Read an Excerpt
Radiant Body, Restful Mind
A Woman's Book of Comfort
By Shubhra Krishan, Katharine Farnam Conolly
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Shubhra Krishan
All rights reserved.
Joie de Vivre
How to Enjoy and Energize the Body You Inhabit
The human body is not a thing or a substance, given, but a continuous creation ...
— Norman O. Brown
As a kid-rearing, hair-tearing, bus-hopping, word-chopping, seldom-stopping, coffee-drinking, hardly-blinking big-city girl, I can relate to hectic lifestyles. But wait. Does that mean I've resigned myself to a lifetime of self-neglect? No way! Not when I'm armed with a powerful secret for looking and feeling bright even on a high-voltage Monday packed with deadlines.
Usually I'm good at keeping secrets, but this one is too delectable not to be shared aloud. So here it is: I tweak time. Don't get me wrong. I don't shirk work or compromise on its quality. In fact, my boss knows about and appreciates my self-improvement strategy. All I do is help myself to a little me-minute here and a few self-care-seconds there — tiny crumbs of time sprinkled throughout my day. For a long time, I didn't even realize how many of these "crumbs" I had available to me that I let slip through my fingers — like the stray dollars I spent on a cup of coffee, a phone call, or a greeting card. Then, out of sheer desperation to perk up my ever-plummeting energy levels, I started noticing the tiny treasures of time that were begging for me to spot and use them.
To my surprise, I found a bounty of "free" time in my day — minutes and seconds that seemed to be pleading "pick me up for a pick-me-up!" Here's a sampling:
Five minutes in the morning, just before getting out of bed.
Perfect for breathing deeply, stretching lightly, and thinking positive thoughts.
Sixty minutes while driving to work and back.
Wonderful for listening to soothing music, singing to myself, breathing deeply at traffic lights, relaxing my death-grip on the steering wheel, and practicing butt-squeezes and Kegel exercises. (To learn the basic Kegel exercise, which tones the muscles of the pelvic floor, see sidebar.)
Fifteen minutes of tea-break at work.
Great for a walk up and down the office corridor, sipping a restorative cup of herb tea, or taking a few minutes to meditate — instead of indulging in idle office gossip.
The fifteen-minute midday slump that nearly always hits after lunch.
Just right for a quick trip to the restroom to give my hair a wake-me-up combing and my mouth a refreshing rinse, or for practicing gentle yoga poses.
Five-to-ten-minute-morsels in the kitchen, while waiting for food to cook.
Ideal for on-the-spot jogging, whipping up a skin-relief pack with ingredients being used in cooking, or thinking up quick, creative ways to add more flavor and health to a dish (read on for ideas!).
At least five three-minute chunks during commercial breaks on television.
Terrific for a few posture-correcting exercises, spritzing cool water on my face, or simply resting my eyes by closing them lightly.
Ten to fifteen minutes while talking on the phone.
Splendid for walking tall as I talk (no tucking the receiver between my shoulder and ear), lightly kneading my back and shoulders with my free hand, or sipping a glass of water as I listen to the person on the other end.
Five to ten minutes at night, in bed, waiting for sleep to steal in.
The perfect time for breathing deeply, visualizing the day's stresses as butterflies fluttering out of my mind into space, and making positive affirmations to myself.
TOGETHER, THESE CRUMBS OF TIME added up to form a loaf of more than two golden hours in my day. All I had to do was bite into them, savor them, and relish the thought that each morsel of time was going to make me healthier and happier. That's exactly what I did — and the results, I am thrilled to report, have been delicious!
Let me invite you to do the same.
Have a Minute?
GREAT! Let those sixty seconds never slip-slide away again. Make them count: fill them with restorative, refreshing activities. Take a deep breath, drink a glass of water, roll your neck, shrug your shoulders, jog on the spot, eat a banana, share a joke — basically, any little thing that makes you feel good.
On their own, these trivial actions squeezed into one-minute breaks might seem too humble to make a difference. But do some quick addition, and the numbers start to look impressive: Just one minute a day of deep breathing, and in a month you've given yourself thirty precious minutes of more energy, more vitality, more life. All this without making any change in your routine! It really is as easy as it sounds.
Come, let me show you some magical ways in which to maximize a minute.
Inhale Freshness, Exhale Fatigue
BOTH SPIRITUAL GURUS and scientists agree: Good breathing is essential to good living. What exactly do they mean by "good breathing"? This: Don't let breathing be a shallow, in-and-out-of-the-nostrils affair — at least not all day long. If you pause to watch a baby breathe, you'll see that her tummy moves up and down as she inhales and exhales, in an even and easy rhythm. We adults, however, tend to take short, shallow breaths that originate in the upper chest region. This inadequate breathing starves the cells of oxygen and impoverishes the blood. In the long run, it can cause significant health problems such as anxiety, lack of sleep, dizziness, chest pains, disturbed vision, and even hallucinations.
Now look at what happens when you take a minute to fill your lungs with fresh air. Enriched with oxygen, your blood circulates more efficiently, replenishing your tissues and organs with vital nutrients and sweeping toxins out of your system more quickly. Every cell of your being feels more alive, prompting better digestion, improved assimilation of nutrients, and a feeling of overall well-being.
What's more, a breathing break is easy to take. Walk up to an open window or, if you work in a closed environment, simply sit in your chair. Relax your body and feel the warm, moist air as it reaches into and emerges from your lungs. Welcome the stream of fresh air coursing through your body. Picture the stale, toxic air as it exits your body, taking with it your pent-up stress. Feel the tiredness lift from your muscles and the dullness depart your mind.
If you're new to deep breathing, it helps to remember some simple rules:
While breathing deeply, always sit up straight but not stiffly. An erect posture allows your diaphragm and ribs to move without restriction, improving the quality of your breathing. A simple way to check if you're breathing correctly is to place a hand over your tummy. If it expands and contracts deeply as you inhale and exhale, you're breathing as you should.
Make sure your clothing is comfortable. Loosen a tight belt or necktie, and unhook your brassiere if need be, to allow your lungs to breathe fully.
Don't make an effort to breathe; the idea is not to get all tense and uptight. Your neck, shoulders, and back are especially prone to tension, so consciously relax them before you breathe.
Stop, S~t~r~e~t~c~h, Go
IN THE BEST-SELLING BOOKChicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, I came across an inspiring sentence by Howard Fast: "How did I become a writer? That can be answered in one line: the back of my seat to the seat of my chair." To this, let me add a useful tip: Work hard, by all means, but don't subject your muscles to continuous strain from all that sitting.
An aching back and a stiff neck are telling you something urgent: Your muscles are not only fatigued and weak; they are in dire need of some rest and recuperation. Before you know it, that "slight stiffness" can quickly grow into aching arms, shoulders, back, and head. Soon you could even suffer dizzy spells. This happens when there's a logjam in the muscles of your body, slowing down the blood-flow and sapping energy.
Cheer up! It's super-easy to salvage the situation. Whenever you have a minute to spare, stand up and move around. This will instantly get your blood flowing briskly and reduce the strain on your back, neck, and shoulders.
On days when you cannot afford even a few minutes to get up and take a break, try these wonderful in-your-chair exercises:
Let your hands hang loose, then shake them vigorously for half a minute or so. It's an excellent way to release tension from your fingers. You can do this sitting or standing up. Each time I do it, I visualize myself shaking the stresses loose from my mind, too. It feels supremely comforting.
Here's a one-minute solution for all that pain in the neck: When you feel your muscles stiffen, press your fingertips gently down your neck and on down to your shoulder blades. You will actually feel the stress slide down with your fingers. Simpler still, roll your head from side to side gently, taking care not to jerk your neck. Very relaxing.
Sitting comfortably in your chair, slowly roll your shoulders forward, then roll them up towards your ears. Breathing deeply and exhaling fully, hold to a count of five, then lower them gently back into normal position. Repeat five times.
Now, repeat the stretch in a slightly different way. Instead of rolling your shoulders forward, roll them backwards, and roll them up towards your ears as before. Again, hold for a count of five and then relax. Don't forget to breathe deeply. Take care not to jerk or overstretch your muscles — the idea is to loosen up, not exert yourself. This is a wonderfully simple way to rejuvenate a tired body, especially if you have been working at the computer for a long time.
I do this regularly and, believe me, it is even more soothing than it sounds. So go on and roll your shoulders at least once a day!
Afraid you'll forget to find time for these simple stretches? Tape a little note above your desk or set a gentle alarm on your computer, reminding you to arch your back, roll your neck, or touch your toes. For even greater benefits, treat yourself to a minute of deep breathing afterward.
SPEAKING OF MUSCLES, it's impossible not to think about posture. Again, the way you carry yourself is something you can change in an instant — and, happily, the rewards are instantaneous, too.
To begin with, an erect posture is the quickest beauty fix. As you walk down the corridor, straighten your back and hold your head high. How do you feel? A few inches taller, more graceful, and more confident, if I'm not mistaken. For inspiration, remind yourself of Scarlett O'Hara as she swept into the room in Gone with the Wind, or the character played by Kate Winslet as she stepped down the staircase in Titanic. What made these women such commanding personalities? It was the way they carried themselves: head held high, shoulders squarely thrown back.
There's also another, more important reason for paying attention to your posture: It's good for your health. Correct posture lifts the strain from your muscles and prevents unsightly, potentially harmful humps from forming. Poor posture, on the other hand, cramps your chest and forces you to breathe shallowly. It puts undue pressure on your bones and ligaments, causing your joints to weaken. Poor carriage also compresses your vital organs, forcing digestion to slow down, blood flow to decrease, and the body's self-repair system to work less efficiently — all just because you're in the habit of slouching as you walk and slumping as you sit!
Kick the habit, bit by bit. Here are some simple ways to carry yourself more gracefully:
If you're sitting at the computer for long periods of time, pause every fifteen minutes to gently rotate your neck from side to side. Roll your shoulders up and down, slowly and without straining them. Do this three to five times each.
Stand up and rotate your arms in a windmill-like circle, going first clockwise and then counterclockwise. This relaxes the pressure on your neck, shoulders, back, and arms. Do this exercise very gently, to avoid straining a muscle.
If you've worn high heels to work, take them off as you work at your desk. Pointed heels force your foot and leg muscles to realign themselves unnaturally.
From time to time, remind yourself to be aware of how your body moves as you walk down the office corridor, through the mall, or in the park. Imagine that you are suspended from the top of your head by a string, and lift your chin to align yourself with it.
Don't slouch or sit stiffly at your desk. If you're sitting down to watch TV at home, take a moment to adjust your posture: no slumping. If you resolve to sit on the couch only for as long as you can sit up straight, you'll find yourself switching off the TV much sooner than if you lie down and get cozy with a bag of buttered popcorn to boot.
Stroke Your Scalp Happy
JUST LIKE YOUR BODY MUSCLES, your hardworking head needs some relaxation, too. One of the easiest head-helping ideas I know of is to untie my ponytail, then take a brush and run it through my hair. Each time the hairbrush begins its gentle journey down the strands of my hair, it seems to straighten more than knots; it smoothes my jangled nerves and sorts out my thoughts. I guess the real reason that happens is because I've taken the time to stand alone and do something mechanical and nonstrenuous. Try it! Next time you're feeling confused or hassled at work, retreat to the restroom with a hairbrush. It's a great way to get in touch with your body, using a simple tool and a small amount of time.
Don't think this tip won't work for you if you wear your hair very short. The act of brushing doesn't simply untangle your tresses; it also gives your scalp a mini-massage. The teeth of the comb stimulate hair roots and boost circulation. The gentle tugging action removes scale, dirt, and oils trapped in the follicles and scalp. It also coats the hair with essential sebum, which lubricates, protects, and lends sheen to your mane.
Do invest in the best hairbrush you can find. Your hair will thank you for it, and your mirror will compliment you for it. A brush basic: Natural bristles are best. To find the right brush for your hair, borrow a hair-care book from the library or surf the Internet for tips on the right size and shape for your style. Remember: A good-quality brush will last years and years if you clean it regularly with a gentle shampoo. Hairdressers caution against using harsh products such as vinegar, ammonia, or bleach on your brush; these can cause irreparable damage to the bristles.
Tuck a small brush or comb in your purse. If you forget, smooth out tangles using your fingers; they make the gentlest comb in the world. This works especially well if you have curly hair and cannot run a brush through your hair without making loose curls frizzy.
Freshen up Your Breath
WHILE YOU'RE IN THE RESTROOM, pep up your mouth and mood with a rinse or a toothbrushing; even a quick one is incredibly refreshing. Out go the bacteria, and in comes confidence. With your mouth feeling fresh, you no longer hesitate to smile at people and get close to them. That, in turn, makes you feel good about yourself.
If you can't squeeze in enough time for even a short brushing, just treat your mouth to a clean-water rinse several times a day. Dentists say that swishing your mouth vigorously with water is an excellent way to flush out bacteria. Remember to rinse your mouth every time you visit the restroom, after every cup of coffee or tea, and after a sweet treat so that bacteria don't have time to react with the acids in sugar, causing cavities and bad breath.
The ancient medical texts of India recommend an interesting way to get your mouth clean and your eyes sparkling at the same time. It's as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Fill your mouth with water.
2. Keeping the water inside your cheeks, gently splash cool water over your eyes five to ten times.
3. Empty the water from your mouth and pat your eyes dry.
In addition to cleaning out your mouth, this is said to improve eyesight and refresh the eyes. If you wear eye makeup during the day, you can try this before leaving for work in the morning and after you return home in the evening.
Excerpted from Radiant Body, Restful Mind by Shubhra Krishan, Katharine Farnam Conolly. Copyright © 2004 Shubhra Krishan. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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