December is a month filled with joy and good cheer — and also, for many, a bit of the blues. Study after study confirm the powerful mood-boosting effects of yoga, especially yoga twists, backbends, and inversions, which move our bodies and open our hearts in ways that daily life — and busy holiday days — typically do not.
Yoga movement, breathing, and relaxation can alleviate stress and ward off anxiety and depression. If you find yourself feeling low, this tried-and-true sequence featured in Whole Living — easily performed at home a few times a week — will help you rediscover the joy of the season! (As always, if you have a medical condition, consult your doctor prior to beginning yoga practice.) Thumbnails of all poses can be viewed here.
These beginning poses calm and settle:
These inversions and standing poses warm and invigorate:
These twists cleanse and release tension in your back and abdomen:
These inversions decompress the body and mind:
This restorative pose relaxes and renews:
Enjoy, and happy holidays to you!
I really like Whole Living magazine. In this month’s issue, Amy Gross has a nice article — “Breathing Lessons” — on the why and how of practicing mindfulness meditation. An excerpt:
The disasters we imagine in our future torture us more than reality ever can. As Eckhart Tolle teaches, “Right now I’m OK.” The more fully you inhabit now, the more OK you are. Now is home base, the best spa, the best medicine. Meditation is training in getting to now.
What makes it powerful is what makes it hard: you’re dismantling two of the oldest reflexes in the world. The first is: Running away from pain. We spend our lives clamping off negative reactions. Meditation invites these reactions to the surface, where they can get the attention they’ve wanted from you all these years, and ultimately dissolve. You see you’re not destroyed. ”Acceptance is the key,” Joseph [Goldstein] says. ”Resistance locks in the feeling.”
The second reflex is: Clinging to the pleasant. We want what we want when we want it; when we get it, we hold on tight. That’s as futile as trying to hold on to a rushing river. Meditation offers infinite opportunities to open our grip. We see that we don’t lose anything by letting go — we’ve just quit an exercise in futility. Peace, according to the Buddha, is the greatest happiness. And isn’t that what you said you wanted?
Hellllllooooo, September! Walking in Season has returned, but one day late this time around. We were without internet on September 1st: contractors at the new house being built next door accidentally plowed through the underground internet cable yesterday. (The day before that, they accidentally punched a hole in our sewer line, and before that, the owner of the house used our hose but forgot to turn the spigot off — oy! Adventures in construction and good-neighborliness.)
After 24 hours without internet, our service has just now been restored. The upshot of our forced hiatus from connectivity is that it reminded us how well — and how deeply and fluidly — we work and think when the distraction of the internet is absent.
In the first few disconnected hours, we were enlightened (and embarrassed) to observe how often we would try — just out of unthinking habit — to check e-mail, or blogs, or news, or weather, or try to Google information that, most often, actually wasn’t absolutely necessary to track down at the very instant we attempted to track it down. We were amazed how often we would open our browsers before remembering, “Oh, right, no internet.” We had suspected how fragmented our trains of thought had become by such habitual actions and perpetual distractions, but had not had a mirror held to our behaviors and their effects — until the Internet Hiatus.
And so, we adjusted. (I will admit: I required more adjustment than Matt did.) After a few hours of reconditioning, we were working better and thinking more clearly than we had in a very, very long time. It made us so happy. In the end, we became thankful for the interruption of service!
In fact, we liked the effects so much that we have decided to try a new internet policy around our house: setting hours during which to take care of internet business and partake of internet entertainment, and turning the internet off the rest of the time.
I am a big, big, big advocate of removing temptations from one’s environment, rather than relying on willpower alone to resist them and then feeling doubly bad when that willpower inevitably fails. We are human, after all, and our willpower is a limited resource. Best to conserve and spend it wisely — such as, you know, by using it to force oneself to delve into the statistics manuals one has been avoiding for years, rather than to prevent oneself from comparison shopping for birth balls or reading favorite blogs. (Ahem.) The former is a lot easier when the latter options have been removed from one’s environment.
And now, without further ado (some might say, without further distraction), September’s Walking in Season photos! The full set (January-present) can be viewed at Flickr here. The photos were indeed taken on September 1, but unfortunately, at mid-day, in harsh lighting. Since January, Stop 4 has undergone the biggest transformation of all the stops, methinks: from high-water wetland to green field filled with invasive grasses.
We have begun to wonder: will the wetlands ever be wet again? It looks like Hurricane Earl, if he arrives, will bring wind but little rain…
Happy September, everyone! You have my word: I’ll report back on our Internet Hours experiment after we’ve let it run for awhile.
Stop 1. Indian summer colors.
Stop 1.5. Hazy — there was a ground-level ozone warning that day. We made our walk a short one.
Stop 3. The wetlands have become fields.
Stop 3. Cool under the trees.
Stop 4. Will it ever be a wetland again? Check out the full year’s progression starting here.
Green Monsters — fruit smoothies made green by the addition of spinach or kale — have been enjoying a surge of popularity recently, and for good reason. They are easy, tasty, fill your tummy with nutritious things, and give a great energy boost. In the hot summertime, we’ve been eating these cool treats for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Folks of all ages who are skeptical of greens find themselves loving Green Monsters!
We make ours with spinach, flax, plain yogurt (or plain kefir, or a mix of plain yogurt and milk), a very ripe banana (the riper the banana, the better the Green Monster), and either blueberries or Trader Joe’s Very Cherry Blend Frozen Berries. Delish! (Spinach and many berries are on the list of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables that are good to buy organic, so consider organic versions of those ingredients if it fits your budget.)
Since we add berries, our smoothies turn out to be Purple Monsters — no green in sight. For folks with kids or spouses who won’t touch green, this camouflage can be a boon!
A basic, proven Purple Monster recipe is below. It is flexible and adaptable! Many variations on the basic Green Monster recipe can be found at The Green Monster Movement. In the fall, when berries are no longer in season, I’ll surely be trying out the pumpkin-based Green Monster recipe there — with a little added cinnamon and nutmeg.
Try one! Try one! A sibling of mine — who is in no way a big fan of greens in their native state — tried a Purple Monster before we did and liked it so much that Matt and I were convinced to give the recipe a go. We really do love them, and we hope you do, too!
Basic, No-Fail Purple Monster Recipe
Serves 2 (of course, halve the recipe for a single serving) Read the rest of this entry »
For anyone interested in learning about healthy childbirth, Lamaze International’s Six Healthy Birth Practices are a fantastic resource. If you are pregnant, finding a maternity care provider who supports the practices (not all do!) is a great step forward on the path toward a healthy, satisfying birth.
Two outstanding birth blogs — Science and Sensibility and Giving Birth With Confidence, both affiliated with Lamaze — recently hosted a series of wonderful blog carnivals, one for each of the Six Healthy Birth Practices.
(For those not familiar, a blog carnival is the blogosphere equivalent of a special issue of a magazine: the carnival host solicits entries on a particular subject; bloggers in the field submit their best and most relevant blog posts for consideration; and the carnival host collects, edits, annotates, and publishes links to the posts, creating an excellent round-up of the most cutting-edge information on the subject at hand.)
The blog posts selected for the Six Healthy Birth Practices blog carnivals are thought-provoking, fascinating, and well-informed. Reading them can be addictive — and will introduce you to many of the best pregnancy, birth, and mothering blogs out there!
Here, I’ve collected links to Lamaze International’s articles and videos on the Six Healthy Birth Practices (the Lamaze website itself can be somewhat of a maze to navigate), as well as links to all six of the blog carnivals, all in one place!
Explore, watch, read, and revisit at your leisure. I hope you find this collection of links helpful!
Six Healthy Birth Practices: Introduction
Healthy Birth Practice 1:
Let Labor Begin On Its Own
Healthy Birth Practice 2:
Walk, Move Around, And Change Positions Throughout Labor
Healthy Birth Practice 3:
Bring A Friend, Loved One, or Doula For Continuous Support
One great way to find a doula near you is doulamatch.net, a site that allows you to search for a doula by your due date and location, and that provides informative doula profiles and client testimonials, too! You can also search for doulas at DONA International, the non-profit organization that is the gold standard in doula training.
Healthy Birth Practice 4:
Avoid Interventions That Are Not Medically Necessary
Healthy Birth Practice 5:
Avoid Giving Birth On Your Back And Follow Your Body’s Urges To Push
Healthy Birth Practice 6:
Keep Mother And Baby Together – It’s Best For Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding
Faro and Doris Caudill, homesteaders. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. From The Denver Post.
Matt sent me a link to this wonderful collection of rare color photographs from the late 1930s and early 1940s, taken as color slides by photographers from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information to capture scenes of rural and small town America during the Great Depression.
For those of us born long after the 1940s, it is striking, almost jarring, to see the lives of folks of that time caught in crisp color. Seeing these photos, the people and events suddenly felt real to me in a way they never had when I’d viewed black-and-white images from that era, or films reenacting it.
So take a look. One pattern that particularly struck me was the prevalence of hats on people of all ages, which is a sartorial trend that is deserving of a comeback!
I’m a big advocate of hats, both because they are lovely, and because they (along with lightweight long sleeves and other common-sense measures like seeking shade and avoiding mid-day sun exposure) can offer more consistent and effective (and potentially safer) sun protection than sunscreen, particularly when sunscreen is used as most of us use it: inconsistently and in inadequate amounts.
In that vein, here are links to the Environmental Working Group’s surprising sunscreen facts (so interesting, particularly the recent FDA finding that Vitamin A/retinyl palmitate, a common sunscreen ingredient, applied to the skin in sunlight can speed the formation of skin cancers), their incredibly helpful list of best sunscreens, and their “find your sunscreen” search tool.
Whatever protective measures you choose, have fun out there in these last weeks of summertime! It’s hard to believe that autumn and school are just around the corner…
Folks abstain from caffeine for all sorts of reasons: to reduce anxiety, to sleep better. And for pregnancy, of course! (The current recommendation is that pregnant women, particularly those in their first trimesters, consume not more than 200 mg caffeine per day — about the amount in a 12 oz. cup of coffee. Or in about 9.5 oz. of dark chocolate!)
A whole world of delicious, naturally caffeine-free beverages exists, and I am a very big fan. But some days, even we abstainers crave a hot coffee or — on a sweltering summer afternoon — a tall iced latte. The answer to our longings: decaf!
I will admit, decaf done badly can be horrible. But if done well, it can be wonderful. If you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, you can enjoy this, my current favorite: Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic French Roast Decaf. It’s all the good things its name indicates. Plus, it’s reasonably priced and is decaffeinated via a cold water process (like this) rather than with chemical solvents like methylene chloride or ethyl acetate (the chemicals used to remove the caffeine from a majority of other decaf coffees and black teas).
It is good stuff! And at 2-6 mg caffeine per cup, it can be enjoyed with sighs of contentment and without guilt or worry (or sleepless nights)!
Today, I decided to try venturing outside the house to work at the library again, after my long, morning-sick hiatus. The path to the library takes me by this garden, which the William & Mary grounds crew updates regularly with flowers of the season. (So colorful, so cheerful!) My return to the library was a good one, in part due to something called The One Minute Rule.
I learned of The One Minute Rule from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project book and blog. The One Minute Rule is this: if you face a task that will take less than one minute to complete, always do it — don’t procrastinate! Wash that dish, answer that e-mail, sort that mail, wipe that counter, load that washing machine, pick up those socks.
By good nature or by good training, my husband seems to have internalized The One Minute Rule sometime in back in childhood. He washes his dishes, he puts his books away, he answers e-mails promptly, and on trash day he brings the emptied garbage can back from the curb at his first opportunity. (Well, most of the time, anyway.)
I, on the other hand, pile the dishes in the sink (“They’re soaking!”), leave books and magazines strewn about (“I’m reading that!”), have over 1000 messages in my inbox (“Oh, I really should answer that one…soon”), and merely stare at the garbage can from the window for much of the day until guilt and a feeling of bad-neighborliness compel me to roll it back to its proper place.
The trouble, though, is that a cluttered home is stressful to me. When I realized that most of the clutter around our house was mine (not Matt’s!), and that mostly it was due to my habit of not finishing things that I start (on scales both small and large), I concluded it was time for action (and action on a daily basis, not action in the form of my usual sporadic whirlwinds of decluttering).
“Start small!” I thought. Holding myself to The One Minute Rule seemed like a good beginning. And I must say: it works. Committing to tackling every project that can be completed in one minute gives a person both a feeling of forward movement and an emptier inbox and a cleaner kitchen counter.
The Rule has also nudged me in the direction of breaking down larger projects into smaller, more manageable ones that can be done, if not in a minute, then in ten or fifteen — a habit which leads to a nice sense of progress, rather than a perpetual feeling of running, without moving, toward a far-off goal. (Like the completion of a dissertation — hence, my progress at the library today.)
Try it out! I’m still pretty new to the rule, but already have seen what a help it can be to little ol’ procrastinators like me. Color me happy about it.
Have a happy weekend, everyone! Tomorrow is the first full moon of summer — perfect for a moonlit stroll in the cool of the evening! Enjoy it!
When a new season of Mad Men — the AMC drama set in a Manhattan advertising agency in the early 1960s — is released, we Netflix it. Because, well, really, who can resist the allure of Don Draper or the curves of Joan Holloway?
The many secretaries on the show are continually lifting old-school telephone receivers to their shapely ears as they transcribe shorthand at their typewriters. Seeing that lifting action repeated again and again made me realize how much, in this cell phone age, I have missed a real telephone: a full-size receiver with good sound quality and a nice heft. The kind you can prop between your ear and your shoulder and still be clearly heard. (Since 2005, Matt and I have had no landline — only cell phones.)
“I want a retro handset,” I said to Matt as Mad Men played in the background.
“Well, they do make them for cell phones,” Matt said.
“Really.” And he sent me to this site.
The folks at Novophone — and soon, I imagine, other companies — do indeed make the very object of my desire, but for $27.95 — a price steep enough that I hemmed and hawed for several weeks over the decision to drop so much cash on what is essentially a mound of molded plastic with a cord.
But then I happened across the third act of this episode of This American Life (which begins at minute 45:55): an interview with journalist Christopher Ketcham, who wrote this article for GQ on the biological effects of cell phone radiation. (As a sidenote, there is also this recent article on the subject in Harper’s Magazine.)
On the surface, the results of research into the matter seem to be a toss-up, with half of the studies showing negative health effects (i.e., increased brain cancer risk), and half not. But when the research is divided by who funded it (the cell phone industry, or independent funding agencies), an interesting pattern emerges: while only 25% of studies funded by the industry show biological effects, 75% of the independently-funded studies do. The risks appear to be greatest for individuals who begin using cell phones under the age of 20, as their brains are still developing and their skulls are thinner than adult skulls, and therefore do not provide as much of a radiation barrier. But young’uns aren’t the only ones at risk.
There was the nudge I needed to get my cell away from my ear. I ordered my Novophone that very afternoon. The handset comes in two colors (red or black) and two styles (with or without a button on the handset that allows you to answer the phone without touching your cell).
I opted for black and buttonless, since various reviewers at Amazon.com (where I ordered the phone with free shipping) commented that it was easy to accidentally hit the button and hang up in the middle of a call. (If you’re interested, check here to see if your cell is compatible with the Novophone, or if you’d need an adapter.)
I have to say: I LOVE this phone handset. The feel of it in my hand, and the quality of the sound, are exactly what I had hoped for. And it has the added bonus of cutting down my daily EMF exposure! I’d had a hands-free headset for my cell, but never liked it much — and the people on the other end of the line had complained that I sounded like I was talking from a tunnel. Not so with the Novophone!
As I talk on it, I invariably think of the Mad Men secretaries, and of the inventions that each generation creates and brings into widespread use, insisting on their innocuousness until faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary (the type of evidence that takes decades to build and great effort to bring to light). The Mad Men era had asbestos, leaded gasoline and paint, and widespread cigarette use. My best guesses for our era’s follies? To name a few: widespread use of pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors like flame retardants (which we’ve applied to just about every upholstered, electronic, and synthetic-furniture item in the U.S.), and phthalates and parabens (which we’ve managed to mix into just about every personal care product Americans use).
And, of course, cell phones. Only time will tell.
Aaaaaaaannnnd, we’re back! (And, boy, am I glad about it!)
In a few days, look forward to a special announcement and the full details behind the blog’s late-spring hiatus.
Until then, I hope you enjoy the resumption of regularly scheduled programming!
This animation of a mini-lecture (10 minutes) by Professor Philip Zimbardo is worth your while to watch! It’s an exploration of how a person’s perception of time (each of us falls into one of six personal “time zones”) affects his or her lifestyle, health, pace of life, and behavior in the world.
It’s interesting and thought-provoking. The accompanying white-board visuals are fun to boot! Quite honestly, this little video gave me helpful new perspective on people who had previously confounded me. Now I can rest a little easier knowing that we simply inhabit different personal time zones.
Maybe it’s time for me to track down a copy of Robert Levine’s The Geography of Time at the library…