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“It’s Not What You Eat, It’s What You Digest” - Ayurvedic Keys to Healthy Digestion

Ayurveda and digestion

Ayurveda has been made popular in the US over the past twenty years by high profile celebrity physicians like Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. John Douillard. However, these have gained their knowledge of Ayurveda from a handful of leading Ayurvedic physicians, or vaidyas, who have spent most of their lives studying and practicing these ancient healing methods.

Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar is one of these unsung leaders in the North American Ayurvedic community. He’s a classically trained Ayurvedic physician and one of several accomplished Ayurvedic physicians in the US, originally brought to the U.S. by TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the 1980s.

In this interview, Dr. Kshirsagar explains the Ayurvedic approach to prevention, health, and longevity. As a clinician who has treated more than fifteen thousand clients, Dr. Kshirsagar has plenty of experience with the benefits and effects of Ayurveda.  Dr. Kshirsagar serves as lead faculty at several Ayurvedic institutes worldwide and he is a featured presenter with many prestigious organizations.

Q: How does the Ayurvedic approach to health and prevention differ from Western medicine?

Suhas Kshirsagar: The principles of Ayurvedic prevention, or Swastavritta, ask, how do we learn to promote our health by maintaining a kind of a balance? How can we learn kind of a self-diagnostic tool to find out and ascertain things to ourselves? How do the diseases become more prevalent in a system and how can you nip it in the bud by preventing the imbalance to go to the next level?

The changes of the seasons, the changes in the Doshas, and the six different stages of the disease formation have to be taken into consideration. Ayurveda looks at how the disease gets accumulated and aggravated, how it gets localized in certain parts of the body and perhaps creates an organic disease. Disease may start at the functional level and soon it will have a structural manifestation. Many times, at that level, it might become irreversible at times.

In the Ayurvedic framework, digestive health is the core basis of everything. So you should be eating the right kinds of foods. You should be eating at the right time of the day in smaller portions, respecting your body type and body constitution. There’s a wonderful Ayurvedic saying, “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest that’s important.”

Q: In a sense, the Ayurvedic understanding of what we ingest doesn’t just apply to the food we eat. It applies to the whole field of experience that we have to pay attention. We ingest our experiences, just we ingest the food we eat and it has an effect on our overall health. Is that a correct way of putting it?

Suhas Kshirsagar: Yes, we ingest from every field of perception, from every mode of intellect. All of our sensory experiences, the movies we watch, the books we read, the arguments we hear, the stresses we have at the workplace, our wants and the desires – all of these become part of our core being. The real prevention, I think, happens by paying attention to what we do and slowly making the right kind of efforts to mindfully change those things.

Prevention is not popping some vitamin pills so that you’re preventing diseases. Prevention is the collective effort that you put on to your own everyday living twenty-four/seven in order to prevent the onslaught of diseases. The Ayurvedic path to prevention involves improving the functioning of digestion because if you eat good, organic, healthy meals and you don’t digest it, you still create Ama.

Q: Could you please explain the Ayurvedic concept of Ama?

Suhas Kshirsagar: Ama is residual digestive impurities. Ama tends to make you feel dull, heavy, sluggish, and groggy at times. That’s the beginning of accumulated toxicity which starts throwing kind of a wrench in the functioning of the physiology. It accumulates cellular debris. If we learn how to re-spark or re-ignite our digestive fire and get rid of these accumulated digestive impurities, then the detoxification, cleanses, and all the things that we will do to balance ourselves is actually very important.

Q: I think that concept of removing Ama, rekindling your fire and being mindful of what you ingest is exactly where Ayurveda differs from Western approach to prevention. The key is creating a healthy vibrancy, not just avoiding disease. Ayurveda seems to be a way of staying youthful, having that zestful life.

Suhas Kshirsagar: Exactly. Eighty percent of all chronic diseases are lifestyle diseases. Lifestyle medicine is a new area of preventive medicine. Things like heart disease can be prevented, even reversed, by simple changes in diet, exercise, and stress management.

What we have also learned is the new, emerging science in medicine is that personalized treatment which identifies genetic and metabolic difference is effective. From there, drugs, treatment programs, and therapies are prescribed. This is new cutting edge medicine – Ayurveda is exactly the same.

This new field has a fancy name, Nutrigenomics, but it’s basically the study of identifying or understanding how food or nutrients can influence the expression of genes in our body. We talk a lot about this from Ayurvedic literature because there’s a lot of scientific verification of the ancient Ayurvedic principle that food is medicine. It’s everything, what you take in is going to make your genes turn on or turn off.

Dr. Khsirsagar leads an Ayurvedic Clinic offering diet and lifestyle consultations, Vedic counseling, medical dietology, and herbal medicine. He is a rare recipient of a gold medal from the prestigious Pune University in India, a leading school of Ayurveda.

For more information, see his course on YogaUOnline on Ayurveda, Digestion and Detoxification here.


Preventing Yoga Injuries vs Preventing Yoga - The Daily Bandha Weighs in on the Debate

the yoga injuries debate

Dr. Ray Long, author, yogi, and orthopedic surgeon, recently weighed in on the yoga injuries debate in his blog The Daily Bandha with a two-part post, entitled Preventing Yoga Injuries versus Preventing Yoga. A pertinent title, indeed.

Known to most yogis for his groundbreaking yoga anatomy books, including The Key Muscles of Yoga and The Key Poses of Yoga, Dr. Long has an impressive pedigree. In addition to his training as an M.D., he brings more then two decades of yoga training to the table, including extensive trainings with BKS Iyengar.

To those familiar with the yoga injuries debate (resurfacing recently with author William Broad’s recent blog post on yoga and hip injuries in the New York Times), it is a fascinating discussion, which perhaps says as much about the challenges facing yoga as a profession, as about the risk of injury itself. With the limited knowledge of anatomy many yoga teachers have, the claims of yoga injuries can be hard to evaluate. As a consequence, is easy, as Dr. Long points out in his title, to go to the extreme in erring on the side of caution.

To say that yoga carries risk of injury is, of course, stating the obvious. Any physical activity challenging the body comes with some degree of risk. A basic premise of exercise, and the key to many of its numerous beneficial effects, is to challenge the body to invoke a healing response. That, of course, involves some risk, if the challenge is overdone. As Dr. Long aptly points out:

[A part of yoga] practice involves poses that take some of our joints to the extremes of their range of motion (from a western medical perspective). Indeed, many of the benefits of Hatha yoga derive from moving our joints (carefully) within their range of motion.

Obviously, we want to avoid injuries when practicing yoga. One way to do that is to eliminate a bunch of the asanas on the grounds that they’re “too dangerous”. That approach also eliminates the benefits of those poses. Or, we can practice mindfully, using modifications where appropriate and working in a progressive manner towards the classical asanas that are appropriate for each of us individually. Knowledge of the body combined with awareness of mechanisms of injury aids in this process.

Rather than stating the obvious, to get traction for their claims, crusaders for the dangers of yoga argue that yoga is uniquely injurious. The evidence put forward for this claim has included certain conditions, such as (femeroacetabular impingement syndrome (FAI) and vertebral artery dissection supposedly caused by yoga. Never mind that the etiology of these conditions is poorly known and that they both appear to be triggered by a very long list of activities.

When trying to understand the risk of injuries in yoga, Dr. Long points out, it is key to not confuse correlation with causation. If five people with red hair in our circle of friends contract cancer, can we say that red hair causes cancer? Of course not.

If we have heard through the grapevine of five long-term yoga teachers who have gotten hip replacement, can we say that yoga puts one at higher risk for hip replacement? Again, of course not. There are numerous other possible factors that come into play, including as other physical activities (most yoga practitioners engage and many physical and athletic activities), heredity, childhood injuries, previous musculoskeletal imbalances, and so on. For this reason, without statistical evidence, it is impossible, and fool-hardy, to draw conclusions based on a few isolated cases.

As Dr. Long puts it.

Let’s look at the concept of association vs causality. Simply put, because some activity is associated with a problem does not mean it caused it. In medicine, we when we recognize that an injury is associated with a specific activity we then investigate whether there are factors associated with that activity that could cause the injury. An example would be anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. 

A while back, we recognized that ACL tears were approximately five times more common in female athletes compared to males. Thus, investigators sought to identify circumstances that could account for this increased incidence. The risk factor thought to contribute most significantly to the higher rate of ACL ruptures in female athletes related to insufficient neuromuscular control of the knee joint in certain athletes. Accordingly, neuromuscular training regimens were devised that have reduced the incidence of ACL ruptures in this group. This approach to ACL injuries is an example of working with science to decrease the risk of an activity, not the activity itself.

In seeking to prevent yoga injuries, Dr. Long notes, let’s not get to the point where we are preventing yoga itself. As he notes,

“Hatha yoga wouldn’t have its beneficial effects without, you know, the poses of Hatha yoga.”

The majority of the two blog posts in the Daily Bandha are dedicated to understanding the biomechanical basis of what Dr. Long views as one of the key causes of injury in yoga: Joint hypermobility. The articles discuss the details of this issue in relation to the hip in details, as well as steps that can be taken to aid in prevention.

We applaud Dr. Long’s for showing us how to move the yoga injuries discussion forward in a constructive and positive manner.  Rather than spreading fear and misinformation in the interest of selling books. The Daily Bandha articles illustrate how an informed debate about yoga injuries and how to prevent them can help deepen the knowledge and sophistication of yoga as a profession in a way that benefits all. In the words of Dr. Long:

In medicine, we look for ways to eliminate the risks of a given activity, not the activity itself. To illustrate my point, check out this quote from one of the scientific articles that studied the effect of extreme hip motion in professional ballerinas: “These results do not mean that the dancers should stop executing these movements, but rather they should limit them in frequency during dancing class.”2

Wow. Think I’m down with that.

Indeed, so are we.

Read the full posts here:  
Preventing Yoga Injuries vs Preventing Yoga





Yoga For High Blood Pressure: An Interview with Timothy McCall, M.D.


By Roseanne Harvey  

Have you ever wondered why your doctor takes your blood pressure on every visit? This silent but deadly condition is one of the leading causes of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. One in three Americans suffers from high blood pressure, and there are millions of others who don’t even know that they have it.

A growing body of research suggests that yoga can be a complement to conventional medical treatment of the disease. In this interview, Timothy McCall, M.D. explores the problem of high blood pressure and the yogic perspective on treatment.

McCall references scientific studies, as well as his experiential knowledge of the effects of yoga. With his medical background, he offers deep insight into the disease and how yoga can bring relief to those who suffer from high blood pressure.

Timothy McCall, M.D. is a board-certified internist, the Medical Editor of Yoga Journal and the author of two books on yoga and medical care. He has studied yoga since 1995 and travels regularly to India to research yoga, yoga therapy, and Ayurveda.

Eva Norlyk Smith: One of the first things that happens at the doctor’s office is that someone will take our blood pressure. Why is it considered such an important marker that every time we go to the doctor’s office, they feel that it’s necessary to measure our blood pressure?

Timothy McCall: Blood pressure is considered one of the four vital signs. We look at a person’s heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and blood pressure. Those are the vital signs that are used to monitor everyone. But part of the bigger reason that blood pressure became so important is that increased blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and strokes, and these are some of the major killers in society.

Blood pressure generally has no symptoms. Even when it’s sky high, people may not even have headaches. So measuring people’s blood pressure routinely is a way to catch those who maybe only come in once in a blue moon because they have some other minor problem.

Eva Norlyk Smith: What is the conventional approach to treating high blood pressure?

Timothy McCall: Many people think the first line of approach for high blood pressure is medication. But if you read medical journals and textbooks, they say that the first approach for nearly everyone with high blood pressure is diet and lifestyle changes. Only if exercise, diet, stress reduction, and other measures don’t work (say, over a period of six months or so), then it’s recommend to add medicine. Even in conventional medicine, it’s stressed that for most people, lifestyle changes should be attempted before you resort to medicine.

I think there’s an increased understanding in the importance of lifestyle and yoga’s ability to relax the nervous system and the muscles. It’s part of the reason why yoga is such a potentially helpful intervention for people at risk of developing a high blood pressure or who already have it.

Eva Norlyk Smith: When you say lifestyle, do you mean the three-fold emphasis on diet, exercise, and stress management?

Timothy McCall: Yes. I think Ayurveda – yoga’s sister science from India which comes out of the same Sankhya philosophy that yoga stems from – also has very interesting suggestions that go beyond just diet and exercise. For example, things like doing oil massage on your body as a way to calm your nervous system.

Eva Norlyk Smith: How does yoga have an affect on regulating blood pressure? Is it mainly for stress management or are there other affects?

Timothy McCall: I think there’s potential in how yoga affects the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. The constriction of the arteries is controlled directly by the nervous system, and basically, when an artery contracts, the heart has to pump harder to get blood through that contracted artery. Whether an artery is open or closed, it is regulated by certain hormones and by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can directly affect those with our yoga practice.

Eva Norlyk Smith: Have there been any research studies on how yoga might affect high blood pressure?

Timothy McCall: There have been a number of studies that have found that yoga can result in some reduction in blood pressure. Small but clinically significant reductions in blood pressure have been shown with yoga practice. But remember, these studies tend to be short-ranged studies of eight or twelve weeks. Still, there’s every reason to believe that the benefits of yoga pile up over time.

We can even get into spiritual things when we talk about yoga. People who do yoga, they talk about trying to find your Dharma. What are you on this planet to do? Why are you here? And if you know why you’re here, it’s good for your blood pressure because you can align yourself with your life’s purpose. This “yogic thinking” is not something that has ever been studied scientifically but there’s every reason to believe that it’s true.

Generally, as you do yoga, you develop a heightened awareness of your body. People who are doing a lot of yoga tend to change their habits for the better. They tend to eat healthier, are less likely to smoke, and decrease their alcohol consumption – all things that are proven to help lower blood pressure.

Eva Norlyk Smith: People often want to know which pose is best for high blood pressure. Of course, there is a lot more to it than just one pose, wouldn’t you say?

Timothy McCall: That’s right. But the thing about yoga therapy is that one size does not fit all. What will work best for one person may not work for another. The type of yoga that would benefit one person might be very different from the type that would benefit others. That’s why I tend to shy away from these kind of one-size fits all descriptions like, “Here’s the sequence of poses for high blood pressure.” I don’t think it’s that simple.

For information on Dr. McCall's YogaUOnline course see here: Yoga for High Blood Pressure


Roseanne Harvey is a writer, editor and geeky girl who lives and loves life in Montreal. Her popular blog It’s All Yoga Baby is about yoga and other things, with a mission to spark investigation into the relationship between yoga, the body and popular culture. Active offline as well as online, Roseanne is a co-director of Yoga Festival Montreal and the co-editor (with Carol Horton) of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice.



Does Yoga Make You a Nicer Person? Yogis Say “Yes”

does yoga make you a nicer person?

By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT - 

At a workshop on yoga and skills for successful relationships this past weekend at the Montreal International Symposium for Therapeutic Yoga (MISTY), I posed a question, “Does yoga make you a nicer person?”  Attendees broke into spirited discussion, unanimously agreeing that they were more tolerant, compassionate, accepting and agreeable (among other things) since taking up a regular yoga practice.

Why would yoga make us nicer? Perhaps it is as simple as the fact that on the mat, we are briefly liberated from the intensity of everyday life.

Perhaps it is because the increased flexibility that we feel in our bodies and minds is translated into greater cognitive flexibility, and an ability to adapt to the demands that partners, spouses, children, and coworkers place upon us.

Maybe the long, slow, relaxed breathing that floods the brain with dopamine and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, provides an oasis of calm in an otherwise stressful life.

Or perhaps yoga brings out our playful side, allowing us experience relationships from a place of joy and gratitude instead of anger and frustration. It may be none or all of the above… and more.

Evidence-based Proof of “Niceness" 

A recent study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, provides some insight into why people feel that yoga helps to make them “nice.” Researchers at the University of Maryland in Baltimore surveyed over 1,000 Iyengar yoga students across the United States using an on-line questionnaire. Respondents were primarily female (86%), white (91.8%), college educated (95.9%), and married or living with a partner (66.1%).

Seven hundred (67%) of the 1,045 participants either agreed or strongly agreed that yoga improved their relationships. Of that sample, 171 participants posted comments regarding how yoga benefitted their relationships with others.

When the authors analyzed the content of these comments four common themes emerged:

  • Personal transformation
  • Increased social interaction
  • Improved coping mechanisms to deal with relationship crises and losses, and
  • Spiritual transcendence and connection.

Personal transformation related to a number of factors including the ability to be present and self-aware, to live in the moment, and to be less “cranky,” reactive, and judgmental. Some felt that yoga allowed them to be calm, strong, and in less pain, which helped to facilitate better communication.

Regular yoga practice served a social function for many respondents who felt that feeling like they belonged to a community as well as decreased social isolation helped them to cope with difficult life circumstances including relationship problems.

Survey respondents also indicated that their yoga practice enabled them to weather difficult relationship circumstances such as abuse, divorce, and death. One practitioner stated, “Yoga seems to remove the chaos from relationships so that you can better enjoy people.” Another explained, “Yoga helps me get over anger and hurt, which helps maintain relationships.”

They also believed that yoga resulted a change in attitude and perspective that allowed them to be more “patient, kind, mindful, and self-aware.”

Spiritual transcendence and connection also emerged as a common theme. Yoga students related feelings of being “a part of something bigger and deeper that transcended individual differences,” as well as a greater sense of purpose and unity with others.

Anecdotal Affirmation

Participants at the MISTY workshop also identified several themes worth noting. A number believed that their perfectionist attitudes regarding self and other led to unrealistic expectations that threatened their relationships. Repeated reminders that yoga, like life, is a practice, helped them to be more accepting of the ups and downs of relationships instead of being derailed by conflict.

Others reported that yoga cultivated a sense of acceptance and surrender that enabled them to realize that strategies such as attacking and defending, as well as inflexibility and the need to be right undermined their interactions with others. This acceptance and surrender were cultivated through a combination of the messages that they received from their instructors regarding equanimity, compassion and loving kindness, as well as their own explorations of how rigidity in their bodies often resulted led to pain and suffering.

One thing that is clear is that practitioners believe that the practices and principles of yoga help them to be better people. Strength, peace and resilience of mind, body and spirit allow us to interact with others from a place that is grounded in compassion rather than instability and reactivity. It is definitely something that we should all explore on and off the mat.


B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. She is an author, intervention scientist and practitioner who has worked extensively in inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings. Her research and clinical work explore the effects of integrating empirically supported psychotherapy with yoga therapy to relieve stress, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses, and to promote health and wellbeing for children and their families. She was the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.comor see



Getting Hip on Yoga Injuries—The Debate Resurfaces

hip injuries

Yoga’s self-proclaimed crusader for injury prevention, New York Times senior science writer William Broad, is at it again. Broad first created an uproar in January 2012 with his highly controversial New York Times article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” followed by several controversial articles.

To some, Broad has opened a much-needed and long overdue conversation about yoga injuries, safety, and yoga teacher training. To others, he is ignoring basic standards of science reporting, cherry picking facts, and creating cleverly crafted narratives—initially at least—coinciding with the publications of first the hardcover, then softcover versions of his book, The Science of Yoga.

Whichever camp you fall in, Broad is worth paying attention to. On November 3, 2013, the New York Times published another article by Broad, “Women’s Flexibility Is a Liability (in Yoga).” In this latest missive, Broad claims that yoga is a contributing factor to a high incidence of hip injuries among women, arguing that women are at larger risk for hip injuries because they are more naturally flexible. He pulls in interview statements from leading orthopedic surgeons in support of his arguments, and refers to a review article on femeroacetabular impingement (FAI) as backup for his arguments.

Not surprisingly, leading yoga teachers have been quick to speak out in response to the article. Responses range from people pointing to the weaknesses in Broad’s data to thoughtful reflections on yoga and hip injuries, and why they occur. Yoga U Online has rounded up some of the more incisive responses here. (For a more in-depth view of the debate, also be sure to watch out for our upcoming article/interview with Dr. Ray Long, orthopedic physician, Iyengar yoga teacher and author of The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys.)

Dr. Baxter Bell: Is Women’s Flexibility a Liability in Yoga?

As always, William Broad’s articles do get us thinking and talking about yoga, notes Dr. Baxter Bell in this thoughtful blog post. Yet, he goes on to argue, as in the past, the article is full of overgeneralizations, and ‘data’ failing to back up Broad’s sweeping claims.

One of my difficulties with the statistics—if they can be called statistics—that are offered in the New York Times article to back up the assertion that women are at a significant risk of hip injuries of a very specific kind is statements like this:

“Each year, he (Dr. Kelly) said, roughly 50 to 75 of his patients who danced or did yoga underwent operations. Most, he noted, were women."

The author goes to the effort of interviewing a surgeon, getting a guesstimate from said doctor, and never follows up with: how many were yoga related and how many dance related, and how many were a combination (as many yoga students, men and women, danced when younger)? And how many were men? What meaningful conclusions can a yoga teacher make from such superficial exploration?

Read the full post by Dr. Baxter Bell here.

Jonathan FitzJordan (CoreWalking): William Broad is a Liability (In Yoga)

Jonathan FitzJordan of CoreWalking refreshingly points out the obvious: Anything done incorrectly puts the body in danger of injury—yoga is no exception. Learning to advance safely in practice is a process of getting to know our bodies. Having a good teacher helps, but if anything, he argues, the yoga injuries debate points to the need for taking a closer look at the training of teachers.

I am one of the people that William Broad is referring to when it comes to men who can easily get injured. My yoga life began with Ashtanga, an amazing practice that no one taught me how to do correctly. As a result I hurt my knees due to too much hyperextension and ended up having three knee surgeries before coming to realize that I should probably learn to do this yoga stuff correctly. And now fifteen years later I have a practice that allows me to do anything I want without any fear of injury. Or if I get injured, I heal fairly quickly.

…Everything William Broad says in the article is basically correct but it is really an indictment of yoga teaching and I don’t think it is all that great to tell people that they have to back off, or be scared. It might be too easy to become a yoga teacher, and I do believe that most teachers don’t really know enough to teach people correctly.

Iyengar Yoga Teacher Roni Brissette: Hypermobility Is the Key Issue

Awareness of hip injuries in yoga is nothing new, points out Iyengar yoga teacher Roni Brisette. But the issue may not be FAI, as much as hypermobility.

The reason why very flexible individuals get hurt in yoga is rather simple. These ligamentous bodies are generally not being cared for by the teacher.  I would say that in most classes the teacher is giving instructions for the “stiffer body” –and the flexible body actually needs quite different instructions. In fact, it takes a more seasoned teacher to teach the yoga asanas for a flexible body. So inexperienced teachers often do not have the number of years required in seeing many different bodies.

. . . . The teacher needs to SEE and IDENTIFY those students who are “at risk” and give them quite different instructions like compact the hips, take the buttock flesh toward the backs of the knees or draw the abdomen back.

The Bottom Line?

If anything, the yoga injuries debate has made it all too clear that the body is an exceedingly complex structure. There are no easy answers, and in teaching yoga, there is no one size fits all.

In athletic and fitness pursuits, inevitably, injuries will happen to some people, some of the time. Yoga is no exception. Yet, in its deeper essence, the practice of yoga is about building greater body awareness. Learning about your body and its limitations, what makes it stronger and what is counterproductive is an inseparable part of the process.

That’s not to say that uninformed or inexperienced teaching is not an issue, but ultimately, the owner of the body will have the strongest power over injury prevention. So let us end with the words of Mr. Broad himself:

“Better to do yoga in moderation and listen carefully to your body. That temple, after all, is your best teacher.”



The Ayurvedic Concept of Agni Digestive Fire and Its Impact on Health

the role of Agni, or digestive fire

By Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar

As we get older, appetite tends to wane, and many people even reach the point where they are not necessaril hungry when they sit down to eat. Some people have even lost touch with the feeling of being hungry altogether, particularly those who snack or eat frequently between meals.

According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of natural health, this is not just a trivial observation.  According to Ayurveda, the condition of the digestive fire determines the health of our entire being. When we feel hunger, this is a sign that the digestive fire is blazing. When our hunger flags, and the digestive fire weakens, then our digestion suffers, food is not assimilated and toxins accumulate in the body.

A Strong and Healthy Sacred Fire

In the Ayurvedic framework, digestion is described as a sacred fire, or Agni. The digestive fire in the belly consumes our food and transmutes it into the elements of the body, mind and spirit.

How do we make sure that Agni, this sacred fire, stays strong and healthy? First, we supply just the right amount of fuel. If we overload our stomach by overeating, or if we drown it by drinking too much at meals, then the digestive fire goes out and it takes a long time to recover.

Keeping in mind that hunger is the sign of a healthy digestive fire, rather than constantly snacking, we can wait to eat until the level of hunger is high, but not too high. We can wait until mealtimes, and only then make our offering to the flames.

In India, as in many traditional cultures, meals are a time of sacred offering. Prior to eating, the food is offered to the divine power with humility, reverence and gratitude. The food itself is considered sacred and is prepared, handled and served as a precious gift. Many traditional cultures attach rituals to the act of eating to acknowledge its divine nature. This religious practice nourishes the soul as well as the body.

In many parts of the Western culture, however, this reverence for food and eating has faded, or been lost entirely. Grace may still be said at the dinner table, but for the most part, food is eaten with very little thought of where it came from and an absence of sensitivity to the condition of the digestive fire. Who among us takes a moment of reverential silence before biting into food when we are dashboard dining? And, with oversized portions being the norm, how often do we force ourselves to finish every bite, regardless of feeling unwell afterwards?

Fire In the Belly: A Thriving Digestive System

The consequences of eating in this unconscious fashion, year after year, are devastating. They explain, in part, why Western people suffer so much from obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and other life-threatening conditions. These are all diet-related problems and the way to prevent them is also related to our diet– what we eat and how we eat it.

Simply stated, when our digestive fire is strong, we thrive. When it is weak, we suffer. But we don’t have to.

Next time you sit down to eat, follow these simple steps to stoke your digestive fire:

  • Take a few seconds to become aware of your digestive fire. Assess the level of hunger. Can you feel your digestive fire blazing? Can you sense that the digestive fire is ready to accept your offering of food?
  • Look at the food you are offering. Is it pleasing? Is it also wholesome? Will it leave you feeling satisfied, light and energetic?
  • Are you in a quiet and reverential state of mind, undistracted, focused on the amazing, alchemical act of nourishing yourself?
  • Pause for a moment to center yourself in this awareness. Take a deep breath and enjoy.



How Yoga Changes Your Body - Starting the Day You Begin

Benefits of yoga

The Eastern practice of yoga has become a modern-day symbol of peace, serenity and well-being in the West. More than 20 million Americans practice yoga, according to the 2012 Yoga in America study, with practitioners spending more than $10 billion a year on yoga-related products and classes.

The mind-body practice is frequently touted for its ability to reduce stress and boost well-being, but it also offers wide-ranging physical health benefits that rival other forms of exercise. While the scientific research on yoga's health benefits is still young, here's what we know so far about its potential effects on the body. View the infographic below and scroll down for more detailed information. 


yoga infographic

After Class.

Improved Brain Function.
Just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga -- an ancient form of the practice that emphasizes physical postures rather than flow or sequences -- can improve cognitive function, boosting focus and working memory. In a University of Illinois study, participants performed significantly better on tests of brain functioning after yoga, as compared to their performance after 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise.

Lower Stress Levels.
Yoga's stress-busting powers may come from its ability to lessen the activity of proteins that are known to play a role in inflammation, according to a study published last year from University of California, Los Angeles researchers

Alter Gene Expression.
A small Norwegian study suggested that yoga's many healthy benefits might come from its ability to alter gene expression in immune cells.

Increased Flexibility.
A recent Colorado State University study found that Bikram yoga -- a form of yoga in which a series of 26 postures are performed for 90 minutes in a heated room -- is linked with increased shoulder, lower back and hamstring flexibility, as well as greater deadlift strength and decreased body fat, compared with a control group.

After A Few Months.

Lower Blood Pressure.
People with mild to moderate hypertension might benefit from a yoga practice, as a study from University of Pennsylvania researchers found that it could help to lower their blood pressure levels. Researchers found that people who practiced yoga had greater drops in blood pressure compared with those who participated in a walking/nutrition/weight counseling program.

Improved Lung Capacity.
A small 2000 Ball State University study found that practicing Hatha yoga for 15 weeks could significantly increase vital lung capacity, which is the maximum amount of air exhaled after taking a deep breath. Vital lung capacity is one of the components of lung capacity.

Improved Sexual Function.
A 2009 Harvard study published in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that yoga could boost arousal, desire, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction for women. Yoga can also improve women's sex lives by helping them to become more familiar with their own bodies, according to a review of studies published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, as reported by CNN.

Reduced Chronic Neck Pain.
A German study published in The Journal of Pain showed that four weeks of practicing Iyengar yoga (a type of Hatha yoga that stresses proper alignment and the use of props) is effective in reducing pain intensity in adults suffering from chronic neck pain.

Anxiety Relief.
A 2010 Boston University study showed that 12 weeks of yoga could help to reduce anxiety and increase gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain (low levels of GABA have been linked with depression and anxiety disorders).

Relief from Chronic Back Pain.
Researchers at West Virginia University found Iyengar Yoga to be more effective in reducing pain and improving mood than standard medical treatment among those with chronic lower back problems.

Steady Blood Sugar Levels in People with Diabetes.
Adding yoga to a typical diabetes care regimen could result in steady blood sugar levels, according to a 2011 Diabetes Care study. Reuters reported that just three months of yoga in addition to diabetes care resulted in a decrease in body mass index, as well as no increases in blood sugar levels.

Improved Sense of Balance.
Practicing an Iyengar yoga program designed for older adults was found to improve balance and help prevent falls in women over 65, according to a 2008 Temple University study.

After Years.

Stronger Bones.
A 2009 pilot study by Dr. Loren Fishman showed that practicing yoga could improve bone density among older adults.

"We did a bone mineral density (DEXA) scan, then we taught half of them the yoga, waited two years, and did another scan," Fishman previously told The Huffington Post. "And not only did these people not lose bone, they gained bone. The ones who didn't do the yoga lost a little bone, as you would expect."

Healthy Weight.
Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found an association between a regular yoga practice and decreased weight -- or at least a maintained weight -- among more than 15,000 healthy, middle-aged adults.

"Those practicing yoga who were overweight to start with lost about five pounds during the same time period those not practicing yoga gained 14 pounds," study researcher Alan Kristal, DPH, MPH, told WebMD.

Lower Risk Of Heart Disease.
As part of a healthy lifestyle, yoga may lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, according to Harvard Health Publications.



Honoring Gravity: Judith Hanson Lasater Introduces Kinesiology for Yoga Teachers

Judith Hanson Lasater Kinesiology

Even the most in-depth teacher trainings give just a basic introduction to anatomy. Kinesiology, the study of movement, is the next step, but many yoga teachers are missing this key piece in understanding the biomechanics of the human body.

In this interview, Judith Hanson Lasater introduces us to kinesiology and how it can be applied to skillful yoga teaching. The study of kinesiology can help yoga teachers understand what’s really going on with their students and become better teachers.

With clear language and practical examples, Lasater explains how an understanding of both yoga and kinesiology can help relieve pain and ensure the body functions at its best.

A beloved and respected presence in the North American yoga community, Judith Hanson Lasater has taught yoga since 1971. She is also a physical therapist and holds a doctorate in East-West psychology. Lasater studies with B.K.S. Iyengar, and her teaching practice includes ongoing classes and teacher trainings in the San Francisco area. She teaches kinesiology, yoga therapeutics and yoga philosophy, and regularly gives workshops throughout the United States and the world.

Eva Norlyk Smith: Most yoga teachers learn anatomy in their trainings, of course. And everyone knows what the study of anatomy implies. But far fewer people are familiar with the concept of kinesiology. So first of all, tell us what kinesiology is and why yoga teachers should care.

Judith Hanson Lasater: I like to think of anatomy as like the letters of the alphabet. When we learn anatomy, we learn the letters. Kinesis means movement. So kinesiology is the study of movement.

Then, with this analogy, we have to learn how these letters are put together into words. If I can take it one more step, the sentences, that’s therapeutics. Every yoga teacher knows that when you teach a yoga class, it’s a yoga therapeutic class because there’s always someone with lower back pain or a headache or something going on.

If we want to understand, for example, how to help someone whose shoulder is painful or not working, we have to first understand what the normal movement is, what the kinesiology is. Of course, we can’t understand how the parts fit together and move together unless we know the anatomy. So kinesiology is the next step. It’s not tremendously useful just to know that the hamstrings are hip extensors and knee flexors, and they live on the back of the femur.

You have to ask, “How do I now take that understanding and that knowledge and how then do I apply it in the teaching situation? How do I understand the relevance of knowing that bit of data about the hamstrings?” That’s what kinesiology is: the understanding of how the musculoskeletal system actually begins to move.

Eva Norlyk Smith: So basically, you’re saying that just studying anatomy and knowing the names of the muscles and the bony landmarks really doesn’t quite give us the prerequisites that we need as yoga teachers for really knowing what’s going on with the student?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Yes. When we stand up and take Uttanasana (a standing forward bend with straight and parallel legs), I think most yoga teachers would be very aware that the position in its final state is stretching the hamstrings. What’s interesting is to understand the process of going down and coming up.

That’s because if we want to really understand, we have to analyze every movement in relationship to gravity.

Eva Norlyk Smith: Very interesting. When you are standing in front of a class or students as a yoga teacher, can you look at a person and tell they’re not aligned properly? Do you feel that a background in kinesiology enables a yoga teacher to develop the skills and the knowledge needed to dig in and figure out why?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Absolutely. I have done six months of complete cadaver dissection. So that means I have seen the inside of the knee. I have looked at where the abdominal organs are and how they fit. I’ve seen the inner body and it’s incredibly valuable. If you want to be a car mechanic, you need to actually take apart an engine. You need to look at an engine. You can look at books but when you open up and get into it, you understand it.

Eva Norlyk Smith: I think many yoga teachers struggle with knowing when a student is not in correct alignment in a posture just because he or she doesn’t know the asana well enough versus when that person just doesn’t have the range of motion to actually do that posture correctly. Can the study of kinesiology help cast more light on what’s going on with the student’s body and when the misalignment is due to limitations in the range of motion?

Judith Hanson Lasater: Absolutely. Uttanasana is a perfect example. So let’s say the person is not moving their pelvis or just bending from the spine and we want to know if it’s a hamstring limitation. It’s very likely true. It’s also very likely there’s a big rotator limitation. And so, the first thing that I want to do is to see if I can stimulate awareness. It may just be awareness. It may not be physical limitation.

Eva Norlyk Smith: Last but not the least, you have a course coming up on Yoga U entitled “The Moving Body – An Introduction to Kinesiology and its Therapeutic Applications in Yoga Asana Practice.” Tell us a bit about that course and what you will be covering.

Judith Hanson Lasater: It’s going to be about the basic concepts of kinesiology that are directly and immediately applicable in teaching and practicing yoga because they go together. They’re two sides of one coin. You can’t do one without the other.

So an example would be what we talked about very briefly about what’s causing hip flexion in Uttanasana, understanding how gravity affects and shapes movement. If we don’t honor and take into account gravity, we cannot really figure out what’s creating the movement.

One of the big things I want to talk about is abdominals because I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the abdominal muscles do in the body. Sit-ups are a very, very inefficient way of strengthening abdominals because you’re not challenging them to do what it is they really do. When you want to strengthen a muscle, you have to know exactly what it does and you have to challenge it in that movement. One of the poses I want to talk about specifically is Boat Pose because I see that practiced in a way that does not strengthen the abdominals and strains the back. So those are the sorts of things I want to talk about in the course.

For more information about Judith's course:
The Moving Body: Kinesiology and Its Therapeutic Applications - Tracing the Origin of Common Misalignment Patterns in Yoga Asanas


Mystical Journey: Smithsonian TV Documentary Explores Kumbh Mela

Smithsonian Kumbh Mela

On October 22, a groundbreaking exhibition of yoga-related art and historical artifacts opened at the Smithsonian Institute’s Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. Yoga: The Art of Transformation brings together Indian sculptures, manuscripts and paintings, as well as posters, illustrations, photographs and films to showcase yoga's history over 2,000 years.

To coincide with the art exhibition, the Smithsonian Channel will show Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela, a documentary that takes a rare insider’s look at the world’s largest devotional gathering.

Sanskrit scholar Dr. James Mallinson takes English actor, and childhood friend, Dominic West (best known for his role on The Wire) on a behind-the-scenes experience of the 2013 Kumbh Mela, which was attended by an estimated 100 million people during its two-month duration. The Maha Kumbh Mela is held every third year at one of four holy locations in India.

The hour-long documentary explores the relationship between West and Mallinson, as well as the relationship Mallinson has with his own mentor and guru. At Mallinson’s invitation, West gave up his comfortable lifestyle to spend two weeks living an ascetic life in sprawling temporary tent cities with the sadhus, or holy men. The film reveals some of the secrets of these yogis, including an incredible visual display of the various forms of yoga practiced among the sects. The documentary also presents Mallinson’s initiation as a Mahant, making him the first non-Hindu westerner to receive such high distinction in the sect he belongs to.

After leaving school in 1987 at the age of 17, Dr. James Mallinson traveled to India for seven months and has been back every year since, spending a total of ten years there. For much of that time, he has been wandering with holy men. The Oxford-schooled Sanskrit scholar attended his first Kumbh Mela in 1992, where he met Ram Balak Das, his guru, and perhaps one of the last remaining practitioners of vajroli, the ultimate practice of traditional yoga. His Oxford PhD was a translation of a previously hidden text - found only in ancient manuscripts - on Khecari, the yogic technique of cutting free the tongue so that it can be turned into the top of the skull to taste the nectar of immortality. In India, he found the few remaining yogis who continue the practice and he went as far as to learn it for himself.

In this clip from the documentary, Mallinson explains his thoughts on the origins of yoga. He disputes one Tantric sect’s claims of “inventing yoga,” and reveals how they’ve embraced asana practice in recent years. “So the yoga boom in the West has fueled a revival in India,” West observes.

A second clip gives insight into the holy Hindu warriors and portrays a fascinating sword fight ritual.


Mystical Journey: Kumbh Mela Airs Thursday, November 7 (2pm PST/EST)
Yoga: The Art of Transformation Arthur M. Sackler Gallery October 19, 2013 – January 26, 2014

Vote to Help Yoga U Qualify for 250K Mission Main Street Grant


Help us get to 250! We're almost there!! :-)

Every small business has big ideas for what they want to do next—YogaUOnline is no exception! So, we’re very excited about the potential for qualifying for the Mission Main Street Grant program, which aims to help small businesses across America grow. 

We're in the middle of a long planning process that would enable us to greatly gear up our services to the yoga community. We feel there's a growing need for recording and systematizing some of the great, amazing knowledge out there about teaching yoga, and needless to say, a grant like this would make all the difference in putting these plans into effect. We greatly appreciate your support in getting to 250 - you can go here to vote

Mission Main Street Grants


It's a no-strings-attached grant, which would help us add additional video capabilities and in many other ways greatly enhance our online continuing education programs for yoga teachers. There's so much wonderful knowledge out there, and you can help us make more of it available at your fingertips - right in the comfort of your living room. All you have to do is Vote for us -- simply click the link in the banner above.

Voting closes November 15, 2013, so we greatly appreciate your help! It is simple: Simply click on the banner and you will be connecting via your Facebook account (Please note, we have checked with the organizers, and your information will not be shared or used in any way, and you will NOT receive solicitations. See privacy statement below from the organizers).

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