Wellness News

The Key to Staying Fit? Experts Say It’s All About Fascial Fitness

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By Mary Beth Sammons - 

Exercise scientists have long touted the benefits of training muscle strength and flexibility to achieve maximum fitness. Now yoga experts and practitioners are learning the important role of fascia in maintaining fitness and overall health.

For yogis wanting to boost muscular strength and fitness, this means focusing on elongating and releasing the body’s connective tissues such as fascia, according to an article in the Telegraph UK.

Fascia is a broad term for the extracellular matrix of fibers, "glue" and water surrounding all your cells. Think of it as a seran wrap, wrapping around muscle fibers, muscles, organs, bones, blood vessels and nerves -- and finally as a second skin around your entire body.

Experts are beginning to recognize that most injuries involve the fascia, and that knowing how to work with this connective tissue is one important key to preventing injuries. Fascial fitness may just be the new wave of training for yogis and athletes of all kinds.

Some yoga studios are launching facial releasing classes in response to the growing demand of yoga practitioners who seek a greater understanding of the body on a cellular level. A leader in this trend is London’s Virgin Active and Twenty-Two Training, which now offers classes focusing specifically on fascial release.

George Ashwell of Twenty-Two Training explains, "Release the fascial tissue and you'll boost muscle tissue hydration, enable a full range or muscle motion, prevent restriction during training, recover better after exercise and decrease your risk of injury. It also means a better flow of blood and nutrients to you muscles." So fascia is an important part of the fitness equation.

Ashwell and the team of physiotherapists and sports therapists at Twenty-Two have developed fascial release massages, designed to help with chronic injury and sports performance.

"A unique deep tissue massage can really help change the structure and flexibility of our muscles”, explains Twenty-Two's founder Dalton Wong. “We are the only place in the UK with this specific technique," he says.

Interestingly, Twenty-Two Training has also developed a facial treatment to relax and release thickened and restricted fascial tissue. Having spoken to someone who's recently tried and tested the treatment, she told me that experienced noticeable signs of relief, particularly in areas of tension around the jaw.

In the U.S., Equinox studios have launched the new RX Series in which they use the 3 M’s: massage, mobilization and maximizing performance to revitalize the body. A completely new concept for the US-born fitness company, these classes are based on self-myofascial massage only, 'to recharge and prep the body for higher performances,' they say.

Also of Interest: Check out Tom Myers’ course on YogaUOnline: Fascial Fitness - An Emerging Revolution in Movement Science. For information on the course, click here.

 

Yoga for the Heart: 5 Tips for Nurturing Yourself

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By Dr. Jennifer L. Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE - 

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love for significant others, our friends, families, neighbors and special someone. But what about showing some love for yourself?

When we send loving thoughts to ourselves and care for ourselves, it is like practicing yoga for our mental-emotional heart. When we learn to lovingly embrace our strengths and our weaknesses and to have compassion for who we are as we strive to find deeper meaning and fulfilment in our lives, we are supporting our physical, emotional and spiritual growth and well-being.

To practice yoga for the heart, it is important that we turn inward and shift from the self-judgment and negativity to compassion and a positive focus.  Self-love is about feeling good, and it has been proven to impact both our bodies and our minds.

As we celebrate this week of love, here are 5 tips for practicing yoga for the heart and nurturing your body, mind and soul:

  1. Be Still. Being connected to what you feel, think and want allows you to remain mindful of who you are and act on this knowledge. Slow down and begin to notice what you are saying to yourself and the thoughts which you are having. Reflect on how these are impacting your mood, health and behavior. When you become mindful of who you truly are, you are more likely act on this wisdom rather than on what you perceive others want from you.
  2. Nurture Yourself. Practice self-care: nourish yourself through healthy activities like balanced nutrition, exercise, getting enough sleep and healthy social interactions. When you show yourself love through these types of actions, you will continue to take better care of your basic needs. This sets the foundation for growth and living an authentic life.
  3. Be Kind to Yourself. While it is important to own and take responsibility for our actions, it is also important to learn and grow from our mistakes. Forgive yourself instead of punishing yourself. We are humans and therefore not perfect. Practice self-compassion when you make a mistake. Reframe mistakes as lessons, and embrace them as chances to learn and grow.
  4. Set Boundaries. Being able to set limits or say no to activities, interactions and work that depletes or harms you physically, emotionally or spiritually shows self-love and compassion.
  5. Live With Intention. When you live with purpose and meaning, you will make decisions that support your intentions. This makes you feel great about yourself when you accomplish your true purpose. If you set your intention to live in a healthy and meaningful way, you will take actions that support this intention.

Choose one way to start caring for yourself today. As you work on beginning to accept and love yourself more, you will start to notice that you naturally learning to take these actions to love yourself.  This will allow and inspire others around you to express themselves in the same way. You can only love another person as much as you love yourself. As you begin to treat yourself with love and compassion, you will start to attract people and circumstances that support your well-being.

How will you celebrate learning to cherish yourself more? Share your favorite self-nurturing strategies in the comments.

 

Dr. Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE is a preventive and lifestyle medicine physician and the Founder of the 
Simple|Pure|WholeTM Wellness Method. She offers innovative online wellness and education programs for individuals looking for sustainable optimal health and non-toxic living as well as health care providers seeking to embrace a transformative approach to health care and corporations wanting to integrate a holistic approach to corporate wellness. She also provides a comprehensive All-Natural virtual Recharge Experience for those ready to rejuvenate and build a strong foundation for sustainable life-long wellness! For more information vist her webpage JenniferWeinbergMD.com and connect with her on her Facebook page.

 

Yoga, Exercise and Mindful Eating: What You Do Determines How You Eat

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By B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT - 

Like millions of others, you probably find yourself snacking in front of the TV or eating while driving or surfing the web. If you’re multi-tasking while eating you’re less likely to be aware of what you eat or when you’re full. You may even skip meals all together.

This is a phenomenon called mind-less eating. We may eat to satisfy our hunger, for comfort, or out of boredom, but likely have little awareness of how food is affecting our bodies. This is in stark contrast to mindful eating – when we respond to our hunger, fullness, emotions and energy level from a place of awareness.

Since yoga teaches us to be aware of our bodies, minds and emotions, can it also help us to be more mindful eaters? A group of Australian researchers decided to find out.

In a study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, investigators examined the eating behaviors of 159 women recruited from fitness centers, yoga studios, and the community. They were asked to complete a number of questionnaires regarding their exercise behavior, relationship to food, and mindfulness.

Based on their responses, participants were categorized into either a yoga group or a cardio-based exercise group. Those in the yoga group engaged in a variety of types of practice (hatha, Bikram, Ashtanga, Integral, etc.), as did those in the cardio group (running, cycling, dancing, cardio fitness classes, etc.).

Researchers also examined the types of foods eaten (“healthy” and “unhealthy”), body awareness and responsiveness to internal cues, feelings associated with eating, proneness to disordered eating, as well as mindfulness and mindful eating behaviors.

They found that yoga practice was related to healthy and mindful eating and body awareness, and unrelated to eating unhealthy food and disordered eating. Body awareness was identified as central to the relationship between yoga and mindful and disordered eating.

Participation in cardio-based exercise was associated with disordered eating, and not related to overall mindfulness.

This study’s results are consistent with other research that has found that amount of time spent doing yoga is related to greater body awareness, which lends itself to becoming aware of “when, why, and how much [a person] eats.”

The authors concluded that, “body awareness cultivated from yoga participation may help to address disordered eating in clinical populations or those at risk for eating disorders, but may not improve dietary habits in the general population.” Whether struggling with disordered eating or not, these findings suggest that the body awareness that comes with yoga practice can lead to healthier food choices and eating habits.

It is important to note that no cause-effect relationship was established in this study. It is possible that people who practice yoga are more likely to engage in a healthy lifestyle and have a positive body image than those who do not. Future studies will need to tease apart these questions.

The yamas and niyamas (ethical practices) of yoga teach us of the importance of nonviolence, truthfulness, non-excess, self-discipline and other factors that influence our daily choices and activities. These principles translate to all aspects of our lives including our relationships with our bodies, as well as what we eat and how. This can only serve to make the experience of living more satisfying.

 

B Grace Bullock, PhD, E RYT-500, is a Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute, and Professor of Yoga and Neuroscience for the Institute of Yoga Therapy and Meditation (IYTM) at Taksha University. 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 is the former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and the recipient of a Francisco J. Varela Research Award from the Mind & Life Institute in 2010. For more information contact Grace at bgracebullock@me.com or see http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com.

 

 

ChatterRunGirl: From Overweight to Yogini-Runner in Nine Years

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Nine years ago, Alice Toyonaga was told by her doctor that if she didn’t change her ways, she would “have a stroke by age 30.” At the time, Alice was an overweight smoker with an out-of-control diet. Many people in Alice’s situation might have felt it too much of an uphill battle, and opted for going into denial, rather that facing the health issues at hand.

But for Alice, her doctor’s words were a real wakeup call.

“I walked into old, no-frills, all women’s gym and signed up,” Alice told ATLX.com. “I got on the scale and for the first time saw the number. It was 223 pounds. I was disappointed in my choices, but felt relieved that my doctor told me I could change.”

On the spot, Alice committed to working out at the gym regularly and stopped binge eating. Within two years, she had lost nearly 100 pounds.

But as successful as it might seem, her weight loss project had a dark side. Alice had become obsessed with losing weight: She was counting every calorie and charting every ingredient. And while she had lost the weight, her relationship with food and dieting was only becoming more and more unhealthy.

Finally, looking for a way to maintain a healthy and sustainable journey to health, she turned to running. She became part of a community of active, positive people at a local running store, and eventually became fit enough to train for races and half-marathons.

Then, her training came to an abrupt halt. She needed surgery, and for a period of time was unable to maintain her regular running routine.

This is when she discovered yoga.

Alice turned to yoga mainly because it was something she could do to keep herself active until she had recovered sufficiently from the surgery to start running again. But the mental peace that accompanies a regular yoga practice left her feeling healthier than she’d ever felt after a run or gym workout. And as an added bonus, as yoga transformed her relationship to her body, she found her relationship to eating improved as well.

When Alice finally returned to running she kept up her yoga practice as well. And, she had found her life’s mission: Sharing the benefits of an active lifestyle and the benefits that come with it—beyond ‘just’ losing weight.

Almost a decade after her fateful appointment with her doctor, Alice has a burgeoning career as a fitness and nutrition motivator. She runs her own blog and website, ChatterRunGirl, which is an online yoga resource for runners that offer support and community, and she travels around North America teaching yoga workshops for runners.

“I’ve often been told to share the story of my weight loss and life changes,” Alice notes on her blog in a reflective post about her journey. “Truth be told, I’ve never really wanted to share this story. I am not sure why. Perhaps, it’s because I am embarrassed of where I was. Perhaps it’s because I don’t think it’s that unique a story, nor that inspiring. Perhaps it’s because the story isn’t over, and likely never will be.”

Truth be told, the journey towards a healthy(ier) lifestyle is never over for anyone. However, Alice’s story is an inspiring example of someone who has been at both extremes of the personal health spectrum – from out-of-shape smoker to calorie-counting obsessive – and finally found greater balance in her life. Her story is a great reminder for everyone of just how rewarding and life-transforming that journey can be.

 

Taking Stock: Set Realistic Health Goals for 2014

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By Bernadette Birney -

A new year is a good time to take stock. I’m not doing New Year’s Resolutions this year. Instead, I’m setting some time aside to evaluate and re-evaluate my priorities at this particular juncture in time. Maybe it’s just semantics but giving myself an opportunity to review and prioritize feels gentler, more loving and ultimately more empowering than inflicting resolutions on myself.

All life coaching is based around willingness to take stock, to make conscious choices based on the vulnerability of our own authenticity rather than fear-based choices, to prioritize, and to take action. To make it easy to take stock, I’ve created a worksheet to help me set goals for the coming year.

This worksheet is my gift to you. Honor the dying of the old year and the birth of a new one by making time to reflect on your health goals for 2014. Rather than make it chore, see this process as a ritual. Journal, contemplate and articulate what matters most to you.

Please be honest but kind. Treat the exercise as an empowerment that frees you up and creates movement rather than a harsh judgment you pass on yourself that defines you for all time. Use what we’ve got to work with to design our lives in a purposeful way – not to crush our self-esteem, perpetrate shame, or justify self-loathing.

Feel free to play with and personalize the worksheet in any way that speaks to you.

Reprinted with permission from BernadetteBirney.com

Inner and Outer Balance: Ayurveda as a Practice of Economic Justice

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By Matthew Remski -

Who is Ayurveda for?

I was recently facilitating a seminar on the subject of Ayurvedic dinacharya – often translated as “daily routine”, but which literally means “to follow the sun”. I presented the math for determining solar noon, at which digestive power is said to peak. I carefully built the old argument for the benefits of regularity in waking, cleansing, eating, working, exercising, resting, and sleeping. I lauded the sweetness of brahma muhurta – the two hours before dawn said to be ideal for contemplation. I said that an extended midday mealtime is excellent for digestion. I said that digestive fire is a reflection of well-timed food and the robustness of appetite is inseparable from steadily progressing towards self-actualization.

A woman sitting quietly at the edge of the room finally had enough. (I later found out she works as a welfare counselor.) She raised her hand and vocalized the questions that have been nagging me for years and informing the subtext of each Ayurvedic consultation I perform. “Who can do this for themselves?” she asked. “Who has this kind of time? How can a person on minimum wage or doing shift work possibly follow this advice? Who exactly is this stuff for?”

Indeed. The real benefits of Ayurvedic therapy only unfold under the blessing of time. And time, as they say, is money. Looking back over the past eight years, it’s clear that my clients who have had the hardest go at implementing my suggestions have often been those who have been battling the stresses of poverty. Single mothers, students, artists and writers, adjunct professors on term-to-term contracts, the unemployed – none of whom would have been able to afford an uncovered health care expenditure like Ayurvedic consultation if I didn’t offer a sliding scale.

A sliding scale is the absolute least we can do. To practice Ayurveda with integrity, we also have to be activists for economic justice. We have to work to equally distribute the most precious resource we have when it comes to the quiet contemplation at the root of preventative health: time.

It used to take several appointments with a client for me to begin to see how their finances were impacting their capacity to change their care choices. Even though I’m just old enough to have been brought up with a pre-Reaganite sense of class-consciousness, I started out pretty shy about letting this influence my practice. I certainly wasn’t trained to ask after the client’s income, dependents, and housing expenses to scan the stresses of each against their constitutional vulnerabilities. But now it’s standard procedure for me. As I examine hands and tongue and eyes, listen to the pulse, ask about menstrual cycles, libido, bowel habits and sleep hygiene, I also slip in questions about whether they are self-supporting, how much money they make, how much debt they carry, what percentage of it they spend upon necessities, and how they feel about the whole thing.

Many are taken aback, which is understandable. After all, they didn’t come to apply for a loan. So the gears grind a bit to accommodate the thought that these questions are not simply intrusive, but may reveal a hidden imbalance. To the general question “How are you doing economically?”, there’s often a shrug and the mumbling of “Well, you know, I don’t know, things are okay” This is usually a red flag. So I’ll press the question by suggesting that Ayurveda is about learning to negotiate environmental stress and its relation to internal balance, and the economy is a core aspect of our environment. After all, what’s the difference between how a person metabolizes food and exchanges carbon with the natural world and how they metabolize work and exchange labour for value within their society? How can we ignore the obvious health connection between how a person works and is valued in the world, and how they feel themselves to be?

Kapha, pitta, and vata as capital, labour, and value?

Do economies and bodies mirror each other? Could it be that the logic and pressures of an economy are expressed within the bodies of those who participate in it, willfully or otherwise?

In both the body and the body politic, vitality and value circulate, ideally seeking a rhythmic equilibrium. In the body, this equilibrium consists of the harmonious blending of the energies of resistance (kapha), compulsion (pitta), and creativity (vata). In the body politic, it consists of the equitable exchange of capital (kapha), labour (pitta), and value (vata). A pooling or stagnation of energies in any one place leads to both macro and micro illness.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, we could say that capitalism embodies a kind of congestion-pathology in favouring wealth accumulation over resource distribution. Capitalism stockpiles profits to leverage ever-greater strategies of extraction. This perverts the natural wish of the bodies of those it entraps to circulate the fruit of labour (ojas) for the equal benefit of all tissues. Wherever the energy of natural distribution has been siphoned towards the accumulation of profit, privation or wasting (vata-ama) appears in the siphoned regions. General immunity is degraded.

A compressed accumulation of potential energy or capital made meaningless because it is unshared might be a good metaphor for the logic of cancer. A small group of cells hordes nutrition for itself alone, slowly succumbing to the illusion that its vitality is independent of the whole. It parasitizes the body politic – and the body – to death. As above, so below.

The only thing new about my analysis here is the vocabulary. Here’s John McMurtry, in The Cancer Stage of Capitalism (Plume, 1999):

There are seven defining properties of a cancer invasion which medical diagnosis recognizes at the level of the individual organism. These seven properties can now be recognized for the first time at the level of global life-organization as well. And this is the pathological core of our current disease condition.

That is, there is:

1.an uncontrolled and unregulated reproduction and multiplication of an agent in a host body; that

2.is not committed to any life function of its life-host; that

3.aggressively and opportunistically appropriates nutriments and resources from its social and natural hosts in uninhibited growth and reproduction; that

4.is not effectively recognized or responded to by the immune system of its hosts; that

5.possesses the ability to transfer or to metastasize its growth and uncontrolled reproduction to sites across the host body; that

6.progressively infiltrates and invades contiguous and distant sites of its life-hosts until it obstructs, damages and/or destroys successive organs of their life-systems; and that

7.without effective immune-system recognition and response eventually destroys the host bodies it has invaded.

(113-114)

(Of course I do my best to suppress such theoretical digressions when I’m practicing.)

“Do you feel poor?”

Once a non-privileged client has warmed up to the idea of contextualizing their health imbalances within their experience of economy, there’s a better chance that they’ll be willing to free-associate with a very subjective question: “Do you feel poor?” If the answer is yes, I may follow with “How does that feel in your flesh?” Responses range from the melancholic (kapha) to the frustrated (pitta) to the anxious-despondent (vata). Often there’s a mixture of the three. I know that my Ayurvedic counseling must explore ways of addressing these feelings, up to and including changing the conditions that give rise to them. I’m not trained as a career counselor, but I’ve learned over time how to dialogue with clients about the health implications of poverty. And I’ve tried to build some knowledge of local educational resources across a broad spectrum of pursuits: finding a dharma that pays justly often requires a bump in learning. But most of all, I try to foster comradeship with the client, and to depersonalize the isolation and oppression that financial stress brings by contextualizing it within a system within which there might be other modes of participation, and dignity.

It’s the purpose of capitalism to make all but the extremely few feel poor, so positive answers to “Do you feel poor?” express a wide range of interpretation and self-identification. So I need to make distinctions. I have clients who are positioned quite firmly within what we used to call the “middle class” in terms of income and opportunity (even though many of the middle class support structures built by New Deal values have virtually disappeared). When these folks say they feel poor they’re really saying that they are tired of the pressures of consumerism that impoverish self-regard. When many of these folks say they don’t have time to care for themselves in more balanced ways, they’re really saying that their time has been stolen by a paradigm of anxiety. With these folks, a psychotherapeutic approach can be helpful, along with side-helpings of herbs and such.

But when the client is living from paycheck to paycheck, or drilling down further into debt by the month, teas and psychotherapeutics may be unethical consolations, no matter how attractive they are to the client or how adept they make the practitioner feel. Individualist neo-liberalism reaches so deep into the psyche that many non-privileged clients actually blame themselves for their economic struggles, and come looking for strategies of “acceptance” and “self-forgiveness”. It would be easy to instruct these clients in the kinds of mindfulness techniques by which they could spiritually bypass their feelings, but I refuse the bait. I ask them instead to find and respect their anger and dignity and nurture the fires of appetite and justice that emerge. I try to help them find a meaningful place in the struggle for equality, while trying to envision with them the long-term effects, based upon present symptoms and patterns, that continued stress may bring.

Another way of Ayurvedically assessing both the feeling and materiality of poverty might be to invoke the old distinction between artha and dharma: two of four “purposes of life” from Vedic lore (the other two being kama and moksha, very roughly translated as “pleasure” and “freedom”). Artha translates as “wealth” and implies “work you do to secure your survival”. Dharma translates into a thousand idioms, but in this case suggests “contribution” and implies “the work you do to create connection and meaning.”

A common therapeutic axiom in Ayurveda suggests that the closeness of artha to dharma is a predictor of psychological, and then organic health. In this vein, economic wellness is not simply an index of income, but of meaning and fulfillment. Poverty is not just a lack of cash, but the stress of having one’s time stuffed up the hole in our culture, as Leonard Cohen sings. And as Barbara Ehrenreich describes in Nickle-and-Dimed, her late-90s low-wage tour through the heartland of neoliberal “welfare reform”, it’s the worst-paying jobs that can be the most meaningless. (A similarly searing report comes from Mae McLelland in another undercover journalism essay that everyone should read called “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave”.) It’s not that low-wage jobs don’t require intensive skills and high learning curves (and carry higher risks of stress-related injuries), but that the acquired skills and effort can never express the worker’s heart, because they are the instruments of someone else’s dream. Poverty is the state of being robbed of not only money and time, but of meaning. This triple theft is a primary obstacle to the baseline of hopefulness and adequate relaxed time that contemplative self-care requires.

Ayurveda and privilege

While Ayurveda is often presented as a simple and inexpensive preventative naturopathy available to everyone (and certain parts of it surely can be) its current global marketing, which drives sales of exotic herbal compounds and entices affluent consumers to spa retreats, runs on a kind of privilege-blindness that tacitly assumes that everyone has equal portions of leisure and resource. With 22% of human beings (1.2 billion, according to the WHO) living in extreme poverty (earning 1.25 USD per day or less), and as much as one-third living at or below their national poverty lines, this assumption is unconscionable, and Ayurvedic practitioners must not continue to work under its shadow. What we can do is to work as hard as we can to turn that assumption into a reality. This means being as passionate about the most revolutionary blends of progressive policy initiatives as we are about our blends of herbs.

It also means recognizing that the economic inequalities that prevent access to Ayurvedic practice from being universal are an ancient problem within certain streams of the practice itself. I remember being nauseated to realize when wading through Caraka Samhita (one of the root-texts of Ayurveda, circa 400 CE) that the sections describing strategies for building sexual potency – involving the elaborate roasting of particular songbirds in exotic herbs and spices – could only be exploited by those with affluenza. Patients were to be attended by physicians, nurses, masseurs, cooks, and surely needed exclusive access to the produce of rich farmlands and gardens.

The fantasy of the Ayurvedic high-life lives on. If you can scrape it together, you can pay over $4000 dollars (“New Year, New You” special pricing) to luxuriate in Deepak Chopra’s 10-day spa-ritual retreat with the overly-enthusiastic name of “Perfect Health”, plus $2000 for accommodation in the adjacent Omni Resort, plus airfare to San Diego. In subtler ways, exclusive Ayurvedic luxury is also alive in well in the literature of even the most sensitive of Ayurvedic practitioners. Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari (Healing Arts Press, 1995) is an artful compendium of dietary and herbal lore, but following on Caraka’s lead, it features daily regimes attainable only by the Real Housewives of Mumbai, on vacation to rural Goa.

Consider that for an agenda running from 6am to 10pm, Tiwari advises the vata-spectrum person to apply themselves to “activity and work time” consisting of “attending meetings and communicating with others in general”, and “doing chores and errands of the day” from 10am to 2pm, broken up by an hour-long lunch break starting at noon. The rest of the strenuous day features “a warm bath with bath oils”, “massage body gently with sesame oil or natural body lotion”, “perform morning pranayama and gentle yoga asanas”, “rest; enjoy the stillness and pleasant sounds” (presumably of the house help doing their work), “take a nap”, “do gentle yoga stretches”, “meditate or chant”, “garner thoughts in stillness”, “listen to nature’s sounds (rivers, brooks, wind, leaves) or to beautiful music” (provided by the house minstrels). After such busyness, there’s a break for tea, “time to reflect on the day, wind down; plan ahead” (what shall we delegate to the maids tomorrow?), “take a nurturing evening brew”, “wind down” (I know – it’s all too much!), “take gentle after-dinner walks or perform other relaxing activity”, “do evening pranayama”, “meditate or do aromatherapy”, and then, “retire”. (p. 187) Phew! I thought she’d never get a break.

The pitta-spectrum person – not such a delicate flower! – is given a little more work to deal with. She’s advised to work from 9 to 10am, and then from 2 to 4pm, feisty as she is. But when we get to the kapha-spectrum person, a stranger layer of classism seems to emerge. A bucolic line-drawing of a stolid peasant picking apples accompanies instructions that suggests he should work from 9am to 2pm, and then from 3pm to 6pm. What a dependable, hard-working guy! Still – only a third of the population is working an 8-hour day, in a world strangely devoid of landlords, and children.

In other news, the US Congress reduced food stamp benefits to 47 million citizens in November, with the Republicans arguing for $10 billion in deeper cuts to follow. And the welfare counselor who asked me those questions just threw up a little in her mouth.

There’s also this: excessive self-care can be fruitless and exhausting, precisely because it misses a key target of our malaise, which is that we live in a deeply wounded and chaotic world.

Poverty fetish, Luddite fantasies, Impossible Ideals

How does Tiwari’s advice even make it into print? I can think of multiple factors. An apparently independently wealthy writer suffering from acute privilege-blindness tops the list. More subtle is the general sheen of fantasy that surrounds Ayurvedic marketing, in which health is seamlessly intertwined with the exoticism of endless leisure in a place very much unlike home, and in which daily life is conceived of as a kind of holiday from existential fact. Perhaps for the privileged, a fantastical practice of Ayurveda is a way of traveling to India without getting all the shots, where a 4-hour work day would be financed by one’s ability to hire basic house labour at impossibly low rates.

There’s also a Luddite fetish lurking in the background: a wish for life to return to the low-tech and lower population densities of pre-urban and pre-Industrial Revolution eras. It’s a world of unlimited time and expansive nostalgia. Tiwari advises ridding our kitchens of electric stoves and appliances, to which she claims we sacrifice the “cognitive memory” of our ancestors. This is a recurrent and often compelling theme within the book: that manual intimacy with the textures of life will re-awaken the child-like wonder that will be required for us to at least begin to make more ecological choices. My heart-strings are pulled, but the Arctic ice needs more than poetry. And climatologists will be unimpressed with her suggestion that we should all cook with wood. And feminists will notice that the utopian line drawings displaying the sadhanas of “carrying water”, “preparing grain”, “rolling chapatis”, etc., feature women doing all the work. As they always have.

The extremely happy Ayur-folk featured in the drawings of Tiwari’s book haven’t made it out of the 19th century. They’re using hand tools, kneading dough with their feet, washing clothes in the river, and grinding flour by hand, using stones, all within the very relaxed rhythm of their 4-hour work days. This gives an overall impression of romanticizing and aestheticizing poverty while ignoring the actual time and labour dynamics that produce value. Part of me is angry at the blind privilege on display, while another part of me is charmed by the melancholy that desires for the return of something that never existed. Such is the way with many modern Hindutva reconstructions of the Golden Age, filtered through the promises of happy doshas.

Jean Langford notes in Fluent Bodies: Ayurvedic Remedies for Postcolonial Imbalance (Duke 2002), “…the promises of 20th century Ayurveda extend from calming the overexcited dosha to easing the excessiveness of industrial lifestyles and from curing illness to healing modernity itself.” (17) In the Hindutva discourse echoed in Tiwari’s vision, modernity carries the legacy of colonial oppression and cultural amnesia. Tiwari isn’t just fantasizing about restoring the gracious aspects of her Indian-diaspora childhood in Guyana, or ruing the constant white noise of a technologized culture. I think she is also trying to re-invent an untouched motherland, purified of the colonial horrors of the past two hundred years. On top of this, she is trying to re-invent pre-industrial culture. The former is a fight that global practitioners of Ayurveda can understand and honour in their hearts, even if participating in it seems unclear. The latter is an impossible project. In my opinion, the gifts of Ayurveda will not be best served through mythical reconstruction, but through mindful, creative, and progressive adaptation.

On the therapeutic side, perhaps the most debilitating aspect of Tiwari’s suggestions is that they are literally impossible to execute, because they are not about food and herbs and bowel movements and time, but rather about inhabiting a “newly fashioned antiquity” (Langford). Is it only the lonely Trustafarian, so confused, so wracked with guilt, who is able to piously forswear unnecessary employment and time-saving appliances to pursue a life of Ayurvedic pureness? Let her grind her flour with a stone: it may be consoling for while. But for the rest of the population, sweating amidst the concrete and steel, Tiwari’s advice is myopic to the reality of not only time and work, but to where and how people must actually live. It places her adherents in a position, familiar to many lifelong spiritual seekers, of never being good enough, never being in the right place, never living up to the teachings, the teacher, the tradition, the untouchable past. I’m sure this is not her intention, but in Tiwari’s book, an integrated Ayurvedic way of life becomes as unattainable as enlightenment itself. The perfect Ayurvedic practitioner and the enlightened master become as rare and unapproachable as the 1%.

From the privatizations of self and wellness towards a pro-social Ayurveda

As a consumer product in a capitalist marketplace, Ayurveda dovetails with the privatization of the self that unconsciously contributes to global inequality. But it wasn’t always this way.

In Asceticism & Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery (Motilal Banarsidass, 2010), Kenneth Zysk shows that the roots of Ayurveda are not inextricably linked to the wealth of kings and priests, and not as enmeshed with the individualism we see today. According to Zysk, the earliest recorded textual formulations of Ayurvedic theory emerge in the medical advices of the Pali Canon, and were practiced in a very democratic (and therefore revolutionary) way by wandering Buddhist monks who offered their accumulated herbal and dietary knowledge to villagers in exchange for alms. In this pro-social and pragmatic form, Ayurvedic practice posed a direct challenge to the dominant paradigm of medicine, in which healing power was only accessible through temples, religious bureaucracies, and complex rituals. A naturalistic and empirical approach, honed by nomadic study, focused on a few selected remedies and procedures that common people could easily learn, governed by an ethics that rejected caste: this is the heart of the Buddhist Ayurvedic story. It’s a story that continues to pulse in the quieter streams of non-professionalized Ayur-rooted healing practice in India: the matrilineal whisperings of teas, masalas, stews, salves, and massage oils.

So Ayurveda wasn’t – and isn’t – always so flash. Nor has it always been seamless with the individualism that can become blind to privilege. To this day, many Indian practitioners and clients of Ayurveda are disarmingly unconcerned with the ultimate commodity of the globalized consumer version of the practice: one’s unique constitution. As Langford reports:

“…Westerners want to be predominant in some dosha…they want to be categorized as a particular prakriti. I never observed an Indian patient voicing curiosity, let alone desire [to know] about his or her prakriti. In his remark Dr. Upadhyay [one of Langford’s interlocutors] seemed to be commenting on a specific North American craving for individuality served up in an Ayurvedic recipe.” (57)

The problem is that the genuine Ayurvedic commitment to investigating constitutional uniqueness is easily fetishized by an individualistic wellness-ethos in which health is conceived of as primary a personal quest, an inner journey that can pretend to have little to do with social or political realities, so long as the quester is well-heeled. The search for what is particularly healthful for one’s own constitution can too easily blur with the general consumerist exercise, in which you display both virtue and personality through the refinement of your spa-menu or cookbook purchases. In capitalism, knowing what to uniquely seek out and buy is dependent upon the establishment of consumer selfhood. If Ayurveda blurs itself with this, how different can it be from the Google or Facebook algorithms that gather data about desires and self-perceptions, in order to better market to us?

At root, Ayurveda is about interdependence. Therefore, a consumerist approach constitutes the cruelest irony. The deal is: you are a unique blending of elemental energies that have very subjective physiological and psychic meanings. But those meanings are not privately generated or directed, any more than the unfolding of your genome can be isolated from environmental conditioning. Your constitutional meanings are created in relation to the meanings that evolve from qualities of your relationships. Your blend isn’t an exclusive brand that only you and your boutique therapist can understand and provide for.

In my own practice, I resist letting ideas about constitution crystallize. When asked “Can you tell me my dosha?”, I’ll discuss it a bit, but then try to change the subject to the granular study of what it feels like to be alive from day to day. Instead of sending the client away with a definition that will unlock the Ayurvedic cookbook-code, I want to provide a language for reading the delicate and changing sensations of their appetites and discomforts. Over time and several visits, a very malleable story of constitution begins to emerge – a general way of understanding how the client is and is likely to be in the world. But it’s never fixed. I don’t want to assign distinct constitutions to people, because I’ve never met anyone who needs another identity to shop for.

Moving forward, Ayurveda needs to be attentive to the ways in which the old values of individualized care and honouring the healing bounty of the simple earth can so easily be confused with individualism and the neoliberal fantasies of limitless “abundance” and equal access. Practitioners have to become as active in their ministry to the social constitution as they are to the individual constitution. They can contemplate the words of MacKenzie Wark, in The Beach Beneath the Street, criticizing another institution of self-care that can become myopic with individualism: “If there is one abiding purpose to psychoanalysis, it is to make bourgeois lives seem fascinating, at least to those who live them.” (Verso, 2012, p.93)

Most of all, and finally, Ayurvedic practitioners must come to grips with a very promising paradox. We as human beings are constitutionally different from each other. But it is only social, political, and economic equality that can give us the time it takes, in a world so short on time, to explore and enjoy the mystery, together, of just how uniquely different we all are.

Originally published on http://matthewremski.com/wordpress

 

Matthew Remski is a writer in the morning, therapist in the day, and teacher in the evening. He writes about yoga, ayurveda, and evolution. He writes books, articles, and poetry. He teaches courses in ayurveda and yoga philosophy based upon the ongoing research of writing, and the ongoing experience of practical therapy. His approach is student-centered, example-focused, and Socratic. He also teaches asana, mostly in a therapeutic context.

 

New Medical Yoga Symposium at Smithsonian Highlights Growing Interest in Yoga Therapy

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Dean Ornish

While the profession of yoga therapy is still in its early birthing phase, the interest in the medical therapeutic applications of yoga is rapidly growing.

With new research studies on the therapeutic benefits of yoga coming out almost daily, it is no surprise that the medical field is starting to pay attention. Now, the venerable Smithsonian in Washington, DC will be co-hosting, with George Washington University, the first annual Medical Yoga Symposium, January 11th and 12th, 2014.

The Medical Yoga Symposium brings together some of the leading medical professionals spearheading research into the therapeutic applications of yoga in both theory and practice. The event is sponsored by the Smithsonian, in conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation, and features an illustrious group of speakers and presenters distinguished for their visionary work and leadership in the therapeutic applications of yoga.

“This is a landmark event for the realm of therapeutic yoga, and a groundbreaking collaboration between the museums and the emerging fields of integrative medicine,” says director Linda Lang, who also founded Therapeutic Yoga of Greater Washington. “For the first time on a national stage, we are bringing together multi-disciplinary practitioners and researchers to present a symposium on evidence-based integrative medicine, yoga therapy practice and research, and the science of transformation.”

The Medical Yoga Symposium is a testimony to the emerging collaboration between the medical field and practitioners working with the therapeutic applications of yoga, and it speaks to the future potential of the field. Two days of programming will cover the fine art and science of yoga, yoga practice in modern society, yoga as a therapeutic intervention, transformations in modern medicine, and scientific research on yoga.

Dean Ornish, MD, will open the event with a keynote address. The founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute is best known for his studies showing that heart disease can be reversed through yoga, meditation, and diet. He’s a former physician consultant to President Bill Clinton and has written five best-selling books.

Speakers include leaders of modern yoga in medical, academic and military settings such as Timothy McCall, Larry Payne, Sat Bhir Khalsa of Harvard University, Dilip Sarkar of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Richard Miller from the Integrative Restoration Institute, and retired Lieut. General Eric Schoomaker.

Programming on both days will feature presentations, master classes (one-hour breakout sessions) and three-hour intensive workshops. Lunch hour at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Gallery includes 12 roundtable discussion groups covering subjects such as yoga and cancer treatment; Tibetan yoga and cancer research; research on yoga in the workplace; ashram life; yoga and addiction; therapeutic teacher training; yoga therapy degree programs; yoga in underserved communities; and yoga in pediatrics.

“The potential for the applications of yoga as therapy is huge,” says Lang, “but the reality is even more impressive. I envision more courses in colleges, post-grad programs and trainings for medical professionals, from doctors and nurses to respiratory therapists. I see an increase of yoga in academic settings, undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Look, also, at the impact of yoga and meditation within military settings, where it is being used extensively in mental health programs as an intervention for chronic pain and palliative care.”

The Smithsonian exhibition ends on January 26, but the relationships within the community and the university have no end date. While the symposium has goals of fostering new relationships between institutions, the relationships between practitioners carry just as much weight. The master classes and three-hour intensives on the program are discussion-based and highly experiential, designed to engage and connect people.

“I want people to have a sense of belonging and connection,” says Lang. “Yoga teachers often feel a sense of isolation. The work we do is by and large very lonely. Part of what I want people to notice is that they can find support around them. Even in situations where they might not know anyone, to have an opportunity to explore what they do with their isolation and their unanswered questions.”

The relationship with the museum gives this symposium a unique air, but also significant is the relationship that Washington’s therapeutic yoga community has developed with the other event host, George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Services. The medical school’s involvement is a direct response to student innovation, increasing yoga’s presence within the curriculum. Yoga is proving itself to be a fundamental aspect of prevention, intervention and treatment, as well as a path towards physician wellness and enhanced patient care.

To register for the Medical Yoga Symposium, visit: http://medicalyogasymposium.wordpress.com/

 

Surviving the Holiday Feasts: A Yogi’s Guide to Mindful Eating

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D. - 

Had Ben Franklin lived today, he would likely have added a third item to his list of life’s inescapable certainties: January’s barrage of weight loss articles and dieting advice surely is as certain as death and taxes. Just as certain is that we then will savor these with vigor, prodded by tight clothing that reminds us of December’s excesses.

This year, why not stay ahead of the curves—so to speak? You can avoid putting on those extra pounds and still enjoy the holidays. Start before the pressure is on to drop excess pounds, and simply have fun and explore new ways of eating. In the process, you might learn some valuable things about yourself and your body. To help you keep weight in check in the weeks ahead, try these five tips for mindful eating.

1. Make a New Friend. Many of us end up pudgy or overweight because over time, we lose touch with the body’s natural signals of satiety. This season, try to pay attention to your body and watch its reactions. Be mindful of the experience of eating and the effects you feel afterwards.  Observe how the body tells you what it needs—and what it doesn’t need. Also notice how and when your mind overrules the body.

Pay attention to how other factors affect your relationship to food: How much sleep you get, your stress level, your mood, and lack of exercise also affect your eating habits, making you more liable to overeat.

Don’t judge yourself and don’t try to force change.  As you establish greater awareness of your digestive processes and the body’s signals, you will gradually strengthen its self-regulating mechanisms. Over the long term, this will help you keep your weight in balance more than anything else.

2. Play with Your Food. Yes, we know what Mama told you, but we’re not talking about turning mashed potatoes into mountains. Finding ways to play with your food can help you develop greater awareness of your food and restructure mindless eating habits. For starters, try these exercises:

  • Divide Fractions. To avoid overeating at holiday meals, experiment with taking smaller and smaller bites of what’s on your plate. Sink your teeth into the first couple of bites, and then take increasingly smaller pieces. Give each morsel your full attention; explore ways to savor each bite as much as you would a full mouthful.
  • Have Your Cake and Eat It Too. If you really crave it, don’t deny yourself that extra serving of pie. Instead, take half as much as you normally would, and focus on enjoying it twice as much. Relish the taste; savor the ecstasy of the flavors unfolding in your mouth.
  • Wheeler-Dealer. Make trade-offs. If you eat too much at one meal, eat less at the next or cut out something else you would normally consume.

3. Try Tricks for Treats. There are many reasons why we eat more than we need. For many of us, overeating is linked to our emotions—affording a way to cheer us up or dull the pain of unresolved issues.

If cravings are an issue for you, explore constructive ways to channel them. Eat healthy, low-calorie snacks: an apple, a handful of raw carrots with raisins, or a couple of graham crackers are delicious snacks that won’t make you put on weight. A cup of warm, delicious chai at the end of a meal can help curb the craving for a second helping.

Try not to eat between meals, it disturbs your digestion and messes up the body’s appetite-regulating mechanisms. But if you have to, indulge in healthy, easy-to-digest snacks like the ones listed above.

4. Stay Close to Earth. If we eat food that isn’t very nourishing, our body will continue to signal that it needs food, no matter how much we eat. To reduce cravings and overeating, make sure you get the nutrition you need.

The closer your food is to the earth, the more nutritious, energizing, and nourishing it is. Favor whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are the most beneficial not only for regulating weight, but for enhancing your overall health and wellness as well.

There are a great variety of whole foods. Educate yourself about what is available, and experiment with adding more and more whole foods to your diet.

5. Bring Lots of Band-Aids. Approach your journey into changing your eating habits with an attitude of curiosity and adventure. And bring lots of Band-Aids for the trip! Inevitably you will fall; but each time, simply get right back at it.

Lasting change grows from the inside out, gradually, over time. Avoid setting yourself up for the impossible; set realistic and sustainable goals. Attempts at change made with awareness, self-compassion, and patience will yield results over time. 

How Your Breath Affects Your Nervous System

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by Dr. Baxter Bell - 

When I read the posts of my fellow Yoga for Healghy Aging bloggers, I often learn new perspectives that might differ from my own as well as new information that I was previously unaware of. Reading the posts also highlights occasions where I could have been clearer or given better information on a particular topic. As an example, I have written about breath techniques and their effect on the autonomic nervous system, as did Timothy in his awesome follow-up post on the buzzing bee breath, Bhramari Pranayama with Mudras. And we often mention that extending or lengthening the exhalation triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, the Rest and Digest part of our nervous system’s balancing program. This made me realize that I could add a bit more detail to explain how that actually happens.

It turns out the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) that connects brain to body is a two-way street. If I am anxious and nervous or stressed out by events in my life or simply the thoughts about those events, my brain, via the nerves of the ANS, will likely turn on the Sympathetic part of that system (the Fight or Flight response), which could result in faster heart and breathing rates, and increases in blood pressure, to mention just two of the most obvious physiological changes.

But the cool thing is that the lungs and heart can feed back to the brain and essentially convince the brain that things are calm and peaceful, even when there are still stressful circumstances. One neat way this happens involves the relationship of the heart and lungs and the nerves between them. In each round of breath, during your inhalation, your heart gets stimulated to beat a little faster. Then during the exhalation that follows, your heart gets told to slow down a tad. The overall effect is very little change in the heart rate from minute to minute. But when you make one part of the breath cycle, either the inhale or the exhale, longer than the other, and you do this for several minutes, the accumulated effect is that you will either slow the heart rate down or speed it up from where you started. When you make the inhales longer than the exhales, for example, by using a two-second inhale and a one-second exhale, and you keep this up for several minutes, the heart rate will go a bit faster. This will send a feedback message to the brain that things need to activate more in the brain and body for whatever work there is to be done, stimulating the Sympathetic portion of the ANS.

With the very useful Bhramari breath Timothy expanded on Bhramari Breath with Mudras, we do the opposite. As we hum during the exhalation, the exhales get longer relative to the inhales, as when we do a 1:2 ratio breath practice without the humming. This new respiratory cycle begins to slow down the heart rate, sending a message to the brain that everything is more peaceful and calm than five minutes ago, allowing the brain to support this shift further by activating the Parasympathetic portion of the ANS (the Rest and Digest or Relaxation response) that goes back from brain to body.

Research has shown that the vagus nerve as well as certain chemical neurotransmitters account for these effects of breath patterns on heart rate and subsequently on shifting the balance between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic parts of the ANS. Keep in mind that the ANS is trying to keep all background systems in balance and responding appropriately to ever-changing circumstances of our day.

I’m providing this information for those of you who want to go a bit deeper in your understanding of how breath patterns affect the nervous system balance and either excite the system or quiet it. Our conscious choice of breathing differently can shift us to a more desirable part of the ANS, either by stimulating the active Sympathetic branch or the quieting Parasympathetic branch.  Most of us need more of the latter, but not always!

Originally Published on Yoga for Healthy Aging 

For more information on Yoga U courses with Dr. Baxter Bell and Dr. Timothy McCall see here:

Yoga for Digestive Health with Dr. Baxter Bell

Yoga for High Blood Pressure - Do's and Don'ts for Yoga Teachers with Dr. Timothy McCall


Baxter Bell, MD began his healing work as a Family Physician in 1989, followed by more than 11 years of full time private practice in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Since relocating to the Bay Area in 2000, his work has evolved to incorporate his vision of a more holistic style of healing. He currently maintains a part-time Complementary Medical practice in Oakland, which emphasizes Medical Acupuncture and Therapeutic Yoga. Yoga Asana and Pranayama are therapeutically integrated into treatment plans for many of his patients.

Study: Our Diet in Midlife Will Affect Our Health in Old Age

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What does it take to stay healthy and functional well into old age? Well, the diet you eat in your 50s and 60s may be one key factor that impacts how well you age.

According to a study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, eating a primarily plant-based diet with lots of vegetables of fruit and low in red meat in your 50s and 60s, may impact the trajectory of health in people twenty years later. The study was a collaborative effort between Cécilia Samieri, PhD, in Bordeaux, France and a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The team studied 10,670 women, none of whom had any major chronic illnesses. Each woman filled out two diet questionnaires within two years in the late 1980s, and each was scored on how much their eating habits matched a Mediterranean-style diet or a general health eating index. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and red wine in moderation. The diet substitutes butter for health fats, such as olive oil, and limits the intake of red meat to once or twice a month, while emphasizing fish and poultry at least twice a week.

The researchers followed this group of women until 2000 when they were in their mid-70s. Eleven percent of the sample, or 1,171 women, were deemed to be ”healthy agers,” i.e,  they had no major chronic diseases, physical impairment, mental health problems, or difficulties with memory and thinking. These ”healthy agers” tended to not smoke, be less obese, and exercise regularly. Compared to the rest of the women in the study who aged normally, these ”healthy agers” also had fewer issues with high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

One of the features that distinguished the health agers was that they had the highest scores for the diets recorded twenty years earlier, indicating that midlife diet may have a powerful impact on health later in life. This study is not absolutely conclusive, as other factors that may have contributed to healthier aging were not monitored. While this study looked at only women, it can be extrapolated that similar associations between diet in the 50s and 60s and health in the 70s and 80s are also likely to be correlated for men.

With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, paying attention to how we eat before we hit old age is a small price to pay for living longer and healthier. Ensuring that we eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and appropriate protein while we’re young will make all the difference in our quality of life as we age.With heart disease being the number one killer in the United States, paying attention to how we eat before we hit old age is a small price to pay for living longer and healthier. Ensuring that we eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and appropriate protein while we’re young will make all the difference in our quality of life as we age.

 
 
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