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If you work at a desk job, you probably don’t think much about stretching your body and recharging it, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your body and your spirit.
Though I think it’s always best to step away from your desk to increase circulation, stretch, and reset your mind, I know that isn’t always an option. So here are a few stretches which you can do while sitting at your desk. I challenge you to perform these stretches right now as you read this blog post so you can see how easy and quick they are.
Inhale, then exhale while dropping your chin to your chest.
As you slowly inhale, rotate your head to the right, bringing your right ear near your right shoulder and stretching the muscles on the left side of your neck.
Keep rotating until your neck is fully extended and pause, then rotate your head while slowly exhaling so that your left ear is now near your left shoulder and you feel a stretch in the muscles on the right side of your neck.
As your chin reaches your chest, finish your exhalation and pause.
Continue in this manner for 5 complete revolutions, then switch directions and perform 5 complete revolutions. Bring head to neutral and take a deep inhale, then slowly exhale.
With arms at sides, inhale, then raise both shoulders near ears and hold for a count of 5.
Forcibly exhale through open mouth while quickly dropping shoulders.
Repeat 4 more times.
GRIP AND RELEASE
Make fists with both hands, holding for a count of 10.
Spread fingers out wide, holding for a count of 10.
Repeat sequence 2 more times, then shake hands out for several seconds.
With bent elbows, reach behind your lower back and clasp your hands together.
Aim to keep your palms together at all times.
Move the shoulder blades together.
Then straighten the elbows.
See if you can lift your arms up, away from your back.
NOTE: If this move is too difficult for you, hold onto a towel or belt, then pull arms outwards to add tension, then lift your arms.
I don’t know how I would get through difficult days without my three wonderful cats. Tenshi, Shima, and Kazu are so special to me that I always look forward to coming home and seeing their sweet faces. Those of you who have pets to whom you are closely bonded know how comforting it is to come home to them. Animals are capable of deep, unconditional love which is unparalleled. A pet won’t care that you look all disheveled from battling a grueling day. If you are distraught, a pet will make you smile and perhaps even laugh with cute and silly antics. Pets are natural antidepressants, and create the perfect distraction when you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself or ruminate over something which is only causing you anguish.
Pets are wonderful for our well-being and spiritual health.
It turns out that owning a pet also confers physical health benefits as well. Pet owners enjoy a reduction in stress and anxiety, which has a positive impact on blood pressure. Another very striking and unexpected benefit to having pets is a decrease in a child’s chances of developing allergies to animals. The decreased chance of developing allergies to animals in small children who live with animals is as high as 30 percent, according to research conducted by pediatrician James E. Gern which was published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Dr. Gern conducted a number of studies on children exposed to pets, all of which concluded that children who were exposed at an early age to animals tended to develop stronger immune systems overall, and were far less likely to develop pet-related allergies.
When I think of friends who have allergies to cats or dogs, most of them did not grow up with a pet in the house. I also did not grow up with a family pet per se, unless you count the two rabbits I had in fourth grade for about six months. My mother was so fed up with them that she sold them to a pet store, and that was that. But I spent extended periods of time petting and hanging out with numerous outdoor cats in the neighborhood, enough so that I had a regular exposure to them. I also spent weekends with my dad’s dog, or with his friends’ dogs, so the exposure was steady.
I honestly believe that early and regular exposure to pets is a boon to immune health in young children. And since there is a large body of scientific evidence to back that up, why not get a family pet for your children to love?
There is tremendous responsibility in being a physician, and I take it very seriously. Any time I walk into a medical facility and see patients, I know that the patients and staff are all counting on me to assess patients fully, make proper diagnoses, and provide appropriate treatments. Basically, I know that I MUST make the right decisions at all times and be at the top of my game. Talk about pressure! Nevertheless, the thrill of solving a problem is so rewarding that it quickly eradicates any feelings of anxiety.
I just read Atul Gawande’s excellent book, Being Mortal, and I love this passage in which he very aptly describes the satisfaction which can come from being a physician:
“You become a doctor for what you imagine to be the satisfaction of the work, and that turns out to be the satisfaction of competence. It is a deep satisfaction very much like the one that a carpenter experiences in restoring a fragile antique chest or that a science teacher experiences in bringing a fifth grader to that sudden, mind-shifting recognition of what atoms are. It comes partly from being helpful to others. But it also comes from being technically skilled and able to solve difficult, intricate problems. Your competence gives you a secure sense of identity. For a clinician, therefore, nothing is more threatening to who you think you are than a patient with problem you cannot solve.”
The truth is that pretty much every physician has come across a case which he or she could not solve, one which necessitated a discussion with a specialist, or a lengthy literature review to aid in diagnosing the zebra who walked into the office that day. Physicians are human, fallible, and though they usually have the answers to the puzzles which are constantly presented to them, they may find themselves stumped every now and then, and that is a dreadful feeling.
It is an honor to serve humankind as a problem-solver, and I will always strive to keep my clinical acumen as sharp as possible in order to provide the best medical care.
If you’re very serious about bone health, then you need to make sure that you have optimal levels of four key nutrients. The four big players in the battle for good bone health are:
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the body, comprising the bulk of bone and tooth material, and is also involved in numerous vital body functions. Blood levels of calcium must be high enough to prevent Vitamin D3 from stealing calcium from the stores in your bones. Otherwise, the process of leaching calcium from the bones will result in the development of osteopenia and osteoporosis over time.
Common dietary sources of calcium include seafood, leafy greens, legumes, dried fruit, tofu, milk, cheese, and yogurt. The U.S. recommended daily allowance is 1,300 milligrams daily for children, 1,000 milligrams daily for most adults, and 1,200 milligrams daily for women over 50 and elderly individuals over the age of 70. The dosage should be split up, since the body typically cannot absorb more than about 500 milligrams at a time.
Vitamin D3 is an important regulator of calcium levels in the blood, maintaining those levels primarily by enhancing the absorption of calcium from food consumed. However, when insufficient calcium is provided by food sources, vitamin D3 will draw on the calcium which is stored in bones. Vitamin D3 also acts as a hormone in the body and is responsible for a myriad of physiological processes. Dietary sources of Vitamin D include primarily fatty fish like salmon and tuna, egg yolks, and cheese. Some foods like dairy, cereals, and orange juice are often fortified with vitamin D as well.
If you prefer to take a supplement, vitamin D3 is available in several potencies. I generally recommend 5,000 IU per day, especially if you have confirmed low serum vitamin D3 levels.
Known more for its essential role in the blood clotting sequence, vitamin K plays an important role in the prevention of fractures by promoting the accumulation of calcium in bones and teeth. It promotes calcification in bones and teeth by activating osteocalcin, while also preventing calcium from accumulating in soft tissues such as blood vessels. It is found in leafy greens such as parsley, kale, brussels sprouts, lettuce and spinach, fermented legumes and vegetables, as well as in some fatty, animal-sourced foods, such as egg yolk, liver and cheese.
Adequate daily intake of vitamin K is 90 mcg for women and 120 mcg for men. Since it is fat-soluble, it’s a good idea to consume it with a healthy dietary fat source. Vitamin K levels should not be ignored when supplementing one’s diet with vitamin D3, as high levels of vitamin D3 have been shown to cause blood vessel calcification when vitamin K levels are low.
While calcium makes up most of the tissue found in bone and teeth, magnesium gives those structures their strength and rigidity. In addition, adequate levels of magnesium must be present for the absorption and metabolism of calcium to occur.
Dietary sources of magnesium include spinach and other leafy greens, whole grains, dark chocolate, nuts like almonds and walnuts, legumes, and avocado. Magnesium can also be taken in supplement form, and comes in many varieties.
Make sure you are taking all four supplements to optimize bone health. It’s always a good idea to get bloodwork to determine serum levels of these substances. Make sure to consult with your physician before starting any of these supplements, especially if you are taking medications which may interfere with or interact with supplementation.
EVERYONE should read this article, written by Tim Kreider. It’s a true eye-opener.
If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy Busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
This frantic, self-congratulatory busyness is a distinctly upscale affliction. Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the ICU, taking care of their senescent parents, or holding down three minimum-wage jobs they have to commute to by bus who need to tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s most often said by people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’re “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they are addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.
Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with their friends the way 4.0 students make sure to sign up for some extracurricular activities because they look good on college applications. I recently wrote a friend asking if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. My question had not a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation: This was the invitation. I was hereby asking him to do something with me. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he as shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.
I recently learned a neologism that, like political correctness, man cave, and content-provider, I instantly recognized as heralding an ugly new turn in the culture: planshopping. That is, deferring committing to any one plan for an evening until you know what all your options are, and then picking the one that’s most likely to be fun/advance your career/have the most girls at it — in other words, treating people like menu options or products in a catalog.
Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half hour with enrichment classes, tutorials, and extracurricular activities. At the end of the day they come home as tired as grownups, which seems not just sad but hateful. I was a member of the latchkey generation, and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from scouring The World Book Encyclopedia to making animated movies to convening with friends in the woods in order to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which afforded me knowledge, skills, and insights that remain valuable to this day.
The busyness is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. I recently Skyped with a friend who had been driven out of New York City by the rents and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the South of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a circle of friends there who all go out to the cafe or watch TV together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone is too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious, and sad — turned out to be a reformative effect of her environment, of the crushing atmospheric pressure of ambition and competitiveness. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school; it’s something we collectively force one another to do. It may not be a problem that’s soluble through any social reform or self-help regimen; maybe it’s just how things are. Zoologist Konrade Lorenz calls “the rushed existence into which industrialized, commercialized man has precipitated himself” and all its attendant afflictions — ulcers, hypertension, neuroses, etc. — an “inexpedient development,” or evolutionary maladaptation, brought on by our ferocious intraspecies competition. He likens us to birds whose alluringly long plumage has rendered them flightless, easy prey.
I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter. I once dated a woman that interned at a magazine where she wan’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’etre had been obviated when Menu buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. Based on the volume of my email correspondence and the amount of Internet ephemera I am forwarded on a daily basis, I suspect that most people with office jobs are doing as little as I am. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor or a worm in a Tyrollean hat in a Richard Scarry book I’m not convinced it’s necessary. Yes, I know we’re all very busy, but what, exactly, is getting done? Are all those people running late for meetings and yelling on their cell phones stopping the spread of malaria or developing feasible alternatives to fossil fuels or making anything beautiful?
The busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. All this noise and rush and stress seem contrived to drown out or over up some fear at the center of our lives. I know that after I’ve spent a whole day working for running errands or answering emails or watching movies, keeping my brain busy and distracted, as soon as I lie down to sleep all the niggling quotidian worries and Big Picture questions I’ve successfully kept at bay come crowding into my brain like monsters swarming out of the closet the instant you turn off the nightlight. When you ty to meditate, your brain suddenly comes up with a list of a thousand urgent items you should be obsessing about rather than simply sit still. One of my correspondents suggests that what we’re all so afraid of is being left alone with ourselves.
I’ll say it: I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel like 4 or 5 hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and see friends, read or watch a movie in the evening. The very best days of my life are given over to uninterrupted debauchery, but these are, alas, undependable and increasingly difficult to arrange. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, “What time?”
But just recently, I insidiously started, because of professional obligation to become busy. For the first time in my life I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was “too busy” to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint: It makes you feel important, sough-after, and put-upon. It’s also an unassailable excuse for declining boring invitations, shirking unwelcome projects, and avoiding human interaction. Except that I hated actually being busy. Every morning my inbox was full of emails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I had to solve. It got more and more intolerable, until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this.
Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check email I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stinkbugs, and the stars. I read a lot. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what that might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again. I know not everyone has an isolated cabin to flee to. But not having cable or the Internet turns out to be cheaper than having them. And nature is still technically free, even if human beings have tried to make access to it expensive. Time and quiet should not be luxury items.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice: It is an indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often the essence of what we do,” writes Thomas Pynchon in his essay on Sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll and Hyde, the benzine ring: history is full of stories of inspiration that came in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbrickers, and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions, and masterpieces than the hardworking.
“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was in fact Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write Childhood’s End and think up communications satellites. Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income form work, giving each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage, and 8-hour workdays. I know how heretical it sound in America, but there’s really no reason we shouldn’t regard drudgery as an evil to rid the world of if possible, like polio. It was the Puritans who perverted work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment. Now that the old taskmaster is out of office, maybe we could all take a long smoke break.
I suppose the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved like me. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My own life has admittedly been absurdly cushy. But my privileged position outside the hive may have given me a unique perspective on it. It’s like being the designated driver at a bar: When you’re not drinking, ou can see drunkenness more clearly than those actually experiencing it. Unfortunately the only advice I have to offer the Busy is as unwelcome as the advice you’d give to the Drunk. I’m not suggesting everyone quit their jobs — just maybe take the rest of the day off. Go play some see-ball. Fuck in the middle of the afternoon. Take your daughter to a matinee. My role in life is to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once to make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play.
Even though my own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since you can always make more money. And I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth is to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder, write more, and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more round of Delanceys with Nick, another long late-night talk with Lauren, one last hard laugh with Harold. Life is too short to be busy.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone which almost feels more like a competition than an equal interchange? Perhaps you’re excited about starting a new yoga class and you mention it to someone, only to have that person redirect the conversation by talking about her own experiences with yoga, to the point where you have been completely edged out of any chance to speak.
It turns out that many of us engage in what’s been termed by Charles Derber as conversational narcissism (check out his book, The Pursuit of Attention which is available on Amazon). What’s the difference between a normal conversation and one in which you have been railroaded by a conversational narcissist?
Here are two examples, one from a normal exchange, and one from an experience with a conversational narcissist:
Sally: I just got an offer to travel to Spain and I am so excited!
Chip: That’s so cool! I’ve always wanted to go there. We have ancestors out there. What part of Spain are you visiting?
Chip: That’s amazing. Hopefully you’ll have some time to explore.
CONVERSATION WITH A CONVERSATIONAL NARCISSIST:
Sally: I just got an offer to travel to Spain and I am so excited!
Chip: Cool. I have ancestors out there. In fact, there’s a town named after us.
Sally: Wow, that’s neat.
Chip: Yeah it is. I really need to visit there. My cousin says she can hook us up with the best accommodations out there.
Sally: Wow, awesome. So do you know any good places to visit out there?
Chip: Well, when I go there, I expect the red carpet to be rolled out, you know what I mean? We deserve that, you know?
In the second example, Chip took over the conversation, diverting the attention to himself. He even ignored Sally’s question about whether he knew of any good places to visit in Spain. In an instant, the conversation became all about Chip, and not Sally.
It is common for conversational narcissists to rather quickly jump in with their own personal stories rather than allow the other person to finish a thought. The person’s story or complaint becomes swallowed up by the conversational narcissist’s story, which is the new focus of the conversation. It’s also not unusual for a certain amount of bragging, boasting or name-dropping to occur with someone who has developed a strong tendency towards conversational narcissism. Often, the conversational narcissist isn’t even aware that he has taken complete control over the dialog.
In this distracted age of social media and those irresistible handheld computers we call our phones, it seems that the art of conversation is deteriorating. We’ve become impatient, entitled, and egocentric. And many of us now exhibit behaviors which define conversational narcissism. The art of truly listening needs to be relearned.