Relax into the stretch

relax_into_stretch

Photo courtesy Inge Duin. See more of her quilts here.

Have you ever done stretching exercises?

If so, then you know the wonder of going with the stretch. When you stretch, let’s say, you bend your spine down while keeping your knees straight till your hand reach the floor. Put the palms down.

This stretch should be experienced through the spine as well as the hamstrings. If it is easy for you, walk your hands further on to increase the stretch, till you can barely handle it.

Here comes the key point.

When you are stretching you are challenging the muscles for elasticity. If you get tense at that moment, the stretch is painful or, uncomfortable, to say at least. But… when you relax with the stretch and into the stretch, this very discomfort becomes nearly pleasurable. It is still discomfort, mind you, but your body is both allowing it and accepting it. It sees the purpose of such a conscious extension.

The ease follows, which is not the ease from discomfort, but a meta-feeling of a higher level acceptance and understanding. In the stretch, in the very pull of the muscles, the body sees a promise of something greater. The promise of graceful movements. It is a joy in disguise.

The extension gives hope for supple joints and the flexibility. The body loves it deeply.

***

When a problem or a challenge occurs in your life, you may choose to attack it head on. You may want a solution and you may want it fast. This may work out in some cases, but it does not, when the solution involves your transformation.

If the solution cannot be worked out straight away or soon, what do you do?

Well…  Perhaps…

You gather more knowledge.
You collect more understanding.
You test various approaches and try new ones.
You research and investigate.
You seek help from others.
You move beyond the obvious, the standard and the norm.

Yet, the progress is negligible. When you manage to solve an aspect of your problem, a new angle arises to complicate the whole picture even more.

You feel like paddling a canoe in a raging river.
It is wild and unpredictable.
The harder your try, the more difficult it gets.

Imagine now, for a change, that your problem is not a wild river, but a small pond that you have already investigated pretty well. The solution you want is a bright coin lying at the bottom.

When you attempt to paddle like crazy, get better equipment (say, knowledge) or techniques (say, understanding) or ask friends to paddle with you, you only stir up the mud and create the foam.

Perhaps …  in all your eagerness of paddling and the splashes you created, you have indeed mistaken a pond for a river. All these efforts, well-intended of course, and optimized for effectiveness, all the anxiety, and the action are in vain.

They all obscure the surface of the pond. The waters are murky. There is nothing to be seen.

How can you look for the coin?

Stop your paddling and stand still. Stay still long enough for the waters to get calm and clear.
Relax into the stretch.

Just allow things to be.
Live as if you have everything you need.
Live as if your problems have never existed.

Maybe it will take one day, a week or a year.
Let your coin reveal itself.

It will.

***

Have you ever had a child or a family member with an overwhelming health problem?
Have you ever encountered a sudden limitation,  a serious lack of money or a loss?
Have you ever had so much on your plate you could barely make from day to day?

What do you do then?

Do you get angry and rebel?
Do you keep hacking the problem?
Do you educate yourself to come out with new solutions?

Relax instead.

Relax into your challenge.
Open your chest.
Accept what is and live as if the solution has been found.

This simple step takes the pressure of you to come out with action or plans to hack it.

Sometimes loving attention is all that is needed. To yourself, your family member or a friend.

In the state of relaxation, your parasympathetic nervous system is at work. This is your optimal state.

Your intuition is enhanced.
Love comes freely.
You live in the zone.

***

Cherish your intentions.
Calm your emotions.
Look around.

The coin is there to be found.

***

Why is kindness good for you?

footprints

Photo courtesy Footprints orphanage

I am a strong believer that empathy and kindness go a long way. Even small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect that will transform people’s life. It was certainly my experience in life when I was being helped unexpectedly.  Oftentimes strangers chose to open their hearts to respond to my needs.

This certainly made me decide to live by “paying it forward”, spreading kindness, when possible.

Kindness is necessary for us to make strong bonds within a family, community or a workplace. Kindness is a sheer act of giving without any expectation or judgement. Be it a cup of tea, your attention to other person’s needs or helping your old neighbor with household.

Of course there should be a balance between meeting our individual needs and the needs of others. However, many times, the acts of kindness can be boiled down to a loving attention given to another person/animal/ in a particular moment. Even a smile, a small talk, a truthful compliment can make a difference.

Kindness is contagious.  It inspires us to act kindly to others. It spreads easily because we make others feel good and, as a side effect, we simply feel good.

Kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people and so we feel more ‘bonded’.

Kindness is good for the body and mental health

Allan Luks has long been an advocate of kindness, helping others and volunteering. From  his website, we read:

People have known for ages that helping others is good for the soul.  But the study that Allan Luks conducted of over 3000 male and female volunteers has proven it is good for the body and mental health too. His research concluded that regular helpers are 10 times more likely to be in good health than people who don’t volunteer. And that there’s an actual biochemical explanation: volunteering reduces the body’s stress and also releases endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers.

His book: “The Healing Power of Doing Good” explains the relationship between good health and volunteering, and the factors that make it possible to allow individuals to maintain their independence as they grow older and face both physical and mental health challenges.

When we study his book, or the book of David Hamilton, “Why kindness is good for you“, we can conclude that kindness (helping others) contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor.

***

From another point of view, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) teaches that organs have functions beyond the understanding of western medicine. Different emotions affect different organs. Anger and kindness effect the functions connected to the liver. The main task of the liver is to support the even flow of nourishing blood throughout the body. When the flow is smooth we are relaxed. But … when we are angry the flow is constricted. Since liver (through blood) is also connected to eyes, nerves and ligaments, as a result of tension and the blood restriction/stagnation, various health problems can occur. There may be tension, bloating, mood swings, eye problems, muscle spasms, dizziness, migraines etc. So, both kindness and a healthy way to express anger, come hand in hand with a happy liver.

Liver is perceived as an inner harmonizer. A well functioning liver supports the heart (according to TCM), and this may explain why kindness gives us healthier hearts. See also the book of David Hamilton.

***

Why kindness is good for you?
Because it is an act of deep connection to another person. It is ultimately human,  a recognition of her as your fellow traveler in life.
By helping her, you help yourself.
By giving freely, you free yourself.

You become a seed of gentle expansion of happiness.

Are you ready for an act of kindness?

If so, Kerrie Watson needs one. She is an English lady, I have just met, with a mission far bigger than herself.

Some years ago she worked as a volunteer in Kenya. She was so touched by poverty and limitations of the orphans there that she decided to make a difference. She started an orphanage in 2010. She did it alone. By her own money, persistence and against all odds.  She is now a “mum” to 24 kids, aged 0 to 18 who would have been abandoned, otherwise. Three years ago she started a school, which has now 140 pupils.

What a task! She feeds all the kids. Many of them from outside sleep at school on mattresses during a week. She runs it with the support of locals: Kenyan teachers, cooks and so on.

Life is really basic there.
No water.
No electricity.
No toilets.
If you want a piece of furniture, such as a bench or a bed, you have to make it yourself.

The majority of your time is spent of fetching water, cooking and washing. You have to walk 2.5 miles to fetch water from a river. There is a well, but the water is not always there, and even though they collect rain water, it’s gone in the dry season. Yet, kids’ clothes and bedding  have to be washed by hand, rubbing in a basket of water. Not even mentioning the amount of water you need to cook meals for all pupils and adults.

Some kids are HIV positive and their illness is manageable when they are provided with daily medication. It costs 100 pounds a month/child.

They lead a simple life, yet the changes Kerrie makes to these children are profound. They have a lifetime chance to grow in love and learn to spread kindness.

Kerrie runs this thanks to the financial support she gets from people. She has a well-founded charity and her family members in the UK support her behind the scenes. They take care of formal issues, the running of charity, accounting, Facebook presence, website etc. But money is short. She is a no-nonsense lady, very practical and highly optimizing her spending. Everything goes directly towards food and the running costs.

Just have a look at these lovely kids, and please support this mission of the Heart. Even 3 or 5 pounds will make a huge difference.

Make a Donation or spread the word. Allow yourself for a small act of kindness.

Many thanks 🙂

***

 

The Crane Exercise and how concentration is to self-mastery

crane_exercise

Photo courtesy Tony Hisgett available from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Concentration and self-mastery

Have you ever watched a person of a strong reputation or character?

If you have a chance, observe them closely. Look how they sit, walk and talk.

You will notice that men of force and women of wisdom exert a great control over their bodies. The posture is strong, the body is well grounded, the eyes are focused yet radiant and their movements are optimized. All parts of the body are in a total harmony. They align to a purpose.

Their speech is well rounded, thoughtful and inspirational. There are  hardly any stop words, such as ‘yeah’ ,’uhm’ and so on. Their speech and their body are in resonance,  They are slow to preach but fast to listen.

They are calm and well poised, in control of their bodies. They radiate assurance, wisdom and respect.

Now, watch an ordinary person on a street or on TV. You will see how seemingly different parts of the body have their own lives. Wiggly gestures, scratching head, pulling hair, biting lips, looking down or off, tapping fingers, moving constantly on a chair or while standing.

Their speech is erratic, repeatable and lacks focus. They allow emotions to take over. They are fast to talk but slow to listen.

***

Mind is associated with muscles and nerves. Once the muscles and nerves are moving without control, your mind becomes scattered. The energy needed to support these movements diminishes your power of concentration. In addition, when the heart beats irregularly, the circulation is uneven. Consequently, the mind goes over all places and lacks the power of focus. As simple as that.

Controlling your mind and your body goes hand in hand. Any practice that teaches you to strengthen and control your muscles and nerves will steady your mind, as a result. You will become more focused. And the power of focus is the foundation of self-mastery.

There are, of course, many practices you can choose. The basic one, however, starts with breathing.

So….controlling your breath is a way to maintain your health. The slower breath, the better. Ideally, you breath in the same pattern as your heart beats. Out-breath, pause and an  in-breath.

Breathing and the crane

Many diseases, including acute and chronic problems, are related to the weakness in one or more parts of the digestive tract. Digestion is controlled by the autonomic muscles and the regular exercise will not reach them. Many suggest that poor breathing habits are a major cause of weakness in the body by not using diaphragm to massage the internal organs.

Oftentimes, when we breathe, the lungs tend to expand outward toward the chest as we use the upper part half of the lungs only. The stale air that remains in the lower part and the moisture which accompanies the stale air provides the conditions necessary for germs to have a party 😉 Therefore, we need to find a way to breathe the lower part of the lungs as well and force the stomach, intestines and colon to move, to work so they may be strengthened.

The Crane Exercise comes as a solution.

Crane is a Chinese and Japanese symbol of longevity, wisdom and nobility. Not surprisingly, as they live long, pair for life, look elegant and perhaps make smart choices 😉

When it stands, the crane folds one leg into its belly and exerts pressure on its abdominal muscles. This is done to strengthen its digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. A similar thing happens when we adapt this position for humans. Since intestines are not easily reachable by external exercise, emulating the crane will benefit the digestive system greatly. Humans emulate the crane by practicing standing on one leg and then by learning to use the diaphragm to  massage the digestive organs.

The Crane Exercise forces the lungs downward. This is beneficial because the intestines have no place to go, they are pressed out against the abdominal muscles. Such a motion breaks up constipation, encourages absorp­tion of nutrients. and strengthens the entire digestive tract while stimulating the lungs. The Crane posture also increases the circulation to the abdominal organs and muscles. Hence, it can reduce fat accumulation (great news, isn’t it? ;)). The pose also helps asthma through its effects on the lungs.

Slow diaphrag­matic breathing, as taught in the Crane, allows for full expansion of the lungs and full absorption of energy from the air, while exercising the lungs and gently massaging the internal organs. The Crane posture also encourages us to improve our circulation. Even though these organs are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the Crane Exercise enables us to bal­ance the energy between top and down of the body.

Crane Exercise

This  may be practiced while standing, sitting, or while lying down.

Caution: Avoid in pregnancy or when there is an abdominal pain.

  1. Start by rubbing the palms of your hands together to generate some heat in your hands.
  2. Place your hands, palms down, on your lower abdomen on the sides of your navel.
  3. Inhale through nose, while keeping your mouth close.
  4. Begin to exhale slowly, while pressing your hands down lightly so that the abdomen forms a hollow cavity . Since the hands act as the leg of the crane, this gently forces the air out of the lower lungs. If you like, keep imagining unwanted microorganisms to leave your body as well.
  5.  After you have exhaled completely, pause briefly and slowly inhale again. Extend your abdomen outward so that it becomes like a balloon. Do your best to use your muscles in the lower abdomen – let the chest stay flat.

Begin with 2-3 rounds (exhalation followed by inhalation is one round) and slowly increase to 12. Please practiced daily, ideally in the morning or evening. Your goal is to do it as slowly as possible, say one round for about 30-50s.

***

Eric Cobb from Z-Health shows a breathing exercise which is in fact the laying down Crane Exercise.

 

Standing Crane Exercise

This is more advanced than the sitting/lying down exercise but worth learning. In addition, it helps to develop balance and increases the flexibility of the knees, ankles and hip joints. It also increases the circulation in the legs and feet.

  1. Stand with your feet touching.
  2. Take one foot and rub the sole of that foot on the opposite calf. Slowly work your foot up the leg, stopping to rub it until your foot rests on the outside thigh of your opposite leg. The heel should lie toward the pelvis, and the toes should be past the thigh near the hip joint.
  3. Use your hands to massage the sole of your foot, including toes.
  4. Raise your arms over your head sideways as you inhale, and bring your palms as close together as possible.
  5. Breathing as usual, balance in this position for as long as you can.
  6. While exhaling, lower your arms and foot and repeat the exercise with your other foot.

And here is a demonstration of the standing crane:

Concentration and breathing

When your breath becomes regular, your circulation follows. A steady mind begins with an even breath. A healthy body begins with diaphragmatic breath. Enjoy it!

***

 

Vegan recovery

vegan_recovery

Photo credit Heather Kennedy available on Flickr under Creative Commons.

 

I have been on and off short bursts of vegetarian / vegan / raw food diets in my life. The longest, 100% vegetarian dedication lasted for about a year. Nevertheless, I do understand the arguments about the slaughter of animals, bred for food in horrible conditions.

I also know that eating little or no meat will enhance personal changes for those who are willing to take them. This is not necessarily about the motivation or moral aptitude but the fact that a plant-based diet asks for a different type of digestion, providing body with different fuel.  This, as a result, will lead to specific thoughts and emotions being awaken. Such a path is or might be beneficial for spiritual leaders, thinkers, writers and others who live from their thinking skills.

I know from my raw food  journey that raw food has been very demanding to digest, against the initial expectations. While the arguments to eat unadulterated plants sound very compelling, our digestive system does not deal well with breaking up the cellulose walls of leafy greens. Raw food stirs raw emotions up, leading a person to deal with all kinds of feelings buried deep and perhaps dark. Not everybody is ready, or prepared to work on them in such an intensive way.

I personally believe that vegan/vegetarian/raw food diet is special and suitable for some people or perhaps at specific times in life to help with personal transformation or a learning journey. Despite the ethical arguments I don’t think that vegetarianism is for everybody. Some people do need grass-fed meat (or fish), not necessarily the muscle meat, but more importantly the organs such as liver, kidneys, gelatine broth made from bones and so on.

I know that the arguments in favor of vegetarianism / veganism seem sound for many intelligent people. At least, human omnivores/carnivores need to question their motives for indirect killing for food. I am also aware of studies, such as the China study, by Campbell and Campbell, which argues that cancer, heart attacks and other diseases are caused by animal protein. There are hundreds of various correlations presented in the book, but again correlations are not causations. There is also a strong criticism of the validity of this research, e.g. here. It may be useful to study both views.

I personally think that a diet rich in muscle meat may lead to health problems in a long term perspective. However, the situation changes dramatically when one eats a varied diet, including majority of fruits and vegs and a substantial amount of glycine (gelatin) or taurine available from organ meats. Offal is of course what poor people used to eat: lard, tallow and broth, and in generation after generation they have been healthier than the rich ones (who mostly ate muscle meat). When glycine is consumed in abundance, a person will enjoy a good health, I think. This asks for another post 😉

***

The choices between lifestyles and diets can easily lead to emotional disputes. This is not my intention is here. We all make choices based on what we find appealing, convincing or informative at the given time. As long as we develop and make progress long term, the choices make sense.

The point, however, is to be open-minded and think for yourself. It’s easy to subscribe to a dogma, especially when a particular choice becomes a daily habit or practice and we really want it to make it work. Once a choice is being made, say to be a vegetarian or omnivore, one can stick to this for decades. Yet, even good morals are not enough to justify a self-chosen perpetuation of the approach.

How do you know whether you have become dogmatic? When you feel very emotional about your choice and uneasy to respect others with their different choices.

My approach to life is to test everything. I periodically question my own assumptions and test them anew. Only then I can encourage good progress and shed the skin of beliefs which don’t serve me any longer. I do encourage you to test your beliefs too.

***

Since I am interested in health and nutrition I read many books on the subject. I know many people who are inspired to become herbivores, but I only know a few who did the other way around. I find it truly interesting when a long-term vegan/vegetarian starts to eat meat. There is usually a profound understanding or a new perspective when such a breakthrough takes place. And I’m all ears to learn Why.

Joey Lott is one of such people who:

After 17 years as a vegan, Lott knows all about the fear, shame, and guilt that can go along with wanting to quit being vegan. But having come out the other side, wiser and healthier, he shares his perspectives on life and what it really means to “do no harm.” With compassion and plain old good sense, this book will appeal to both your emotions and your intellect. As Lott points out, “we might seek to take our place in the cycle of life rather than trying to step outside of it,” which is precisely what veganism attempts to do.

If you are open to a fresh perspective on the both moral and health sides of veganism, I recommend you read his kindle book, Vegan Recovery. It is cheap, short and to the point. And above all, it may intrigue you if you have committed to the vegan/vegetarian path.

For me this book proposes an interesting view on ethics and life cycle, certainly the points which deal with killing animals. I am well informed about the benefits of eating a full spectrum of animal proteins, so the health concerns were never mine. I wonder what you will think.

Enjoy the book. Let it be inspiring!

***

Northern lights: I like the night

northern_lights

Image credit Malcolm Manners available on Flickr under Creative Commons.

One of my favorite little books of poems is “Northern Lights and Midnight Sun“. It was bought by my friend in Norway many years ago. Norway is a special country on many levels. It opens you up, mirrors back who you are and inspires you to follow a transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly ;). Not even mentioning the gorgeous northern lights.

I keep reading these poems as they reflect more and more how I feel with Winter at the horizon.

***

I like the night. It’s as if night had no right to exist.
People are always harping on about the beauty of the sun and the day.
They’re a delight to the eye and soul, that’s true.
But there are hidden rooms in us the sunlight never reaches
but where only the night dare creep in.

Sigbjorn Obstfelder

***

I love the night, indeed. I adore her quietness. I love her magnetism. I feel her presence. I love the night, indeed.

The Night, the dark, the negative perhaps, is the fuel and restoration for the Day to come. We have learned to appreciate the Day and the light, but we keep forgetting how important the Lady Night is.

Night is a welcome for all the “in”s. Inward focus, intimacy and inspiration. Without the Night, the Day cannot exist. There is this never ending pendulum swing between polarities, Day and Night, action and rest, Out and In.

Day and Night have different qualities, similarly as men and women do. When Day produces energy and strives for results, Night produces form and strives for understanding.

Day has qualities of a man. There is the electric push for action, work to be done or responsibilities and duties. The spark, the pulsating energy, the outward spiral.

Night has qualities of a woman. There is this magnetic release and relief, reflection and restoration. The appreciation, dissolving and the inward spiral.

Producing and delivering is governed by Day. Nurturing and growing is governed by Night.
They co-exist in a rhythm and permeate each other.

In the rush for a day and things to be done, we forget that the quality of the Day depends on the Night.

Stop welcoming Night and your Day will suffer tremendously. Stop embracing the female qualities, and you will find yourself lost in the wrong stride. Skip the time for reflection, and you will break your leg by climbing the wrong ladder to success.

Day provides function while Night gives structure. Without structure, everything falls.

Appreciate the qualities of Night and restoration.

Embrace emotions. Welcome the dark side of you. It is still you.

Take the time to empower yourself with female qualities.

Look for the Night to nurture your body and spirit. It will ignite the Day!

 ***

I am Darkness. Darkness
that makes a thousand swaying lights
shine so painfully clearly.
I love those burning lights,
love the flame
that lies down
and trembles ecstatically before
the breath of night, I want to be
alive like that flame, but
I am darkness
that makes those lights shine.

Hans Borli

***

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