Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A different kind of poverty

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”  
~Mother Teresa

Back practicing in Philly

Finally! It's amazing how the ashtanga community has grown over the past few years. When I first moved here I would bike down to old city every morning to practice (it was usually just myself, Adam, and maybe one or two others). That place closed and there was no other mysore class in the entire city, so I practiced on my own in my little apartment the rest of that year (not very successfully). Karen opened Yoga Squared the summer after my first year and at first I would often be the only one practicing. But the community has been gradually growing and now over twenty of us squeeze next to each other with just a few inches between our mats... it's sweaty and stinky and I LOVE it.

David Garrigues is a great teacher and he's making me think about a lot of things... breath, bandhas, jumping back. I'm trying to study for my board exam tomorrow (I think this is my last exam of medical school) but I can't stop daydreaming about kapotasana. I dread it and long for it at the same time.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mind/Body workout for chemo fatigue

After that last post about chemo brain, the findings from this study just came out: "Mind/Body Workout Fights Chemo Fatigue."

The study enrolled 269 cancer patients in an 9-hour/week intense exercise program for six weeks. It included high-intensity physical training, body-awareness training (yoga/pilates), relaxation training, and massage. They found a significant reduction in fatigue and increase in vitality. The findings are not too surprising, but it's still nice to have a study proving it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Yoga for "chemo brain"

I'm back in DC practicing this week and learned that one of my yoga teachers had B-cell lymphoma and has been going through chemo. He looks great I would have had no idea if he hadn't told me. He has continued his practice through all of his treatments despite his body feeling like "sludge." He just started moving more slowly and holding postures longer. He said he had "chemo brain" and some neurologic problems from the medication, but attributes how well he is doing now to his yoga practice... I bet he's right.

On top of all this, he doesn't have health insurance and laughed at the thought of ever being able to afford it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The minimalism of yoga

As I am organizing my life and getting ready to start my research year, I realize another reason I am drawn to yoga. It is just you, your body, your breath. You don't need any props, no shoes, no equipment, and no weights except your own self.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lifestyle change & your telomeres

There's been some recent talk about telomeres (pieces at the ends of the chromosome that influence the health and aging of our cells) and telomerase (the enzyme that maintains the length of telomeres), as one of the recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, helped discover telomerase.

In the image below, the red parts are your telomeres - the pieces of DNA at the ends of your chromosomes:
Dr. Blackburn worked with Dean Ornish and others on a study published last year in The Lancet which showed that lifestyle changes actually increase telomerase, and thus increase the length of telomeres. While most of the medical world is talking about the potential of medications to increase telomerase, Dean Ornish is saying that "Lifestyle changes are not only as good as drugs, but often, as in this case, even better."

The Ornish study enrolled 24 men with prostate cancer willing to make the following lifestyle changes for 3 months:

  • A 3-day intensive residential retreat, followed by an outpatient phase where participants met with staff for 4 hours per week and had weekly telephone contact with a study nurse.
  • Lifestyle modifications included a low- fat (10% of calories from fat), whole foods, plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables, unrefined grains, legumes, and low in refined carbohydrates.
  • The diet was supplemented with soy (one daily serving of tofu plus 58 g of a fortified soy protein powdered beverage), fish oil (3 g daily), vitamin E (100 IU daily), selenium (200 μg daily), and vitamin C (2 g daily).
  • Moderate aerobic exercise (walking 30 min/day, 6 days/week)
  • Stress management (gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, imagery, and progressive relaxation tech-niques 60 min/day, 6 days/week).
  • A 1-hour group support session once per week.
  • Participants were provided with all of their food during the intervention period. A registered dietician, exercise physiologist, clinical psychologist, nurse, and stress management instructor were available for education and counseling.
They measured telomerase activity in peripheral blood cells at enrollment and at 3 months to see if there was any change. They found a statistically significant increase in telomerase activity (p=0.031). After only 3 months!

What might they find after several years of these lifestyle changes?! 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Notes on Ashtanga, by Todd Roderick

I like these essays by my yoga teacher here in Atlanta, Todd Roderick:

Yoga as Therapy
Yoga Chikitsa

Ashtanga is a traditional form of hatha yoga and is among a rare few that could be considered a science, continually proving itself as a way to create and maintain well-being on many levels. In India, this science has been passed down from teacher to student for hundreds of generations, keeping this practice refined and alive. Ashtanga's primary series is known as yoga chikitsa, literally "yoga therapy." The practice encompasses a broad range of physical yogic practices which promote balance physically, mentally, and spiritually. Hence it is inherently theraputic. Struggle is an inevitable piece of the human experience, and a mindful yoga practice offers the space to face any type of difficulty. Whether training for a marathon or preparing for another round of chemo, energy and consciouness can facilitate any training or healing process.

Everyone responds to yoga differently. Just like a single pill can't cure an illness, no single yoga pose or class will fix destructive patterns of behavior. Rather than limiting oneself to specific kinds of classes, such as "Yoga for [body part]" or "Yoga for [illness]", a more whole-istic approach is more effective. Healing involves the whole body, the whole mind, the whole self. More importantly, the process takes time. Yoga is the antithesis to instant gratification—longer to occur, longer to remain.

Because Ashtanga requires students to practice consistent sequences of poses, this idea can seem counterintuitive. Yoga chikitsa works on everyone because it targets the foundation of physical health: the body's various systems (such as circulatory and digestive) functioning fully. In other words, the lack of optimum physical health often proves to be the root of most ailments and imbalances, physical or otherwise. All yoga enables the body to become stronger and more flexible, and Ashtanga combines that strength and flexibility with pranayama (breathwork) to allow openings on multiple levels.

Yoga, the essence of self-discipline
Hatha Yoga Pradipika:
“Success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success”. [Verse 67]

Yoga, in its many forms, essentially is a self-discipline, of both body and mind. Yoga practice is not intended only for the days when one feels good, inspired, awake, enthusiastic, or energetic. Yoga is meant to be practiced through all that life brings us. Steadfast daily practice is the only way to progress through yoga's many stages of personal development. Whether sick, worried, sad, injured, tired, or even indifferent, the discipline of yoga calls us into that present moment to face life's constant changes.

The mind will always provide opportunities to rationalize not practicing. In other words, one must resolve to practice in spite of lack of motivation. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always stressed the importance of consistency. Through his decades of experience, he knew that yoga was not only a tool to face difficulties in life, but also a way to create the capacity and potential for growth. In tough times, when one hones the ability to make excuses, a steady practice can make a huge difference. Pattabhi Jois advised students to come to class, roll out their mats, begin their practice, and see where that led. This teaches not only discipline, but detachment.

Ashtanga is a demanding form of yoga, both physically and mentally. Establishing a foundation requires consistent effort. Once formed, it must be maintained for safe and steady progress. Daily practice will always challenge you, and saving those challenges for “good” days makes the difficult even more so. Feeling under par doesn’t guarantee a negative experience on your yoga mat. In fact only practicing when you feel at your peak can actually be more discouraging than coming to class consistently, even with lower energy.

In a crazy week, coming to class every morning for half an hour is more beneficial than one day for ninety minutes. Yes, there are times when rest is needed and you shouldn't practice, such as running a fever. It's not essential to have a kick-yourself-in-the-ass practice. A modified practice is appropriate for weathering most maladies. Overall however yoga is more effective in frequency than duration. As you practice, you allow your body to accommodate what your breath is capable of. Likewise, you must allow your practice to accommodate what your life is capable of.

Self-discipline, like many other qualities, must be cultivated. Progress in any form is accomplished through sustained effort. There are no shortcuts. The truest essence of yoga is not in any outward physical manifestations, but rather in the deeper, more subtle and profound changes, gained only through meeting the challenges that a daily practice reveals.

Some tips we've gleaned over the years, all relating to maintaining as consistent a schedule as possible:
~Maintain a regular sleep schedule; sleep no longer than 6-7 hours a night.
~Go to bed early, no later than 11pm.
~For morning practitioners, eat a light dinner (easily digestible foods) no later than 2-3 hours before bed.
~Drink a glass of water before sleeping.
~Shower briefly first thing in the morning.
~Drink a small cup of tea or coffee half an hour before practice.
(not a venti latte)

Yoga, 99% practice, 1% theory - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Friday, October 2, 2009

Health reform

The new director of the CDC, Tom Friedan, spoke to us about the CDC's priorities and challenges and gave us some insight into health reform. He said we are closer than ever to changing the health care system. He discussed the 3 main challenges in doing this:

1) Expanding access - to the millions of uninsured.
2) Reducing cost - we spend $2.5 trillion per year - every $1 out of $6 goes towards health care.
3) Improving the health value for the health dollar - currently if a doctor doesn't prevent illness, they make more money - the incentives are all wrong.

He then discussed some of the areas where CDC plays a role, including increasing the emphasis on prevention, creating community guides for preventive services, and helping create a "Prevention Trust" as part of health reform. The goal is to spend $10 per capita per year for prevention. Right now it's $0 per capita for prevention and $8,100 per capita per year for treatment. 

He quoted President Obama saying, "Facts and evidence must never be twisted or obscured by politics or ideology."