Bend It Like Buddha

Yoga as a Form of Mindfulness and Its Effect on Mental Health

 “Just do yoga.” –  A phrase that might just be all too familiar to anyone who has struggled with their mental health before. Suggestions such as this can be frustrating, as mental health is much more complex than this. So, how could a bit of twisting and breathing help with that?

Yoga is widely known and is practiced by millions worldwide. But it is much more than just complex bodily figures. Mindful Yoga in particular, has been proven to help alleviate symptoms of many mental health disorders. So let me bend your perspective on Yoga.

Yoga: more than overpriced sportswear

The term Yoga derives from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” meaning “union”. As a philosophy it originated in the Indus-Saraswati Valley civilization around 2700 BC, before striking roots and flourishing in India. Often only reduced to a form of exercise in western countries, the philosophy of Yoga includes not only the body but also the breath and mind. The body postures (asanas) are used to prepare the body for the following meditation. The goal of yoga is the unity of body, breath and mind to achieve well-being.

A brief look at Mindfulness

Mindfulness was not invented by apps such as Headspace but is rooted deeply in Buddhist tradition. As a central aspect of meditative training the Buddhist understanding of mindfulness is defined by a strong focus on the body, feelings and thoughts in the present moment, cultivating acceptance, emotional balance, and well-being. A modern concept of mindfulness as a therapeutic practice was developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn with his Mindful based stress reduction program (MBSR). Taking inspiration from the Buddhist tradition, it fosters non-judgemental and non-reactive focus on body and mind in the present moment. Next to other studies, one study conducted on Norwegian university students, showed the effectiveness of MBSR, after students reported a decrease in mental distress after the program. MBSR has also been used to support treatment of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression and can even be linked to neurological changes in the brain.

Mindful yoga: “a method to stop thought waves”

Due to its mediative aspect Yoga is part of the MBSR program. It is important to note, however, that not all mindfulness is Yoga and not all Yoga is mindful. Mindful yoga includes mind-body awareness and paying close attention to your thoughts and bodily sensations as you move through your practice. Applying Buddhist mindfulness teachings, it puts the emphasis on observing rather than reacting. Studies show that mindful yoga fosters awareness of yourself and your surroundings and encourages patience and compassion for yourself and others.  It also helps accept external circumstances and is linked to a higher distress tolerance.

How Yoga helps with my mental health

Apart from increasing my strength and flexibility, Yoga has become a stable rock I hold onto, when waves of anxiety overcome me. It allows me to focus on my body and breath and let go of internal and external distractions. I believe, Yoga is a celebration of what the body and mind are capable of, while encouraging patience and self-compassion. The beauty of Yoga is, there is no one way to do yoga, there is a variety of types for everyone. And while it should never be a substitute for professional treatment, Yoga can be something you gift yourself and your well-being.

So, roll out your mat; inhale, exhale and let it go.

Author: Svenja Gleich

Small stitch, big effect

Why donating blood is a true act of human kindness

Syringes, needles and the sight of blood – the definition of a nightmare for many people. Admittedly, getting a long needle inserted into your vein and seeing your own blood run into a bag can be terrifying. What I’ve just described to you is everyday life for our silent heroes. Those who don’t wear capes – those who donate blood and save thousands of lives.

Can I give blood?

If you’ve decided to donate blood, congrats! You’ve already made the first step into the right direction. Fortunately, there aren’t too many prerequisites you need to fulfill. Firstly, you have to be fit and healthy, which seems obvious. A minimum weight of 50 kilograms is required, otherwise your body couldn’t cope with the missing amount of blood. Be careful if you’re pregnant or have recently traveled to a foreign country (especially tropical regions with diseases like malaria). To really be on the safe side, donors fill out a detailed questionnaire about personal data which is then thoroughly examined by a doctor during a preparatory conversation. Unfortunately, due to the current legal situation, some people (like queer men or trans people) are excluded from donating blood. Make sure to eat and drink sufficiently on the day of your donation to avoid fainting. In the aftermath, you mustn’t do any kind of physically exhausting activity.

What happens to my blood?

The process of donating itself takes only ten minutes. A blood pressure cuff helps the nurses find a suitable vein where they insert the needle. This is nowhere near as painful as people always imagine. Next, approximately 500 milliliters are extracted. This is quite a lot, considering that an ordinary person has a total of 4.5 to 6 liters of blood running through their veins. Afterwards, the blood is split up into its components in a centrifuge and examined for diseases in a laboratory. Plasma makes the biggest part and is used to fabricate different kinds of medicines. Erythrocytes, the red blood cells, help people who have lost lots of blood due to accidents or during surgery. Platelets, causing the blood to clot, are indispensable for cancer treatment. As all three parts are included in your blood, a single donation makes you a triple lifesaver!

Who will receive my blood?

In the USA, 36.000 donations are needed – every day!  Especially cancer patients depend on them, as platelets are used for chemotherapy. The second group of recipients suffer from severe cardiac or intestinal diseases, followed by injuries caused by accidents. Hospitals are in urgent need of blood type 0 rhesus-negative because it’s regarded as universally compatible. To be precise, everyone can receive a donation of this type regardless of their own. Statistically, everyone needs one blood donation in the course of their life on average. But did you know that you can also donate blood to yourself? Sounds strange but it’s possible if surgery is performed on you. In this case, you can be 100 percent sure that your body won’t reject the donation. In the end, it doesn’t matter who receives your blood. The only thing that counts is the fact that you will save someone’s life. If this isn’t the best reward, what is?

Author: Chiara Ferner

Major Impact of Gender Discussion on Sports

German Athlete First To Wear Full-Body Suit at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Basel

Sarah Voss, a German athlete, was the first woman ever to wear a full-body suit at the European Artistic Gymnastics championship in Basel in 2021. She is glad that she did it and proud of herself for being a role model, which is shown by the athletes following her example, such as those at the multi-discipline competition in Stuttgart. It was a positive experience while she felt comfortable and good-looking, as well.

Better well-being and still aesthetic?

In gymnastics, the focus is on the athletes’ bodies as they perform. Therefore, the whole performance, including the clothes, must be elegant. This is the reason why athletes are often very lightly dressed, only wearing short and tight, swimsuit-like clothing, especially at competitions, which makes many of them feel uncomfortable and naked. People often think that these are the only outfits allowed. However, wearing full-body suits has been allowed since 2009 – but they are hardly ever worn, which is proven by the fact that Voss’ performance has become such a controversial topic in the media. Sarah Voss’ performance and the incredibly positive reactions show that even full-body suits can be aesthetic and serve their purpose in gymnastics – and, most importantly, having to worry less about wardrobe malfunctions can improve the athletes’ performances.

A Sign against Sexualisation

Gender discussions are an everyday topic these days, but nevertheless, if even just one single woman tries something new or unusual, the whole world talks about it. This is about self-determination and the bodily autonomy of women, as well. They should be free to decide how they dress in our society and to feel good about it. We live in an open-minded culture regarding the clothes worn at competitions; that much should have become clear after Voss’ brave performance. Moreover, the gymnasts practise their sport because they like it and to have fun, not because they want to present themselves or their bodies. Voss and her fellow competitors on the German national team started a new era and hope for the others to follow their example so they can finally feel safe and comfortable – not only while practising, but at competitions as well.

By now, we should have reached a point where this topic should not need to be discussed anymore but be considered normal. Sarah Voss left a mark on gymnastics with her decision. She serves as a role model for other athletes – young and old – and took a step further towards rethinking deep-rooted behaviours.

Author: Emma Ripper

Alcohol: pick-me-up or death trap?

An ice-cold beer or a glass of sweet wine tastes good and is fun, but can also have long term effects. Many people enjoy alcohol, be it cocktails at a party, champagne to toast on birthdays or just one beer to relax in front of the television. But people tend to forget that alcohol also has its downsides.

What happens immediately when you drink?

Alcohol lifts the mood and relaxes the body, but at the same time it is poison. After you take a sip of your drink, it only takes a few minutes until the alcohol is in your blood. Most of the alcohol is absorbed by the stomach and mouth mucosa. When the alcohol reaches your liver, it begins to break down the alcohol. The liver metabolizes 0,1 permille per hour. During this time, the alcohol already unfolds its effects in your body:

Alcohol disturbs signal processing in the brain – this is the so called “alcohol frenzy”. In this state alcohol stimulates the release of hormones that make us feel relaxed, but simultaneously, leads to miscommunication between nerve cells. The results are dropouts of motor, language and thinking skills. This leads to drunk people staggering, falling down and speaking in a slurred way. It also causes memory lapses, slowed reactions, aggression, nausea, headaches and a heightened risk of accidents. Alcohol also dehydrates the body, which leads to tiredness, confusion and disorientation. If you reached three permille it could cause life-threatening unconsciousness. Alcohol doesn´t contain useful nutrients for our body. This means that we only consume empty carbohydrates that mess with blood sugar levels and eventually get stored as fat.

Long term effects

If you drink alcohol on a regular basis,  like every day, it can have many different consequences on your body that can be irreversible. In the long run, alcohol damages all organs, causes diseases from cancer to heart attacks, and heightens the risk of accidents. The liver is responsible for breaking down alcohol in your body. If you continuously drink excessive amounts of alcohol, the liver can get infected which can lead to liver cirrhosis, which means that the organ gets hard and shrinks. Detoxification is no longer possible, which also affects the rest of your body. Other than damaging the liver, alcohol can also lead to brain damage, cancer of the liver, mouth cavity, esophagus, throat or gut, as well as inflammation of your stomach or pancreas. Excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to myocardial disease, high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia. Besides physical damage, you can also get mental impairments such as depressions or changes in your personality which can manifest in irritability, unreliableness, restlessness or anxiety. Also, what many people don´t know, alcohol can lower your sexual potency no matter the gender.

So… should we ban alcohol forever?

I´m not telling you to never ever drink alcohol again, but would like to create awareness. Does it really have to be a beer every evening on the couch or could it be an apple spritzer or non-alcoholic beer? You can go out with friends and have fun even if you´re not completely drunk.

It´s not about bans – it´s about doing something good for your body.

Author: Amelie Biedermann

One breath away

Endorphin-rush is guaranteed

Spit in your goggles, one last check if the air is flowing, confirm with your buddy and jump right in. Let the cold water enter your soul, taste the salty water on your lips, feel the pressure surrounding your body. If your buddy and you are ready – the adventure may begin.

You start to go down and the deep blue finally surrounds you, feeling weightless. It’s a completely different world you need to get used to. Weird noises – where do they come from? You try to touch the rock in front of you but completely miss him. Is the fish red, orange or yellow, or might it even be just brown? Humans are used to be surrounded by air. The behavior of light, sounds and movements is normal. But being surrounded by water: it is like being a child again, that needs to learn everything from scratch.

The new and unknown world

Breathtaking views, unique encounters with unfamiliar animals, a rush of adrenalin, getting in touch with nature on a new level, exploring sunken secrets, finding hidden treasures – who knows what’s behind the next rock or after the next wave. The sea is a place of innumerable astonishing, wild, raw and of inestimable value moments, which actually can’t be described in a few words. It simply has to be experienced. Where to go? The lake around the corner? Or how about a freezing cold lake in the alps? Or maybe the Mediterranean Sea where you surely won’t meet any sharks? The cyan, aquatic, turquoise blue sea is filled with exotic fishes and beautiful coral reefs. Another option is to drive with a boat away from the shore, out to the big wide ocean, not being able to see the beach or any houses – out there awaits the most precious, awe-inspiring, unbelievably, once-in-a-lifetime moment: a rendezvous with whales.

DON’T EVER STOP BREATHING!

That is the most important rule for diving. Without having internalized that specific rule, diving won’t be possible. But there are also other things that need to be taken into account. Diving is not a sport or hobby that can simply be started out of a feeling or a mood. Certain things need be considered.

Respect, appreciation, decency and concinnity are mandatory and unavoidable traits of a diver. The new world needs to be valued and secured not polluted, destroyed or treated without careful consideration. Just as important and fundamental is the proper education and qualification. A diving partner, so called buddy,is a crucial factor. Also, you may never go diving without the correct equipment, it is indispensable. (So, find a trustworthy, authentic and dependable diving-school or -club!) A sadly bitter aftertaste: none of it is super cheap.

But be sure of one fact: it is absolutely worth it, as it is an outrageous, unprecedented and pure happiness bringing experience, which will never be forgotten!

Author: Manja Klauschenz

How much do we matter? – A midwife’s Coronavirus experience

Over the course of the last three months, a lot has changed in our daily routines. The sudden lockdown and stay-at-home orders have affected everyone in Germany. While many students, myself included, were able to stay at home and rejoice in the comforts of “easier” exams and a two-minute commute from bed to desk, essential workers were not so lucky.

Essential Workers during a pandemic

Undoubtedly, every single essential worker deserves more than just applause and praise for keeping our country going. And surely a million articles could be written about the heroic people that braved the storm and still made sure everyone was safe, healthy and provided with everything they needed. However, I want to focus specifically on a group that has often fallen under the radar in the last months: midwives.
For clarification purposes, midwives are women and men (yes, they exist) that take care of expecting mothers before and after they give birth.

Tanja, a self-employed midwife from Bavaria, recalls the beginnings of what will eventually surely be the prologue of a Steven Spielberg movie. “We were suddenly the only port of call and source of comfort for new mothers, not just professionally but also on a personal level. Most times, their husbands could not be with them in the delivery rooms. On top of that, the entire family is often present in the time after a birth but could not help because of the social distancing rules set in place.” At the same time, they were ordered to only stay with the mothers and babies for as short as possible, which felt like a strange internal dilemma of wanting to be safe and also wanting to give the mothers all the support they were not currently receiving, she explains.

Midwives especially were in a difficult situation because they had to move from family to family despite the no-contact rules which technically forbade anyone from visiting another household. “And on top of that, of course the families had vulnerable newborns that could easily get sick. Plus, we had to be extra careful since they had just left the hospital and were at a higher risk of having contacted Covid-19 already.” Tanja recalls.

The technological side of things

Another area of trouble was the gymnastics courses they offered to mothers after birth. “Fortunately, we were able to do the courses online almost immediately, but that brought with it its own set of challenges. I’m not a very tech-savvy person and of course, when you’re in such a strange new situation, everything that can go wrong usually does.” Laughing, Tanja remembers: “In the first session, we started about 15 minutes later than we wanted to. My colleague’s camera didn’t work and I couldn’t access the video conference at all because my e-mail provider had spontaneously shut down their site. In the end, both our kids held our cellphones for an hour because that was the only way we were able to access the course.” Since then, not only has the technological aspect gotten much smoother, but Tanja also jokes that she’s now an expert at angling the laptop perfectly so that no one sees the chaos in her room.

“All in all, we’ve dealt with the situation as best we could,” is the conclusion Tanja offers. “In the beginning, we really wondered how much us midwives matter. It seemed like every new rule put in place somewhat ignored our existence and focused on everyone but us, but eventually we were able to piece together how we should conduct our work.” When asked what the hardest part was for her personally, the answer is “Probably the huge weight I felt with regard to the comfort I wanted to offer these women but couldn’t. Pregnancy is often already a very scary time for them, and then to suddenly feel like they had to figure everything out on their own with the occasional phone call and the significantly shorter visits we conducted was a source of frustration for all of us.”

The moral of our newfound appreciation

While this pandemic is certainly not an occasion to be thankful for, it’s safe to say that our attention has had to shift to aspects of our society that we didn’t focus on before. Not only are essential workers finally receiving the attention they deserve, but like midwives, many professions have finally started being viewed as irreplaceable. Something we can take away from these months – other than a 1,5 meter distance being ingrained in our heads – might be a newfound awareness for just how difficult and important the work done by nurses, retail workers, midwives (and many more) is in our society. In the months coming, perhaps we can all do our part to make sure that we show this appreciation not only in clapping at a certain time every day, but also make sure they are treated fairly and also finally paid as much as they deserve.

author: Sarah Fiebig

Behind the green – Tips on how to spot and avoid Greenwashing

Organic. 100% recycled. Recyclable. Natural. Certified green. When you buy this item, 1$ will be donated to children in need. Think for yourself: Do you feel better when buying an item which is labelled as environmental-friendly or sustainable?

There are many words that could be used to describe something as eco-friendly or sustainable. When reading these, people mostly feel good for supporting a company that cares about sustainability, animals and human rights. However, most of these companies only use these for tricking people into buying their things – while not caring a single bit about problems like environmental pollution, child labour and so on. This problem is called greenwashing.

What is greenwashing?

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines greenwashing as “activities by a company or an organization that are intended to make people think that it is concerned about the environment, even if its real business actually harms the environment”. The term is based on the word “white-wash”, which describes that somebody is trying to hide unpleasant facts about something and trying to make it seem better than it is. As protecting the environment and living a more sustainable life is a current and “trendy” topic in times of climate change and Fridays For Future, many companies try to use this for making profit and selling more of their products. For example, a company sells items packed in plastic but claims that they have a new campaign which reduced the plastic by 15%. So why don’t they ban it entirely and search for a completely different type of packaging which would be a 100% less plastic? Probably because it is cheaper and costumers don’t really think that much into it, as the item is “more” sustainable than others or the older version of the same product.

How do I recognize greenwashing?

There are some possible ways to recognize greenwashed products. Above all, trust your instincts. Also check the whole product, what it’s made of and how it can be disposed of afterwards. When seeing a green label, check why it’s claimed to be green. You could even go to the website and read through it. Do they give a lot of information about their goals and marketing or is it really vague and unspecific? Is there a lot of ambiguity? Research the company on other websites, which are not associated with it and check for hints. If you want to go into it even more, contact the company and directly ask them your questions. If they don’t respond or talk around your questions, it might be greenwashing. Look for certain certifications and seals on the product. Research them and make sure they are from third parties which are not influenced by the company.

How can I avoid greenwashing and take action against it?

You can avoid greenwashing by saying no. Don’t buy the item if you don’t want to support this company. If you have the choice, search for the same thing by another brand and buy it instead (if it isn’t also affected by greenwashing). Also spread the word. Less demand will eventually get the product from the market. If you want to go even further, contact the company and state your concerns. They might have done it unintentionally or are open for suggestions to improve their marketing. There is also the possibility to report it to the consumer advice centre (Verbraucherzentrale). They check the item or advertisement and may even go after it judicially. Now you might think “Why should I do all this if it’s just a marketing strategy?”. The problem about it is that you lose sight of the bigger problem that is hidden behind the “green marketing”. At its worst it isn’t just a marketing trick but rather an attempt to hide the bad effects the companies have on the environment. This is why everybody should take a look behind the green.

author: Veronika Grashey