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7 Essential Elements of a Healthy Quaroutine

Northerners,

Last week was all about getting into a new quarantine routine for me and Lo; homeschooling the kids and keeping them occupied with projects, transitioning to a virtual training schedule, adapting a new training schedule of our own, and keeping our 3 year old fed every 15 minutes because apparently she has the quarantine tapeworm.  

From everyone I’ve spoken to adapting to a new routine has been the biggest practical challenge of the quarantine.  The news and trends in California point to this being the way things are for a few months so it’s imperative for our physical, mental, emotional, and relationship health that we develop solid, supportive quarantine routines.  

So, what are the essential elements of a quaroutine?  (Shameless dad joke).

Before I start listing the elements I’ll introduce the concept of a keystone habit.  In this bestselling book The Power of Habit author Charles Duhigg coined the term to describe small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.  These habits are catalysts for a multiplier effect on the other elements of your routine.  If you’re disciplined about building your routine around the keystone habits you’ll notice the other essential elements tend to fall into place without additional effort on your part.

The Keystone Habits

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Morning Routine
  4. Sleep

#1. Exercise

Regular exercise is the ultimate keystone habitResearch suggests when people exercise they eat better, drink more water, drink less alcohol, smoke less, and go to sleep earlier.  It also supports some interesting behavior trends, like being more patient, less stressed, and more productive at work.  Over a decade of observing clients and even more time observing myself supports all the research.  

I feel confident that anyone reading this that has ever been on a consistent training routine will consider this a truth to be self evident.  So, we know we have to build our quaroutines around exercise.  Exercise is the anchor point.

Quick side note about time of day: What’s best, morning or evening exercise?  

I’ve had success with both.  When I train in the morning it sets the tone for my entire day, kickstarts my metabolism and releases endorphins that uplift my mood and improve my focus and creativity.  When I used to train in the evening I found that it kept me honest with my diet and hydration throughout the day because I wanted to perform well in my workout.  This was a great support in my former life when I worked in a corporate cubicle farm where anything from a birthday to someone breaking wind was the occasion for celebration with cake and doughnuts.  Exercise was also a great stress reliever to blow off steam after work and put me in a good mood before bed.

#2. Meditation

Research shows that meditation physically changes the structure of your brain in as little as 8 weeks.  Specifically it has an effect on cortical thickness and grey matter in the following areas of the brain, meaning it makes it easier for neurons to fire:

  • Pre-frontal cortex — The area of the brain responsible for self-discipline, willpower, emotions, behavior, judgment, focus and our overall ability to make choices
  • Left Hippocampus — The area of the brain that assists learning & memory and regulates emotions
  • Temporo-Parietal Junction — The area of the brain responsible for perspective-taking, empathy, and compassion

Meditation also correlates with a decrease in grey matter in the amygdala (which regulates the ‘fight or flight’ instinct), which means that people experience less stress and anxiety.

I offer the above information for those of you that need scientific backing to support any new endeavor though it makes me feel dirty.  I wasn’t personally aware of any of these facts until recently and I debated even including this information because it lends itself to people starting a practice for the purpose of getting something out of it, which is contradictory to the practice.  (An enigma!?)  Meditation and self-improvement don’t coexist.

Personally, I feel that experience and observation should remain the entirety of the supporting structure.  From a practical perspective that means try it, commit and fully engage with it even when it’s confronting, and observe your experience.  If you do that the above information won’t matter.  

From my own experience I’m more equanimous, focused, and creative when I start my day with meditation.  I feel more pliable both mentally and physically; my body softens, my joints open, and I move more fluidly.  Six months ago I started initiating my morning meditation with standing meditation, which softens and opens my body even more than seated meditation.  

Morning is the most practical time for me to meditate because I’m the only one awake in my house so I can practice undisturbed.  (Daddy needs his alone time).  This is the main reason I’ve been waking up absurdly early for the last 7 years.  Since this is an essential part of my day I make it a point to go to bed earlier and attend to my evening routine in a way that lends itself to a deeper practice.

#3. Morning Routine

This one is fairly straightforward.  When you start your day by proactively supporting yourself, rather than reacting to the day, you’ve set the tone for success; you have momentum.  Waking up stressed out, rushed and disorganized is the worst!

Over the years I’ve developed a personal morning routine that combines several of the essential elements to a comprehensive wellness routine.  By the time I finish I feel physically energized, equanimous, mentally sharp and clear about what I intend to accomplish.  

  • Morning Mineral Drink & Supplements 
  • Meditation (see above)  
  • Journaling/planning - After I meditate I spend some time journaling, which for me is a combination of reflection, planning, brainstorming and programming.  Distilling everything I need to get done into a triaged list allows me to focus on execution for the rest of the day, however, the essential element for me is that I write with a pencil in a physical journal.  Typing isn’t the same.  There’s research out there about the benefits of calligraphy and therapeutic effects of art, which I feel I experience from physical writing.  Give it a try and don’t put pressure on yourself to be too productive or write your memoirs for antiquity.
  • Movement - Moving your body early in the day improves circulation, kick starts your metabolism, and releases mood uplifting/stress reducing endorphins.  For those that don’t/can’t do their main training in the morning I recommend carving out 10-15 minutes to do some movement flow, sun salutations, or even a basic CARs routine.  You will feel so much better.  I attend to this with taiji practice and/or doing movement flows along with my morning clients.  Try Movement Flow #1 if you don’t have an established morning movement practice.  

#4. Sleep

This is another one that falls into the category of a truth we find to be self evident.  If you have kids or don’t sleep well you know how hard it can be to focus and function at a high level when you’re sleep deprived.  Finding motivation to exercise and eat well become particularly elusive and our moods are more volatile.  

Tangent: I’ve watched and read a lot about SEAL training.  To a person, they all say the sleep deprivation is the hardest part of BUDs training, not the actual physical work.  

Research shows that without adequate sleep overworked neurons can’t function to coordinate information properly, and we lose our ability to access previously learned information.  

Improving your sleep is both a matter of quantity and quality.  

Unfortunately, sometimes quantity is out of our control.  The best we can do is take complete responsibility over the controllables and not give the things that are out of our control more energy and space in our lives by stressing about them.  Quality, however, is something we have far more control over.  If you suspect you aren’t getting good quality sleep here’s a checklist of things to consider - 

  • Are you drinking/eating stimulants after 3pm?  
  • Are you getting a lot of screen time in the last couple hours before bed?  (Working on a laptop/device in bed is one of the worst things for sleep).  
  • Eating too close to bedtime?  Finishing 2 hours before bed is a good rule of thumb.
  • Consuming too much sugar and alcohol before bed.  For some people any alcohol in the evening will ruin sleep quality.  
  • Relationship beef that isn’t squashed before bed?  Don’t go to sleep angry.  
  • Mineral deficiency?  Magnesium and other trace minerals will ease a restless mind and body making it easier to go to sleep and have been shown to improve the quality of sleep.  I personally use and recommend the Pure Synergy Bone Renewal we have at the gym.  

The Other Essential Elements 

Eating a diet with a high ratio of nutrients to calories.  Studies across several wellness focuses that include longevity, disease prevention, mental acuity, joint health, body composition, and physical performance have all come to the same two conclusions - 1. Eat nutrient dense foods, and 2. Restrict calories.  A great diet has a high ratio of nutrients to calories; a poor diet is one that’s low in nutrients and high in calories.  Pretty simple.  

Challenging your mind to solve complex problems and use creativity.  Hopefully, you’ve chosen a profession that affords you this outlet on a daily basis.  If not, or if you’re not working your normal job during the quarantine you should make it a point to search out these opportunities.  

Do something meaningful everyday.  If problem solving fulfills the needs of the mind, a meaningful life fulfills the needs of the soul.  I’ll hand the mic to the legendary Alan Watts on this one.   

Get outside everyday.  Nothing is more unnatural than not having a daily dose of nature.  Soak up the sun, get your feet on soil and appreciate nature.  It’s been said that any day the tops of your feet see the sun is a good day.  When I’m stressed I go down to the beach to walk on the sand and get in the water.  Sometimes I body surf, but many times I just tread water and appreciate communing with nature.  I always gain perspective and a better mood.  During the quarantine I’ve been exercising on my patio, riding bikes with my daughters, and skateboarding in abandoned beach parking lots.  My quarantine tan is solid.  

Supporting Your Quaroutine

We have a lot of ways we want to support our community building and maintaining solid quaroutines.  Here’s how!

Exercise

We’re approaching the end of our second week of live virtual classes and we’ve added even more classes/times to the end of this week and next, including Legs + Animal Flow, Kettlebell HIIT, Mat Pilates + Core, and Yoga!  Click here to check out our schedule.  (Beyond stoked for the Kettlebell HIIT I’m teaching Saturday).  

If you can’t make it to live classes you can purchase recordings for $10/class or buy an entire week. Check out our schedule (hit previous to scroll back) to see what you’ve missed.  Venmo $10 to @thirtyfournorth with the name and date of the class you want (ex: Upper body + Core 4.2.20) and we’ll send you a link.  

Our staff is also still available for virtual 1-on-1 training and for creating customized at-home training programs.  Email info@34-north.com to inquire.  

Meditation

I offer you Tidal Movement Podcast episode #2; a 10-minute standing meditation.  Add it to your morning/evening routine or use it as a break from mental activity during your day.  Also on Spotify and Apple Podcast app.  

Next week, we’re starting live virtual meditation classes.  The lovely and amazing Erin Ward will be leading a 30 minute guided meditation starting at 10:30a on Monday 4/6.  

If you’re open to a longer practice my friend, Dr. Graham Mead, is offering free 1-hour guided meditation sessions every Monday and Friday 10:30a PST.  Many of you know Graham from talks, workshops and guided meditations he’s done at 34N in the past.  He’s developed a great self-awareness program and is the person who has most inspired and informed my own practice.

Nutrition & Supplementation

Our nutrition consultant & herbalist Jonathan Velazquez is available for Facetime sessions. Email jonathan@34-north.com.  

If you need supplements we’re scheduling pickups from the safety of our patio so we can keep a safe social distance.  Email what you need and your questions to info@34-north.com.  We’ll reply with pickup time options.  

If you want to support us and appreciate the information we provide buy your supplements from us rather than other retailers.  

We want to continue to support you during this time and appreciate your support in return.  

Thankfully Yours,

Tanner

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