Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning . . .
Anyone can start over and make a new ending.
The sun: when to be out in it and when not
Contrary to all we’ve been told about the dangers of the sun — and especially going out in it unprotected between 11am and 3pm — it turns out always avoiding sun in the middle of the day may in fact help minimise the production of vitamin D in the body and thus limit all its widely appreciated benefits. The midday sun may not always be our enemy after all — big doses, of course — but barely a few minutes is all we need, even in the height of summer. Read on
Tips for prolonging life and keeping you well at the same time
Nerve force or how to keep your nerves on their toes
1. Have cold showers or at least finish with a short cold one. Obviously, that’s easier when the weather’s warm; on a hot summer’s day there’s nothing more refreshing than a cool or cold shower — you often barely feel it. But it’s possible to work up to a cool or even cold shower for the cooler months by beginning to take cool to cold showers in mid-spring; that way it doesn’t come as a shock to the system! That covers about half the year, from mid-spring to mid-autumn. But what about winter? While it is hard-going for just about everyone to endure a cold shower in winter, it’s not so hard to have a lukewarm shower (26-36°C) followed by a short cold one, which closes the pores in the skin and locks in the warmth, so when you step out of the shower you don’t feel so cold — as you do after a hot shower, when the pores are open. After a while during the winter months, you do get used to warm shower followed by a quick cold water shower. And when you step from the shower, you don't get a shock. You do feel warm; the body does adjust.
Brings blood to the capillaries, increasing circulation throughout the body
Cleans the circulatory system
Reduces blood pressure on internal organs
Provides flushing for the organs and a new supply of blood
Strengthens the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems
Contracts the muscles to eliminate toxins and waste
Strengthens the mucous membranes, which help resist hay fever, allergies, colds, coughs
Ishnan is an old Indian term that describes the point at which the body, by its own virtue, creates the temperature it can beat off the coldness of the water. This happens when the capillaries open with the onset of the cold water. They close again during the course of the shower and it's then that all the blood rushes back to flush the organs and the glands. This process allows the glands to renew their secretions and ’’youth’’ (i.e., young glands) again returns to the body.
NOTE: Cold showers should not be taken during menstruation; past the seventh month of pregnancy; if you're underweight; suffering an eating disorder; or if a man, having just ejaculated. In these circumstances, a tepid to warm shower is recommended.
Showering is best at the end of the day. That way you’re clean before you go to bed. If you've been labouring or doing some other strenuous sweaty activity or it’s a hot day, you'll most likely want to anyway. Some argue a shower cleanses the aura that surrounds our bodies of built-up emotional energy that we pick up from interactions of all kinds with people throughout the day. While there’s no scientific proof for this, I do feel better both physically and mentally after an evening shower.
2. Walk, run or jog barefoot as much as possible: on the grass, in the garden, in the forest, on the beach, over rocks (smooth is best), in mud, puddles*. It keeps you grounded — in more ways than one. Getting out of shoes after a plane flight or long car/train/bus trip and walking barefoot on grass also helps ground you; it eases the effects of jet lag. Some suggest it helps with insomnia, chronic pain caused by disease and injury, exhaustion, stress, anxiety and premature ageing. And even re-establishing your circadian rhythms or natural sleeping patterns.
Our bodies carry a naturally positive charge, the Earth has a naturally negative charge. When you put your body in contact with the earth, there's a transfer of electricity from positive to negative until a state of neutrality is reached — you’re grounded! The main thing is you feel better because you’re reconnecting with the Earth’s electromagnetic energy, soaking up all those negatively-charged electrons, which is a perfect antidote to all the positively-charged electrons we swim in in front of computer and TV screens, in the midst of wi-fi, mobile devices, and in airconditioned offices and homes. Indeed, most humans these days are hardly ever grounded: we wear shoes with rubber soles that don’t conduct electricity; we live in houses that are only grounded in electrical outlets; we drive in insulated cars; we sleep in beds far removed from the earth; few of us garden and walk barefoot.
So mum was right, get out of the house and into the yard barefoot and play! Those negatively-charged electrons you pick up from the earth will also mop up all those free radicals from air pollution, heavy metals and trans fats in our food and water.
*Water is an excellent conductor of electrical charge; the surface water on a wet footpath or road will ground you, as will a shower — the water carries the charge away from you. Wet mud or wet grass are both excellent grounding conduits — far better than when the ground or grass is dry. Houses used to be earthed via their cold water pipes, which were metal. Nowadays, however, water pipes are plastic and there's no earthing effect.
3. Other ways to ground or earth yourself: standing under waterfalls, sitting in a rock pool or lying down on a rock platform while water runs all over you (in gentle rapids), diving through waves, being in the rain, smelling the earth after rain, walking through fog and mist, sea spray, swimming in a river or lake or the ocean.
My niece, Isabella, has the right idea in a conversation with her Dad, How School Should Be. It’s on pages 2-3.
4. Skin brushing with a loofa or skin brush helps stimulate and reinvigorate the skin, perfect before a sauna or a shower.
5. Saunas (dry, wet or infrared) Sweat out heavy metals, to exfoliate, i.e., remove dead skin and dirt. It's more important in winter, when we don’t generally sweat as much as in summer. Three 10-12 minute sessions, with a cool to cold shower in between, with a good 5-10 minute cool down after each is ideal once a week. And don’t forget to rehydrate slowly during the cool downs.
Rest and sleeping
1. Fresh air is vital while you sleep. Keep the window open, even in winter. And keep your bedroom at a temperature similar to the outside temperature, unless it’s a blizzard outside!
2. Keep the room as dark as possible. Pull the curtains or close the blinds, turn off digital devices and all standby lights. And keep the room as quiet as possible: no humming or ticking clocks.
3. Keep your body at least 30cm away from electrical circuitry, such as powered powerboards and devices plugged into wall switches.
4. Don’t let your body get too warm in bed.
5. Sleep at regular times. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
1. The best is spring water, from a naturally-occurring and flowing spring.
2. Next best is filtered water, which removes chlorine, hopefully sodium flouride and heavy metals. I use the Vitel water filter system. Or, you could try, for example, the Wellness water filtering system; it has a central chamber of different volcanic rocks in layers through which the filtered water runs, picking up minerals along the way. However, there are plenty on the market from which to choose.
3. Another method from my days as a uni student living in the country: Fill glass flagons (green ones are especially good if you can find them these days) with tap water, cover the top lip of each flagon with a muslin or cheesecloth square fastened with a rubber band to keep out the bugs. Place in the sun. You can also chop up some wheatgrass and place it in the water at the top of the flagon; wheatgrass draws out contaminants. After a day or two in the sun, discard the wheatgrass, bring the flagons in as needed and you’ll have some pretty sweet-tasting water. We used to have three or four flagons going at any one time, to keep up a good supply. Even when it’s not sunny, this works thanks to the action of the wheatgrass.
Sitting, especially at a computer and tips to ease eye strain
According to various researchers, many of us spend far too much time sitting and we could all do with more time spent standing or moving or both. So, here are some tips to do achieve more of a balance between the two.
1. If you do sit or prefer to sit, especially at a desk, don't sit for too long. Take a break every 20 minutes for at least 10 minutes. Get up walk around. If at home, do some chores, gardening, exercise or stretches and so forth. That might be a problem in the office, so make it at least once every hour and walk around — even if it’s just to the bathroom or get a drink of water.
2. To help ease eyestrain, if you're in front of a screen, look away every 15-20 minutes for a minute or two. Look at things close up and far away to allow the eyes to adjust and move around. For more on easing eyestrain, see points 5-10 below.
3. If sitting, try a medi-ball, one of those inflatable spherical exercise balls. One of the biggest problems with sitting in a chair — even supposed ergonomic office ones — is our tendency to slouch and slump, causing back strain and stiffness. That's apart from the other health effects. However, with the ball, it's hard to have poor posture. In fact, it's quite uncomfortable to slouch. You are frequently moving around on the ball and changing positions. I've used a medi-ball for well over a decade and find it odd to sit in a conventional chair while at a computer. And I've not had any back strain ever since. Exercise balls are also quite cheap, easily moved around, deflated and stored and then reinflated as needed using a bicycle pump. Or, you can use a standing desk.
4. Incorporate more walking and activities that involve standing into your daily life, for instance, household chores, in addition to breaks between desk sitting. In the office, get up from the desk and occasionally go visit that work colleague rather than email or phone them. Suggest having standing up office meetings.
5. Blink as often as you can to keep your eyes lubricated. Take a few minutes to roll the eyeballs around. You can do this with your eyes open or closed to avoid looking silly. Open and close your eyes often to give them a short break.
6. Yawn when you have to (or even when you don’t). Yawning stretches out the jaw muscles, which keeps them from becoming tense and causing headaches and eye strain.
7. While sitting, move around as much as possible. Always be in a comfortable position, so adjust your body or chair as often as needed. Move the keyboard or screen so you aren’t stretching your neck or looking at things at a strange angle.
8. Try to avoid glare from your screen. If you’re near a window that allows sunlight to fall across your screen, move the screen as the sun moves, or get a screen protector.
9. Light your work area appropriate to the time of day. Natural daylight is obviously best during the day, however, if you can’t be near it, keep the lights/lamps as bright as daylight. Dim the lights or use a lamp with a warm light if working at night. Bright white light keeps you thinking it’s daylight; warmer light kinda imitates the glow of a fire. Sort of. It’s better for going to bed.
10. Install an app to alter the colour of your screen depending on what time of day and year it is, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. One such app is f.lux, which is free for Mac, Windows and Linux. This is such a help if you're up at night working on screen; you should also sleep better.
What’s the best way to eat? Well, a quiet, pleasant relaxed atmosphere would be a start. Perhaps good company. The obvious, I suppose. But while the atmos is important, it’s more about what you do while you eat — or more to the point, what you don’t do.
In the past few years, I’ve come to prefer eating in silence, taking my time, savouring each mouthful for its little surprises and subtleties. I think it had something to do with feeling that when I ate and chatted in conversation at the same time I didn’t feel I was chewing that well and therefore not digesting properly, which I was paying for a bit later.
It doesn’t mean I always do, especially if eating with friends and family. But if there’s going to be conversation, I prefer there to be not much of it and for it to be gentle in nature. Certainly no raucous chatter and raised voices — so, no surprise, loud restaurants just don’t do it for me.
It wasn’t always so. I grew up in a family where seconds were prized and so the race was on to shovel the first lot down as quickly as possible. It was something of a competition between the boys. Over the years, though, as my appreciation for subtlety has grown, I’m now quite happy to take my time.
Like everything, there’s now even a term for this approach to food: mindful eating. It has its roots in Buddhist teachings, which is big on mindfulness, but isn’t a diet as such. It’s about appreciating food more directly and intimately, especially the pleasure, the texture, the flavour. Slowing down eating allows for more time to feel each mouthful. So much so that you could even appreciate fast foods, even junk food. Taking the time to experience every mouthful will bring you much more in touch with the food itself. If it takes the brain up to 20 minutes to register that you’re full, it may mean you can stop before you’re actually full when eating more becomes more difficult. Taking a short break or breaks throughout the meal also helps give the brain time to catch up and at least tell you you’re approaching capacity. Gulping down food usually means eating a lot but then not feeling truly full because the brain isn’t up to speed yet! And then in we go for seconds or straight to dessert, which is another tricky thing altogether (see food combining).
Slowing down while eating is also a timely brake on the pace of modern life, when for a few times a day we get to breathe and contemplate. Even if it’s only to contemplate ‘why am I eating this?’ After a while, I’ve caught myself sometimes saying out loud, “hmm, that’s nice”, a sign I'm liking what I'm eating and appreciating the chef’s efforts, even if the chef's me!
So, turn off the TV and the phone, go for some soft lighting, light music or none, sit comfortably, breathe in and take that first mouthful. It’ll be a challenge at first for most of us, accustomed as we are to conversation, and being distracted by gadgets. In time, though, it gets easier.
However, if you can’t eat mindfully every day, how about trying one day or one meal a week. Sit at the table either alone or in good company. Even if you say let’s just eat in silence for the first five minutes. See how it goes. That’s the first step. Eating should be a sensuous, thoroughly pleasurable time; mindful eating can help bring some of the joy and delight back.
In a nutshell
When eating, just eat. Unplug the world.
Consider quietness if not silence. It might be difficult for parents, but they may still be able to find some time to eat that dessert or lunch when the kids are at school, childcare or playing on the weekend or holidays.
Make at least one meal a week a silent one, by yourself or with another or a small group.
Planting your own garden and preparing your own food also helps connect you to the whole process, which is ultimately grounding.
Chew patiently; it’s not a race. Grandma advised chewing each mouthful 28 times and it was sound advice.
Make the table pleasant with objects that please; flowers and candles help.
Related reading Mindful Eating as Food for Thought by Jeff Gordinier New York Times Feb. 7, 2012
Unstuffing your life
Stuff. We all have it, some more than others. And as we accumulate it, our homes and workplaces become increasingly cluttered — and then we argue for bigger spaces to accommodate all the things we say and think we need. Take a good look around you and ask yourself: do I need all of it? If you find yourself saying ‘no’, then it’s time to get rid of things. Read on
Children instinctively squat to poo, as do the majority of the world's population and when we go camping and are away from the sitdown toilet, we naturally squat to poo, too. But not if we can help it. And yet it would do us the world of good if we did join with the billions who do. Read on
For a humorous look at squatting, check out this instructional gem from Daniel Hsi on the latest craze from Asia that's destined to sweep the western world.
Simple yoga postures
With more than 50,000 different yoga postures or asanas from which to choose, it’s no wonder people go to classes, if only to find out which ones they should do — as well as for the motivation to actually do them. When I started out doing yoga, I couldn’t choose either and I wasn’t much motivated to go to regular classes. So I worked out a set of asanas from books — the ones illustrated here — and decided to do them at home. That way I had the freedom to choose when, for how long and if I wanted music or not. The ones I’ve chosen are designed to ground, calm and centre. Read on
Washing your hair without shampoo, just water
This might sound gross to some, but only because we’ve all been conditioned (pardon the pun) to think it just has to be gross. You don’t need to use shampoo or conditioner when you wash your hair. I stopped using both in 1996 and haven’t looked back. Read on
Around the home
Helpful hints to improve your health by making your home environment cleaner and safer
1. Increase ventilation by opening a few windows and/or back and front doors every day for 5 to 10 minutes, preferably on opposite sides of the house to allow a good flow of air to pass through.
2. Get some houseplants or have a decent garden all around you and keep the windows open as much as possible. Even NASA has found that plants markedly improve the air. Here are the ten best pollution-busting houseplants — and they're easy to come by; you may even have some of them, such as the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), pictured above.
3. Take your shoes off and leave them by the door or outside to stop toxic particles being transported into the house. There some nasties on the soles of your shoes.
4. Discourage tobacco smoking in or around your home. This should be obvious, but it isn't only firsthand or secondhand smoke that is a worry, now there’s thirdhand smoke and it’s a potential new concern too.
5. Switch to non-toxic cleaning products, such as baking soda and vinegar or even good old soap and water and a bit of elbow grease, aka the scrubbing brush. You can also choose safer personal care products, ones that at least avoid these chemicals. Avoid aerosols as well. Look for VOC*-free cleaners. Avoid commercial air fresheners and scented candles, which can degas literally thousands of different chemicals into your breathing space.
6. Don’t hang dry-cleaned clothing in your wardrobe straightaway. Hang them outside for a day or two. Better yet, see if you can find a dry cleaner who uses some of the newer drycleaning technologies, such as liquid carbon dioxide.
7. Vacuum floors regularly, if you have carpet, and have it shampooed at least a few times a year. Wet mop wooden and tiled floors occasionally. Likewise, with rugs, shake them out or vacuum them regularly and shampoo as needed.
8. If you have airconditioning, have the ducts and filters cleaned out regularly.
9. Avoid nonstick cookware. If cooking, use earthenware, ceramics, glass or stainless steel.
10. Ensure your stove and gas heater/wood fire are properly vented.
11. When building or remodelling, opt for safer and more low-impact materials, especially paint. VOC*-free paints are becoming easier to find.
12. Opt for plantation hardwood flooring instead of carpet. Carpet traps a multitude of particles such as pet dander (skin flakes in an animal’s fur or hair), heavy metals, and all sorts of allergens. If you choose to lay carpet, look for one labelled "VOC*-free" to avoid toxic outgassing.
13. Make sure your house has proper drainage and its foundation is sealed properly.
14. The same principles apply to ventilation inside your car — especially if your car is new — and chemicals from plastics, solvents, carpet and audio equipment add to the toxic mix in your car’s cabin — that ’new car smell’ can contain up to 35 times the health limit for VOCs. More
15. Compost. Almost half (by weight) of the contents of our landfill garbage bins — usually the one with the red lid — is food waste and organic material, which can be composted at home, to be returned to the garden to benefit soils and plants. In landfill, it just rots to produce methane, a gas 25 times more potent than CO2.
16. Plan ahead and only buy what you need between shops. That way it’s fresher and you’re more likely to use it all. This is because when we waste food, we also waste all the water, energy, land, capital and labour that got it from paddock to plate. It’s estimated food valued at $1 billion is wasted every year in Sydney alone. More info at lunchalot.
17. Don't put any of your bins out unless they’re full. Every time those diesel-fuelled garbage trucks need to stop, they use more energy and generate more pollution. It’s a little thing, but very easy to do. You can also reduce what goes in the landfill bin by finding a new home for something that still works or can be used by somebody else after you no longer need or want it. Think opp shops, freecycle and places such as Reverse Garbage.
18. While re-use and recycling are important, think about if you need it in the first place. ‘Rethink’ and ‘Refuse (to succumb)’ are two ‘Rs’ ahead of recycling in the resource hierarchy. Check out The Story of Stuff and The Story of Change.
*VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds
aliphatic hydrocarbons, ethyl acetate, glycol ethers, and acetone (found in paints and coatings)
chlorofluorocarbons and chlorocarbons
tetrachloroethene (widely used in dry cleaning and by industry)
benzene (in tobacco smoke, stored fuels, car exhaust; used to make other chemicals in the production of plastics, resins and synthetic fibres)
methylene chloride (in adhesive removers and aerosol spray paints)
perchloroethylene (used mostly in dry cleaning)
formaldehyde (emitted from paints, adhesives, wall boards (chipboard), and ceiling tiles)
Since a lot of us spend most of our time at home or in an office, we can be exposed to VOCs from new furnishings, wall coverings, and office equipment such as photocopiers, which can out-gas VOCs into the air. Good ventilation helps reduce these emissions. New buildings especially contribute to the highest level of indoor VOC out-gassing because all the new materials generate VOCs at the same time over a short period. Indoor VOC concentrations during winter are three to four times higher than VOC concentrations during summer. That’s mainly because in winter windows and doors are kept shut. The take-home message is open those windows and doors as much as possible!