Pointspace’s monthly roundup | September

Fairway

 

After the calm of the summer, London sprang back into life. I settled into my new neighbourhoods of Marylebone and Regent’s Park and explored quiet side streets with my kick-scooter (which has now become quite famous at The Hale Clinic). London Fashion Week and the impossibly fashionable crowd came and went. Autumn made an appearance with crisp mornings but much more favourable afternoons than we’ve had all summer.

 

What else caught my eye this month?

 

Growing up, September was always a time of anticipation. After having devoured all eight books that I had borrowed from the school library (that was the maximum allowed over the summer holidays and I was meant to ration them) within the first week, it wouldn’t be long before I yearned to be back in school.

 

I was a model student and I relished learning. Aside from PE and French III, there was probably not a single subject I didn’t enjoy, and I never encountered the stereotypical attitude of humanities versus science. The rarity of having not just one but quite a few great teachers probably had something to do with my love of books and knowledge.


I also spent my entire education from grades 1 – 12 walking through the same corridors and eating from the same canteen; and if that wasn’t enough, it was a small school with the entire student population in my final year never topping 130. I don’t think I fully appreciated the nurturing atmosphere of such a small-knit community (after all my first grade teacher was still there when I graduated high school) but I am certain that experience has played a large part in shaping the person that I am today.


I can clearly remember the time we painted Mr Men characters onto panes of glass in the windows of our classroom and also five years later when Mike and I accidentally broke the window of another classroom with a misjudged catch of the volleyball. I remember my father teaching me the multiplication table when we waited at the airport during a particularly heavy snowfall and then reciting them to an amazed Mrs Kalamboukas a year later.


I remember first learning about recessive and dominant genes of hamsters in the sixth grade and then rediscovering them (and fruitflies) in more detail in the eighth grade and again in the tenth grade. I remember how we never managed to squeeze much World History into one academic year but 250 years of American History seemed to drag on and on. I remember jamming my finger during volleyball practice and having the most peculiar handwriting for an entire month. I remember loving the language of algebra and trigonometry and then the dismay at the gibberish (to me) of pre-calculus. I remember giving the speech as valedictorian of my graduating class and the sense of excitement at a decidedly close of one chapter and the beginning of another narrative.


1.  Imagine then if I forgot everything. Not just the memories and smells and laughter, but all the knowledge. Imagine not remembering how to tie your shoelaces or tell time, not being able to use a protractor or use a computer. Su Meck, now an undergraduate at Smith College in Massachusetts USA, recounts in this New York Times artilce how a freak accident wiped away her entire memory of the past 23 years of her life.

 

2.  Those of you who know me would know I am not entirely pleased with the overuse of antibiotics and the growing resistance of superbugs to antibiotics is a very true and alarming fact. Now research is also showing that antibiotics is permanently altering the state of our gut, which in turn may lead to an increase in allergies,  asthma and weight gain.

 

3.  I came across this really well explained exercise that can help if you experience back pain. It’s also a good reminder that staying active and moving is never a bad thing for your body.


4.  We are often told that beauty is skin deep and is only in the eye of the beholder, but research is showing that the beauty routines (whether it’s a lovely eye cream or having a facial acupuncture treatment) are an important part of our daily “self-care”. Self-care, as defined by Michelle Segar PhD, a behavioural psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, is “any activity that nurtures, restores and truly feeds the self.” This is why something as simple as a pedicure or a new shade of lipstick can make you feel good. She argues that taking care of yourself (whether through facial treatments or exercise) will make you look better and therefore make you feel better.


5.  Sara Calabro is an acupuncturist based in Oregon, USA. Here she writes a lovely article describing the importance and effects of autumn on our bodies from Chinese medicine’s point of view.

 

6.  In our busy lives trying to fit in work, family, friends it is so easy to forget to stop and enjoy the simple things. I discovered this short video, Industrial Revolutions, showcasing Danny MacAskill’s amazing talents and it is an absolute delight. Watch it, let your eyes soak in the colours and tap your foot to the music, you can’t not feel better afterwards.

 

Photo credit: Nana B Agyei via flickr

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Pointspace’s monthly round-up | June

Sunshine_and_smiles_by_nana_b_agyei

 

The summer solstice, a red moon (which I didn’t see), Ecoli outbreak (wash your hands!), loads of rain, Wimbledon, Glastonbury, my boyfriend’s birthday and the resulting Nutella and Cinnamon Cake I baked.

 

How was June for you?

 

In the sixth grade, we got a new teacher called Ms Ann. She was a blonde, blue-eyed Scot with a strong Glaswegian accent (despite having lived in Greece for over 10 years). The very first morning she walked in and asked us to stand up and greet her with “Good morning, Ms Ann.” She would then glance at all twelve of us and reply, “Good morning, Class.” And that was how it was from that day till the following June.

Sixth grade was like being transported to some parallel universe of a rose-tinted childhood in an Enid Blyton book. Every morning consisted of answering rapid-fire multiplication table questions until you were the last one standing, and once a week we were given a new poem to learn and recite. Oh how we ravaged “A Red, Red Rose” (As fair art thou, my bony ass) and it wasn’t until a year later in the seventh grade when I fully comprehended Emily Bronte’s “Fall, leaves, fall”.

Looking back, it seems quaint and a bit twee to be standing up by our desks reciting poetry that we didn’t fully understand, repeating sounds and syllables rather than words and meaning. But those memories and the poems (!) have remained twenty years later (oh how Ms Ann would fume at using “but” in the beginning of a sentence).

1.  In her (very short) blog post, Susan Orlean contemplates on why computers and Google could never replace the human touch in helping us understand our history and our past.

 

2.  Last week I wrote how good city planning resulted in healthier and happier residents. In the same week a study revealed that city dwellers have a higher incidence of anxiety and mood disorders than those who live in a rural setting. The research involved brain scanning volunteers who lived in a range of locations while they performed difficult mathematical calculations designed to make them feel anxious. The results showed that urban participants had a more over-active amygdala (the part of the brain that senses danger) and cingulate cortex (active in emotional and cognitive tasks).

In a nutshell, the urban environment causes our amydalas to be over-stimulated which results in a higher rate of mental disorders. What are all these stress factors that are over-stimulating our systems? It could be noise, perceived levels of threat or over-crowding. So again, even more reason to have good, informed city planning that doesn’t only involve planning permission for that back extension.

 

3.  Mademoiselle Soleil de Juin (the fashionably late socialite you may know as the sun in June) finally made her entrance over the weekend (hurray). I was never in doubt that she would appear and as such already had my sun hat and sunscreen at the ready.

Despite the education and awareness of the dangers of too much sun, every year I still see painfully red skin abound framed by the inevitable white strap lines. A bit of sunlight taken sensibly is good for us, as the vitamin D gets absorbed into our systems but you still need to take precautions. This article is a nice, short way to refresh your memory on UVB and UVA and sunscreen, and finally answers that question: Is SPF 50 any better than SPF 30?


4.  In this month’s Prevention (US edition) there is an article that articulates neatly why acupuncture (and Chinese medicine) works. It also lists the health problems acupuncture is best for which include digestive issues, hot flashes, stress, anxiety, depression and the side effects of chemotherapy as well as the most famous one of all: pain.

 

5.  One of the great things about Chinese medicine is the emphasis on flexibility, the ability to mould and change for the seasons in the year and in our lives. It’s this constant changing that helps shape and strengthen our beliefs and personalities; how boring would we all be if we were exactly the same as our 16-year-old selves. This brilliant performance, available as usual on the wonderful Youtube, shows that no matter how different we think things are, there are actually quite a whole lot of things that are more similar than we think.

 

Photo credit: Nana B Agyei via flickr

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Grand slam your way to a sunny summer

Feet_in_park

 

First of all, I would like to personally apologize to everyone in London (and probably the entire southeast of England) who had looked forward to a nice lovely June (we did have a really brilliant May after all). This current bout of indecisive weather (all four seasons rolled into one day for those of you not fortunate enough to experience the schizophrenic climate) is actually my fault. Last weekend I got slightly delirious from the warmth and sun and bought a pair of light-coloured brogues, perfect for the summer. Which we might not get to experience now. Again, my apologies.

 

(If we do happen to see the sun for more than three consecutive hours, I would just like to say: I always had faith in you June, that’s why I got the brogues!)

 

So how is June panning out for you so far?

 

It’s funny to think that your perception of things really does change as you get older (and wiser). Growing up, the last day of school was always around June 15 (I remember this because Mike-in-my-class’s birthday was always the day after, bless him). For me, the beginning of summer vacation was a mix of exhilaration (yeah, I can sleep in till 9am!) and uneasiness (boredom is a lot more daunting when you have almost three months of long, hot Greek summers ahead and the school library closes in July).

 

But as children, weren’t we all amazingly bendy and flexible in our attitudes and games? Within five days I would’ve finished all the books allocated for the summer (only to be reread a few more times over during the following weeks). Thereafter the summer was what we made of it: long walks into the depths of Panorama (before they built all the houses) armed with only that bottle of ice tea we used to buy from the shop furthest away from the neighbourhood in the hopes it would stay cool for more than 10 minutes.

 

Childhood for me, was an incredibly free and rewarding time. My friends and I were allowed to let our imaginations go wild and having been fed books like “Bridge to Terabithia” during the school year, we had the whole of summer to invent our own world where the two stray dogs that always accompanied us on those walks weren’t just dogs, they were Apollo and Poseidon- there to protect us from harm.

 

The world today for many of us is a lot more complicated. There are many things whirring in our heads, what with all the caps we wear for the different roles in our lives. Use this time to remind yourself of what you love best and maybe, just take a step back and breathe. Sometimes we forget to do that, but it’s an awfully nice feeling to remember.

 

Photo credit: Jonatas Cunha via flickr

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Pointspace’s monthly roundup | May

May_flower

 

Greetings! Can you believe it’s mid-week already? Or more importantly (and scarily) can you believe it’s almost mid-year?? May has always had a nurturing feel to it: you have Mother’s Day; my dad’s birthday is in May; the name lends itself to many May Fairs and Fayres out there with their abundance of delicious cakes.

 

So what was interesting this month?

 

A few years ago I lost my voice for three days. It all started from a cough that just refused to go away; in fact they are the bane of my life. If my body was a castle (I know it should be my temple but the architect got the plans wrong) then I have a reasonably good defence against intruders. I have guardsmen placed strategically at the towers and walking along the fort walls to warn of any suspicious activity. Those who wish to enter must knock five times in rapid succession and then utter the password (cheesecake) whilst hopping on one foot. Then the drawbridge will be lowered, allowing them to cross the moat.

However the cheeky cough-bringers ignore all etiquette and protocol (so rude!) and bypass the drawbridge entirely, preferring to invade by coming through on stilts. They can still be stopped by shaving down the wooden stilts but of course this takes time, and sometimes a few sneaky cretins get through. Sometimes more than a few get in and have a wild party all at my expense and then make quite a fuss when I tell them it’s time to leave.

My strategy is to try to avoid getting a cough, or bringing out all my weapons as soon as I noticed the first signs of an itchy throat. But this particular cough just wouldn’t budge. It didn’t help that my part time waitressing job during university required speaking quite loudly and clearly in a lively atmosphere that included having a live opera singer (oh how my ears suffered, they would still be ringing the next day in a much more subdued ethics lecture). I would find myself shaken violently with horrible coughing fits. My chest hurt, my throat hurt and my taste buds despised me for the awful Red-Bull flavoured (western) and bitter (herbal) cough syrup that I knocked back.

And then one day I woke up to find I had lost my voice. Actually it took quite a while to notice as I don’t tend to speak to myself in an empty flat, but imagine my surprise when I tried to answer the phone and nothing, not even a squeak, came out.

This lasted for three days during which time I couldn’t participate in any conversations. Lounging comfortably on the couch lost its appeal as I couldn’t ask for certain things to be brought to me (I was still sick, remember). Most annoyingly of all was losing my expression. Things just aren’t spontaneous when you have to scribble something down in shorthand on the back of an envelope.

1.  Now imagine if this loss is more permanent, would you be able to deal with it? In this evocative essay from this month’s Vanity Fair, writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens describes the loss of his voice due to cancer, and dying.


2.  An online survey of Nursing Times readers revealed a depressing snapshot of nurses’ health and wellbeing in spring 2011. Two-thirds of nurses have suffered from the side effects of work-related stress. What does this mean? There is a decrease in exercise and eating healthily, and an increase in drinking and smoking. How can the NHS survive if the skeleton of healthcare is unwell?

 

3. A study has shown that fat removed by liposuction comes back within a year, just in a different area. Liposuction is usually used to remove fat cells from the thighs, buttocks or abdomen so when the fat cells reappear, they tend to migrate to the stomach, shoulders and upper arms. This is due to the body having a strict attitude towards the number of fat cells it wants but liposuction destroys the fishnet structure under the skin where fat cells live. A depressing side note of this study is that even when the women in control group of the study were told of these results, more than half still wanted to have the procedure done.

 

4.  Many people still associate acupuncture with pain relief, and rightly so due to its effectiveness as an alternative option. However acupuncture can be beneficial for other symptoms and conditions. In my guest post for Dr Zak Han’s acupuncture blog, I talk about using acupuncture for nausea and vomiting.

 

5.  And finally, biologist Adam Cole’s lovely, folky Mother’s Day song. It is a bit late now, but it made this geek smile. Who says scientists can’t be creative?

 

Enjoy the bank holiday!

 

Photo credit: Greg Clarke via flickr

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Saying thank you is good for you.

Thank_you


Sunday just passed was Mother’s Day in many parts of the world (except the UK where mothers get their day of appreciation in March). I remember the numerous art projects I subjected my mother to throughout my elementary years. My proudest moment was presenting her with a papier mache apple, complete with stalk, painted ruby red and dotted with bright yellow spots (let’s not dwell on the significance of giving the woman who bore me an apple afflicted with measles).

 

Next month will be Father’s Day in all parts of the world (I’m quite sure everyone celebrates it in June), but experience tells me there will be slightly less furore over the third Sunday in June. Aside from the local pizza chains and other Italian eateries offering 2-for-1 meals to “make Dad happy” and supermarkets showcasing DVDS “that Dad would love” (Die Hard 3 anyone?) Father’s Day tends to be the slightly quieter cousin to the more popular Mother’s Day. I blame it on the fact that schoolchildren are given art projects every spring, but by the time June rolls around these same schoolchildren are preparing for the end of the school year- if they haven’t already embarked on a months-long summer vacation.

 

Despite not being really one for Hallmark holidays (Valentine’s Day just isn’t enough to excite me in a dreary, grey February) I think it’s sweet we get to be publicly reminded to thank our parents (why isn’t there Parents Day?). It’s true, without them none of us would be here so in a way we’re all celebrating ourselves as well. Sweet, I say.

 

Then yesterday I found out that in the US, May 9 is Lost Sock Memorial Day (I sincerely hope for just a minority of people). This got me wondering. I’ve heard of Teacher’s Day, Grandparents’ Day. Secretary’s Day, and Boss’s Day but why do these days exist?

 

The cynics will say, “Well it’s another way for companies to get consumers to buy more to mark a made-up, non traditional, secular event. Duh!” Yes, but why do people buy these cards to give to their children’s teachers or to their boss? Unlike Valentine’s Day where it may be relationship suicide not to acknowledge it (depending on your partner’s attitudes) these C-list occasions aren’t so mainstream that a person could feel guilty for not offering a token gift.

 

Everybody has a moment where they want to express thanks. Gratefulness and gratitude are emotions no one should be embarrassed about. Studies have suggested that being grateful is good for your health and wellbeing, by experiencing less depression and stress (or symptoms associated with it like headaches and stomach problems). A recent series of studies has shown that the recipient of your thanks can benefit as well. I say thank you to the little boy who held the door open for me at the juice bar; to the suited man who let me get off the train first; to the bespectacled lady handing me the receipt; to the Northern voice returning my call.

 

It’s quite easy to thank people in the general outside world, but what about the person educating your child, whose influence will significantly mould him/her in ways unfathomable? Or what about your colleague who shares the ups and downs of your working day, in ways your friends never could? Or your superior (at work, in religion) who you go to for advice and lectures you for your own good?

 

Imagine if all those cheesy card shop cards were just replaced with a nice scripted “thank you”.

Thank you for putting me through college.

Thank you for using your spare time to help me build that website.

Thank you for being so supportive while I chase our dream.

Thank you for emailing me that Youtube link because you know I like silly cats.

Thank you for reading this.

 

And thank you for never making me celebrate Lost Sock Memorial Day.

 

Photo credit: Nate Grigg via flickr

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Pointspace’s Monthly Round-Up | April

April_flowers_small

 

Time is certainly flying by, it seems like just the other day when we were celebrating a friend’s birthday (yes he is an almost-April-Fool’s-baby). For me, April has been a strange month, akin to summer vacation when I was still in school, what with the clear blue skies, heavily scented wisterias, Easter and bank holidays. Now with the Royal Wedding fast approaching, it remains to be seen just how many street parties there will be.

 

What else has caught my eye this month?

 

When I was 14, I was almost run over by a car. Back in those days, as it still is now, the number 58 was the only bus that went from the foot of the mountain where my school was up to Panorama where I lived. Walking, I had it timed at 20 minutes downhill and a much longer 45 minutes uphill, walking along winding roads on the numerous occasions the sidewalks disappeared and crazed (so they seemed to me) Alsatians barked from behind gated compounds. By car, providing there was no traffic it only took 10 minutes; with the bus it took slightly longer as it struggled to change gears up that incline (that was the older generation of buses, the new ones didn’t seem to find it such a struggle last time I took that route).

There was no real bus schedule that I could remember, the bus just seemed to come when it did, sometimes every 30 minutes or sometimes within 10 minutes of the previous one. So when the bus was spotted in the distance, us school kids always made a run for it. Getting from the school gates to my bus stop involved crossing over a wide road that was theoretically 2 lanes, but was more like four lanes for traffic to turn off and into the school. That day near the end of the school year, as I ran across the road and into the paths of cars, time stood slowed down. I was still in motion but everything around me slowed down to a turtle’s pace, allowing me to outrun all the cars and most importantly, the bus. At the bus stop, my classmate who had witnessed the whole scene was in shock at seeing me unscathed. I don’t remember being in any particular danger but he assured me I was “this close to being knocked down”.

1.  In this wonderful article from the New Yorker, Burkhard Bilger profiles David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who studies the mysteries of time and the brain. His own experience from falling off a roof as a boy has prompted him to ask “can fear slow time?”.

 

2.  In the Guardian, Frank Swain pondered the links between changes in human behaviour and parasitic infections. News of the voodoo wasps which appeared to have had their bodies inhabited by parasites that controlled their actions and ultimately causing them to self-destruct is fascinating in a macabre sort of way. Now research is showing that zombie-like infections, while not exactly making us the walking dead just yet, are not only possible in humans but are actually occurring.

 

3.  Jennifer Dubowsky is an acupuncturist in Chicago (with the delectable moniker of tcm007). Here she writes about acupuncture and back pain in simple layman terms, going through the causes of back pain and what happens during a typical treatment.

 

4.  From back pain to the face. When London Beauty Queen came to have a cosmetic facial acupuncture treatment with me, she didn’t know what to expect. Read about her experience from the point of view of a first-timer.


5.  And finally, something heart-warming. I used to associate flash mobs with mobile commercials and I don’t know what is different about this, I suspect it’s the song or the fact it’s the first flash mob I’ve seen that involves children, but you can’t help smiling.

 

I hope you’ve all had a great month, and are all geared up for May.

 

Photo credit: Bamshad Houshyani via flickr

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Health and Wellbeing | Give your mind and body a clean this spring.

Rainbow_kite2

 

This week marked the beginning of Lent for Christian denominations with Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Tuesdays as it is better known in some households) and Ash Wednesday. In Greece it marked with Clean Monday, a public holiday, that often signals the beginning of spring.

 

Lets go fly a kite…

 

Although it has its footing in the Greek Orthodox calendar, Clean Monday brings to mind more of a sense of spring, a new beginning. Perhaps because the word “clean” is in its title, and some people do have a bout of spring cleaning, but Clean Monday is often celebrated with outdoor excursions and picnics. My childhood memories consist of innumerable attempts at flying ridiculously heavy hexagonal kites. Perhaps my father and I just never tapped into our special kiting talents, but invariably our kite would never stay in the air for more than one minute.

 

But it was good wholesome fun that celebrated a sense of carefree living. For me, it was a day off school that I got to spend with my workaholic parents and eating delicious seafood. For the adults, I like to think it was a day they could remove themselves from the stresses of work and life for just a few hours.

 

This year, the unseasonably cold snap means Clean Monday hasn’t been exactly spring-like in northern Greece. However it’s still a nice opportunity for everyone to spring-clean the cobwebs from our heads, the clutter from our shelves and add some colour into our minds.

 

Go fly a kite.

 

Do you have an annual body-and-mind spring clean?

 

Photo credit: djsosumi via flickr

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