13 practices for total wellbeing
This is my list of nourishing practices I keep coming back to everyday and every week, no matter where I am on the emotional spectrum.
If I’m feeling off-center, bleh, unsatisfied, or bored, I’ll do something on this list and feel more creative, more absorptive and spongey, more capable of inspiration. If I’m feeling vulnerable, sad, upset, or miserable, these practices can soothe me like a salve, lull me like a lullaby.
Instead of looking outwards for consolation or emotional reprieve, looking inward has always worked much better. I feel more independent, more resilient, more empowered. These practices are a constant reminder to me that everything you need is within.
The list of practices & their purposes
Meditation - encountering the container of my mind
Gym - releasing tension in my body, building strength
Yoga - internal flexibility
Writing - conversing with my inner soul voice
Relationships - listening and seeing the truth in others
Art - visual alchemy
Journaling - focused reflection
Pottery - centering and letting go
Tango - cultivating my presence in the present moment
Home - nurturing stability, comfort, and curating beauty
Poetry - paying rapt attention to life
Note-taking - mapping and processing my insights
Solitude - relishing my own company
Meditation is the practice of deliberately encountering the container of my mind. It’s facing the narrator of this mental movie that plays all day, everyday, in my head. Meditation is my practice of stillness, of saying to this narrator, okay, enough. This show called Life could take a break from your constant voiceover.
Even five minutes of deep breathing makes an immediate and noticeable difference for me. Or just ten breaths. I feel more anchored in my body, more grounded in myself. Yes — that feeling dissipates, but so does everything else that we do. It’s the constant return to the practice that matters.
The meditation app I like to use is called Insight Timer. It’s free, though I do subscribe to their paid version as well. They have a free 7 day intro course that I’ve taken twice because it’s so good.
EFFECTS: Stillness, grounding, calming, centering
The gym is the practice of releasing tension through my body, and building resilience. One time when I was at a really low point, my friend slapped me out of it and told me to go to the gym like it’s your job. I agree with that wholeheartedly. The gym is one thing that’s on my must-do list, even more crucial during mental health nose-dives.
One thing that I noticed about the gym: while strength training makes me feel stronger, running is what most stabilizes my emotional ups and downs. (I guess it’s the endorphins?) There was a period of time when I would run four times a week for 20 minutes without any sort of mental distractions — I would simply focus intently on my breathing, my goals, and run like I was chasing after them.
EFFECTS: release, grounding, strengthening, energizing
Yoga is the practice of internal flexibility. I experimented with doing yoga and not doing yoga as a part of my morning routine, and I noticed that I always felt more stiff — physically, mentally, creatively — when I skipped it. Yoga gives me a sense of limberness in my body as well as in my mind. I feel softer, more supple, more capable of adapting, bending, being creatively flexible.
I like that you can shape it to serve you; that your yoga practice can be as gentle or as athletic as you need it to be on a given day. Last year I did an intro month of hot yoga three times a week, and it felt like my mind was constantly being emptied out. I would emerge from hot yoga feeling like I had been reborn.
When I first started yoga, I followed one of Yoga with Adriene’s 30 day programs. Then I subscribed to Glo ($18/month), which has a few teachers and practices that I really enjoy for their thoroughness. In the city, I usually practice hot yoga at Modo every so often. Their Williamsburg space is very beautiful.
EFFECTS: flexibility, softness, nurturing, catharsis, release
Writing is the practice of conversing with my inner soul voice. That voice is always more soulful, calmer, stronger, and wiser than how I feel in any given moment. I’m referring more to my creative work than writing blog posts (such as this one). When I’m writing essays and poetic prose, it’s as though my soul is sifting through all of my experiences, emotions, and thoughts and giving them form, meaning, and beauty. It feels like alchemy. Everything it touches takes on significance.
It took me years to “find my voice,” but the journey itself has been the most rewarding thing. To cultivate that practice of writing, to me, feels like cultivating the presence of a divine soul-friend. One that holds both grief and joy in a crystal orb and looks at it very gently, and knowingly.
I’ve built my writing practice with the app, Ulysses. It’s $40/year, but I can’t imagine using anything else now. Before that, I used Ommwriter, and before that, the basic Texteditor. Microsoft Word is ugly.
EFFECTS: grounding, soul-nourishing, centering, catharsis
Relationships are the practice of listening and seeing: the truth in others and in ourselves. There are people I spend time with who always nourish me, inspire me, and stir something deep in me. Giving to each other— listening, understanding, supporting, being present, and holding space for each other — feels so nourishing for my heart and soul. I try to think of all of my relationships like a wild garden I’m cultivating with time, love, and care. Each requires a different sort of presence.
Effects: soul-nourishing, heart-opening
Art is the practice of visual alchemy. Art feels like a cathartic release of my emotional experiences, combined with a hunger for beauty and profound aesthetic experiences. Underlying art-making is the belief that what we can see can move us and change us. I make art in order to externalize an emotional experience, or to explore an intellectual idea in visual form.
I love Pinterest for curating and finding new inspirations, and Skillshare for learning different techniques. For something more in-depth and interactive, I also highly recommend Richard Mehl’s Visual Principles course at SVA, which you can take online.
EFFECTS: expansive, catharsis, soul-nourishing
Journaling is the practice of focused reflection. It’s the brain dump for my mind and the things that I’m working through. If my creative writing is where experiences are filtered, and smoothed out into prose, then journaling is where my thoughts are vomited and inspected under a microscope.
Writing is poetic and sensory, but journaling is thinking and analyzing. I ask myself questions and answer them. It’s an outlet for my at times overactive mind, but also a place to remind myself of strong feelings I had in the past about a particular subject, which may or may not last. I don’t journal as consistently these days, but it’s on my list of things to return to. What I have done consistently is to keep a one sentence journal, where I write 1 sentence to summarize my day.
Effects: clearing, release, catharsis, relieving
Pottery is the practice of centering and letting go. I started throwing pottery after a hard breakup, when I felt empowered and nurtured by the process of using my hands to make vessels that hold. Learning to center clay on the wheel was healing, like I was centering clay and centering myself at the same time. The entire process is a dialogue between my hands and the earth, and a relationship with time, uncertainty, and letting go. You have to wait for the clay to dry, then give it up to the kiln (twice), sometimes not knowing exactly how it’ll turn out. So it’s a perfect antidote for control freaks.
Since moving, I decided to leave my old studio and take a long break from pottery. But, I still intend to return and make my entire kitchenware set. Because there is nothing as nourishing as drinking tea in the morning from a mug you made yourself.
Effects: nourishing, grounding, centering, catharsis
Tango is the practice of cultivating my presence in the present moment. It’s the only thing on this list that can make me forget myself, who I am, and where I am in time and space. Tango is intense and addictive (as I wrote about in this essay) because it can be transcendental; and in that way, it is like meditation. Like any dance, tango only happens in the present. You cannot dance and think about the future at the same time.
Tango is danced not for an audience (though there are circumstances), but for the person you’re dancing with. Tango only happens in the embrace of another. Tango is a practice of everything — gender dynamics and power, control and surrender, femininity and masculinity, joy and sorrow. Tango is like religion. I get restless when I don’t dance for a while.
I first learned tango from Robin Thomas while I was at Columbia. He teaches beginners every Thursday in Manhattan.
Effects: catharsis, transcendence
Home is the practice of nurturing stability, comfort, and curating beauty. I wrote in my 2018 review how not having a stable home for a few months really threw me off. It was like not having anywhere to recharge, to let go, to be alone — and constantly running on 1% battery.
My home is my space for growth, creativity, connection, and nourishment, so I try to have my actions reflect that intention. The practice of home is keeping it tidy, cooking and eating long meals, taking care of my plants, and finding beautiful things to fill the space with (like the flowers pictured).
Effects: nourishing, grounding
Poetry is the practice of paying rapt attention to life. I try to read one poem a day as a part of my morning routine, and the syntax of poetry — and its sometimes soft, sometimes cutting observations — always stirs a deep part of me. There was a time when I would do poetry therapy for myself: ask the books to give me one poem for my present circumstances; how to think, breathe, and be through a difficult time. It always worked. Poetry is consolation. And those poems became precious.
Effects: soul-nourishing, soothing, grounding, centering
Note-taking is the practice of mapping and processing my insights about myself and my needs. I keep a pocket sized notebook that I carry around to jot down questions, thoughts, and observations about my internal world — things that move me, energize me, trigger me, nourish me, deplete me. I make conjectures about myself, and frame ways of thinking about life in this notebook. I draw connections, connect dots, make charts and diagrams, write down lists and processes — all about myself and what I experience. It’s different from my journal in that it’s rarely about events or circumstances, but always about ways of seeing.
Effects: grounding, centering
Solitude is the practice of relishing my own company. In this instance, I’m mostly talking about being alone while out in the world. You feel more aware of your separateness, but also more empowered by your own presence. You see yourself, you see how others see you, and then you see the way you see the world. I love to travel alone, but on a weekly basis, I like to be alone at cafes in the city — to sit and order a coffee and write, take notes, journal, or dream and plan.
Effects: grounding, centering, nourishing
I try to incorporate each of these practices in my week, and many of them on a daily basis. They’re practices that take discipline and commitment. But the payoff is so worth it. It’s like having an indispensable toolkit at my fingertips, and I’ve found, so essential for dealing with all the ups and downs of life. Your list of practices could very well be different, so I’d love to see what you’ve cultivated.