I want to start meditating

Meditating is probably much easier to do than you may think. There are many ways to practice meditation. Here we will focus on mindful meditation, which tends to be one of its most popular forms in the Western world.

  1. Find a conducive environment. You need a nice, quiet, clean place where you won’t be disturbed. As you progress, you will learn how to meditate virtually anywhere, even in noisy environments, but for beginners it is easier if you keep distractions to a minimum.
  2. Find a comfortable position. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to sit in a lotus position. If you can, then it’s better, but it’s not a requirement. Some people like sitting on a chair while others prefer sitting on a meditation cushion with their legs crossed. Find a position that feels comfortable. The only requirement here is to be able to keep your back straight.
  3. Enter the meditation state. Close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths, breathing in from your nose and exhaling from your mouth. Then let your breathing become more natural and focus on its rhythm. It should be slow (but not too slow) and deep (but not too deep). You should start feeling calmer and relaxed. Listen to yourself breathe.
  4. If any thoughts come to your mind, acknowledge their presence. Watch them as if they were clouds in the sky. They are just passing by. At any point, if you want to make those thoughts disappear, bring your attention back to your breath. Stay in this state for as long as you like.
  5. Exit the meditation state. When you feel ready, and only when you do, open your eyes and slowly awake from the relaxed, meditative state that you’re in. Know that you can come back to this state any time you want. 

A lot of resources exist online. You may also want to listen to guided meditations that you can find on YouTube. Finally, a lot of meditation groups exist if you desire to join one.

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I want to start running

You want to start running? Good news! All you need is your legs, lungs and a pair of sneakers. And you will enjoy life-long benefits such as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, you will also feel happier, you will add years to your life and build iron self-discipline.

http://www.active.com/running/articles/6-benefits-of-running

Getting started

1. The first few weeks

The first thing to do when you start running, as all trainers will tell you, is to start by building a base, which means you need to accumulate a decent amount of miles. This should be done at an easy or slow pace. So what is “easy pace” exactly? It means “conversational pace”, i.e. you should be able to talk comfortably with a fellow runner next to you, and you shouldn’t be getting out of breath. Try to build your base at that pace, not much slower, and in no case faster. That way you will learn about your body, what pace you can sustain and when you are pushing yourself, you will learn basic running form, and you will avoid injury, which is very common among beginners. You should do this for the first 3 to 6 months while slowly increasing your mileage by no more than 10% a week to avoid injury. Each time you run, pay attention to how long you’re running instead of how many miles you’ve ran. You are building endurance and not speed. Don’t focus on the distance you ran at first. This will reach your fitness level to the one of a decent beginner runner, and you will be ready for the next parts of your running adventure!

2. You need a training log

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Another important thing is that you want to have a way to record your pace. These days, a lot of “smart watches” will do that for you. Popular brands are Garmin and Fitbit. You should also keep a training log. It is important to know if week after week, month after month, you are running faster or longer. It will also help during your run to know if you are over-exerting yourself or not. Remember, long-distance running is about endurance, which means you want to keep your pace more or less stable throughout the run.

3. Running gear

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Get some decent running gear. Cotton shirts are uncomfortable, they will feel heavy when soaked in sweat and will feel itchy on your skin. Any sports store that stocks Nike, Underarmour or Lululemon will have plenty of options for running gear.

And most importantly, get a good pair of running shoes. In a lot of specialized stores, sales people are passionate runners who will take time to find the right shoes for you.

4. A plan

The next thing to do is to have a training plan. This will give you structure and help you build the necessary discipline to reach your running goals, be it losing weight or running a marathon. I recommend the one you can find in Jack Daniels’ “Running Formula” (link at the bottom). Consider the “Couch to 5K” program too (http://c25k.com/)

5. Running community

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Find a running group or register for a few local races in your area. This will help you keep your motivation up and you will find that the running community is usually very friendly. You will easily make friends and your fellow runners will support you in your running goals. Some running stores (Nike, Asics, etc.) have running groups that meet regularly every week. You will find running groups and clubs online on websites such as meetup.com.

6. Gym, stretching and cross-training

Consider strength training and doing some work in the gym: squats, lunges are most beneficial to runners. Work on your glutes, strengthen your core and your IT band. Do stretches. This will make a difference down the road between faster runners and the other ones. It will also help you break plateaus.

Also consider cross-training: cycling, rollerblading, swimming… All these activities will help use your legs in different ways they are used too. You also need to realize that road running can put some stress on your legs and knees when you’re a beginner, and exercising in a slightly different way may help you recover faster and eventually make you a better runner.

7. Nutrition

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Eat healthy. This means carbs, especially after a run, but also proteins and vegetables. Open some books on nutrition. Find information online. I will also probably put up a blog post soon about nutrition and diet.

8. Rest

Don’t underestimate the importance of rest. As a beginner, try to run 3 or 4 times a week at most, especially if you’re out of shape or if your body is not used to running. Resting is essential to recovery and to improving your running.

Resources for beginner runners

 

 

 

African masks and art

I was walking in Manhattan today when I went across a street fair. These African masks were displayed and available for purchase.

But what’s in a mask?

They are essential elements of traditional African culture and are associated to rituals, especially in the western and central parts of Africa. Conceptually and spiritually, they are used to allow someone to forget his human nature and become either another person, an animal or a supernatural being or spirit.

Many different styles of masks have been produced throughout history in different cultures. They link art, civilization and society.