Screens are a problem. We spend on average almost nine hours each day in front of digital devices - I’m on two right now. All of these screens emit blue light, which, when we’re exposed to it for prolonged periods of time, can be detrimental to our health. Blue light encourages alertness during the day, but after a long day staring at emails can affect your circadian rhythm, leading to poor sleep and the health problems this causes: reduction of melatonin, loss of focus, muscle pain, depression. The list goes on, and the collection of symptoms together is becoming known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
Cutting down on screen time is the perfect remedy. However, if, like me, you’re chained to your computer desk like some sort of corporate dancing bear, there are other ways to mitigate for the problem. Barner eyewear was founded by Eduardo Gaya and Ramón Perez, two men involved in the start-up and wider tech industry, to address the blue light problem. Each pair of Barner’s glasses are coated with a special blue light blocking formula to combat the rise of CVS, while the frames actually look good as opposed to you sitting in your office wearing some sort of anti-light goggle.
“Nowadays any workplace is full of screens, not only the ones we have in our laptops but the external monitors we use, meeting rooms, phones, tablets, etc. I realised I was living surrounded by screens and feeling some of the effects of this overexposure to blue light myself. I used to use eye drops to hydrate my eyes because around 6- 7pm, my eyes were feeling tired, itchy and with some redness. The drops worked, but I always had the feeling that it was not enough.”
“One day going through the engineering building at my workplace I saw some people wearing yellow-tinted glasses that I never seen before. I asked a friend what they were for and he told me they were computer glasses. This was kind of the light bulb moment. I thought that it was an amazing idea, but we should create glasses for everyone to wear in their workplace with a great design, not only targeting developers, but targeting everyone that is in front of their laptop for more than three hours per day.”
“Yep. I think many people suffer the effects of sitting in front of screens for the whole day. At the time I didn't know what CVS was, but when I started investigating it, I shared this with many of my colleagues and many of them said they were feeling the symptoms. To validate the idea we did a survey of 400 people, and 85 per cent of them felt the symptoms of CVS.”
“Totally! I think lot of companies are already taking care of the wellbeing of their employees, in many different ways such as gym, massage, good chairs, good food etc. Helping them block the blue light of their digital devices to improve their wellbeing should be a no-brainer for them as well.”
“I felt a huge difference. Once the idea came up, I went to an optician and I asked for some blue light blocking glasses - that cost me 300€ . The difference was so obvious that I stopped using eye drops, I could stay longer working in front of my laptop, was more focused and my eyes were much more relaxed. After testing this for myself for a few months, we thought we should create a cool brand of computer glasses, with the highest quality CR-39 lenses and a great design.”
“For us it’s really important to give back to society. We were born thanks to the crowd. We are super thankful, because without the support of the backers, Barner wouldn't exist right now. This is why we thought it is essential to give back to all of them, and on this campaign we’ve already planted 4,211 trees in California, donated $937 for the investigation of auto-immune diseases such as lupus and influenced the regeneration of 3,200 acres of infertile land.”
It might seem absurd that the latest wellness offering just, um, helps you breathe better. But stay with me, there’s so much more to breathwork than some New Age guru directing your inhales and exhales. It’s a complex practice with profound mental, emotional and spiritual benefits ranging from curbing anxiety and stress, to life-changing epiphanies.
I’ve heard that a session can cause hallucinations of being back in the womb, physical collapse and uncontrollable fits of weeping. So it’s with mild trepidation I arrive at private members club and co-working space The Ministry in London. The workshop area feels like the chill room of a club, mellow lighting of blues and purples overhead and soulful beats thrumming from speakers. A lithe, fringed Gwyneth Paltrow doppelganger flits between yoga mats dousing the air with a smoking clump of sage.
Once the thirty-odd attendees are settled on the fanned rows of mats, the class begins with the question: How is your breathing right now? “Shallow”, “restricted”, “isolated at the top of my chest” and “fast and uneven” are among the responses called back. It’s strange to tune into something so fundamental to daily life, only to realise how unnatural and labored it suddenly feels.
This awkward, irregular breathing is due to an overactive fight or flight response, says Stuart Sandeman, our teacher this evening and founder of Breathpod – a business offering corporate, group and one-to-one breathing and coaching programmes. “The trouble is that daily stresses mean we’re habitually programmed to remain in this mode, even when no tiger has entered the room to threaten our existence,” he explains.
Breathwork can break this pattern and decrease anxiety, aid emotional healing and enhance personal growth. Key to the practice is flooding the body with oxygen by breathing in very deeply and then releasing air from the lungs in effortless short puffs over a lengthy period.
“We’re shifting the alchemy of carbon dioxide and oxygen, creating a kind of electricity in the body. Think of it as super-ventilating, not hyperventilating,” Sandeman says. “We’re getting all frequencies in the body to vibe at their highest level.” The lower ones will synchronise or ‘auto-tune’ with higher ones in a process called entrainment, he explains.
There are three steps to achieve this. First, breathing needs to be done through a wide-open mouth. Next, the air needs to travel deep into the belly, before being expelled quickly but without trying. And lastly, one breath should link with the next in a circular motion – think didgeridoo-playing levels of control.
We begin breathing with gusto. A playlist of incredible music bolsters our efforts. Assistants roam the room, propping open mouths struggling to stay wide with oral devices or conducting acupressure belly pokes to guide breaths in and out.
Our intense rolling breathing is interrupted every now and then with a brief interlude of “toning and movement”. Basically thrashing our limbs about vigorously while yelling at the top of our lungs in a high-voltage om chant of sorts. It’s a vital part of the practice that energises the heart space and ensures we don’t get an attack of “chicken claws” – an actual term referring to a cramping and gnarling of the hands and feet from excessive oxygen in the bloodstream.
We end with a much deserved period of grounding stillness. The girl on my right is whimpering softly to herself, while the one on my left giddily tells me she feels euphoric and connected to everyone in the room.
While I can’t say I returned to a pre-birth state or solved the riddle of existence, the experience was strangely exhilarating. My limbs feeling awash with a tingling energy. It’s as if I have just done an epic meditation session, but with the added afterglow of an endorphin-pumping physical workout. I’m definitely more present, calm and at ease.
Research shows that holotropic breathing – a similar technique involving guided breathing to reach beneficial altered states of consciousness – reduces stress and anxiety, boosts self esteem, treats depression and aids spiritual exploration.
“By connecting with the breath, we connect with out own innate inner healing wisdom, thus allowing whatever is needed for our healing to appear in a session,” Sonja Busch, co-founder of the European Association for Holotropic Breathwork, tells me. “Experiences can be easy or difficult. However, if well supported and integrated, people report more joy, energy and stability in life, as well as improved health and relationships.”
Breathwork is not a new form of therapy, with breathing techniques used for healing throughout history. However Sandeman wants to make it more accessible to today’s average “John from HSBC in Moorgate, who might’ve done the odd yoga class because his girlfriend dragged him along”, he says. And given the intense stress of frenetic city living, this “John” could certainly use his help. We all could.
After three years using a smartphone app to track down the calories she was consuming each day, Kiara Gabrielle Licursi decided she had enough. Training regularly at the gym, jumping ropes and taking her health and fitness seriously, she also wanted to think about food differently.
“I was forgetting the main rules that I have for myself which are about health and not weight loss. I wanted to live more freely and to eat based on how my body was feeling and on how intense my training was. So I turned to intuitive eating,” she explains.
Intuitive eating is a different, non-diet approach to health and wellness, that aims to break the cycle of chronic dieting and heal people’s relationship with food. It’s about rejecting rules, restrictions or schedules that surround food and learning to listen to the body and the signals it sends.
The term was first coined in the 1990s when two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, published a book about it. This is an idea that has been around for a while then, but it has regained popularity in recent years and a growing number of people - whether fitness enthusiasts like Licursi or individuals who may just have a general interest in being healthier - are trying it out.
“This renewed interest in intuitive eating is building on the work of fat acceptance and the anti-dieting movement which has very deep roots and has been going on for many years. As dietitians, our role is to help people recover a healthier relationship with food, and intuitive eating is an interesting approach to do this,” says UK-based registered dietitian Jess Rann.
But what does intuitive eating mean in practice? The perspective of not having rules to follow and of reconnecting with our body may sound a bit daunting, especially if you have been used to dieting for years. It takes time to adjust to a way of eating that asks you to be more relaxed about food, and understanding your own cravings, and your hunger and satiety cues takes practice. The principles laid out by Tribole and Resch may be interesting to start out (see box below).
“There is no right or wrong way to intuitive eating. Thinking there is a specific technique you can apply is actually part of the diet mentality. Intuitive eating is being a bit more intentional with you eating, but without following rigid rules, it’s honouring your hunger when you are hungry and asking yourself the questions: Am I hungry now? What am I hungry for? What can I eat to feel well?”, US-based Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Therapist Alissa Rumsey says.
This message is not always well understood and misconceptions about intuitive eating remain.
“There seems to be a misunderstanding, as some people believe it’s about encouraging them to eat doughnuts all day long if that’s what they fancy,” Rann adds. “There might be a honeymoon period at the start when people may eat like that. But on the long term we find that it’s an approach that teaches them to have a healthier relationship with food”.
Intuitive eating pushes us to deconstruct rules and people should feel free to eat whatever they want, without being judgemental or referring to certain foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. As time goes by, when you learn to listen to your body and to trust it, you will end up eating in a more balanced way.
“Each time you crave a chocolate bar, maybe you’re not always going to eat one. When craving something, I try to understand what the body is communicating. Maybe it’s missing something. For example, craving cheese might mean you are lacking calories, or if it’s chocolate you want maybe you are missing potassium and magnesium,” Licursi explains.
Accepting that such an approach might take some time getting used to and seeking the support of a dietitian can be helpful. Many resources also exist, with books (the ‘Intuitive Eating’ book by Tribole and Resch or ‘Just Eat It’ by UK-based dietitian Laura Thomas are good places to start) and podcasts.
Research has recently shown that eating more intuitively is associated with a range of health benefits.
People have been shown to have lower levels of bad cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as better glucose control. Intuitive eating has also been linked to weight loss and lower body mass index.
However, psychological improvements are almost as important. “Benefits include lower rates of disordered eating, better body image, and less stress. People don’t realise this, but it frees up so much of time and energy when you are not constantly thinking about food and dieting, and it can improve your relationships with people,” says Rumsey.
Whatever the reasons you want to try intuitive eating or the health benefits you are hoping to see, the key is to remain flexible. That means people can attend social events where they may not be able to eat what they want, at the time they want - and that’s ok too. This is not yet another diet, but a way of thinking about and relating to food, enjoying it and feeling better along the way.
The “Intuitive Eating” book that started it all includes 10 principles that can guide people in mending their relationship with food.
Reject the Diet Mentality: Get rid of diet books, magazine articles, social media accounts that offer false hope of transforming your body.
Honour Your Hunger: Learning how to honour this biological signal helps you set the stage for rebuilding trust in your body and with food.
Make Peace with Food: Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods without guilt or moral judgement.
Challenge the Food Police: Combat the thoughts in your head that dictate that there are "good" and "bad" foods.
Respect Your Fullness: Start observing the signs that indicate that you are becoming comfortably full.
Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Appreciate and enjoy the pleasure that can be derived from food.
Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food: Learn tools to help you cope with your emotions.
Respect Your Body: Accept your body as it is - for example by wearing clothes that are comfortable and make you feel great in the size that it is now!
Explore Joyful Movement: Focus on how it feels to move your body in a way that you enjoy, without focusing on the calorie-burning effect.
Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: Discover ways to honour your health and tastebuds with your food.
“Once clients are comfortable with eating a wide variety of foods and are no longer restricting, we move on to discussing gentle nutrition with them. This focuses on what can be added into the diet, such as extra fibre to help with bowel movements. It is also really important that we let the client lead with foods that they like and enjoy,” Rann concludes.