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Breathing

Breathing. It’s one of the few things that all of us who are interested in the business of living must do. And we do it a lot.
16 breaths per minute, on average. That 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 a day, 8,409,600 a year and 672,768,000 breaths over the course of an average lifetime.
You’d think, with all that practice, that we’d be good at it. But we’re not. When it comes to breathing, most of us are hopeless and it’s making us sick.

How Come We Suck at Breathing?
Our modern lifestyle has a lot to do with it. Stress is a constant factor and a lot of us spend our days busily sitting still. We park up at our desks, hunch over our computers, and take short, sharp sips of breath as we try to navigate a path through our work and our personal lives.
Even worse, we breathe unconsciously. With so much else to think about, something which takes so little effort and absolutely no thought is to be celebrated. We can put it to one side, not worry about it.
Trouble is, proper, healthy breathing requires conscious effort.

Why Does Poor Breathing Contribute to Poor Health?
Most of us only use one third of our natural lung capacity. Instead of using our diaphragms as our main breathing muscle, we rely on the weaker intercostal muscles in our rib cage. The result is that we breathe too shallow and too quick. We’re not drinking in the amount of oxygen that we should and we’re not ridding ourselves of sufficient carbon dioxide.
And so we become subject to ill health. Starved of oxygen, which is vital for the production of energy and for the maintenance of healthy cells, our bodies experience a toxic build-up. This not only reduces our levels of vitality, but also lowers our ability to resist disease. As a result, we become susceptible to a whole host of problems, including fatigue, chest and back pain, sleep disorders and stomach upsets, whilst other conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension can be exacerbated.
If we want to protect ourselves against ill health (and that’s a given for all of us), then proper, conscious breathing is a good place to start. In Part 2 of this article, we look at exactly how we can go about this.

Breathing

In Part 1 of our article on breathing, we discussed why most of us suck at this oh-so-vital part of our lives and the negative consequences it’s likely having on our health. Now, we look at what we can do about it.

So, How Do I Breathe Properly?
A good place to start is to make breathing a conscious action (at least occasionally!). We need to be aware, first of all, of how we breathe and, on the back of that, what we can do breathe better.
For most of us, the problem is that we breathe from our chest, rather than our abdomen. We need to learn to breathe more deeply, bringing our diaphragm into play and pulling more air into our lungs.
There are all sorts of breathing techniques which will help us do this (sooo many books and videos on this topic, should you care to look for them!), but like any new skill, it’s best to start with the basics and work from there. Here’s an easy-to-follow, 5-minute breathing exercise that we can all benefit from:

* To begin, lie down on a blanket or rug, legs straight and slightly apart, arms relaxed at the sides, palms facing the air. Alternatively, sit up straight, back upright and spine lengthened.

* Once comfortable, make a conscious effort to breathe through the nose, mouth closed. This allows the tiny hairs and the mucus membranes in the nose to do their job and filter out dust and toxins, something which simply doesn’t happen if we breathe through our mouths.

* Inhale deeply, making sure that the abdomen rises along with the chest, as though the stomach is a balloon filling with air.

* Retain the breath, even if for only a second. Properly performed, even brief retention of breath provides profound therapeutic benefits to every organ, gland and functional system in the body. In actual breathing exercises, breath retention for 3-4 seconds helps slow down heartbeat, reduce blood pressure, and trigger cellular respiration.

* After inhaling for 3 to 4 seconds, exhale slowly for up to 7 to 8 seconds (it may take a while to get the hang of this, so just go with what you can, initially), ensuring as much air as possible is released. Repeat for approximately five minutes, remaining completely relaxed and engaged in the simple process of breathing properly.

After a while, this kind of breathing will not only seem natural to you but will bring with it a sharp increase in your sense of vitality and wellbeing. You’ll become more conscious of how you should be breathing, you’ll start to fix your posture (less slouching in front of your computer or on your sofa is a good thing!), and you’ll be better equipped to handle stress.

Given time, you might also choose to discover more advanced breathing techniques, or even take up yoga, which places a great deal of focus on proper breathing and the benefits it can provide. Yoga is, in fact, integrally linked with the yogic science of Pranayama. Prānāyām is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the prāṇ or breath” or, “extension of the life force”.
Breathing. It’s something we do a lot. It makes sense then, that we should do it well.

The art of doing

We all want to be happy and successful, right?  Well, yeah… obviously. Trouble is, ‘stuff’ gets in the way. All too often, it’s the little things that take up our time and attention.  They pile up, distract us, and before you know it we’re up to our necks in ‘overwhelm’, with no clue how to dig ourselves out.

Question is, when this kind of *#%! happens, how do we get back on track? There’s no easy answer (it does us no good to pretend there is), BUT… it can be done!

If you ever find yourself in ‘overwhelm’ and need to get on top of things, then we’ve got 10 proven tips to help you. Here’s tips 1-9:
1. Embrace the Hard Stuff:  Okay, you’re going to hate this, but ALWAYS tackle that thing (and there’s always that thing) you really don’t want to do first! Simply by getting your teeth into it, even if it’s something you can’t complete in one go, you’ll not only conquer your fears, but everything else on your plate will suddenly seem a whole lot more manageable!

2. Remove Distractions: Distractions are… aww, you’re such a cute doggie! Hold on! Wait! What???… Distractions are everywhere, and the quality of our work always suffers when we’re side-tracked. And that happens a lot, right? Because, distractions. Facebook, Instagram, texts, emails, YouTube, Twitter, the dog pulling itself like a slug across the carpet… honestly, you’re just the cutest… Hey! Focus! Put those pesky distractions aside. Get on with what you need to do.

3. Don’t Overlook the Small Stuff: Putting out the rubbish, clearing the dishwasher, cutting your toenails… those little tasks, huh? We think we can put them off forever until – ‘Wham!’ – they’re on top of us and we don’t know where to start. Don’t let this happen. Take a deep breath, look around, use the next 5 minutes to sweat the small stuff – Go!

4. Set Aside Time for Work: So obvious, but oh-so-hard, right? It’s amazing how the day can get away on us and our work gets put to one side. To overcome this, we should set aside a period of time – maybe 10 minutes, maybe 30 minutes, maybe even (gulp!) a whole hour – where we do nothing but work . Seriously. Nothing. But. Work.

5. You Don’t Need to Be a Perfetionist Perfectionist: This stops a lot of us. We’re so worried about doing something absolutely just-so that we end up doing nothing at all. Be prepared to forgive yourself (yep, we know it’s hard) if something doesn’t go exactly to plan. Better still, be proud of yourself for having given it a go.

6. Take Time Out: No matter what you’re working on, you can’t stick at it forever. It’s counter-productive. So, every once in a while, treat yourself to a break, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Meditate. Listen to some tunes. Read a book. Grab a cup of coffee. Breathe… Do whatever it takes to relax, if only for a moment. And then go back to your task. You’ll feel much better and you’ll be more focused.

7. Keep Yourself Motivated: Set yourself goals and make a timeframe in which to achieve them (like finishing this article before getting some lunch because, dude, sooo hungry right now). And reward yourself when you get something done. Alternatively – and serial procrastinators, listen up – you might look to punish yourself in some small way for not getting something done (No lunch??!! It’s too horrible to even contemplate…).

8. Make Yourself Accountable to Others: Be loud. Be proud. Let people know what you’re going to accomplish and the tasks for which you’re responsible. This not only puts your skin in the game, it shares accountability and motivates everyone.

9. Focus On the End Goal: It’s vital you have a big picture goal for yourself or your family (two weeks at a 5-star tropical resort, anyone?). Keep it in mind at all times and keep going for it, even when that niggly little distraction we call ‘life’ gets in the way.

And there you have it, tips 1-9 to help manage the subtle but oh-so-difficult art of actually getting things done. We’ll deal with Tip 10 in Part 2 of our article. Needless to say, it’s important.

The art of doing

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at 9 tips to help us stop procrastinating and get on top of what needs to be done.  Most of those tips dealt with our mind-set and how to approach tasks with greater purpose and energy.  In Part 2, we look at the final piece of the puzzle; an easily overlooked, but oh-so-important component in helping us organize our lives and get things done – the humble ‘To-Do’ list.

The ‘Efficiency Guru’ and author of the book, ‘Master Your Workday Now’1, Michael Linenberger, is pretty much the king of the ‘To Do’ list.  He thinks we can better manage our lives by creating a simple ‘Workday Mastery To Do List’ (yes, it’s a mouthful, and yes, it really does work!). Linenberger breaks his list into three ‘urgency zones’ – ‘Critical Now’, ‘Opportunity Now’, and ‘Over the Horizon’ tasks.

‘Critical Now’ tasks should be reserved for anything which needs doing, like, right freakin’ now! You should never have more than 5 ‘Critical Now’ tasks at any one time (after all, apart from stay-at-home or working mums, who the hell can handle more than 5 tasks at once?).  But you do need to list them and you do need to keep them in front of you, as getting on top of them will help you dial back your stress levels.  Not sure if a task should be on this list? Ask yourself this question – Will I be able to relax tonight knowing this task hasn’t been done?  If the answer is ‘No’, then add that task to your ‘Critical Now’ list.

‘Opportunity Now’ tasks aren’t due immediately, they’re more the kind of tasks you’d like to get to today if you could. But keep on top of them and keep reviewing them, because these kind of tasks have the habit of sneaking up on you and suddenly becoming urgent. If they do, they’re not ‘Opportunity Now’ tasks any longer, they need to be moved to your ‘Critical Now’ list. Oh, and another thing?  This list will quickly grow waaayy too large if you let it. To avoid this, make it a rule to never let ‘Opportunity Now’ tasks get above 20 in number.

‘Over the Horizon’ tasks are the kind of tasks we all love, the ones you can postpone until next week or even much longer. Mind you, that doesn’t mean you can forget about them!  You’ll still need to review this list from time-to-time, just to see if you can fit one of them into your schedule or whether they need moving into your ‘Opportunity Now’ list.

And… that’s it!  If you find yourself overwhelmed by the things you need to get done, it’s unlikely that any one thing will help you dig yourself out of the mire.  Instead, it’s a whole heap of little things, things to do with preparation and mind-set and the way we live our lives, which will help you slowly reclaim your center.

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1 Linenberger, Michael; ‘Master Your Workday Now’; New Academy Publishers 2010.

exercise

Unless we’re having a really bad spelling day, there’s no ‘i’ in beauty. But there’s certainly a lot of beauty in the eye. Studies show that our eyes are the first thing someone looks at when measuring how attractive we are, whether they can trust us, or want us as a mate.

Putting aside for one moment any thoughts about just how shallow that makes us, what this small truth says is this: if we care about how we look and how others see us, as well as our general eye health, then we need to take care of our eyes, inside and out.

In all, there are 3 key areas we should attend to if we want to keep our eyes healthy and looking good. In Part 1 of this article, we look at how we can exercise our eyes, so that they’ve got a chance to function like they should.

The 20/20/20 Rule for Eye Health

As impossible as it might seem, for hundreds of thousands of years we got by without staring for hours on end at a mobile phone or a television. During this time, our eyes developed to work in a certain way, never focused for too long on one thing, always moving between the close up and the far away.

Now though, things are different. Because, technology. Mobile phones, laptops, televisions, gaming consoles. We spend our lives staring at screens for work and pleasure. And the problem with that? Eye strain, that’s what, as well as its consequences, which include dry eyes, headaches, deteriorating vision, and neck, back and shoulder pain.

Like the rest of our body, our eyes need exercise. And they’re simply not getting it; not if we spend most of our day locked into our mobile phone or our laptop. Time then, to start exercising.

The best place to start is with the 20/20/20 rule, which involves giving our eyes a break every 20 minutes. We need to drag them away from our screens (honestly, it’s possible!) and focus on another object roughly 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, before going back to whatever close-up activity we were doing. This will not only give our eyes the exercise they need, but also help them relax and lessen strain.

Every hour or so, we should also get up from our desk or sofa and go stand by a window filled with natural light, or even head outside for 5 minutes. This helps give our eyes a real break, especially if, as we soak in the world around us (something that’s good for our soul, as well as our vision), we make a conscious effort to exercise our eyes by focusing on objects that are near to us, then far away.

We should all remember though, if we’re out in the sunlight for an extended time, to wear sunglasses with polarized lenses. Sunlight can be good for us in small doses (Vitamin D, baby!) but prolonged exposure to UV rays can harm our eyesight and has been linked to conditions such as cataracts and macular degeneration.