Pilates equipment- & classes

In today’s blog I want to talk about the different equipment that you use in Pilates classes and what I think is important to know, when you want to join a class.  In private studios, where there are often one-on-one classes, you do find equipment that is not used in a gym environment.  Let us delve into Pilates first; discussing both private studio- and gym equipment.  There are a number of differences, but also similarities.  You will also notice that there is equipment that are used in both private studios and in a gym.  In a private studio, there are some / all of the following:  Pilates balls, rings, Thera Bands, mats, Reformers, Stability chairs, Barrels and/or hand weights.  In a gym environment, you will find Pilates balls, Bosu balance trainers, mats, hand weights, Thera Bands and / or rings.

Originally Pilates was developed as Rehabilitation exercises, geared towards ballet dancers.  Joseph Pilates suffered from rheumatoid arthritis all his life.  When he moved to America, he got the idea to combine Yoga, Ballet and Cardio (working with apparatus) as a rehabilitation program.  The first Pilates studio opened in New York and here mostly ballet dancers came for help.  As the word spread, more and more people wanted to join; thus, studios all over the world started to open up.  Over the years different schools also popped up, but the basics are all the same.  In the private studios, Reformers, Stability chairs and Barrels, are specifically made for and used for rehabilitation.  However, you don’t have to have an injury or recover from an injury, to use it.  If you would like to work on the equipment, then I personally believe it is better to either do one-on-one sessions, at first, before joining a class.  When one of the beforementioned equipment are used in a class environment, it is best to keep the class small.  In that way you can give everyone the attention needed.

In a gym environment classes are quite big and there is not always space for all the equipment you find in private studios.  Therefore, Pilates balls, Bosu balance trainers, and so forth, are mostly used.  The Pilates balls vary in size, depending on a person’s height.  The Bosu is a “half-ball;” on the one side it is rounded and the other it is flat.  You can use both sides for abdominal exercises, push-ups, balancing, and many other exercises.  The bands and weights are also great tools to use.  Bands also vary in resistance according to the material it’s made of and its length. The rings, that are used both in private studios and in the gyms, are great to use for strength-training as well as rehabilitation and even balancing-exercises! 

If you are doing Pilates, or thinking of starting, I would suggest to make sure that the gym / studio is accredited and that the instructor (s) are well qualified. I have noticed, in many instances, that there are many instructors teaching Pilates, but not all of them are well qualified; let alone have experience.  Experience comes with years of teaching and continued learning.  However, it is crucial that the instructor has the knowledge (know how), when it comes to each individual’s personal health.  For example, when you are pregnant in the first trimester, did you know that you cannot lift your head up when you exercise, as this can cause a miscarriage?  In the last trimester, you should not open your legs wider than your hips, as this can cause early delivery!  These are but 2 examples of what a Pilates instructor should know about.   

Private studios are great when you are a beginner.  Gym classes can have more members and it can happen that the “newbies” don’t get the attention needed.  I am not suggesting that you don’t go to gym; just make sure to let the instructor know about your health condition (if you are pregnant or have a back problem, for example), and make sure that all levels are taught:  from beginner to advanced level.

The equipment used in the private studios are the original apparatus.  Balls are used in the gym (together with the above-mentioned equipment), as it takes up less space.  All in all, I believe that Pilates is a form of exercise that is fantastic for all ages.  Like yoga, Pilates can be done when you are pregnant, are recovering from an operation or an injury.  Whether you enjoy a private studio or a gym environment, there is a Pilates school / Pilates routine for everyone! 

Deeper meanings

In last week’s blog, I looked at the correlation and differences between Easter and Passover.  In today’s blogpost I want to look at the deeper meaning (s) a bit more.  The bunny and the eggs have, for many, not make any sense – as eggs come from hens.  It was interesting to do research on this topic and, I am certain, that some of my readers were just as surprised, as I was, to learn something new about the meaning of the bunny and eggs.  For many years, and still today, the bunny and eggs are symbols of new life.  After a long, cold winter, spring comes and with it, new life. 

So, you might wonder, why am I mentioning it again?  I want to look at the deeper meaning and apply it to today’s life.  In the Northern Hemisphere spring has sprung; birds are coming out, getting ready to build a nest, flowers and greenery are starting to bloom and animals are mating.  In the Southern Hemisphere people and nature, are getting ready for the upcoming winter months.  Everything in life, if you just stop and look at nature, is cyclical.  There is a time and a place for everyone and everything.  Sometimes we need to work and other times we need to rest.  When we stop our rushed life and get in sync with nature again, we “tune in” to what Divinity / God wants us to be, do and hear. 

Many years ago, before the modern world of 24hour-restaurants, shops, and so forth, people would get up when the sun rises and go to bed when it is dark.  There was more of a natural rhythm between nature and man.  Looking at the deeper meaning (s) of celebrations, we realize that there is much more to life than physical / material gifts.  Life itself is a gift and, whether it is Easter, Passover, Christmas or any other celebration, give thanks that another day has been given.

What you do with the day / time that has been given, is up to you.  Some people love spring and cannot wait for warmer days and sunshine; others enjoy the winter with its snow and fire places.  Each season, each day, brings something new.  Just like the bunnies being born after a long winter, so too can you give birth to whatever you want to.  Many people say it is best to “hibernate” in winter and take action when it is warmer.  It doesn’t matter, I think, as long as you don’t procrastinate and let the days slip by without doing something.  Of course, there are days that you don’t want to do anything and that is perfectly fine.  The best thing is, as I have said many times before, listen to your body.  Don’t ignore your inner voice; if you need to rest, then rest. 

One thing you should, however, never stop doing (even when it is cold), is to keep moving.  Humans were not designed to sit / lie still for longer than usual.  Our bodies want to move; instinctively you know, you feel, when it is time to stand up, to walk, to run, to exercise, to move.  For those of my readers in the North, enjoy the spring and make a point to go out into nature more.  For my readers in the South; chin up!  Depending where you live, not all the winters in the South is too cold; so, put on your shoes and go outside as well. 

Whether you live in the Northern- or Southern Hemisphere, make sure to nurture yourself and continue to work towards your goals.  A goal remains a dream until it is achieved.  Enjoy spring; enjoy winter; and turn your gaze to nature for inspiration!

Easter and Passover

Easter and Passover are 2 different, yet almost the same, festivities that people all over the world celebrate each year.  Easter is a time when Christians remember the betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  Passover is a time when the Jewish people remember the Hebrews’ liberation from slavery and exodus of Egypt. 

The above, short description, is what happened on a physical level.  However, there is a deeper, more spiritual meaning, from both celebrations, that I would like to look at.  Jesus was a prophet, the Son of God, who came to earth to teach the masses that the Kingdom of God is within; it is not something that is “out there.”  Being human, Jesus had to go through different trials and tribulations, just like any other person (for example He was tempted, angered, frustrated, sad).  In order to grow spiritually and ascend, Jesus had to stop living a life based on ego.  When you allow your ego to make the decisions and “rule” your life, then anger, temptation, fights and tears, will be part of your life.  The ego is not all negative, but when you make your decisions based solely on your ego, you can rest assured that you will be disappointed quite often.  Ever heard the expressions “his / her ego is in overdrive?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He not only died for humanity, but his ego died too.  When he rose from the dead, He shed his “old self” and became enlightened.  To be spiritual doesn’t just mean that you do yoga, meditate and/or eat healthy.  To be spiritual means that you realize and believe that God / Divinity is within each and everyone of us; including animals and plants.  Letting go of your ego means that you truly align with Divinity; you “go within” to find answers and know that there is much more to life than material things.

When the Hebrews were liberated from slavery and left Egypt, they celebrated and gave thanks.  In much the same way they left their “old selves” behind.  Slavery always reminds me of some sort of bondage, whether spiritual or physical, or both.  When the bondage is broken, a person becomes free.  When you break the bondage that your ego, a person, a situation, has on you, then you are free.  Free to become who you were meant to be; free to go where you should be and, just like Jesus, you grow spiritually.

In a previous blog I mentioned the chakras.  Chakras are the energy balls in the body that link up with the Tree of Life.  In a nutshell, when you are living an “ego-filled” life, then you are vibrating on the 1st 3 chakras.  As you move away from the ego into the heart, you move up to the 4th chakra.  As you grow spiritually and become more enlightened, you move up into the last 3 chakras (or even higher).  As human beings we came to this earth to learn, to grow and to ascend – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

Therefore, to all my readers, I would like to wish you all a blessed period ahead.  May we learn to let go of our ego-trips and, instead of over-thinking things, let us tune into our hearts and listen to the voice within.  Balancing the ego / mind and heart, are key! 

PS:  Wondering where does the bunny and eggs fit into Easter?  The bunny represents reproductive strength and has been associated with Mary, mother of Jesus, for centuries.  The Easter eggs represented the Resurrection for early Christians.  The eggshell represented the tomb and the breaking of the egg, His resurrection.

Change is in the air

A Greek philosopher called Heraclitus once said: “Change is the only constant in life.”  Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable.  Changes are the one constant thing that happens in nature and in one’s life.  Without changes, nothing will grow, become better, heal or learn.  In nature we have births, deaths, growth and decay; we have the different seasons; different colours; different ocean waves, and so on.  In life it is much the same:  people are born, they grow up, they age and they die.  Throughout your life’s journey you make friends and lose some; you change jobs, partners, homes, countries, and so on. 

Change can be quite stressful, especially when it something that we don’t like (for example losing a loved one or separating).  However, change is inevitable and, although at times stressful, it can also be healing and a blessing in disguise.  Life is a constant flow of events; it is a journey and not a destination.  Human beings are not just physical beings; humans are spiritual, emotional beings as well.  Being here means we have lessons to learn and we need to grow spiritually.  Sometimes life throws us a curveball or 2, but we need to dust ourselves off, get up, lift up our heads and continue on our journey. 

Ever heard the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”  This sums it up quite well.  It is not what happens to you, in life, that defines you, but the way you react.  The ego can be your friend or your foe – why do I say that?  Well, simply because when you come from the ego (me, me, me), then you will be unhappy most of the time when things don’t go the way you want and/or like it to go.  When you let go of your ego and “tune in” to your spiritual side, then you will realize that all is well.  That Divinity is in control and that you are where you should be at this point in your life.  I am not saying that you cannot work on changing something in your life, but when it comes to doors not opening, then don’t let the ego’s chatter let you loose sleep.  Instead meditate or pray about it, then hand it over to Source.

Nature is a wonderful example of balance, even when there are change.  As we move closer to winter in the Southern Hemisphere, leaves are starting to change and/or fall of.  However, the bare branches are still beautiful against a clear blue sky.  Animals instinctively know that the seasons are changing and that they must get ready – and they are ok with it.  Many people know that you have to just “flow with it,” when the changes come.  Others try to resist it but, the harder you try, the tougher it gets.  Change reminds me of the ebb and flow of the ocean; although the waves and sand look the same when it comes in, it is not.  And that is the beauty of life’s journey.  You never know what changes, new adventures, people, places, and so on, lie just around the corner.  If what you discover is not what you were hoping for, or it is something that you dislike, then nothing and nobody can stop you from “packing your bags,” so to speak, and continuing on your journey. 

Change can be hard and we are all human.  The best advice I can give you is to change what you can and that which you can’t, let it be, let it go.  It is not always easy, but with practise comes success.  The more you just live and stay in the moment, in the now, the easier it becomes not to fret over the future.  The past is gone; nothing can change it or bring it back – let it go!  The future is not yet here, we only have now, this moment, to be in.  Let us make the best of it and, as my gran always said, “look up and look pleased!  Regardless of what life throws at you!”

Can allergies make you age?

More and more people are suffering from either allergy and/or food intolerances.  Many, many years ago, allergies were something alien; when a child didn’t want to eat certain foods, saying it made him feel bloated or caused a blocked nose, he was told he is “fussy.”

Years later many people’s perspectives have changed, due to more people becoming allergic or intolerant.  The internet and magazines writing about it, put these two on the map, as it were, and today it is not weird anymore if you come across someone who is allergic or has a food intolerance.

What is the difference then? 

An allergy is an abnormal reaction by the body to foreign substances, called allergens.  Once they enter the body, the body’s immune system detects it and produces an allergy-associated antibody known as Immunoglobulin E (Ige), to fight the allergens.  An allergic reaction can be sudden, but it can also build-up over time.  Examples are sneezing, wheezing, itching, developing a rash (like eczema), shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches (migraines included), hives, and a swollen tongue and/or lips, are some of the symptoms.  A sudden reaction will be swollen lips, tongue, not being able to breathe, anaphylaxis shock (the latter can be fatal). 

There are many allergens, for example, dairy products like milk and cream, peanuts, shell fish, bee stings, pollen, smoke (including second hand smoking), avocado’s, bananas, mould, dust mites, animal hair (cats and dogs), eggs, chocolate, colourings, preservatives, chemicals found in washing powders, soups and make-up, deodorant, medicine, like Penicillin, and so forth.

The biggest difference between allergies and food intolerances, is that allergies can be fatal.  Anaphylaxis is the most fatal, although vomiting, skin rashes (e.g., eczema), asthma and diarrhoea, can also be linked to allergies. Food intolerances, on the other hand, is not related to the immune system.   It is not fatal but can cause bloating, constipation, tiredness, irritable bowel symptom, sneezing (hay fever) and a scratchy throat.  There are two different types:

An abnormal absorption of food, that results from an enzyme deficiency (for example lactose intolerance – caused due to a lack of the lactase enzyme – needed by the body to digest the milk sugar lactose);

A reaction caused by naturally occurring chemicals in food, e.g., tyramine and histamine, or food additives, like sulphur dioxide and benzoates.

Do not confuse cold symptoms with an allergic reaction.  Colds usually disappear in a week to 10 days. Allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, can linger for weeks; even months.  Nasal discharge from a cold start of runny, then thickens.  With an allergy it often stays runny, itches, your eyes water and/or your skin itches.  When hay fever turns into sinusitis, your nose can become blocked and feel stuffy all the time.

In an article I read last year, the idea that allergies can age you faster, was discussed.  Today allergies are not just common amongst children, but more adults are becoming allergic as well.  The reasons?  For starters; the type of foods we consume – if not organic, most of the food we buy and eat are ridden with pesticides, fungicides and insecticides.  These chemicals, known as biocides, are designed to kill: “bio-” means life; “-cide” means killing!  The cleaning agents used in our homes and workspace, are also loaded with chemicals and toxins.  Then there is air- and dust pollution, as well as mites!  Many cosmetic brands also have ingredients in that can cause allergies. 

Another factor to consider is stress; especially if you don’t get rid of it.  Stress puts the body in a “fight or flight-mode” and when we are under severe stress, our immune system starts to suffer.  When the immune system suffers, our body’s natural defences against allergies, illness, and so on, drops and we become more susceptible to a disease (dis-ease).  When the immune system is in a red-alert state, so to speak, the body becomes over sensitive to allergens.  And this is where it gets interesting…this oxidative stress, psychological stress, inadequate nutrition and wear and tear, all play a role when it comes to ageing faster.

How is this possible?  Chronic inflammation.  Inflammation is the body’s natural response to stressors and can occur if you injure yourself, as a means to protect the body.  However, when inflammation becomes chronic, then there is a problem.  For example, chronic inflammation can cause arthritis, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancers and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  Myself, and many doctors and specialists, believe that many of these diseases are preventable.  It has also been proven that 80%+ of cancers today, are caused by stress (this includes personal- and environmental stress factors).  When you have a disease, your body is trying to tell you that something is out of balance; that there is a dis-ease somewhere in the body.  In order to re-balance and boost your immune system, you can take medication, get rid of stress and look at your diet.  Nutrition plays a big role in whether or not you live a healthy life or not (whether / not you suffer from allergies). 

Trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup (deceitfully re-branded as “natural corn sugar”), processed meats, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, cola drinks, and so forth, all play a huge role in our general health and well-being.  Many children, and adults alike, are sensitive to artificial flavourings, colourings and ingredients, that you find in many products today.  It might start of as just an allergy but, if the substances are not cut out of the diet, then, over time, the inflammation that it causes becomes chronic.  Every time an allergic reaction is triggered by an allergen, resources are diverted away from your immune system.  This can, over time, increase the degenerative, ageing effects of the stressors.  As we have noted already, chronic inflammation can lead to other diseases.  Therefore, it is always best to eliminate something from your diet if you are allergic and, of course, even better if you can eat more organic and free-range produce. 

There are many over-the-counter medications that can alleviate allergies.  However, I am of the belief that it is much better, in the long run, to look at the root / cause of the allergies and medicate that.  Homeopathy, for example, has been around for ages and treats the cause and not just the symptoms.  Acupuncture is also a good option and, of course, nutrition (as mentioned before).  Vitamins C, B 6 & 12, as well as Zinc, probiotics and Omega oils, help to give your immune system a boost and keep it strong at the same time.  For sensitive stomachs, I would suggest to use a Buffered vitamin C-powder (tablet).    

Allergies don’t have to ruin your life nor your lifestyle.  As with everything, the best thing to do is to listen to your body, seek the right help when you don’t get better and live a healthy lifestyle.  Whether it is sinus, hay fever, eczema or other allergic reactions that you suffer from, know that there is something that can be done.  If you need to make changes in your diet or change the soap you bath with, so be it.  Your health must come first.  Think of it this way:  if you are a vegetarian, for example, you eat most things except meat.  If you are allergic to shell fish, then you eat everything else except that. 

Allergies should not be ignored by anybody.  If a person is severely allergic, he / she can go into anaphylactic shock if he / she is exposed to certain triggers, for example penicillin.  If you are unsure what you are allergic to, seek help.  Many doctors, especially holistic practitioners, will put you on an elimination diet to find out what the triggers are, or they can do a blood test or an iridology test, to find out.  Once you know, then you can easily manoeuvre your life around it and still live a happy, fulfilling life.

Feng Shui

Feng Shui is an ancient philosophy where living spaces are arranged to be in balance / harmony, with the natural environment (nature).  In Asian-cultures people work with the energies in order to create balance in their homes, offices and their lives.  The universe, and us, are energetic beings, made up of energies.  To work with these energies, not only brings you peace, harmony and balance, but can also increase your wealth and success. 

There are a number of important things to take into consideration when you plan the layout of your house, office, room and garden, in order for these energies to flow without any obstructions.  In order to plan the layout, an energy map (Bagua) is used.  Bagua means eight areas; each area links to a different life circumstance, for example family, wealth, career and love (relationships).  You are placed in the centre and linked to all the areas on the map.  Different schools (and authors) use this energy map differently.  Colours, shapes, types of materials and the five elements (fire, earth, water, metal, wood) also play a role in Feng Shui.  Colours can energize you or calm you down, thus it is important to choose the right colours for the different rooms.  For example, red, orange and yellow are linked to productivity and energy, whereas blue, green and pink brings a sense of calm and serenity to a room (and the mood of the person). Here are a few interesting tips that I found about Feng Shui.  I am not going to go into the minute detail, but I just want to give you an oversight and a few ideas, that you can try out yourself.

The front door and / or Living room are the first impression of many homes.  Instead of having a footpath running straight from the gate to the door, it is better to have a curved path.  The latter slows down your walking pace and helps to calm you down before entering the home.  Make sure that there is no mirror facing the front door.  Ideally, the front door should face south or southeast.  Depending on where you live, the latter can be different for people living in the Northern Hemisphere and those living in the Southern Hemisphere.  Placing water with / without fish close to the front door, as well as crystals, candles and/or religious symbols, will invite positive energies into your space and create harmony.  Crystals, candles and/or religious symbols can also be placed inside the living room.  If your footpath runs straight, then place an object like a chair inside the entrance-area (if possible) or hang a crystal from the ceiling, just to “break” the direct energy-flow coming into your home.

Paintings are a great way to bring the right energies into a room.  if you don’t have Koi fish (which is used by many Asian people), then a painting is just as good.  Make sure there are 9 fishes on the painting or in your pond. If you don’t like the idea of fish, then a painting of a landscape, mountain and/or water-scene, are also perfect.  Bright peony flowers bring prosperity (according to Feng Shui); if you can’t find them or are allergic to the flowers, then opt for other bright flowers for the living room.  Just on a side-note; Feng Shui uses real plants in the house and not artificial ones.  If you want to attract more wealth, then placing a money frog in the far end corner, diagonally from the front door, at a 45° angle, is a good idea.  The Fu-dog, that you often see in Asia, is believed to protect the house and bring good fortune.

The dining room is a place where you want to relax, enjoy your meal and/or the company.  Placing fresh fruit on the dining room table, or hanging a picture of fruit and/or vegetables on the wall, are good.  Crystals, a candle, good lightning and/or a salt lamp are all used to energize the room.  Bright coloured flowers, fresh or as a painting, are another way to bring the right energies into the space.

Moving to the bedroom.  A space where you relax, meditate and sleep.  Natural crystals (pink and orange-coloured) are great to use.  If you want to balance the masculine / feminine (yin / yang)- energies of the room, hang a painting of a dragon and phoenix.  Not quite your style?  Then opt for pictures of birds or flowers; do make sure there is at least 2 animals on the picture.  Asians like paintings of Mandarin ducks, swans, doves and peach blossoms; as it is a symbol of love and relationships. 

Mirrors in a bedroom can be detrimental, according to Feng Shui, to your intimate relationship, depending where it is located in the bedroom.  Never hang a mirror (or have mirrored cupboard-doors) facing your bed, as it is believed that it will drain your energies and bring too much water into the bedroom (too much water is linked to sadness).  It is also believed that the mirror can bring the energies of a 3rd party into your intimate relationship; especially if it faces the bed. Either replace the mirrored doors, or cover them at night.  Important to note that a television is a no- no in the bedroom as well!  Feng Shui believes that a television will disturb the energies and sleeping patterns of the people.  A television in the bedroom is like a mirror; so, if intimacy is lacking in your relationship, rethink of having a it in your bedroom.  Another no-no is a mirrored headboard, as it can also attract energies and/or other people into your relationship.  If you want to have a mirror in your bedroom, best to opt for a small one that is not facing your bed at all. 

The bathroom and laundry room are rooms where we both relax and work.  Fresh flowers or plants are wonderful to use in these rooms.  Not only do they freshen the air but it is also pleasing on the senses.  Proper lighting is important, but a candle or salt lamp can also be used in the bathroom, in order to bring a sense of serenity to the room.  Instead of using plastic things like cups, rather opt for glass, ceramics or earth ware.  A properly sized mirror in the bathroom (with the correct lighting) is key.  Make sure to use good quality soap, towels and, if you want to, an essential oil-diffuser is another lovely way to invigorate the senses.

A home office or study, separate from the other rooms, are better.  Here a painting of mountains and/or water, or any landscape, are key.  The more open and bigger the landscape-painting, the better, as it is believed that it symbolizes bringing in more wealth, opportunities and success.  A dragon / dragon turtle is often placed in the office / study.  Making use of a beautiful stationary set, as well as crystals (especially clear amethyst), are great ideas.  Amethyst crystals can be placed next to your laptop / computer, to clear away negative radiation coming from your electronics.  If you, like me, love animals or the ocean, a painting of a horse, ready to jump, or a ship, ready to sail, for example, are great to use.  These types of paintings / pictures symbolize opportunities coming in and future successes.

The salt lamps, that I have mentioned above, are wonderful to use as air-filters.  If you suffer from allergies, this is a wonderful, healthy way to clear the air in your home. 

if you are lucky enough to have a garden, then make sure to add the correct lighting, furniture, plants and paths, that not only blends in to the natural environment, but also brings in balance. Nature is, as I have mentioned before, a great inspiration behind the concept of Feng Shui. In nature everything has a rhythm and works in harmony with each other and that is what Feng Shui brings into one’s life.

Feng Shui is as ancient as the land itself.  Even if you start off by making small changes, you can start to create the harmony, success and other positives in your life, that you want.  As I have mentioned before, I have only brushed the surface of what Feng Shui is and how it works.  If you have no idea where to start, opt for getting a qualified person in to give you advice.  Today there are so many books and articles written on this topic, that you can feel quite overwhelmed with all the information.  More and more interior designers, in the Western world, are incorporating Feng Shui, as more and more people realize that we are energetic beings and they want to reap the benefits of all the positives it brings.

Energy is everywhere; the universe and everything on this planet (including you) are made up of energy.  The ancient cultures worked with these energies and not against it (or seeing it another way; they worked with nature and not against nature).  Feng Shui helps you to learn how to live with, work with and be in alignment with, these positive energies. Balancing is key and this, I believe, is what more and more people want in their lives – balance!

Working from home (continued)

Here are more tips and tricks for turning your home office into a space that is inviting and pleasant to work in.  As you know, the body, just like the mind, can get exhausted from working too hard and/or long hours.  Your eyes can also tire and take strain; especially when we are looking at a computer screen or cell phone screen, for hours on end.  Taking a break from looking at your screen all the time and just looking up, away at something else, will instantly relax your eyes.  Eyestrain is one of the many complaints that people complain about today.  Your eyes’ muscles also get tired, so make sure to take a break every 30 minutes – 1 hour.  When you start to see double or your eyes are red and/or painful, then stop working!  Taking care of your eyes are vital; instead of overworking both your eyes and mind, stop, put off the laptop and rest.  This is also important for children, as their eyes are still growing and, too much time spent on a phone or tablet, can cause eye problems.  Teach them to take regular breaks as well.  Remember; tomorrow is another day.

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is part of the modern world.  Already in 2011 radio frequency wireless radiation was classified as a Class 2B carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  What to do?  First option is to create a distance between yourself and the device(s); second option is not to spend hours and hours in front of the computer or on your phone – easier said than done, you might think!  A great advice, given by an internet expert, was to keep the wi-fi (wireless rooter) in another room; far away from you.  When you go to bed at night, put it off, as the rooter still emits dangerous radiation-levels.  The same goes for your mobile phone.  Instead of keeping it next to your bed, place it either in the room next door or on a table/chair standing quite far away from your bed.  Even when you put your phone on silence, it is still emitting radiation that can interfere with your sleeping pattern.  Luckily today there are many shielded boxes, filters, covers and so forth, on the market, that will help minimize the radiation.  Using certain crystals placed around your laptop can also help a lot.

The blue-spectrum light of your phones and computers has been associated with insomnia, hormone imbalances, eye damage and other health problems.  Switch your phone’s blue-spectrum light to an anti-blue screen filter, swap your kindle for a notebook or workbook or, better yet, read an “old-fashioned” book instead.  For those of you who do not get enough sunlight or go out into the sun enough, make sure to take vitamin D as a supplement.  It is vital for your immune system and keeps depression at bay!  Fluorescent lights are not the best choice for an office.  Rather opt for natural light (if possible) or use incandescent-lights, like standing lights, desk lamps, and so on.

Colour is magic and can make or break the mood and production-levels in the office.  Green is a wonderful colour to incorporate into your office.  Not only is it the colour of nature, fresh air and plant life, but it is also correlated to broader thinking and creativity.  Soft green, like pink, is very calming, while wood tones and blues can reduce anxiety and promote balance.  Green is also “easy on the eyes,” thus wonderful for tired eyes!  According to Feng Shui, red, orange and yellow are great options in an office, as it keeps you activated, energized and increases mental alertness.  However, as with all colours, having too much of a specific colour in a room, can make you agitated and irritable more than usual, so make sure not to use bold, warm colours in excess.  A pop here and there is quite alright, but one doesn’t want to leave the office feeling you are unable to “switch off” either.

Just a last note on colour.  A study found that a soft yellow-colour is great if you feel stressed or socially isolated.  Blue is great for creative-jobs.  The famous French painter, Claude Monet, painted his workspace yellow and furnished it with different accents of blue.  When he was asked why, he replied that yellow stimulated his mind and blue helped him to stay calm and focused.

Room temperature plays a huge role in productivity.  When a room is too hot or too cold, you tend to either be easily distracted or not very productive.  Your normal, internal body temperature ranges between 20 – 24 °C (68 – 75.2 F), so keeping the air conditioning on 22 °C (71.6 F) is the best option. Even if your work becomes mundane (as routines do), having a space that is inviting and beautiful to look at, then work becomes pleasant and productivity soars.  Even just a small change, like a new cushion or chair, can change the whole atmosphere of a room.  Enjoy your space and happy work days!

Working from home

Whether you have been working from home for as long as you can remember; or whether you have started working from home recently, there are many ways to create a space for yourself that gives you the peace and quiet that you need.  In today’s blog post, I want to look deeper into elements that you can either place inside your office, or use that are already there, to create a calm, yet productive home office space. 

The 2 most important items in your office are an ergonomic working surface and a good chair to sit on.  Ergonomics refers to the design factors in a workspace that intends to maximize productivity by minimizing fatigue and discomfort.  A good chair will not contribute to back, neck, shoulder strain or any other injuries.  It should be at a comfortable height (preferably one that can be adjusted), with a good back rest.  The desk and chair should either have a window on the side or in front (depending of course of the lighting) and you should be facing the door / entry way.  in Feng Shui this is known as the “seat of power.”  This positioning provides a sense of protection (as the wall is behind you), as well as a psychological safety and confidence.  A high-backed chair supports your back and on a psychological level the chair “anchors” you.  This is called “Black Warrior” in Feng Shui.

When we are sitting for long periods at a time, we tend to slouch when we become tired.  A ventilation-tray underneath your laptop, which you can lift up, is an easy way to not only lift your screen so that you can look straight ahead and type easier.  It also keeps your laptop cool.

A sit-stand desk is another good investment.  Working like this have been linked to better performance, better engagement and less fatigue and lower-back problems.  Not everybody will be able to work like this for long periods at a time, thus I would suggest to alternate between sitting down and standing.  Just make sure that your laptop is at eyelevel and not too low, otherwise you have to stand with a bent neck and this can create stress in your upper back, shoulders and neck-areas.  Standing or sitting with a bent neck also cuts off oxygen, so do make sure to keep a gap between your chin and your throat.  Stretching and taking short breaks during the day are great ways to get energy back, as well as undoing any tightness body, caused by sitting down or standing for long periods of time.

Making use of the biophilic design-concept in your workspace is another, easy way to create serenity.  This is a concept that is used in building design and interior decorating, in order to increase connectivity between yourself and the natural environment.  The idea is that you connect with nature (either directly by looking out into nature, or by bringing nature inside).  For example, using natural, chemical-free and low-toxic materials for walls, furnishings, flooring, are much healthier options. Pictures of nature on the walls are great ways to bring nature inside, as well as indoor plants.  Indoor plants not only make the space look more serene, but the plants also purify the air.  If it is possible use natural light and natural air; open the windows instead of using aircon all the time.  When it is cold and you need to use heating, make sure to put a bowl of water close to your radiator to help keep the air moist. 

Of course it is a bonus if you can look out at a beautiful view!  A pleasant view is not only something beautiful to look at, but it does wonders for the psyche as well.  In the 1980s Roger Ulrich did a research on hospital patients and found that, if they have a pleasant view, it reduces stress and aids in the healing process as well.  If you don’t have a beautiful view, make sure to put a flower box in your window.  If you don’t have a window, hang a beautiful nature-scene on your wall.  Ulrich has found that even pictures of nature can calm and relax a person.  Another easy way to connect with nature, is to get outside.  Whether you have your lunch-break outside in a park, or whether you just go for a walk; stretching your legs and taking a break is not just good for the body but also the mind and spirit.  Re-charging your batteries, so to speak, is a great way to get you through the afternoon.  If you tend to experience a slump in your energy-levels in the afternoon, make sure to drink water, and nibble on some nuts and/or fruit to give you the extra boost of energy (stay clear of crisps and sweets, as it creates a big dip in sugar levels).

As I have mentioned earlier, good ventilation and indoor plants are wonderful ways to keep oxygen circulating.  As we know, many synthetic chemicals like glue, paint, detergents, and so on, are not good to our bodies.  If you cannot open a window to let natural air come in, do make sure to place on / more indoor plants in your office.  Here are a few plants that is wonderful in cleaning the air and increase oxygen-levels inside your office:

Devil’s Ivy (Pothos / Golden Pothos) (Epipremnum aureum) fights off common household toxins, that grows easily in hanging baskets, water and pots. The toxins that this plant help to remove are Benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene;

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) are easy to grow and to look after.  Their leaves are a rich, glossy green colour.  All it needs is water once a week and fertilizer in springtime, when their beautiful white (sometimes green) flowers bloom. The toxins it removes is Formaldehyde;

Philodendron is a heart-shaped plant that are relatively easy to look after.  All that they need is a moderate amount of water and bright, indirect sunlight. Toxins removed are Formaldehyde and xylene;

Snake Plant / Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria trifisciata) is a succulent plant that can grow up to 2 metres.  It is low maintenance that is hardy and thrives in a space that offers bright, even direct, light for a couple of hours a day.  Do be careful not to overwater this plant as it thrives in dry conditions. Toxins that is removed by this plant are Formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene and xylene.

PS: Before you buy your plant, do make sure that it is not toxic to small children and pets.  The Philodendron and Spathiphyllum are mildly toxic to animals as well as small children.  The Spider plant is non-toxic.

There are many easy-to-follow tips that can change a dull, dark workspace into an inviting space.  You don’t have to break the bank to create a working space at home.  Even a lick of paint, a picture or a plant, a colourful cushion, can change the whole aesthetics of the room.  When a room – even your home office – is inviting, then you want to spend time there, you want to be productive and you most certainly would enjoy the space.  Happy workdays everybody!

Collagen

Collagen is a fibrous type of protein that contributes to ageing.  There are more than 16 types of collagen, which occur naturally in the body.  It makes up around 30% of the total amount of protein in the body and, in combination with elastin, it connects and supports bodily tissues.  These tissues are your skin, bone, tendons, muscles and cartilage, as well as the internal organs.  It is also present in the hair, nails and teeth. 

Collagen is an important element in the body but, as we age, the body produces less and less.  It starts around the age of 30 and accelerates in our 40s; leading to the visible and invisible signs of ageing, for example fine lines, wrinkles, dry and/or sagging skin, and aching joints.  Although the decrease in collagen is a natural process, it can be sped up by other factors, such as pollution, too much UV-exposure and certain lifestyle choices.

Collagen-loss affects different parts of the body, for example:  one of the first signs is firmness of our skin.  Collagen provides this and, as it decreases, our skin becomes dryer and thinner; therefore, signs of ageing become more visible.  Another sign of collagen decreasing, is our hair and nails.  Balding, thinning and weakness of hair start to occur.  Hair and nails are made up of primarily keratin, which creates stronger and more resilient hair and nails.  Keratin not only strengthens our nails but also protects them from damage and infections. As collagen decreases our nails can become more brittle and break more easily. Just an added note here: calcium and magnesium are just as important for strong bones and nails as collagen (hence you will notice that it is added in collagen-supplements ).

Our bones, joints and muscles also use collagen in order to stay strong and healthy.  As collagen decreases, bones can become weaker and more fragile – important to make sure to add the right amount of minerals and vitamins to your daily diet.  As we age, our joints wear and tear (especially if we did ballet, sport or any active activity).  Cartilage can decrease / thin out over the years, especially around knees, hips, wrists and backs.  Staying active regardless of your age is not important – it is vital – as movement keeps the joints lubricated.  Even just walking regularly, at a comfortable but not too slow pace, is good; as long as you keep moving!

There are a tremendous number of muscles inside the body, ranging from short to long, connecting and protecting the skeletal system.  As mentioned before, the decrease in collagen can cause a decrease in muscle strength and function.  This can affect our balance, gait and overall mobility; that is why it is so important to keep moving and making sure your diet consists of the right foods and/or the right supplements.

Collagen have many benefits:  it improves skin hydration, firmness and elasticity; it keeps the bones and connective tissues strong, flexible and healthy; it strengthens the arteries; it helps to build lean muscles and promotes muscle recovery; and it regulates sleep patterns.  Collagen is an important protein and, from what you can see, used in many parts of the body.  Although it decreases as we age, all is not lost, because there are many good supplements of collagen on the market today.

Lastly, I want to let you in on a few interesting uses of collagen.  Did you know that collagen is used in food, medicine and manufacturing?  For thousands of years collagen was used as a glue and even today, it is used to manufacture strings for musical instruments.  In food, collagen is heated to create gelatine and used as casings for sausages and in medicine it is used as a filler in plastic surgery and dressing severe burns!

So, ladies and gents, we cannot stop ageing, but we can help our bodies to age better by looking at our diet, making sure to exercise no matter what our age and to take a good collagen-supplement if need be. instead of dreading the thought of ageing, we should embrace it with gratitude, a positive attitude and help from Mother Nature!

Muscle-rebalancing

Our bodies are amazing; every organ, muscle, tendon, bone, and so on, work in unison.  If one part of the body is out of alignment, then it can trigger a range of discomforts, ranging from stiffness, soreness and even cause bones to be pulled out of alignment (sciatica-spasms).  Stretching and massaging can help, but also an easy-to-do technique called energy balancing technique.

When you massage or stretch a muscle you not only want to get rid of the acid build-up (happening after a workout or stress).  You also want to wake the muscle up, so that it can “let go” of the tightness / stress.  If you struggle to release tightness, then place your fingers on either side of the muscle, where it attaches to the moving and non-moving bones.  Gently juggle / rub the ends of the muscles in order to “wake it up.”  An overworked / strained muscle not only becomes stiff and painful, but it can also interfere with circulation and the lymphatic system.  This turns off the muscle’s strength and causes minute tearing of the fibres.  Unlike muscles, fibres (which connect the muscles to the bones), cannot stretch and contract.  Thus, when muscles are overworked / tight, the fibres tear, to help protect the muscle.  In turn, the tearing causes stiffness and pain. 

Massaging the area can help tremendously, but take care not to put too much pressure on the area, as this can cause more damage.  It is always good to massage an irritated area for a short period, then leave it to “settle” and rather come back later.  Therefore, make sure to always go to a well-qualified masseuse or be careful when doing it at home. If a massage doesn’t work, then the spindle cell mechanism and the Golgi tendon apparatus might just do the trick. 

The spindle cell mechanism is located in the belly of the muscle and senses the relative length of muscle fibres, which then sends the information into the nervous system.  By firmly pressing toward the muscle’s ends with your thumbs, begin in the centre of the muscle and stretch it.  This stretches the spindle cell receptors and they send a message to the brain – “muscle is too long.”  The brain replies by sending more nerve impulses to the muscle, causing it to tighten / become shorter.  This method can also be used in reverse in order to release a cramp / spasm; simply press together in the direction of the muscle fibres, in order to shorten the belly of the muscle.

The Golgi tendon apparatus is located in the tendons at either end of a muscle.  Receptors occur along the origin and insertion of the muscle.  To have an affect on the muscle’s tone, simply place your fingers along the origin as well as the insertion of the muscle.  Press firmly back and forth along the direction of the muscle fibres.  If the muscle has been strained and too much tension has been put on the tendons, the Golgi apparatus will have sent a message to the brain to warn it of the danger of tearing tendons.  The brain, in turn, will turn off the energy to that particular muscle in order to avoid injury.  It can happen that the tendons have pulled slightly away from the bone and, by using this technique, it can help the tendon to reattach again properly.  Once this is done, then the muscle can resume its normal function again and, in turn, the “apparatus” has been reset.

Our bodies are amazing and if we take care of it, it can heal completely.  Harmony and balance are key to having optimum functioning of the body as a whole. Just like a car, our bodies need a “service,” whether it is a regular massage, relaxing in a warm bath or stretching properly (add to that warming-up properly before exercising as well), it needs to be taken well care of.  More often than not, we take our ability to use our limbs, eyes, ears, and so on, for granted.  Yet when we are injured / hurt, we quickly realize the importance of not only being careful, but also to listen to our bodies and taking care of it.