Monthly Archives: June 2010

5 steps to get started with barefoot running

Lately, barefoot running has become a new craze in what I like to ‘The Minimalist Circle’ 🙂 It sounded so interesting, that I decided to give it a try a couple of weeks ago and have been doing it regularly ever since.

what is barefoot running?

Barefoot running is what it says on the tin. It’s running without expensive trainers because that’s how humans have run for thousands of years. It’s getting back to nature by ditching shoes (a modern invention) that have changed how we step as we run. Originally, humans ran by stepping with the ball of the foot first and then the heel would follow. Nowadays, the design of shoes mean that we all tend to step heel to toe (the opposite way around). When you’re running, if your heel touches the ground first, your entire weight is impacted upwards into your knees with every step.

Try running around at home barefooted for a few minutes. Notice how quickly you revert back to the ‘natural’ way of running (ball of foot first).

If you tried that exercise, and found it to be true, your body is aching to go barefoot running!

When I first tried it, I was living in a city, and there was no way I wanted to have broken glass jammed up my feet, so I decided to mix it up a bit.  I would run in trainers to the park and then run wearing socks on the grass. The park is huge, and kept very clean, so there was little chance I would step on something unpleasant.

Fortunately, at home, I live by a beach. From experience, I’ve found that running on sand is a completely different kind of running, because the ground is so soft. So I had always run in trainers on the concrete pavement parallel to the sea. But, having grown up by the ocean, I know that for a certain time after the tide has gone out, the sand is solid from the moisture and is more suitable for running, so I run barefoot there often too.

the benefits

According to Wikipedia (take that as you like) there is some research evidence that found that:

barefoot running is healthier for feet and reduces risk of chronic injuries, notably repetitive stress injuries due to the impact of heel striking in padded running shoes, in addition to other purported benefits.

However, I should give a word of warning. Although there are a few medical authorities advocating barefoot running, it may not be for everyone. It depends on a number of factors, such as where you live and what your own body is like. Personally, I’ve experienced a lot of benefits from running barefoot, and have heard other positive accounts, but that doesn’t mean that it will be the same for everyone.

The best thing to do is to just try it out a couple of times and see for yourself. I’m not saying you have to make a complete switch and do it all the time, maybe you can just sprinkle it between your normal runs.

5 beginner’s tips for barefoot running

1. You don’t have to go barefoot all the way. Actually, you don’t have to be barefoot at all! If you feel uncomfortable, try running in socks on grass. I’ve found it to be just as effective as running barefooted anyway.

2. Keep in mind, you don’t look as silly as you think. To be honest, at first I did feel a bit silly, and I was really concious of people ‘looking’ at me as I ran in the park. But after a while, I got used to it and realised that nobody was really ‘looking’ at all – it was just in my head. And anyway, so what if they look? It’s not illegal, and who knows, they could really be thinking ‘that looks fun!’ and want to try it themselves!

3. It doesn’t just feel different, it feels better. I couldn’t believe it at first, but it really does feel more natural. By just taking off those (expensive yet) encumbering shoes, I felt really free, just like a kid again. Although I’m not quite ready to throw away my running shoes, I definitely use them a lot less now.

4. Realize you don’t need expensive running gear. Apart from regular running shoes, I also found that I don’t need expensive barefoot running shoes. There are a few options available, such as the Vibram brand, but in my opinion, that’s just buying more running shoes! I know that for a lot of people, the shoes are great because it means they can run barefoot on concrete/roads etc. but I think it’s much better for people to just try out barefoot running with socks on grass than using the shoes as an ‘I-don’t-want-to-commit-because-it’s-expensive‘ excuse not to do it.

5. It’s hard at first, but don’t give up, because it’s worth it. It may not be as cushioned and lovely to run on grass, soil and twigs but then again, why not try something different? If everything was easy, it wouldn’t be exciting now would it? For me, doing things differently and outside my comfort zone gives me a rush, and is much more fun than doing the same things the same way over and over again.

Please don’t just read this post and think ‘that sounds nice‘ and leave it at that, why not try it today?

And if you’ve already tried it, how did it go? I would love to hear what you think about barefoot running in the comments!

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10 steps to a minimalist summer

Ahh, summer time. There’s so much you can do without having to spend a ton of money, here are some ideas to give your summer a minimalist twist.

how to create a minimalist summer

1. Spring Summer Cleaning. Start the summer off with a massive clear out of all of the things you’ve accumulated this year. Give it away, or check your local parks/schools for boot sale opportunities. Price low, don’t worry about making profits or getting you money back, just think of it as donating your things to people who actually want your stuff.

2. Take up a new hobby. Almost everybody has said this sentence before: “I’ve always wanted to try…”. Have you? What goes at the end? You decide, and make it happen. What better time to do it than now?

3. Picnic. Instead of eating out, why not call some friends and have a picnic? Or an old fashioned tea party? For cutlery and food, you can all contribute a little and put together everything you need. You can spend an afternoon chatting and catching up, and if you try hard enough, you won’t need to buy anything!

4. Don’t go shopping. Here’s a challenge, try not to buy new clothes this summer. Unless you really have to, why not dig out last year’s summer clothes, or cutting unwanted winter clothes, like old jeans? Summer clothes are the most simple and versatile, I bet you can find something to wear without having to buy it. Also, vintage clothes are in.

5. Clear your timetable. Without classes, lot’s of students take the summer as an opportunity to work. Of course it’s great to earn and save up money, but be careful not to work too much. Remember, the summer is for taking a break from work, not taking on more hours of stress to make up for not having any classes!

6. Walk or cycle. Take advantage of the nice weather and get out of those stuffy cars. Walk or cycle to places instead. It’s free, good exercise and you can feel the cool summer breeze run through your hair, isn’t this what summer is for?

7. Take a road trip. In many places, you can have a perfectly fun time without having to fly abroad. Get on a coach, bike or car-share and take a ride to the  beach/theme park/museum/aquarium/tourist city/countryside/lake. It’ll be greener than flying, plus it probably be cheaper, so you don’t have to work as hard to save up for it.

8. Find a summer course. Many universities, schools and adult education centers run summer courses every year. Most of the time, they’re established language courses, so if you’re interested in learning another language, give it a go! Otherwise, there are art classes, teaching-English courses, writing classes, drama groups, business workshops and I’ve even seen sign language and lip-reading lessons!

9. Review notes. Wait! I haven’t gone crazy 🙂 It might be a good idea to flick through your notes or books every now and again, otherwise you might forget most of it and you don’t want to have completely wasted this year. Plus, chances are that you’ll need to know the basics for the next year, and you probably don’t want to be trumped by a pop quiz when you return.

10. Get fit. Summer is a fantastic time to take up jogging. I love to run, but having heard a lot of good things about barefoot running, so I tried that too. Summer is also a fab time to start playing tennis, go outdoor swimming, or even to throw a frisbee in the park.

Summer only comes around once a year, so make it worthwhile!

What are you up to this summer? Have you got any more minimalist ideas? Please share them with everyone in the comments!

Photo: Minimal Student

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5 ways to create a minimalist’s world

If you have recently discovered minimalism, or you’re naturally quite minimalistic, it can get a little frustrating to watch your family and friends spend large amounts of time and money acquiring material things like more clothes, a new gadget or even a new and bigger car or house. It can get be upsetting to see the people you care about base their happiness on whether or not they will obtain these material things. What happens when they don’t get what they want?

You want them to be happy, despite having, or not having this stuff. You want to shake their shoulders and shout ‘YOU DON’T NEED ALL THIS STUFF, YOU CAN BE HAPPY RIGHT NOW!”. But we all know that people won’t change simply because you tell them to. The only way they will change for the better is if they want to change.

Think about it. If you’re reading this it’s probably happened to you. You’ve seen how people following a minimalist lifestyle have changed their lives for the better. So you began to change too.

…And when people see how much better off you’ve become, they’ll follow suit. As the saying goes, “We must fix ourselves before we can fix others”.

Why not start a movement around you, starting with yourself?

how to change the world

1. Lead by example. Go out and do things with your the time and money you’ve saved through minimalism. Show people all the good things you’ve gained because you gave up falling for marketing ploys. What have you always wanted to do? What do you love? Why not travel, gain experience, write a book or blog, go for a walk, run in the park, get on a rollercoaster, learn to play an instrument, draw something, see a play …be free! When I started doing these kind of things, I got a few comments like “how do you find the time?” to which I smiled and said “I just don’t go to work as much!” (silently thinking “…because my life overhead is so low!”).

2. Show before telling. It might seem irresistible to make a comment here or there about how people live. It’s not necessarily bad, you might just want to let them know that they really don’t need another x but they probably won’t listen. For some reason, people don’t really appreciate you telling them how they would feel if only they would do y. Lecturing too much can create a distance between you and that person, and can make it even more difficult for them to change for the better. From experience, I’ve found my with-held comments more useful as motivation for myself to keep living minimally. For example, instead of simply telling others they shouldn’t don’t really drive in a car so much/at all, I just keep reminding myself not to!

3. Be helpful. Donate the things you don’t need to charities. Give money to causes you care about. You can make a positive impact on other people’s lives at the same time as you are downsizing. There’s bound to be someone who will appreciate Aunt Hester’s Christmas sweater more than you will! You change the world through the people you touch, but it doesn’t have to only be friends and family. You can change the world for the better – even if only just a little – by helping strangers out too.

4. Be content. Whether you own nothing or everything, you won’t be happy until you’re satisfied with what you already have. Not only that, but it’s also important that you are content of where and who you are. In the words of Eckhart Tolle “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it“. Only by being content with where you are can you show others that they should be content with where they are too. It may sound a little idealistic, but I believe that the more people there are that are happy with what they have, the less consumerism, materialism and greed there will be in world. I think it’s really true – it’s already happened to a handful of minimalists and aspiring minimalists… it’s already happened to you!

5. Smile. Finally, just be positive! Smile whenever you can because you’re no longer a slave to stuff. Because you’re not running in the rat race. Because you have time to do the things you enjoy. Even if you’re not all the way there yet, at least you’ve made progress. Even if it’s just one step (like reading Minimal Student) you’ve taken bounds that many haven’t even contemplated yet! Smile and show others that life is for actually living, not for just making a living.

Over the last few years that I’ve become a minimalist, I’ve definitely seen changes in the pack rats around me, especially in my family, who have bagged piles of clothes for charity. It may not be much, but if all of us can just influence one or two other people just a little, we’d be much closer to the minimalist utopia we all love to dream about 😀

To finish off, here is one of my favourite poems:

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world.

As I grew older and wiser I realised the world would not change. And I decided to shorten my sights somewhat and change only my country. But it too seemed immovable.

As I entered my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I sought to change only my family, those closest to me, but alas they would have none of it.

And now here I lie on my death bed and realise (perhaps for the first time) that if only I’d changed myself first, then by example I may have influenced my family and with their encouragement and support I may have bettered my country, and who knows I may have changed the world.

~ Anonymous

Have you had any experience (or better yet, success) with encouraging your friends and family to live more minimalistically? How did it go? Do you have any more ideas? Please let me know in the comments!

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Moving back home – 5 ways to get rid of unwanted things

^ My life possessions!

Finally, it’s nearly time to move out of our beloved dorms back home and enjoy a well-deserved summer break. But moving home can be a pain, especially since we’ve all probably gained more stuff during the course of the year.

Moving from home, all of my stuff only just fit into the car with the driver and me as the passenger, so I don’t have much extra room for the books and clothes I’ve gained. On top of that, I’m going abroad after this summer, so I want to get rid of as much as I possibly can before I leave. That’s why I’m doing a complete re-haul of all of my possessions.

Every now and again, I take a look around and ask myself ‘what should I do with all this stuff?’

Picking up each individual item, I try to mindfully put it into one of the following categories:

1. Donate. First stop – charity shops! They’re a great way to get rid of stuff, whilst doing wonders for your karma. I’ve got a whole bag of clothes waiting for me to give to various local charities. Sometimes it’s hard to give things away, but I just tell myself that I’ve had my time with the item, if I’m not going to use it any more I may as well pass it on to someone who will. Just keep in mind that charity shops aren’t dumping grounds, if they don’t think something will sell, they’ll probably chuck it away, in which case you’re better off with the following options.

2. Sell/Give away. If there aren’t many charity shops willing to take your stuff, don’t forget to ask around your flatmates, friends and family if they would want a few of your things. If they’re not as minimalist as you, you’re bound to have a few people take up on your offer. Also, some university bookshops can help you sell your old books, otherwise hit up amazon or ebay in advance to offload some weight before you leave. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!

3. Recycle. Since many students would be moving out at the same time, hopefully the student dorm officers will have set up various recycling bins, even for old clothes and shoes. The bins are less fussy than charity shops, since the contents either usually go to be recycled or are shipped off to third world countries. Don’t forget to recycle all of those notes and sheets of paper you’ve collected over the year. Be really strict, if you  don’t think you’re ever going to need them again, why keep them? There’s no use transporting it home, only to collect dust and be thrown away when you graduate.

4. Re-purpose. A lot of the time, if you’re creative enough, you can turn things you don’t need into things you do need! If you’re good with the old needle and thread, you can cut up jeans to make shorts, turn old t-shirts into a pillow or even a laptop case, and if you’re like me and lack sufficient creativity, just cut them up into cleaning rags! There’s a whole range of possibilities out there, including customizing shirts with printing (which make great birthday presents), or even making sock puppets for baby cousins 🙂

5. Throw away. The last wasteful resort should be avoided if possible. If there’s nothing you can do with it, you can simply throw it away. It’s probably better for you to get rid of something you don’t need than to hold on to it. Please make sure that whatever it is, it’s disposed of in the least polluting way. Although it doesn’t happen too often, I always feel a bit guilty when I have to put something straight in the bin. At least every time it happens it makes me think a bit more about buying new stuff later! If you haven’t already, please check out The Story of Stuff – it’s enlightening.

So school’s out, but don’t worry Minimal Student will still be going. Please help me share the love by recommending MS via Stumbleupon or Digg etc!

And I would love to hear what you guys decided to do with all your unwanted things, please share in the comments!

Minimalist surfing with chrome

A few months ago, I did a post about minimalist web surfing. Back then, my primary browser was Firefox, although I was using Chrome intermittently.

Since Chrome released extension support, I’ve fully switched over and have been happy with Chrome for a few months now. Here are the extensions I use to keep surfing minimal.

1. AdThwart. A very intuitive ad blocker. With this extension you can also block particular elements of a page, even if they’re not ads. For example, I like to block chat/twitter boxes from sites, as well as wordy sidebars and footers. I’ve even managed to block the Facebook ‘Like’ button from websites by adding my own filter in the options menu.

2. StayFocusd. This extension does a pretty good job at keeping surfing time to a minimum by making it hard to change the amount of time you’ve allowed yourself to diverge for a day. During my exams, I let myself have 8 minutes maximum per day on sites such as facebook. If I wanted to increase it or went over it would kindly remind me that I have better things to do!

3. Simplified Gmail. Behold the minimalist glory:

Unlike HelvetiMail for Firefox (below), Minimalist Gmail actually get’s rid of even more buttons as well as the header at the top of the page. The search bar appears only when you hover over it. You can also use your own custom theme (I chose white and blue).

^ Not-as-minimalist gmail in Firefox

4. For Google Reader users you have the choice of Google Reader Compact which gets rid of all the extra text, Lucidica which changes the (ugly) default blue theme for a minimalistic white or Helvetireader 2 which goes bare minimal with a silver theme. Personally, I recommend Lucida, not because I need the buttons that Helvetireader gets rid of, but because it’s better looking. Shallow, I know 🙂

^ Original Google Reader

^ Google Reader Compact extension

^ Lucidica extension

^ HelvetiReader 2 extension

Just a quick note about going minimal with browsing, you’ll probably have to learn a few keyboard shortcuts to do the kind of things that the buttons were there for, but in my experience just learning one or two is enough, I haven’t run into problems at all because of this.

Have you got any more ideas? I would love to hear your tips to make surfing more minimal!

Update: For gmail and Google calendar I now use Minimalist for Everything (Chrome) and for Google Reader I use Reeder for Chrome. Beautiful!

How to revive the lost art of sitting still

During this academic year, I noticed that more and more I felt like I had to be doing something productive at every waking moment, otherwise I would be ‘wasting time’. I became impatient, and gained bad habits like looking at flashcards whilst walking and murmuring lists to myself whilst cycling (kinda like a crazy person, huh?).

As people, we have been trained to believe that doing something is always better than doing nothing, like mindlessly flipping through a hundred channels is better than doing nothing…better than sitting still.

When did it become a bad thing to sit down and do nothing every now and again? When it became ‘lazy’ to do so? But the thing is, sitting down only looks lazy, because you’re not physically moving. But if you stop moving on the outside, you will be able to see that inside your mind there’s a storm going on.

how to reclaim your mind

After a few weeks out of practice, I forgot just how fascinating the process can be. This is usually how I go about it.

Find a quiet place, sit down in a comfortable position for you and close your eyes. Notice how your mind instantly turns on and flips through thought after thought in an attempt to occupy itself. Memories, regrets, expectations, stories, worries… the mind will make anything up in order to not be still.

Why is that? Why is the mind afraid of being empty?

Just observe it without doing anything, no judging, no telling yourself off. After a while, your mind will calm down a little. If you’re finding it difficult, Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now) recommends watching your mind for the next thought to pop up like a cat watching a mouse hole. Or, take a few deep breaths and concentrate on inhaling and exhaling slowly. This will help you focus on being present in the moment.

A lot of people that try meditation for the first time get very frustrated at not being able to clear their mind. They get angry at themselves or say things like ‘mediation doesn’t work’. I think a lot of the time this is because they realise just how little control they have over their own minds, which scares them. But that’s ok, because it scared me too, I mean, if you can’t control your own thoughts, what else can’t you control? But the point of meditation is not necessarily to devoid your mind of any thought, but to simply be aware of the thoughts that do come. When you see yourself drifting off, just breathe deeply and gently steer your mind back to centre.

If you actually try it, you’ll see why I like to call sitting still and art. It looks easy, (it’s just sitting down after all, right?) but it requires learning, skill and practice. It can be a bit difficult if you’ve never done it before, but it can also be a very enlightening experience. You’ll learn a lot about the way your mind works and about yourself – the kind of things you think about all the time, the things make you worried and anxious, and the things that make you smile.

It’s the most minimal of activities, you don’t need any money or equipment, just a little time, patience and a place to sit.

Go on, try it today.

Photo credit : rivieramaya26