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How Do You Know What Meditation Technique is Right for You?

Posted By Will Williams, Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2018

To the great joy of us meditation enthusiasts, in the last few years meditation has truly found its way into the mainstream. Having been viewed for many years as the preserve of dedicated monks and counter-culture hippies (if people thought of it at all), it’s now been embraced as a useful and wellbeing-boosting part of the modern world. 

Yet despite hundreds of articles, the growth of mindfulness apps and increasing numbers of corporate meditation programs, there are probably more meditation techniques out there than most people realize. Mindfulness is perhaps the most well known, but for people interested in meditation there’s lots of others to try —  it’s knowing where to start which can be the challenge. 

This short introduction to the major meditation techniques is here to help you pick what meditation technique most resonates with you, and give (a very short!) overview of each practice. 

There are probably more meditation techniques out there than most people realize.

 

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is arguably the most famous technique.  By teaching students to pay attention to the present moment through simple breathing and meditation practices, Mindfulness increases our awareness of our thoughts and feelings. This is usually achieved through an attempt to notice the things around us, such as the feeling of a breeze in our hair, sounds of distant traffic and shades of green in the trees - all acknowledged without judgement. This is known as “open monitoring” meditation. 

As a simple concept, Mindfulness can be a great way to introduce people to meditation before they move on to a more structured and guided practice. It is a particularly freeform technique with an abundance of different ideas and advice on how best to go about it, so finding a teacher is important for those who want to advance. 

Mindfulness is also a great “gateway” meditation because there’s so many brilliant apps, such as Headspace and Calm, which can help you easily bring meditation into your life. Once they are introduced to the concept, many people embrace mindfulness as a new way of looking at the world, trying to exist more in the present moment and appreciating the small pleasures in life. 

 

Transcendental Meditation 

Transcendental meditation (TM) is best known in its branded form. TM was popularized in the 1970s, with famous practitioners including The Beatles, David Lynch and other enthusiasts bringing this millennium-old practice into the modern world. However, TM does not sum up transcendental meditation in its entirety; it’s simply a consumable version of the technique which was created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Transcendental meditation is part of the ancient Vedic culture of Northern India, and is a form of “focused attention” meditation. Focused attention requires it’s participants to focus on a particular thing, such as their breath, part of their body or external object. In the case of Transcendental meditation, people focus on a personalized mantra that’s been allocated to them by an experienced guide. This helps act as a vehicle into a physiologically restful and neurologically powerful state, that the ancient sages of India called turiya.

Transcendental (or Vedic) meditation is perhaps most suited to people looking for simplicity. Focused attention meditation techniques are arguably easier than mindfulness, because there is something clear to direct your thoughts to. This technique can also be effortlessly integrated into everyday life, and practiced in all sorts of environments - even the noisy setting of a cafe or commuter train. 

 

Loving Kindness Meditation 

While transcendental meditation has its roots in India and Hinduism, Loving Kindness Meditation is a Buddhist practice that can be sourced to Theravada (which is sometimes known as “Southern Buddhism” and strongest in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Burma) and Tibetan traditions. As is suggested by its name, this is a meditation technique which revolves around developing compassion and cultivating love. 

A person who wants to pursue Loving Kindness Meditation would sit quietly and attempt to generate feelings of kindness and benevolence. You start by focusing on yourself, establishing self-directed altruism, before extending this out to family, friends, strangers , and eventually all of humanity.

For people who want to cultivate their sense of empathy, and nurture positive feelings, Loving Kindness Meditation could be perfect. This meditation technique increases your compassion, both for other people, and for yourself - quieting that inner critic which can be a huge source of low self-esteem and anxiety. 

 

Zen Meditation 

Zen meditation has a long history, originating with Indian monk Bodhidharma in the 6th century CE and becoming established in China and Japan. It’s a simple but strict meditation, where maintaining the correct posture is vital - unlike mindfulness and transcendental meditation, which can be practiced in whatever position is most comfortable. You sit on a “zafu” (a kind of cushion) in the half lotus position, with your knees pushing into the floor, and your head pushing into the sky, with your back as straight as possible. 

This is pretty uncomfortable for beginners, but it is meant to get easier as you become more flexible. Practiced with your eyes open, the meditative state of mind is achieved through the deep concentration required to maintain your posture and focus on your breathing. The Zen master, Taisen Deshimaru said: “By simply sitting, without looking for any goal or any personal benefit, if your posture, your breathing and your state of mind are in harmony, you will understand the true Zen; you will understand the Buddha's nature.”

Rather than offering temporary solutions to life’s problems, Zen and other forms of Buddhist meditation look to address core issues - and delve far deeper than mindfulness apps. This is a good form of meditation for people who are committed to following a spiritual journey, one that goes beyond simply searching for a way to relieve stress. 

 

Yoga

The tradition of yoga is extremely old, going back to at least 1700 BC by most estimations, and has many different lineages and forms. The yoga we recognize in the West can be as spiritual and meditative as you like, or just a form of helpful exercise - it completely depends on your preferences and which teacher you choose. 

Yoga is a way to combine a meditation technique with a form of physical exercise. While meditation in all its forms has health benefits - usually related to reducing stress - yoga can be a way to ease problems like low back pain, and has the additional benefits of building strength, balance and flexibility. 

However, yoga may be a little less immediately accessible than other, less active, forms of meditation (especially for anyone with physical impairments). People facing particular health issues will need to access the services of a yoga therapist in order to ensure the practice is tailored to their needs, and doesn’t exacerbate any problems. 

These are just a few of the many kinds of meditation out there, and with some experimentation you should be able to find the technique (or combination of techniques) which suits you best. 


Will WilliamsWill Williams is one of Europe’s leading Vedic meditation experts, and a wellbeing advisor to the OECD working group on Education. He has worked with the BBC, American Express, Spotify, Uber and many others in implementing corporate wellbeing programs, and his first book, The Effortless Mind, is available on Amazon.
You can contact him at willwilliamsmeditation.co.uk.


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Identifying Mental Health Issues and Taking Proper Measures for Better Productivity

Posted By Toby Dean, Thursday, September 20, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Mental health as per the definition of World Health Organization is “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. (WHO, 2007).”  Mental health is vital for any workplace around the world to function properly. It is believed as a workplace asset. However, the stressful work environment has been drastically affecting the productivity of the staff all over the world. In the UK one out of four employees are looking to leave their job, and many frequently are bound to take sick days due to stress, anxiety, and depression. Mental health is causing the UK 70 billion pounds per year, so this is not something that can be taken lightly.

This infographic from Maximillions hows the official government statistics that discloses the impact the employees’ mental health has on productivity and the loss that the companies are suffering because of this. These statistics will help you gain knowledge about the importance of proactive team building is for a better workforce mental health. The infographic also provides some important recommendations for managing mental health in the workplace.


Toby Dean works on behalf of Maximillion in content creation and marketing. He creates engaging graphics and content that help businesses stand out from the crowd. Over the past 7 years has worked with dozens of SME's in both an agency and freelance capacity.

With 25 years of event management experience, Maximillion has delivered over 5000 corporate events and hosted more than a quarter of a million guests across the spectrum of Team Building, Event Management, Learning & Development and Challenge Events.


Tags:  Coping  Mental Health  Productivity  stress  workplace wellness 

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Doing Less But Getting More Done. Possible?

Posted By Nicholas Alchin, Thursday, September 13, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 

We’ve been orienting our new and returning colleagues over the last ten days. The mood is optimistic and energetic, as it always is at this time of year, and we’ve been thinking about tackling some issues that just seemed too hard towards the end of last term. It’s going to be a great year ahead! Nothing remarkable there really; we’re all fresher after a break, of course.

But I’ve been wondering how we can maintain not just the positivity, but also the increased capacity that we have now; and not just for staff but for students too. How can we all maintain functioning at our most capable, and be managing to do our best work we are tired?

This is a big issue – if a rather obvious one – because the difference in schools between the start and end of term is vast. And it’s difficult because we also want to excel; to somehow maximize the experiences and learning that we can have in any given term – so we cannot just ever take it easy; we need to squeeze the juice from each minute. For teachers, the pressure is managing 100 students each week, being alive to each individual, responsive to all parents, remaining caring and inspirational, in and out of the classroom. For students it means managing many difficult subjects, each with their own methods, courseworks, pressures as well as College applications, sports, drama, music, dance, and adolescent social life. Small wonder there is weariness, and even burnout as the term goes on.

So what can we do? How do we approach this mid-term, when the break is a long way off and folk are tired? This is not a question unique to schools - all organizations face it, as we increasingly find that working/studying lives are complex and intense - so much so that stress has been called the health epidemic of the 21st century by the World Health Organization.

There’s some truth in the old work smarter not harder mantra – but the trouble is, if we knew how to work smarter, we would surely do it! And even then, this approach seems to me to be a potential band-aid at best; for teachers teaching, and for students learning, there is always more that can be done – so working smarter can simply mean seeking to get more done in a given amount of time, which does not avoid the overload issue (I think that’s what IT has generally done – we are far, far more productive than we ever have been, but we do far, far more with the time - that is to say, we work so much faster, with consequent overload.  Additionally, IT has opened up so many new possibilities that we are in fact even more aware of all the things we could be doing, and feel even worse that we are not doing them).

So with all this in mind it was fascinating to read the World Economic Forum article about a NZ businesses that experimented with a four day week for employees, with no change of pay. It turns out that each employee got through just as much work, with an extra day of leisure each week, and was much happier.  An unmitigated success, no less.  The article notes that it may be a case of Parkinson’s law which states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Or to put that a slightly different way, workers will become more efficient if there is less time to complete a task.

There seem to be many competing and sometimes contradictory answers here; involving balance, boundaries, storytelling.

So can we free up extra time in schools, with no loss of productivity (learning)? I am not sure.   The idea of getting through more material fits a factory metaphor but the factory metaphors may not be the best one: if we think of education as flowering (which seems right for students, at least some of the time), then we know that sometimes, things have to happen at their own pace.  But it is certainly worth looking at simply using less time; could we shorten the deadlines for some assessments with no loss whatsoever?  The notion that giving students less time to complete some tasks would relieve pressure is counter-intuitive, but worth considering. Of course, if we did this, we would need to avoid the temptation to simply fill the space created with other things!

Ultimately, contrary to what I wrote earlier, perhaps we do not need to squeeze the juice from each minute.   And there, perhaps, is the real root of the issue: Are we prepared to be satisfied with less? Are we prepared to forego some experiences and opportunities to enhance the ones we do have? Do we have the courage to do that when others are filling their times with a greater variety of experiences?  When I put it like that, it sounds a bit like the decision to get married (!)  - and I mean that in two ways; firstly, sometimes you have to give up some things to gain others.   Secondly, and more importantly for any organization, there may be a lot of individual variation here - there may be  maybe no universal answer.  So we'll start the year as we always do - seeking to work with individuals; to meet them where they are, and to support them as best we can.  And we will not lose sight of the fact that we may need to ask some hard questions about what we do if we are serious about wellbeing for the community.


Nicholas Alchin is a Sino-Celt who has been working in K-12 International Education for too long to remember. Father of three and wife of one; currently Deputy Head at UWCSEA in Singapore. Avid reader and traveller; keen and competent breadmaker; keen and incompetent uni-cycler. 
https://nickalchinuwcsea.blogspot.com


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The Surprising Reason People Die by Suicide

Posted By Dr. Mark Goulston, Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Surprising Reason People Die by Suicide (and the Seven Words You Can Use to Help Someone Who May Be at Risk)

Reprinted with permission of Dr. Mark Goulston

Suicide is on the rise. But Dr. Mark Goulston says that, surprisingly, depression isn’t the main culprit. Here he delves into “des-pair” and reveals seven powerful words that can help people heal.

Woman feeling des-pairLos Angeles, CA (September 2018)—After a recent string of high-profile suicides in America, death by suicide is a topic that’s on everybody’s mind. We all speculate about what could cause a person to take their own life (and since September is Suicide Prevention Month, this is a good time to seek understanding about these tragic experiences). Was it financial problems? Marital problems? Health problems? Depression? Bipolar depression? Alcoholism? And of course, suicide doesn’t affect only the rich and famous. Most of us are likely to know or love somebody who has been affected by a suicide. So, it’s no wonder that these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently revealed the prevalence of this disturbing trend:

  • Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016.
  • Suicide rates went up more than 30 percent in half of states in the U.S. since 1999.
  • Suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016.
  • More than half of the people who died by suicide (54 percent) did not have a known mental health condition.

“It’s a common misconception that depression is the culprit behind suicides,” says suicide and violence prevention expert Dr. Mark Goulston. “While depression is a contributor, it’s not the main reason people kill themselves. The real reason is des-pair.”

That’s right, des-pair—not despair. Goulston describes des-pair as feeling unpaired with the reasons a person wants to live:

  1. Hopeless— unpaired with a future that is worth living because all efforts to lessen pain (medications, therapy, etc.) have not worked
  2. Helpless— unpaired with the ability to pull themselves out of it
  3. Powerless— more of #2 above
  4. Useless— unpaired with any solution or treatment that works or alternatively feeling that you contribute nothing to anyone and are only a burden (even if those people protest the opposite)
  5. Worthless— ahh yes, unpaired with one of the key reasons we exist
  6. Purposeless — unpaired with a mission for you to focus on and that gives you a source of pride, without which one can feel aimless and ashamed, as in, “My life has no purpose.”
  7. Meaningless— unpaired with what Viktor Frankl was able to discover in a concentration camp and what one can feel when they have no purpose
  8. Pointless— unpaired with any reason to not pull the trigger, put the noose around your neck, jump from that building, take those pills, step onto those train tracks

Man searching for meaning“When you engage someone in any of the eight ‘-lesses,’ it can lead to a more dynamic, engaging, and expressive conversation,” says Goulston. “When that occurs, and the des-pairing person begins to express and describe what any of those words mean to them, they will begin to experience those feelings versus experiencing nothing and feel relief as they ‘pair’ with the empathic person who is listening to them.”

The Seven Words That Can Help Someone Who Is Suffering

If you believe a loved one is in an acute suicidal crisis, get help immediately by calling 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-TALK or visiting https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. But if someone you love is struggling more and more with the “-lesses” mentioned above, Goulston says to reach out to them now. He recommends using interventional empathy to lessen their des-pair and prevent destructive behavior. The protocol helps you pair with that person and ease the unbearable pain and loneliness they feel.

Here’s how to practice interventional empathy and pair with your suffering loved one by using seven simple words:

STEP ONE: When someone you know is in a very dark place—or if it’s you, you can speak to someone about it or journal about it—and after you have been speaking to them enough to make a connection say, “Seven words.”

This causes them to stop and be temporarily confused—which will temporarily break their vice grip hold on feeling suicidal—and they will often respond with, “What?”

STEP TWO: Then say, “Seven words. Hurt, afraid, angry, ashamed, alone, lonely, tired. Pick one and start telling me about it.”

Presenting the seven words in such an “assertive” manner will often cause people to spontaneously begin expressing those feelings, feeling less alone, crying, feeling relief, and becoming more open to a conversation that may cause them to consider other options.

“In an age where suicide is becoming more and more commonplace, we have a chance to stop des-pair in its tracks before a person becomes suicidal,” concludes Goulston. “Say the seven words to someone who is in the depths of suffering, and give them the chance they need to feel less alone and reclaim the hope they have lost. Your empathy costs you nothing, but it could end up saving a life.”

Click here to download this article as a PDF.

If you or someone you love needs help, call 911 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.


Dr. Mark GoulstonDr. Mark Goulston is a former UCLA professor of psychiatry, FBI hostage negotiation trainer, suicide and violence prevention expert, and one of the world’s foremost experts on listening. He is the author of “Just Listen”: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. For more information, contact Dr. Goulston at: mgoulston@gmail.com or visit his website at: www.markgoulston.com.

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National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

Posted By Rechá Bullock, Friday, September 7, 2018
Updated: Friday, September 7, 2018

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness month.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. Data from a study conducted by the CDC from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children and young people 6 to 19 years of age in the United States are obese (CDC, 2018). Obesity is an excess proportion of body fat, technically defined in terms of a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 or above. BMI is calculated in a different way for children and teens 2-to 19-years of age. BMI must be age and sex-specific because the amount of body fat changes with age for children and adolescents. Growth charts are used to verify BMI as a percentile ranking for children. A child is considered medically obese if their BMI is at or above the 95th percentile of children of the same age, height, and sex (CDC, 2017). 

Children who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and depression. Also, children who are overweight or obese are bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers, which can cause children to act out, suffer from depression, and have low self-esteem. These chronic health conditions can significantly set a child back and interfere with their ability to thrive and be successful in a school setting. Moreover, obese children are at a higher risk of chronic health problems into adulthood, which can include hypertension, heart disease, renal failure, stroke, sleep apnea, hypercholesterolemia, death, and even some types of cancers (colon, breast, and endometrial) (Turner et. al., 2012).

It can be very difficult for parent(s) to manage the weight of an overweight or obese child. This is especially true if the parent(s) are also overweight and have poor eating habits. To make matters worse, some health care providers do not feel comfortable discussing weight issues with parents due to the fear of alienating or embarrassing both the parent and child. In fact, in a study provided in the International Journal of Obesity, of the 8,639 overweight or obese children aged 2-18 years of age, who visited a health care provider annually, from 1999 through 2014, only 22.12% in 1999 and 34.43% of parents in 2014 were notified by their child’s health care provider their children were overweight or obese. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) were provided to parents for this study from 1999 through 2014. The study found health care providers increased notifying parents that their child’s weight was unhealthy between 1999 and 2014. However, the opportunity for health care providers to provide clinical interventions to address or reduce childhood obesity is substantially under-utilized (Hansen et al., 2016).

 

So, What’s Causing Childhood Obesity?

The answer to finding the sole causation of childhood obesity is not as clear as eating too much food and not exercising enough. A number of health care providers and researchers alike believe one of the most significant problems for the spike in childhood obesity rates is directly related to the number of foods that have significant amounts of sugar. In fact, Dr. Mark Hyman from the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic thinks sugar is just as addictive as a drug. In the film documentary Fed Up, Dr. Hyman revealed that added sugars and sweeteners are causing diseases in children that were once only seen in adults. 

Some key risk factors for childhood obesity include genetics, having a family history of obesity, cultural norms, limited or no physical activity, and having a low-income. It can be difficult to buy healthy foods such as fruits and green vegetables if families have a low income and live in a food dessert, where there is limited or no access to healthy foods. Some additional risk factors and challenges that are contributing to childhood obesity is unhealthy school cafeteria food which can be high in sugar, fat, and carbohydrates. Children who do not get enough physical activity at home and at school are at an increased risk for being overweight or obese. And, some children are unable to participate in physical activity where they live if their neighborhood is unsafe. 

Childhood obesity prevention initiatives must be put into place for children who are overweight. If not, children will begin to experience shorter life expectancies than their parents. As children head back to school, September is the perfect month to make changes that include more physical activity at school and swapping unhealthy meals for healthier alternatives. According to the CDC, children and adolescents should participate in 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day (CDC, 2017). One of the best strategies to address childhood obesity is to take a population health-based approach, which involves spreading the word about prevention strategies that will help inform and educate parents, clinicians, and schools. We also need the federal government to support this complex health problem by implementing social media marketing campaigns that promotes healthy eating and weight reduction strategies. The government can also help by implementing legislation and policies that restrict companies from marketing unhealthy and sugary foods and beverages to children. 

In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness month, here are some prevention strategies and tips to decrease weight and promote healthy growth for children: 

  • Parents should talk to their child’s health care provider for clinical interventions to address obesity
  • Parents should learn how to read food labels 
  • Cook and eat healthy meals
  • Watch food portions and avoid second helpings
  • Avoid eating at fast food restaurants 
  • Limit or remove sugary drinks and junk foods from meals
  • Teach kids the importance of eating healthy by allowing them to help cook healthy meals
  • Use app-based programs to monitor physical activity like Kurbo Health or Fitbit Ace™ for kids
  • Make exercise a family activity
  • Parents should discuss school menus with their child’s teacher to determine if fruits and vegetables are on the menu. If not, parents should opt to make their child’s lunch and include healthy food and snack options. 
  • Schools can ensure children get regular recess that includes at least 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity

There are a number of great resources available online to learn how to read labels as well as healthy recipes that parents can cook for their families. Here’s a great resource of healthy recipes provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Deliciously, Healthy Family Meals (PDF). Let’s all do our part to reduce childhood obesity. Spread the word and share this article. Be Well!

Sources: 

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018, January). Childhood Obesity Facts.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017, August). What is BMI?
  • Couric, K. and David, L. (Producers), Soechtig, S. (Director). (2014). Fed Up. [Documentary]. United States: Radius-TWC
  • Hansen, A R., Duncan, D. T.,  Woo Baidal, J. A., Hill, A., Turner, S. C., and Zhang. J. (2016). An increasing trend in health-care professionals notifying children of unhealthy weight status: NHANES 1999–2014. International Journal of Obesity volume 40, 1480–1485.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2010, December). Keep the Beat.
  • Turner, M., Burns, S. M., Knight, L., Ward, K., Garo, A., Morris, T., and Conaway, M. (2012). Weight management practices among heart and vascular health care providers in an ambulatory setting MEDSURG Nursing, 21(4), 222-232.

Rechà Bullock is a Certified Wellness Practitioner, Certified Worksite Wellness Specialist, Health Coach, Yoga Teacher (200-RYT), public health professional, and plant-based foodie. Her passion for health and wellness comes from a lifelong love of fitness, health, nutrition, yoga, and a desire to help people transform their health by eating foods that are nutrient rich.

Rechà's goal is to provide information to help people make food choices that are healthier for them and their families. "We cannot afford to continue to purchase and consume foods that are at odds with our health, such as genetically modified foods, steroids, antibiotics, artificial ingredients, and processed sugars." 


Tags:  Children  health  Nutrition  Obesity 

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