Category Archives: Health

Foods to Balance the Chakras

This post inspired by the Chakra Balancing Experience we recently held at Vida Wellness Studio – thanks so much to all of you who came out!

First of all, what are chakras?

You’ve probably seen a diagram of a person sitting in full lotus position with seven rainbow circles superimposed from the seat to the crown. These are chakras – visual representations of the energy centers of the body. I know this can sound like new-agey nonsense. Stick with me – I’m a science-minded person myself, but I have found chakras to be a useful system to assess my health and general well-being.

Let me just start off saying chakras are not my specialty. I always thought of the concept as a hazy pseudo-science, so I only really started to see the value a few years after I had started practicing yoga and I noticed how different asana made me feel. This is not medical advice by any means – I am in no way suggesting that if you have cancer of the throat, eating lots of fruit to balance your fifth chakra will cure you. It is simply a system through which to inquire about your health and mental stability.

If you’re a yogi, you have already accepted that to a certain extent the mind creates the body. The chakra system is built on the converse: the concept that our bodies reflect our state of mind. Each of the seven energy centers represents a system within the body. Their qualities are also manifested in colours, elements, senses, crystals – even in some circles, gods and goddesses. Really, the list goes on.

For our purposes today, we’re just going to talk about the chakras in the physical being. You can see below which emotions, systems, and colours are represented in each chakra and where they are located. What happens is this: When our minds are out of balance, these imbalances manifest themselves in our bodies. For example, if you are heartbroken it is common to feel heavy in the chest and even experience a lowered immune system. If you are suffering from low self esteem, it can be felt in the solar plexus and seen as poor posture collapsing into that area. If you are feeling out of place or without a home, you may experience hip pain or have trouble sitting still.

The converse is true as well – if you have specific aches and pains in your body, it may be telling you something about your subconscious. If you have asthma or respiratory problems, it could indicate you are having trouble communicating, or you may be experiencing a creative block. If you’re having low back pain, you could be suppressing emotions.

How do we balance the chakras?

The idea for this article came about because I came across an article that suggested foods for chakra balancing – but it was just a listing of the different chakras with fruits and vegetables that are the same colour! Well, erm, thanks…but I can visit the produce section myself.

Also, mindful meditation on colours (which is what you’re doing while you eat foods of a specific colour) can be effective, but it is certainly not the only way to balance the chakras. This list is instead based on the functions and qualities of the chakras and corresponding functions and qualities of food.

I’ll go into more detail about the chakras in another post, but I just wanted to share this with you because the type of food you are craving can also be an indication of an imbalance. It’s easier to relate to the chakra system in terms of something simple and concrete like the foods we eat rather than trying to visualise a balanced system right off the bat. Think about this before you reach for your comfort food!

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Fiona Andrews Food to Balance Chakras
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Yoga for Weight Loss

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Chubby in 2008 and bulked up in 2012 – scroll down for post-yoga…

 
People ask me about this all the time, whether they come to class because they want to lose weight or whether they are skeptical of how something so relaxing can help. I can personally testify that yoga can do wonders for your waistline. When I first started exercising about five years ago, I was 30 pounds heavier than I am now. I overdosed on cardio and lifted insane amounts of weights, I kickboxed and bellydanced and ran 25-35 miles a week, and within about a year of exercising at 6 AM every single day without exception, I was 30 pounds lighter. Continue reading

Working Backwards

I began my yoga teacher training (well, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it actually began long ago, but now I am officially enrolled in a 200-hour course) at Starseed Yoga in September, and it has brought a great deal of sanity to my topsy-turvy life.  The teachers are knowledgable and supportive, and everyone in the studio is always so very friendly.  As a result of teacher training and in preparation for when I teach more classes on my own, I have found myself in a few beginner classes both at Starseed and at the studio nearer my home – and let me tell you, they are HARD. Continue reading

Being Barefoot

In addition to my bizarre scheduling and sleeping habits, many people question my footwear preferences.  Today’s topic: deciding to give up shoes!

I had never liked wearing shoes, but I didn’t really have the freedom to choose not to while I was in high school.  During the summer and then at university, I was free to be basically as eccentric and strange as I wanted.  I started being barefoot at home, in class, walking around campus, performing, frolicking, pretty much always.  I would estimate that I spend about 98% of my time barefoot, since some restaurants give me a hard time and there’s one specific bus driver who seems to be out to get me and my poor bare feet.

Why be barefoot?  I’m a dirty hippie.  No but really- it’s more natural, it’s healthy, it’s more comfortable, it’s more relaxing, and most importantly it just makes me happy (fun fact: dirt has lecithin, a mood lifting chemical also found in chocolate- and it can be absorbed through your feet!).  I’m not the only one, either- there are lots of us out there!  One group is the Primal Foot Alliance- they are barefoot advocates who work hard to prove to the public that there’s nothing gross and unhealthy about feet.  Their website has resources explaining why being barefoot is awesome and there’s a great community there and on their Facebook page.  Barefooters.org is another great place to meet people close to your home who also choose not to wear shoes.

There are many stereotypes about people who are barefoot- that we’re dirty, poor, sick, unhygienic, socially handicapped, unprofessional- the list goes on.  I get all kinds of reactions to my bare feet- in the morning sometimes people think I’m doing the “walk of shame,”  sometimes people look at me like I walked out of a sewer, some find it amusing, and others are simply curious and strike up a conversation-usually they’re totally on board and on a few occasions, I got people to join me!

First of all, being barefoot is totally safe.  After being barefoot for awhile, you can step on glass without getting hurt- this took me a month or so of being entirely barefoot (some people wean themselves off of shoes gradually, but I never  do anything halfway so I just jumped right in).  Really, just look where you’re going.

Being barefoot is also far healthier and cleaner than shoes- foot fungus and other unsavory ailments come from sweat trapped around your feet by socks and shoes; they’re not inherently found on feet.  Wiggling your toes in the fresh air will eliminate smelliness and unwelcome bacteria!  Sure, occasionally you step on something gross- but it’s far easier to flick gum off of a bare foot than scrub if out of a pair of shoes.  Not to mention, all of the extra germs you expose your feet to boost your immune system- I haven’t been sick in years.

Humans are just animals- our bodies are engineered to work optimally without extra appendages like clothing and accessories (Coming up next week: why we should stop wearing pants…Just kidding).  Your feet will be stronger and more effective without footwear- why do you think people are inventing Barefoot shoes?

After you get used to it, being barefoot is far more comfortable than being shod.  Ladies in particular (or gentlemen, no judgment here) will appreciate the lack of pinching around the toes from cute flats and the searing knee pain brought on by dancing around in tall spikes.  Walking on gravel and rough surfaces hurts at first but once you get used to it, wandering barefoot through cool grass and on smooth warm dirt makes it worth it.  Being barefoot changes your entire mentality- I feel far more relaxed and connected with the world.  It’s like I can feel the earth spinning, vibrating, and breathing beneath my feet.

Would you ever go barefoot?  Maybe not in a professional environment, but at the park or around your own garden perhaps?  Maybe just for a little while?

Atmosphere and Ayurveda

It’s strange how the weather has such a powerful effect on our moods.  As much as I truly believe that we are in control of how we feel, sometimes it is a battle with external elements like deadlines, relationships, how comfortable we feel where we are, who we are with, and just the general atmosphere.  It’s hard to stay positive when you’re swamped at work, surrounded by negative people, or  in a place with toxic energy (library during finals week, anyone?), but I find it even more difficult to fight the weather.

Of course there are diagnoses like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I think it goes deeper than that.  I was reading this article about how different people are affected by the weather, and it classifies people into four types- those people who are unaffected by the weather or seasons, people who love summer, people who hate summer and people who love rain.  I think this is a bit of an oversimplification, but I do agree that different types of people react differently to different types of weather.  Obviously it has something to do with personality, but I also think it has to do with prakruti and vikruti.  Prakruti and vikruti are Ayurvedic terms for your body’s constitution (long term and short term, respectively), or doshas (The Ayurvedic Institute has some great resources if you’re interested in learning more).

I am vata-pitta, slightly more pitta in the summer and more vata in the winter.  I find that the wind (air, an element of vata) energizes me in the winter but makes me a bit dozy in the summer.  Warmth and fire (pitta) give me energy in the summer but make me want curl up in bed when it’s cold outside.

It can be difficult to pick yourself up when it’s clammy and cold, but if you know your body type and personality, it can be done.  Ayurvedic teachings tell us which flavors will complement our prakruti and vikruti (basically which foods suit your body type), and I think that on days when you may not be feeling your best it’s particularly important to eat well.  When I’m tending towards pitta in the summer, I do sometimes crave ice cream despite being nearly entirely vegan.  When it’s cold and I’m feeling more vata I go for cooked vegetables and beans.  This is also true on a day-to-day basis- knowing your body type and which foods complement it can make a huge difference in your mood- sort of like eating comfort food, but in a healthy way.

Of course, simply realising that the weather is causing you to feel a certain way is often a good first step.  It can be very easy to focus on negative thoughts while you’re sitting watching raindrops trickle down the window, or to forget about all of your problems while you’re laying in the sunshine.  If you acknowledge that you’re in a certain mindset largely because of the weather, it becomes a lot easier to change your perspective.

A Technological Diet

On a note not entirely unrelated to my recent hiatus from all things internet, today’s post is about the damaging effect of excessive technology.  I haven’t been on the internet much for the last two weeks- the first was because the week before spring break is always hectic at school, and the second was because I took a spur of the moment trip to the Dominican Republic and there wasn’t much internet access.

Since essentially my entire job is based on the internet, I spent lots of time on my computer reading articles, tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and interacting with other organisations.  I obsessively read newsletters, try to keep up with all of the blogs that I follow, and bookmark interesting things to research and write about.  These aren’t the healthiest of things, but I still manage to set myself a limit (albeit a high one) of how much time I spend online.  I noticed a huge shift in my general well-being when I resolved to spend more time not staring at a computer screen.

I also noticed, however, that the amount of time spent around technology isn’t my only problem.  One effect of my self-imposed technology limit was that I was trying to cram everything I usually do into less time.  I was trying to rush through everything and absorb it all in far too little time.  I can control the quantity of my internet usage, but how efficiently I was using it proved much more difficult.  I think that technology itself isn’t what’s really to blame, but how we utilise it.  Instant communication and nearly unlimited information- how could it be a bad thing?  In reality, the availability of information is something that we don’t know how to deal with.  As humans, we just aren’t capable of processing all of the information we throw at ourselves.  Trying to keep track of hundreds of Facebook friends, reading cluttered Twitter feeds, watching viral videos and giggling at memes- though it all seems like mindless procrastination, it still takes brainpower.  Even right now you are processing information as you read this post about how damaging excessive information is.  Ironic.

Our technology is evolving faster than we are.  We’re a species with increasing health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, twitching eyelids, and rapidly increasing ADD diagnoses.  We think this “progress” is helping us, but we’re not really sure how to deal with the information overload.  We’re losing analytical skills because we can look anything up instantly, our conversational abilities are diminishing with each tweet that we send, our memories are disintegrating, and interacting face-to-face is getting more and more difficult.

It’s a losing battle, and not one that we can just walk away from.  After my four days with basically no internet, I came back to 297 emails.  Nothing catastrophic had happened while I was gone, but there were also dozens of things that required immediate attention and that I couldn’t just ignore.  We are all involved in the technological world and there’s really no way to avoid it entirely.

I’ve been mostly successful in preventing a complete media overload by avoiding live television and trying to stay away from overly commercial locations like shopping malls.  Keeping myself sane while working on my own computer has proven to be a lot more difficult though, especially given my current job as a content and social media manager.  I still feel the need to read everything that could possibly be relevant to my life or job and stay somewhat involved with online communities, and I do check Facebook more than I would care to admit.

I’m pretty good at problem-solving, but this one continues to confound me.  How do you avoid a technology overload?  Do you just learn to cope?

Eating Organic Without Going (more) Broke

Eating organic is often included in the green and healthy lifestyle that many people are starting to adopt.  Obviously it’s healthier to eat foods that haven’t been doused in pesticides or injected with hormones, but it is definitely an expensive option.  My good friend is taking a class in which she has to eat not only organic, but also only entirely unprocessed foods for two days.  This is going to be very expensive for poor college students, which will quite possibly turn off the entire class from every trying to eat organic.  I think it’s very important to realise that eating healthy and organic isn’t an all-or-nothing decision.  You don’t have to throw away all of your prepared foods or shun cheese forever, because even just making small changes does help.

It’s important to know the differences in terminology before you go shopping.  ”Natural” means basically nothing- it is a term that is not really regulated by the FDA.  ”100% organic” clearly means that there are no synthetic ingredients in the food.  ”Organic” means that 95% of a food’s ingredients are organic.  ”Made with Organic Ingredients” means that 70% of the food’s ingredients must be organic- these three terms are regulated by the FDA.

Some foods are more important to eat organic than others.  For example, fruits with thick peels are more resistant to pesticides, so it’s not always imperative to buy those organic.  If you eat meat on the other hand, it’s pretty important to make sure it hasn’t been fed antibiotics or hormones.  Here’s a brief list of some of the most and least important foods to worry about.

Watch out for:

  • Apples, peaches, and other tree fruits
  • Celery
  • Berries
  • Leafy greens
  • Bell Peppers
  • Grapes, raisins, and wine
  • Potatoes
  • Meats, milk- the fat retains pesticides that the animals ingested
  • Coffee, chocolate- The beans are often grown in countries with few regulations
  • Rice
  • Green Beans
  • Cucumbers

Don’t worry about:

  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet peas
  • Mango
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cabbage
  • Watermelon
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Mushrooms
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Onions

There are other ways to save money while trying to stay healthy and unprocessed as well.

  • Buying in bulk is always great if you know it won’t go bad and you have space to store it.
  • Take a page out of your granny’s book and use coupons- seriously, I LOVE coupons.  Sometimes I leave the store with them practically paying me.
  • Buying generic is a good idea- a store brand of plain organic vegetables is usually pretty indistinguishable from a fancy brand.
  • See if you can buy frozen- if you’re just making soup or smoothies, frozen fruits and vegetables are adequate.  Also, sometimes canned goods are great too.  The canning process actually sometimes gets rid of pesticides, but you do have to worry about BPA in the can linings.
  • Buy local and in season- obviously strawberries are going to be expensive in January when they have to come from some distant land.  Also, it’s more eco friendly since your food hasn’t travelled as far and healthier since they haven’t been treated with chemicals for the long journey.
  • Buy less processed food- not only is this far healthier, it will obviously save you money because you’re not paying for labor.  You’ll consume less sodium, oils, and chemicals with frighteningly long names.  Also, many foods lose nutritional value when they’re overcooked as they often are in prepared foods.  Make your own prepared foods by going on a cooking spree every few days and storing individual portions.

If you can’t find or afford organic goods, just make sure you do the best you can by washing food, peeling skins and outer leaves, and trimming fats.

Remember, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach.  Little efforts do add up!

SourceSource

Yoga in the News

Yoga’s been growing in popularity in the western world for awhile now, but it’s been a particularly hot topic lately with practitioners being accused of involvement in sex scandals and Wiccan cults, the New York Times writing about yoga wrecking the body, and now talks of it being an Olympic sport.

I find this incredibly disheartening.  First of all, these news items do not take into account the other five branches of yoga.  Yoga is not simply physical exercise; it’s not just contorting yourself into strange shapes.  While exercise and physical health is a large part of yoga for many people (myself included), it’s really more of a guide for living a meaningful life.  The branch of yoga that most think of when hearing the term is Hatha yoga- asanas, or postures, that are intended to clarify the body in order to calm the mind.  This is definitely important, but there are also Bhatki (yoga of devotion, love and acceptance), Raja (yoga of self control), Jnana (yoga of the mind, intended to unify wisdom and intellect), Karma (yoga of selflessness), and Tantra (using rituals to experience the sacred).  The idea is that a person can use a combination of any of these paths to travel towards enlightenment.  Each branch is important in its own way, and the most optimal way to approach nirvana is to integrate all of them into your life.

I love that more people are integrating yoga into their lives.  I truly believe that everyone can benefit from following any one of its branches, even just a little bit.  Yoga is an ancient set of methods designed to try to help citizens of the world heal physically and mentally to reach a state of peace.  Yoga as an art should not be judged because a few people abuse its ideals for personal gain, and it should not be judged because those who are inexperienced and lack a proper teacher injure themselves.

Yes, Hatha yoga started as a branch of Tantra- but even Tantra isn’t exclusively about sex.  It’s about experiencing the sacred, and while union between man and woman is part of it, it also includes many other aspects such as dedication, purity, and truthfulness.

You can injure yourself in any physical activity if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Would you try pole vaulting without someone carefully explaining it to you and taking you through small steps to get there?  Of course not.  Just like you shouldn’t immediately try balancing on your head without a careful teacher guiding you through the steps preceding it.  Yoga is entirely safe if you know your body’s limits and take it slowly.

This brings me to my last point: Yoga in the Olympics.  As I mentioned before, yoga is not just postures.  It’s a lifestyle.  If you can do the most advanced and complicated postures, that’s great- but that doesn’t necessarily make you a better yogi than someone who can barely manage a down dog.  Yoga is in the mind just as much as it is the body, and bring a competitive aspect to it is borderline sacrilegious.  I absolutely appreciate watching graceful yogis move through asanas, but I would never consider judging them.  There is no way to tell what a person is thinking, assess the flow of his prana, see how focused he is while he is practicing- and that is what yoga is about.  Bringing yoga to the olympics cheapens the yogic experience to merely contortion and physical strength.  I love the idea of accomplished yogis getting the attention and reverence that they deserve, but it shouldn’t be competitive and it shouldn’t be based solely upon asanas.  All yogis and yoginis should be honored for their yogic accomplishments in life so far and their progress on their spiritual journeys.

Shanti, friends. Namaste!

Capabilities

You are capable of about a hundred times more than you think you are.  This is sort of related to my post about Body Clocks- I promise, you seriously underestimate yourself.  There’s a conception about what’s a “normal” amount of things to do and how busy people are these days.  That may be true, but our bodies are built to handle stress!  I’m not saying that we don’t all deserve downtime- hey, I make sure I have time for a nice cup of tea at night and a pretty substantial amount of nice, restorative yoga a couple times a week.  But if you do have to go on a seriously intense spree of work, I promise you will survive.

This is a thought that I have periodically around certain times- mid-semester projects, juries, finals, deadlines at work.  Today I was wigging out a bit about my impending recital and the other two concerts in which I am performing in the three days immediately preceding it (not to mention all of the schoolwork and job stuff as well).  I haven’t come that close to a genuine freakout in quite awhile, and it was not something pleasant to experience.  I just had to keep reminding myself that it is not the end of the world, and that I can still balance my life.  Just make some time and take a few extra minutes to breathe.  And on Sunday after my recital, I am going to do nothing for the entire day.  Being busy is just another cyclical part of life, as is making some time to relax afterwards.

In case you need some perspective about what you and your body are actually capable of, here’s a list of awesome facts (I love lists):

  • Your stomach acid can dissolve metals.
  • Human bone is stronger than concrete- it can hold as much weight as granite!
  • Your brain can hold between 3 and 1,000 terabytes of information (makes midterms sound easy)
  • Your brain is immune to pain (think harder)!
  • Your heart can squirt blood 30 feet (don’t try this at home)
  • One human hair can hold 3.5 ounces
  • Your hair is basically indestructible, other than by fire.
  • If it really came down to it, you could still be alive without your spleen, 75% of your liver, 80% of your intestines, a kidney, a lung, and nearly all of the stuff in your pelvic area.
  • Your nose can remember over 50,000 scents (can someone harness this power to memorise other stuff?)
  • You can go for ten days without sleeping.
  • You can go for a month or two without food.
Trust me, whatever you’re going through?  You’ll survive =)
Sources: 1 2

Noise

A few days ago, I got this email from WWF about noise pollution destroying natural habitats in the Arctic.  Though this particular issue is that drilling for oil creates noise that is harmful to animals, it made me think about how it’s also an increasing problem for humans.

We all know that noise is bad for us- loud rock concerts, screaming children, a particularly loud brass player in the next practice room-whatever.  Blaring advertisements and overstimulation are part of our everyday life.  But there’s a far more innocuous type of noise that’s just as negative- background noise.  It’s something that we all think we tune out, but it still takes a toll on our bodies.  According to this article from Women’s Health, excessive noise doesn’t allow our bodies time to recover, so they produce negative stress hormones, causing weakened immune systems, excessive nervousness, and even heart disease.  Small noises even affect your concentration.  What I found interesting to read about wasn’t just the obvious idea that noise is negative, but that the reason why we tolerate it is out of a sort of unwillingness to be introspective: we are too afraid of our own thoughts, so we drown them out.  This article even suggestions mindful meditation to get used to hearing your own thoughts so that silence is no longer frightening.

This is a thought that really rang true for me.  I remember a time when I used to blast really loud music so I couldn’t hear my thoughts, and in fact I still do it sometimes.  When I’m at the gym, I pump my music up loud so I can’t hear myself getting tired (I really do have a lot of terrible gym habits that I am not proud of…).  It wasn’t until I really started to engage in yoga and meditation that I began to appreciate quiet.  I can understand that meditation really is difficult at first, though- and it doesn’t get easier overnight.  It’s also hard for us with our Western way of thinking to believe that it’s productive to sit and literally do nothing even for 20 minutes.  It really is, though- if you can channel your thoughts and learn to tune out the noise- not just audible noise, but also unimportant thoughts, pains, and pollution from the media- your mind will become much sharper and more efficient.  You can train your mind to do anything, with enough time- to feel physical pain less, to react differently to negativity, to focus on one task to get it done.  If you can train yourself to enjoy listening to your mind, I guarantee that you will feel better for it.  It sounds cheesy, but you really will get to know yourself better and that’s an integral part of the journey towards finding peace.  It’s worth struggling through 10 or 20 minutes of spending time with only your mind for company, no distractions.  Perhaps a mantra will help you as well.

Anyway, I know that this isn’t quite in the spirit of Fat Tuesday celebrations, but I’m sure that tomorrow everyone will appreciate a bit of quiet ;)  Namaste!

Coffee: let’s settle this once and for all.

I used to be pretty addicted to coffee.  We’re talking 20-25 cups each day.  Within the last few years I’ve been a lot better, only having 2 cups before hitting the gym every morning and maybe one more during the day every so often.  This week, I totally slipped back into old habits.  Not terribly, but yesterday I drank about seven cups, the day before I had four, and the beginning of the week was rough too.  I didn’t feel jittery or any extremely negative effects, but it did make me wonder about caffeine.  There have been so many studies done that seem to contradict each other, but here’s a roundup of what I’ve found so you can decide for yourself.  These are mostly about coffee, but in many cases are applicable to any naturally occurring caffeine.

  • Studies suggest that it reduces risks of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, liver disease, gout, diabetes, some cancers, gallstones, and Parkinson’s.
  • It dulls pain (hence my pre-workout coffee chugging)
  • Improved endurance for long-term activities (again, a great pre-gym beverage!)
  • Boosts energy and productivity (but you do usually “crash.”  This Harvard study recommends drinking small amounts of coffee during the day to avoid this.)
  • Can reduce risk of heart attacks
  • Laxative- this can be good or bad, I suppose.  This is specific to coffee, not necessarily other caffeine sources.
  • Diuretic- some say that in moderation, it doesn’t dry you out but personally I think I still get a bit drier.  Also specific to coffee.
  • Dependency- caffeine is pretty addictive.
  • Stomach problems- coffee is very acidic so upset stomachs are not uncommon and can lead to damaging of the stomach’s lining
  • Jitters
  • Sleep patterns change- this is pretty easy to control, though.  Often not drinking coffee in the afternoon is all it takes.
  • High cholesterol- Coffee increases LDL levels.  Paper filters can help reduce this effect, but using more eco-friendly French Presses do not.
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease- perhaps the raised cholesterol effect is slight so this outweighs it?
  • Can slow cognitive effects of aging- similar to how it slows Alzheimer’s, perhaps?
  • Increased metabolism
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination (yeah, this is unfortunate)
  • Can increase cortisol, though you can build a tolerance
  • Can reduce harmful effects of alcohol, according to this MSNBC article- does only mention the damage to the liver though, not any terrible decisions you might have made as a result of being inebriated (sorry)
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means and not all of what I read was particularly scholarly- if you have more information, please let me know!  I realise that relying on a substance is a terrible, terrible thing.  But the way I see it, as long as I don’t wake up craving a cup and as long as I’m not dozy and useless without it, it’s a pretty innocuous indulgence.  I really do notice a big difference when I drink some before hitting the gym, as well.  My stamina is far better and I also feel that I get a more efficient workout.  Once in awhile needing a cup mid-day isn’t great since it means I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as long as I know I can crash later it’s not a huge issue.  Its effects like higher cholesterol, cortisol, and blood pressure can all be counteracted by exercise and maintaining low stress levels, so as far as I’m concerned we are in the clear, fellow coffee-drinkers!

Love (and science)

As much as I detest Valentine’s Day, it seems as good a time as any to write about love.  It’s rather a bizarre concept, since it encapsulates so many different ideas.  Most other languages actually have dozens of words for “love” to describe its many incarnations.

I think that it is important to point out the distinction between feeling love and showing love in a “romantic” way.  Showing love includes gestures like flowers and chocolate and often even saying “I love you.”  Feeling love is a much deeper thing- it’s liking how something or someone makes you feel or act.  It’s not even quite the feeling of being “attracted” to someone  because we all know that following attraction isn’t always in our best interest (Fatal Attraction, anyone?  If that’s love, be very afraid this evening).  Love really is the most pure element on earth because in its truest form, it causes us as humans to feel the most positive power there is.

How?  Science, my friends.  It is science.  The reason for these positive powers are not only good vibes you send into the universe, but also oxytocin hormones- the opposite of cortisol (stress) hormones.  But good news for you single ladies and gentlemen out there: you can generate oxytocin in many ways and reap the same benefits of love without having to put on a fancy dress or pay for an expensive dinner!

Love is not just something for two people to share.  I am very wary of the concept of bestowing it all upon one person- it’s a bit selfish, and also potentially extremely destructive (putting the proverbial eggs all in one basket, so to speak).  If you are in a genuine, healthy relationship with someone and you feel real feelings of love toward that person, great!  But don’t keep it all for yourselves- the rest of the world is just as deserving of love as your S.O. is!

Don’t focus all of your positive energy on one person; send it into the world for everyone.  This sounds airy-fairy and sort of nonsensical, but the power of positivity is frequently underestimated.  Karma is a real thing- but hey, even if you’re a skeptic what do you have to lose by being kind and pleasant to people?

Here are some ways that you can increase your oxytocin to generate more love to share with the world:

  • Appreciation:  In the same way that you appreciate things about a person you love, you can appreciate things about the world and get the same or even more enjoyment from it- just from enjoying things like a warm cup of tea or a nice walk.
  • Give Back: Just help someone who needs help- carrying boxes, cooking dinner, whatever.
  • Puppies: Well, it doesn’t have to be puppies.  Positive contact with any living thing generates oxytocin!
  • Meditation and mantrasKeep your thinking positive!
  • Chocolate and mud: It’s true, they both have lecithin- a chemical used by many homeopathic practitioners to boost your mood.  So eat a few truffles or run around barefoot for awhile!
  • Sex:  Hey, it is the #1 oxytocin-generating activity.  Just throwing it out there.
  • Anything that makes you truly happy: If you’re happy, you’re more likely to exude honesty, generosity and empathy, which are similar effects to those of oxytocin anyway!
Hopefully all you single ladies and gentlemen are having a splendid day despite all of the “romance” in the air- remember, you don’t need to be dating someone to feel love!  I am sending lots of love to all of you today and every other day as well =)

Body Clocks

When my mum used to tell me about why it was important to sleep (even at a young age I didn’t want to waste the time when there was adventure to be found), she used the words “body clock.”  I used to think that we literally had a Dali-esque squishy clock organ inside of our bodies that told us when things needed to be done.  I don’t think I was really that far from the truth, though.  Time is sort of a fallacy created by humans as an attempt to find order in the universe, but at the same time it is entirely authentic.  We just all have our own perception of it through that mythical part of our body: the clock.

Some people like to stay up late, and find themselves most productive in the wee hours of the morning.  Others get up with the sun and find that to be the best.  Some need 9 hours of sleep every night, others only 5 or 6.  I can’t sleep if I eat just before bed, but my brother can devour six pounds of curly fries and sleep like a baby.  Everyone is different, however, everyone is adaptable.

At my worst, I stayed up until 2 or 3 each morning, downed about twelve cups of coffee at 630 each morning to get through the day (not exaggerating), and then caught up with 12-14 hours of sleep each night over the weekend.  I was also sedentary and had terrible eating habits as a vegetarian who had never even met tofu.  I was overweight and miserable.

Then university happened, and there was so much to be done!  I trained myself to be a polyphasic sleeper: I took 4 hour-long naps during the day so I could be awake for 20 hours of the day.  This was miserable for the first two weeks, and then it was awesome.  It was like being high all the time, but with amazing productivity.  I think I accomplished more in a day than some of the other kids on my floor did in a week.  I got a lot thinner and happier.  This pattern didn’t last though, because when you sleep so little you have to be incredibly precise, and having to take a nap every day at dinner time killed my social life.

Now, I’ve reached a happy medium.  I sleep for a solid 6 hours just about every night.  This works because I exercise every day and eat a lot better, so that little bit of sleep is high quality.  In fact, this semester I’m only taking 21 credits and I only have two real jobs so I decided to try sleeping more- but I just can’t do it!  I can get 7 hours if I really wipe myself out, but that’s about it.  Apparently, my window of opportunity is between 3 and 7 hours- but that’s still a lot of flexibility!  Now I’m in great shape and I barely need any coffee- usually just a bit before the gym in the morning.

The point is, everyone has some sort of flexibility with their body clocks.  Anyone who says “I need eleven hours of sleep every night” simply does not know how to optimise his or her life.  Here are some tips to get started:

  • Be strict!  At first, you won’t feel great when adjusting your habits but you have to stick to it.  Research shows that new habits take up to three weeks to form.
  • But be forgiving- if you fall off one day, don’t just give up.  Nobody is judging you- just pick yourself back up and try again.
  • Be careful when you eat- if you know you don’t sleep well after eating a lot, don’t down a bag of chips just before bed!  It takes self control, but try a nice cup of tea instead.  Or at least something light like soup if you’re seriously famished.
  • Set alarmsplural!  I have three alarms every morning set at 15-minute intervals.  Now I wake up before they go off, but when you first start shifting your body clock you need lots of reminders.  Sleeping an extra 15 minutes at one time is better than hitting the snooze button seven times!
  • Exercise!  It will boost your energy during the day and you will sleep so much better at night.  Just know how it affects you personally- are you wired after your workout or do you need to pass out?  Figure out which is best for you, and time your workouts accordingly.
  • Make plans- You’re much more likely to get up if you know you have plans to grab breakfast with your friends.
  • Be productive- You’ll sleep a lot better if you have crossed at least one thing off your to-do list for the day.
  • Follow a circadian rhythm- Sure, some people are night owls.  But I guarantee you that if you can shift yourself to spending more of your waking hours with the sun, your health will improve.  Our bodies are optimised for natural light, not this electrical nonsense.  If at all possible, try to get up earlier in the day!
  • Honor your body- as always.  Sometimes you might find it difficult to stick to schedule.  Once in awhile, it’s totally fine to stay in your bed all day reading or watching trashy TV.  Everyone needs a guilty-pleasure binge once in awhile.  Just make sure you get up on time the next day and greet the world!

Vices

We all have one.  Or two.  Or seven.  But that’s what makes us human- if we all followed our diets religiously, never touched alcohol, avoided trashy TV, and always went to bed on time, we would be perfect.  And so ridiculously boring.

Generally speaking, I am a very healthy person and I don’t often even feel the need to indulge.  But once in awhile, something gives.  On my 21st birthday, I drank an entire bottle of champagne- before I even went out.  The thing is, what some people consider indulgences are things that many others engage in really frequently.  If you live a truly healthy lifestyle, occasionally drinking a ridiculous amount of alcohol or eating way too much sugar is not going to kill you (well, don’t get too ridiculous).  In fact if you restrain yourself for awhile, you will enjoy your “splurge” that much more.  And even better than that is what happens afterwards: the hangover.  Yes, I said better.

After I do something that I really wanted to do even though I knew it was a bad decision, I realise how much worse it actually made me feel.  Yes, I really enjoyed that bar of chocolate- but now I feel bloated and oily, and I remember why I don’t really eat them.  Or yeah, drinking way too much was fun at the time, but this morning my head is pounding and I am never doing it again.  Obviously it will happen again, but at least in the meantime at least I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

If you indulge every so often, you’re much less likely to go absolutely nuts- indulging in a bit of chocolate on a miserable monday will make you feel like you’re not depriving yourself and it will satisfy you for awhile.  Even if you splurge every week, hey- that’s six days of healthiness you have that you didn’t before.  If you go a year without eating chocolate and then walk into the grocery store the day after Valentine’s- well, I would not want to be between you and the candy aisle.

The moral of the story?  Embrace the fact that you’re human and you’re allowed to throw your body out of whack every once in awhile.  Don’t be irritatingly perfect because you will be secretly miserable, and one day you will crack.  If you’re healthy 95% of the time, don’t feel guilty for wanting to do something irresponsible, unhealthy, or just plain stupid.  You’ll bounce back!  But just in case, here are some tips for warding off cravings:

  • Exercise- even just a bit of a walk.  Endorphins are powerful!
  • Get outside- fresh air does wonders.
  • Have a glass of water- you might just be thirsty.  Our bodies often confuse hunger and thirst.
  • Have a conversation- connect with someone, or even just go on Facebook for a minute or two.
  •  Play a stupid online game- sometimes that feels like indulging, too.
  •  Substitute- if you want something sweet, go for fruit or yogurt.  Or have a handful of nuts instead of chips.
  • Do anything to distract yourself- check your email, organise your desk.
  • Wait ten minutes- most cravings pass in five.
  • Laugh- lots of cravings are emotional rather than physical.  You might just need a mood boost!
  • Just do it already- if you still want a bag of Skittles after going crazy trying to distract yourself, eat a fun-sized one.  If you had a rough couple of weeks and want to party all night, drink and be merry.  You’ll enjoy it, and then life will move on.