Live Simply: Unclutter Your Daily Health Routine
Integrating healthy practices into your everyday life doesn’t have to mean lengthening your to-do list. Dr. Jim Nicolai talks about how to make good health an effortless habit.
-Melissa Walker, YouBeauty.com
Dr. Jim Nicolai thinks that a lot of today’s ideas about health are out of whack.
“Medicine is focused on what’s wrong with you and not what’s right or how to get back into balance,” he says. The thoughtful doctor grew up wanting to be a coach. “As I looked into areas where I could guide people, health seemed like it gave me a lot of opportunities,” he says. “When you think of medicine as just treating disease, then it’s just drugs and surgical approaches. But if you think of medicine as a way to be and stay healthy, then sky’s the limit in terms of coaching people on how to get there and stay there.”
As the medical director of the Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program at famed spa Miraval, Dr. Nicolai is all about simplifying our approach to health and wellness. “Health does not have to be complex or difficult to manage,” he says. “When we complicate our routines, we either chase our tails to get things done or we become so overwhelmed that we do nothing.” Sound familiar?
Dr. Nicolai’s new book, Integrative Wellness Rules: A Simple Guide to Healthy Living, focuses on what he calls “quick and dirty health tools”—everything from small ideas like tongue scraping, to larger efforts like more nutritious eating. “There are simple, doable, effective changes you can make that you can pop into your daily routine,” he says.
His most profound health discovery? Breathwalking. “I have a hard time meditating, even though I know it’s beneficial,” he admits. “Getting into that state of calm and logistically managing it just doesn’t come easy to me.” Dr. Nicolai realized that the only thing that quieted his mind was exercise, but he had to block off specific time for it and it didn’t quite get him into the “flow state” that meditation is known for. “I wanted to find a way to access that feeling of flow in real time so that I could use it immediately when I felt stressed,” he says. He knew that breathing and walking were two things he did regularly throughout the day. And both are key components of health. Combining them felt natural.
Dr. Nicolai concentrates on a breath rhythm of four in and four out. “You’re counting with steps—one, two, three, four—almost like you’re walking up stairs,” he says. “And you can do that anywhere, without anybody knowing.” As you synchronize your stride with your breath, the breathing becomes more like a wave. “Concentrating this way gets you out of your head, which is the simplest form of meditation,” says Dr. Nicolai. “We always beat ourselves up and say ‘I’m a bad meditator—I can’t clear my mind,’ but the true strength is to catch yourself losing focus and bring it back to your breath. This is even simpler when you’re walking.”