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Mindful or Mind Full? Techniques for Staying in the Present Moment

Mindful or Mind Full? Techniques for Staying in the Present Moment

We often come across articles or passages in books that remind us that peace and tranquility is to be found by being “present”by being mindful and staying in the momentbut rarely are we given techniques about how exactly to do that. Let’s explore a few different methods of doing so.

Breathwork

One great way of staying in the present moment is to focus on your breath. When all of your attention is centered on your breathing, it’s less likely that your mind will wander off into worry-land.

There are a few different ways to focus on your breathing, but we’re going to delve into the ones that combine both physical and mental awareness, as it’s the best way for novices to get into the habit.

1. Diaphragmatic breathing. Known as dirga pranayama in yogic circles, this is a 3-part breathing technique that draws breath deep into your lungs and creates a tranquil state of being. The best way to do this is to place one hand on your belly, and one hand on your upper chest. When you inhale, do so by drawing air into your belly, allowing it to rise out against the hand you’ve placed upon it. As you continue to draw breath, pull it into your diaphragm and let it expand, and finally inhale deep into your chest, letting your upper ribs float into the hand you have placed on them. When you exhale, you’ll reverse the process: release breathe from your chest first, then the diaphragm, and then your belly.

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This practice is a great one for focusing on your breath, since your attention is wholly involved in the movement of air through your body: there’s no room for errant thoughts to slide in.

 

2. Alternate nostril breathing. Known as nadi sodhana or anuloma viloma, this is another pranayama technique that works wonders for grounding and calming you, and for alleviating stress or anxiety. The best part about this one is that it’s a very quick mindfulness technique that you can do just about anywhere: a couple of minutes are all that’s needed to put it into practice, so if you disappear into the restroom at work or close your office door for a quick breather (literally), no-one’s going to miss you.

To do alternate breathing, block off your right nostril and take a slow, deep breath in through your left nostril to the count of 4. Plug your nose and hold your breath to the count of 16, and then exhale solely through your right nostril to the count of 8. Then reverse: inhale with your right nostril to the count of 4, hold breath for 16, exhale with the left nostril to the count of 8. This may sound ridiculously simple, but once again, all of your attention is focused on the one thing you’re currently doing: you’re being present, and mindful.

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5 Senses Awareness

If you find that your mind is very restless and is causing you a fair bit of grief, take a moment to just be still, and to focus on what you can be aware of with each of your senses. Find a quiet place where you can sit in stillness for a few minutes, close your eyes, and take a couple of deep, calming breaths.

Touch: Focus on the things that you can feel physically at the moment. Keep your eyes closed. What is the texture of the floor like beneath your feet? Is there a breeze against your skin? If your hands are on your lap, what does the fabric of your clothing feel like? Are your hands on a cool, smooth tabletop, or on the leathery arms of an old chair? Immerse yourself in physical sensation and really be aware of what everything feels like.

Scent: Can you smell anything right now? With your eyes still closed, bring your awareness to any scents that may be lingering in the air. If you’re at the office, can you smell coffee from the lunchroom or a co-worker’s desk? Did someone microwave popcorn today? What about your own perfume or cologne? Can you smell the shampoo in your hair? If you’re at home or outside, try to pinpoint a few scents that you can recognise.

Hearing: Take a moment to really listen to the world around you. Most of us acclimatize to our living conditions so much that we tune out most of what we hear over the course of the day, so keep your eyes closed and listendon’t just hear. Can you tune into the bubbles fizzing in your drink? The ticking of a clock in another room? Maybe you can hear your pet snoring, or the subtle shifting noises that your house makes over the course of the day. Do you hear traffic? Raindrops? Birds?

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Taste: This one can be a bit more difficult if you haven’t eaten anything recently, so if you don’t have any lingering crumbs around your mouth, it can help to take a sip of your drink or a bite of a snack to aid this one along. When you take a bite or sip of something, give the food your entire attention: notice the textures, the different flavours. Pay attention to the movement your tongue and throat make as you eat, and see if you can focus on the item you’ve swallowed as it makes its way down to your stomach.

Sight: Yes, this one requires you to open your eyes. It’s best to do it last, so you’re already in a relaxed state after focusing on the previous senses. Let your eyes rest on an item near you, and really look at it, even if it’s something that’s in your peripheral vision every day. Is it a plant that you can look at and analyze in detail? Or a favourite teacup? Are there scratches on the cup that you’d never noticed before? What’s written on the bottom, if anything? Take the time to see something in its entirety instead of just observing it without thought.

A Grounding Item

Some people find that the best way for them to return to the present moment is by carrying a “grounding” item with them. This is something that can be kept in a pocket or worn as jewellery, so when anxieties rise or the outside world gets a bit too harried and distracting, touching and focusing on that item brings them back to the present moment.

This item can be anything at all, as long as it has meaning to you. It could be a stone or crystal that’s kept in your pocket, a mala bracelet, pendant, rosary/prayer beads, or even a ring that’s worn dailyif it’s something that can bring you peace and help to center/ground you when you’re flailing emotionally, it’s perfect.

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To ground yourself with your item, just take a couple of minutes to sit with it and be wholly absorbed in the experience of touching it. If it’s a stone, feel the cool smoothness of it in your hands, and allow yourself to draw strength from it: that stone is likely a million years old. If it’s a crystal that hums with energy, allow it to hum in your hands and imagine yourself filled with light the same colour of the item you’re holding. If you’re using prayer beads, run them through your fingers and draw comfort from their solidity. Let the outside world slip away as you focus your entire being on what you’re holding in your hands, and how it makes you feel.

Staying in the present moment takes practice, but a few minutes each day are all that’s needed to establish your mindfulness practice. Before long, you’ll notice that you’re much more aware and appreciative of things around you, as well as experiences you have and tastes/textures you enjoy. Anxieties about the past or future slip away when you find peace in the now.

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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Expert Advice That Will Teach You How to Increase Your Metabolism

Wouldn’t you like to be able to eat twice as much as you do now without gaining weight? If so, I have good news for you because this is possible when you learn how to increase metabolism.

How Much Do You Know About Metabolism?

Before we get to the meat, let me say that metabolism is a term that describes all the chemical reactions in your body.[1] These chemical reactions keep your body alive and functioning, however, the word metabolism is often used interchangeably with the metabolic rate or the number of calories you burn.

The metabolic rate is a rough estimate of how much energy your body needs to simply stay alive and perform all its biochemical reactions. These reactions require energy, aka burn calories.

Imagine that your brain alone consumes nearly 20% of your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure at rest),[2] your digestion and the detoxifying system come second, repairing tissues third and so on.

Staying alive is expensive for your body and its two main currencies are fats and sugars.

When I am talking about improving your metabolic rate (metabolism), I mean improving the amount of energy, your body requires to (pretty much) lay down in bed and do nothing for 24 hours.

Extra physical activity, extra thinking or fighting illness are things that require a lot of energy (burn a lot of calories) but they don’t really increase metabolism… actually they can decrease it.

Can You Naturally Change the Speed of Your Basal Metabolism?

The answer to this question is yes and you can also achieve an increase in metabolism and a drop in body fat by eating more.

Shocked? Well, I was too.

The way I came across this phenomenon is quite funny. Over my 10 years as a coach, I helped many busy professionals to naturally increase their metabolism by getting them leaner, fitter and stronger but, at the beginning of my career, I actually had no idea whether they were losing weight because of an increase in metabolism or because we created a calorie deficit with diet and exercise.

When I was training my clients regularly, they would lose weight. Every time I would take a few weeks of vacation, I would come back to London and find out that most of them gained back a generous amount of weight despite the fact that they were following their diet and they swapped our weight training sessions with cardio.

On the contrary, when they were going on vacation, they would do zero exercises and binge like there was no tomorrow but come back either lighter or weighing the same (but looking more muscular).

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Observing this phenomenon happening over and over again, got me curious about the mechanics of our metabolism and the ways to hack it.

Was it really possible that by relaxing and eating more food, someone could actually maintain his/her current weight or even be losing fat?

Driven by the desire to answer this question, I spent a good amount of years researching and testing different food strategies until I finally cracked the code to an improved metabolism that allows you to eat like a king and look like a Greek God.

Does Eating More Increase Metabolism?

Before I explain why eating more increases your metabolism, let me dig into something that I see people doing much more often: “eating less and moving more.”

It is quite common to see people embarking their yearly weight loss journey (usually after Christmas or Easter) by following very restrictive diets and bombarding their body with several hours of exercise per day.

Despite the short-term effectiveness of this approach, in the long run, if the goal is to increase metabolism and lose a lot of fat over an extended period of time, this simply won’t work.

As I have mentioned before, eating fewer calories and exercising more are energy-consuming activities for your body. In the first case, your body needs to use its own energy reserves to top up the missing energy it needs to fully function; and in the second, it takes your body extra energy to contract your muscles.

In both cases, your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure at rest) doesn’t vary much; therefore your metabolism stays unchanged.[3]

A different scenario happens when you eat less and move more for an extended period of time (weeks or months). In that case, your metabolism will slow down because your body is receiving a “we have little access to food and we need to run away from threats” signal.

Your metabolism is like your bank account.

To understand this concept, let’s imagine that you have $4,000 coming into your bank account each and every month. The money you spend on housing, transport, food and leisure are calibrated according to this monthly income.

Now, imagine that a rich uncle starts to send you $1,000 each day. What would you do? Probably, you would save that money for the first two or three days but, when you notice that $1,000 keep on coming every single day, you would likely start to spend more right?

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What if, instead of a rich uncle sending you money, a poor uncle needed your financial help to pay for the treatments of his illness? You would probably try your best to adjust your spending according to your old $4,000 monthly budget.

That’s exactly how your body reasons:

More Resources Coming in = More Energy Released (Improved Metabolism)

Fewer Resources Coming in = Less Energy Released (Decreased Metabolism)

Note that activities like weight training[4] and high-intensity interval training (HIIT),[5] when combined with an increase in nutrient-rich foods, will also improve your metabolism.

For this reason, today, when I coach a new client, I always start by increasing their daily food intake and their physical activities. Usually, people are quite confused because they come to me to lose weight and I tell them to eat more but, without fail, the next weekly weight-check shows a lower number.

Be aware that not all foods are equal and only certain foods have the power to increase metabolism to a noticeable extent.

Foods That Increase Metabolism

Doubling up on Snickers bars won’t improve your metabolism and you know that. What you may not know is that certain foods that are marked as “healthy” doesn’t help you with increasing your metabolism. They also make you gain weight.

Before giving you a list of foods to eat or avoid, let me explain a simple principle of human biochemistry.

Your body uses energy from three (or four) main sources:

  • Sugars: whether you eat a Snickers bar or a banana, the carbohydrates contained in both get absorbed in the gut and become blood glucose (the basic form of sugar our body utilizes as a source of energy).[6]
    When blood glucose is present in the bloodstream (elevated levels), the body always uses it as its primary source of energy. When blood glucose levels drop (this phenomenon happens when you’re using these sugars to fuel a physical activity or when your pancreas produced a spike of insulin and stores that glucose into fat and muscles), your body starts to release fatty acids into the bloodstream to use as a source of energy.
  • Fatty acids: either from your own fat cells (adipocytes) or from whatever fat-containing foods you ate in the past 2-3 hours. Fatty acids are a slower and more consistent form of energy than sugars that your body can utilise.
  • Amino acids: Amino acids are the broken-down form of proteins. Proteins cannot be used by the body as a source of energy, not even in their broken-down form. Your body can transform amino acids into glucose with a process called gluconeogenesis.[7] This is a very inefficient process where a decent amount of energy gets wasted (and that’s a good thing for us but I’ll get to that later).
  • Ketones: when you don’t feed your body any source of carbs (or proteins in excess), your liver produces an alternative source of energy called Ketones. It can replace the need for glucose (most of it at least).[8]

Now that you know the four energy sources the body can use to fuel its metabolism, let’s get to the meat (quite literally).

To make this simple for you, I am going to divide foods into three categories:

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  1. Red Flags – Avoid the red foods because they slow your metabolism. They are usually extremely low in micronutrients and high in antinutrients (agents that are highly toxic). They are highly processed or spike your insulin levels (therefore stopping your fat burning process).
  2. Orange Foods – Limit your consumption of orange foods. The orange foods on the list are suboptimal choices but they don’t have a negative impact on your metabolism when consumed in moderation. In fact, they contain a decent amount of micronutrients and, if eaten in small amounts, they shouldn’t stop your fat burning process.
  3. Green Foods – These are foods to consume most. Green foods will improve your metabolism and should be the main bulk of your diet.

Next, I’ll get into details exactly what foods to eat and avoid:

Sugars and Carbs

Sugars do not directly improve metabolism because they stop the process of fat utilisation. There is an exception to this rule though. When you eat a diet extremely low in carbohydrates and sugars for an extended period of time (two to six days onwards), introducing carbohydrates and sugars can actually improve metabolism quite a bit.

Unfortunately, for most of us that love eating bread, pasta, fruit and yoghurt, unless we were on a low-carb diet for the past few days, these foods are not an optimal choice.

Sugars like fructose (found in fruit or commercial sugar) actually decrease metabolism and should be limited. Heavily processed sugars and carbohydrates should be also limited. Here is the colour list of sugars and carbs that affect metabolism:

Red Flag Sugary Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Dried fruit
  • Commercial and packaged corn
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • All sorts of candies and lookalike
  • Packaged fruit juices and purees
  • Sugary dairy products like flavoured yoghurt, condensed milk etc
Orange Sugary Foods You Should Limit:
  • Bread and flour-based products
  • Milk and also vegan milk alternatives that are sweetened
  • Most fruit (exceptions are in the green list below)
  • Potatoes and potato starch products
  • Oatmeals and other grains
Green Sugary and Carb-Containing Foods That Improve Metabolism
  • All berries except strawberries
  • Tubers like squash, carrots, parsnips etc
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White rice
  • All green vegetables

Fats

Fatty acids and fats, in general, can improve or decrease metabolism depending on their composition.

Red Flag Fatty Foods You Should Avoid:
  • Margarine and hydrogenated fat
  • Lard
  • Gmo oils
  • Most vegetable oils from seeds and peanut oil
Orange Fatty Foods You Should Limit:
  • Nuts
  • Meat fat
  • Nut oils (macadamia, almond, cashew etc..)
  • Seeds
Green Fatty Foods You Should Eat Daily
  • Extra virgin olive oil (non-heated)
  • Avocado
  • Coconut oil
  • Butter (organic)
  • Egg yolks (free-range)
  • Bone marrow

The fatty foods in the green section tend to be very effective in increasing metabolism, especially in the absence of carbohydrates because they stimulate the production of ketones (I’ll talk about this later).

Bear in mind that 1 gram of fat has 2.5 times the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrates; therefore “eating more fats” to increase metabolism should be done very gradually to avoid weight gain.

Proteins

Eating food not only sends regulatory signals to your brain about abundance vs scarcity of resources, but it can also increase your metabolism for a few hours. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).[9] It’s caused by the extra calories required to digest, absorb and process the nutrients in your meal.

Protein causes the largest rise in TEF.[10] It increases your metabolic rate by 15-30%, compared to 5-10% for carbs and 0-3% for fats

Eating protein has also been shown to help you feel more full and prevent you from overeating, in fact, a study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet.[11]

Also, proteins help preserve muscle mass.[12] The more muscle mass we have, the higher our basal metabolism is.

For these reasons, the first nutritional advice I usually give to clients is to reduce sugars and increase proteins. This quick swap is often enough to kickstart their metabolism and commence the fat burning process.

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Red Protein Sources That Should Be Avoided
  • Cheap whey proteins
  • Soy proteins
  • GMO meat
  • GMO eggs
  • Packaged meat
Orange Protein Source to Be Limited
  • Canned tuna
  • Canned fish
  • Canned meat
  • Gluten-rich products like Seitan
  • Farmed fish
Green Protein Sources to Have Daily
  • Free-range meat
  • Free-range eggs
  • Wild meat and fish
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Collagen and beef protein hydrolyzed

Note that this is a general categorisation of the foods that, when added to your diet, have the power to increase or decrease metabolism. There are some specific foods and supplements worth mentioning because they have been proven to improve metabolism by increasing thyroid output or resting heart rate, they are as follows.

Other Foods and Supplements

Cold water

Drinking water may temporarily speed up your metabolism. Studies have shown that drinking 17 ounces (0.5 litres) of water increases resting metabolism by 10-30% for about an hour.[13]

This is not a surprise since our body is made up mainly by water and proper hydration is key to a fast metabolism. This calorie-burning effect may be even greater if you drink cold water, as your body uses energy to heat it up to body temperature.

MCT Oils or Powders

Medium-chain triglycerides or MCT have been shown to improve metabolism by stimulating Ketone production.[14] Coconut oil contains MCT fats and, when used as a replacement for cooking oil can help you improve metabolism.

You can buy the concentrated version of MCT oils and eat it separately to further enhance this effect. Either way, coconut oil or pure MCT oil can be a great addition to your diet if you’re following a ketogenic or intermittent fasting protocol.

Caffeine

Caffeine and coffee have been shown to improve metabolism by improving heart rate and, therefore improving calorie consumption.[15]

Green Tea

Green tea

is thought to increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation, and to reduce fat production and absorption.[16]

Bottom Line

In this article, I just covered the basics of food and metabolism but, there are many other non-food related things you can do to improve your metabolism, like improving your sleep quality and following certain exercise routines.

For now, just know that making small and gradual changes to your diet can increase your metabolism and improve your general health. Starting from changing one habit at a time is always the best strategy to accomplish any goal.

Once you improve your diet, your hydration and your supplementation you can think about testing more advanced “bio-hacks” or techniques like ice baths and fasted HIIT training.

And remember, having a higher metabolism doesn’t only help you lose weight and keep it off but it also give you more energy and a feeling of vibrancy. If you give it time, it really is worth the investment.

Featured photo credit: Fitsum Admasu via unsplash.com

Reference

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