::Literate Blather::
Monday, March 10, 2008
Essay: Be Gentle
Putting Your Own Needs First Takes Effort

The instructor of my yoga class helped a woman on the mat next to me untangle from an awkward position. The woman winced and rubbed her injured thigh. The instructor, with her calm, but reassuring voice said: “Remember to be gentle with yourself.”

Her words have stayed with me. We often forget to do just that – don’t we?

We forget a lot of things in this hectic, technology-driven world that most of us are submerged in. We forget that we are human beings first – and everything else -- software engineer, business consultant, attorney, writer – second.

The most crucial parts of our days are not attending meetings, writing reports, creating new code, or meeting with clients. The really important parts of our day have become invisible to us – because we take them for granted.

What are those things?

Well how about breathing? How often do we remember to take deep breathes and replenish ourselves? Breathing deeply – and correctly – can reduce stress, calm frayed nerves, and relax the body. Yet we often rumble through the day without taking time aside to make sure we’re getting enough oxygen.

How about eating? We’re a nation of eating disorders with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa leading the pack. Our overeating has become frightening – and even deadly.

“Since the mid-seventies, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for both adults and children. Data from two surveys show that among adults aged 20–74 years the prevalence of obesity increased from 15 percent (in the 1976–1980 survey) to 32.9 percent (in the 2003–2004 survey,” according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result the CDC predicts an increase in hypertension, arthritis, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer.

Yet eating may be the most abused aspect of our daily lives. Most of us (I’m talking broadly here) have plenty to eat, but usually eat on the run or as an afterthought during a busy day. Many of us skip meals when we’re too busy. Or else, we carve out the time to grab a sandwich or hamburger and then gobble it down as quickly as possible between meetings.

This type of behavior leads to overeating and last resort options: pre-packaged and processed foods or fast food at restaurants specializing in cheap fried fare.

How about exercising regularly? Only 50 percent of men and 47 percent of women report getting enough exercise, according to the CDC. And those rates are up, but the report noted that many people lie when talking about how much exercise they actually get.

Most people don’t exercise because they say they don’t have time. Yet it is a proven benefit to health to get 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

How about sleep? We’re turning into a nation of sleep zombies. The average adult needs at least 8 hours of sleep a night, but on an average work night sleeps 6 hours and 40 minutes, according to recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation.

We’ve chronicled our national exhaustion before in our essay “Exhausted America,” but it bears repeating that more than 70 million Americans now suffer from sleeping problems, according to the Institute of Medicine.

These important activities keep us alive and healthy, yet often take a backseat to things like returning emails, watching television, and attending workshops. How often do we make these critical parts of being alive – and healthy – a priority?

Being gentle with yourself means putting your own well being first. To eat when you are hungry and to eat food that is healthy for you. It means taking time to breathe – to slow down and be aware of you and your body. To sleep when we are tired and to exercise at least three times a week.

When you begin to be gentle with yourself – you can start to be gentle to others.

Sometimes we all just need to be reminded of that.

Read our essay on the threat of bottled water

Read our essay on coming to terms with your own death

Read our poem "Shut-Up"

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Blogger SQT said...
"Be gentle to yourself." What great advice.

I also think the amount of artificial additives in our food is a huge problem. I had been a huge diet coke addict for years and couldn't figure out why I couldn't lose weight. But once I stopped drinking the soda, miraculously I no longer had insatiable sugar and carbohydrate cravings. I find it much easier to control my diet if I stay away from artificial sweeteners and anything carbonated. That stuff is evil.

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