Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Secret 42: Sit Still and Do Nothing

What wonderful advice! How often do you take a few minutes during the course of a day to simply sit still and do and think nothing? 

Doing nothing does not require great outlays of money, investing in complicated equipment, cooking up a fancy meal – since all you do is….nothing. A quick pause. A little time-out. A quiet reset. A few moments of just being and existing. The benefits are tremendous. You are giving your body and your mind a well-deserved break. Every night when you go to bed and sleep your body is being allowed to rest. How about, during the course of a busy 16 hours on the go, giving your mind and body a special present by allowing yourself to do nothing, think nothing? My favorite ‘tool’ to achieving this sensation of absolute bliss is my hammock. It is the most comfortable place I have found anywhere in the world to relax, and it is hidden in a quiet corner of the garden that I consider my oasis. If you want to give yourself a well-deserved treat, relax into a comfortable hammock and ‘switch off’. Just a few minutes suffice to give your body a powerful reboot.

Care about your health?  Do nothing!
In her ‘do nothing’ secret, Beare recommends meditation as a form of ‘doing nothing’. I recommend breathing meditation. It sounds easy, but is extremely challenging. Just a few minutes of breathing meditation will help you calm down and increase your sense of peace. Breathing meditation takes practice, and if you are new to this practice, patience is a virtue. The instructions are simple:

Find a comfortable, quiet place to rest
Stand, sit or lie down (I prefer not to lie down because invariably, I fall asleep)
If you have never meditated before, you may wish to start by sitting comfortably – either cross-legged or on a chair
Keep your back straight
Close your eyes
Draw your attention to your breath
Breath naturally, through your nostrils
Observe as your breath enters your body, leaves your body, enters your body, leaves your body
Concentrate on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving
If you catch your thoughts starting to wander, observe your thoughts and gently bring your attention back to your breath
You may notice how busy your mind is, and how much it wants to chase the different thoughts that keep popping up
Acknowledge the thoughts in a non-judgmental manner, let go of them, and gently bring your attention back to your breath
As your mind starts to quiet down, you may notice a feeling of peace and contentment
This feeling of stillness helps us cope with the relentless demands on our time and the unremitting pounding of daily stress.
Over time you will notice that it is easier to stay with your breath for longer periods of time (minutes rather than seconds)

Try to set aside a few minutes a day for breathing meditation. Whenever you feel tension building in your body, take a time-out and allow emptiness to fill your mind.

In fact, the meditation that Beare recommends is TM, or transcendental meditation. The TM movement was started by a wily Indian businessman by the name of Mahesh Prasap Varma (1918 – 2008). TM is practiced twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes each in a sitting position using a sound or ‘mantra’. It gained worldwide popularity in the late fifties and claims several million followers around the world. In the U.S. you can learn TM from a certified teacher over the course of four days for US$1,500. Some of its better-known erstwhile fans included the Beatles and Deepak Chopra. TM has grown into a multi-million dollar business....

But back to ‘doing nothing’. I do not advocate TM. If you want to relax and do something good for your health, a hammock and/or a few minutes of breathing meditation are a great start.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Secret 41: Breathe - and Hum

Death is a natural part of the cycle of life. In unfortunate circumstances, death is caused by an accident and the person dies prematurely. If all goes well, a person lives a long and healthy life and eventually, due to old age, passes on. However, in the Western world, death is often precipitated because our bodies are no longer able to effectively rid themselves of toxins. Through the ‘food’ we choose to eat, the pollutants in the environment, overwhelming stress, excessive electromagnetic radiation, and a dearth of essential nutrients, our bodies are exposed to more toxins than they are able to process and excrete. Death in countries with high standards of living, ironically, often occurs when toxins overwhelm the body.  What a futile way to end a life!

A very powerful method of detoxification is correct breathing. Other important detoxification systems are found in the digestive system (constipation = lingering of toxins in the gut; are you eating enough fiber and fresh fruit and vegetables), the spleen, the kidney, the liver, the immune system, the mind and its outlook, and the skin.  In this blog we examine the role our lungs play in detoxification.

Air consists of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), and a mixture of other gases (1%). One of these gases is carbon dioxide (less than 0.04%). Oxygen, like water, is vital for our existence.  Carbon dioxide is a waste material. Breathing provides us with oxygen, and, just as important, allows us to efficiently rid ourselves of carbon dioxide. The oxygen and carbon dioxide of the air we exhale is lower in oxygen (14% to 18%) and higher in carbon dioxide (4% to 5%). Breathing is an automated body function and is triggered by higher carbon dioxide levels rather than lower oxygen levels. For example, during exercise a by-product of energy is carbon dioxide. The increased level of carbon dioxide increases the acidity of blood, which in turn triggers the mechanisms that make us breathe harder. On average, a person creates 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of carbon dioxide per day. Exhaling does not only rid the body of carbon dioxide, it is also a conduit to loss of water. Exhaled air has a humidity of 100%.  Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fresh water is essential for effective detoxification.

Although breathing is a vital part of detoxification, we rarely, during the many years we attend school, are taught how to breathe correctly. Shallow breaths retain stale air in the lungs, and prevent thorough oxygenation of the body. According the Sally Beare, if you improve your breathing, this leads to better digestion and circulation, and thus, better health. Deep breathing has a positive effect on our circulation, tissue oxygenation and removal of waste products.

When you are flustered, stressed or feel overwhelmed, take the time to exhale deeply. This will speed up detoxification and reduce tension in your body. Active breathing is a very effective method of excreting toxins and helping reduce the acidity of the blood by releasing carbon dioxide. In hot yoga or Bikram yoga, the 90-minute yoga session starts and ends with breathing exercises.  This allows the mind to refocus on the present, and helps the body ‘acclimatize’ to the 103 degrees and 45%+ humidity in the studio.  It also allows the yogi to get rid of excess tension and relax into the session.

How do you breath deeply? Use your lungs fully and inhale deeply for a slow count of four. Then hold your breath and visualize bathing all your cells with pure oxygen for another slow count of four. For a third count of four, slowly exhale and imagine washing away every last bit of unwanted waste material, negative thought, fear, concern and worry. The beauty of deep breathing is that you do not need any special, cumbersome, expensive machines to instantaneously reap its benefits. You do not even need to do exercise to reap its benefits. Just bring your awareness to your breath, slowly count to four as you inhale into your abdomen through your nose, hold your breath for a slow count of four, and then slowly exhale through your nose on four.  To increase the effectiveness of this exercise, cover one side of your nose with your 2nd and 3rd finger, do the exercise on this side several times, then cover the other nostril  with the 2nd and 3rd finger of your other hand, and repeat. Notice how you start to relax.

By the way, Beare claims that the only cells in the human body that are adverse to oxygen are cancer cells.  This statement needs further study in a separate blog.

Beare also recommends humming as an efficient method to improve gas exchange.

Take a deep breath and blow your worries away
So, if you ever feel anxious, take the time to breath deeply and welcome the feeling of increased calmness into your mind and body.