The Influence

All the Light The Influence When my editor in Dubai posted a Tweet that she’d read All the Light We Cannot See, I decided that it appeared to be an interesting read. While I typically favor non-fiction, occasionally it is refreshing to delve into literature, especially if it is vivid in descriptive prose, as is this book.

Cited with accolades, it took a while for it to become available from my library near Chicago because four other patrons thought to reserve it as well before it was my turn. And I happened to be in a severe time crunch with six freelance projects locking me down, whereby the only exercise I caught was fetching groceries, running upstairs to use my printer, or dragging the laundry basket to the basement.

When I finally brought the book home, I kept it perched on my glass table in the living room, opposite the couch where I have set up a comfortable workstation with a bright daylight view out the picture window. I tired from staying stuck with my laptop on my kitchen table for many years, as I spend enough time in the kitchen.

One day, my daughter came to visit. She saw the book and lit up. “Ah! I’m reading the same book!” She’d seen it at our local book store, where she sometimes likes to go and lose herself in the imaginary world that only reading can reveal.

At hearing that from her, although I’d considered just returning it, unread, due to my workload, I committed to find time enough to push through about 100 pages per day. I’m about half way through, and am seriously considering gifting a copy to a favored nephew. And that chain of events triggered the realization of the power of influence. Manipulating this can be a useful tool or a nemesis.

My Fitbit, which has heightened my awareness about sleep and activity levels, has prompted former students, friends, and relatives to connect with me, and it has influenced my desire to strive harder for more activity and to defend my need for more sleep…though I am still working on improvement.

Granted, in times like the present when I have a ton of work or even when I have had some overuse injuries, I can’t match my own goals; however, though I set my daily step goal for 12,000 on average, I have the influence of my students, some 30 years younger, achieving 140,000 steps weekly. That has some degree of motivation for me because at my core is a bit of competitive drive, and that’s a treasure.

Do you deliberately fuel yourself with things that can influence you toward success in your health, work, and relationships? There are benefits to immersing yourself with art, music, spiritual nurturing, science discoveries, nature, literature, and reminders which yield your gratitude.

Especially in these times when much disruption, disorder, and disgusting behavior is seen, these are salves which help keep us driving forward for our aspirations to not be obliterated. This innate ability to mirror higher ordered conduct and elements associated with civilization can be used for our benefit or our detriment. It depends on our choices, so be sure to feed your body, mind, and soul with better content and use influence to help others as well.

Operation SPS: Squatty Potty Strategy

squatty-potty-unicorn-haiku

Credit Source: Lybio.net

Mission SPS: Squatty Potty™ Strategy
There was something oddly familiar about the gift I received from my sister this past Christmas. A Squatty Potty™, which is normally not something I would advertise; but in the current political clime, it seems selfish to not share my own self-care strategy.
Its familiarity resonated from the cute instructional video (you have to click on the link) about its proper use and scientifically supported value. Curiously, I suspected that My Little Pony’s™ Rainbow Dash was moonlighting, with the addition of a horn, to be the Squatty Potty™ mascot, a unicorn that can poo rainbow…, well you know.
While we in the Modern Age can add a device like the Squatty Potty™ to our bathrooms, it is amusing to cite another reason it was comfortingly familiar. This invention corrects the body’s anatomical stance when on a toilet, so that it can return to its evolutionary baseline, a squat. Ironically, before plumbing, humans were meant to squat over the earth, but in many countries this is the exact position one assumes when using a “traditional” toilet.
Funny how we forget that long established traditional cultures have ancient knowledge worthy of respect and study.
I believe that every American should have the good fortune to see other countries in the world—and not just on the tourist track—they should see and experience for a spell how people really live.
It has been one of my highest priorities as a parent to encourage this for my own children, and I believe it gives them true vision of the world outside the U.S.
Yet, why do I share this as critical self-care? Many people I have spoken with have expressed deep disturbance and anxiety over the social climate in the U.S. The barrage of articles, videos, protests, and interviews had resulted in one relative commenting that she wanted to vomit when she saw the current Counselor to the President of Donald Trump; and I’d noted several nights of restless sleep, which when analyzed were blamed on visions of an orange puss-faced character who made a lot of senseless noise.
Therefore, I credit my Squatty Potty™ with getting “it all out;” and with the benefit of lavender essential oil in an aromatherapy mister, as well as my discover of a “Name That Tune” type of game app called SongPop 2, and lastly a bedtime dose of magnesium citrate; now I sleep very well.
This is a long term strategy for self-preservation and wellness. Feel free to share how you are strategizing to keep health and stress in check in these days of chaos. Peace.

Health is Wealth

Picture1 Plenty of olive oil, halal meat and poultry, gentle exercise, sleep, and I try to use organic produce. Joy of joys! I’m back from my annual physical with great news that my C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicates systemic inflammation, is the lowest the doctor had ever seen!

These results are a gift of good genes, but I also attribute them to my lifestyle. As I am self-employed, I have the ability to design my day. Not many people enjoy that luxury, but it certainly can be done with planning. I feel like Superwoman and am charged up!

Another mainstay of my habits is to indulge in quality organic coffee, served black, and I typically keep a filtered water bottle close by. And I share this with you so that you can check your own habits because although the body can compensate for some assaults in dietary choices, it is best not to drive it toward too much acidity. Now that the autumn clouds are rolling in and we are less likely to process vitamin D from sunshine, our immunity typically pulls back. Sweets, processed junk, and too much food take a heavier toll.

Let’s face it, life gets more stressful in these months too, but I have effectively mitigated that with prayer and reading Qur’an. Also, it is important to like what you do, for how you spend your days is how you spend your life. Make it grand! Learn, love, share, and remember the special people in your life.

For those near Chicago, Whipping Up An Income (for Entrepreneurial Women) may be for you. It will feature Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen and Susan Labadi of Genius School, Inc. It happens this weekend, so get your tickets now.

Routing Out of the Rut

2014-06-20_21-14-17_949 Routing Out of the Rut

Routines have value, as they can protect good habits and their associated benefits. However, sometimes schedules get disrupted, and it is like battling ocean tides to pull effective practices back in line. This is what has happened since we’ve had two children graduate from college, another one is living at another campus, and our youngest is on summer break keeping busy with tennis and video games before summer school reins him into a schedule around mid-July.

Somehow, we just can’t seem to get back to a proper sleep-workout-dinner schedule, and the commencement of Ramadan this evening will certainly bring its own need for disciplined planning. However, I have no right to complain, as Muslims in the UK will only have 5 non-fasting hours to rehydrate, infuse their bodies with nutrition, manage to pray, and sleep within those few hours as well. We expect to begin fasting after a light suhoor about 3:30 a.m. and break the fast with iftar about 8:30 p.m., with about a minute shaved off each day until the end of it which is predicted to be July 28th.

Perplexed by inertia and a general lack of life’s energy, I found that my Chi igniting routines have fallen aside, and they have been displaced by chores and responsibilities that suck time without adequate payback. Granted, I have deliberately chosen to invest time in some things related to supporting my family bonds, but enough! That is why I greedily had to read about Olga Kotelko, the subject of What Makes Olga Run: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives by Bruce Grierson.

Apparently, Bruce was having his own issues with feeling crappy and losing vitality, and that prompted him to take a personal interest in the marvelous Olga. It this reading, I found familiar researcher John J. Ratey, author of Spark-The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain (and he has a new book Go Wild-Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization), offering more tidbits of the bonus that exercise brings to the brain’s performance.

It seems that even if you exercise though at a very high level, your muscle mass will degenerate precipitously in your late 70’s, yet Olga seems to be still making progress in performance. The book shares current research and possible reasons, as Olga is examined from many perspectives.

The reader obviously assumes that Olga must have superior genes, and that is part of the formula, for most long-lived people have had long-lived parents. Yet, others do too, but they don’t all exhibit the same trends in performance. Olga has some advantage from some of her genes, but not in others. What she does possess though is a hallmark of most long-lived people, and that is a correlation between having experienced and survived life struggles and developed resilience.

One researcher commented that between late teens and early thirties, if one had not experienced such trials, then one might be weaker or disadvantaged when challenges arise again later. Olga and many people of advanced age have this in common.
Curiously, as my daughter is experiencing a post-grad adventure teaching English to children in Turkey, close to the Syrian border, she has had a few stressful encounters, but seemingly has found her inner strength. In discussing this with my youngest, whom we dispatched to live with relatives in Jordan for a couple months the year he was home-schooled for 8th grade, he recollected that he came to find how he “grew up” when he had to travel alone and switch planes on his own along the way. The fact that he was immersed in a significant amount of Arabic, which was relatively unknown to him previously, added to his sense of empowerment.

What is it about hardship that helps us? I imagine that through it we learn that we are psychologically strong, and we realize that we can dig deep if we have to in order to become resourceful. We grow a carapace of protection and may even utilize a support network to weather the storms of life. Therein lies the cliché “If is doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

Back to Ramadan; besides detoxification honing the efficiency of my metabolism, there should be the benefit of further refining self-discipline and mental fortitude. Calorie restriction and intermittent fasting have benefits too. My eldest son, who lives for building muscles in the gym, used to balk at fasting because he bought into the belief that more protein, calories, and lifting weights would build bulky muscles and make him resemble Wolverine from X-Men. The paradox is that calorie restriction actually forces the body toward efficiency. He found that fasting elicited a rebound in lean muscle mass, giving him the desirable “cut” physique.

The stress of cold may also discipline the body to suffer some shock then stabilize. Similar to the cycles of hardship and resuming homeostasis, or interval training that we’ll mention in a bit. Perhaps this is also why folks who live in northerly, colder climates have generally better longevity too.

Chronic stress though is another matter. It’s important to have a sense of control and some autonomy, and that is why research has indicated that managers fare better than workers. Olga, as a career school science teacher, rarely had a boss. She called the shots, tackled her life on her terms raising two children as a single parent, and it was not easy.

Body and mind seem to complement each other. Arthur Kramer, cognitive psychologist at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, studied Olga. He found that sedentary elders could be placed on an exercise protocol over 6 months, and they literally grew brains while improving their decision making 15-20 percent. Kramer changes the way he drives to work occasionally and even uses his left hand just to utilize different parts of his brain. Olga regularly challenges her brain with Suduko.

Analysis of Olga’s brain left observers awestruck. Between vigorous exercise, travel, and Suduko, her MRI revealed a marvel of preservation. Additionally, researchers have found other significant correlations that hail the benefits for college education, the teaching profession, the ultra-stimulating joy of world travel and studying foreign languages as having favorable effects on avoiding dementia and improved longevity. Contrast that with two factors known to erode life, namely sleep deprivation and poor diet.

Yet, between exercise and novel brain enriching experiences, exercise—using the body—keeps brain mass, plasticity, and processing speed. I know from my own biking excursions too that putting time and energy into fitness calms the mind, helps put all life’s chaos in order, and even new creative ideas bloom. It lifts mood and makes life’s difficulties seem less threatening.

Comparison between aerobic exercise and resistance training–like weight lifting–is revealing value in both. Even dancers are the focus of a current study at the Beckman Institute. Like Olga, who competes in eleven Olympic track and field sports, they move in a variety of planes, thereby utilizing more of their bodies than most.

This too reflects my observation that yoga and the movement in Muslim prayers yield mental and physical benefits. I’d heard that prayer to a Muslim is exercise, and the prostration position was suggested to me from my obstetrician years ago as a way to relieve pressure when I was pregnant. Even my mother mentioned that when I was a toddler, she knew I was not feeling well because I would go into that position intuitively. Furthermore, the motions inherent to yoga have benefits to circulate the lymph, and supposedly benefit the joints and connective tissue. A hospice worker, my husband met, expressed his commitment for yoga and cited that it has anti-cancer benefits.

Intensity in exercise and interval training challenge the body by throwing it into short-term stress, and then allowing the body and mind to recover. This seems to set up the capacity to handle this cycle repeatedly in life situations. Doing so actually increases the youth-enhancing human growth hormone (HGH), improves insulin responsiveness, and increases testosterone. Some say that one hour of exercise adds two hours to your life, and it’s a bit of a motivator to psych one’s self to push harder.

Reading how Olga has joie de vie helped me want to fight for the benefits it can deliver, because I hope to go long n’ strong to touch my dreams and fill my heart’s purpose.

Wishing you well this Ramadan!