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What did you do with the hour you gained last week? (DW#695)

In North America and Western Europe, the end of October/beginning of November signals the switch back from Daylight Saving Time. The clocks go back and we "gain an hour" on Sunday.

While many of us cringe at the coming of Winter and the shorter, darker days, there is a significant statistic that we need to be aware of:

"In the autumn within the Northern Hemisphere, when the clocks move forward and we gain an hour of sleep opportunity time, rates of heart attacks plummet the day after", writes Mathew Walker inWhy we Sleep.

He explains that the opposite is also true of course. Here is how he puts it:

"When communicating science to the general public in lectures or writing, I’m always wary of bombarding an audience with never-ending mortality and morbidity statistics, lest they themselves lose the will to live in front of me. It is hard not to do so with such compelling masses of studies in the field of sleep deprivation. Often, however, a single astonishing result is all the...

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Would you buy this pill? (DW#694)

Imagine you are scrolling through your newsfeed and you come across this ad:

"AMAZING BREAKTHROUGH!

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings (yes, PLEASE!). It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and strokes, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?"

Some of us would keep scrolling down, not believing the hype. Others may be much too curious (or desperate) and may keep reading, noticing that the organization who published it is not big pharma, out to make millions but instead a well-respected organization.

Matthews writes in Why we Sleep about this advertisement: "While it may sound hyperbolic, nothing about this fictitious advertisement would be inaccurate. If this were...

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The breathing cheat sheet (DW#690)

[Daily Wisdom #670] The breathing cheat sheet

As we wrap up our first self-care practice of breathing, let us remind ourselves of what we discussed:

[DW #675] Attend to the basics of self-care

[DW #676] Remember the three golden rules of breathing

[DW #677] Breathe Through Your Nose (all the time!)

[DW #678] Breathe deeply

[DW #679]Exhale for longer

[DW #680] Flip the switch on stress

[DW #681] Slow down

[DW #682] Breathe into your belly

[DW #683] Notice the impatience

[DW #684] Take breathing breaks

[DW #685] Balance your mind

[DW #686] Establish your baseline

[DW #687] Breathe vertically rather than horizontally

[DW #688] Distinguish breath awareness and intentional breathing

[DW #689] Boost your willpower using your breath

As always, I would love to hear from you. How has using these practices impacted your life? Which of these practices do you find the most useful? The most challenging?

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A quick way to boost willpower (DW#689)

Did you know that one of the quickest ways to boost your willpower is to slow down your breathing rate?

Kelly McGonigal is a leading expert on the science of willpower. Here is how she talks about breathing in her seminal work, The Willpower Instinct:"You won’t find many quick fixes in this book, but thereis one way to immediately boost willpower: Slow your breathing down to four to six breaths per minute. That’s ten to fifteen seconds per breath—slower than you normally breathe, but not difficult with a little bit of practice and patience. Slowing the breath down activates the prefrontal cortex and increases heart rate variability, which helps shift the brain and body from a state of stress to self-control mode. A few minutes of this technique will make you feel calm, in control, and capable of handling cravings or challenges."

Pretty cool right? So, the next time you need a boost of willpower, to resist that cookie perhaps, try slowing down your breathing before...

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Breath awareness versus intentional breathing (DW#688)

While we have been talking about breathing for a few days now, I realised that I neglected to differentiate between two very important terms. Ooops!

Whenever we are talking about breath work of any kind, it usually refers to either one of the following: Breath awareness or conscious breathing. I will attempt to differentiate the two in the most simple terms.

Breath awareness means exactly what it says—being aware of, or observing the qualities of your breath, whether it is shallow or deep, long or short, easy or laboured, smooth or uneven. Noticing and becoming aware of our breath and following it is one of the first practices of mindfulness meditation. This involves simply noticing how you are breathing and focusing your attention on your breath. Not trying to breathe in a particular way. Simply becoming aware of the breath and training your attention to remain on the breath. This practice has numerous benefits which we will talk about another time inshallah.

What we have...

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Vertical versus horizontal breathing (DW#687)

Are you a vertical breather or a horizontal breather?

Vranich Belisa, whom we discussed yesterday, separates "Vertical Breathers" (whose shoulders rise and fall when they breathe) and "Horizontal Breathers" (whose shoulders stay stable while their belly and lower ribs go in and out when breathing).

If our shoulders rise and fall when we breathe, we are vertical breathers and this means that we breathe high up in our bodies. This is not optimal.

When we breathe horizontally, we will notice that it is our rib cage that expands when we use our diaphragms to breathe properly. This is what we need to aim for.

So go ahead and watch yourself breathe in front of the mirror. Are your shoulders moving when you breathe? If so, gently put your hands on your rib cage and breathe so that your ribcage expands with each in breath and goes in with each outbreath.

Remember to exhale fully —squeezing every last little bit of stale air out of your body.

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Establish your baseline (DW#686)

If you are still sceptical about how something as simple as breathing properly can impact your overall wellbeing, there is a simple way to measure and monitor your wellbeing before starting a breathing regimen and then again, a couple of weeks after.

Vranich Belisain Breathe: 14 Days to Oxygenating, Recharging and Fuelling Your Body and Brain suggests scaling the following on a scale from one to ten.

1. Stress level. On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your stress level right now? Note if it is normally this high or is it higher at present for some reason? The stressors do not really matter that much – just note a number on your subjective stress scale

2. Pain. If you are experiencing pain of any type, put a number to it. 1 being no pain, 5 being tolerable and 10 being intense or acute.

3. Energy level. Although your energy level obviously fluctuates throughout the day, put a number to the average energy level these days. 1 being no energy and 10 being bouncing off the walls...

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Notice the impatience (DW#683)

When you are stuck in traffic (or in the s.l.o.w.e.s.t line at the grocery store), how do you react? If all you can think of is how much of your time is being wasted and why cannot everyone just hurry up and get out of your way, then you need to know something.

Impatience like this speeds up your pulse, your blood pressure rises and your breath becomes shallow. Short, shallow jerky breaths in turn compound your frustration because your body is not getting enough oxygen.

And because it takes time to calm down from such impatience, the quality of your life during this time is greatly impacted. Impatience has caused you to lose a great deal in terms of health, wellbeing and lifespan. In other words, by being frustrated about the loss of your time you have ended up losing more time in a way.

Yikes.

Learning to breathe intentionally in situations like this can provide a valuable alternate to the biological alarm and fight/flight response.

As soon as you notice your impatience, take it as...

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The three golden rules of breathing (DW#676)

Over the weekend did you complete the ‘noticing your breath’ assignment? Have you been noticing your breath? What have you noticed?

Do you breathe through your mouth or your nose? (Many people breath thru their mouth. Look around and/or in the mirror. Notice yourself and others. How many mouths do you see open?)

Do you breathe deeply (and calmly) into your belly? (For many of us the breath stops at the chest, especially if we breathe through our mouths.)

How long is your exhale compared to your inhale? (If we are stressed, we gasp for air without emptying out our lungs fully)

Here are the three basic rules for breathing:

1. Breathe through your nose. All the time, even when exercising.
2. Breathe deep into your belly
3. And exhale slightly longer than you inhaled
Let us explore each of these a little more over the next few days.

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The first golden rule of self-care (DW#674)

One of the most important things to know about self-care is that it is individual. Your needs and my needs are different. What works for me may not work for you.

However, while there is no "one-size-fits-all" self-care plan that you can simply download and adopt, it is a good idea to attend to wellness in all the various domains of our lives.

Here are the various domains that need our attention:

Physical
Mental and intellectual
Emotional
Social
Vocational
Spiritual

So, let’s do a quick check in: how are you doing in these domains of your life? Chances are that you will be better at taking care of yourself in one area than others. Some of us are great at exercising but have a challenge with connecting to others. Others may be great at keeping their relationships strong but struggle to eat well or sleep properly.

If we can attend to the hitherto neglected areas of our lives and take baby steps in this area, we will see a big impact in our wellbeing.

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