Have you ever watched a toddler walk and noticed how they have just the right posture? They can perform effortlessly perfect squats while keeping their backs straight, butts down, shoulders back, and feet pointing forward. This is truly amazing, considering many of us can’t do perfect squats now.
If you’re like me, at some point in life, we started to slouch, our necks began to crane forward, and our shoulders tightened up to our ears. My theory is that it started in grade school when our naturally dynamic and fluid bodies were forced to sit for a significant amount of time, often hunched over reading or writing. Add to that a backpack loaded with heavy books, causing us to round our backs and roll our shoulders forward. The situation worsened as we entered middle school and high school when recess was taken away and physical education no longer became a requirement. I can’t imagine how school is now that computers and technology are so integrated into the curriculum. And think about what happens if you have a desk job where you’re sitting in front of a computer for eight hours (or more) a day!
The human body was meant to move! Alas, not all of us have the privilege of having an active job and even so, that may have its own consequences. The solution is not to study or work less but to be more aware of our bodies.
Notice how you’re sitting right now. Don’t try to change anything. Just notice. Are you slouched or rolled forward? Are you leaning to one side? Are you arms or legs crossed? Notice how you feel in your body.
Now sit up straight. Roll your shoulders back and down, opening up your chest. Avoid craning your neck forward by tucking your chin back and looking forward. Plant both feet firmly on the ground. Engage your core to keep your low back neutral. Now notice how you feel. Take a few breaths here.
Correcting your posture not only helps prevent common physical complaints of neck, back, and shoulder pain but also helps lift your mood, energy, and confidence! You may have watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about power posing. If not, you can watch it here.
Below are some easy exercises to help improve your posture:
- Stand tall: Teach your body what it feels like to stand up straight by standing tall with your head, shoulders, and back against the wall. This may feel uncomfortable at first but with practice, you’ll find that you won’t need the wall anymore!
- Snow Angels: Every morning and night, lie on the floor and do “snow angels” with your arms for 2-3 minutes. Try to keep your shoulders and elbows on the ground. This will help open up your chest and strengthen your back.
- Open Up: If you have a desk job, make an effort to get up and stretch every 30 minutes. Or at least open up by interlacing your hands behind your head and pulling your shoulder blades down and back to open your chest.
- Strike a Power Pose: Stretch your arms out like you’re going to hug someone. You can even add a small back bend and open your chest up to the sky. Open up your body, mind, and spirit to the possibilities and be available for whatever comes your way.
With awareness and practice, you’ll soon begin to notice an increase in energy and productivity. I suppose our parents and teachers were on to something when they told us to sit up straight!
If you know me, you know that I’m often reminding people to breathe.
“How do you forget to breathe?” you ask? Well, you’d be surprised.
Granted, breathing is something our body does automatically without our awareness. It is part of the natural rhythm of life, expanding and contracting, ebbing and flowing. As long as we’re alive, the breath is something we always have but may not always be aware of. Yet, it is also something we can control and regulate if we put our mind to it. Because of this, the breath becomes a natural object of meditation and serves as a medium through which we can connect our mind and body.
Many people tend to either hold their breath or use accessory muscles (neck, shoulder, and upper chest muscles) to take shallow breaths. Though this is a common reaction when we feel stressed or rushed, over time, it can create tightness and tension, often leading to headache, lightheadedness, and other symptoms of poor oxygenation. By paying attention and regulating your breath, you can change your level of consciousness, begin to relax, and improve your health.
Take a moment now to notice how you’re breathing. Are you holding your breath? Are your breaths shallow? Do your shoulders and neck muscles tense up as you breathe? The very act of awareness might add more tension but just notice without judgment, not trying to change anything.
Now, adjust your posture so that you’re sitting with your back straight and your feet are planted firmly on the ground. Place your hands on your belly and close your eyes. On your next breath in, expand your lungs by lowering your diaphragm (the main breathing muscle attached to your lower ribs) and pushing your belly out. Notice if your shoulders elevate on the inhale. If so, consciously pull them down and focus on expanding from below and pushing your hands outward. On your exhale, contract your belly in and try to squeeze out all the air in your lungs in a slow, controlled fashion. By doing so, you’ll notice a fuller breath with better air exchange, improving and increasing the efficiency of oxygen delivery to all of your organ systems. Continue this for at least 8 breaths. Then open your eyes and breathe normally. Notice how you feel.
As you practice breathing fuller and deeper, enjoy the experience with curiosity. Ride the rise and fall, and explore the pause between the inbreath and outbreath. See if you can expand into that dimensionless space to deepen your level of consciousness. Many Buddhist and yogic traditions use this technique to reach enlightenment.
So when you find yourself caught up in the “busy-ness” of life, when you feel overwhelmed with too much to do, or when you feel pulled in multiple directions at once, just notice the tension in your body and don’t forget to breathe. Time will miraculously start to slow down, and you’ll feel calmer, lighter, and better equipped to manage the issues at hand. Not to mention, your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for it!
For more examples of breathing exercises, click here.
“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”—Saint Augustine
You’re sitting in traffic because of an unexpected accident and you have an important meeting to get to. You start sweating, your hands tighten around the steering wheel, and your heart beats faster. Suddenly, you start yelling at the car in front of you. You know it’s not their fault but you can’t help it… You’re late!
Does this sound familiar?
It may be hard to practice patience in this fast-paced, high-pressure life but developing this quality is necessary for happiness and well-being. Impatience can lead to anger and rage, compromising your relationships, elevating blood pressure and contributing to stress-related illnesses (which include pretty much any disease you can think of).
Patience creates a sense of peace and calmness, allows you to act more mindfully and wisely, and keeps you working towards a goal. It also improves your relationship with others and makes you a better person to work with and be around. Most importantly, it’s better for your health!
How can you practice patience?
The first step is to be aware of your impatience in the first place. Notice how your body reacts. Some signs and symptoms include:
- Shallow restricted breathing
- Heart beating faster and stronger
- Hands and/or jaw clenching
- Muscles tightening
- Restless feet or finger tapping
- Yelling/snapping at others
Once you are aware, you can then consciously manage your symptoms and emotions. Choose to be patient by using the following tips:
- Count to 10 (or more!)
- Close your eyes and take at least 3 deep breaths. (Please only close your eyes if it is safe to do so.)
- Relax your muscles, starting from the top of your head and face, progressing down to your neck/shoulders/arms/hands to your back and legs all the way down to your toes.
- Evaluate the situation. Remind yourself that your impatience isn’t going to get anyone to move any faster. On the contrary, it only causes more stress for yourself and others and will interfere with people’s ability to perform optimally. Identify and reflect on the possible root cause your impatience. Is it hunger or fatigue? Or a feeling of self-inadequacy?
- Find something positive about the situation. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice patience!
So, next time you’re feeling frantic and irritated, just stop. Breathe. And be patient. All of a sudden, you’ll feel so much better.
Now that the winter holidays are upon us, the last thing you want to do is get sick! No one wants to have a stuffy nose, cough, and congestion with guests around. But in the event that you do get sick, here are some tips to speed up recovery and get you back on your feet!
1. Rest. Do not underestimate your body’s need for rest and sleep. This is the time for recovery and to allow your body to do what it knows and needs to do to recover faster. Oftentimes, we ignore this because we have to stay on a schedule and meet expectations or deadlines but this will only further drain your resources, lengthen recovery time, and make you less productive. (Really, how productive can you be when you’re sick anyway?) In reality, if you just give your body the rest and relaxation it needs at the beginning, you can get back to work sooner and be more productive.
2. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. When you’re sick, your body’s fluid demand increases. Water is the best source of hydration. Juice contains a lot of sugar and can put more stress on the immune system. Caffeinated drinks (like soda and coffee) and alcohol can dehydrate you further. Drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty.
3. Make a hot tea with ginger, lemon, and honey. Ginger has anti-inflammatory effects and may help relieve any nausea or stomach upset. Lemon is a good source of vitamin C and can help cleanse your body. Manuka honey has natural antibiotic properties.
4. Drink soup with garlic and onions. It’s best if you can tolerate at least 2 cloves of raw garlic a day at the beginning of an illness for its antibiotic properties. But if not, make a soup out of it with onions which have natural antioxidant effects. Add in some carrots and celery for more flavor and nutrition.
5. Take high dose vitamin C. By “high dose,” I mean 1000mg 3-4 times a day or more when feeling unwell. (For children, I recommend 500mg 3-4 times a day.) Emergen-C and Airborne packets contain 1000mg of vitamin C each.
6. Suck on zinc lozenges. Zinc is a mineral that’s needed for the immune system to work properly. Taken within 24hrs of the onset of a cold, zinc may lessen the severity and shorten the duration of symptoms.
Remember to avoid getting anyone else sick by washing your hands frequently and covering your cough or sneeze with your sleeve or clothes (not with your hands). If symptoms don’t improve within 1-2 weeks or if you have an unrelenting fever, productive cough with wheezing, nausea/vomiting and are unable to tolerate fluids, then please see your doctor.
May your holiday season be filled with health and happiness!
It’s that time of year again. Holiday shopping. Entertaining guests. Attending parties and dinners. Planning family and vacation time. Not to mention the wonderfully tempting food. Will you be able to resist the Christmas pudding and those beautifully decorated sugar cookies?
Studies show that the average American gains about 1-2 pounds over the holiday season. This may not sound like much but those pounds tend to become permanent baggage and over the years, the pounds add up and slowly contribute to obesity without you even noticing! No doubt with all the festivities, we tend to eat and drink more and exercise less. We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that we forget to take care of ourselves. Fortunately, with a little bit of planning, you can enjoy tradition while maintaining your coolness and without gaining weight.
If you’ve been trying to lose weight, shift your focus from weight loss to weight maintenance. No one wants to be on a strict diet over the holidays and with all the temptation, it’s hard enough just to maintain your weight, let alone try to lose weight. Get through the holidays and then get back on your weight loss plan in the new year.
Here are 3 tips to get you through the holidays healthily.
- Schedule in down time and make it a priority.
As time gets tighter and tighter, you may not be able to get in a 1-2 hour workout or massage anymore. Instead, it might be a 20 minute power walk during lunch or a 5 minute stretch between meetings. But a little relaxation goes a long way. Taking care of yourself is the key to keeping your cool through the busy-ness of the day. Hold yourself to the utmost importance and schedule time for yourself everyday (preferably at the same time every day). You wouldn’t miss an important work meeting so don’t forgo your self-care.
- Keep it fresh and simple.
If you’re hosting a party, do yourself and your guests a favor by starting with light appetizers like fresh vegetables with a light yogurt dip, shrimp cocktail, or mixed nuts. For the mains, try grilling or roasting. Avoid creamy sauces which tend to be heavier in calories. Instead, keep it simple and try flavoring with different herbs and spices or salsas. Lemon and garlic are great options. For dessert, stick with fruit options like fruit skewers, fruit salad, fruit crumble, or yogurt with fresh berries. Regarding drinks, try flavoring water with orange, lemon, or cucumber slices. Offer simple alcohol choices like wine and beer instead of cocktails that tend to be higher in sugar and calories. If you’re going to a potluck, be the one to bring a fresh fruit or veggie dish. It’s quick, easy, and takes little to no preparation.
- Scan. And enjoy.
If you know you’re going to a party or dinner, anticipate temptation by getting in fitness and filling yourself with nutritious foods beforehand. You won’t splurge as much if you’re not starving. When you’re faced with a buffet of food, first scan your options. Fill your plate with foods that are simply prepared. Make sure it includes a rainbow of colors, with the goal of at least half of your plate being vegetables. Then sit down and enjoy! Take time to taste the flavors and really savor the food. Enjoy the company and conversation. Laugh. Give yourself at least 20 minutes and drink water before deciding whether or not to go back for more.
And at the end, if all fails, don’t beat yourself up. We’re all human and sometimes give in to temptation and end up splurging. Just acknowledge, reassess, and do better at the next party.