Saturday, July 31, 2010

Easy weight control: Keep meat off your plate

Eating meat may lead to weight gain, and this recent study provides the data (check out the NPR story here).

They looked at the association between meat consumption and weight gain, following 103,455 men and 270,348 women for 5 years.

3 important findings from this study:
  1. There is a strong link between weight gain and meat consumption, even after controlling for variables such as total calories, weight, age, sex, and physical activity.
  2. A diet that contains 250 grams of meat per day leads to 4 pounds of weight gain after 5 years.
  3. Red meat is not the only culprit: weight gain is most strongly correlated with poultry consumption (which people tend to think of as the lower fat/ healthier meat option).  
  • Decreasing meat consumption (all types of meat) may help with weight management. High animal-protein diets will most likely not lead to long-term weight loss.

All I can think about is the massive amount of meat that we serve sick people in our hospitals and children in our schools. How much evidence will it take for us to actually start changing this?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

High school yoga lesson: Set goals

I officially love doing yoga with high school students. Teenagers can be so smart and I’ve been learning a lot from them.

The other day before class, one of the kids was talking about his life goals. He talked about how his main goal is to live a good and fulfilling life. In order to achieve this, he has many goals underneath that: graduate from high school, get a better GPA, go to trade school.

Then he said:

“It’s good to set goals. Better to write them down. Even better to write them down with detail.”

Yes! If we want to accomplish something, writing it down makes it much more likely that we will actually do it.

I’m wondering if there are yoga teachers out there who incorporate goal setting into their classes? I’ve always liked it when teachers start a class with the opportunity to silently set an “intention” for the practice, but what about writing down these goals/intentions (and maybe sticking them under the mat during the practice)?

Similarly, what about doctors having their patients write out their health goals (in detail)? It would be like writing a personal mission statement, only this would be more like a "personal health statement."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cannot wait to see this

Cannot wait to see this documentary: FORKS OVER KNIVES.

From the website:
“FORKS OVER KNIVES examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the so-called “diseases of affluence” that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods."
The documentary tells the stories of these two important and influential researchers:
  • Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Nutrition researcher who focuses on the role of nutrition in cancer, and author of the well-known book, The China Study.
  • Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. Surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and author of long-term nutrition research on reversing coronary artery disease (check out this study on how a plant based diet reversed coronary artery disease, and this paper on how moderation may actually kill when it comes to heart disease).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What I wish we learned the first day of school

“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” 
~ Hippocrates
So simple and so true. I wish we learned this the first day of medical school. Better yet, I wish we all learned this the first day of elementary school.

I think this is one reason why people like yoga so much. While everything else in life has gotten so complicated, yoga is a simple prescription for health based on the right amount of nourishment and exercise.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Is your yoga working?

“If the practice has any value at all, it’s because of the changes that occur outside of the yoga practice.” 
 ~John Campbell 
I liked his explanation for why yoga works outside of the practice:

Yoga eases some of our physical pain and strengthens our mind, “making us less prone to self-absorbed and dysfunctional behavior."

When we have fewer worries on our mind, we naturally think less about ourselves and think more about other people.

5 things your yoga should be doing:
  • Fewer self-obsessed thoughts
  • Better interactions with others
  • More compassion towards others
  • More sensitivity
  • More creativity 
If these are not happening, then the yoga is not working (or you may not be being guided properly).

It's so easy to get stuck in the self-focused physical practice (I want to jumpback, do a handstand, grab my heels in kapotasana, get the next pose, on and on). But the important question to continually ask myself is: "Is the yoga actually working?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

High school yoga lesson: Get out of your comfort zone

A local high school started yoga as a daily part of their summer school program so I’ve been teaching there a couple mornings a week. I never expect too many kids to actually show up but they’ve been slowly trickling in.

Before class yesterday, one of the students was talking about how he’s been trying to get out of his comfort zone more often. He said:
“When you only do what is comfortable, your comfort zone stays small. But when you widen it by doing things you’re not comfortable with, more opportunities become available to you.”
He had perfectly put into words one of the main reasons why I love the ashtanga mysore practice. It makes us push our physical and mental boundaries every morning. When things start getting too comfortable, we get something new to work on (jumpbacks, handstands, more backbends, a new pose). This practice of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable then bleeds into other areas of our life creating more opportunities for ourselves.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Experimenting with food

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (chapter 1 verse 64) says the following:

"Wheat, rice, barley, shastik (a kind of rice), good corns, milk, ghee, sugar, butter, sugarcandy, honey, dried ginger, Parwal (a vegetable), the five vegetables, moong, pure water, these are very beneficial to those who practice Yoga."

I'm not sure how well this verse applies to my life, but it is certainly true that my interest in food has increased along with my yoga practice. What is good food to eat? How will eating certain foods make me feel? Which foods support the intensity of the ashtanga yoga practice (as well as other physically and mentally demanding activities)?

A lot of times I turn to my yoga teachers with these questions, but something John Campbell said last weekend made me think differently. He said something like,

"People over-relied on Guruji for questions on how to live their lives (What should I wear? How fat or skinny should I be?) Don't ask your guru questions that you should figure out yourself."

Just as experimentation is important for the physical asana practice, we should be experimenting with food. How else do we figure out what we like? What works for one person may not work for someone else.

For me, my general food criteria include the following:
  • Simple and easy to prepare (does not require fancy kitchen equipment or ingredients I don't typically have)
  • Efficient use of time (can make large amounts to be eaten over several days)
  • Made from local and fresh foods (for the most part)
  • Energizing (does not cause post-consumption mind-fog)
  • Nutritious
  • Tasty
  • Portable (can easily pack in bag and bring to work) 
Most importantly, I like leaving lots of room for experimentation... which is how I discovered this:

***Kale Banana Smoothie***
Blend handful of kale, a banana, yogurt, water, ice (and whatever else you think might be good!)
Perfect post-practice. 
Make lots, keep in the fridge, and look out for kale stuck in teeth.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 4 Noble Truths

In case you're curious about the 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism (What are they? How do they apply to yoga? Are they relevant to my life?) this post is for you.

John Campbell gave a great talk on these last weekend, using a metaphor to the medical world which I appreciated! A summary:

Truth #1: Suffering is the nature of reality.
Diagnosis of a disease: You have an all-encompassing disease of never-ending suffering. You must realize this before you can do anything about it. 

Kinds of suffering:
  • Self-evident suffering: physical pain, emotional angst (i.e. my back hurts, my wrists hurt, my feelings hurt, etc)
  • The suffering associated with the impermanence of all things: the experience of happiness or pleasure is fleeting and cannot be recreated (i.e. the endorphin-high after my morning running feels amazing now but will not last forever)
  • Suffering is a pervasive condition: Things will always change, there will always be some sort of suffering
Truth #2: There is a cause for our suffering.
There is a cause for our disease: The cause is our cravings, attachments, and “thirst” for things. We have an addictive relationship to desire. Our senses are always bringing in information from the outside world and we think we can’t be fulfilled until we get what we want.

We live by constantly fulfilling temporary thirsts: find food, find a good job, find a lover. We think we are happy. But things will change: your job won't stay the same, you will be separated from your lover, you will age, your body will change, etc. 

Truth #3: We can remove this suffering.
There is a cure for our disease: It is possible to end this suffering and stop our incessant cravings.

Truth #4: Suffering can be removed by following the 8-fold path.
The treatment is this 8-fold path: right thoughts, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

These overlap with the 8 limbs of yoga (“Ashtanga” = 8 limbs). Both start with ethical disciplines such as being truthful. This helps develop the right state of mind so that we can control our sensations, the mind can begin to focus inward, and we can then become more aware of our cravings and attachments.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Like kids in a candy store

People sometimes criticize the practice of yoga or meditation by saying it creates “aloofness.”

John Campbell explained that no, it’s not that at all. Instead, we are actually freeing ourselves from the useless and wasteful thoughts that usually clog our minds.

“We are like kids in a candy store grabbing at everything - our sense are overwhelmed. We need to take control of the process and make it deliberate.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What are we imprinting?

I went to a great workshop with John Campbell this past weekend. I’ll try to post more about some of the things he talked about, but one idea that I especially liked was how he said that yoga is the active creation of the person you want to become.

The yoga practice actually helps “lay down an impression.” It changes how we think, how we feel, what we do, how we see ourselves. We can then choose the content we want to imprint on our lives. We can control our thoughts and actions. We can determine who we are and who we become.

(Speaking of imprinting: I need to stop imprinting this millet muffin addiction that I’ve developed... must stop buying them at the hospital every day!)

Thank goodness we are not static and unchanging beings! This seems especially important for physicians and teachers to remember: one can always create new habits, new actions, new thought patterns, new relationships, and new selves of one’s self.

P.S. Check out this picture of John Campbell with Sharath... whoa.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Switching scales

During a difficult moment in class one day, Richard Freeman said something like:

“If you get frustrated with the macroscopic scale, just switch to the microscopic scale.”

I've been thinking about this lately because my macroscopic practice has not been feeling great. This is mainly because my back (SI joint?) has been hurting so I'm trying to be really careful. Other macroscopic issues: kapotasana seems awfully stiff and I think my jumpbacks are regressing.

So I’m trying to think microscopically. Things that are invisible on the macroscopic scale have great significance on the microscopic scale! The picometers of muscle fibers growing in my legs, core, and shoulders. The nanoseconds longer I can hold karandavasana. The microscopic re-wiring of my neurons as they develop the muscle memory of a jumpback.

But sometimes what I really need is the opposite: to switch to the BIGGEST POSSIBLE macroscopic scale. If my mind cluttered with attachments, desires, fears or frustrations, it can be helpful to go extremely macroscopic. We are so small. Whatever I am clinging to or thinking about is insignificant!

If you need any help getting on this macroscopic scale, check out the Hubble Imax film (it is AMAZING!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Being an imperfectionist

This is one of my favorite lines from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, verse 35) and it’s been on my mind lately:
“Better is one’s own law though imperfectly carried out than the law of another carried out perfectly.”
5 things I’m imperfectly carrying out right now:
  1. Career choice: Do I chase the conventional markers of success (high paying specialty) or pursue my interests and passions (which may be less prestigious)?
  2. Relationship timeline: Do I attempt to fit into the traditional timeline of dating, engagement, marriage, babies by mid-30’s (aaah!) or let go of that and follow the timeline that works for my life?
  3. Yoga practice: Do I stick to the strict ashtanga practice every or sometimes skip around, add, and experiment?
  4. Food: Do I follow a specific dietary set of rules (vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, raw, yogic, etc) or follow my own system that works for me (and which might be subject to change)?
  5. Meditation practice: Do I sit in lotus position for a specified amount of time or do I allow for different approaches (such as getting up and going for a mindful run)?
I think I like being an imperfectionist.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hospital food matters

Hospitals are meant to be places of healing, but it seems that the food we serve our there may have the opposite effect. I have a feeling that we will look back in 50 years and be shocked at the things we’ve been feeding people.

This NPR story talks about a pilot study done by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future: What happens when hospitals serve less meat on their menus? (And the meat that they do serve is bought from local, organic, and sustainable sources.)

They looked at 3 hospitals and found the following:
  • A 28% decrease in meat and poultry purchases (translated to save $400,000/year)
  • Reduction in meat-related greenhouse gases by 1,648 tons/year
  • Reduction in CO2 emissions equivalent to burning 102,454 gallons of gasoline or sequestering carbon by growing 23,354 tree seedlings over 10 years 
Wow… how can hospitals not do this?! It would mean both healthier patients and a healthier planet.

3 simple things health providers/hospitals can do right now:
  1. Buy & sell less meat
  2. Buy food from local, organic, sustainable food sources
  3. Participate in Meatless Mondays (also started by Johns Hopkins – go them!) 
Even Einstein agrees...
"Nothing will benefit human health, and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth, as much as the evolution to a Vegetarian Diet" ~Albert Einstein

Sunday, July 4, 2010

6 things I'm loving about practice right now

  • Not being orthodox. Since being back I’ve practiced either at the shala, at home, or not at all (took a day off to be with family at the beach). It’s nice not to be too regimented about the whole thing.
  • Not doing my full practice (which can take 2.5 hours). Enjoying the freedom to jump around and experiment with things.
  • Home-practices in my de-cluttered room. Having lots of empty floor space and a clear desk has turned my room into a lovely space to practice asana and/or sitting.
  • Jumpbacks (or “jumpforwards” as Richard would call them). Still can’t do them smoothly but 1) I feel less attached to them, and 2) I’m having fun in my attempts. I’ve also been working on jumping back with my left foot first. This is so much harder for me! I didn’t realize I was getting lopsided always doing right foot first.
  • New iphone app (thanks for this idea, Mariana!). Rings a bell to start/end a sitting meditation and you can choose 20, 30, or 40 minute sessions (wish they had a 10 minute option, hah).
  • Kapotasana. Still so painful but I’ve been playing with entering this pose from the opposite direction (another Richard trick). I pretend to go into a backbend but then drop my knees to the floor in front of me and walk my hands in (helps keep the quads/pelvic floor engaged).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Iyengar: "Health is religious."

I bought this book in India four years ago and just recently started reading it: The Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar.

Here's an excerpt that caught my attention: 
“Each one has to train himself or herself, for without discipline we cannot become free, nor can there be freedom in the world without discipline. Discipline alone brings true freedom. If you have to gain health, do you think you can do so without discipline? Moderation in living is essential. This is why yoga starts with a code of conduct which each individual has to develop. One who is undisciplined is an irreligious person. One who is disciplined is a religious person. Health is religious. Ill-health is irreligious.”