Balanced nutrition, rest and exercise: it sounds so simple. At the same time it requires a way of life that is very difficult to consistently achieve and maintain in our hectic society. Keeping these factors in check is extremely valuable to stay as healthy as possible the natural way. In which forms of therapy does this advice form the basis? What are simple tips to get as close as possible to the ideal routine?

This week we discuss pillar number 1: Rest.


Sufficient nighttime sleep is crucial for our functioning, mental well-being and the body's ability to recover. However, many people face sleep challenges: as many as 45% of all adults experience regular bouts of sleeplessness. Contributing factors are many. Blue light (especially in the evening), suboptimal diet, stress, lack of morning sun and of daytime exercise: everything has an independent influence -- and then these factors coincide. This convergence of factors is the commonest source of sleep deprivation in Western society.

Experiencing sleep deprivation consists of several possible components: not falling asleep properly and staying asleep, waking up too early and not rested. In many cases, wanting to tackle all components at the same time is not feasible. When you are tired it is tempting to stay in bed longer or take naps after a bad night, but this rarely helps to improve sleep. Therefore, it is better to focus on sleep quality and sleep hygiene and maintain the proper rhythm of going to bed and getting up. Consider the following points to optimize your sleep:

  • Avoid blue light (such as from screens and blue artificial light) as much as possible, at least one hour before going to sleep. Blue light disrupts the natural melatonin production and thus the biorhythm. Impossible? Consider special glasses with colored lenses that filter out the blue light.
  • Maintain proper sleep hygiene. Use your bed for sleep and pleasure, not for working, worrying, or eating. A cool, dark bedroom with plenty of fresh air and a comfortable bed are important - although some people advocate sleeping on the floor as well!
  • Use the same sleeping ritual every night. We do this with our children, but one also prepares the adult body for sleep by means of associations, which automatically triggers the release of the necessary sleep hormones. Just meditate, do some breathing exercises, write or read to clear the mind, or take a soothing (magnesium) bath... your body is a creature of habit, so trial what helps you to relax and keep it up for a while.
  • Eat yourself to sleep. So no chocolate, alcohol or caffeine within 6 hours of going to bed! Heavy or spicy meals can also keep you awake. A lighter supper and no late night snack will keep your body from having digestion as its primary activity while you crawl into bed. Sufficient protein in your diet also ensures that the right building blocks are available to synthesize sleep hormones.

If you do not sleep well, you will want to go for the short-term solution in the form of a melatonin supplement or even prescription sleep medication, but there is a lot to be gained when the basics are closely examined - and much more profit in the long run.

Breathing effectively

You breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. We learn this early on, but many people only breathe through the mouth. This can be a conscious thing (when your nose is blocked for example), but it mainly happens unconsciously. In your sleep many people breathe through the mouth, which can cause snoring and a dry mouth, among other adverse effects. After all, breathing through the nose moistens inhaled air more than does mouth breathing, which is better for the sinuses and lungs.

A trick to promote nasal breathing during sleep is to tape the mouth with loose tape: 'mouth taping'. In addition to the more humidified air through the nose, there are also benefits for oral health: a moist mouth has a better microbiome balance than a dried out mouth. Be careful with mouth taping if you have a stuffy nose or existing respiratory complaints such as an allergy or sleep apnea.

In addition to mouth breathing, we humans also tend to breathe too shallow. When people are distracted by work including screen work, research has shown that breathing tends to be shallow, irregular and sometimes even stops for up to 30 seconds, a phenomenon also known as 'e-mail apnea'. This form of breathing is part of hyperventilation, which means that the body can experience stress unconsciously even without a panic reaction. With too little oxygen entering the blood, the sympathetic nervous system activates, which allows you to react acutely to threats. By breathing in calmly and deeply, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, bringing the body back to a state of rest and recovery.

A study that trained participants with an anxiety disorder to use abdominal breathing when they were tense, showed that after a few weeks their bodies experienced fewer signs of stress.

Such breathing exercises are suitable when you want to go to sleep, but also for general relaxation. Breathing in a slowed rhythm (for example 2-4 seconds in, 8 seconds out) decreases blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, all under parasympathetic influence. In this way you can, as it were, force the body to relax. Forced relaxation sounds like a contradiction in terms -- but give it a try when you feel tension. Conscious breathing is an essential part of yoga and meditation, and for a reason.

You can learn to meditate

Meditation was originally that Eastern thing, but today people worldwide are aware of the benefits that the practice brings. There is nothing better for returning to your inner self in our hectic existence with its constant stream of stimuli, than indeed, to find peace and to reconnect with your 'I'. Half an hour a day is all you need! The healing power of the body is also addressed with meditation.

Some nice meditation facts:

  • Research has shown that meditation increases the density of the cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. These areas of the brain are associated with emotional integration, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
  • On meta-analysis, a series of small studies with persons with minor brain trauma (such as a chronic concussion) showed benefit from meditation and yoga. Their fatigue symptoms, psychological well-being and cognitive ability evidenced promising improvements from regular practice.
  • The immune system also benefits from meditation. The relationship between a good immune response and meditation has been widely investigated, where various values have been shown to improve under the influence of meditation. Inflammation parmeters went down, for example, while the number of CD-4 cells (which stimulate body cells to fight an infection) increased.
  • The microbiome, which we now know also plays a vital role in the body’s natural defenses, also responds to stress and can become unbalanced. Your intestinal flora therefore also benefits from controlling stress levels.

Superbrain yoga

It may also be difficult for you to schedule relaxation exercises for half an hour a day. Don't worry, there is a form of yoga for that too: Superbrain yoga. With just 3 minutes a day of this yoga form you can give your brain a boost through the specific posture of Superbrain yoga. It not only restores balance to your body, but also between your two hemispheres. This would allow an improvement and more balance for your mental performance and inner peace in a short time. A fast energy recharger!

How to practice Superbrain yoga?

  • Stand up straight and push your tongue against your upper palate like when you’re going to say 'la'.
  • Cross your arms and take your earlobes between your thumb and index finger of the contralateral hands, with thumbs pointing forward.
  • Take a deep breath, and drop into a squat position. Rise up as you exhale.
  • Repeat the squat movement at least 15 times without moving your hands and tongue.

Life is often hectic -- but you can learn to relax. Dutch 'ice man' Wim Hof is renowned for his mental focus, meditation and breathing techniques. With his self-developed technique, he gets his body under control in such a way that he can consciously influence his body temperature, heart rate and even immune system.

Ever aspired to conquer Kilimanjaro in shorts? It's never too late to start learning to relax!