Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eustress: The ‘Good’ Stress

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 31 2010 2:15PM
You awaken in the middle of the night, hear a noise. You remember that your husband, who was away on a business trip, would be coming in late. You slip out of your bed and run to answer the door. You are anxious to see him and tell him some good news that you learned today. Your heart is pounding fast, and you feel excited and happy to see him. Not all stress is bad for you. What would life be without a little excitement? What would life be without eustress?

Heard of distress, but what's eustress?
Eustress is a term coined by Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye which is defined as stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfilment or other positive feelings. According to Selye, a person actually determines, himself, whether his experience will be eustress (good stress) or distress (bad stress). And this is determined by your experience (actual, imagined or how you interpret an experience), your expectations, and how you cope with events.

Most of us will experience eustress in the following situations:
  • Accomplishing goals
  • Love relationships
  • Getting a promotion
  • Discovering a passion
  • Riding a rollercoaster
  • Experiencing a 'thrill'

The good stress
Eustress is actually important to your life. Without it, you would become depressed and perhaps feel a lack of meaning in life. Not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning would be damaging to you, so eustress is considered 'good' stress. It keeps you healthy and happy.

Eustress also reminds us that we can view many of the stressors in our lives as 'challenges' rather than 'threats', and have extra vital energy to handle these stressors, without a feeling of being overwhelmed or unhappy.

Keeping the fight in you
You also need small amounts of stress in your life to respond to the threats and dangers you occasionally encounter. In this case, stress is part of the fight-or-flight response - a holdover from our primitive ancestors. When you detect the presence of danger, your body kicks into high gear - the hormone cortisol is released which increases the level of sugar in the blood, your breathing rate increases and oxygen fills your muscles in preparation to either fight the threat or flee from it. Without this physiological response, your body would be much more susceptible to danger and attack.

While it is clear that too much stress can wreak havoc on your overall health, doctors and mental health specialists have also found that too little stress can also be harmful. Negative stress causes a wide range of emotional and physical problems that can inhibit your energy and drive. On the other hand, as long as it's reasonable and not excessive, a certain amount of stress plays a positive role in helping us to fulfill our dreams and by enabling us to protect ourselves in times of danger. Eustress helps you to manage the negative stresses in your life.

Moving forward
With eustress, the adrenaline is used to move your body and mind forward in response to the needs of a situation or relationship that you have identified. In setting goals or identifying needs in a relationship, you trigger the adrenaline reaction in order to be able to achieve and sustain a positive momentum in your life.

Can it hurt?
While eustress is controlled stress that results in top performance at high stress activities such as giving oral arguments, giving a speech, or sports, it still is stress. It doesn't generally carry the same type of damage as chronic stress, but too much of eustress can still tax your system. That's why it's important to have 'down time' and balance in one's life.

Whey to go!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on  Aug 31 2010 2:14PM

A V-shaped torso and biceps that rival Arnold Schwarzenegger's may be every man's dream but bodybuilding isn't just about pumping iron in the gym all day. How you regain all that lost muscle is as important as how you work out. And what most bodybuilders now vouch for is the supplement whey protein.

What exactly is whey protein?Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, which is left over when milk coagulates. It is a five per cent solution of lactose in water, with some minerals and lactalbumin (albumin contained in milk) that is removed after cheese is processed. The fat is removed and then it is processed for human foods by drying.

Muscle-builderWhey is essential in the bodybuilding world today because of its ability to be digested very rapidly. This allows the protein to become available for muscle building very quickly. Whey protein is most commonly used after workouts to help increase levels of amino acids in the blood, which are taken up by the muscles to increase mass. Whey contains more of the branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) such as leucine, valine and iso-leucine than any other protein source. Within muscle, BCAAs assist in the synthesis of other amino acids required for building, including glutamine. In addition, during exercise, whey helps open up blood flow by inhibiting an angiotensin-converting enzyme which originally constricts blood vessels. This allows better flow of nutrients to necessary areas to help repair and rebuild muscle tissues.

As far as supplementation goes, a supply of whey is all you should need in terms of specific protein supplements. Concentrate on getting your other proteins from whole food sources and using your whey protein powder to achieve your daily protein goals and for use in post-workout nutrition.

Immune boosterWhey can have a positive impact on the body's immune system. Weight-lifting creates stress on the body and if not nutritionally countered, it can weaken the immune system. This can mean an increase in minor health maladies such as sore throats. Whey has been shown to have the ability to raise levels of glutathione, a small antioxidant molecule produced and found in every cell of the body that hunts down toxins, free radicals and poisons to our health and escorts them out of the body.

Choosing the right supplementWhen it comes to choosing a whey protein supplement that's right for you there are two main things you need to consider: budget and quality. There are three main types of whey protein available:
  • Whey protein isolate - the most pure form of whey protein (e.g. Optimum 100% Whey Gold Standard, Mega-Pro Isolate Whey Extreme Amino)
  • Whey protein concentrate - not as pure, slightly higher fat & lactose (e.g. Saputo 100% Whey Protein Concentrate, X-Pro Whey Protein Concentrate)   
  • Whey protein blend - a mixture of isolate and concentrate (e.g. Magnum Whey II Protein (MegaPro), Pro-Alna Whey Protein Blend)
Obviously, the more pure the product the more it costs. This is why whey protein isolate is the most expensive form of whey protein. You get what you pay for. Pure whey protein is literally zero fat, zero carbohydrate and zero lactose. It's the highest quality protein and will give you the most protein per serving with the least amount of calories. So if you have the money to spend, whey protein isolate is the best quality protein available.

Does whey cause any harm?There are no documented side-effects of whey protein, provided a person does not have an allergy to dairy proteins or does not need to restrict dairy products for medical reasons. If you are allergic to dairy proteins please consult with a physician prior to consuming any type of whey protein.

High protein intake may be hazardous for individuals with abnormal kidney function or kidney disease. For the disease-free individual, the most serious concern with high protein intake is dehydration, because it takes a lot of water to metabolise protein. You can avoid it by drinking eight glasses of water a day.

12 Indian foods that cut fat

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 31 2010 2:15PM  
(Hello Wellness and NOT Mumbai Mirror owns the copyright to this piece)

You don't have to acquire a taste for olive oil, seaweed or soya to maintain a low-fat, healthy diet. Indian cuisine can be healthy too, if it's cooked with oil and ingredients that take care of your heart and health. Ayurveda suggests you include all tastes - sweet, sour, salty, pungent,   bitter and astringent - in at least one meal each day, to help balance unnatural cravings. Here are 12 foods/ingredients that can help you lose weight and gain health:

Turmeric: Curcumin, which is the active component of turmeric, is now an object of research thanks to its properties that suggest they may help to turn off certain genes that cause scarring and enlargement of the heart. Regular intake of curcumin may also help to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and high blood pressure, increase blood circulation and prevent blood clotting thereby helping to prevent heart attack.

Cardamom: The Indian spice is known as a thermogenic herb, one that increases metabolism and helps burn body fat. In Ayurveda, cardamom is considered one of the best digestive aids and is believed to soothe the digestive system and help the body process other foods more efficiently.

Chillies: Foods containing chillies are considered to be as foods that burn fat. Chillies contain capsaicin that helps in increasing the metabolism. Capsaicin is a thermogenic food, so it causes the body to burn extra calories for 20 minutes after you eat the chillies.

Curry leaves: Incorporating curry leaves into your daily diet can also help with your weight loss plan. These leaves are known to flush out fat and toxins, thereby reducing fat deposits that are stored in the body, as well as reducing bad cholesterol levels. If you are overweight, incorporate eight to 10 curry leaves into your diet daily. Chop them finely and mix them into a drink, or sprinkle them over a meal.

Garlic: One of the most effective fat-burning foods, garlic contains the sulphur compound allicin which has anti-bacterial effects and helps reduce cholesterol and unhealthy fats.

Mustard oil: The pungent-tasting oil has low saturated fat as compared to other cooking oils. It basically consists of fatty acid, oleic acid, erucic acid and linoleic acid. It has antioxidant and cholesterol-reducing properties and is good for the heart. It is also loaded with essential vitamins.

Cabbage: Raw or cooked cabbage inhibits the conversion of sugar and other carbohydrates into fat. Hence, it is of great value in weight reduction.

Moong dal: The bean sprouts contain rich quantities of Vitamin A, B, C and E and are an excellent source of many minerals, such as calcium, iron and potassium. The dal is recommended as a food replacement in many slimming programmes, as it has a very low fat content. It is a rich source of protein and fiber, which helps lower blood cholesterol level. The high fiber content yields complex carbohydrates, which aid digestion, are effective in stabilising blood sugar and prevent its rapid rise after meal consumption.

Honey: It is a home remedy for obesity. Honey mobilises the extra deposited fat in the body allowing it to be utilised as energy for normal functions. One should start with about 10 grams or a tablespoon, taken with hot water early in the morning.

Buttermilk: Leave cola, drink buttermilk. The traditional homemade buttermilk is the somewhat sour, residual fluid that is left after butter is churned. The probiotic food contains just 2.2 grams of fat and about 99 calories, as compared to whole milk that contains 8.9 grams fat and 157 calories. Regular intake of buttermilk provides the body with all essential nutrients and does not add many fats and calories to the body. It is thus helpful in weight loss.

Millets: Fiber-rich foods such as millets - jowar, bajra, ragi, etc - absorb cholesterol and help increase the secretion of the bile that emulsifies fats. 

Cinnamon and cloves: Used extensively in Indian cooking, the spices have been found to improve the function of insulin and to lower glucose, total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides in people with type 2 diabetes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Work and Life: A Fine Balance

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 30 2010 5:30PM

You hear a door shut but you're too busy to even look up. Your boss strides up the aisle swinging his laptop bag. He asks you if you'll be at it long. He can wait. You shake your head. He bids you goodbye and leaves the office. You check your email again. This is not the first time you're sitting in late at work. In fact, you don't even remember when you last left office before 10 pm. Sounds familiar?

In the past 20 years, there has been a substantial increase in work thanks to information technology and an intense, competitive work environment. Long-term loyalty has been eroded by a performance culture that expects more and more from their employees yet offers little security in return. As a result, employees buckle under stress, suffer huge disappointments over trivial misunderstandings and simply burn out.

This is where maintaining balance between work and life becomes essential. Work-life balance, first used in the late 1970s, means proper prioritising between "work" (career and ambition) on one hand and "life" (pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other.

Poor work-life balance can make you:
  • Tired: Your fatigued mind can't think clearly and may make costly mistakes
  • Lose time with friends and loved ones: If you're working too much, you may miss important anniversaries, birthdays and weddings. This can leave you feeling left out and may harm relationships with your loved ones. It's also difficult to nurture friendships if you're always working.
  • Keep living up to expectations: If you regularly work extra hours, you may be given more responsibility. This may lead to only more concerns and challenges.

Strike a better work-life balanceAs long as you're working, juggling the demands of career and personal life will probably be an ongoing challenge. Still, you can try to maintain equilibrium between family and fellowship by:
  • Tracking your time: Keep a tab on everything you do for one week, including work-related and personal activities. Decide what's necessary and what satisfies you the most. Cut or delegate activities you don't enjoy or can't handle
  • Use your options: Ask your employer about flexible hours, job-sharing, telecommuting, etc. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you're likely to be
  • Saying, “No”: Whether it's a colleague asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child's teacher asking you to manage the class play, remember that it's OK to politely decline. Quit doing the things you do only out of guilt or a false sense of obligation and make more room for the activities that are meaningful to you and bring you joy
  • Not talking work at home: With the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there may be no boundary between work and home — unless you create it. Make a conscious decision to separate work time from personal time. When you're with your family, for instance, turn off your cell phone and put away your laptop
  • Managing your time: Put family events on a calendar and keep a daily to-do list. Do what needs to be done and let the rest go. Limit time-consuming misunderstandings by communicating clearly and listening carefully
  • Bolstering support: At work, join forces with colleagues who can cover for you when family conflicts arise. At home, enlist trusted friends and loved ones to pitch in with child care or household responsibilities when you need to work overtime or travel
  • Nurturing yourself: Eat healthy foods, exercise and get enough sleep. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga or reading. Discover activities and hobby classes you can do with your partner, family or friends

Though finding a new career or even a new job may not be an easy option, try and slow down a bit so that you enjoy things and people around you. Multi-tasking may be the new-age mantra but it does bring in a lot of clutter. Sort through it and keep only what you need, want and can manage. The rest is junk!

ET Swiss Report: Precise and Perfect

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Economic Times' International Report on Monday, August 30, 2010

If there's one thing that cannot go wrong with the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (CWG) it is the time-keeping. Keeping in mind, the need for precision and accuracy, the CWG Committee has appointed Swiss Timing the official timekeeper for the Games. 

Since the beginning of the 20th century, Swiss watch companies such as Omega and Longines have been involved in sports timekeeping. The manufacturers soon recognised the importance and value of providing a high-level service, and created Swiss Timing in 1972 that specialised in sports timekeeping. Swiss Timing has timed the Olympic Games: Innsbruck and Montreal in 1976, Lake Placid and Moscow in 1980, Sarajevo and Los Angeles in 1984, Calgary and Seoul in 1988, Albertville 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Torino 2006, Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010 and has been appointed for London 2012  through Omega.

While Swiss Timing is doing well in the Olympic domain, TAG Heuer rules the road! Founded in 1860, TAG Heuer invented the oscillating pinion in 1882, the first patented dashboard chronograph for airccraft and automobiles in 1911, the first wrist chronograph in 1914, the world’s first 1/100th mechanical stopwatch in 1916, the first multisports stopwatch in 1957, the world’s first 1/1000th electronic stopwatch in 1966. TAG Heuer became official timekeeper of the Formula 1 Championship from 1992 to 2003 and since 2004 has been keeping time for the Indy Racing League. Geneva-based Hublot is now the timekeeper for Formula 1.
Timekeeping is a rich Swiss tradition and precision a part of their culture. From ensuring punctuality of trains to developing the most complicated watches in the world to providing a pen-knife with 80 functions, the Swiss know how to be precisely perfect:

Why the Swiss don't miss
The clock displayed at all stations of the Swiss federal railways (SBB) is a design classic. Created by engineer and designer Hans Hilfiker in the 1940s, the SBB wanted a clock that would not only guarantee the smooth running of the trains, but would become part of their national image. The clock face is simple. There are no figures. Minutes are denoted by black lines on the white face. The hour and minute hands are also black. Against this black and white background the red second hand stands out. The red hand, which pauses for 1.5 seconds when it reaches the top of the minute, is clearly visible at a distance and has become a symbol of Swiss punctuality.

Handy Swiss Knives for 1.3 million Indian troops?
Over 125 years, Victorinox (derived from Victoria, name of founder Carl Elsener's mother and 'inox' from the French word for stainless steel) has transformed from a simple pocket knife to a multifaceted tool with upto 80 functions "Victorinox has its roots in the heart of Switzerland and celebrates a commitment to Swiss quality," Anish Goel, Managing Director, Victorinox India, said. The sole manufacturer of the genuine Swiss Army Knife has proposed to supply to 1.3 million Indian troops. Constructed from matte-black steel, the proposed knife contains 12 tools. The Indian Army has reportedly insisted on two: a saw to cut metal and a marlinspike, used to untangle knots. "We are in the process of R&D regarding the same. We are very hopeful about it happening soon," Goel said.

A watch with 24 hands!
Celebrating the craft of watchmaking is the Geneva-headquartered supreme luxury brand, Patek Philippe that boasts of using “skills and tools that have not changed for centuries”. The commemorative Patek Philippe Calibre 89 created in 1989 made of 18-carat gold weighs 1.1 kg, exhibits 24 hands and has 1,728 components in total, including a thermometer and a star chart and is valued at $6 million. It took five years of research and development, and four years to manufacture. Patek Philppe’s website claims it takes more than 1,200 operations to create one watch, three to five years creating a new mechanical movement, 600 hours of quality control checks, followed by 30 days of observation and rigorous examination. Only after all this do they put their name to a watch!

ET Swiss Report: The Chemistry is Just Right

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Economic Times on August 30, 2010

With the first anniversary of the launch of Switzerland’s first home-grown satellite by India coming up in September, the two countries are set to usher in a new era of partnerships and cooperation in science and technology.

The launch of the 1 kg SwissCube satellite, which was designed entirely by engineering students, is one of the finest accomplishments of the Indo-Swiss partnership in the 62 years that have followed August 14, 1948 - the day Switzerland became the first country to sign the Treaty of Friendship and Establishment with Independent India.

"We're hoping for more projects with India," says Professor Pramod Rastogi of École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland, which spearheaded the $620,000 SwissCube project. Rastogi, coordinator of the Indo-Swiss Bilateral Research Initiative supported by the Swiss State Secretariat of Education and Research, will be coming to India next month to meet heads of various institutes including BITS Pilani and AIIMS Delhi to develop student exchange programmes.

"We are currently in the second phase of implementation of the Indo-Swiss Joint Research Programme (ISJRP) that was launched in 2007 by Department of Science and Technology (DST) in India. We had received 61 joint proposals, out of which 22 proposals were approved," says Prof Rastogi. Over 400 students at IIT Madras, University of Pune, IIT Roorkee, IIT Delhi, National Centre for Biological Sciences Bangalore, II Sc, Anna University, JNU, University of Mumbai, etc are working in collaboration with EPFL, University of Basel, University of Friburg, ETHZ, University of Geneva and University of Lausanne. 
On similar lines is the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology (ISCB) between Swiss and Indian institutes, which aims to help poverty reduction in India by increasing productivity of wheat and pulses in semi-arid and rain-fed agricultural systems and by supporting sustainable management of natural resources.

While ISJRP will give Indian students exposure to Swiss technologies, there are other Indo-Swiss initiatives in the manufacturing sector. In 2008, the non-profit Swiss Indian Chamber of Commerce (SICC) launched the Swiss dual-track Vocational Education and Training (VET) System in India to address the country's shortfall of skilled factory labour. After completing their courses in Industrial Training Institutes (ITI), students can join the VET programme that currently provides for apprenticeships at Bobst India, Burckhardt Compression and Reiter India in Pune and Bühler India in Bangalore.

"We started with 20 apprentices in October 2009 and are now looking to increase the number to 200 by this October. We also plan to include more companies in Pune and Bangalore and even Indian vendors of Swiss companies in the pilot project," says Joanna Pavel, VET Project Director-Switzerland, SICC. While Pavel remains hopeful to increasing the scope of VET in India, the project has had to overcome many challenges.
Pavel says, "Many of the VET instructors did not feel comfortable using “modern” teaching methods as instructed by the Swiss VET experts. Independent lesson planning and preparation techniques are new to Indian instructors. Nevertheless, it is crucial that the quality of teaching and training reaches the Swiss education standard."  

While implementing Swiss standards of teaching and technology will be a challenge in education and industry in India, organisations such as SICC and Swissnex in Bangalore are trying to bridge the gap between the two countries in fields such as biotechnology, IT and engineering.

Clean up, the Swiss way
Switzerland is increasingly looking at bringing cleaner technologies to India. Swiss private equity firm BTS Investment Advisors has started raising its clean energy fund which has a target of $120 million to invest in wind energy, biomass, hydropower, and energy efficiency. Companies such as automation technology group ABB are already developing such projects. ABB recently inaugurated its fourth global wind power generator factory in Vadodara, Gujarat to supply wind power generators for the growing Indian and global markets. The new factory will produce up to 100 units per month with a rating of up to 2.5 megawatts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why men should kick the butt

Eisha Sarkar

Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 28 2010 7:48PM
The boss winks at you as he walks past your desk. You follow him towards the fire exit, casually brushing aside the resolution to quit smoking you made only yesterday. You know cigarettes are injurious to your health. But can you really resist sharing a smoke with your boss? This is where you bond, not as a supervisor and subordinate, but as two men who share conversation and nicotine. This is critical for your survival at work and may even boost your career at a later stage.

Men smoke to buy time, to contemplate, to comply and for company. Institutional and public bans aside, men who smoke don't seem to want to kick the butt too soon. So what do they stand to lose?

Their lungs: The main health risks in tobacco smoking pertain to diseases of the respiratory tract - lung cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, etc. Cancer may develop from the accumulative effects of more than one of those carcinogens cigarettes contain. Tar from cigarettes causes specific DNA damage to the lungs, making it particularly difficult for cells to repair.

Their hearts: The effects of cigarette smoking on the cardiovascular system are multifold: Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), even in adolescents. Smoking deteriorates the elastic properties of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, which increases the risk for developing blood clots. Smoking increases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, putting additional stress on the system that regulates the heart and blood vessels.

Their immunity: A person's increased risk of contracting disease is directly proportional to the length of time that a person continues to smoke as well as the amount smoked. However, if someone stops smoking, then these chances steadily although gradually decrease as the damage to their body is repaired.

Their strength: Smoking has many negative effects on bones and joints since it impairs formation of new bone. Smokers are also more disposed to developing degenerative disorders and injuries in the spine. People who smoke usually can't compete with non-smoking peers because the physical effects of smoking - like rapid heartbeat, decreased circulation, and shortness of breath - impair sports performance. Smoking affects the body's ability to produce collagen, so common sports injuries, such as damage to tendons and ligaments will heal more slowly in smokers than non-smokers.

Their sleep: Nicotine, present in cigarette smoke, acts as a stimulant which keeps smokers alert and awake. This is fine in the day but not at night when they are trying to get to sleep.

Their minds: Research has suggested that there may be something in cigarette smoke that has anti-depressant properties, which explains why cigarette smoking is much more common among depressed patients. Addicted smokers are characterised by preoccupation with smoking, abnormal attachment to cigarettes and anticipation of brain reward from the drugs in cigarette smoke. Attempts to quit smoking often lead to a decreased level of pleasure and undesirable mood swings. Thus, once the brain has adapted to the daily dose of the drug, it seems abnormal to the brain if the user attempts to abstain.

Their virility: A US study has confirmed that smoking can reduce a man's virility and thus hamper the chain of reproduction. Researchers studied sperms of 18 men who had smoked at least four cigarettes a day for more than two years. They compared the sperm function of the smokers with that of non-smokers and found that sperms from almost two-third of the smokers failed the test in terms of reduced sperm function. Men who smoke more than a packet of cigarettes have about 60 per cent higher chance of suffering from erectile dysfunction. This ultimately affects their sex life and virility.

Besides the above, smoking also increases acid secretion, reduces prostaglandin and bicarbonate production and decreases mucosal blood flow—which can cause peptic ulcers. Heavy smokers are also at risk of developing cataracts, and macular degeneration, an age-related eye disorder.  People smoke for pleasure but find much pain. So no matter how hard it is, quit the habit and embrace life!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Epic Tribute

Book: Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North
Author: Alex Rutherford
Publisher: Headline Review
Pages: 497
Price: Rs 299

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 04:45:35 PM

Few pages in Indian history textbooks have been devoted to Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India. Cast aside as a barbaric Mongol intruder who overthrew Sultan Ibrahim at the Battle of Panipat in 1526 to seat himself in the throne at Delhi, our history focuses more on the monumental feats of his descendants - Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and even Aurangzeb.

In author Alex Rutherford's (the pen-name for the husband-wife writing team of Michael and Diana Preston) Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North, the author recreates the life of Babur, as described in his memoirs, the Baburnama. Rutherford describes the ambitions of the 12-year-old Babur, who faces a seemingly impossible challenge as he becomes the new ruler of Ferghana in Central Asia in 1494. Determined to equal his great ancestor, Timur aka Tamburlaine, whose conquests stretched from Delhi to the Mediterranean, the child-king has to overcome treasonous plots, tribal rivalries, rampaging armies and ruthlessly ambitious enemies that threaten his destiny, kingdom and even his survival. As he tests his wits and will, Babur realises that a man never feels as alive as he is in the presence of death.

But the book is not just about Babur. It's about the women and men who stood by him even in defeat - his mother, Kutlugh Nigar, his strong-willed maternal grandmother, Esan Dawlat and his loving older sister Khanzada who was forcefully taken as wife by Uzbek warlord Shaibani Khan after he defeated Babur at Samarkand, his guide and chief mentor, Wazir Khan, his loyal commander and father-in-law, Baisanghar and Baburi, a former market-boy and Babur's closest friend.

It's the relationship and comparison between Babur and Baburi that gives the book a different flavour. Baburi lifts Babur’s spirits when he is depressed, brings him back to earth when his ambitions take flight. He shows signs of jealousy when Babur talks about his wife.  They argue and they brawl. Babur relies on Baburi's street-survival skills as much as he does on the wisdom of Wazir Khan and Baisanghar. Baburi disappears after a spat with Babur and returns years later after a stint in the Ottoman army. He introduces Babur to gunpowder that is crucial to Babur’s subsequent success.

Though the author has used the liberties afforded to historical novelists to flesh out some of the characters or create new ones, Rutherford's idea of using the candid Baburnama to create a work of historical fiction is simply brilliant. In Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North, the characters come alive as do the places. Google the images of Ferghana and Samarkand and you'll find the monuments with bulbous blue domes, apple and apricot orchards and melons that Babur talks of in the book.

Rutherford writes, "I've followed Babur over the rolling hills and golden grasslands to Samarkand, to Kabul where his simple grave - recently restored with funds from Unesco - still sits on the hillside above the city, down though the Khyber Pass to the plains of northern India to Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan.

Everything I saw on those travels, everything I experienced, added to my admiration of and affection for Babur not only as warrior, adventurer, survivor and founder of the Moghul Empire but also as writer, gardener and lover of poetry and architecture."

Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North
is indeed a fitting tribute to the flawed and brave man who founded a great dynasty and a grand empire!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

No Magic, no Mysticism... Just Meditation!

What happens to your body when you meditate...

Eisha Sarkar

Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 25 2010 10:51AM
From The Beatles to Deepak Chopra, David Lynch to Clint Eastwood, Gwyneth Paltrow to Gisele Bündchen, many celebrities have come forward to attest the benefits of meditation. Scientists have also shown how you can chant yourself healthy. So what exactly happens to your body when you meditate?

What is meditation?

Meditation is generally a subjective, personal experience and often done without any external involvement, except prayer beads. It often involves invoking and cultivating a feeling or internal state, such as compassion, or attending to some focal point. The term can refer to the process of reaching this state, as well as to the state itself.

Meditation techniques have often been used for counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses.

Our body responds to stress and relaxation through the three systems:

1.       autonomic nervous system

2.       endocrine system, and

3.       skeletal (voluntary) and smooth (autonomic) musculature systems

So meditation,

Pacifies the senses

The autonomic nervous system has two branches: the sympathetic which increases arousal when the body is under threat, and the parasympathetic which restores the body to a resting state. The sympathetic nervous system's response is that of fight and flight, characterised by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow to voluntary muscles, blood glucose level, breathing rate, acuity of senses, sweating, and a decrease in digestive activity, which are required for an alert or emergency. In the absence of challenge or excitement, these actions are reversed and the parasympathetic system takes control. It also increases the tone in our small airways (bronchial constriction), promotes blood flow to the bowels and digestion is improved.

Balances the brain

Research has shown that meditation helps to balance the logical side of the brain and the creative side of the brain. During meditation the brain manufactures alpha and theta brainwaves (detected by electroencephalography). You spend most of your day in beta brainwaves which is important to carry out every day activities but can also drain you. Attaining alpha and theta brain waves on a regular basis can help improve memory, increase concentration, help you relax, boost your energy and happiness.

Releases the body’s pain-relievers

The endocrine system works closely with the autonomic system by releasing hormones which modify the action of the internal organs in response to the environmental stimuli. While adrenaline produced by the adrenal glands is associated with anxiety and flight (flee) behaviour, the brain produces opioid peptides such as enkephalins, endorphins and dynorphins. These are associated with changes in mood, pain threshold, immune activity and on bronchial (lungs) and arterial smooth muscle tone. Meditation also induces the production of analgesic beta endorphins in the hypothalamus of the brain.

Eases muscle tension

The muscles connected to the bones are voluntary and muscles in the internal organs are smooth muscles, which are involuntary or autonomic. The release of tension in the skeletal musculature during meditation is believed to have a calming effect on the mind.

Reduces oxygen consumption

The rate of change is startling. Within the first three minutes, oxygen consumption drops by 10 to 17 per cent. Oxygen consumption is a good indicator of how much work the body is doing, and when you rest, oxygen consumption drops.  Meditation also reduces carbon dioxide production in the body.

Lowers blood pressure

A relaxation technique known as Transcendental Meditation (TM) may decrease blood pressure and reduce insulin resistance among patients with coronary heart disease. Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and improve fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, which signify reduced insulin resistance (which occurs when the body is unable to use the insulin produced by the pancreas to process sugar into energy).

Not much of a high!

Alcohol shrinks your brain, lowers your spirits and may even make you lose your memory

Eisha Sarkar

Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 23 2010 12:04AM
When was the last time you’d woken up feeling fresh after partying all night? Wasn't alcohol supposed to give you a high? Then why did you feel like you were plummeting into the abyss of depression? Now, here's the secret that labels on the liquor bottles don't tell you: alcohol can damage your brain.

"Drinking doesn't cause a hangover, waking up does."

Toxic mind

Though a small amount of alcohol may help you relax and feel less anxious, in increasing amounts, alcohol will suppress the part of your brain that controls judgement, resulting in inappropriate behaviour and a loss of inhibitions. Alcohol is a contributing factor to many assaults, incidents of domestic violence and fatal road accidents.

Alcohol has a toxic effect on the central nervous system (CNS) and can results in changes to metabolism, heart functioning and blood supply. It interferes with the absorption of vitamin B1 (thiamine), which is an important brain nutrient. It can cause dehydration, which may lead to wastage of brain cells, shrinking your brain. It can also lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain.

Alcohol can cause dementia

Excessive drinking over a long period of time can result in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome,  a form of dementia.  There are very few qualitative differences between alcohol dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and it is therefore difficult to distinguish the two. Some of the warning signs may include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, poor or impaired judgment and problems with language. The biggest indicator would be friends or family members reporting changes in personality. Because these warning signs are so similar, alcohol dementia can be difficult to diagnose.

Why do you feel so low?

Since alcohol is a known depressant, people with depression shouldn't drink. The depression caused by alcohol actually starts with your physical body. First, it lowers the serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain. These chemicals give you a feeling of well being and help you to feel normal.

Alcohol also temporarily nullifies the effects of stress hormones. This is why after drinking you feel worse than ever, because alcohol depresses your nervous system and your brain.

Alcohol can activate a gene that has been linked to depression and other mental issues. The result of this activation can cause not only depression, but seizures, and manic depressive episodes as well.

Drinking adds wrinkles to your face

Wonder why people who drink too much look too old for their age? A new Italian study shows that alcohol consumption speeds up the ageing process and raises the risk of cancer. Researchers have found that drinking damages part of the cells that are linked to premature ageing and cancer. They discovered that it causes stress and inflammation to telomeres – the ends of DNA strands that stop them unravelling much like the ends of shoe-laces. As people age, telomere length shortens progressively and eventually they are so damaged the cell dies. The study found alcohol accelerates this process. Alcohol also dehydrates the skin as well as the body while feeding it toxins which results in wrinkles and skin damage.

Watch how much you drink

Avoiding alcohol altogether will go a long way in keeping your health intact. But if you can't resist the temptation to drink, drink moderately and occasionally. Here are some guidelines that you may follow to avoid risking addiction.

  • For men and women: A maximum of two standard alcoholic drinks a day with at least two alcohol-free days every week.
  • Children and youth: The safest choice for young people under 18 years of age is not to drink at all. Young people under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and are advised not to drink alcohol.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: The safest choice is not to drink alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding or if you are planning to become pregnant.

Five ways to get a good night's sleep

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on August 23, 2010
Sleep has been one of the biggest casualties of our fast-paced lifestyles. Search the word 'insomnia' on Google, you will find over 98 million sites that tell you about the problem and how to deal with it. With an increasing number of people seeking bottled pills to sleep-inducing pillows, sleep has transformed from a state of rest to an industry in itself. But should sleep come with a price-tag attached?
Restless sleep
If you have difficulty sleeping, it is essential to determine the disease or condition causing the problem. Sometimes insomnia is caused by pain, digestive problems or a sleep disorder. It may also signal depression or anxiety. Medication for colds, allergies, birth control, thyroid disease, high blood pressure, asthma, heart disease and depression can also lead to insomnia. Symptoms for insomnia include:
·         difficulty falling asleep
·         waking up frequently during the night
·         difficulty returning to sleep
·         waking up too early in the morning
·         daytime sleepiness
·         difficulty concentrating
·         irritability 
Tips to help you sleep better
In his book Restful Sleep, physician Dr Deepak Chopra suggests, "If you really want to sleep, don't try to sleep." You should be able to sleep effortlessly and if you don't, alcohol or pills are not going to help you in the long run. Here are five steps to help you get a good night's sleep:

1.       Log off: Facebook may be more important to you than toothbrush, but it doesn't help if you go to bed thinking about the eye-catching status message you'll put up next. Besides, the unnecessary light exposure can mess with your melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep and waking cycles) levels. Set a fixed computer shutdown time, say 9.30 pm, a good hour before you hit the sack. Ditto for the television! TV is inherently exciting to the nervous system and stimulates sight, hearing and all mental function. Switch it off and indulge in some light reading instead.

2.       Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Too much caffeine late in the day can keep you up for hours. Have your last cup of coffee before noon and stick to herbal tea after that. Drinking alcohol too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, so if you crave a glass of wine, have it with dinner.

3.       Don't lose your sleep over time: If you worry too much about falling asleep, most likely it's the worry that's keeping you awake. So if you think you are unable to sleep till 3 am every night, try keeping yourself awake till 3 am. Inevitably, you'll sleep earlier than that.

4.       Have a light, early dinner: A rich, hearty dinner, topped off with a big slice of chocolate cake may seem like the perfect way to end the day, but it’s wise to avoid eating a large meal within two hours of bed. Digestion involves increased metabolic activity, which works against settling down for sleep. Eat your dinner around 7 pm to allow for your stomach to settle before you go to bed.

5.       Exercise during the day: Besides its many other wonderful mental and physical health benefits, regular exercise can also make it easier to fall asleep. However, schedule your exercise in the morning or early afternoon. Exercising too late in the day actually stimulates the body, raising its temperature and may delay your sleep.

How much do you need to sleep?
The amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age. Infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. Women in the first three months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days.

Spot Reduction: Myths and Truths

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Aug 23 2010 12:25AM
"Our special thigh toning squeeze master will give you firm shapely legs in less than five minutes a day." You watch a rather attractive woman tone her thighs on the teleshopping network channel and you secretly wish to buy the product. It's better than sweating it out on the treadmill, you think. Besides, it works on just your problem area. The rest of your body is fine, anyway. Right?
Spot reduction, as advertisers of such products promise, is the reduction of fat from a specific area of the body through exercise of specific muscles in the desired area, such as exercising the abdominal muscles in an effort to lose weight in or around one's midsection. But does spot reduction really deliver? 
Here are some myths and truths related to spot reduction:

Myth: You will attain a flat stomach just by performing abdominal exercises.
Truth: You definitely won't. The reason is simple. A muscle does not own the fat that surrounds it. Sit-ups, for example, will definitely strengthen your abdominal muscles, but sit-ups alone will not get rid of the layer of fat that is covering the muscles. To lose fat anywhere on your body you need to burn calories by following a programme that involves both cardiovascular training and weight training. In doing so, you will decrease fat stores throughout your entire body, including the problem areas.

Myth: You'll get rid of all that stubborn fat if you rub some anti-cellulite cream.
Truth: Though there are contradicting reports on this one, scientists say that the cellulite cream is effective only when its ingredients have the capabilities to enter into the bloodstream and break down fats cells and connective tissues. But most of the cosmetic cellulite treatments just work on the upper skin rather inside the tissues and bloodstream. Also, most cellulite creams that are said to have been effective contain caffeine because it helps blood flow to the skin and works like a diuretic. By removing moisture from the skin, it firms it, temporarily.

Myth: Liposuction is a true spot reduction method that will permanently remove fat pockets.
Truth: When one thinks of surgery, there is always the possibility of complications. Though the dangers associated with liposuction are often over-hyped, they are dangers nonetheless. Liposuction involves suction of fat cells from specific parts of the body after loosening the fatty areas. Embolism may occur when fat is loosened and a fat particle enters the blood through ruptured blood vessels ruptured during liposuction. Consequently, some pieces of fat cells get trapped in the blood vessels, accumulate in the lungs, or worse, travel to the brain. The signs of pulmonary fat emboli (fat clots in the lungs), is usually shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing. If you are exhibiting these symptoms after your surgery, it is necessary to seek emergency medical help at once. The more common problems associated with liposuction are swelling or edema that may last for weeks together. Besides, if you keep eating more calories than you're burning off after liposuction, you will have to store those calories as fat again. 

Myth: Muscle gained during a strength training program will turn to fat once you stop strength training.
Truth: Muscle and fat are two different tissues which are completely independent of each other. If you stop weight-training, your muscles will shrink because the stimulus to increase or maintain their size is no longer there; but by no means can they, or will they, turn into fat. If you feel your body is becoming less toned or, for lack of a better word, more “soft” it is simply because your proportion of fat to muscle has changed. Fat, although you may not have gained any more of it, is now dominant simply because you have lost muscle. Another possible reason for the change is a common problem that exists with many people, primarily athletes. The problem is that they stop exercising, but maintain their eating habits, and thus slowly begin to put on weight. If you had been exercising but stopped, be sure to make dietary changes to compensate for the decrease in daily energy expenditure.