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Yoga and Ramadan

Are Yoga and Fasting a Match Made in Heaven?

Dina Ghandour says yes.

As we continue in the month of introspection and self-restraint, we’d be remiss not to explore the parallels between fasting and yoga. The former calls for both a strong mind and a strong body in order to endure 14-hour fasts, day after day, as temperatures inch towards 40ºC. The latter is a strength-based practice that has been proven to enhance brain function – a 2017 study in International Psychogeriatrics journal revealed that two groups of participants over the age of 55 showed significant improvement in memory through Kundalini yoga and memory enhancement training respectively. However, only the group that practised Kundalini yoga showed significant improvement in executive functioning and depressive symptoms.

And then there’s the matter of food consumption – or lack thereof. Renowned yogi and Isha Foundation founder Sadhguru says the body and brain work best when one’s stomach is empty, advising a minimum of five hours between meals, which echoes the practice of fasting in Ramadan. “In the yogic system, we say there must be a minimum of six to eight hours between one meal and the next. If that is not possible, at least a five-hour gap is a must.” From a spiritual perspective, fasting can help improve focus, making meditation – a key component of yoga – easier, deeper, and more fulfilling. With that in mind, The Gaggler tapped yoga teacher and meditation instructor Dina Ghandour for her insights on this synergy. Here’s what she had to say.

Dina Ghandour yoga teacher

On the Correlation Between Yoga and Ramadan

“The correlation became much clearer to me as I became a more seasoned practitioner. You start to understand spirituality from a different perspective because you grow up with a certain idea of religion or faith, and then whether or not you stay connected to it is one thing. But if you get lost or are just going with it without knowing why, then you get into yoga and it’s like, ‘Oh, I get it now.’ It just puts all the puzzle pieces together and can help you better understand your faith. Ramadan, particularly, is a time of being quiet and more mindful, it’s more reverent and restrained in some ways –that’s why it’s such a perfect backdrop. It’s the perfect environment if you’re hoping to deepen your spiritual practice.”

On the Type of Yoga Best Suited to Ramadan

“Traditionally, yoga was taught as this whole science with a spiritual side, and it would be good to seek out a method that helps you move deeper into that space if you’re trying to deepen your spirituality this month. And maybe that’s just a meditation practice? Maybe it’s not yoga? You could simply meditate for a couple of minutes or half an hour every day. And if you want to incorporate the physical aspect, you can complement the introspective period with something a little bit slower, something restorative.

The style I teach is called Jivamukti, and the reason I love it is because it’s one of the first styles that specifically integrates the aspects of yoga that’ve been stripped away in favour of being hip and modern back into a classroom setting. Each of my classes has a spiritual teaching, and there’s always a meditation at the end. The bulk of it is still like a typical yoga class, we’re still flowing and moving to music in an uplifting environment. But it’s grounded in the spiritual side, which is one of the reasons I came to it.”

On the Best Asanas If You’re Fasting

“If you’re fasting, then opt for something a little slower, like restorative yoga. Yin yoga can actually be quite intense because you’re holding a pose deeply and the stretch can be quite intense. Restorative yoga, in contrast, is much softer – you’re supported by all these bolsters and sort of floating in air. As for specific asanas, twists and folds are really nice because they aid the digestion area of the body. Every time we twist, we’re sort of gently massaging the organs. There are so many different kinds of twists – standing twists and seated twists and lying down twists – and they all give the digestive system a little bit of extra support while it’s trying to break down food after not having eaten for a long time. Folds, meanwhile, are very calming.”

Watch The Video: In Practice with Dina Ghandour

On the Best Time of Day to Practise Yoga

“It’s always best practise on an empty stomach, so first thing in the morning is good, depending on how early you had suhoor and when you wake up. If you’ve had enough time to digest it, then that could be a really nice option. And if the session isn’t too draining, it will offer a little boost to energise you for the rest of the day. And then right before iftar is also great because you expend that last bit of energy through movement, knowing you’re going to be rehydrated soon.

The other really good thing about doing it before iftar is getting the body in that rest-relax-heal state, which happens with a practice that’s not too rigorous. We’re now learning that a couple of deep breaths before you start eating can help solve any digestive issues, and it’s sort of the same thing. We have this big nerve called the vagus nerve and, by taking a couple of deep breaths, we stimulate it. We give the body permission to rest a little. A lot of digestive issues stem from living in a state of high stress, so feeling rested and zen after yoga will help the body digest a big iftar afterwards.”

On How Meditation Fits Into the Picture

“Meditation is a tool that helps people move deeper into that space of awareness, so it can be really nice if people are used to praying – they can add it before or after their prayers, perhaps. They can use it like an affirmation or intention for whatever kind of behaviour they’re trying to omit or incorporate during the month of Ramadan. Meditation is a great way for people to slow down and move inward even deeper. I know Ramadan is a celebratory month, but if someone is not as interested in its social aspects, they’re likely to see meditation from a different perspective when they have that kind of a grounding.”

On Misconceptions Around Yoga in the Middle East

“It’s such a melting pot here in Dubai, so I haven’t dealt with a lot of negative stereotypes, but I know some think the chanting is strange. It feels a bit too cult-y for a lot of people because they’ve moved away from religion. And then there are people who are religious and therefore uncomfortable chanting something they don’t understand, something they assume is about other gods. That’s why it’s very important for me, as a teacher, to explain that chanting is about creating steadiness of the mind. It’s crucial that teachers share correct information and dispel these myths. It takes time, but people get into it. I was like that before I eventually started singing my heart out! Educating people and making them feel welcome – not intimidated – is key.”

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woman doubting herself

Self-Sabotage: 5 Easy Steps to Avoid the Pitfalls

Stop being your own worst enemy already.

Have you ever had one of those days that has possibly turned into months where you have a feeling of “I just can’t be bothered”? Or perhaps you have found yourself saying, “I just want to enjoy my life” whilst you gulp down that glass of bubbly with a handful of Godiva chocolates. 

A few weeks or months go by, and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. “How have I let myself get to this point?” you ask yourself. “Why do I end up having too many drinks?” “Why did I eat my way through that entire box of chocolates?”

The negative talk creeps in, and you start beating yourself up about your appearance. It’s a vicious cycle. The more you begin to dislike what you see, the more junk you eat and the less you exercise. Excuses creep in, and whilst there may be some good intentions, the whole “I’ll start my exercise and food plan tomorrow” never actually happens.  

woman smiling and loving herself

I get it. I’m a Personal Trainer, I’m a Women’s Wellness Coach, and I have a degree in psychology – yet I still have these battles, too. Want to know a secret? Most of us do! Social media doesn’t help us all that much, either. There is money to be made in having us feel down about ourselves. Social media gets pumped full of fit, sexy people (who, by the way, aren’t without their battles!), and we end up comparing ourselves to them. 

I’m here to tell you to STOP! Stop comparing yourself with others. You are you. There is no one else like you. You are unique and fabulous just the way you are. However, let me also be blunt and get to the point: if you are down on yourself, eating junk, not exercising, or beating yourself up with negative thoughts and comments, this vicious circle is your own doing. The self-sabotage is on you. Perhaps it sounds harsh? But in all honesty, you are the only one responsible for yourself. You are the only one that can stop the sabotage and choose a new direction. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Now, let’s focus on some easy steps to help you on your way:

happy spreading her arms

Step 1: Love Yourself

Self-sabotage will come from a deep place. That place is generally because we are not connected with ourselves. We do not think we are good enough the way we are. Or we feel unloved by others. When the truth is, we need to love ourselves first. Find some qualities about yourself that you really love. And if love is a stretch, find qualities that you like about yourself. 

Each morning, when you wake up, remind yourself of these qualities. “I have a beautiful smile, and I’m going to do my best to wear it all day.” “I have luscious curves, and that is sexy!” Small affirmations of love to yourself help build your confidence. When you start believing in these, you will find that others will too. And as you begin to feel that confidence build, you are less likely to reach for that extra chocolate too! 

Step 2: Make a Plan

By ‘plan’, I don’t mean an eating plan. I mean make a plan for the week scheduling in time for you – exercise, cooking nutritious meals, things you like to nourish yourself (massage/facial/coffee with friends). Hold yourself to that plan. You are the one who is responsible and accountable, remember!

woman sitting and eating

Step 3: Small Steps Lead to Big Changes

As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – and neither is a fit and healthy body and mind. It takes daily, small, consistent steps towards a better you. Set a goal to work towards it. I like to set 90-day goals and work backwards from there. Break it into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks to achieve success.

If you miss a day, don’t be too harsh on yourself. The negative self-talk is a big thing we want to try and negate. Acknowledge that it didn’t happen for whatever reason – speak truthfully to yourself. Reset and get back to it the next day. No rulebook says you cannot skip a day or reset any time. 

Step 4: Scrap the All-Or-Nothing Approach

Jumping all in has proven to fail numerous times, not only for myself, but also many of my clients who have attempted the “all or nothing” approach. With this approach, actions are seen as ALL good or ALL bad. Another news flash: life just isn’t like that. There is a lot of “in-between”. When you limit yourself to all or nothing, you set yourself up for failure because it often means that anything less than perfection is a failure. 

It is an unhealthy thought process that only triggers the vicious circle more. Many people who take this approach often end up in a yo-yo effect and are left wondering if it was ever worth going cold turkey. Ultimately, you want an approach where moderation is key. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, and get your time in. Taking the moderation approach translates to small steps, the in-between. 

woman meditating

Step 5: Who Says You Can’t Hit the Reset Button

I was on a coaching webinar with the coaching school I study through (International Coaching Institute Australia) when one of the mentors said, “Where is the rulebook that says ‘you can’t start again’?” At that moment, a light bulb moment occurred. I am my rulebook – just as you are for your life. 

That means you get to hit the delete button, and you get to hit the reset button whenever you need or want to. So if you wobble off course, don’t beat yourself up about it. The biggest gift you can give yourself is your awareness. Because with awareness, you then have a choice. With choice you can (if you want to) reset. Go on, give it a go. 

Takeaways

These little tips will help you find balance and harmony within yourself. The more you are consistent, the better the results you will see. So what are you waiting for? You have today, and you have now – this very moment in time to make a choice. Just like before, the choice is yours and will always be yours. 

Sharee Hendry is a women’s confidence coach and personal trainer with FitnessGuru. Visit @sh_theconfidencecoach for more information.

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hands coming from water with fire

What Breast Cancer Survivors Want You to Know

Three survivors, three truly inspiring success stories.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues, it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge the human side of this disease. In the past, we’ve shared an at-home health check recommended by a leading gynecologist and spoken to a variety of experts about what causes cancer and what you can do to prevent it – but we’ve saved the best for last. Here, we speak with three breast cancer survivors who have gone on to inspire those around them in their own unique ways. Here are their stories.

Anisha Oberoi, Entrepreneur

A girl given smiling pose

“I was very young when it happened to me, so I’m very bullish about creating a supportive community.”

For clean beauty junkies across the region, the name Anisha Oberoi needs no introduction. For others, here’s a brief one. The Indian entrepreneur founded Secret Skin in February 2020 with a commitment to carrying brands that are ethically sourced, responsibly curated, and cruelty-free – Rahua and Grown Alchemist included. As for what prompted the birth of this sustainable beauty platform? Anisha fought breast cancer back in 2010 and experienced firsthand just how challenging it can be to find clean beauty brands, especially as the combination of chemotherapy and heavy medication shattered her self-esteem. “I had to relook at everything, including what I considered were standards of my beauty – my hair, my lashes, my brows, everything fell, so I had to look in the mirror and accept who I was. I had to look at that girl in the mirror and say, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ That’s something I wish I knew back then.”

While the rollercoaster of emotions between diagnosis and recovery can’t be easy to articulate, Anisha does so beautifully. “I said my life cannot be all about this, so I looked out with childlike wonder, like a kid at a windowpane. I asked, ‘What else is the world going to bring me?’ And I wish I knew back then that it was going to be incredible because I wouldn’t have been so scared.” She says that while stubbornness, the will to stay alive, and her dream to pursue an MBA at INSEAD collectively kept her going, the reactions to her resilience brought with them moments of impostor syndrome. “At one point, you feel impotent and ugly, with steroids fattening you up. And you’re having issues with your digestive system and your drainage, and you’re unable to imagine anything different. It defeats your spirit.” Anisha recalls needing her doctor’s permission to join friends headed to a wedding in Jaipur by bus after her third round of chemotherapy and, in case you’re wondering, she was the last one on the dance floor. 

“My head was shorn, I was wearing a sari, and I was living life. But I couldn’t always be that shiny beacon of light because there would be times that I’d feel defeated and my pillow case would be covered in night sweats and I wouldn’t be able to eat because anything could trigger an infection. I remember feeling useless and incomplete. I felt my life had been cut short.” Today, as Anisha is 12 years into remission and celebrating the second anniversary of Secret Skin, she has a few observations when it comes to the region’s interest in all things clean beauty. “Other parts of the world, like the UK and the US, are a lot more evolved because their journey with clean beauty started a lot longer ago, which is a bit ironic because no one spends more on personal care and beauty than this region. What’s more, about 67% of people who shop are millennials and they’re living online, so I’m a bit surprised that the movement arrived late. I’m also glad because it makes us the first mover.”

Anisha says finding toxin-free products when she moved to Dubai three and half years ago came with challenges – exorbitant shipping charges and customs duties included. “With everything coming back to global footprint, I felt there was a huge opportunity here. The customer today is becoming smarter with regard to what goes into their products, and the pandemic has only accelerated the emphasis on clean living. More people are engaging in skincare rituals rather than makeup, so it was the right time for us to launch Secret Skin.” The ambitious entrepreneur admits that she struggles to slow down, describing this past one year as equal parts rewarding and terrifying. “I force myself to take breaks. It’s really important for my mental health because that aspect has suffered since I’m a new entrepreneur. I’m a personality type that always needs to keep the action going, and this was very prevalent when I was sick – well-meaning relatives kept telling me that I should take a step back, relax, and not pursue the ambitious career that I’ve always envisioned.”

But Anisha did exactly the opposite almost immediately post-recovery – she headed to a prestigious business school, moved countries, and accepted a job as one of the founding members of Amazon Fashion India. “It gave me wings. It was the biggest job I’d ever had, it anchored my resume, and it taught me everything I know that has enabled me to run Secret Skin the way we do.” Considering Anisha is both a survivor and savvy businesswoman, I can’t help but gauge her opinion of pinkwashing, a marketing tactic that admittedly irks me to no end. While I respect the role played by private entities in fundraising efforts, do we really need candles, cupcakes, and yoghurt containers in varying shades of Barbie pink? Anisha concurs.

“To be honest, I do know that come October, everybody will want to slap a pink ribbon everywhere. I think the intention is right, but you can’t do anything with good intentions unless you actually put something in motion. It’s great that you see it everywhere, but it’s so overused that it loses its credibility if not done right. And it’s not just a matter of it being done right – it’s also a matter of what else you are doing to carry it forward, how many lives you are touching, and how many changes you have created.”

Maruf Azimov, Model

“Don’t waste time feeling ashamed in front of anyone because you deserve to be healthy.”

I’d be remiss words if I didn’t acknowledge that breast cancer affects the lives of both men and women worldwide all year round – not just in October. Yes, it is rare, but men can get breast cancer, contrary to popular belief. And while it is most common in older men, it can occur at any age – just ask Maruf. The model, brand ambassador, and winner of the Mr. Dubai 2019 title was only 24 when he was diagnosed. Today, he’s vocal not only about erasing the stigma around a man battling ‘a woman’s disease’, but also the importance of regular health check-ups. “There are people who can’t even grasp the concept of male breast cancer,” he says. “Yes, there were times I felt shy or ashamed, but it is on the rise – not just breast cancer, but cancer in general. That’s why my message is to just go for a check-up if something feels different in your body, whether you’re a man or a woman. Don’t waste time feeling ashamed in front of anyone because you deserve to be healthy. Check-ups are easy and affordable. The alternative isn’t.” 

Maruf is quick to admit that men are a lot less likely to seek professional help for things like depression and anxiety. He says that while his doctor did recommend speaking to a therapist, he chose to carry the burden all alone for four years. His reason? Family. “I was the only one in my family who was working at the time, and I just couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone – not my wife, not my parents. Besides, they’ve already given me everything and I didn’t want to see them suffer,” he explains. With Maruf deciding to tackle the illness on his own, a friend recommended that he move from his hometown of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to Dubai. “What’s worse is that an issue with my heart put my lump removal surgery on hold. Of course, I felt scared, but I worked on being happy for the sake of my family,” he says. With the encouragement of his doctor, Maruf channelled all his efforts towards his mindset, focusing on his health by way of staying positive. “I would repeat the words, ‘You are not sick’ to myself. I started enjoying my life – this is crucial if you want to improve your mental health.”

Naturally, there were good days and bad days. He says that in the absence of conventional approaches like therapy, spirituality got him through his darkest moments, reinforcing the countless studies concluding that spirituality and mental health are interconnected. “I still remember those early days, when I first moved to Dubai. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I was working as a salesman during the day, and a security guard at night. I’d go to chemotherapy and check-ups between the two. It wasn’t easy. I’d survive on bread, tea, and instant soup. But the best doctor is God. I would sit at home, saying prayer after prayer, sharing all my problems with God. ‘I want to buy my father a car so he can work as a taxi driver and I want to help my two sisters get married, so please don’t take my life right now,’ I’d beg. And you know what? I managed to do it all and I’m here. I’m alive. So much good has happened because I believed,” he says, visibly emotional.

Today, a mere glance at his Instagram account speaks volumes of how far he has risen from his humble beginnings. In an industry fixated on physical perfection, Maruf has had to work much harder than his peers as a result of the fatigue, exhaustion, and weight loss that comes with battling cancer, but does so to set an example for his children. “My doctor thought I was crazy for going to the gym during chemotherapy, but I wanted to show my kids that their father is strong. I get that from my father. He has always been the strongest male presence in my life.” With over 316,000 followers on Instagram, Maruf is not immune to the occasional internet troll, but says that he posts photos of his physique to inspire others. “I’m not just flaunting my body. I’m encouraging others to fight harder, to fight for their lives. If I can do it after all that medication and all those treatments, anyone can.”

In retrospect, Maruf says he wouldn’t do anything differently when it comes to protecting his family members from his pain. “This disease is not like the others – it’s not like a broken foot. A small lump in the chest isn’t visible, so it’s not something your family will initially understand. My advice? Talk to yourself first. Tell yourself that you can do it, and everything will be okay. It’s the smiles of your family members that will get you through any hardship. You can tell them once you’ve started treatment and need their support, but why upset them from the very beginning? In fact, I didn’t even feel any pain until much later. I was told at my very first check-up that I had reached stage 2,” he recalls. 

Selfless, family-oriented, and utterly devoted to his wife and three children, Maruf has a message for the caregivers of a male breast cancer patient – and it’s one that is echoed by others. “Don’t treat your loved one like a sick person,” he suggests. “Show them the same love and care as you would under normal circumstances.” He reveals that it was a long four-year period until he was allowed to undergo surgery in Uzbekistan and, this time around, he confided in his wife. Maruf was actually debating how to tell his mother about the severity of his condition, considering he didn’t receive his results for nearly a month. “All I kept thinking was, ‘How can I tell my mom if there’s no change? How do I tell a mother that her son may die?’ I felt I had to mentally prepare her for the worst.” That’s when his doctor called to give him the all-clear: “My boy, you are a winner.”

Tina Chagoury, Nutrition Consultant

A woman sitting alone and thinking

“You don’t know what tomorrow holds, so follow your intuition and balance will set on its own.”

The phrase ‘timing is everything’ comes to mind with speaking with Tina Chagoury. At a time when the world went into lockdown – i.e. panic mode – the multihyphenate was starting to celebrate a new lease on life. A nutrition consultant, a health behaviour educator, and a regular presence in local media, Tina was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2019, when she was on holiday in her native country of Lebanon. It goes without saying that the rest of the year brought with it countless challenges. Not only did she have to relocate herself and her two children to Beirut because of her treatment, but the October 2019 revolution also made getting to chemotherapy that much harder. “The roads were closed, there were ongoing riots,everything was a mess. The journey to the hospital usually takes 30 minutes, but we would leave two hours in advance,” she describes. Schools across Beirut also closed as a result of the revolution, forcing Tina to arrange remote learning – months before it became the ‘new normal’ for parents worldwide.

Fear and anxiety aside, Tina recalls feeling a deep sense of missing out. “In the deepest corners of my mind, there was a recurring thought: I’m missing out on my career. My field is rooted in ongoing learning, so if you’re off for a couple of months, you have to go back and do the training, apply for more CMEs, update your license. But then I’d remind myself to be patient. I’d tell myself everything will go back to the way it was.” As 2020 began, she gradually began planning for the year ahead – returning to a routine in Dubai and enrolling the kids in school again. And then coronavirus happened. As someone who was travelling back and forth between Beirut and Dubai, Tina was repeatedly advised to wear a mask as her immunity was still low post-chemotherapy, but she resisted. “On paper, my immunity looked fine. And with a bald head, no eyelashes, and no eyebrows, the last thing I wanted was one more thing that will make me stand out in a crowd.”

A complete lockdown was announced as Tina had two last rounds of radiotherapy left and distinctly remembers the surreal sight of an empty Sheikh Zayed Road. The unprecedented situation, she says, brought it with a sense of relief. “It felt like the stars were lining up because I wasn’t the only one missing out on life – no one was doing anything. I was happy because not only did I get to spend more time with the kids at home without the distractions of extracurricular activities, but it also gave me a chance to recharge. I was still recovering and very physically weak. Everyone around me was panicking, but I realised that it was a blessing for me. I actually felt very peaceful at the time. We were worried about the situation, of course, but I took that time to heal, to regain a bit of my health before returning to work in July.” Today, Tina is an adjunct instructor at Abu Dhabi University and sees clients at multiple clinics across Dubai. Considering she’s a licensed clinical dietician with over 20 years of experience, I can’t help but ask what has changed in terms of her approach to health and nutrition now that she’s in remission.

Interestingly, a period of retrospection has brought with it one big revelation. Besides changing her stance on supplements, she says it’s her approach to fitness that has shifted drastically. “Because of how I was taught, I believed that supplements were only needed in the case of a deficiency, but research made me realise their importance for optimal health. I still eat the way I used to, but I now know that I was overexerting my body,” she says. Tina reveals that she used to be an avid devotee of bikram yoga, practising it several times a week. “It was an addiction, but I noticed something during the last few months before my diagnosis: I was feeling more tired than usual during my sessions. Hot yoga is very hardcore and, even though I’d been practising yoga for 10 years at that point, I would leave midway through my sessions because of exhaustion. I was also doing HIIT three times a week. We all know how important exercise is, but what I’ve learnt is that over-exercising is incredibly inflammatory for women.” Her advice? Everything in moderation – exercise included.

Mental health, meanwhile, is high on Tina’s list of priorities, her sentiments towards faith echoing those of Maruf. “Everyone has a different approach to self-care, especially when post-traumatic stress strikes. I’m a very spiritual person and prayer has played a big role in my life, both during and after treatment. Also, your perspective changes when you come close to the idea of death. I end up depressed if I let myself think about the possibility of recurrence, and snap myself out of it by thinking, ‘I am alive and I am well. I am here today.’ That alone is a huge gift.” Tina looks back on the days in Beirut, when simply watching Netflix with her husband was all she wanted. “It might sound cliché, but when something like this happens, you live for those little things.” Tina admits that sporadic anxiety is inevitable and, at such moments, her self-talk is about not wasting the ‘now’ by making assumptions. “I wasted so much time worrying about the silliest things before my diagnosis,” she explains, encouraging everyone to have a plan and pursue what they’ve always wanted. “You don’t know what tomorrow holds, so follow your intuition and balance will set on its own.”

Another nugget of wisdom? Tina’s advice to the caregivers out there. “You should know that just your presence is valuable, it’s all she needs. You don’t need to go over and above, especially since you don’t want to make her feel any less capable.” She says caregivers often forget something important: “Yes, she might be physically and psychologically weaker, but mentally, she is still the same. She can handle her home, she can make family decisions. And unless she’s unwell because of the treatment, don’t make her feel like her life is on hold. There’s nothing more frustrating to a mother than to be told, ‘We’ll take care of your children, you just take care of yourself.’ Taking care of my children is a part of taking care of myself,” she asserts. Instead, Tina recommends simply being there, cracking jokes, baking a cake for the kids, or gifting something she’d like. “I met other women during treatment who felt the same way. ‘Come on, lock me into my room and run my life,’ we’d laugh. I may not have eyelashes or eyebrows, but I’m still the same person. We knew that it comes from a good place, though.”

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Breastfeeding Tips for Beginners

8 Breastfeeding Tips Every Beginner Should Know

According to a lactation consultant extraordinaire.

While breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally, especially in the early days, most mothers assume they’re supposed to know exactly what to do from the get-go – and inevitably feel like a failure when things go wrong. But nursing a baby is no easy feat, especially if you’re new to it, and that’s where lactation consultants come in. 

Specialising in the clinical management of breastfeeding, these health professionals are on hand to help with everything from sore nipples and diminishing milk supply to finding an optimal breastfeeding position for you. We tapped one such professional whose experience and expertise awaits at King’s College Hospital in Dubai: Dr Sabeen Adil. Certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, she has been working in the field of lactation for the last 12 years and is deeply passionate about supporting families – not just new mothers – through the breastfeeding journey. Here, she shares eight things about breastfeeding that every beginner should know.

1. The onus is not just on the mother.

“Mothers should know that breastfeeding is not just their job. It will work only if everyone around her – her family, her doctors, her support system – comes together and supports breastfeeding. Only then it can work. Many times, the mother has not made any mistakes, but she did not get the support she needed from her paediatrician or her place of work, and that is why breastfeeding did not work out for her.”

Breastfeeding Tips Every Beginner Should Know

2. A little preparation is in order.

“It’s common for new mothers to think that they don’t have to do anything to prepare themselves for breastfeeding. In fact, I often encounter mothers who admit that they didn’t think it would be hard. I recommend that pregnant women seek help, seek information before the baby is born because you will need to know how to breastfeed soon enough. Take some time to get yourself properly educated because, many times, it’s actually breastfeeding that becomes the most difficult part of the whole process. Luckily, there’s so much more information online compared to a few years ago. And of course, a lactation consultant would be happy to give you antenatal breastfeeding classes.”

3. Milk supply and a mother’s diet aren’t correlated.

“Breastfeeding is a natural continuation of pregnancy; that’s the normal physiology. Pregnancy ends and breastfeeding begins, so take care of yourself – hydrating adequately and getting the right nutrition – just as you did while you were pregnant. This will ensure that your own well-being is in order. Breastfeeding problems happen when there’s an impediment in the transfer of milk from the mother’s body to the baby’s body. And while there’s no specific diet that a mother needs to follow, a reduction in milk production indicates that a problem has already arisen.”

4. Breastfeeding products aren’t necessary but can help.

“You don’t actually need anything to breastfeed, but there are things like nursing pillows and nursing bras that can help – this can change from situation to situation. Breast pumps do have some utility in different scenarios, especially for working mothers and mothers who want to gain some of their independence back. It is a great tool because not only can it help in situations where milk supply is low or there’s a problem with milk transfer, but you can also use it to bottle-feed your baby after a certain period. There are more specialised devices out there, but I would only recommend using them under the care of a lactation consultant.”

breastfeeding tips bottle

5. Persistent soreness is a sign that something is off.

“I usually recommend that a mother apply her own milk to the areas that are sore because it really helps – but we don’t want to assume that soreness is a normal thing that will always occur. Yes, you might feel sore in the first week or so of your breastfeeding journey, but if the soreness and pain persists beyond that, you need to see a lactation consultant and get it sorted. Something’s wrong if breastfeeding is hurting.”

6. Stress will negatively impact the lactation process.

“One very important aspect within the environment is the mother’s stress levels. Oxytocin, the hormone that causes milk ejection, will be released if she is relaxed. And it will not be released if her stress hormones are high. This is the physiology of breastfeeding, so it’s really important that she is comfortable, not in pain, not in a hurry, and not worried about anything. If we want breastfeeding to work well, we really need to support the mother – ensure that her pain is being managed, that she’s eating enough. I always recommend you put on music or watch the next episode of your Netflix show while you’re breastfeeding so that you are relaxed and comfortable.”

7. A foolproof breastfeeding position doesn’t exist.

“There’s no one perfect position – I like saying that there are 360 ways a baby can latch on! As for my favourite position to teach? Breastfeeding while lying down. A mother can simply lie down and have the baby next to her. It’s a very comfortable position. Many, many women don’t know how to nurse in that position, and they’re surprised when I guide them on how to – it’s my favourite thing to teach new mothers.”

Breastfeeding Tips Every Beginner Should Know

8. Understanding newborn behaviour can help new parents.

“It’s normal for a baby to ask for milk again and again. It’s normal for a baby to not sleep long hours – no baby sleeps like a baby. That’s such an incorrect concept. Every baby’s breastfeeding pattern is different, and it’s not something you can clock or time. Another thing I remind new parents is that a newborn has only two things to do in life: sleeping or eating. This means when he or she is done sleeping, it’s most probably time to eat, so don’t wait for your baby to cry out of hunger – crying is actually a very late sign of hunger. A good time to initiate a breastfeeding session is the moment a baby is waking up and getting alert about their surroundings. A crying baby is agitated and really hungry, so getting into an organised state becomes very difficult. As adults, we lose our patience when we are hungry – it’s no different for babies.”

Contact the Dubai Hills or Dubai Marina branch of King’s College Hospital for a private consultation with Dr Sabeen Adil or follow her on @cuddlesdrsabeen for more information.

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Mother and Daughter taking

Raise Your Little Girl to Be a Queen – Here’s How

Empower her in a male-dominated world!

Empowerment is not a buzzword anymore, but an imperative notion for positive change, evolution, and equality. Society at large has always discriminated against girls, their likes, their lifestyles, and their basic rights. So how can we bring a monumental change in the way we raise our girls to turn them into the torchbearers of this generation? Now, with International Daughters Day on the horizon, I would like to highlight ways in which we can raise and empower every little girl to lead the way in the future. 

Teach Her to Voice Her Opinions and Decisions

Allowing girls to express their opinions is key to raising empowered young women. Let her know that her voice matters and say, “What are your thoughts? I want to hear what you have to say. How do you feel about this?” Letting them speak their mind is particularly important in making them feel included, heard, and accepted. At home, parents should allow their daughters to debate big topics – even if it gets heated – as it teaches them to be assertive and holds appropriate boundaries around disagreements. Long story short: listen more and dictate less.

Encourage Her to Pursue Her Passion

It is every individual’s fundamental right as a human being to pursue what they truly love and, as women, it becomes even more vital. It is often observed that girls don’t speak up for themselves when it comes to their career choices. Letting girls fully engage with an activity that they love will give them the opportunity to conquer and master any challenge. This will also boost her morale, build resilience and self-esteem, and affirm intrinsic values in her (rather than limiting her to just beauty and body). 

Identify the Core Values of Your Family

Just as charity begins at home, so does empowerment. Creating an environment for girls to hone their values, yet live life on their own terms, is vital. Consider the ways in which you can convey values, especially by example. Think about what traits and strengths you want her to develop, such as authenticity and integrity, and what everyday life moments you can use to model and demonstrate such family values. 

Create a Safe Space for Them  

It is our responsibility to create a safe environment where she can express herself uninhibitedly, and not restrain her feelings. Allowing girls to show their full range of emotions is important in making them feel respected. We also need to teach young girls that when they feel angry or upset, it’s a signal that something is important to them and they should express it. Thus, creating a safe space for girls to stand up for themselves is very important. Safety is also a feeling that most girls and women never fully feel in life. This makes it important to educate men to learn to respect and treat girls the right way, so that girls can feel safe and don’t always have their guard up. Creating an environment where women are not treated as objects, but seen as equal individuals, is crucial. 

Teach Her to Say ‘no’ Without Guilt 

From a very early age, we are conditioned as girls to take care of others and their needs first, and not prioritise ourselves in the process. This leads to faster burnout for women as compared to men. Thus, it becomes vital to teach our girls as kids to say no without feeling guilty or constantly feeling the need to please others.

Allow Her to Be Adventurous, Daring, and Fearless 

Urge your daughters, cousins, and every other girl to get out of her comfort zone by embracing her authentic self. Help her face the fears that make her feel incompetent and make her realise that there is more to her than she believes herself to be! Let her take risks, stumble, and find her way – that will help her embrace her true empowered version. 

Exercise Equality, Irrespective of Gender

Most girls have witnessed gender bias at least once in their household, which always leaves some form of a scar in their lives. If you have boys and girls in the same house, it’s important to treat them equally, be it when they are in the middle of an argument, fighting, shopping, or even in terms of love, care, and number of hugs. Children have a tendency to observe everything and adapt quickly to actions, behaviours, and words. Schools must also step up to treat boys and girls equally, encouraging them to play together – especially in sports as that’s where most girls feel they aren’t as tough and strong as boys. 

Be Inclusive and Body-Positive

A lot of girls and women worldwide struggle with body image issues. What if this could be eliminated by taking action in one’s early days? Passing mean comments on a girl’s body (even jokingly), looking at their bodies with disgust, pressuring them to lose weight, and warning them that they will have a hard time finding a suitable boy if they don’t can contribute to women’s body image issues. Unfortunately, this practice still happens in countless schools and homes today. 

Kids – and girls especially – are bound to self-sabotage, question their looks, and think that there’s something wrong with them. To change this, parents can be mindful of how they talk and feel about their own bodies. If a girl sees her mother avoiding certain foods because she wants to lose weight or groaning at the weighing scale, that can send a certain message. In contrast, using positive phrases, avoiding negative comparisons, being mindful of how they talk about themselves and their friends, and not unnecessarily restricting them from behaving a certain way will surely encourage them to unlock their girl power.

Set Healthy Boundaries 

Teach her to establish healthy boundaries for herself, be it personally or professionally. This will help her to not be taken for granted. Not only will it make her understand her own worth, but also teach her to treat others with respect and harmony. 

Lastly, Celebrate Her 

Women are creators themselves, and should be celebrated at every stage of life. They are symbolic of grace, abundance, feminine energy, love, joy, and so much more. Always upliftyour daughter to be independent, push her to become a fierce woman, teach her to become self-sufficient, and never limit herself to her beauty and body. Let’s give wings to her aspirations! 

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Making Amends: The Journey to Healing

Read on if you’re anxious about a quarrel with a loved one.

Have you ever been anxious about a quarrel with a friend, sibling, or spouse? We’ve all been there. There is always guilt, but at the time, your fury overtook you and caused you to say things you didn’t consciously mean, and you wish you could take them back. 

You can’t take back what you’ve said after you’ve said it. It keeps you thinking about how you could wreck your relationship with them, which takes you down the overthinking spiral. There appears to be no answer, but there is one that may improve your situation – but what is it? Making amends. It’s the only way to get over it. After what you said, you may feel embarrassed and even guilty about contacting them again, but it’s never too late. A sincere apology may even improve the bond between you and your loved one.

The first step is to admit to yourself that you made a mistake. Making amends after wrongdoing can only happen once you’ve admitted and accepted your role in the situation, as well as the pain you caused them and yourself. There is no need to continue reading this article if the acceptance is missing. Being mindful of your triggers and starting the healing with yourself will lead to making amends and asking for forgiveness.

As specialists have discovered, the hardest part of the healing journey is asking for forgiveness and forgiving oneself. On the other hand, the healing process begins the instant you recognise your mistake and start to resolve the cause of the trigger, and are eager to correct it. Stabilising your mental health and manifesting positive energy can be difficult, but it is not impossible. It all begins with you.

To “See Through Their Eyes”

We’ve all heard the advice to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes or see things through someone else’s eyes to understand a situation better. However, this may be difficult since everyone has their own narrative about a scenario, and it’s difficult to discard that narrative because there’s always a bias, which is difficult to overcome.

Nonetheless, this is a critical step that you must not overlook. Putting yourself in their shoes or seeing things through their eyes is imagining yourself in their circumstances and changing your perspective to see things from a different one. In this manner, you can comprehend why you did something wrong and hash it out with the person. Furthermore, you’ll be able to empathise with their suffering and give them and yourself time to heal before continuing your connection.

Communication Brings People Together

Communication is the second most important aspect of making amends. It solves 50% of the problems when they are done correctly. The goal of communication is to eliminate any potential for misunderstanding. This way, instead of expecting to hear what you like, you can truly and meaningfully ask the individual what you can do to improve things. 

Their response could be very different from what you expected, making you upset and enraged. To summarise, you must accept their response with an open mind. If you truly want to make amends, you must mentally prepare yourself to accept what they say while putting selfishness at bay.

Processing the Apology

Giving the other time to accept your apology and giving yourself time to accept is crucial. You can’t immediately apologise and expect everything to go back to normal; forgetting and erasing the negative from memory takes time, and moving on takes time. However, forgiveness and acceptance are the first steps toward regaining control of your thoughts and improving your mental health.

Making amends is a way to make peace with oneself and start healing. It’s important to remember that your apology should represent your selflessness – not your desire to re-establish the relationship, but rather to help the other person feel better and improve the situation. There’s a chance the individual won’t forgive you, but you should let it go and see this as an opportunity to grow.

Liberate Your True Self

You must keep on track and not stray. Your apology aims to restore the other person’s faith in humanity and apologise for the actions you have shown honestly. It reflects your true self and allows the other person to comprehend your objectives better. If they don’t accept the apology, it doesn’t mean you’re abandoning the original goal – whether the individual forgives you or not, you should stick to your words. Making mistakes is inevitable in life, but failing to acknowledge them causes your character to deteriorate.

Asking for forgiveness is a healing process that can help you regain control of your life and mind as well as improve your perception of things. It should be a selfless deed to cure yourself and the person you have offended. It’s okay if you accidentally hurt someone and learn from it during your self-love journey. In contrast, what is not okay is being mindless about it. However, you are selfish if you purposely harm another person to benefit yourself. There’s a fine line between self-love and selfishness, and it’s up to you to draw it.

The Perfect Present

Researchers, mental health experts, religious leaders, and those in the recovery community all agree that acknowledging our triggers, healing our triggers and mistakes, expressing regret, and doing what we can to make things right may lead to immense benefit. Forgiveness is critical to the healing process because it allows you to let go of your anger, guilt, shame, grief, or any other negative emotion and move on.

Once you’ve identified what you’re experiencing, given it a voice, and realised that mistakes are unavoidable, you can go on. You’ll realise how liberating and forgiving it can be. Researchers have concluded that self-forgiveness is a “morally problematic area” and that “individuals may, at times, believe that they deserve to continue paying for their wrongs”, but they might be able to “tilt the scales of justice” if they make amends.

Aditi Vijay Chandani is a mental health coach in Dubai. Visit @therapywith_aditivc for more information.

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Guide to Alzheimer's Disease

Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s Disease?

Let the experts guide you.

Today marks World Alzheimer’s Day, annually uniting people worldwide to raise awareness and challenge the stigma that persists around Alzheimer’s disease and all types of dementia – many still wrongly believe that dementia is a normal part of ageing, according to the World Alzheimer Report 2019. As for the unsung heroes in this picture? The caregivers who take on the burden of creating a safe living space and helping their loved ones with everyday tasks, inevitably experiencing stress in the process.

It’s the early days of caregiving that are arguably most overwhelming, which is why we tapped not one, but two experts from Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health for their insights. Dr Lucille Carriere (LC) is Clinical Health Psychologist, while Dr Jennifer Pauldurai (JP) is a Behavioural Neurology Fellow. Collectively, they address the key aspects of Alzheimer’s disease – behavioural symptoms, communication challenges, maintaining adequate nutrition, the importance of establishing a routine, and more. Above all, their advice is a reminder that you, as a caregiver, are doing the best you can.

Understand what your role entails upfront.

LC: “In comparison to non-dementia caregivers, dementia caregivers often provide more daily hours of care and higher levels of care (assist with the likes of dressing and feeding), which may increase their risk of experiencing mood and physical health symptoms. Additionally, the roles and tasks of caregiving gradually become more intensive and time-consuming as the disease slowly progresses, thus heightening feelings of social isolation. 

Alzheimer’s disease affects not only a loved one’s cognitive functioning, but also their sense of self, personality, and behaviour. In addition to providing daily care, caregivers also experience loss and grief over the loved one they once knew and cherished. They may also have to learn new skills to manage behavioural symptoms such as agitation and hallucinations in their loved ones.”

A healthy lifestyle can slow the progression of symptoms.

JP: “Staying physically active and mentally engaged is very important to maintaining quality of life and daily function. Consider taking your loved one on a daily walk in the park or regularly participating in hobbies, such as yoga or craft-making classes. There is also evidence that optimising our lifestyle, such as our diet and sleeping patterns, can help slow the progression of cognitive decline. Consume a diet rich in varied fruits and vegetables, and low in processed sugars and red meat. A regular routine for daytime activities can promote rest at night.”

Alzheimer's Disease Guide

Establishing a routine is key for you and your loved one.

LC: “Daily and predictable routines become an important tool to help individuals with Alzheimer’s feel safe, supported, and engaged since the environment around them becomes scarier and more unfamiliar as the disease progresses. It’s important to incorporate meaningful and stimulating activities into daily routines, which allow for opportunities to experience positive emotions and interactions. 

Activities should ideally be tailored to the individual’s interests, cognitive and physical abilities, and preferred time of day to optimise the benefits. Because the responsibilities of a caregiver are endless while the number of hours in a day are limited, routines help to remove some of the guesswork out of how to organise the day for both their loved one and themselves. And it’s okay if your loved one is having a ‘bad day’ and necessary changes are made to the routine – remember, there is always tomorrow.”

You can help your loved one maintain some of their independence.

LC: “Even a mild decline in cognitive abilities can negatively interfere with the responsibilities of an individual living with early stage Alzheimer’s, but finding creative and practical ways to compensate can help boost their confidence and sense of purpose. Caregivers can help them maximise independence by maintaining daily routines, providing verbal reminders, encouraging use of memory compensatory skills such as note-taking, or reducing clutter at home. Patients may be more open to trying new compensatory strategies if they’re tailored to their preferences and abilities, so discussing this directly may be helpful in the early stages.”

Patience is key when it comes to communication challenges.

JP: “Alzheimer’s disease causes changes to the brain’s ability to store and retrieve information (memory) and to communicate (language). Over time, you may find that your loved one has difficulties in finding the right word or name to say. Others may have trouble following a complex conversation or understanding how a familiar object is used. Use different methods of communication, like whiteboards or scheduling notes on the phone. Offer to work on activities together to help reinforce ideas. People with memory trouble generally remember feelings better than fact. Communicating with kindness and patience is always more important than getting everything right.”

A Caregiver's Guide

Be mindful when responding to behavioural symptoms.

LC: “It’s important to first understand the potential causes of behavioural symptoms like agitation or aggression, such as physical (illness, pain, discomfort) or environmental contributors (too much or too little stimulation). Such individuals may have trouble communicating their physical or emotional distress, which may manifest in disruptive behaviours. Discussing concerns with your loved one’s medical team may be helpful in ruling out medical reasons. 

For caregivers, remaining patient, calm, and reassuring in reaction to behavioural symptoms is important. The content of your communication may be less important (or understood) than how you communicate. Being mindful of your non-verbal communication style (posture, tone of voice, touch) can be helpful in de-escalating stressful situations. Additionally, it may be helpful for caregivers to engage their loved one in a relaxing and enjoyable activity, or physical activity (going for a walk) to reduce agitation and depressive symptoms.”

Putting your own life on hold isn’t necessary.

LC: “Incorporating regular self-care into a caregiver’s daily routine is beneficial for their emotional and physical health. Support groups and mental health counselling may provide avenues if you’re seeking additional emotional support and problem-solving skills. Caregiver skills programmes have also been developed specifically for caregivers to provide dementia education, behavioural symptom management, and caregiver wellness strategies. Opportunities for respite, or short periods of relief from caregiving responsibilities, can also be beneficial. This can range from asking a friend or family member to sit with your loved one while you run a quick errand to utilising an adult day centre a few days a week.”

Adequate nutrition can improve their quality of life.

JP: “Ideal nutrition intake should be three well-balanced meals that include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Berries and nuts, such as walnuts, provide healthy antioxidants. Whole-grain foods and plant-based meals that are low in processing provide healthy energy to the brain without more toxins. In contrast, the likes of sugar and processed foods introduce chemicals that our body has to metabolise and eliminate. The MIND diet and the Mediterranean Diet are two great plans for incorporating healthy nutrients, but be sure that they’re accompanied by lots of water, especially in the heat of summer. Dehydration and poor food intake can worsen confusion and brain fog.”

Adequate nutrition can improve their quality of life

Be alert for a sudden and persistent change in activity.

JP: “There may be fluctuations in a patient’s cognition and behaviour, so some days will be better than others. Look out for excess confusion, sleepiness, or decreased responsiveness that persists, which may indicate that their condition is worsening. Falls, head injuries, new abnormal movements, and changes in balance should also get medical attention. Increased (or decreased) urination, coughing, diarrhea or constipation, change in appetite, or shortness of breath may indicate a new illness or infection. Remember, your loved one may not be able to communicate discomfort or might not remember an injury, so be observant and check for signs of something wrong (bruising or cuts, fever, unusual odours). Trust your instincts and seek help if something feels off.”

Lastly, never doubt or underestimate yourself.

LC: “The role of a dementia caregiver is multifaceted, dynamic, and ever-changing. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to doubt or underestimate their personal strength and resiliency at any time point along the caregiving journey. With the aid of a care team – consisting of both personal and professional support – caregivers can feel more supported, equipped, and confident in their role.”

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Ways to Plan an Eco-Friendly Wedding

7 Ways to Have a More Sustainable Wedding

Small changes equal big impact.

Here’s an inconvenient truth for all brides-to-be: your wedding, while designed to be the greatest day of your life, will inevitably have a hefty carbon footprint. Flowers will be discarded, as will excess food, paper decorations, and even wedding favours left behind by guests. It’s no wonder that more and more couples are opting for a ‘green’ – a.k.a. eco-friendly – wedding, which is easier to plan than it sounds. Here, with peak wedding season on the horizon, we share a few tips to get you started.

1

Instead of creating a wedding registry and accumulating more material possessions, direct your guests to a charity of your choice. Whether you’re passionate about animal welfare, fighting hunger, or protecting the environment, there’s a whole host of brilliant initiatives that your guests can support on your behalf.

2


Seek a stationer that gives back to the planet in some capacity. Ananya Cards, for example, plants trees for every wedding and event stationery order placed. It also uses cardstock from sustainably managed forests and recycled cards where possible. We also recommend posting information such as directions on your wedding website instead of using additional paper.

Eco-friendly Wedding Ideas

3

Floral centerpieces do wonders for the aesthetics of a wedding – not so much for the environment, though. A more sustainable substitute is using potted plants (like succulents) or flowers (like orchids or roses), which can be taken home once the big day is over. Alternatively, bypass the blooms in favour of more modern options like books, branches, and or sculptures.

4

An entirely vegetarian feast will inevitably make for a more eco-friendly wedding as plant-based meals consume fewer resources to produce – and harm no animals to boot. Looking to accommodate meat-eaters? Aim for a menu that’s 50% vegetarian. And if neither of these is an option, opt for plated dinners as buffets lead to greater food waste.

Green Wedding Ideas for an Eco-Friendly Celebration

5

Edible wedding favours are a no-brainer. For starters, your guests will likely be famished towards the end of the night. And let’s face it – they’ll probably prefer mini cupcakes or cheese popcorn over a candle with your wedding date on it. Bonus: you can support small, locally based businesses if you source your favours from Ripe Market or ARTE, The Makers’ Market.

6

Unless fancy soirées are a regular occurrence in your groom’s social life, suggest that he rent a tux instead of splurging on one – it will be better for the planet and his wallet. Based in Jumeirah, The Wedding Shop has both tuxedos and morning suits in cuts ranging from classic to contemporary for hire.

Ways to Plan an Eco-Friendly Wedding

7

You will need to arrange some type of transportation for your wedding day, especially if your out-of-town guests are staying at hotels far from the ceremony or reception venue. Providing post-event vans or buses is not only safer, but it also reduces the number of vehicles used.

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Health Benefits of Microgreens

Why Microgreens Belong in Your Diet

Small, but mighty – meet microgreens.

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing demand for a more sustainable, accessible, and nutritious food supply. There has been increased interest among governmental and private sectors in controlled environment agriculture methods, including vertical farms, greenhouses, hydroponics, and aquaponics. These approaches enable crops to grow in closed spaces and allow for factors such as climate, lighting, and water supply to be controlled. Microgreens are an important example of crops that can easily be grown using controlled environment agriculture approaches.

microgreen crops

What Are Microgreens?

Microgreens are immature green vegetables harvested after the cotyledonary leaves have developed. They differ from baby leaves (cut greens for salads) and sprouts (germinated seeds with entire roots). Growing conditions (soil vs hydroponic) can impact the growth of the plant and the levels of phytonutrients and minerals. Microgreens are being recognised as functional foods with potential health benefits.

They have become increasingly popular as a culinary ingredient due to their distinctive flavours, attractive colours, delicate textures, and high nutrient density. Microgreens can be produced from many vegetables, herbaceous plants, aromatic herbs, legumes, and grains. Common varieties are grown from mustard, cabbage, radish, buckwheat, parsley, pea, kale, spinach, and broccoli. These are often added to enhance salads or edible garnishes on various dishes.

microgreen garnish on food

Nutritive Content and Potential Health Benefits

Microgreens may be considered better alternatives to sprouts due to their rich nutritional content and stronger flavour. Research has shown that microgreens may also be superior to their mature counterparts as they have been found to contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. For instance, cucumber and spinach microgreens had greater vitamin C levels than their mature stages. Moreover, microgreens had higher levels of several trace minerals such as copper, zinc, and selenium. 

These minerals play an important role as cofactors in producing powerful antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase. Phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and phenolics, which have strong antioxidant properties, are also abundant in microgreens. There has been growing research in studying the potential value of microgreens in preventing chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. 

The high bioaccessibility of bioactive compounds like polyphenols and glucosinolates in microgreens such as the Brassicaceae family (kale, red cabbage, kohlrabi, purple radish) may provide anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and anti-diabetic benefits after digestion. One study indicated the antiproliferative effects of kale, radish, mustard, and broccoli microgreens on colon cancer cell development. Other microgreens – such as red cabbage – can positively regulate lipid metabolism, reduce cholesterol levels, and reduce liver inflammatory markers.

microgreen on chopping board

Optimising Nutritional Content in Microgreens

Due to the delicate nature of microgreens, several interventions are being implemented during the pre-harvest and post-harvest stages to optimise nutritional content and prolong shelf life. For example, light exposure before harvest is critical to promote plant growth and nutrient composition. Moreover, post-harvest interventions – including packaging, storage temperatures, and lighting – can impact nutrient concentrations, extend shelf life, and enhance the appearance, texture, and taste of microgreens.

harvesting microgreen

Any Potential Risks?

While they can benefit health, there may be some concern about the risk of contamination of some microgreens with bacteria such as Escherichia coli. Sources of the contamination may include irrigation water and the soil (or another medium) in which they are grown. When buying microgreens from the supermarket, ensure they come from a reputable supplier and check the sell-by/best-before date. The shelf life of microgreens varies from 10 to 14 days after harvesting and are best kept in the fridge at a maximum of 5°C.

microgreen made into a drink

Adding More Microgreens to Your Diet

Microgreens are versatile and sustainable crops from cultivation to consumption. Due to their rich nutrient profile, microgreens are a great way to boost a meal’s vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical content. Moreover, they can enhance colour, add texture, and elevate the flavour of dishes. Unsure what to do with microgreens? Here are some ways to add more of these potent plant foods to your diet:

  • as a garnish on salads, soups, and omelettes
  • in smoothies and smoothie bowls
  • in sandwiches and wraps 
  • to your favourite pesto sauce

Farah Hillou is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and an Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. For more information, please visit @wellness.in.colours or connect with her via LinkedIn.

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How to Be an Empathetic Leader

The Dos and Don’ts of Being an Empathetic Leader

Empathy isn’t reserved for your personal life.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that it weeded out the weak and ineffective leaders, and spotlighted those who exhibited good leadership skills. Good leaders were able to navigate their companies through uncertain waters while maintaining employee morale and productivity.

While these good leaders possess many qualities, the one that we will focus on here is empathy, as that was the one brought into sharp focus over the past few years – because even leaders with the best strategy and roadmap for the company will not be able to get everyone to share that vision and own it if they don’t have empathy. And everyone knows you get further and faster when everyone is equally motivated by the end goal.

That’s where an empathic leadership style comes in. It can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale, and loyalty. When a colleague has an issue, for instance, they may be frustrated and just want you to listen to them. By something as simple as letting them tell you all the details before responding, you can show them you value what they have to say. And Gallup surveys have consistently revealed that people value being valued more than increased salaries!

Teams with empathetic leaders are more innovative and push the boundaries more, as they feel safe in the knowledge that they won’t be blamed for failures in these experiments. Leaders benefit from empathy as it helps them to understand the root cause behind poor performance and address it constructively.

Ways You Can Improve Your Empathic Leadership Skills

Let’s Dig Deep About Empathy

Empathy is a hard skill to quantify, but leaders who have it are generally able to lead through challenging times more successfully. Good leaders know how to collect input and suggestions from everyone, make a decision that is best suited for the organisation, and fulfill the (reasonable) requirements of the majority. 

In order to recognise the qualities of being empathetic, it is important to understand what empathy means. According to Wikipedia, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. 

Given the divide between management and the rest of the organisation, it’s a given that executives cannot understand the issues faced by the rest of the employees. By being empathetic, leaders bridge this divide and connect on a human level, strengthening loyalty and pride in being a part of the organisation.

Empathy is a key factor in Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ), which measures an individual’s abilities to recognise and manage their emotions and the emotions of other people, both individually and in groups. An empathetic leader with a high EQ will know which of the three aspects of empathy – cognitive (head/thinking), affective (heart/feeling), and behavioural (action/doing) – to use in a given situation.

A Few Dos and Don’ts of Being an Emphatic Leader

Empathetic leaders can steer a company through turbulent times by providing employees with the understanding and recognition they need to navigate the crisis. It’s not all woo-woo and fluffy stuff, either. In fact, the quantifiable benefits can be seen in the level of innovation, employee engagement, and retention rates – not to mention employees who are brand ambassadors, building up your reputation as an employer of choice.

Empathetic leaders understand the consequences of their decisions on everyone in the company. They are able to look beyond whatever is happening at the moment, inspire, encourage, and strategise in ways that will motivate employees at all levels.

Empathetic leadership style

So if we were to condense all this into a quick checklist for empathetic leaders:

  1. Show genuine interest in others and their situations.
  2. Be willing to support team members with their personal issues.
  3. Schedule one-on-one meetings to stay connected.
  4. Keep an eye out for work burnout.
  5. Implement employee analytics.
  6. Validate how the other person is feeling.
  7. Develop your listening skills.
  8. Challenge your biases.
  9. Build a great culture to generate speed. 
  10. Approach problems from a different perspective.

A few behaviours to avoid:

  1. Don’t ask people to “earn your trust”.
  2. Don’t neglect those who are making the transition to a management role. 
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to understand better.

The skills that make an empathetic leader can be learned through training and coaching, and are a worthwhile investment. You will reap the dividends through increased employee engagement, higher morale levels, and a corresponding increase in productivity and quality of work. These skills will also serve you well in your personal life, but that’s another article for another time!

Bina Mathews is an Executive Master Coach and Communications Consultant at Bina Mathews Consulting FZE. Visit www.coachbina.com or @coachbina for more information.

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Sleep Management Tips for Over 40s

Over 40? It’s Time to Revisit Sleep Management

Sleeping peacefully or counting sheep?

If you’re reading this, then you are probably looking for some answers as to why can’t you sleep. Any age can experience sleepless nights and insomnia, and often, this can be traced back to external life stressors like work, personal issues, or illness. Unfortunately, around the age of 40, we have another equation to factor in: menopause. 

Menopause can send in what feels like a speeding train, derailing any blissful sleep pattern you ever had. Difficulty sleeping and sometimes insomnia can leave you tossing and turning, waking up at 3am with your mind racing or in a pool of sweat. Not a pretty picture, I know, but it happens. 

These are among some of the earliest signs of perimenopause. 61% of women suffer from sleep problems during menopause because of hormonal fluctuations, according to the Sleep Foundation – so you are not alone in counting sheep. Let’s take a step back and explore why getting a good night’s sleep is important to staying fit and healthy in our 40s.

“Sleep is the best medication.”

– Dalai Lama

If you are a night owl and don’t go to bed early, here are a few reasons why working on your sleep hygiene and hitting the sack earlier, especially as we head into our 40s, is so important. You can see that stage 3 is deep sleep. This is where all the good stuff happens. All the repair and regeneration occur here because we produce the majority of our HGH (Human Growth Hormone), which: 

  • helps fat burning (if this is not a reason to go to bed, I don’t know what is)
  • stimulates tissue growth to help build muscle
  • aids recovery
Sleep Management Tips 40+

Most of your body’s HGH secretion happens between 11pm and 1am. Getting to bed early to take advantage of this production, especially during menopausal years, is a big plus in aiding repair and regeneration.

Other Reasons to Rewire Your Sleep Patterns

  • Sleep well, and your body’s circadian rhythm helps regulate healthy hormone production
  • Hormone levels fluctuate during sleep stages
  • Melatonin promotes high-quality sleep
  • Growth hormone, produced during a good night’s sleep, supports bone and muscle health
  • Good sleep reduces our cortisol stress hormone levels
  • Good sleep regulates healthy leptin and ghrelin levels – our appetite hormones – which stops us from overeating 
Sleep Management Tips

Why Menopause Affects Our Sleep

Two words: declining hormones. For starters, the role of estrogen is as follows:

  • Increases our deep sleep (REM) and helps in serotonin metabolism. It also decreases how long it takes us to fall asleep. 
  • Estrogen also decreases the number of times you wake up during the night.
  • Increases total sleep time and quality.
  • Helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol to stabilise sleep.
  • Helps regulate the internal thermostat and body temperature, so the decline in estrogen can lead to hot flashes and disruptive night sweats.

Women also produced less melatonin, the key hormone for regulating sleep and helping the body cool down to trigger optimal sleep. As for the role of progesterone? It helps control stress and helps us relax. The decline makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

The level of stress hormones like cortisol (which women already struggle to keep in check) can stay elevated at night. Short sleep slows this decline of cortisol down, messes with your moods, and plays havoc with your insulin resistance, leading to increased abdominal fat storage – which we don’t need at this stage of life!

How to Sleep Better as You Get Older

Who would’ve thought that, at the age of 40, we need to learn how to sleep again?

Sleep is essential and needs a multipronged approach to taking back control and reaping from all its health benefits. Putting some sleep hygiene habits in place and learning to manage the challenges presented should be on top of your priority list. Let’s start with these basic strategies that create new habits for a good night’s sleep.

  1. Re-train: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It might be hard at first, but you will adapt. Getting yourself into a routine is crucial to start improving your sleep.
  2. Keep your head cool: Hot flushes and hormonal mayhem are the culprits for a bad night’s sleep. Simple things you can do straight away:
    • Keep the room temperature as cool as you can manage.
    • Wear light clothing or none and light sheets that you can kick off.
    • Put a fan near your head to keep the pituitary gland (temperature regulator) in your head cool.
    • Take a cold shower before bed.
  1. Put a cork in it: If you have a tipple at the end of the day to wind down or make you drop off quicker, it’s a temporary fix. It lessens the quality of sleep you have. 
    • It shortens your REM cycle.
    • Can increase hot sweats.
    • Makes you restless.
    • Your liver is working overtime to get rid of the toxins.
  2. Calm – dark – quiet: Create a calm, relaxed environment in the bedroom. Soften the lights, light some candles, spray the pillow, or use a diffuser with essential oils like camomile, lavender, and ylang-ylang.
    • The production of melatonin starts around 9pm. This is when you want to start reducing the bright lights around you. Avoid watching TV or looking at your phone one hour before bedtime. Create a new habit: read a book with low blue light. 
    • Stimulation from all the light and noise stimulates the brain and suppresses melatonin production. Block all the switches that have a light attached to them. Make the bedroom as dark as possible. 
  1. Coffee fix: Reduce your caffeine intake before bedtime. Try to avoid it after 2pm, allowing it to be removed from your system, which can stick around for about six hours (depending on the size of your pick-me-up). Need something to drink at night? Try drinking cold cherry tart juice instead; this aids sleep.
  2. Sugar baby: Reduce or quit your sugars and starchy carbs three hours before bedtime. Eating this type of food will disturb your insulin production, which will then compete with the production of your sleep hormones.
  3. Eat early to sleep more: We do not want our digestive system to work overtime during the night by trying to digest large, heavy foods that we have eaten so close to bedtime. This has an impact on all the other systems in the body, including the parasympathetic (calming) system.
    • Also, if you suffer from night sweats – your body temperature naturally increases around 8pm. This is in sync with our 24-hour circadian rhythm. 
    • Try reducing your protein intake late at night. Protein is a thermogenic food (produces heat when metabolised), the last thing you want if you are suffering from hot flashes. It increases your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.
    • However, protein must be a staple in maintaining muscle mass during menopause, so it shouldn’t be eliminated from the diet. Eat light and at a reasonable time, so you avoid bloating, reflux, and overall fullness.
    • Try something like a banana, oatmeal, or other foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid needed to make serotonin and melatonin, the chemicals that make us sleepy.
  4. Exercise: Exercising at the right time and intensity is crucial to a good night’s sleep. Exercising late at night and too near bedtime can keep some people awake, especially if they are stressed and cortisol is already at an all-time high. Try to experiment with different training sessions. Introduce yoga and meditation to your daily routine.
  5. Take a breath: When you relax in your nice cool dark room, try some deep breathing exercises before settling into sleep. This calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, removes the body’s stress, and helps you sleep tight. 
  6. Wakey wakey: Wake up in the morning, take a walk, get natural sunlight into your eyes, or sit and have a coffee outside (no sunglasses). You don’t have to look directly at the sun – just sit and enjoy a peaceful moment or two with open eyes. This helps with the production of our happy hormone, serotonin

How To Get Better Sleep After 40

Sleep Support

I am a big fan of measuring things, and love this quote: “You can’t change what you don’t measure.” If you are having trouble sleeping, here is a tool you can use to monitor your sleep

There are plenty of wearable trackers and smartwatches that you can use to monitor your sleep. I personally use Whoop because it helps me understand the recovery and sleep needed for training. I also found it got me into a daily routine of going to bed to get the right amount of sleep that I need to perform well, and it taps into my physiology. I also find that these work well and allow you to monitor and see the results of the significant changes you make.  

Elsewhere, montmorency cherry tart juice concentrated is high in sleep-promoting chemical melatonin and enhances your melatonin production. It is also rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Drink a nice ice-cold glass 30 minutes before bed. Additionally, there are plenty of supplements on the market. I suggest you research them or chat with your GP before taking them. I can only recommend the ones I take, which are the good old magnesium.  

Remember, adopting new healthy sleeping habits and kicking out the old ones can be hard, but don’t stress about it. Go at your own pace. Don’t be too tough on yourself as you work towards your goal of better sleep health. Changing habits requires taking small steps and repeating them many times over until they feel second nature. If you try changing everything all at once, you’ll probably have a lower chance of success. If you only adopt or improve two of the healthy sleep habits listed above, that’s a big step to better sleep – and with time, you will get there and sleep tight!

Sharon James is a woman’s health and well-being coach, specialising in menopause wellness. Connect with her via Instagram, Facebook, or email.

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