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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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It may sound cliche, but learning to befriend your breath can change your life

Photo: Valeriia Bugaiova/Unsplash

In certain situations, there can be nothing more aggravating than someone telling you to “take a deep breath.”

Maybe you’re having a panic attack. Maybe you’re stressed because you‘re raising children in a pandemic. Maybe the IRS has just told you that you’re a victim of Social Security fraud. Whatever the reason, the idea that an automatic physiological process we do thousands of times per day without thinking could even marginally improve such a situation can feel ridiculous. Insulting, even.

Except it can. I know. I’m sorry to sound optimistic in these times. But I want you to know that…


Carrying weight for distance — or rucking — is part of the human design and it can keep us fit and healthy

Photo: Sicmanta

Last fall I found myself standing on the Arctic Tundra, about 120 miles from civilization. One hundred pounds of caribou filled my pack. I had to hoof the weight back to camp, which was five miles away. All uphill and across the tundra. And the tundra is a savage landscape comprised of dirt that exists in an ice-cream-like state: spongy layers of dense moss, mucky swamp, and basketball-sized tufts of grass called tundra tussocks. A mile out there is like five on a regular trail.

I was in the Arctic for more than a month on a backcountry hunt while…


Why time seemed slower when you were a kid

Photo: Alvin Mahmudov/Unsplash

If this year feels like it has flown by, there’s a solid scientific reason for that. Most of us spent it locked in our homes, doing the exact same thing day in and day out.

It turns out that our brains love this kind of predictability, neuroscientists at Brown told me. The human brain evolved to keep us in the comfort zone of a predictable routine because that improved our chances of survival in our past environments. For example, a reliable routine that helped us regularly find food kept us alive.

Even before the pandemic, our lives were rather predictable…


Humans need a balanced social diet of a few meaningful conversations and many casual interactions

Photo: Bewakoof.com Official/Unsplash

Balance is a celebrated, yet elusive, concept. In work, relationships, hobbies, and even what we choose to put into our bodies, we strive to strike the right proportion of give and take that leaves us feeling fulfilled and not overextended. The idea of balance also applies to social interactions.

In 2019, Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas likened human social networks to nutrition. A healthy social diet, he found in a study, consists of both a variety of interactions — from close friends and family to acquaintances — and time spent alone. People tend…


As restrictions ease and stimulation returns, your capacity will bounce back

Photo: Siora Photography/Unsplash

Early last summer, after stringent shutdown orders were lifted and, cautiously, friends began gathering in outdoor environs, the act of stringing a coherent sentence together was a personal struggle. The verbal equivalent of sea legs, my words felt wobbly and clumsy, and in group settings, I found it easier to observe in silence than contribute in any meaningful way.

Beyond conversation skills, social isolation also dulled many of my other cognitive capacities. My memory wasn’t so hot and conjuring creative or critical thoughts was nearly impossible — which isn’t great when your job requires you to have critical and/or creative…


Stop trying to ‘empty your mind’ of thoughts. Think of barking dogs instead.

Photo: Robert Gramner/Unsplash

There are all kinds of reasons to meditate, but I’m going to be honest: There are probably more reasons not to do it.

It’s really hard. It’s not particularly fun. It’s not productive. It’s also just kind of boring. Every time I do it, there are usually five other things I’d rather do first.

For all of these reasons, I’m always wary of lifestyle journalism extolling meditation’s benefits as if it’s akin to jogging, or the copy of well-funded apps making meditation sound like a breezy self-help adventure. I find both unhelpful at best and off-putting at worst. The truth…


Experiment with props, try new classes, and maybe even ditch your screen

Photo courtesy of the author

Yoga is an ever-evolving, ancient practice with South Asian origins. But for many people living in the West, yoga has meant something very specific for the past several decades: thin, lithe, usually white women bending in spandex in a minimalist hardwood floor studio.

The past year has thankfully changed some of that perception.

For the first time, people who want to practice yoga have had no choice but to do so from home. Luckily, there has been no shortage of Zoom classes, YouTube videos, and fitness apps for both experienced practitioners and eager pandemic beginners. And beautifully, many people have…

Elemental

Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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