Meditation: Happier, Wiser, Younger and Thinner?

erika lemay

MILAN, Italy — For years I have been flirting with meditation practices; trying and quitting numerous times, always with that bitter taste of failure. I would drink a litre of the most horrendous liquid every morning of my life, if I knew it would improve my performance as an athlete and a human being.

Something difficult or unpleasant never scared me, I am quite turned on by challenges especially when they come with key benefits. I can, however, claim with confidence that my try at meditation practice has so far been pure torture. While I assume it should bring me peace, focus and wellbeing, every single time, instead it brings only discomfort, boredom and the feeling of wasting my time. In addition I experience anxiety and frustration, and after repetitive failures, even the thought of it makes me want to scream and throw plates at the wall.

Does that sound familiar to you?

I often read that the harder something is, the more you probably need it. Extending my research, I found what I have experienced is actually “normal”. Although meditation is a process of learning for everyone, many over-doer, high achiever, so-called type A personalities are in the same situation and find it particularly difficult to overcome.

The truth is, meditation is probably the hardest thing I have tried to master these past few years, and it is precisely for this reason that I have decided to dissect the subject and dive fully into it, from medical literature to pop culture gossips and understand why mediation is the solution to make you healthier, happier, smarter, younger and even thinner.

meditation erika lemay
Achieving the unachievable starts with a state of mind

The studies and benefits

The scientifically validated reasons to meditate are just too many to mention. I will state a few that caught my attention:

HEALTHIER: Meditation enhances your immune function

Several scientific studies such as “Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation” show that meditation boosts antibodies, therefore helping you to remain healthy. Another UCLA study “Mindfulness meditation boosts the immune system” concluded that HIV positive patients who practice mindful meditation slow down the reduction of their CD-4 cell count. These are the immune cells that are associated with keeping the virus from propagating. Several findings also show that chronic disorders like type-2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure are reduced through meditation.

HAPPIER: A proven cure for the most common mental illness worldwide?

We often hear about the well-being effects of meditation on mood and depressive states but has it been officially and medically validated? Researchers at Oxford University and Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry conducted the first large-scale study to compare the treatment of chronic depression with Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and anti-depressants. The results show little difference in the outcomes except for the absence of side effects in the meditative solution. Could it be the end of the big Pharma for the most common mental illness worldwide?

SMARTER: Meditation has been shown to structurally change your brain

Something that is most fascinating to me is the ability of the brain to modify (called plasticity). In fact, the adult nervous system has the capacity for plasticity, and the structure of the brain can change in response to training such as meditation.

Meditation has been shown to actually change your brain. A team of scientists at Harvard found that only eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction increases thickness in the hippocampus; the learning and memory centre of your brain, as well as in other areas that play roles in emotion regulation. On the other hand, it would reduce brain cells volume in areas responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.

YOUNGER: Mindfulness meditation would slow down cellular aging.

Think of it as a mix of the most expensive wrinkle reducing cream, the most unpalatable anti-oxidant drink, 100 capsules fish oil and some kind of grandmother’s secret genetic potion. Although the research on the matter is still in its early stages, it is more than promising for whoever is still searching for the fountain of youth. Mindfulness meditation could slow down cellular aging. The work of Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a cell biologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine in 2009 for her co-discovery of an enzyme called the telomerase has made some impressive discoveries on the matter. Meditation practices may promote mitotic cell longevity both through decreasing stress hormones and oxidative stress and increasing hormones that may protect the telomere, a region that prevents your chromosomes from deteriorating.

THINNER: Look at Gisele Bündchen

Meditation has demonstrated the possibility of improving the self-control areas of your brain. A growing body of research claims that mindfulness can reduce food cravings, suppress appetite and help with portion control. Some people with an eating disorder are now being medically treated with meditation as a main remedy. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen even credits meditation with helping her lose her baby weight just two months after giving birth. A substantial news for emotional eaters as well as anyone controlling his or her weight, for health or pure vanity.

Misconception: monks, marines and billionaire entrepreneurs do it

Many of us are not familiar with the concrete basics of meditation. We, as a society, carry some misconceptions if not blown out prejudices on the practice. If there is a marketing company in charge of promoting it, I’d say it’s probably the greatest failure of all time.

Meditation is not just for monks seeking enlightenment. More and more celebrities, pop idols, politicians, sport icons and billionaire Entrepreneurs claim that it is not only part of their daily routine but a key of their success.

Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Gere, Madonna, David Beckham, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, Warren Buffet, Tiger Woods openly talk about it. It is now even becoming a common practice for US congressmen, NFL football leagues and even US Marine Corps. How weird can it be?

A few myths

Meditation is not about sitting with an empty mind as many of us think. Meditation is actually a moment you give to yourself to be and not to do. Just as anything else, it takes practice and you will not be good at it immediately. There is no failure at meditating, taking the time daily to do it will provide improvements on many levels even if you feel it was worthless.

Feeling all sorts of thoughts and anxiety is normal, especially at the beginning. You’re detoxing a place that has been polluted for decades without ever being cleansed. The good news is that it will become easier with time.

Monks that are masters at meditation and mindfulness actually are not feeling anxiety, fear and stress the way the rest of us do. They’re able to feel detached from these feelings, acknowledge their presence and wave them goodbye. Don’t worry about how you feel during the practice, notice how you feel after and throughout the rest of the day.

Even for those who are short of time, 15 minutes a day is enough to show significant improvements in a matter of days. As Mahatma Gandhi once said:

I am so busy today, that… I am going to meditate two hours instead of one.

The less time you have for yourself in life, the more you will benefit from meditation practice, you will become more efficient at everything you do.

How to start

There are many kind of meditation practices to be explored in order to find the one that suits you best: mindfulness, transcendental, compassion, mantra, Vipassana, Art of Living, breathing practices, yoga nidra, yoga, insight, loving-kindness, tai chi, etc.

Simply sitting in silence and being aware of your breathing, without forcing it, is meditating. I am personally more comfortable with guided meditation, especially for beginners. There are numerous audio programmes to find for free online.

Here are two apps I would recommend for beginners: Headspace and Calm as well as two guided meditation podcasts: Tara Brach and The Meditation Podcast.

A few days ago, I made a commitment to myself to start the next fifteen days with a short meditation practice. I intend to come back with my honest outcomes. I aim to apply it to my work as well as my personal life, on stage and off stage with precise goals in mind. I will duly report the effects of the practice through all these layers of my life especially as a physical performer but also as a business person and simply a human being.

Happier, smarter, younger anyone?

OAS1S: The Number One Green Architecture

OAS1S

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands — Is the future of city living to be blended into the forest? Shall we soon be able to live in a Treehouse Community?

The OAS1S Foundation is the number one green architecture concept, planned to create New Ultra-Green (100% Eco) cities through the design of modern tree houses imagining sustainable treescraper communities for the future.

We have had the pleasure to meet and talk with OAS1S founder, Raimond de Hullu, an experienced Dutch designer and manager in architecture whose mission is to make houses that look like forests where humans finally become one with nature.

Since the launch of the OAS1S website during the summer of 2015, it has received positive online media coverage and project proposals from many different countries all around the world.

OAS1S designers are now working on their first revolutionary projects that will start very soon. “There are OAS1S projects being prepared in the Netherlands and in other countries as well,” explains Raimond. “This year people will see the first realisation of OAS1S and people will be able to book a stay in this resort residence within the forest,” adds Raimond.

Raimond also mentions that a lot of individuals would like to build an OAS1S home and they also will be able to experience this next step in housing. As he highlights: “There are many exciting leads and this is just the start, so yes a lot of people will soon live in architecture that completely integrates with nature.”

OAS1S: Alternative Urban Architecture Concept

How do you specifically respond to an alternative urban architecture?

Raimond highlights how OAS1S is an alternative urban architecture concept that aims to improve the global urban environment: “OAS1S reshuffles existing design dogmas because with a little different organisation, you can create much better urban communities. You can combine high-density housing with a park area, an energy and recycling plant, plus an urban farming site and a resort, OAS1S is all-in-one.”

We can easily create much better cities! For example, why should we always want to park in front of our house? When we can create a park here instead, where you walk very nicely towards parking close-by.

The inevitable question arises: What are the advantages of living in a 100% eco-friendly city? Raimond suggests that the benefits go beyond having no energy bills. For example, “You will a have car-free and completely green living environment. You will walk through parks instead of streets, where you hear birds and pick fruits, enjoy fresh air and live in tree-like homes in between trees,” Raimond tells us.

You will feel in every way that you live in balance with nature, which is a deep human need we all have.

OAS1S
OAS1S Architecture Plans 100% Eco City

OAS1S: Urban Green Architecture for the Future

Concretely, how does OAS1S want to become the world’s best in green architecture? Raimond promptly answers: “Green building certifications as LEED do not lead to the best green architecture, for this should not be a strange game of points. Plus green architecture should not only be a technical issue, but should be green visually and should inspire the human soul. That is what OAS1S is doing, and that is what a lot of people want.”

When it comes to the future of green architecture, Raimond believes that the prospect of futuristic cities is not enough, that more down to earth plans, in terms of feasibility and experience will be required. Raimond believes that architecture should not only be more sustainable, but also should be more appealing to the public. “People do not like the modernist cities and buildings we have had since World War II, people have always lived very differently throughout history. In the future, architecture will connect nature with people, back to nature in a more modern way. Such a future is very near with OAS1S!” concludes this talented Dutch designer and visionary.

OAS1S
OAS1S Urban Forest Neighborhoods

Ballet Barre: Aerobics with Elegance

ballet barre

TORONTO, Canada — Ballet Barre has become an increasingly popular form of exercise in the past few years. It combines Classical Ballet technique with Pilates to offer practitioners the maximum workout. As a result, FG Magazine has sought out Voula Floros, the owner of Barre Beautiful, a Ballet Barre studio in Toronto to answer a few questions regarding this movement.

Barre Beautiful: Interview of Voula Floros

Where did you get the idea to start a ballet barre studio and how did you become a ballet barre instructor?

I started doing Ballet Barre classes while visiting a friend in Los Angeles and loved them. I came back to Toronto and I could not find them anywhere. I have always loved ballet and have been passionate about fitness (I am a pilates instructor and fitness instructor). So, I decided to use my fitness expertise and work with ballet dancers to put together an amazing workout and offer it to my fellow Torontonians. I was sure people would enjoy this type of workout as much as I did.

How was the Ballet Barre technique created? Is it something that has been modified and changed overtime to accommodate different needs?

Ballet Barre based workouts have been around since the 70’s gaining a lot of popularity in the US over the last 10 years. It just takes a bit longer for things to come to Canada. It is gaining popularity because generally barre workouts are a fun way to stay fit. Fitness is constantly evolving, and workout methods are constantly changing, as we learn to train more effectively, efficiently and safely. Barre workouts are a product of this evolution. Fusing one of the most classic forms of movement, ballet, with one of the most biomechanically sound fitness approaches, Pilates, to create an amazingly effective, sound and even romantic form of exercise.

ballet barre
Barre Beautiful Practitioner

There are people who dislike working out at the gym. Would ballet barre be a good replacement for that and how does it benefit your body?

The main difference is the quality of instruction. At Barre Beautiful we aim to provide a personal training experience in a group atmosphere. Instructors motivate you and walk around the room making sure participants are executing the moves correctly.

Everyone can benefit from the Barre Beautiful workout. Increased mind and body awareness, postural improvement, enhanced range of motion and movement, weight management or loss, muscular endurance and improved coordination, stress release, improved cardiovascular health and increased bone density are just a few of the benefits that a Barre workout offers.

The workouts are also low impact so they are easy on the joints and perfect for participants with special considerations. A runner, hockey player and a triathlete, a weight lifter or even a yoga follower can all benefit. Exercise science and studies have proven that the more varied our exercise activities the better our overall health and the more effective our workouts.

Some people are self-conscious of the way they look when they workout in groups or by themselves at the gym. What would you recommend to these people to make them more comfortable? Do you need to have had formal dance training at all?

Our clients come in all shapes and sizes, everyone is there to be get fit and to have fun. The atmosphere at our studio is friendly and unpretentious and our instructors are there to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. Private sessions are available for people who really do not like group fitness. No dance experience is necessary at all.

Which class would you recommend to a beginner who just decided to change their lifestyle and has not worked out in a while? Once they are comfortable at that level, which class could they try?

All our classes are mixed level. Participants are encouraged to workout at their own pace. The classes remain the same for an entire month so participants have some time to master the moves. At the beginning of each month we change the classes to keep the body guessing and to maximise fitness gains.

You offer postural analysis. What are some of the problem areas you have noticed in many people and how should they go about fixing it?

There are many different body types and we all have different habits that affect our posture. Doing a workout where you are constantly engaging postural muscles improves mind body awareness and postural awareness. This awareness carries through to the rest of your daily activities resulting in more efficient movement and better posture.

Finally, has Ballet Barre changed the way people approach their lifestyle significantly? In what ways? Also, what does Ballet Barre mean to you personally?

There are so many different ways to exercise and I do not believe that any one is better than the other. Some people like running, some like doing Yoga, some people like crossfit and some others like Ballet Barre. It is all about finding something you love to do to stay active and fit. For a lot of our clients a Ballet Barre workout is that thing, the workout they love most.

I have had many clients tell me they hated working out until they started coming to Barre Beautiful. I love our workout because it engages your mind as well as your body. It improves balance, coordination posture and muscle tone. You walk out knowing that you just did something amazing for yourself and had fun doing it.

If you think that Ballet Barre could be an option for you, then get your workout wear out and join Voula in this fantastic workout.

Oriana Fallaci by Cristina De Stefano

PARIS, France — Cristina De Stefano was a little girl, who had a great desire: to write a book about Oriana Fallaci, the most iconic Italian author, journalist and political interviewer of modern times.

Many years have passed since Cristina fantasised about becoming a war reporter in the Middle East, following Oriana Fallaci’s footsteps, so you can well understand Cristina’s joy when her publisher asked her to write the first authorised biography of Oriana Fallaci. Cristina spent the following three years searching for details of the life of Oriana: the cheerful, curious, inquiring, globetrotting reporter who was always ahead of her time.

“Oriana. Una Donna”: The Author

Cristina De Stefano is not only a journalist, but she is also a great literary scout and a writer. She is married to Claudio, whom she met during her years as a high school student in Pavia, Italy. Currently, they live and work in Paris with their two beautiful children: Lia and Marco.

Cristina loves reading: “I was very lucky to start working with books. Both as journalist for Elle magazine and literary scout – a sort of editorial consultant for Italian and French translation rights – I need to attend to books. Fortunately, there are some fabulous tablets for reading PDFs today.”

She loves nature, especially trees and lives in the suburbs [of Paris]. As she comments: “I could never stay in the city: too much noise.” When she is unable to write or tired of writing, it is the forest that inspires her.

Oriana Fallaci
A portrait of Cristina De Stefano

“Oriana. Una Donna”: The Book

“I was born in 1967 and only a teenager when Oriana Fallaci was a global myth,” recalls Cristina. “I was really impressed by her book ‘Intervista con la storia‘, her way to interview the powerful was really a novelty.”

“So I decided to study journalism then when Oriana died, I thought it would be very interesting to talk about her, but I never dared to ask my publisher,” Cristina continues. “However I am a very lucky woman, and so Oriana’s heir, after reading my book Americane Avventurose, contacted my publisher in order to ask me if I wanted to write the biography of his aunt.”

“Oriana. Una Donna” by Cristina de Stefano. Italian Edition.

Oriana Fallaci
“Oriana. Una donna.” – Cristina De Stefano

Oriana Fallaci: From Italy to New York

Oriana Fallaci was born a poor child, but with the “habit of reading” (her house was always full of books), and she had an absolute certainty inside of her: “I will be a writer!”. As Cristina explains: “For Oriana books were sacred, she collected some rare and precious editions over her lifetime.”

“As a young girl, she was just too needy to think of making a living from narrative writing, so she became a journalist to support herself.”

In the 1950s, Oriana wrote about high society and show business for “L’Europeo”. She very soon discovered America and Oriana moved to New York in the 1960s, consecrating her global fame as a writer and journalist. She also experienced early literary success with titles such as “I Sette Peccati di Hollywood”, “Penelope alla Guerra” and “Se il Sole Muore”.

“With her reports from America, she kept her Italian readers informed about subjects such as Hollywood, then the American society and finally the space shuttle missions,“ says Cristina.

The Oriana girl, with her perspicacity, understood from an early age that the future of global communication was in English and that justified her move from Italy to New York, where she lived the rest of her life. “Not yet 30 years old, she was rich, famous and the celebrities’ best friend, but she worked to the end: work was her mission, a duty, an ethic,” Cristina comments.

Oriana Fallaci: The Feminist

Oriana the feminist was modern and courageous (in spite of her fragilities). In 1975, while Italy was divided by the abortion debate, she published “Lettera ad un bambino mai nato”: a novel about a single woman’ s dialogue with her eventually miscarried child, starting off with a complete maternity rejection and ending in a hymn to the same. The success was immediate.

“To help the novel’s success was also the randomness of the political debate, but of course this novel was a best seller; even today, it is a school must-read book translated all around the world,” Cristina highlights.

“Oriana was able to change a private affair such as the loss of a child into a universal story: just as great literary writer would do.”

Never married, Oriana fell in love with the Greek poet and activist, Alekos Panagoulis to whom she dedicated one of her most read and translated novels: Un Uomo.

“Un Uomo is a book full of books, just like Alekos was a man full of men.”

“The novel was written by Oriana in three years, without her family: she was really broken-hearted after the death of Alekos and her mother too,” Cristina recalls. “Un Uomo is (with Lettera a un bambino mai nato) Oriana’s greatest novel.

Oriana: The War Correspondent

Vietnam for eight years, the Indo-Pakistani War, Bangladesh, Middle East conflicts, South America and Mexico City in 1968, where she was shot three times. Every woman would love to be like Oriana: she still represents a dream thanks to her nonchalant reportages delivered simply by carrying her typewriter – the popular Olivetti Lettera 22 – and her camera… With that light touch of black eyeliner to frame her face.

“Oriana had a great personality: she was not only capable of risking her life, but also making aggressive, revealing interview questions: through her conversations she wanted to prove the interviewee was not better than us,” says Cristina. “She was never subjected to power: she was annoyed with it. She was an anarchist and never trusted a man to control others.

She asked a politician: ‘How corrupt are you?’ And a dictator: ‘How can you arrest and imprison so many young people?’. Removing her chador and criticising women’s obligation to wear it during an interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini was heavily symbolic. But she was also extremely feminine, sometimes using it to let down the unlucky one’s guard so that he relaxed in front of that delicately pretty woman and then was destroyed by her questions,” adds Cristiana.

Oriana: The Political Activist

“I, for example, do politics by my writer’s craft,” Oriana says talking about herself. She does it through her books, ideas and beliefs. Ergo: “Is writing above all a political act (duty)?”

As Cristina explains: “Oriana was obsessed with politics: she grew up under the dark shadow of fascism, in an anti-fascism partisans’ family persecuted by the regime. She soon discovered that power can be a terrible thing and so, she was just totally absorbed with politics: ‘Even if I wrote a cookbook, I would end up writing a political one’, said Oriana.”

Oriana viewed her work as a mission: “So a writer never separates their life from their work, they never rest, never go on vacation, they work – write – even when they do not work. Whatever happens the work is a liquid that sooner or later will end up poured into the bottle of their writings.” Therefore, writing comes as a direct consequence of being a writer (not vice versa).

Oriana described herself as a writer, she was bothered to be remembered only as an interviewer. She always repeated that her interviews were so original because they are a writer’s interview.

On 26th April, 1976, at the conclusion of a conference held at Amherst College, Massachusetts, Oriana cited a famous quote written by students on the Sorbonne’s walls during the Revolt of 1968: “Be realistic. Ask for the impossible.”

Oriana was simply a woman who knows how to be a myth in spite of her many detractors.

She devoted the last years of her “frail” life to the composition of her best novels: “La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio” written after the terroristic attacks of 11th September, 2001, prompted Oriana to break a long silence with warnings about Islam (she was working on “Un cappello pieno di ciliegie”, a novel about her ancestors. The book was published two years after her death). Followed by: La Forza della Ragione and Oriana Fallaci intervista sé stessa. L’Apocalisse, a long interview with herself on the subject of “Eurabia” and “Islamofacism”.

Oriana died on September 15, 2006 in her home city of Florence of lung cancer: from her clinical room she could see the whole city. She was 77.

How Baby Boomers Transformed Fashion

history fashion trends

TORONTO, Canada – The two decades between 1960 and 1980 were revolutionary for political, social and fashion-related reasons. The swinging 1960s changed how we viewed important social norms, the 1970s saw political upheavals and transformations, and the influential Baby Boomer generation rocked the fashion world as hip teenagers.

In this important time, engineers, fashion icons, designers and everyday women defined some key fashion trends that remained immortal in the face of a changing world.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Creating a bang with a bikini

While the bikini’s origins can be traced back to antiquity, Louis Réard, a French engineer presented the modern bikini on 5 July 1946. With no popular fashion model willing to wear this daring piece, it was originally modeled by Micheline Bernardini, a dancer from a music hall, at a press conference in Paris. While French women welcomed the design, the Catholic Church scorned it, and the media found it scandalous. The majority of the Western world did not catch on to the fashion trend immediately. It was only as Brigitte Bardot strolled the beaches of Corsica in Manina, the Girl in the Bikini and Ursula Andress made every girl dream of being a Bond Girl in Dr. No, that the bikini gained wide acceptance in Western society.

It can be argued that the rise of the bikini is closely linked with the rise of feminine power. As French fashion historian Olivier Saillaird once said: “the emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women.” While the bikini is still being an ever-controversial fashion item (it is still banned in many nations around the world), the swimwear industry is now worth $13.25 billion annually, with a large portion of that being attributable to the sale of bikinis.

baby boomers and fashion
Ursula Andress in Dr. No
baby boomers and fashion
Brigitte Bardot in Manina, the Girl in the Bikini.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Making a statement with a mini-skirt

The mini-skirt is widely-attributed to a British design and fashion icon, Mary Quant, who helped drive the London-based Mod fashion movement and encouraged the commercialisation of trends, such as short skirts and hot pants. Since the late 1950s, designers had been shrinking hemlines, and Quant was part of this movement. She believed that this new fashion was liberating for women as it allowed them to feel empowered and able to move more freely such as when running to catch a bus. It is also important to note that other claimants for the title of creator of this fashion trend include British designer, John Bates and a Parisian, André Courrèges.

As the mini-skirt gained traction from the 1960s onwards, it has endured as a symbol of youth culture, sexual liberation and the rise of pop and rock culture, tied to iconic bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Kicking up a notch with the boot

Though the boot has existed in fashion consciousness since the 19th Century, it was in the 1970s that the modern knee-high boot became a fashion staple. Prior to this time, boots were generally worn for utilitarian purposes, to avoid dirty streets or complete hard labour. It was designers such as Yves St. Laurent and Beth Levine who bought a fashionable boot to the masses, and icons such as Nancy Sinatra who cooed to the immortal song, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin”, that cemented the importance of the modern boot.

In many ways, fashion’s adaptation of the boot reflected a lot of changes that female Baby Boomers saw in their lives, and the attitude that these individuals had towards fashion. Baby Boomers were changing the way things were done, changing the way we viewed the world, and changing the purpose and design of the boot.

baby boomers and fashion
A sample of the mini-skirts and knee-high boots that were popularized in the 1960s and 1970s.

Baby Boomers and Fashion: Leaving a legacy

While these three trends are only a snippet in the evolution that fashion saw during this time period, they reflect the metaphorical rise of the female, and a focus on liberation, expression and creativity that has lasted in fashion ever since. It is also interesting to note how these trends have still remained in fashion, as key staples for the modern women’s wardrobe. The next time you consider throwing away some old garment, you might not consider the legacy the Baby Boomer generation has left on the fashion world, but do consider how the past might not be as bygone as you think.