Ear troubles

In my previous blog we looked at ear health, how to take care of our ears and how to protect them. 

In today’s blog post I want to look at some of the ear troubles (infections and other issues) that can affect our hearing and our health.

First up is ear infections.  Many children (and adults) suffer from / had swimmer’s ear (external otitis).  This is commonly preceded by an upper respiratory infection or allergy; mostly dairy produce.  Symptoms range from fever, discharge from the ear, pain and swelling, slight fever and red, throbbing ear when touched.

Another infection is middle ear infection (otitis media).  This infection develops behind the eardrum, when bacteria or viruses get into this space.  Symptoms like earache, sharp, dull and/or throbbing pain, feeling of fullness in the ear and a fever, can often occur.

Then there are various forms of dizziness.  Vertigo (faintness or light-headedness) occurs when there is a sensation in a person’s head that mirrors falling or sinking, or thinking the room is spinning around, even when he / she is not moving.  Vertigo occurs when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the inner ear, eyes, muscles and skin pressure receptors. 

This can occur due to brain tumours, high / low blood pressure, allergies, diabetes, a head injury, inadequate / interrupted oxygen-supply to the brain, anaemia, viral infection, fever, using certain drugs, nutritional deficiencies, a neurological disease, psychological stress, changes in the atmospheric pressure, blockage of the ear canal / eustachian tube, middle ear infection, or even excess wax in the ear.  Other illnesses that can cause vertigo are arteriosclerosis, cervical osteoarthritis, or poor cerebral circulation.

Ménière’s disease is a broad term used to describe all the different inner ear disturbances, namely ringing in the ears, loss of hearing and balance, vertigo, tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ears), and a sensation of fullness / pressure (this can affect either one or both ears).  This is a rare disease and the causes are still unknown. 

Many experts believe that it is because of a condition called endolymphatic hydrops (the excessive swelling of the small, fluid-filled chambers of the inner ear that creates periods of vertigo due to the pressure and severe disruptions within the inner ear).  Symptoms can range from nausea, sweating, vomiting and a loss of balance.  It can be caused by impaired blood flow to the brain due to clogged arteries and poor circulation, allergies, consumption of excess alcohol or caffeine, stress, barometric changes, pregnancy, visual stimuli, experiencing orgasm, sugar, exposure to loud noises, air pressure changes and excessive salt intake.

Many of us has, at one stage or another, experienced dizziness from getting up too quickly.  This is normal, but when the symptoms don’t subside after a minute or two, there might be another reason why you are dizzy.  Therefore, it is always advisable to speak to your health practitioner about dizzy spells; especially if it occurs on a regular basis.  Ear pain should also not be ignored; especially if it doesn’t go away after a day.  When we swim (this affects children especially), water can get into the ear.  It should drain after about a day, but if not and the person / child develops pain and/or swelling, then it is best to have it looked at. 

Dizziness can also be linked to blood sugar levels.  When we eat too much sugar and sweet things, our blood sugar shoots up higher than normal and when it drops, it drops lower than normal.  The same can happen when we consume too much caffeine.  What to do when you suffer from one of the above-mentioned ear problems? 

First of all, look at your diet.  Make sure you take a good Vitamin C, vitamin B-complex with extra B6, vitamin E, Zinc, Calcium and Magnesium-formula (drink it at night and make sure to take it together for better absorption), and watch what you eat.  Ginger is a wonderful herb that will alleviate dizziness, as well as nausea. 

If you or your child has an ear infection, use something like Olive leaf extract to help the body fight off the infection.  Garlic is also good to use; either add it to your diet or make a poultice from the onion.  Garlic has natural anti-inflammatory properties in and is good for a strong immune system.  Hot and cold compresses can also alleviate pain, as well as making a poultice from onions.

Food allergies, especially in babies and young children, must always be looked at when they experience one of the above-mentioned illnesses; especially if it occurs more than once.  Look at your stress levels and make sure to not only reduce it, but also to handle it better.  Smoking and excess alcohol, together with a diet high in salt and processed foods and fats, can also play a role, as it depletes the body of the important vitamins and minerals.

If you suffer from low blood sugar levels, make sure to eat enough protein during the day, to steer off dips in the blood sugar levels.  Most people have a “slump” in the afternoon; so instead of snacking on biscuits, chips or chocolate, rather eat a piece of cheese, fruit or nuts. 

Regular exercise is not only good for the body, but also good for the mind and the soul.  Even if you don’t like going to the gym, put on your walking shoes and go for a walk or a run.  Our ears play an important role; not just when listening, but also to help us maintain our balance.  Take care of what you have!

Looking after your ears

To be able to hear is a gift.  Our ears are not just important for hearing and listening.  It also plays an important role in maintaining our balance, with regards to the gravitational pull of the earth.  Whether you are standing on one leg or coming up from a lying down position, the middle ear helps to maintain balance and stability (also known as dynamic equilibrium). 

Inside the inner ear there are 3 small loops above the cochlea, called semi-circular canals.  These canals, as well as the cochlea, are filled with thousands of microscopic hairs and liquid.  When you turn / move your head, the liquid in these canals move as well. 

This in turn, moves the tiny hairs and they send a nerve message to your brain about the position of your head.  In less than a second, your brain sends messages to the right muscles so that you maintain your balance!

There are a number of diseases that can affect one’s balance, for example vertigo, tinnitus, Meniere’s disease, perilymph fistula, and so on.  More on this in a later article.

Coming back to looking after our ears. During the spring- and autumn months, allergies like hay fever can spike due to the increase in pollens, as well as dust and animal dander.  Allergies not only affect your nose, eyes, throat and chest, but also your ears. 

The most common symptoms are earaches, fullness, difficulty hearing and itching.  There can also be a temporary loss of hearing due to the built-up of mucus in the middle ear (conductive hearing loss).  Your nose and ears are linked, internally, and if your sinus canals are clogged, then there is a good chance your ears will be too!

So, what to do?  As we all know there are many over-the-counter medicines and sprays that one can use.  Seeking medical advice is always advised when the symptoms become worse.  Protecting our ears; especially when the temperatures dip below 15°C (59°F), is important.  Our ears don’t have any protective fatty tissue; only a thin layer of skin that protects the nerves in the ear canal.  Cooler weather and/or wind may cause discomfort and even pain, in your ear canal.  Covering our ears with ear mittens or a beanie, is a very good way to protect our ears (especially when it is cold and/or windy outside).

For those people using hearing aids, remember to have a spare battery at hand, as the cooler weather can also affect your hearing aids.

Apart from the weather, ears are very sensitive to loud sounds, noise from a power drill, for example, loud music, and so forth.  There are many documents written that prove that high decibel levels can deafen you, especially if you are / were exposed to high, loud levels.  The danger-levels start at 85dB (decibels) and include things like rock concerts, subway trains, electric tools, and so forth.  Babies and young children should not be exposed or at least not for a long period, to loud sounds.  Covering our ears with earmuffs or custom-made earplugs, will buffer most of it, so that we can still enjoy the music or carry on with our work, but without damaging our ears.  Talking on a telephone can also deafen the ear, especially if the other person is talking very loudly!  Try to swop the phone around, instead of listening on the one side only.  Or better yet, put the phone on speaker-mode!

Many people like to listen with earphones – doctors say the best earphones are the ones that cover the whole ear, and not the ones that go inside, as these earphones sit too close to the middle ear and, used long-term and/or too loud, can damage the ear permanently.

Ever heard about getting rid of ear wax using a wax candle?  While lying on your side, a wax stick, with a paper plate over the ear (very important because it catches the dripping wax), is gently placed into the ear and lit. While it burns, the heat “collects” all the wax inside your ear and, when it has finished burning, the wax comes out in a little ball.  Do not try this at home if you’ve never used it before – rather seek professional help.  Many doctors don’t believe that using an ear bud is a good thing…reason?  If it goes in too far it can damage the ear and a little bit of wax protects the ear from dust and other objects.

A few other good tips are to make sure you keep your stress levels down, go for check-ups, keep the ears dry, give your ears time to recover if it was exposed to noise (research indicates at least 16 hours) and to get up and move!  Did you know that exercises like running, walking, cycling, and any other form of cardio, not only gets your heartrate up, but also gets your blood pumping throughout the whole body; including to your ears.  This will help the internal structure of your ears, as with the internal organs, to stay healthy and function at their optimal level.

So, when we are taking care of our bodies, we should never forget that we only have one pair of ears…just like we only have one pair of eyes! 

Enlightenment

Throughout the years there were many philosophers seeking enlightenment.  What is it exactly?  And did they find it?

According to the Oxford dictionary, enlightenment is “knowledge about and understanding of something; the process of understanding something or making somebody understand it.”

The Age of Enlightenment was established during the late 17th and early 18th century, when philosophers, writers, thinkers and scientists, for example Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Sir Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, and others, began to argue that science and reason were more important than religion and tradition.  During this period there was a decline in the power of absolute monarchies, a rise of modern political ideologies (e.g. liberalism, republicanism and independence of thought).  These ideals had an impact on the American and French Revolutions.

In this post, I want to delve deeper into enlightenment (mindfulness, as it is called by many today), with regards to ourselves, our journey, and our spiritual growth.

In an interview with Sri Sri Ravishankar, enlightenment is “the journey from the head back to the heart.”  It is a time when people, in the past and today, are moving ahead or toward a spiritual path, rather than a religious path.  When asked what it really means, Sri Sri Ravishankar answered “it is a joke!  It is like a fish in the ocean searching for the ocean!” 

He explained by telling the story of a school of fish who wanted to know who, in fact, saw the ocean. Not one; until one fish said he thinks his great grandfather did.  In the end, a statue was built in honour of this great grandfather who, they thought, saw the ocean!

According to Sri Sri Ravishankar, enlightenment is the very nucleus of our being.  It is diving deep into the core of our self and living our life from there.  He said, “When we were born, we came into this world gifted with innocence, but as we grew up and became more intelligent, we lost our innocence.”  We were born in silence and lived in our hearts, in touch with our inner voice (or as some people say Spirit), but as we grew up, the silence was filled with words and we moved into our heads.  Thus, enlightenment is the journey from the head, back to the heart, back to silence and the regaining of our innocence, getting in touch with our spirit or inner voice, without losing our intelligence. 

Another lesson (level) of enlightenment is to be in a state of being that is unshakeable regardless of the circumstances.  It is a state of being where nothing and nobody can rob your heart from its smile!  Yes, this is the tricky part – not something that is easily achieved.  As humans we let the ego take over; we cry, we argue, we fight, we get depressed, and so forth. 

Nothing bad or wrong about it – we are human after all and we have feelings.  The trick is to not let these emotions take over and “rule” your decisions and consume your mind, heart, body and soul to such an extent that you lose touch with your inner self.  Balance between the chatter in the mind and the feelings in the heart, is key.

Sri Sri Ravishankar said that one should try and get to a state of non-judgment, of looking at everything around us and believing that everything belongs to everyone, because every person belongs to the divine. Every human being, every animal, every plant, everything in creation, belongs to the divine (the creator), who created many different places, people, animals, universes, and so forth.

It is a rare combination – the combination of innocence and intelligence, having words for expression and the ability to be silent.  When you can achieve this; the mind will be fully present in the moment / in the now.  When you can be still and connect with spirit by listening to your heart, you can allow nature’s song to flow through you!

In the modern world we talk about mindfulness, which is similar to enlightenment.  When we are mindful, we are in the present moment, we don’t dwell on the past and we don’t worry about the future.  When we “go within” and become still, we open our hearts and connect with our Source / our Creator / Divinity, which is within each and every one of us.

So – why not give it a try!  Next time your gut feelings surface, don’t ignore it or push it away.  Stop, breathe and listen.  Become aware that there is more to you than just the chatter in your head; more than just a physical body.  There is a soul, a spirit within, that wants to connect with you and help you on your earthly journey.

(Info and interview with Sri Sri Ravishankar in the magazine Complete Yoga)

Water aerobics aka Splash

Many people think water aerobics (or splash) is for the “oldies” and too easy to do.  However, did you know that it is an excellent exercise for any age, male and female, who wants to build endurance, recover after an operation or pregnancy. 

Whether you are swimming laps or peddling in a small pool, being in water is a great workout for the whole body.  Although it is similar to land-based aerobics, the big difference is that it is done in the shallow side of a pool and you work with the resistance of the water and buoyancy, instead of gravity.  

Another distinct difference is that, when you are in the water, your joints are more protected when you run or do jumps (so for anybody with joint problems, arthritis and the like, this is a much safer option than a body conditioning or step class, for example).

During a class, members get to choose how hard they want to work.  For example, if you want to run, then run during the warm-up.  Or just march on the spot.  Although your heartrate might not go up as high as cardio workouts on land, it actually works just as hard due to more blood being pumped to the heart as is a very good way to improve your heart health.  It can help to lower your blood pressure, as well your “bad” LDL cholesterol-levels, whilst raising your “good” HDL cholesterol-levels.

For anybody with a heart issue / heart problem, water aerobics can be a safe option because the whole body is not submerged in water.  I would, however, suggest that a person always consult with his / her medical professional first, before doing any exercise, especially if there is any serious health problems.

Water aerobics are also a very good way to stay in shape whilst pregnant.  Not only will it benefit the mother to keep her strength and suppleness, but it is a very safe environment for both mother and her unborn.  However, it is important for the mother-to-be to remember that, in the last trimester of pregnancy, not to swing / kick her leg out to the side too far, but to stay within her own body’s range of motion.  Widening the legs too far can unlock the pelvis and can trigger an early delivery.

For anybody suffering from diabetes, this is also a good option.  Often, whilst exercising, diabetic people tend to get hot quite quickly.  When you exercise in the water, your body temperature stays the same and, at the same time, it is easier on the feet (due to issues with the nerves in the feet).

Working on balance and core stability are just another reason to get into the pool.  When you are older, your main goal is not to develop a six pack, but rather to keep your balance, mobility and flexibility for as long as possible.  Even younger people, who are stiff because they don’t stretch enough before and after a workout, can benefit from water aerobics.

Water based-exercises is a great way to start exercising when you haven’t been doing anything for a long time, or nothing at all!  Think of it as building a house.  You start by laying the foundation (in the water it is safe and you work with the water’s resistance; so far less skeletal pounding when you run on a treadmill, for example), you work and develop your flexibility, range of motion, mobility, core strength and stamina, then you move onto the land, and incorporate other classes or exercise-routines into your routine.

So; next time when you’re at the gym…don’t shy away from the water aerobics class because there are older people, or because you cannot swim.  Take a chance, put on your swimming costume, and give it a try!  You’ll be quite surprised how difficult it can be, especially if it’s your first time, to exercise in water.

The difference between men and women when it comes to exercising and/or losing weight

We all know that there are many differences between men and women.  When it comes to exercising and wanting to lose body fat, we have to start at the beginning and look at these differences.

The big difference is where we store body fat.  For men, it is the chest, midsection, love handles, upper back and lower back.  For women, it is the arms (especially the triceps), hips (muffin top), thighs, calves, upper back and buttocks.

One of the main reasons why we struggle to get rid of excess body fat is our hormones.  Both men and women carry oestrogen and testosterone in their bodies.  It is the ratio of these hormones that will impact what happens as we age and where we store our body fat.  Women are made to bear children, thus that area will be more prone to excess body fat than their back.  However, both men and women can carry excess weight in areas where the other would normally not have it (especially when we look at eating habits and exercise/non-exercise routines).  Due to the higher levels of testosterone in men, they carry more visceral fat (this is fat that is deeper inside the abdominal cavity) This is a very dangerous fat and again, women can also carry it around.

Women, on the other hand, has higher oestrogen-levels, thus their fat is subcutaneous (it is just underneath the skin), giving it a dimpled (orange peel) appearance.

Visceral fat is more easily visible because of the receptors in the adipose tissue that bind to the fat (think of men’s bellies), whereas subcutaneous fat is stored in different areas, due to the levels of oestrogen (as mentioned earlier, it can be the triceps, thighs, buttocks, and so forth).

So…how do we fix it?  Is there a quick fix, a quick diet, or a quick plan?  The answer is…no. 

Don’t despair as there is hope!  Nutrition is key, as well as a good exercise-plan / routine.  Women and men will both benefit from strength training / weight-bearing exercises.  Resistance training and/or high intensity interval training is another good routine.  Stretching, swimming, cycling, walking or running should be done in-between.

Jeff Cavaliere, an American Fitness and Rehabilitation Specialist, who trains international athletes, said the following on his YouTube-channel Athlean-X: “There is no such thing as a quick fix.  Ladies, if you’re worried that you’re going to build bulky muscles with strength-training; you won’t because you’ll lose the stubborn fat while building lean muscles.  And men; you cannot only train without a good eating plan.  Nutrition plays a huge role in whether or not you lose the excess body fat or not.”

Here is an example of Jeff’s nutritional plan – and the key is balance!

40 % fibrous carbs of vegetables and fruits;

40% protein;

20% starchy carbs (sweet potato, wholegrains, etc).

Adding the “good fats” like olive oil and butter, to your diet, is important, as long as it is in moderation. 

Other foods that can aid the body to balance the hormonal-changes / fluctuations, according to Jeff, are Ginger, Red grapes, Mushrooms, Oysters and Cruciferous vegetables.

Another very important factor to look at is your stress-levels.  Staying balanced also includes being emotionally balanced.  Stress can and will play havoc on your health, your hormones and your general well-being.  Many people eat when they are under stress, which just adds to the already-existing problem.  Thus, it is vital to maintain an inner and outer balance.  Stretching, being out in nature, meditating, reading and listening to relaxing music, are all ways to destress.

Overall, one must remember that the chemicals (hormones) and family genetics play a big role in how your body burns and stores fat.  Nutrition is the most important thing to look at, not just training.  In the end, it is best to build lean muscle progressively and to maintain balance, both physically, mentally and emotionally. 

And remember – balance, just like drinking enough water, is key! †††††††††

Different exercises for different age groups

Men and women are not only different physically, but also when it comes to our hormones and internal changes as we age.

When you’re in your 20’s regular, sustained exercises and resistance training, are good ways to keep you in shape and healthy. For the young ladies who are worried about weight training; using light weights will not make you bulky.  Now is also a good time to make sure that your body gets the right amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium.  Adding more bananas, yoghurt, milk, almonds, and so forth, to your diet, is a great way to up your daily intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium. 

In your 30’s you start losing bone mass.  It is vital to keep doing resistance training, cardio and using light weights to maintain bone mass.  Light hand weights, kettle balls, Thera bands, a Pilates ball, and so forth, are great tools to exercise with.  Other exercises like Pilates, Yoga and Kegel-movements, are great to maintain flexibility, build and maintain core strength (vital for a strong, healthy back), and stamina.  Eating foods rich in beta-carotene calcium, iron, magnesium and vitamin C, is a great way to boost the immune system and keeping the lungs, heart and gut healthy.

When you’re in your 40’s, hormonal changes can start to occur.  Making sure you take a good supplement and eating a balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables, protein and carbs, will help maintain energy levels as well as muscle strength and bone density.  Exercises like Pilates, Yoga, light weights, cardio (walking, cycling, swimming), as well as massages, Tai Chi and meditation, will keep the balance between body, mind and spirit, as well as help you cope with changes and daily life.  Whether you should use medical tablets or natural medicine for hot flushes is up for debate.  I personally believe natural products are safer and works better in the long run, but it is a personal choice.  I would recommend ginger tea for inflammation – wonderful tea that is also great for nausea and queasiness.

In your 50’s muscle mass can start to decrease if you don’t keep exercising.  Pilates and yoga are great exercise routines that will not only help you to maintain core strength, stamina and flexibility (one of the things one tends to lose with age), but it also wonderful balance and stability exercises. Turmeric is a spice that has many uses.  It is an anti-oxidant, can fight inflammation, thus alleviating arthritis, as well as boosting energy levels and mood.

Adding cinnamon to your food is also a great spice and, did you know, that taking cinnamon regularly, will stabilize your cholesterol levels? Together with turmeric (a natural anti-inflammatory), it keeps you healthy in a natural, simple way. Mix these into your drink, food, or buy the tablets.

Whether you are still young or close to retirement – the sooner you start to incorporate exercising into your daily life, the better.  It doesn’t matter if you go to the gym, to private classes, swim, run, walk or dance, the most important thing is to keep moving! 

Chris Walsh said “From your 30’s, without training, you lose 2 kilos of muscle mass and gain 4 kilos of body fat every decade.”

A decade might seem far away, but the less you exercise, the easier it is to quickly pile up those extra, mostly unwanted kilos of body fat, and the harder it is to lose it when you get older.  Exercising should not be seen as a chore – rather as a lifestyle.  Our bodies were not made to sit and lie all day; we were made to move; think of children who instinctively wants to move.  Movement, after all, is life!  Without movement your heart cannot function optimally, your lungs cannot absorb and distribute enough oxygen throughout the body, your brain becomes fuzzy, your muscles start to contract, becoming stiff and sore and you start having more and more back problems due to weak muscles and sitting all day.  Your bones need the muscles to carry the body’s weights and keep it off the bones.  As I mentioned earlier, from the age of 30 you start to lose bone density.  When your muscles are weak, it adds extra, unwanted weight onto the bones.  This puts the skeletal system under great stress, causing back pack, herniated discs, sciatica, neck problems, knee and hip problems, and so forth.  Having extra kilos just adds oil to the fire, so to speak!

Exercising and eating healthy are the best way to maintaining fitness, strength, flexibility, stamina and overall health and wellbeing.  Not smoking or stopping, keeping your alcohol consumption low and not drinking plenty of caffeine every day, are also vital to maintain a healthy body, mind and skin.  There is a saying – “what you eat you become.”  So be careful; keep processed foods and takeaways to a minimum or cut it out all together and make your own pizza’s and burgers at home.  There are loads of recipes to choose from and can be a fun activity with the kids!

If you do enjoy going out for a meal once in a while, or having a “cheat” meal, then keep it for once a month, instead of every week.  Children learn by example; so put on your tekkies, get up and move!

Stretching before getting out of bed in the morning

Stretching is just as important, if not more important, than exercise and relaxation.  When we stretch, we open the vertebrae and the muscles go back into “normal” mode.  When you wake up after a good night’s rest, do make a point of stretching before you get out of bed.  First and foremost, bend your knees and gently press your back and shoulder blades gently into the mattress.  This will open-up the vertebrae, because when we sleep, we lie still and the vertebrae “compress” as it were.  Then straighten your arms and legs, take a deep breath and stretch your limbs (legs, toes, arms and fingers) as far as you can, and as you exhale relax.  Repeat 2 – 3 times.

To loosen a stiff back, bend your knees (close to your chest) and gently drop them to the left-side (inhale) and hold it here while you exhale.  Inhale again and take your legs to the right-side and hold it while you exhale.  Keep your shoulder-blades on the mattress and be gently when bringing the knees back to the centre.  Repeat 2 – 3 times.

Another good stretch for the sciatica, back, legs and hip flexors, is to bend your right-leg and, while placing your hands underneath the knee (stay clear of your knees!) or below the knee on the shinbone, take a deep breath in and gently pull the leg towards your chest.  As you exhale, relax your grip and repeat for 2 – 3 times.  Then do the same with your left leg.

A good way to loosen the lower back and sciatica, is to sit on the edge of the bed or a chair in a bent, relaxed position, with a stretched-out leg.  Point and flex the foot slowly for 6 counts, while looking at the foot.  If there is a strong pull in you lower back, do this exercise while looking in front of you instead of at your foot, until it becomes easy.  Repeat this with the other leg.

Still stiff in your back?  Stand up and cross your one leg over the other, keeping the front leg slightly bent.  Take a deep breath in, straighten your spine and gently bend (ONLY in the spine) forward until you feel a gently pull / stretch on the other leg’s side.  Repeat with the other leg in front.  Not comfortable?  Then stand with your legs hip-width apart, bend your knees and lean slight forward.  Gently twist slightly and point your right shoulder at your left leg and vice versa.  Move from side-to-side while pulling and pointing your shoulders to the opposite legs.  Remember to inhale first and then exhale as you move toward the knees.  Do this a few times, then come into the centre and round your back and flatten it.  Again, inhale as you curl up and exhale as you straighten your back.

Circling your wrists and ankles one way and then another is also a good way to loosen those joints.  If you hear a crackling sound and it is not hurting, then don’t worry.  It is your body’s way of telling you to add more Omega oils to your diet!  When you don’t eat enough oily fish or get enough Omega oil-supplements in, the tendons that are connecting the bones with the muscles, starts to get dry, thus they “crackle.” 

Making sure that you stretch before you get out of bed, is not only important for getting the muscles going and the oxygen flowing, but it is also a way of lubricating all the joints and waking the body up in an easy, less stressful way than jumping out of bed!

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, stretching can also help improve blood flow throughout the body – and to the brain. When there is an adequate amount of blood flow going to the brain, it will increase concentration and sharpen your senses. It is also not a good idea to “jump up and go,” as this can be a shock to your system and heart. Coming out of sleep, where you lay still for a number of hours, slows down the heartrate and breathing.

Most importantly is that you try to do 1 / more of these stretches before you “get up and go.” Stretching not only protects the body from injuries, but it also teaches you what your body’s range of motion is, even doing something as simple as bending down to tie a shoelace, or comb the back of your hair. Therefore, try to be as gently as possible with your body when waking up….in other words, stretch to fully awaken your body and mind.

Stretching before you go to sleep is also a good idea if you are stiff from a day of sitting and/or exercising.  This will help the muscles to release protein acid build-up, get rid of stress (for example tight shoulders and/or necks), get the oxygen and blood flowing again and help you to relax.

So; take a deep breath in, stretch your limbs, and exhale…now you are ready to take on the world…or sleep like a log!

Healthy financial habits

I’m sure many of you have read, spoke and contemplated a lot on how to safe more and spend less.  A study indicated that many South Africans, especially the young adults, do not put money away towards retirement and/or “a rainy day!” Research done overseas, indicated that very few people, regardless of their age, put money away.

In these times where many things are just getting more-and-more expensive, it can be quite tricky to have any money left to put away!  However, whether it is R10 ($10) a week or R100 ($100) a week, every little bit counts and, as the saying goes “the pennies make the pounds.”

Here are a few tips to help kick-start your financial freedom:

Reading personal finance-books or listening to podcasts while driving

One of the best ways to learn is to study and educate yourself.  Whether you want to know how the stock market works, or need advice on managing your finances better, all you need is a few hours to either browse through the bookstore or online and find something that speaks to you.

Pay of any short-term debt(s)

Whether it is a credit card, store card or short-term loan, try to pay it off as quickly as you can.  Otherwise it starts to pile up and cost far more (think of interest charged) than anticipated.

Start to build an emergency fund

This could be a separate bank account, for example, where money is paid into in case of emergencies (car accident, unforeseen maintenance on the house / car, and so forth).  Experts advise that the emergency fund should have enough money for at least 3 months in order to sustain you and your family.

Tracking your credit card rating

Experts agree that it is a good idea to track your credit rating, especially when you are buying property.  You can either contact a registered credit bureau or visit their website.

Recording and tracking what you spend on a daily or monthly base

A good idea is to “keep book” to track how much you spend and on what.  This is a great and easy way to make you aware of any unnecessary expenses and/or if you are overspending.  It also teaches you to become more mindful about what you spend your money on, how much you spend, and whether / not it is a need or a want (read my article on Mindfulness for easy-to-do tips about being more mindful).

Creating a budget and sticking to it as much as possible

Instead of allowing your spending to determine your budget, let your budget determine your spending.  It is important to stick to it, especially if you have debt.  The rule-of-thumb is to first pay what has to be paid, for example electricity, rent, petrol, food, and so on.  Then make sure there is money to pay of any credit card / other debt. 

Lastly, if there is any money left, put some aside for entertainment / treats; but don’t forget to put money away towards savings!

Reducing expenses

When you have kept track on your expenses for a month or two, you quickly get an idea if any money is spent on nonessentials.  Then you can start to cut back and instead of eating out twice a week, for example, you can change by only eating out once a month and save the rest.

Saving made easy(ier)

Many people struggle to save and instead, spend money on nonessentials.  So, what is a better option?  Automating it!  By putting in an automatic transfer either at the beginning or end of each month, you cannot spend the money because you don’t have it but you also don’t think about “what to buy” with it anymore.

Closing any non-used accounts

When you have accounts, like store cards, open but not using it anymore, the banks and / or stores still charge you for the cards.  Close them and only keep that which you use.

Thinking long-term and not just short-term

Once you have established a good, working plan for your short-term financing, start to think long-term.  You can ask questions like Where do I want to be in 5 years?  Within how many years do I want to pay off my car?  How much money can I put away each month toward paying off debt / towards retirement?

Shopping-lists

When you’re out grocery shopping, you often come home with more than what you wanted.  Making a list is a good way to buy only what is needed.  However, when it comes to non-perishables, one can buy in bulk.  This will save you money for the next few months and, with prices going up the way they are, it is an easy way to save. 

This, however, should only be done if you can afford to do it, so again be mindful about what you need to buy in order to save in the long run, and what not to buy as it isn’t a necessity. 

Another good tip is to not to misuse your credit card(s) 

Many people will use the one card for spending, while using the other card to pay off debt.  Whether it is clothes and other nonessential items that you buy, the best advice I got growing up is:  when you buy property, for example, pay it off completely before installing a swimming pool or buying that new car.

In today’s modern world, it is easy and quick to use a card instead of cash.  However, whether or not you have the cash in your hand or not, keep track on how much you spend and on what.  Adults and children alike will benefit from saving – setting an example for your children is vital – in the end everybody will reap the rewards!

Being in debt is not just detrimental to your financial health, but it can also be detrimental to your personal relationships, as well as your physical- and emotional health.  Various symptoms can develop due to financial worries – sleepless nights, stress, being agitated and fighting, becoming depressed, not eating properly, and other symptoms.  Did you know that, the thought of getting a late payment notice, for example, doesn’t just make you uncomfortable?  It will also cause rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dry mouth, headaches and the shakes!

Thus, buckle up, become mindful and start saving today!  Every rand and cent saved will give you the financial freedom you want, it will create and maintain healthy relationships, and you will have a healthy body, mind and spirit!

The bare essentials

Whether you love to walk barefoot, in sandals, or live in a dryer climate than the coast, one’s heels (and often our elbows) tend to suffer!

I am sure everyone has, at one stage or another, had cracked heels!  This is because our feet are exposed more to the elements from wearing sandals or walking barefoot.  Don’t be fooled – wearing the wrong shoes, or same pair of shoes every day, can also play a role. 

Why does it happen?  In a nutshell; when the skin is either exposed to the elements or to pressure from walking, the skin around the heels thicken and harden as a protective measure.  The harder and thicker the skin becomes, the bigger chance you have of developing corns or calluses.

The cushions under the toes can also thicken and harden to protect itself; so make sure to take care of that part of the feet too.  This often happens when you are wearing the wrong shoes, very high heels, or the same pair of shoes each day.

Indeed, children have to wear school shoes every day.  But it is always a good idea to tell them to walk barefoot at home or swop the shoes for another pair. The same tip an be given to adults.  During the lovely warm, summer days, it is advisable to walk barefoot as much as possible. 

If not allergic or sensitive to grass, it is a good idea to walk in the garden barefoot as well.  Not only will it massage the feet and stimulate blood flow and circulation, but it will also ground you again and give you a massage.  During winter it is a good idea to keep your feet, just like the rest of your body, well-moisturized. Using a good cream / heal balm, as well as drinking plenty of water and other fluids, will keep your skin hydrated. The dryer your skin, the more hydration you need – both internally as well as externally.

There are various products on the market that treats dry, cracked heels.  One can also use natural, homemade products.  Here are a few products to use:

1. Vegetable Oil

A variety of vegetable oils can be used to treat and prevent cracked heels. Olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil or any other hydrogenated vegetable oil will work. For best results, use this remedy before going to bed to allow ample time for the oil to fully penetrate your skin.

2. Rice Flour

Exfoliating the skin on your feet and heels will help remove dead skin, thus preventing cracking and dryness. Rice flour can be used a part of a homemade exfoliating scrub.

3. Indian Lilac

Indian lilac, also known as margosa leaves or neem, is an effective remedy for your cracked feet, especially when they become itchy and infected. Neem soothes a dry, irritated skin and fights off infection too, thanks to its fungicidal properties. If you’ve never used it before, try a small area first.

4. Lemons

The acidic property in lemons can be very effective in softening rough skin that leads to cracking. You can either used sliced lemons or just the juice. When using sliced lemons, you can keep them in place by wearing socks overnight. Otherwise, massaging lemon juice into the heels after exfoliating it with a pumice stone, can also do the trick.

5. Rosewater and Glycerine

The combination of glycerine and rose water makes an effective home treatment for cracked heels. Glycerine softens the skin, which is why it is widely used in cosmetics. Rose water adds vitamins A, B3, C, D, and E as well as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.

6. Paraffin Wax

If the condition of the cracks on your heels is really bad and causing a lot of pain, a paraffin wax treatment can provide quick relief. It works as a natural emollient to soften your skin.

7. Epsom Salt

If you have cracked heels, it’s important to take extra care to keep your heels well moisturized. You can do this simply with an Epsom salt or a sea salt foot soak. It will also help improve circulation, is a great way of getting rid of toxins in the body and also balances the body’s pH-levels. Combining the salt with a few drops of lavender oil also helps to relax the feet and get rid of tension / stiffness.

8. Bananas

Ripe bananas are one of the cheapest home remedies for cracked and dry heels, thanks to their moisturizing properties. You can make a paste by mashing a banana and leaving the paste on for 10 – 15 minutes, or you can use the banana peels.

9. Honey

Honey has moisturizing and antibacterial properties, making it an excellent treatment for dry and cracked heels. Many hand-, foot- and body lotions add honey and/or coconut milk to their products. Both are good products that helps to lock the moisture in.

10. Petroleum Jelly

You can use petroleum jelly on dry, rough skin to prevent cracked heels and leave your feet soft and well moisturized, as well as on other parts of the body that are exposed to the elements (elbows and lips, for example).

Moisturizing every time after a bath or shower is another good idea.  While the skin is still warm, the moisturizer will be absorbed faster. 

Lastly, don’t underestimate good old fashion Vaseline! There are so many different brands to choose from today. The best tip is to look for a product that is rich, but not oily, has added vitamin E, glycerine, and/or argan oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, or any other ingredient in, that will give your skin an extra boost during winter.

It is also a good idea to put cotton socks on after your feet has been exfoliated and moisturized.  The socks will help with the absorption of the moisturizer, while at the same time keeping your heels soft.

As I mentioned earlier – make sure to drink plenty of water! A dry, flaky / cracked skin is often a sign that you need to up your water intake, as well as adding more Omega 3 & 6-oils to your diet.

Our feet are the one part of the body that we sometimes neglect, but the part of the body that does a lot of work!  So; whether you go for a pedicure or treat yourself to a homemade recipe, keeping your heels soft will keep calluses and corns at bay!

Is less really more?

Whether it is decorating your home, buying a new wardrobe for the new season, or spring cleaning, the new buzzword is minimalism!

Minimalism started during the 60s and 70s as an art and visual cultural movement; promoting the idea that “less is more” and that unnecessary possessions need to go.  Today, however, you read and hear about many people “scaling down” (and that doesn’t mean that they only move into smaller spaces).  People are becoming more conscious that a life built on consumerism, materialism and “stuff,” is, in fact, not what real life is all about! 

More people are also becoming more aware of protecting our natural resources and environment, thus minimalism is about decluttering / spring cleaning your life – both physically and mentally.

It is a lifestyle where you get rid of objects, relationships and expenditure that don’t add value or meaning to your life anymore.  For example, instead of buying something because you like it or want it just to have it, you stop and ask yourself: do I really need it?  If you don’t need it, then you don’t buy it.  Simple?  No; easier said than done sometimes!!

Joseph Becker, author of “The More of Less: finding the life you want under everything you own,” says “Our money is only as valuable as what we choose to spend it on.”

The same applies for our emotions, our energy and our time.  Relationships are only valuable if they bring meaning into your life, lift you up and make you want to spend your time and energy with that person.

Another example of living this way can be found on Theminimalists.com-website and the Netflix documentary, Minimalism.  Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus were living the American dream: big houses filled with lots of stuff, high paid jobs, executive roles, big cars, expensive holidays, and so forth. 

However, none of these material stuff brought them real happiness.  They decided to make the change and are now travelling the world to tell people about it and to teach people how to make the changes.  There are 3 steps to follow:

  1. Declutter and make space for what you value:  look at your home.  How much time do you spend “reshuffling” things from one cupboard to the next?  When was the last time that you used something or wore something?

According to Joshua and Ryan physical clutter (the stuff in your home and/or office) can spread to your mental space.  Thus, the first step to sort this out would be to start with one room or one cupboard at a time and decide what is of value and purpose and what to get rid of.  As you sort out and declutter it’ll help you to start thinking more critically about decisions you make daily and, in turn, you’ll start to live more with intention.  If you are an emotional shopper, or buy things because you are lonely, get help.  Talk to a family member or friend that you trust and take the necessary steps to figure out how to change your behaviour and/or your life. 

  • Love people, use things:  In the modern, materialistic world, materialistic things have become, unfortunately, substitutes for deep, meaningful relationships and connections.  There are many people who love things more than they love people and, deep down, themselves.  The big question is:  is those Facebook-relationships real?  Are your relationships with work colleagues’ true friendships or are they actually just acquaintances?  Becoming minimalistic mean that you want relationships that add value to your life; you want to spend time and energy with somebody that has the same values as you, and in return you add value to their lives.  “Being chained by obligation to a relationship is disingenuous, a false loyalty birthed from pious placation,” says Joshua. 
  • Prioritise without the excuses:  Do you wish you had more money to save or invest?  Go through your bills at the end of the month and decide what do you need to buy / pay, what do you want / like to have but don’t need.  Slowly but surely start to cut out the “wants” on your list; then progress and cut out the “likes” as well.  In the end, you will retrain yourself to only buy things like shoes, clothes, kitchenware, that you truly need.  This will leave you with extra cash at the end of each month and soon you can save more or pay off your debt faster.  If extra time is what you need, then do the same.

In essence minimalism is not just about spring cleaning or decluttering your home and office space.  It is a practical way of living and entails cleaning out your life on a financial, material, spiritual and emotional level.  The main purpose is to live your life with intention, purpose and meaning.  It is a way of living in balance with nature and your inner self.  By decluttering everything in your life, you not only feel lighter, but you have more me-time, more time to spend with those you love, more time to do what you want to in life (travel, read, sleep).

Minimalism does not require a person / family to get rid of a love / passion (for example collecting art), if it adds value to your life.  Instead, think of it as “scaling down,” moving into a smaller space and having to take only that which you can fit into it with you. 

There are various channels on YouTube where people move into Tiny Homes; some move into an RV or van because they want to travel the world.  These people are good examples of minimalism.

At the end of the day, whether you call it minimalism, decluttering or spring cleaning, it all boils down to living in harmony and balance with both spirit and nature. It is a way of life and what better example to set for your children, friends, family, colleagues, and so forth, than to show them that living a life where happiness, self-confidence, self-worth and belonging is not linked to or found in material possessions and money, but in what we choose to value and to live an authentic life; one that is lived responsibly (not just to each other, but also to nature and oneself) and with integrity.  As the saying goes: when you are born, you come into this world with nothing; when you die, you leave this world with nothing!  Give it a try!