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The 2 Most Important Things You Should Never Take For Granted

The 2 Most Important Things You Should Never Take For Granted

Why is that sometimes we need to suffer from adversity or experience the pain through others to appreciate the things we often take for granted?

There are plenty of stories and experiences out there from which we can learn. Viktor Frankl’s book Mans Search for Meaning is one classic example where he discusses survival and hope in a Nazi concentration camp. It is a truly inspirational book.

Reon Schutte is another who was held captive in a brutal Zimbabwean prison for 13 years where he came to understand the truths that allowed him to be free.

Unfortunately only once it’s all taken away can life be broken down simply into what is truly important and most valued. Part of living an enlightened life in a state of happiness and at peace is the ability to acknowledge these attributes of life which shouldn’t be taken for granted.

In fact, it takes time and effort to practice being grateful and achieving this state of well-being which is well explored in Buddhism and other religions. Each of us need to work our own way to practice gratitude – whether that be through prayer, reminders, a gratitude journal or even through meditation or yoga.

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We shouldn’t have to experience pain to be able to appreciate the most things we do have now.

Here are the top two most important aspects of life which shouldn’t be taken for granted.

1. Freedom

Remember Mel Gibson as William Wallace in the Hollywood film Braveheart when he yell’s “FREEDOM?” He fought for freedom for his people as have many leaders have through the course of humanity. Only once you’ve been restricted physically or emotionally can you fully appreciate the feeling of being free.

Whether that be physically restricted as in having the ability to roam free, to come and go without restriction or freedom from physical abuse and to live without fear for our safety. In many cultures and cities, that fear still exists. The feeling of being liberated and free from oppression, imprisonment and slavery. People may even feel these traits at work or at home, with their boss, partner at home or with family to some extent. Sure we may not technically be slaves, but sometimes it may feel that way. Luckily though we have the choice in setting ourselves free in such circumstances. We have the freedom to choose and take action. We have the keys to our own shackles.

Emotional Freedom – the ability to freedom to feel and think without being harassed, abused, to speak freely. Freedom to act, choose and say. Freedom to laugh, think, say, act, feel, criticise, smile, cry and more. Have you ever felt that you couldn’t express yourself freely? This is a form of oppression.

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Imagine your thoughts weren’t able to be expressed. There’s a long list of martyrs who have fought long and hard to be heard freely. Today we live in a digital world where we can say what we think on Facebook, Twitter and more and we can influence opinion from behind a keyboard.

Freedom means the ability to use your five senses: to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. This sounds really simple but its fundamental to freedom. Imagine being unable to eat chocolate for the rest of your life? I am sure you would probably cope,, but then imagine you were only given one bowl of vegetables a day. Reon Schutte was able to retrain his body to not feel starved and be at peace with a lack of nutrition and still eats very minimal since being free. Our western lifestyle offers us indulgences beyond recognition that many parts of the world still suffer from.

By appreciating our freedom we can experience pleasure in many simple day to day events which we would normally take for granted. “Wake up and smell the roses” is a great way to start and finish each day while acknowledging moments during the day in which we would normally otherwise overlook.

The same goes for your health.

2. Health

Why do we need to be standing at a funeral only to once again be reminded that our health is all we have? Without that we have nothing. Once we are in a hospital bed, or sick at home do we appreciate being mobile and feeling physically capable of doing the things we love doing.

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No one likes being in bed for two weeks with an illness let alone on their death bed at a too early an age.

Appreciating good health should be a daily occurrence rather than an occurrence once we experience suffering, pain, illness or loss of life. Most people leave a funeral thinking about how they will change something about their life, only to click back in their day to day routines by the time they are on the road home.

Equally so, we wake up with our physical health and our mental capacity to function. Our minds are a powerful tool. Without our minds, we can’t function to our potential. If we are mentally ill, sick or weak, we are not at our fully functioning best. In times of adversity, we should awaken with the mindset that we have our mind and body available to us and its only up to our levels of determination to turn things around!

Sure we can overcome physical and mental illness and do our best. There are plenty of happy, successful people who are physically incapacitated, but I’m sure most would prefer to be fully functioning if they had the choice.

With freedom and health we can do anything. The rest is easy. Without freedom and health, we have nothing.

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Here’s a scenario. If you had a choice to save yourself or someone you love and pay for their freedom or health would you spend everything you had? Let’s say it’s a ransom or a lifesaving treatment. It’s probably an easy answer. Losing everything financially to save yourself or someone close to you to be free and healthy to live is clearly worth losing everything right? Everything else can be rebuilt, hence this shows where money sits in the scheme of things.  Ironically though it’s money that would be required to ‘buy’ health and freedom in this scenario.

There is a list of a million other things we take for granted each day, like the ability to have internet and be online! How annoying is it when email doesn’t work or your internet crashes for a moment. See how trivial these things become when they are put in perspective!

The trick is to recognize and appreciate moments of ‘now’. Life is made up of lots of moments of ‘now.’ As it becomes habit, you can reach a state of higher contentment. Once the top 2 ticket items are well acknowledged you might find that your level of happiness flows down the list of things to be grateful for. However, let’s not wait until we are in solitary confinement or on our death beds to fully appreciate our freedom and health.

Featured photo credit: photopin via photopin.com

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Last Updated on June 15, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

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