Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

It depends on what your patterns are, what your strengths are, what pitfalls you’re prone to. But I’ve found a few basic good places to start, for the day-in-day-out:

  • Your body: this was the one that started it. Take a foam roller, a lacrosse ball, whatever you’ve got, and work out those tissues. Keep everything moving. Spend some time on the problems. You can do this while you watch TV, or chat with a friend, if you want. Or maybe you have a quickie yoga routine— a few rounds of sun salutations, maybe. Or maybe it’s a walk around the block where you pay attention to how your body feels.
  • Your brain: what about a meditation practice? You don’t have to do 20 minutes twice a day, though that would be lovely. I find even a 3-5 minute “sit and breathe” helps me check in with myself and see how I’m doing. I use headspace for this, but you don’t need anything. That brief moment of awareness of the body, awareness of how I’m feeling, lets me be less reactive and more centered. I shoot for doing this every day, and I mange it maybe 5 days per week.
  • Your relationship: how about a ritual with your partner— a hand-hold, a kiss, a silly in-joke— that you share on the regs. Something that doesn’t go away because you’re busy. Something that just reminds you “I love this human!” even if you’re distracted/annoyed/whatever.
  • Your creativity: maybe a writing or drawing practice? Some people do morning pages, a la “The Artist’s Way”. I just write for 3 minutes, with a timer. Three. minutes. There’s time for that! I don’t try to write something good, I just write what’s on my mind. It stirs things up and settles things down.
  • Your mind: read. Read something you’ve deliberately chosen to read. I have a list of things I’ve been meaning to read (I keep an evernote document), and I try to read for a little while every day. Sometimes it’s first thing in the morning, sometimes it’s at the yoga studio while I wait for class to start, sometimes it’s after dinner. If you aren’t up for dipping into a novel or a big chunk of non-fiction, what about a poem? Or a verse of the Tao Te Ching? Or something I’ve picked up recently: An interview from Tim Ferriss’s book Tribe of Mentors? Any of these can be taken in in a few mintues, and you can digest it throughout the day.

None of these things takes more time than you have. You spend this much time on facebook, or the news, or netflix, or hitting snooze. You can fit this kind of maintainence into a morning routine or an evening routine— it just becomes part of your day, like brushing your teeth. It’s a choice you make once (I’ll do this thing regularly) so that you don’t have to make choices about it all the time (should I do this thing today?). It’s a way to be deliberate and pro-active rather than being reactive.

So you’ve dialed in some day-to-day practices to keep yourself running smoothly. What about the monthly or yearly maintenance? The bigger projects and little overhauls that get you feeling great and shiny and buffed? These might take a little time, planning, or money, but you do them less often. Maybe you do. . .

  • img_4392.jpg

    take yourself in to the shop for an hour or so.

    A massage. Nothing quite like an hour of having someone else wring out your tissues! A pro can find all those spots you might need to be unglued.

  • A vacation. A change of scene and a little time outside the routine can show you all kinds of ways to feel a little better. It doesn’t have to be a week in the Caribbean. It can be just a few days– just something out of your routine.
  • A cleanse or a reset— I don’t usually go for “cleansing”, but maybe you just lay off alcohol and sugar for a week or so and catch up with how you’re feeling.
  • A media fast— a little time off social media, the news, and the chatter and anxiety that builds around there can be so restful. And don’t worry, the world will be there when you get back.
  • A visit to your healthcare provider. This can be a regular NP or MD, a nutritionist, a naturopath, a therapist. . . someone who you can build a relationship with you who can objectively give you some information and assistance with your health.

Don’t think of these as chores, or expense. Think of them as investments in your day-to-day health, your ability to feel good and perform well, your longevity. An opportunity to take control of something when a lot of things are not under your control.

Add the little, daily things to the medium, periodic things, and chances are, you’ll feel better. You’ll avoid some problems, and you’ll catch others while they’re manageable. You’ll perform better, and best of all, you’ll be in charge of your well being.

2 thoughts on “Basic Human Maintenance 101

  1. knightgardens says:

    Thanks Z!
    Lots of good reminders here.
    FYI: I just saw this article from 6/27/18 in the NYT about the pace to walk for health benefit.

    Summary is “Brisk walking involved a pace of about 2.7 miles per hour. Or put more simply, it required about 100 steps per minute.”

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