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Water Fasting and Juice Fasting

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By Jon Barron, Baseline Health Foundation - 

Water fasting and juice fasting, like detoxing--and heck, if done correctly, they are forms of detoxing--are the Rodney Dangerfield of alternative health: they "don't get no respect."
1 According to WebMD, for example, there isn't enough evidence to support health claims for either water fasting or juice fasting, and "that type of fasting can actually be dangerous, especially for people who have other medical problems."2 And according to an NBC News article that cites a number of so-called experts, long-term fasts can lead to muscle breakdown and a shortage of many needed nutrients, in addition to depriving the body of the vitamins and minerals that you get from food, which can "actually weaken the body's ability to fight infections and inflammation."3 The article goes on to state that because crash diets--their euphemism for either water fasting or juice fasting-- can upset blood sugar, potassium and sodium levels in the body, people with diabetes, heart or kidney disease or women who are pregnant or nursing shouldn't try them; and children, teens, older adults, or people with certain digestive conditions should also steer clear.

More recently, juice fasting in particular has taken beating. For example, an October article in The Washington Post cites Nazrat Mirza, pediatrician and co-director of the Obesity Institute at Children's National Medical Center, who states, "Most parents give their kids fruit juice because of the perception that it's healthy. I don't know where that perception came from."4 Mirza goes on to state that while it's true that many juices -- particularly orange juice -- are fortified with calcium and have a healthful amount of Vitamin C, you are getting those vitamins at a high calorie cost." (By the way, note that if she's talking about "fortified" juices, she's not talking fresh juices.)

And a website called "Hooked on Juice" (yes, it really is named that) takes on all forms of juice fasting with the statement, "Even with no sugar added, fruit juice has the same amount of sugar as soda. Why? Because fruit is full of sugar!"

Water Fasting VS Juice Fasting VS Juice Fasting Plus Single Cell Protein, Part 1

Water fasting, juice fasting, and juice fasting supplemented with single cell proteins are not the same thing. They are closely related, but they are different. Although they share "some" of the same benefits, you use them for different purposes and in different ways. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of these differences and use the different forms incorrectly, at the wrong times, and in the wrong way. This leads to problems--and allows the medical community to pounce on the problems this creates and thus brand all fasting as ineffective, unnecessary, and generally harmful. We will return to this topic a little later when we explore those differences…and benefits.

But for now, despite what you have been led to believe, there are still elements of fasting--notably water fasting--that have been studied by the scientific community with consistently positive results.

Benefits of Fasting as Demonstrated in Studies

Curiously, the medical community chooses to say that these studies are not conclusive, thereby rendering all benefits of fasting moot. It's a marvelous inconsistency, of course, considering that the medical community has decided to forego similar rigor when it comes to the issue of off-label pharmaceutical prescriptions. Off-label drugs, freely prescribed by doctors, are often accompanied by a complete--zilch, nada, zero--lack of clinical evidence supporting the efficacy or safety of that off-label application. Perhaps the doctors are relying on Ralph Waldo Emerson's statement from his essay on Self-Reliance, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," to justify what otherwise might be viewed as hypocrisy.

In any case, there is a great deal of scientific support for the virtues of fasting. Here are a handful of such studies.

Heart disease, Cholesterol, Diabetes, and HGH

In 2011, research cardiologists at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute reported that fasting not only lowers one's risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes, but also produces significant beneficial changes in a person's blood cholesterol levels.5 According to the researchers, "Fasting causes hunger or stress. In response, the body releases more cholesterol, allowing it to utilize fat as a source of fuel, instead of glucose. This decreases the number of fat cells in the body. This is important because the fewer fat cells a body has, the less likely it will experience insulin resistance, or diabetes." In addition, the study effectively confirmed earlier findings about the effects of fasting on human growth hormone (HGH). HGH works to protect lean muscle and metabolic balance, a response triggered and accelerated by fasting. During 24-hour fasting periods, HGH increased an average of 1,300 percent in women, and nearly 2,000 percent in men. And yet another study found that simply disrupting normal eating cycles through intermittent fasting improved the ability of the body to process, sense, and recognize the nutrients it was consuming, thereby helping to prevent obesity, diabetes, and liver diseases in mice on a high-fat diet.6 In addition, intermittent fasting raised bile acid production, which is essential for properly digesting fats, and energy expenditure and reduced inflammation.

Brain aging

A 2006 study found that both caloric restriction (CR) and intermittent fasting (IF) can prolong the health-span of the nervous system by affecting fundamental metabolic and cellular signaling pathways that regulate life-span.7 CR and IF affect energy, free radical production, and cellular stress response systems in ways that protect neurons against genetic and environmental factors to which they would otherwise succumb during aging. Specifically, the researchers found that both IF and CR induce a mild stress response in brain cells, which results in the activation of compensating mechanisms. According to the researchers, IF regimens have previously been demonstrated to lessen and even stop damage to neurons and improve outcomes in animal models of both neurological trauma such as stroke8 and also age-related neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease9 and Huntington's disease.10

Cancer

Building on previous work that had found that fasting for as little as two days protects healthy cells against chemotherapy,11 a new study published just this month found that fasting may actually retard tumors, while at the same time protecting against the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.12 As mentioned, the cell-protective effects of starvation had previously been demonstrated in a 2012 study. Researchers found that mice given a high dose of chemotherapy after fasting continued to thrive, while half of the normally fed mice died and half experienced lasting weight loss. Importantly, the chemotherapy extended the life span of mice injected with cells from an aggressive human tumor, and the animals later gained back the weight they had lost due to food deprivation. In addition, laboratory studies of normal human brain cells and cancerous brain cell lines that underwent a short period of starvation (low glucose) revealed that normal cells also became resistant to chemotherapy (a good thing), while cancerous brain cell lines remained susceptible. In fact, the 2012 study found that five out of eight cancer types in mice responded to fasting alone. Just as with chemotherapy, fasting slowed the growth and spread of tumors. And without exception, "the combination of fasting cycles plus chemotherapy was either more or "much more" effective than chemo alone.

The new study, published just a few days ago, on the other hand, actually found that cycles of starvation were as effective as chemotherapy drugs in delaying the progression of different tumors and increased the effectiveness of these drugs against melanoma, glioma, and breast cancer cells. In mouse models of neuroblastoma, fasting cycles plus chemotherapy drugs--but not either treatment alone--resulted in long-term cancer-free survival. According to the researchers, these studies suggest that multiple cycles of fasting promote differential stress sensitization in a wide range of tumors and could potentially replace or augment the efficacy of certain chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of various cancers.

That's not insignificant.

Diabetes and Brain Damage

And finally, it has been known for many years that calorie restricted diets have been shown to have several health benefits including increased insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, reduced morbidity, and increased life span. The mechanism still remains unknown, but the need for a long-term reduction in caloric intake to achieve these benefits has always been assumed, at least until a 2002 study found that intermittent fasting by itself resulted in beneficial effects that met or exceeded those of caloric restriction. We're talking about benefits including reduced serum glucose and insulin levels and increased resistance of neurons in the brain to excitotoxic stress.13 In other words, intermittent fasting produces the same kinds of beneficial effects on glucose regulation in diabetics and neuronal resistance to injury as caloric restriction…but most likely exceeds them.

Water Fasting VS Juice Fasting VS Juice Fasting Plus Single Cell Protein, Part 2

Water fasting is certainly more extreme than juice fasting or juice fasting plus spirulina or chlorella, but is the extremity worth it? That depends on what you're after. Water fasting provides two benefits that juice fasting does not--but they come at a cost.  Let's take a look

 

Water

Juice

Juice/plus

       

Ketosis

Yes

No

No

Autolysis

Yes

So So

So So

Cleansing toxins

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cleansing reaction

Yes

So So

So So

Resting the organs of the digestive system

Yes

Yes

Yes

Losing weight

So So

So So

Yes

Electrolyte imbalance

Yes

No

No

Glucose imbalance

Yes

So So

No

Fatigue

Yes

So So

No

Loss of muscle mass

Yes

Yes

So So

Alkaline pH

No

Yes

Yes

Ketosis

Normally your body burns carbohydrates for fuel. Ultimately, carbs are the main source of fuel for your brain, heart, and most other organs. During a water fast, after your body has used up all the available carbohydrate calories from your last meal, it then turns to the glycogen stored in your liver to meet its energy needs. Once your glycogen stores are used up, your body finally turns to its fat reserves. At this point, your body is in a state of ketosis. A person in ketosis is getting energy from ketones, little carbon fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores.  Mild ketosis, at least short term, can be beneficial. The first benefit is that it accelerates the loss of fat in your body; the second is that it can actually help stabilize your body's glycemic response over time.14 And thirdly, it can actually reduce hunger. When the body is in ketosis, you tend to feel less hungry.

But longer term, or at more extreme levels, ketosis is definitely more bad than good. High levels of ketones can cause gout, kidney stones, and even lead to organ failure--particularly kidney failure. Note: as little as 100 grams of carbohydrates a day (not counting fiber) can prevent ketosis in your body.

Autolysis

The technical definition of autolysis is the destruction of the tissues or cells of an organism by substances that are produced within that organism. When it comes to fasting, we can think of this as the body digesting parts of itself to compensate for insufficient calories being consumed. The breaking down of fat cells through ketosis is one example. The breaking down of muscle and organ tissue to extract protein for more immediate needs is another. If we believe the process to be random and arbitrary, as the medical community supposes, then it should be avoided at all costs. But as any endurance athlete can tell you, your body does not break down arbitrarily under autolytic conditions. As it turns out, you body is fundamentally self-aware and intelligent; it "digests" diseased and weakened tissue before healthy tissue. For an endurance runner, that means her body will "use up" her upper body tissue before it even thinks of taking anything from her legs. Quite simply, your body has the ability to readily adjust to changing circumstances--breaking down tissue in one part of the body and reassembling it in another, again as circumstances require.

Years ago, I hiked the full 212 mile length of the John Muir Trail and lost 13 lbs during the trip. At altitude and carrying a 70 lb pack, I was burning better than 5,000 calories a day and couldn't come close to eating that much. At the end of the hike, you could count my ribs, but I had legs like a Billy Goat. My body digested the tissue it didn't need for the task at hand, but built it even stronger where necessary. Autolysis is not arbitrary. During fasting, autolysis is self-aware.

Since you are consuming fewer calories in a water fast, autolysis is more pronounced than with a juice fast. This means that your body will be breaking down unneeded, damaged, and toxic tissue faster than with other forms of fasting. However, as long as you are not overdoing the calories while juice fasting, autolysis will still take place while on a juice fast -- just not as pronounced.

Cleansing Toxins and Cleansing Reaction

Different health experts will have different opinions on this, but I believe that the main purpose of fasting is to remove toxins from the body. And in that regard, juice fasting is just as effective as water fasting when it comes to the amount of toxins removed. But juice fasting goes one step further. The breakdown of tissue during fasting both creates and releases toxins into the bloodstream. The body's response to these toxins is to first oxidize them, then reduce them, and finally conjugate them (i.e., combine them with something else) to create a less toxic or inactive compound and safely escort those compounds out of the body. Most of this is accomplished in the liver, but--and here's the key point--the process requires nutritional cofactors to conjugate the toxins. When juice fasting, these cofactors are abundantly provided by the fresh juice. When water fasting, no such luck. Elimination of these toxins when water fasting is, therefore, much more uncomfortable.

And it is here that fasting with juices plus single cell proteins such as chlorella and/or spirulina stands out.  Both chlorella and spirulina are chelating and purifying agents that bond with the toxins and usher them out of your body. It's not a coincidence that algae such as chlorella are used in water treatment plants to remove toxins from drinking water.

Resting the Organs of the Digestive System

All three forms of fasting are useful when it comes to resting the digestive system since they require no, or very little, work from the digestive system in terms of processing.  Note: this is why protein supplementation for the juice has to be of the single cell variety--to minimize any effort made by your digestive system.  Spirulina is so easy to digest because it is surrounded by a thin membrane of complex sugars which dissolve easily in the stomach. Chlorella, on the other hand, is easy to digest since virtually all varieties sold as food are "broken-celled," meaning that the cell wall has already been breached and requires no further digestion to access the nutrients inside.

Note: while fasting, you are not only resting the organs of digestion from their workload, you are also freeing up the energy in your body normally devoted to digestion. Most people think that food provides them with energy, and it does…long term. But short term, digestion is an energy intensive process. Just consider for a moment how exhausted you feel after eating a large meal. While fasting, you free up that energy that was previously employed in digestion for the purposes of rebuilding and repairing other tissues in the body. In his book, The Science and Fine Art of Fasting, Herbert Shelton calls this "physiological compensation.15" As he says, "Energy saved in one department may be expended in another."

Electrolyte and Glucose Imbalance and Fatigue

Water fasting is the most likely form of fasting to cause problems in terms of electrolyte and glucose imbalances, as well as fatigue. Since you're not taking in any electrolytes or glucose, you are going to run short. If you're healthy and the fast is short term, that's not a problem. But if you're not healthy, or the fast goes on longer than three days, the problems and risks increase. Water fasts longer than three days can cause irregular heartbeats (especially if your potassium levels have dropped) and extreme swings of fatigue from the drop in glucose levels. And in some cases, where the faster doesn't know what they're doing, water fasting even presents a risk of death from the lack of electrolytes. It's the reason, if you're new to fasting, I never recommend a pure water fast longer than three days unless someone knowledgeable is personally guiding you through the process. Experienced fasters who are in tune with their bodies, on the other hand, can navigate longer periods of water fasting safely. Juice fasting is much less problematic for newbies in this regard.

Interestingly, juice fasting can present an opposite problem. If you rely too much on sweet fruit juices for your fast, you can push glucose levels up much too high, which can lead to severe glycemic swings. It's the reason that I recommend juicing primarily with vegetable juices while fasting and diluting any fruit juices you drink with pure water. The sweeter the juice, the more you'll want to dilute it--two or three parts water to one part juice is not unwarranted for such juices.

By the way, this is why the Master Cleanse adds both lemon juice and maple syrup to its version of the water fast -- lemon for the electrolytes and maple syrup to prevent glucose dips.

Loss of Muscle Mass

This is pretty automatic: unless you are consuming protein, you will lose overall muscle mass. Yes, you can build muscle in particular areas even while fasting, but you accomplish that by cannibalizing protein from other muscle tissue that is not being stressed. As I mentioned earlier, when I hiked the John Muir Trail, I built muscle in my legs, but only by cannibalizing muscle from my upper body. And this is where consuming single-cell proteins while fasting truly shines. Because they are such highly concentrated proteins, and so easily digested, supplementing with them while fasting minimizes the muscle loss and ensures that the majority of weight lost is water and fat...while at the same time giving you the benefits of fasting.

Alkaline pH

Ketones are both acidic and acid forming in the body; thus, pushing your body into ketosis while water fasting can be acidifying to the body. However, drinking enough water will flush the ketones quickly from the body, thereby minimizing that effect. Nevertheless, there is nothing in a pure water fast to help promote alkalinity. Incidentally, that's one of the reasons the Master Cleanse fast includes lemon juice with the water. As I've explained in other newsletters, although citrus fruits are acidic, they actually promote alkalinity in the body. Another possibility is to water fast using a water ionizer, which will help promote alkalinity in the body. Be careful, though, not to set the alkalinity too high; otherwise, since you'll be drinking so much water during the fast, you can promote a state of too much alkalinity.

In any case, juice fasting--especially with vegetable juices--is helpful in promoting a proper alkaline state. And the single-celled algae are also alkalinizing.

Weight-loss

Water fasting is the least effective form of fasting for weight loss since with no calories your body quickly goes into shut down mode to prevent starvation. In other words, water fasting slows your metabolism so that you "survive" on fewer calories. This means that you progressively lose less weight as the fast goes on, but even more important, you have a high rebound effect once you start eating again…since your metabolism is now slower and it takes even fewer calories to put weight back on.

For that reason, juice fasting is better for losing weight and juice fasting with one-celled protein even better. They both offer less slowing of your metabolism--and, therefore, less rebound. That said, if you decide to use either water fasting or juice fasting for weight-loss, I recommend alternate day fasting. Eating every other day prevents the body from shutting down. Note: just make sure you don't overeat on your alternate eating days in an unconscious attempt to "compensate" for what you didn't eat the day before. Overindulging in calories on eating days pretty much nullifies the gains you make on fasting days.

Conclusion

Fasting is an essential component of the Baseline of Health Program for preventing and even reversing catastrophic illness. I personally have done all different kinds of fasting over the years--including longer water fasts, Master Cleanses, and juice fasts. In the end, after years of trial error, I've settled on the vegetable juice fast (with a small amount of fruit juice), supplemented with chlorella or spirulina, as the best form of fasting for the vast majority of people. And it's the form of fasting I personally use most often. It's effective; reasonably pleasant, as fasts go; has the smallest chance of a detox reaction; is the easiest for most people to do, and is far and away the safest form of fasting. That said, I recommend the following guidelines.

Type of Juice

In general, you want to use low sugar vegetable juices over high sugar fruit juices. Be sure and dilute any fruit juices that you do use. As I mentioned earlier, diluting two or three parts water for each part juice is advisable when drinking fruit juices.

No bottled juices! They are essentially sugar water, or just plain dead. Get a juicer. My favorite juicers now are the Breville 800JEXL - Juice Fountain Elite Extractor for when I want something quick and easy to clean up after and the Tribest Green Star Green Power Gold when I am juicing throughout the day for more than a couple of days. The Green Power does a superior job but is more of a pain to use and clean. However, if you are juicing throughout the day, you only need to clean it at the end of the day. And for those who want only the very best, the Norwalk Model 280 is the crème de la crème of the juicing world. But at $2,500, it's outrageously expensive and a real pain in the butt to use and clean. Most people will not have the patience to stick with it; but for those who do, it produces superior juice. Note: I love my VitaMix blender. I wouldn't own anything else, but it's a blender and not a juicer. It liquefies fruits and vegetables; it doesn't juice them. It's great for pure fruit and vegetable smoothies, but not for juice fasting.

Chlorella, Spirulina, or Blue Green Algae

It's six of one, half dozen of the other. My personal preference is for chlorella because I believe it does a better job as a detoxing agent. It's certainly superior in its ability to chelate heavy metals. But spirulina and blue green algae offer a better protein source. Also, look out for allergies. People who are allergic to seafood may have a problem with one or the other of these foods. Note: blue green algae is likely to be the least problematic in this regard.

In any case, buy organic from a trusted manufacturer that grows their algae in a very clean environment. Don't buy bargain brands that don't state how they are grown.

Juicing schedule

As a basic schedule, I like the following:

  • One day of juice fasting with chlorella a week. (I like Mondays because it cleans things up after the weekend and breaks the flow after any indulgences I may have allowed myself. And if I'm trying to lose any weight, I'll do both Mondays and Fridays for a couple of weeks.)
  • Once a month, I like to extend that one day juice fast three days. There's an old saying in the world of fasting. One day gives your body a rest; three days is good for minor repair; and five to seven days works as a complete overhaul for your body.
  • With that in mind, twice a year, I now do a five-day juice and chlorella fast in combination with my bi-annual kidney/liver/gallbladder/blood detox. I do one of those the first week in January to cleanse my body of all the bad stuff I ate over the holidays--and to break any bad eating habits I acquired during that period. I do the other one mid-summer, but am more flexible as to the exact dates.

Warnings

Diabetics need to exercise special care when fasting--even short-term. Diabetics should not start with water fasting as this can play havoc with your blood sugar levels. And absolutely, do not base your fast on undiluted fruit juices as this can send your blood sugar levels through the roof. Vegetable juices are preferable, and the use of supplemental single-celled proteins can smooth the edges out even further. In any case, work with your physician and monitor your blood sugar regularly. Also fasting is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as it can stir up toxins that can impact the child. And anyone who has a chronic illness, is using prescription medications, or is under a doctor's care should check with their doctor or naturopathic physician before embarking on a fasting program.

Final Word

Despite what the medical community may feel about the practice, fasting is one of the cornerstones of many alternative health programs. As I have repeatedly stated over the years, a good juicer is one of the single best investments you can make in your health. And let me be absolutely clear, I do not sell juicers, and I do not make any money if you buy one. I just recommend their use.

 

Written by Jon Barron or staff member at The Baseline of Health Foundation

Material originally published at www.jonbarron.org.

Copyright © 1999-2011. Baseline of Health® Foundation

Used by permission of the Baseline of Health® Foundation.

All rights reserved worldwide.

Yoga Research Surges Over Last Decade

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yoga research

Interest in yoga has grown fast and furiously, and so has research into the benefits of yoga, providing a doorway towards acceptance of yoga as a tool for healthier living.

If you’re following new research developments on yoga, you may have noticed that almost every week brings one or more reports on new studies on the health effects of yoga. But just how many, and how does the current number of research studies coming out compare to the past?

This was the question posed by Dr. Troy Cellmer, Chief Editor of Active Life DC. He set out to chart the number of research studies, starting all the way back to the 1950s, when yoga was still a relatively unknown practice and very few studies were done on the effects of yoga. Even in the 60s, with increased interest in the practice, few studies were done. But starting at the turn of the 21st century, the number of scientific papers on yoga has soared. In 2012 alone, there were 41 more papers published than in all the 1990s together.

The numbers are continuing to climb. If 2013 continues to look into yoga at the same rate this one year will break all records with the number of yoga-related studies reaching upwards of 380! The studies document the physical and psychological benefits of practicing yoga using protocols that typically focus on performing asanas.

This burgeoning of interest in yoga can only bode well for yoga being recognized more and more as a vehicle for better health. The studies are encouraging for yoga practitioners and teachers seeking to achieve specific benefits, from working to improve diabetes, to addressing insomnia, relieving back pain, or ‘simply,’ improve general health and well-being.

Studies that reveal hard evidence with rigorous documentation can open doors and lead to greater acceptance of yoga by the medical field. With more and more research, many doctors may increasingly begin to integrate yoga as a cost-effective, non-invasive complementary treatment for many health conditions.

  
 

 

 

Vinyasa Perfected: Surya Namaskar

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Surya Namaskar

 

Enjoy this excerpt from Matthew Sweeney's upcoming yoga DVD - Vinyasa Unlocked. While this excerpt only features only written instructions and text, it's well worth watching for the sheer grace and beauty of Matthew's practice. 

If you ever wondered how to jump gracefully (and soundlessly) into Chaturanga or from Downward Dog into Uttanasana, here's how! Surya Namaskar the way we all wish we could practice it. :-) 

 

 

Abhyasa and the Practice of Yoga - Creating a New Reality Through Your Practice

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By Susan Grossman

"Practice (abhyasa) is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search into a chosen subject, pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures, for indefinitely long periods of time."  ~BKS Iyengar
 

Last night at yoga class, we reflected on this profound quote from one of the greatest yoga teachers.  Even today, as I read it again and again, I was amazed at the depth and the wisdom contained in such a succinct and beautiful way.  Here are some reflections on the profound meanings of this quote. 
 
"Practice (abhyasa) is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search . . . "
 
Practice is a search, a dedicated, unswerving, constant and vigilant search, Mr. Iyengar states.  ‘Practice’ to each of us may represent many things not specifically related to yoga.  We practice controlling our emotions and desires.  We practice our work.  We practice our roles within our lives.  We practice daily toward becoming more proficient at everything we do.
 
If we are dedicated to our practice, we search it out in a diligent way to uncover our deepest understanding.  As we diligently search out our yoga through practice, we actually learn to understand ourselves on a much deeper level.  Through a diligent yoga practice we learn to let go of the things that do not serve us well.  We also learn to embrace our own unique beauty and the beauty of others.
 
"into a chosen subject"
 
We choose the focus of our practice.  I have always believed that wherever we are - right now - in our lives, we've made the choices that brought us here.  Sometimes the philosophy of choice brings tears of pain and regret when we connect our reality with our choices.  All is not within our control but our choices remain completely our own.
 
Perhaps we have fallen victim or prey to someone else's bad choices; yet our future remains truly unwritten.  When we choose, we write a new reality for ourselves and all of those, who surround us.   Our goals become our future.  Our choices - right now - matter very much.  We must choose wisely the pursuits which use up much of our valuable and finite energies.
 
"pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures"
 
Pursuit of a goal requires full and total dedication.  When we practice yoga, we are pursuing a dream for ourselves that our bodies will be stronger and more open.  
 
Dedicating ourselves completely to full spinal opening in Urdhva Dhanurasana (backbend) may takes years of practice.  We will fail over and over again before we achieve even a semblance of the pose.  Our spine may have lost most of its deeper movement.  We may be given advice that we are "too stiff" to achieve backbend, or that we are out of our minds to even attempt the pose.  If we are to truly realize our goal, though, we must disregard the negativity and continue in our practice. 
 
"for indefinitely long periods of time"
 
We must pursue yoga with a passion that does not fade with time.  With full and total dedication we continue onward in the face of failure for as long as the pose requires.  We cannot give up in the middle of the battle or we may lose our desire to practice at all.  We refocus and change our strategy but we do not give up.  We continue onward with the steady focus of realizing our goals which are a reflection of our deepest intentions.
 
Learn to fully embrace the wisdom of Mr. Iyengar, and proceed with practice, even when it is difficult or challenging.  Pursue and realize your goals for achieving a better body through the amazing journey of yoga.
 
Susan Grossman is a yoga teacher based in Warsaw, Indiana.  She is a contributing author for three ebooks, “Get Fit for Your Pregnancy: Simple Exercises to Look Great & Feel Energized Through Your Pregnancy,” “Body Sculpting Exercise for Women Over 40,” and “Fat Blasting for a Shapely Butt and Toned Thighs.”  She teaches weekly yoga classes at her studio where she works with many individuals in the beginning stages of their yoga journey, as well as, individuals who are over seventy years of age with mild to moderate health considerations. Susan also instructs kettlebell classes. For more information go to: www.WarsawsSecret.com

 

 

 

A Teacher of Teachers—Iyengar Yoga Teacher Karin O-Bannon and the Moment that Changed My Life

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By Christie Hall

In this blog post, writer Christie Hall portrays her first meeting with her teacher Karin O'Bannon, and how it forever changed the trajectory of her life. Karin O’Bannon became an Iyengar Senior Intermediate 3 teacher in 1996. She influenced students across the globe, from Los Angeles to Louisiana and Georgia to Taiwan to Rishikesh. She died June 10, 2013. She had been a yoga teacher for more than 30 years. 

For some yoga students, the act of walking into a yoga class is a leap of faith.  It’s true for many of my students, who bring woes ranging from gout to bulging vertebral discs to post-traumatic stress disorder.

That I am standing in front of them teaching yoga is an act of faith as well. I must constantly draw on the words of the teacher who taught me to teach, Karin O’Bannon, Iyengar yoga teacher and teacher of teachers.

She asked me on my third day of yoga teacher training if I was teaching anywhere. I stammered, that, no, I wasn’t.

Was she crazy? Here I was with all these people who were actually GOOD at the poses. And she addressed me while I was struggling my way into Ardha Chandrasana, my elevated leg mere inches from the floor, restricted by such impacted hip joints that two years later I would have them both replaced. My back was to the wall, and my hand was on a chair seat.

“You should be.”

I was shocked. I was there because my teacher at a health club had urged me to get some training so I could sub for her.  After my first day of class that June day in 1997, I was sure I could never teach, but I was there to get more of the learning Karin provided, which had immediately taken hold of my heart.

I struggled with more than my utter inability to do the poses with even 10 percent of the quality of my fellow students.

I struggled with the concept of ishwara pranidhana, surrender to God. As an atheist, I didn’t even know how to begin to deal with this. A few weeks later, though, Karin gave me something to hold on to. In response to an assignment, I had written that at the end of a yoga class, I felt that the possibilities of all the individuals within the class were magnified far beyond the strength of any imagining. She had written: “For some, this is God.”

When I started teaching later that year, it was with her faith in me.

Over the years, perhaps encouraged by my own limitations, students came to me with problems and encouraged friends to come, too. Their courage inspired me. Over time they learned to have faith in yoga. When they thanked me, I had to point out that they were the ones doing the heavy hauling, that it was the yoga and their work that they should thank.

One day in 2010, a 30-something student came to my class who was in such immense mental pain that I felt overwhelmed. I was so frightened of doing her harm. I contacted one teacher by e-mail. She told me to trust my instincts. I realized later that what I came to trust was the student’s determination to heal herself and the ability of the yoga itself.

A few months later, I was able to see my teacher Karin and ask her directly for advice. (She had moved to India a few years earlier and then had moved back to Louisiana.) She said the same thing, to trust my instincts. Then she looked me straight in the eye and said: “And know that she is a gift.” I had no idea what she meant at the time.

Her workshop that evening touched on Sutra 2.15, that it was the “axial aphorism” for the entire text.

“The wise man knows that owing to fluctuations, the qualities of nature, and subliminal impressions, even pleasant experiences are tinged with sorrow, and he keeps aloof from them.  (Translation: Edwin F. Bryant.)”

Eventually our discussion went to ishwara pranidhana, my old nemesis, as she knew. And she said it might also refer to surrender to “absolute truth.” As a former journalist, I found the idea of an absolute truth perhaps even more difficult to grasp than the concept of a supreme soul.

The 30-something woman and I attended the Iyengar yoga conference in Washington, D.C., in May 2012, in large part to be able to study again with Karin. We also attended Professor Fred Smith’s discussion of the Yoga Sutras. Here I came across another explanation of the niyama: surrender to the “lord of yoga”, to trust in the act, the doing of yoga.

I thought I had come to that point, teaching as an act of faith in yoga. Then, in April 2013, I learned my teacher Karin is terminally ill, and I realized that, no, I was still teaching from her faith in me. Without her, how could I find the courage to keep teaching?

Student by student, the answer has come. Sometimes from someone who knows I am quavering, but as often not. Over the past weeks, many students have told me that I am an inspiration and that is why they have found healing in yoga. Rather like when I heard my teacher Karin, I have no idea what they mean. I am so very ordinary. But I find that I must accept their faith if I am to keep on teaching.

And so the gift I have wanted to give my students, faith in yoga, has come rebounding back, multiplied many times over.

Christie Hall became a full-time yoga teacher in 2004 after asking Karin’s advice and receiving her encouragement to do so. 


Christie Hall began studying yoga in 1995 to cope with crippling back pain. Her home practice started with the book, Yoga: The Iyengar Way. She started teaching in 1997 after studying with Iyengar teacher Karin O'Bannon and she has studied as student and as teacher exclusively with Iyengar teachers, including BKS Iyengar in Colorado in 2005 and Geeta Iyengar in 2007. More of her writings can be found on her blog: www.pratipaksha.com. Her Web site is www.christieyoga.com.


 

Study: Yoga Offers Encouraging Mental Health Benefits

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Mental illness is a significant health concern worldwide, in spite of increasing improvements in treatment modalities and access to care. And, while the number of medications that are available for mental health disorders has been increasing, drugs are often very expensive, have significant side effects, and don’t necessarily offer the desired results.

In this environment, it is generally recognized that there is a need for safe, cost-effective forms of treatment for mental illness. A number of studies looking at the effects of yoga for people with mental health issues have shown promising preliminary results. But does the cumulative evidence across studies support the use of yoga to help offer relief for depression and other forms of mental illness? 

This was the question asked by a group of researchers at Duke University, who set out to examine the evidence across a number of studies for the usefulness of yoga for mental health disorders. 

To answer the question, the researchers conducted a review of studies on the mental health benefits of yoga. They initially looked at a pool of 124 studies, but only 16 studies met the rigorous criteria for final inclusion in the review. Specifically included were studies on the effects of yoga on depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, sleep complaints, eating disorders, and cognition problems. The study was published in the January 2013 issue of Frontiers of Psychiatry.

Across multiple studies, the review found, there is cumulative evidence for the usefulness of yoga as an adjunct modality in the treatment several mental health issues.

In particular, studies have consistently shown potential benefit for depression and for schizophrenia (as an adjunct to drugs treatments), as well as for sleep complaints and for children with ADHD.
 
The review also found that yoga may balance biochemical markers thought to play a role in mental health. One of the studies included indicated that a regular yoga asana practice affects neurotransmitters as well as markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, lipids, and growth factors. Other significant benefits noted above drug therapy were the absence of side effects, the low cost of practicing the postures, good accessibility, and general improvement of the patients’ level of fitness. 
 
Still, while results are promising, more rigorous research with larger groups is required, the researchers concluded. The studies revealed conflicting results for cognitive and eating disorders, and none of the existing studies looked at issues around primary and relapse prevention, or compared the effectiveness of yoga therapies versus drug therapies.
 
 
Source
Yoga on Our Minds: A Systematic Review of Yoga for Neuropsychiatric Disorders
Meera Balasubramaniam, Shirley Telles, and P. Murali Doraiswamy
Front Psychiatry. 2012; 3: 117. Published online 2013 January 25. 

 

 

Yoga Pose of the Week: Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) – Yoga for Prolapsed Uterus

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Salamba Sarvangasana: Yoga for Prolapsed Uterus

According to BKS Iyengar, Salamba Sarvangasana, a.k.a. The Queen of Asanas,' is beneficial for a range of health issues. Shoulder Stand is said to relieve stress and mild depression, stimulate the thyroid gland, and it improve digestion.

Shoulder Stand is also recommended for relieving menopausal symptoms, and for women struggling with a prolapsed uterus, a chair version of supported Shoulder Stand can be particularly useful. It supports long holdings of the pose, which facilitates a reverse pull of gravity on the inner organs and uterus for an extended period of time.

In this video, Roberta Dell’Anno, E-RYT 200, RYT 500 demonstrates how to get into the chair version of supported Shoulder Stand, and how to make the pose more accessible, while avoiding common mistakes. Roberta has been teaching for nearly two decades, working with beginning and advanced students as well as those with physical limitations. This video is for experienced yoga practitioners only, and is not to be intended as a substitute for medical advice. Remember to always consult with your doctor before attempting any new types of exercise.  

 

New Documentary Portrays the Work of B.K.S. Iyengar

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B.K.S. Iyengar

 

“One cannot begin work on a sculpture without courage.

The nature of a stone is that it is strong;
To transform it into a sculpture, and see the God within it,
Requires immense strength.
If one gives up or is daunted by the strength of the stone or injuries,
the sculpture will never come to life.”

An Indian stone carver, in Sadhaka: The Yoga of BKS Iyengar 
 
Courage, transformation, strength. These are among the many qualities described in a new documentary called Sadhaka: The Yoga of BKS Iyengar by director Jake Clennell and executive producer and senior Iyengar teacher Lindsey Clennell.  
 
B.K.S. Iyengar is known worldwide as a preeminent yoga teacher, and a leading force in bringing yoga to the U.S. The books of Mr. Iyengar have been published worldwide, and his resources support schools and a hospital in his native village in Southern India. 
 
Born a crippled child, yoga strengthened him and transformed his body. Mr. Iyengar’s own physical limitations led him to develop his own unique yoga style that he has taught to multitudes. His contributions to bringing yoga to the masses led Time magazine to recognize him on its list of the world’s most influential people, and he has been awarded the equivalent of a knighthood by the Indian government. At 94 years old, Mr. Iyengar is still active in his own yoga practice. 
 
The documentary highlights the life and teachings of Mr. Iyengar to give viewers a chance to learn about this great man and get a sense of the style of yoga he has developed. To Mr. Iyengar, ‘the body is the temple, and yoga asanas are the prayers.’ 
 
In his own life, he has exemplified the transformative power of yoga for body, mind, and spirit. Through his extensive and creative use of props, Mr. Iyengar has made yoga accessible to everyone, no matter which physical limitations they may bring to the practice.
 
The documentary also demonstrates the powerful effects of yoga on drug addicts and orphans, helping those living confused and painful lives to align with deeper parts of themselves.
 
Crowd-Funding Efforts Offer 22-Minute Preview of Iyengar Documentary
To capture an extended excerpt of the movie, check out the 22-minute trailer at the crow-funding website Indigogo. And should you feel inspired to do so, contribute to help move the documentary into the post-production phase.
 
The first three years of making this film were funded by the director and producer, and the intent now is to raise enough money to take the documentary through post-production. Supporters will receive recognition for their contributions based on the size of their gifts. Once this film is completed, proceeds from the sales and screenings will go to the B.K.S. Iyengar Foundation in support of Bellur Village schools and the local hospital there.
 
 

 

 

Yoga May Decrease Health Complications of Diabetes

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The number of people affected with type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions worldwide, with the highest level of increase yearly seen among seniors aged 65 and above. Diabetes often carries with it numerous adverse complications in those suffering from the condition, and people with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease, bone and joint issues, and skin disorders.

A recent study conducted in India may offer preliminary evidence that yoga may have preventive and protective effects for this people with diabetes by reducing stress and improving the antioxidant defense system. 
 
This study included 143 people between the ages of 60 and 70 with Type 2 Diabetes. Each had a five to ten year history of Type 2 diabetes with poor glycemic control. Participants were all middle class, literate, living with their families, and they continued with their conventional medications without changing any dosages. 

During the study, half the participants were assigned to a study group, which practiced yoga under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher for 90 minutes daily for three months. The control group participated in a comparable control session. 

Blood work was conducted for both groups (glucose, lipid profile, cortisol, and others) at the beginning of the study and on day 90. At the end of the three months, the yoga group showed a decrease in fasting glucose, total cholesterol, triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol, T.chol/HDL ratio and a significant increase in good HDL – cholesterol. 

In addition, yoga participants also showed significantly decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while participants in the control group had increased cortisol levels. Stress is thought to aggravate diabetes; studies have shown that cortisol level tends to increase along with the severity of the condition. Increasing cortisol have been strongly associated with increasing pathophysiology in people suffering from diabetes.
Several markers of oxidative stress also improved in the study group, another encouraging finding, as oxidative stress also plays a major role in the development of health complications in people suffering from type 2 diabetes mellitus. 

The slow rhythmic movements of yoga postures stimulate organs and glands with easy bending and extensions, whereas aerobic exercise can be less effective for older population groups, because of the strenuousness of the movements required.  

Although yoga won’t offer a cure for diabetes, study results indicate that the ancient practice of hatha yoga can help keep the symptoms of diabetics under control and to protect against long-term complications. As such, a regular yoga practice may be a useful complement to other lifestyle changes that can help manage the condition and reduce long-term health complications.

 
Source
Yogic practice and diabetes mellitus in geriatric patients by Rani K Beena and E Sreekumaran
International Journal of Yoga. 2013 Jan-Jun; 6(1): 47–54.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573543/?report=reader
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573543/?report=reader#!po=3.57143

 

 

Yoga in the Era of the Rock Star Yoga Teacher

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By Carol Horton, Ph.D.

I used to assume that the reason that famous yoga teachers were famous was because they were better at yoga than others. After all, every field has its exceptional geniuses: there's lot of rock musicians out there, but a John Lennon doesn't come along too often. So when I thought about famous yoga teachers, I fit them into this paradigm, e.g.: B.K.S. Iyengar is to yoga as the Beatles were to rock. 

Certainly, in the case of Mr. Iyengar (and some others), I still think this is true. But in the past 15 years, yoga has become a multi-billion dollar "industry” and the number of famous “rock star” yoga teachers has grown proportionately. You no longer have to be a genius, who has profoundly influenced the development of modern yoga in order to achieve fame. Today, with so many yoga classes, studios, students, retreats, and products on the market, it's a whole different ball game.

Given the enormous influence that yoga teachers can have on their students, it’s useful to reflect on the qualities that can vault a yoga teacher to prominence today. 

The Rock Star Yoga Teacher: What Does It Take?

What does it take for a yoga teacher to become a famous teacher in the U.S. today? Off the top of my head, I'd suggest the following: 
  
1) Kick-Ass Asana Chops. Teachers who can do amazing things with their bodies wow students. It's impressive, exciting, and can be inspiring. Also, because so many Americans assume that yoga is asanas, pure and simple, being able to do advanced poses is taken to mean being “good at yoga” as a whole.

2) Good Looks. Our society places a huge premium on physical attractiveness. Particularly for women, fitting into mainstream standards of what's considered beautiful generates attention and admiration. While men have a bit more leeway, it certainly doesn’t hurt them to be good looking, either.

3) Charisma. While harder to identify than beauty or asana chops, charisma is actually much more important. Max Weber classically defined charisma as "a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities . . . not accessible to the ordinary person." Powerful in any field, charisma is a particularly good fit with yoga, where students are primed to search for a guru, teacher, or leader who can guide them toward the transformation that more powerful forms of the practice can provide.

4) Business Savvy. As the yoga industry, like American society in general, has become more competitive, business savvy has become increasingly important. Yoga teachers need to make a living, too. But with zillions of recent yoga teacher training grads, not to mention Pilates, Zumba, spinning, and other popular fitness options competing for the potential yoga student’s time and money, how does the individual teacher stand out from the crowd? It’s not easy. Having a good head for business helps. 

Is That It?

Am I suggesting that all famous yoga teachers are simply charismatic, attractive gymnasts with a strong business sense? No. I myself have studied with several famous yoga teachers who were famous for good reasons – e.g., they had a depth of knowledge about yoga and ability to communicate it to students that was simply exceptional.

I do think, however, that in today’s environment, these are the qualities that will help someone become “successful” in the sense of being able to attract big numbers of students to their classes, teach nationally or even internationally, sell DVDs or other tie-ins, etc. The qualities of exceptional athleticism, good looks, charisma, and business savvy dovetail with what American culture values more generally. 

I’ve experienced this directly myself. About 18 months ago, I stopped attending the yoga class I’d been going to for years and spent a few months experimenting with new classes. What I saw made a big impression on me. 

I remember going to one class with maybe 80 students packed in mat-to-mat. The teacher bounced in like a radiant cheerleader: pretty, confident, eye-catching, smiling, bestowing good vibes on the crowd. She led us through a nice workout that left me feeling like I’d had some exercise, but not done any yoga. Aside from a brief New Age-y reading at the beginning and end of class, there wasn’t anything that distinguished it from a “normal” exercise class – no work with the breath, no attention to mental focus, and no meditative dimension.

Soon after that, I went to a class led by a woman who’d been teaching in the Chicago area for well over a decade. Her hair was streaked with grey and she had a quiet manner. She was not charismatic. I knew that she’d travelled to India and New York multiple times for intensive study with renowned yoga teachers. Her class had had incredible focus, energy, and depth. It had six people in it. 

As I left the studio, I thought: Wow. She’s been teaching in this city for as long as I can remember and she only has six students in her class? And it was a great class! I found this surprising, and disheartening.
Ethical Ambiguity
 
Of course, someone can have asana chops, good looks, charisma, and business savvy in spades, and also be an incredible yoga teacher.

The problem, however, is that our culture holds these qualities up as an indicator of what’s valuable, aspirational, and admirable. We assume that someone who can float from Crow to Handstand in the middle of the room is “better” at yoga than the rest of us, who can’t imagine accomplishing such a feat.

In fact, however, the ability to perform such a pose is ethically neutral. The person who achieves it may have the personal qualities of a saint, an a-hole, or anything in between.

Similarly, we tend to see physical attractiveness as worthy of admiration in ways that it doesn’t merit at all. Particularly in the yoga world, which has a strong aesthetic sense, we tend to feel that a teacher’s beauty imbues her with other qualities that she may or may not really have: equanimity, compassion, understanding, etc.

Charisma poses the trickiest issue, because it is the most invisible yet the most powerful attribute contributing to fame. While charisma can be harnessed to truly effective teaching, it can also be used to manipulate, dominate, and disempower. All of the cult leaders who have eventually fallen from the weight of years of abuse inflicted on their students were powerfully charismatic. Charismatic leaders can twist meanings so effectively that their followers become completely out of touch with reality. This can be extremely dangerous.

Similarly, business savvy is an ethically neutral talent. It’s possible to be in business and be visionary, responsible, and positive. It’s equally possible to be reactionary, manipulative, and negative. You can succeed financially either way. Sure, it’s probably harder to stay on the high road. But it’s certainly not impossible.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that I no longer assume that more “successful” yoga teachers are somehow “better” at yoga than those who aren’t. I don’t hold their fame against them. But I don’t consider it a guarantee of anything that I value, either.

Conversely, I don’t assume that because a teacher has only a small number of students in her class that she’s lacking something important. (In fact, the one class that I make an effort to go to regularly is quite small.) A teacher may have small classes, because she is new, inexperienced, and not capable of leading stellar classes. But it may just as well be because she is seasoned, knowledgeable, and committed to teaching classes that are true to her practice and don’t cater to mass market tastes.

The American yoga world is changing fast. As such, it’s a particularly important time to reflect on just how ambiguous the relationship between market success and ethical substance really is. We need to think carefully into the dynamics of what makes one particular method or teacher more popular than others. Most of all, we need to question the commonly assumption that “successful” necessarily means “better.” It doesn’t.
Share Your Thoughts! Has yoga become a mile wide and an inch deep, as Judith Hanson Lasater once put it? Or is the teaching of yoga just right? Share your thoughts below (comments are moderate to avoid spam, so it may take a short while for comments to appear).

An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Think Body Electric

Carol Horton, Ph.D., is the author of Yoga PhD: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body (Kleio Books, 2012); and Race and the Making of American Liberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005). She is also the co-editor (with Roseanne Harvey) of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Kleio Books, 2012). Carol holds a doctorate in Political Science from the University of Chicago, served on the faculty at Macalester College, and has extensive experience as a research consultant specializing in issues affecting low-income children and families. A Certified Forrest Yoga teacher, Carol teaches yoga to women in the Cook County Jail with Yoga for Recovery, and at Chaturanga Holistic Fitness in Chicago. To learn more, visit her website at carolhortonphd.com.

 

 

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