Meditation / mindfulness

To meditate (or become still), is a simple way of “shutting down” the little voice in your head.  It is to become still, to connect with your inner self, higher self and Divinity / God / Spirit.  There are many people for it and many people against it.  Whether you spend your quiet time in nature, in your room, at a spa or in a sacred space, meditation has proven time and time again that it has a tremendous positive impact on a person.

Scientists have proven that, when you are meditating, you go into a state of “semi-sleep.”  This not only slows down your heart-rate, but also lowers your stress-levels, as the breathing becomes deeper and slower.  Regular meditation can, over time, help you to get by with less sleep (up to an hour a day) and still have more than enough energy for the day ahead.

Meditation is not a religion.  However, for those who are sceptic about it, in the Bible it says that one should go within and become still.  It is a time, for me, to connect with Divinity / Spirit within, to relax, get rid of stress, and just be. 

In a recent newspaper-article I read that meditation, yoga and dance, are now being taught in more-and-more schools in South Africa (something that has been done for a number of years overseas), to help the young children to cope with the everyday violence that they see (especially in the areas where gang-violence is rife).  It is also being taught in various prisons locally as well as internationally; and studies have shown that crime, violence and aggression, have dropped tremendously. In the modern world meditation is also called mindfulness.  Both are wonderful ways to not just calm down and become still, but also to get in touch with the inner self and Divinity.

Not only is it fantastic to help you cope better with what life throws at you, but it will also show in your face and skin.  Stress, as we all know, plays havoc on our skin.  When you make time to meditate, you not only learn how to breathe better and sleep better, but on a physical level, your skin will glow.

Meditation / mindfulness is a simple, easy-to-learn way of “shutting down” the buzz in our heads.  In today’s world, where everything is fast pace, one loses touch with not just oneself sometimes, but also with loved-ones and nature.  Even if you just do it for 20 minutes a day (maybe 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes before sleeping), you will sooner, rather than later, start to notice the changes. 

A simple, easy way to relax and become still, is to switch off all devices, close your eyes and just take slow, deep breathes in and out. You can use soft music in the background or just listen to nature (if possible). When your mind is busy, relax and just imagine your thoughts are like a movie script. It comes into your mind / sight, and it goes out. Breathing deeply and slowly, you can “tell” yourself to relax each and every part of the body, for example as you inhale, contract your leg muscles and as you exhale, consciously relax them, and so forth. Another simple and easy way to relax is to use visualization. You can either focus on a colour and “imagine” inhaling it in, be surrounded by it, and engage all your senses: smell, taste, touch. Or you can visualize sitting on the beach, listening to the waves. There are many apps that you can also download to listen to, as well as YouTube-channels that will guide you through the meditation.

At the end of the day, meditation is a way to become still, more focused (mindful) and to relax at a deep level. “Be still my heart and know that I am God.”

Breathing is life

We start life in this world by drawing our first breath and exhaling it (usually) with a cry!

Breathing is considered the most important of all the functions of the body because all the other functions depend upon it.  A person can exist several days without food, fewer days without drinking but only minutes without breathing.

Because respiration is an automatic function and takes care of itself, it is considered unnecessary to do anything about it.  The result is that today most people only breathe enough to keep them alive.  Their breathing is so shallow that they are using only about a quarter of their lung capacity.

The breath that consists mainly of oxygen permeates every cell in the body and is the force for the renewal and revitalizing of every cell.  Therefore, by breathing more fully and deeply not only do you improve your health but also the quality of your life.

Although inhalation and exhalation is done spontaneously, it can be controlled consciously.  Conscious, deep breathing should not be too difficult to do for one do it without being aware of it – it takes place while you sleep!  By practicing deep breathing consciously we will become aware of our breathing and hopefully better it.

So, when you inhale, let your ribs expand sideways – starting from the bottom up.  The diaphragm will move down and the belly will rise slightly so as to increase the lung capacity.  The entire inhalation should be done gently and effortlessly.  With the exhalation you use a slight pressure to push the complete air out; by pulling the belly slightly back.

“Discover your lungs” by practicing deep breathing whenever you get a chance; for example waiting in a queue, in the car and especially before you go to sleep.  By practicing deep breathing we not only oxygenate our brains and clear our minds but we also improve the blood circulation and the functioning of the immune system.

Breath and emotions are also closely linked:  when we are frightened we gasp in and hold our breath; when tired or bored, we take a long breath in and out – we yawn; when angry our breath is irregular and when tense of full of worries we breathe shallow.  But it is possible to reduce the effect of emotional turbulence by bringing the breath under control by breathing more evenly and deeply.  This will calm the nerves and steady the mind.  We are not only dependent on our breath for life.

Our capacity to breathe well will often determine our vitality level.  Be being present energetically we can affect our everyday life and “embrace the blessing we have received.”  Through the ages different kinds of breathing exercises have been used to attain specific results.  This will be discussed at a later stage.

With winter still not over, maybe we could practise a warming breath in order to beat the cold:

Take a deep breath in and breathe out forcefully, contracting the abdominal muscles.  Immediately breathe in again with the same force, expanding the abdominal muscles.  Continue for 10 breathes.  This is one round.  Repeat 3 – 5 rounds.

Living somewhere where it is warm, sometimes hot and/or humid? Then try the cooling breath: curl your tongue up into a little flute / pipe and slowly inhale and exhale!

Breath is life; taking care of our lungs and breathing at full capacity, is not just a great way to carry oxygen to all the organs, cells, blood vessels and muscles, but is vital to maintain optimum lung functioning.

So go on; stay warm or cool just by breathing!

Taking care of our furry- and feathery friends during winter

Wintertime is not just a time when humans struggle with dry skin.  Our furry friends can also struggle with it during the winter.  So…what to do?

First of all, make sure there is enough drinking water for your pets, as well as for the birds, bees and other insects outside.  This, of course, only applies if you’re living somewhere where it is dry in winter; not where it is raining 😉 If you don’t have space for a bird bath, place a bowel or basin with fresh water outside.

Secondly; add some oil to your pets’ food.  A tablespoon of sunflower oil or olive oil will keep their digestive tract going.  It is also a wonderful and important addition to their diet that will keep their skin soft, their hair shiny and prevent their skin from drying out during these cold months.

Thirdly; make sure your pets eat a healthy, balanced meal.  Don’t forget the birds though!  Spare some breadcrumbs and/or mealiepap and/or fruit for our feathery friends too!  Food is very scarce at this time of the year – especially in the urban areas where there are not many fruit and berry trees left.

Lastly – if you find ants in your kettle, don’t be upset.  Place a small plate of water on the kitchen counter and violà!  No more ants climbing into the kettle to look for water! After all, big or small, hairy, feathery or not, everybody needs more water and oil during the winter months!

Tips for achieving your resolutions for the new year

Many of us have made resolutions each and every year…only to fail at achieving some or even all of them!  Why does this happen?  A recent study indicated that 88% of resolutions fail due to being too vague.  So, what to do to achieve your goals?

  1. Set goals throughout the year instead of only at the beginning of each new year.  This will create a sense of “I can do this,” which is healthy for mind and body.
  2. The key is Self-awareness.  Before you set any goal, make sure that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are.  Knowing this, it’ll make it easier to achieve your goal(s).
  3. Making use of the SMART-module:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.

Let us have a detailed-look at how this module works.

S:  Specific:  be very specific when you make your goal(s).  The more detail, the better you can visualize achieving it.  Writing it down will help you to be more specific, thus obtaining better results in the end.  And the more detail you put in, the better your chances of making your dream(s) come true.

M:  Measurable:  once you have written your goal(s) down, go back to your notes and measure how far you have come.  This will help you to stay on track until the end.

A:  Attainable:  I have mentioned it before, but to truly know yourself is the key to success.  When you know yourself, you know how challenging your goals can be in order for you to achieve it.  When your goals are too challenging, however, it can easily discourage you; so be careful!  Part of what is called Positive Psychology, is to set little goals throughout the day, the week, the month, and the year.  Not only will this be easier to achieve, but it’ll keep you happy (as you reach each one). 

R:  Relevant (Realistic):  Positive Psychology says that, when your goals matches your values and bring meaning to you, it is far easier to stick to achieving it.  Writing it down (as said before), is a good way to keep you focused and on track.

T:  Time-based:  if, for example, you want to lose weight, instead of saying “I want to loose 10 kg in a month,”say “I want to loose 2.5 kg in a week.”  These smaller milestones are much easier to achieve and more realistic. 

Most of the time when we plan something or decide on doing something, there is a sense of anxiety.  Remember to stay calm and know that you get good anxiety and bad anxiety.  Good anxiety is when you get butterflies in your stomach and/or when your heart begins to beat a little bit faster.  This is ok; as it is getting your body and mind ready (charged up) for the challenge / decision / goal ahead.

Bad anxiety is when you start to worry too much, lose sleep, let your mind go into overdrive with “what if.”  This is not good for your body and your mind.  Thus, be mindful when this starts to happen.  Take slow, deep breathes, and either meditate on the issue at hand and the various outcomes, or write it down.  Writing it down one can also look at the different outcomes and then visualize and re-program your mind as it were, a positive outcome.  This will make you feel less stressful and the outcome will be more successful.

Many people start a new year or new week feeling geared up and ready to tackle their goals.  However, often people fall of the bandwagon not soon afterwards.  Why?  Because people get disappointed and disheartened when they go off track.  For example, when you want to quick smoking or eat less processed food, you sometimes cheat.  This is ok!!  We are all human; so, if this does happen, instead of giving up, keep at it.  When you exercise, your body can reach a plateau and it will seem as if you are “standing still.”  This is just a plateau that your body has reached.  As you keep working towards your goals, you will get better and better.  Think of top athletes or musicians; they didn’t give up when this happened.  They acknowledged it, carried on and reached the top.  It does take commitment, hard work and persistence, but like a marriage or relationship, in the end the results speak for themselves.

Dr. Mike sums it up brilliantly: “It is much better to put in 100% with a 20% plan than it is to put in 20% into a 100% plan!”

Winter-time is here – are you ready?

Winter has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere; with snow on the mountains and cold fronts hitting the shores.  Now is the time to start taking extra care of everybody’s health!

Start by taking extra vitamin B and vitamin C; especially a vitamin C that targets colds and flu (for example Viral Choice’s Vitamin C with Echinacea).  If you, or anyone in your family, suffer from a sensitive stomach, use buffered vitamin C (it comes in a powder and tablet form). Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin (your body does not store it), it is necessary to take it on a daily basis.  

Drink at least 6 – 8 glasses of water a day to keep you hydrated and your skin from drying out. Being inside is lovely, but like the wind, the warm air can also dry out the skin. A good tip is to put a small bowl or plate of water in every room to keep it moist – that way the air won’t be dry, especially if you are indoors most of the time.

Do not take antibiotics (unless it becomes worse)!  Why?  Because colds and flu are caused by viruses and taking antibiotics will only target the bacteria that created the viruses in the first place.

Rather up your fluid intake, make a chicken soup / broth – you know; like the one your gran / mom always made?  And get plenty of rest!  Have a sore throat?  Gargle with salt stirred into warm water.  Salt is a natural antibiotic and anti-inflammatory!  Blocked nose? Mix some salt with a little bit of bicarbonate of soda in warm water and sniff!?  It will help to clear your stuffy nose!

Add more fruit and vegetables to your diet, for example citrus fruits, kiwi, papaya, broccoli and spinach.  Eat foods that contain probiotics, for example yoghurt (a good immune-booster), add honey and/or garlic to your food and drinks (both have natural anti-inflammatory properties in) and oily fish for those omega 3 and 6-oils (another important immune system building block).

The last thing you want to do when it is freezing outside is to get up…and if the weather is dull…it makes it even harder! But; there is a way to get rid of those winter blues and that is…laughter!  Laughing gives your immune system a boost by raising the levels of antibodies in your white blood cells; helping them to fight off viruses and other infections.  Laughter, therefore, is the best medicine!

A very important habit for everyone (not just in winter) is to wash your hands when you come home from work, the shops, the gym or the school.  Don’t touch your eyes, mouth or nose if you haven’t washed your hands yet and guard against using utensils of someone that is ill.  Teach the children to cover their mouths when they cough or their noses when they sneeze. 

Elderly people should take extra care during winter as they are more susceptible to illnesses.  Studies have shown that extra zinc (or a zinc supplement) not only boosts the immune system, but it can also shorten the duration of the cold (if taken within 24 hours after the cold started). 

Open the windows at home and let the crisp, fresh air blow through.  Staying in heating all the time and then going into the cold is not always such a good idea.  However, if you are indoors with the heater on, do remember to keep the air humidified.

An old tip from my late granddad:  when you go outside into the cold, cover your mouth!  Why?  Because breathing cold air in (especially if you are feeling a bit under the weather), can bring about a cold, flu and/or sore throat! 

All in all, winter does not have to be a time to dread!  In fact, there are many things to look forward to:  from dressing warm, walking in nature (keep active!) and enjoying the “different look” of the plants, to drinking hot chocolate and snuggling under the duvet to watch a movie and laughing your blues away! ��#

“Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start; When you read you begin with A, B, C…”

And when you think of fruit and vegetables?  You begin with… “an apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

With winter arriving in the Northern Hemisphere one tends to go for the “comfort” foods, for example breads, pastas, and warm puddings.  It is important, however, to make sure that you and your family eat balanced, nutritious meals, in order to keep illnesses, dry skin and lack of energy, at bay.

Fruits like Apples, Bananas, Berries (blackberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, gooseberries), Grapes, Nectarines, Oranges, Papaya, Pears, Kiwi fruit, Pineapple and Pomegranate, are packed with nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

Apples, for example, contain many vitamins and minerals, are a high source of soluble fibre, are rich in antioxidants and keep the blood sugar levels constant;

Berries contain plenty of vitamins and antioxidants (the latter help fight free radicals and the ageing process).

Seasonal vegetables like Artichokes, Asparagus, Aubergines (Brinjal / Eggplant), Avocado, Beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Corn, Leek, Mushrooms, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Spinach, Sweet Potato and Tomatoes, are also full of nutrients and packed with goodness.

Carrots and Peppers, for example, are packed with beta-carotene.  The body converts this into Vitamin A (important for good eyesight; especially night vision and the immune system).

Sweet Potatoes are rich in antioxidants, high in folic acid and stabilize oestrogen levels, alleviate PMS and menopausal-symptoms.

Although not in season at the moment dried apricots contain plenty of iron, vitamin A, C and beta carotene (important for keeping anaemia at bay, healthy eyes and a strong immune system).

So mom, dad, students; when packing your lunchboxes, making supper or eating out, don’t forget your fruit and vegetables.

Feeling that afternoon-slump creeping up?  Before you run to the biscuit tin, grab an apple to keep your blood sugar levels even…

Need an instant energy-lift?  Grab a banana!