover Zen" by David Fontana, who also wrote "Learn to Meditate"; for mediation in a Christian context, see books by James Finley ("The Contemplative Heart" and "Christian Meditation").

As for the more terrestrial pursuits, my goal is to get into the gym twice this week for 30-minute treadmill walks (or run/walks if I feel up to it) and outside for two more walks. I probably won't lift any weights this week, but I do want to get into a rhythm at the gym.
For diet, I'm going to focus on meeting the recommended water intake—eight 8-ounce glasses—and try to come up with a good solution for eating at least four meals a day—a breakfast, a healthy morning snack, a light lunch and a good dinner. (A lot of the experts recommend five meals, which keeps you from getting too hungry while maintaining your metabolism.)

If I do shed a pound or two this next week, I imagine I'll start to seriously "meditate" on improving my diet and exercise regimes to keep the good results coming. Stay tuned.

Week 2: Calming Down
1. Breathe deeply
2. Read about meditation.
3. Drink 64 ounces of filtered water a day.
4. Four meals a day.
5. Go to gym twice.
6. Run or walk four times for 30 minutes.
7. Eat chips on Friday.


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