10 Things You Might Not Know About Yom Kippur

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Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It is the second of the two "High Holy Days," following Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of that month.

It is the only major Jewish observance where those over the age of 13 are required to fast for an entire day. As with all Jewish holidays and observances, it begins in the evening and ends 25 hours later. The day is traditionally spent mostly in prayer, with sessions of Bible study and discussions. Pledges are made to each other, and to God, about being one’s best self.

1. JEWS ABSTAIN FROM MORE THAN FOOD.

The fast is not only from food and drink, but also from sexual relations, wearing leather, or using perfumes. In Biblical times, these last two items were marks of wealthier people, and so today humble dress, as well as humble attitudes, are part of the observance.

2. THE FULL NAME IS YOM HAKIPPURIM, THE DAY OF ATONEMENTS.

Technically, the name is plural. All the confessions are done as a community, and chanted in the first person plural: "We have sinned." This public ritual is said to create a supportive and bonding experience.

3. FORGIVENESS IS A BIG THEME.

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, people have asked for forgiveness from all their loved ones. One cannot ask for God’s forgiveness, the main point of the day’s activities, until one has been forgiven by the humans involved.

4. THERE ARE SOME CREATIVE LISTS OF SINS.

There are several lists of sins, all in Hebrew alphabetical order, forming acrostics. In modernity, some very clever writers have translated them into English and largely kept the alphabetical order; for example, a recitation would go along the lines of "We have abused, betrayed, been cruel, destroyed, embittered others," etc. Almost all of these sins are about the ways people treat each other, not how they treat God: violence, rushing to judgment, lack of compassion, indifference to evil, etc.

5. IN ANCIENT TIMES, IT WASN'T A GREAT DAY FOR GOATS.

In the Biblical era, two goats were chosen by lotteries. One was ritually sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, and the other, as an act of purification, was driven off into the wilderness, and some say over a cliff. This was, of course, the "scape-goat."

6. THERE ARE SOME LESS-EXPECTED REASONS FOR FASTING.

In addition to fasting as a display of true repentance and to create a less worldly focus, the experience of truly being hungry is supposed to arouse maximum compassion for the poor. It is traditional to make a charitable donation of at least the amount one would have spent for one’s family that day.

7. IT IS THE ONLY HOLIDAY WHERE THE EVENING SERVICE STARTS BEFORE SUNDOWN.

This evening service has a special name: Kol Nidrei, which is also the name of the most important Yom Kippur evening prayer. In it, God is asked to annul and forgive all oaths made under pressure. This is a reference to the religious oaths made in eras when Jews were forced to convert, usually to Christianity, or die.

8. THERE'S ALSO A MEMORIAL CANDLE-LIGHTING.

Since the Holocaust, Jews light a memorial candle for the six million who perished, as well as for departed relatives.

9. EVEN THE TORAH GETS A SPECIAL OUTFIT.

It is customary to wear all white as a symbol of purity and of a new start. Even the Torah scrolls have special white mantles (coverings) for the High Holy Days. Traditionally, men (and in modern times, women) wear a plain white robe over their clothing, called a kittel. This is worn again for the Passover seder, and is the garment in which they are later buried.

10. DANCING USED TO BE INVOLVED.

It is said that in the Biblical era, during the late afternoon of Yom Kippur, the unmarried maidens would dance in the forest clearings, and the unmarried young men would watch, hoping to know which was meant to be his bride.

15 Scientific Ways to Relax for National Relaxation Day

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Today is National Relaxation Day, so you have a great excuse to take it easy. Here’s how science can help you have the most laid-back day of the year.

1. GET A HOUSE OR OFFICE PLANT.

Spending time in nature improves your overall wellbeing, but it turns out even just a little greenery is great for your health. Studies have shown patients in hospital rooms with plants report lower stress. Even just stepping into a lush space can reduce your heart rate. Plus, plants are effective at increasing oxygen and clearing out toxins, which should help you breathe easier—literally.

2. AVOID SCREENS BEFORE BEDTIME.

Artificial light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, which messes with your sleep. Studies have found that young adults were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, high stress and even depression if they reported intensive use of cell phones and computers at night.

3. LISTEN TO CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Any music you enjoy is bound to make you feel better, but classical music, in particular, has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

4. DRINK GREEN TEA SWEETENED WITH HONEY.

Green tea contains L-theanine, which reduces stress, and honey—unlike cane sugar—has been shown to counteract free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is sometimes linked to depression.

5. GIVE YOURSELF A HAND MASSAGE.

Especially if you spend all day typing, hands can get really tense. A quick massage should be doable at your desk and if you incorporate some lavender-scented lotion, you’ll get extra relaxation benefits.

6. LOCK LIPS WITH SOMEONE.

Romance is relaxing! Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that is shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

7. CHEW GUM.

No matter what flavor it is, the act of chewing gum has been proven to lower cortisol and improve reported mood.

8. BLOW UP A BALLOON.

Reacting to stress with short, shallow breaths will only exacerbate the problem—your body needs more oxygen, not less, to relax. Blowing up a balloon will help you refocus on your breathing. No balloons around? Just concentrate on taking a few deep breaths.

9. MOW THE LAWN.

Research shows that a chemical released by a mowed lawn—that fresh-cut grass smell—makes people feel happy and relaxed. Plus, knocking it off your to-do list will give you one less thing to stress about.

10. FIND SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU LAUGH.

Watching a funny video online does more than just brighten your afternoon, it physically helps to relax you by increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

11. MUNCH ON CHOCOLATE.

What’s also good at releasing endorphins? Chocolate. Studies show that even just 40 grams of dark chocolate a day can help you de-stress.

12. EAT A BANANA.

Potassium helps your body regulate blood pressure. Keeping that under control should help you bounce back more quickly from what’s got you stressed.

13. MAKE ANOTHER TRIP TO THE FRUIT STAND.

Still hungry after that chocolate and banana? Try citrus. Recent studies show that vitamin C helps to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress.

14. FOCUS ON RELAXING ALL OF YOUR MUSCLES.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing and, starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

15. TAKE A MINI MENTAL VACATION.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take a moment to close your eyes and picture a particularly relaxing scene. It may sound cheesy, but numerous studies show that just a few minutes of disengaging from your stressors rejuvenates your ability to tackle the work.

7 Surprising Uses for Tequila

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Happy National Tequila Day! While you could celebrate by having a few drinks, you could also skip the hangover by unlocking one of tequila's amazing abilities outside of the glass. Many spirits are useful for activities beyond sipping (vodka, for example, is a great stain and odor remover), but tequila holds some particularly magical powers. Here are just a few of them.

1. SYNTHETIC BAUBLE

In 2008, a team of scientists in Mexico discovered that when the heated vapor from an 80-proof tequila blanco was combined with a silicon or stainless steel substrate, it resulted in the formation of diamond films. These films can be used in commercial applications, such as electrical insulators, or to create one big fake diamond. Who knew that spending $50 on a bottle of Don Julio was such a wise investment?

2. ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE

Keeping with the science theme: In 2011, researchers at England’s University of Oxford suggested that we may one day be gassing up our cars with tequila. They identified agave, the plant from which tequila is produced, as a potential biofuel source—and a particularly attractive one, as the plant itself is not consumed by humans and can thrive in desert climates.

3. WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENT

Scientists have long promoted the potential benefits of the agave plant for its ability to help dissolve fats and lower cholesterol. The bad news? These properties get a bit diluted when the plant is distilled into alcohol. Even more so when it's whipped into a sugary margarita.

4. SLEEP AID

Take three or more shots of tequila and you’re bound to pass out. A single shot can have the same effect—just not in that drunken stupor kind of way. Relaxation is one of the positive side effects of tequila drinking; a small amount (1 to 1.5 ounces) before bedtime can reportedly help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

5. COLON CLEANSER

Too much of a good thing may not bring a welcome turn of events for your liver … but your colon will thank you! Researchers at Mexico’s University of Guadalajara have identified the blue agave as a potentially helpful source for delivering drugs to the colon in order to treat colitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease and even cancer.

6. DIABETES PREVENTATIVE

If Ernest Hemingway had known about the healing properties of tequila, his signature drink might have been a margarita instead of a daiquiri. In 2010, experiments conducted at Mexico’s Polytechnic Institute of Guanajuato revealed that the agave plant (which is high in fructans, a fructose polymer) could stimulate the GLP-1 hormone, aiding in increased insulin production.

7. COLD REMEDY

“Plenty of liquids” is a well-known remedy for getting oneself out from under the weather. But expanding that definition to include a kicked-up shot of tequila makes a day laid out on the couch sound much more appealing. In the 1930s, doctors in Mexico recommended the following concoction to fight off a cold.

.5 ounce of tequila blanco
.5 ounce of agave nectar (to eliminate bacteria and soothe sore throats)
.5 ounce of fresh lime juice (for Vitamin C)

Though some people (including tequila companies) swear by its healing powers, others say it's hogwash.

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