Everyone in the world of modern communication has heard about H1N1 influenza or the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Now, we have the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. This newly identified coronavirus belongs to the same group of viruses as SARS, MERS, and others, which have been identified over the past couple of decades. To protect one’s health in these circumstances and in everyday living, changes in personal hygienic behaviors will promote respiratory health and minimize contact with contaminated surfaces.
Humans have reason to fear and prepare for influenza pandemics, especially given that an estimated 50 to 100 million people died in the Spanish Flu pandemic, a total equal to one third of the European population. Many deaths were from secondary illnesses, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, which is instructive, as surface contamination with respiratory secretions either directly or indirectly will create contact transmission as people touch their faces and other surfaces.
There are simple behaviors that can keep one from getting these illnesses or minimize one’s chances of getting them. These habits can effectively avoid or minimize community-acquired illnesses throughout the year. With practice, nearly all who do will see a significant drop in their colds and other respiratory illnesses. As well, these are highly effective methods for improving one’s general fitness and health.
HERE’S HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR RESPIRATORY HEALTH
- For one day, pay attention to all of the surfaces your hands touch in public settings: bathrooms, buses or trains, workplace surfaces, etc. Remind yourself of the people who have also touched these surfaces and of the poor hand hygiene of many people.
- Improve your hand hygiene, which consists of both handwashing and hand sanitizing. Hand SANITIZERS kill bacteria, but not viruses: this is a common misunderstanding. HANDWASHING removes bacteria, viruses, and physical soiling from hands. Thorough handwashing is always the preferred method.
- Sneeze or cough into your inner elbow, which covers and contains your coughed secretions and keeps material from your hands.
- Minimize touching your face unless your hands have been recently washed.
- Knuckle it: use your knuckles on keypads for ATMs or other access: do not use your fingertips.
- If you must use a public pen for a signature, promptly sanitize your hands after using it.
- Do not touch straps, poles, or any part of a bus or train when commuting. If you must steady or reposition yourself, on exiting the vehicle immediately sanitize your hands and then wash your hands at your next opportunity.
- Always wash your hands when you return home (see handwashing technique below).
Proper use of hand sanitizers means that you cover your hands with enough solution to briskly rub over the hands, then allow them to air dry. Hand sanitizers are not meant to be a substitute for handwashing, but are used when handwashing is not convenient or unwarranted. Handwashing is a better method of hygiene than is hand sanitizing. Handwashing should always be used when one has soiled hands. The best practice is to WASH YOUR HANDS more often.
PROPER HANDWASHING includes:
- turn on faucet and wet dirty hands with water first (soap is too harsh on your skin unless first diluted)
- apply enough soap to adequately wash hands
- wash all surfaces of hands briskly and thoroughly: palms, finger tips, back of hands, wrists, and between fingers
- wash all hand surfaces by rubbing vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds: sing “Happy Birthday” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” 3 times until you have learned the proper length of time
- turn off faucet with paper towel or use your elbow if towels are unavailable
- dry hands thoroughly
- do not touch surfaces or door handles when you exit the bathroom: instead, use a paper towel, your coat, or your foot
if you handwash frequently, consider using a non-scented lotion after handwashing to maintain skin integrity, as frequent use of soaps can cause micro-breaks in the skin of the hands and these can provide access to bacteria or viruses. Once you begin to practice these simple methods, you may notice others’ lack of proper hand hygiene, especially when using public facilities. You may also be surprised by a drop in colds or other community-acquired infections and illnesses.
Simple practices support one’s general health – and the health of the community. Choose to improve your hand hygiene and elevate your wellness.
Asana is the physical practice of yoga and is one of the Eight Limbs (aspects) of Yoga. For those living with chronic pain, yoga offers numerous benefits, including mindfulness and a different sense of the body (“bodyfulness”), along with improved flexibility, lessened pain, better tolerance of chronic pain. Safety in asana practice is paramount for those who have chronic pain.
Self-Judgment and Leaving One’s Ego at the Door
As a yoga teacher, we encourage those who practice asana (the physical aspect of yoga) to “leave their egos at the door”. This means learning and practicing asana necessitates the opening of one’s body and mind to all kinds of learning, including embracing failures, mistakes, feelings, and thoughts about one’s body, how we move, and how we value and judge ourselves and others. It also means yoga asana is not a competition. The learner does not need to compare their practice to anyone else, outside of the yoga teacher’s taught form. It further redirects those who practice asana toward attitudes that naturally generate optimal health and wellness behaviors and outcomes.
The yogi (term used gender-inclusively for all who practice yoga) becomes less negatively self-judgmental, learns more effectively, and begins to notice differences in how they think and move throughout daily activities, all naturally rising from asana practice.
Embracing Limitation as Challenge and as an Adaptable Reality
After an introduction to yoga asana in the early 1980s, I returned to a regular practice a little over seven years ago. At nearly 65 years of age and after 22 years of living with the daily challenge of chronic pain, there are some intermediate and advanced asanas that I cannot do. My attitude is to continue to learn them or to accept that there are some asanas that I may not be able to ever practice. However, there are so very many others that I can do, so I choose to focus on them.
As a teacher living with chronic pain, yoga asana or the physical practice and most visible of the eight aspects of yoga called “limbs”, keeps me in balance, focused on life-affirming thoughts, attitudes, and practices, and strengthens my health and wellness. This balance and wellness arises from persistent practice which is based on safety and which embraces errors, mistakes, and self-judgments as simply part of the process of learning.
Yoga Asana’s Natural Benefit is Mindfulness and Bodyfulness
The other way we benefit from yoga is that asana, even while learning, readily generates mindfulness as a natural outcome. The physicality of asana similarly generates a different sense of the body, a “bodyfulness”, that emerges along with mindfulness. For many who live with chronic pain or other somatic symptoms, after distancing ourselves from our bodies and mentally compartmentalizing to cope and adapt, our learning to approach and eventually re-embrace our bodies and physicality returns a sense of wholeness, strengthening and expanding our innate resilience.
On balance, when safely and mindfully practiced regularly – or even semi-regularly – yoga asana can make significant and lasting changes to one’s life quality, health, and wellness.
So much effort and massive resources are used in our search for a healthier gut. Evidence is rapidly emerging that the gut-brain connection is one that determines the quality of our health and longevity, as the gut-brain appears to be part of a unified immune system (National Institutes of Health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15656872 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17088044 ), functioning as a “seventh” sense.
Here’s a list of actions to promote a healthy gut, strong immune system, and a healthier brain through nutrition and lifestyle changes that embed protecting and nurturing our gut into one’s life.
- Read labels on food items and learn to look for added sugars, the sodium content, the saturated fat content. Buy food items that have low added sugar, minimal sodium, and minimal saturated fat. Buy foods that contain ingredients that are naturally occurring. If you see a lot of additives to food items, get healthier foods, instead.
- Eat prebiotics, root veggies and others that set up your gut to be healthy and produce probiotics, like those found in kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt.
- Eat foods that naturally contain probiotics.
- Avoid processed foods that strip phytonutrients and add chemicals.
- Eat adequate amounts of healthy proteins, ensuring that most of it comes from beans, legumes, and non-meat sources, as they are healthier.
- Eat adequate amounts of fiber every day and get it from food. Avoid using fiber supplements unless instructed prescribed for a specific medical condition. Always seek the most natural foods to treat constipation or irregular bowel movements and get medically evaluated if these conditions persist for more than a few days or are short-term and problematic.
- If you eat meat, ensure it is properly prepared and thoroughly cooked.
- Limit the quantity of food you eat, stopping well before your mind tells you that you are full.
- Ensure you are adequately hydrated and make water your number one beverage.
- Avoid drinking beverages with added sugars. This includes fruit juices, carbonated soda, and numerous mixed cocktails.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or minimize the amounts.
- Drink herbal teas and learn which ones are healthy for you.
- Chew your food thoroughly and mindfully appreciate its flavors and characteristics.
- Avoid over the counter (OTC) medicines that negatively impact your gut, by searching online for “NAME OF OTC MEDICINE and impact on gut bacteria”, and limit your use of these substances. These include antacids, probiotics, and numerous common OTC drugs.
- Avoid using laxatives or stool softeners that are OTC meds.
- Avoid eating for at least two-three hours before bedtime. If you are hungry near bedtime, eat a piece of fruit.
- Ensure you have a colonoscopy when your health clinician tells you it is time for one.
- Unless you have no other choice (and there are plenty of other choices for most people), do not blindly seek or accept prescription meds that alter your gut, for instance, as a way to treat reflux or heartburn. Ask the prescriber if this med will cause changes to the gut and seek healthier alternatives.
- Add more walking to your day, as it destresses the body and provides countless benefits to the gut and brain.
- Learn progressive relaxation techniques through studying meditation. There are many apps to help and many places to learn.
Choose to live better by making healthier choices and by slowly integrating changes. Build on health and generate higher wellness.