A Healthy New You
by Naomi Horii

As we celebrate the year 2000, what better time to help yourself along a healthier path in the new millennium? Our writer describes her journey.

Our bodies are our temples, and we should shower them with healthy things. But what if, like me, you don't like wheatgrass, rice cakes, soy milk or plain tofu? I have to confess — I'm not especially fond of raw vegetables, either, even though I know they're loaded with nutrients. Not to worry: Even if (like me) you've let your good intentions about healthy eating, regular exercise and mindful living slip in the past, this is the perfect time to launch a healthy new you, and to actually enjoy the process.

I grew up in an Asian-American home in Indiana, the land of corn. My mother, bless her soul, tried to turn the family vegetarian, serving up healthy traditional Japanese dishes in the face of the forces of 70's Midwestern culture — its church banquets replete with fried chicken, processed cheese casseroles and sugary layered cakes. She packed my lunch box with rice balls made of seaweed and umeboshi (pickled plums) — a meal packed with vitamins and minerals — but white bread and canned pasta constituted my 6-year-old's version of the American dream. We fought many a battle of wills, with my mother forbidding me to leave the table until I finished my rice and eggplant. We would sit, stony-faced, until midnight: But I never broke down and ate the rice because I was an American girl, and I knew (with the certainty of one who has not lived long enough to know any better) that American girls did not eat rice, and because I despised eggplant with all my heart. Finally, my mother would give up and, bleary-eyed, send me to bed.

I do eat healthy now. But I was tricked into it. I used to work till three or four every morning, and my diet consisted of stuffing whatever was fast and convenient down my throat while I sat at the computer. My sweetheart, who worked as a chef, was dismayed by the junk food I put into my body. He'd try to tempt me with healthy alternatives I could eat at my desk.

Although I knew the carrot sticks he sliced up for me were packed with vitamins and antioxidants, they weren't even remotely appealing. But then he got clever: He cut baby carrots into flower shapes and he'd stand by my desk, casually munching on them. I'd turn, see those lovely bright-orange flowers, and gobble them down. And boy, were they delicious.

Since then I've discovered that eating healthy doesn't have to be boring. In fact, it can be a rewarding adventure. If you don't like the taste of soy milk, try almond or oatmeal milk. The texture and taste of both are lovely, creamy and smooth. If you dislike tofu, try agedashi tofu — Japanese-style tofu lightly breaded and fried, served with a light sauce. Or munch on edamame (soybeans): Boiled with a tiny bit of salt, they make a delicious snack.

These days, I take much better care of myself. I take daily vitamin and mineral supplements, eat mostly organic foods, and for stress control, treat myself to massages. "Massage can help prevent physical ailments, and helps release toxins from your body's tissues," says Shogo Mochizuki, Ph.D., massage therapist and author of Anma: The Art of Japanese Massage (Kotobuki Publications).

If your goal, like mine, is to be around for a long while and to experience as much as you can in the new millennium, be sure to keep your body strong with good exercise. Hate to jog? Me, too. But I love yoga, and I love to ride my bike, both of which are just as beneficial as jogging; plus, they're fun and enrich my life. I also challenge myself occasionally by trying something new such as African dance, windsurfing, bouldering or tai chi.

Sustain Your Soul
What makes your soul sing? Treating yourself to a good read, a nightly bath, an extra-long run or whatever delights you is the next step to a healthy new you. Doing what you love during happy times will help keep you healthy; and doing what you love when times are tough can help keep you sane.

Music makes my heart leap and feeds my soul. From the time I was a child, I constantly had songs in my head. The simple ballads that made my heart sing then grew to sonatas composing themselves in my head as an adult. Six years ago, however, I lost my mother to cancer. When my brother and I found out she had only a few months to live, I went straight to my piano, while he fled to the basement and wept the plaintive smoke of the blues on his saxophone.

I played furiously, desperately, that day, like a fervent prayer. But after my mother died, I stayed away from the piano for years, avoiding it as though it were a ghost. My life felt empty without my mother. It was as if her death took the music out of my heart.

Years later, I mentioned to my neighbor Jean, a lovely woman with a voice and a heart like an angel, that I had always wanted to learn to sing. She volunteered her time once a week to teach me the basics — how to breathe, how to stand, how to let the sound flow through my body and out of my mouth. Through Jean's loving tutelage, I began to hear the music again.

Jean said it made her happy to teach me something that gave me such pleasure. Through her singing lessons, she taught me something else, too —that helping others and spending time with the ones we love allows us to be bigger than just ourselves.

Think about other ways you can nourish your own spirit and sustain your soul. Learn to meditate. Read to enrich your life. Keep a journal. Treat yourself to a regular massage. Also, like my friend Jean, consider giving more of yourself. Volunteering your time at a women's shelter, being a mentor for a child, or donating to a worthy cause can give you enormous pleasure and help you as much as it can help the person or cause you are giving to.

For my part, I also try to remember the small things that don't take a cent or an extra second of my time but can make a positive difference for another person: a smile and thank-you to the harried cashier at the grocer, or simply holding a door open for someone as I walk into a store.

Celebrate!
Finally, as I enter the new millennium, I think of taking every opportunity to celebrate what's important to me. I want to celebrate each precious moment by being with friends and family and by feeling fulfilled in my work. What better time to treasure who you are and look forward to the person you will become? Instead of worrying about what you have to do, just do it. Believe in yourself. Open your heart. Encourage the best in others and in yourself, and create the best that life has to offer.

It's the beginning of the new year and the rest of your life. So what do you say? Shall we make a pact to be passionate about health and about our lives? And, while we're at it, to have some fun?

Happy new year!

Naomi Horii is a freelance writer and editor, and is the publisher and editor of Many Mountains Moving: a literary journal of diverse contemporary voices.