Finding Health in Minimalism

Welcome to the third of a six part series on my personal aspirations for minimalism. In each piece I hope to examine some of the tenants as to what I am looking to increase in my life as a result of embracing minimalist philosophies. I’d like to really dial in a focus on my health today, as I find this becoming especially important as myself and my family continue to get older in age.

Two major reasons led to a lack of attention being paid to my health for the majority of my life. The first is that I happen to be blessed with a metabolism that must be off the medical charts, I seem to be able to eat just about anything and never gain a pound. Couple that with a childhood filled with all types of sports, and I’ve been lucky enough to have exercise be a consistent part of my life that I’ve always enjoyed. No fear of the gym or hatred of running for me.

Speaking of being lucky, the second reason that kept me from focusing on my health was that there had never been any problems with anyone close to me my whole life. I’ve been fortunate enough to never met death in my close family, never been to a funeral or had anyone I’ve known very well battle diseases or pass away. That was until a few months ago.

When my Dad got diagnosed with prostate cancer, I was….well if I’m being honest about my emotions, I was angry. I felt like it wasn’t supposed to happen, like he didn’t deserve to go through something like this. Though he is seventy-two, he acts like he is thirty two, always young in spirit. Cancer is a nasty word, and even though I knew the statistics about prostate cancer, how it was extremely beatable, surprisingly common, and one of the least destructive cancers out there, I was terrified. I was probably worse off than he was if the tears during our phone conversations were examined. I’m happy to report that today he is cancer free after surgery, but it certainly was a wakeup call.

The more and more I’ve been studying minimalism, I’m thrilled to be able to embrace more room for the things I love into my life: bettering my personal relationships, learning new things, traveling and contributing to things I believe in. Yet none of those matter if my health is not taken care of. Our existence in this life is threatened if we are self -harming ourselves by not taking care of the beautiful bodies we are given.

When I think about what ideal health should look like, I don’t see someone who is a body builder or super model. What I see is healthy living that supports the goals and aspirations I have. When I go deeper into what that means, I find myself coming back to three areas of health that are most important: body, mind, and nutrition.

So what does a body look like that allows me to fulfill my goals? Two areas get the most focus from me: yoga and cardio. I’ve been a casual practicer of yoga for about four years, but only in the past year or so have I brought a daily practice into my life. Yoga seems to build a strong but balanced body. It allows us good posture by building up lower back and leg muscles, while stretching out our hips and training our shoulders into positions that will benefit us into older age when our bodies deteriorate. It builds core strength that helps keep all of our other muscle groups stabilized and it stretches out pretty much the entire body, making us not only less prone to injuries but also just feeling good by eliminating tightness and tension. The only thing that yoga really lacks is an aerobic aspect (though hybrid exercise forms can build some of this in), but for how prolific the practice is, I can supplement that one area with other activity.

Coupling a yoga practice with cardio I believe rounds out almost all of the areas of my exercise regiment. Running is the best and most natural way of strengthening the heart and lungs, but I understand this isn’t available to everyone. Walking can offer almost all the benefits of running, but with a little more time invested. Walking also fits minimalist philosophies even better by allowing us more time to soak in the surroundings and forcing the mind to focus on a singular activity for longer, freeing us up for more creative thoughts and experiences.

I have to admit that I do use cardio machines like an elliptical for the benefit of their low impact on the knees and allowing me to read while I do it. Though eliminating multitasking is a major goal of minimalism, I give this one area a pass. By reading while I do elliptical workouts, I extend my workout even longer than I would otherwise since the timer usually ends mid-chapter, so of course I have to go a little bit longer and finish the chapter...and then the chapter cliffhanger means I have to read the next one. Oh no, more exercise! By that time I barely even notice it, and I think those benefits justify a bit of multitasking.

A yoga practice can also weave into the second area of health I focus on which is the mind. This is an area of development that has never come easy to me. Mindfulness seems to be the elusive holy grail for Type-A Perfectionist personalities. Because of this, I’ve found it to be the most important area of study, and hopefully others like me will find benefit in some of the techniques I’ve used with success.

The first area to start is meditation. Though I can attest to the benefits of meditation towards quieting the monkey mind, I do feel like I have yet to master it well enough to reap the full benefits. Instead I use meditation as short relaxation periods of practice to help bring focus into the single point that is the present moment. When I’ve had the ability to gain that mental clarity, I’ve found myself appreciating each situation even more, even more so if I’m not enjoying that moment very much. I find myself smiling more, spreading happiness and positivity. I find myself appreciating others more, thinking of their well being over mine, and appreciating my own wonderful situation. Considering I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of meditation in the half year I’ve been practicing, I know it will certainly offer long term benefits.

Meditation isn’t the only thing that has helped. I actually find tremendous benefit with breathwork, and I find the barriers to entry aren’t quite as high as meditation. While quieting the monkey mind is something some only attain after years in a cave (at least it feels like it), breathwork gave me almost instantaneous results. I’ve practiced calming breathwork that imitates the body’s natural breathing patterns when calm to help center myself in stressful situations. I’ve worked on over-oxygenation techniques that help jumpstart physiology and get my day moving in an energetic and focused direction. I’ve explored breathwork that has allowed me to fall asleep in minutes. Sometimes I’ve been able to feel as though I’ve stopped time, as everything seems to slow and settle. A yoga teacher once told me that to master your breath is to master your world, and I do believe it is indeed that powerful.

I’ve found a few other smaller things help shift my mind in powerful ways. We have sold our television and almost entirely detached from screens, preferring human interaction first, and if we must lose ourselves in stories, a book instead. Phones almost always remain on “Do Not Disturb” mode with Notifications turned off. I’m trying to get to the point where I’m only checking email twice a day, and though I haven’t perfected it yet, I’m getting to the point where I can unplug in that fashion. We have internet for our company Calila because it is necessary, but we block most sites unless being used to learn or study. They’ve been difficult habits to break, as constant dopamine hit of an email response or text has had us hooked for years, but I do think this is the healthiest direction to be heading in.

Finally, I believe nutrition is actually the cornerstone of both body and mind health. Diets and trends are more numerous than most people can follow, but I’ve found mastering nutrition to be much easier than advertising and media would have it seem.

I’ll start with a hopefully inspirationally story. Until about five years ago I only ate meat and potatoes. And eggs. It was a woefully unbalanced and terribly unhealthy diet. But somehow my youthful self was able to spend enough time in the gym to counteract these effects. I literally ate nothing green, no fruits, no vegetables, no nothing. Not only was it unfathomably boring, but mostly full of massively high cholesterol, bad fat, and incomplete grains.

At some point I became so ashamed of my eating habits that I vowed to change. Having to turn away a simple side salad or ask for greens to be removed from dishes cooked for me out of kindness became too awkward and exasperating. Instead, I forced myself to go on a food journey, learning to love and appreciate all different types of food. Now I consider myself a huge foodie, always in search of something I’ve never tried before. If I’ve never heard of it, especially if I can’t pronounce it, that’s my choice on the menu.

Circling back though, now that I feel like the food world is my oyster, (side note: I do really love oysters), I still find my cooking at home like a yoga practice: balanced. A little bit of meat, preferably chicken or fish, a little bit of grains, things like farro, couscous, or whole wheat pasta, and a little bit of greens like kale, spinach, or broccoli. As long as I’m buying fresh high quality ingredients, I can’t really go wrong. My breakfast is granola, greek yogurt and fruit, and my lunch tends to be some kind of sandwich and salad combination. I always look for balance, always try to include greens and always go for fresh and organic when possible. At the end of the day, it may be a bit more expensive for this route, but the benefits of healthy fuel are easily worth it.

To round that out, I try to buy high quality locally roasted coffee and espresso, which helps support local businesses while ensuring my drug of choice is as natural as possible. My local tea shops carry the Jasmine and Genmaicha green tea that I love for afternoons of writing. And in the spirit of healthy balance, I’ve vastly cut back on drinking alcohol, but I still have a soft spot for a well aged California Cabernet Sauvignon. Everything in moderation and things seem to work out just fine.

When I first embraced minimalism, I felt health was something I just automatically had covered. After taking a step back and realizing that it may be the cornerstone to all of the philosophies I wanted to surround myself with, I found a renewed focus on my own health and wellbeing. By doing yoga and cardio I’ve found myself with more energy and focus. By meditating and discovering breathwork, I’ve been able to bring more clarity and focus. And developing simple yet balanced eating habits, I know I’m treating my body with respect that is going to benefit for years to come. It’s sort of this harmonious dance, each area interplaying with the others, making the benefits greater than the sum of their parts.


When I write I want it to be an open invitation to engage in dialogue and discussion.

Please feel free to write me at cstephens.calila@gmail.com

 

Part One on Finding Freedom in Minimalism

Part Two on Finding Learning in Minimalism

 

 

I can’t say I love social media, but because I realize it can be a powerful force for change, I’m trying to help put a little positivity out into it.

Since I do love minimalist lifestyle in our world, I try to spread that message as much as I can on Instagram at @caliladesigns


Thank you for spending time with me over the medium of language.

- Cameron







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