Are you a carnivore, herbivore, or something in between? What do you take into consideration when deciding how to fuel your body? I have been reading nutrition and health books since I was old enough to do the grapevine in the Michigan State Rec Center step aerobics classes. If only I were cool enough back then to wear leg warmers. After reading every popular book under the sun, and even going so far as reading enormous nutrition text books, I thought I’d share my top 5 diet and nutrition books to date. I don’t exactly follow any books to a T, but I do think they have something useful to share. If you have some faves I’d love to hear them too.
The China Study by T Colin Campbell. I doubt the science behind it is bulletproof, but I like that it’s based on a large scale, actual study, of real people. It is labeled “The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted”. It is an interesting, albeit thick read, and has over 1200 positive reviews on Amazon.com.
Healthy to 100 by John Robbins. This book studies four very different cultures that have the distinction of producing some of the world’s healthiest and oldest people. He asks the question, “What are they doing right?”. He references the China Study and summarizes it well. A good read with practical tips everyone can use. My man friends favorite assertion from the book is that you’re better off being loved, eating a crappy diet, not being active, and smoking than you are being unloved, eating well, exercising, and not smoking! Intriguing, I know.
An Ayurveda Book. Ayurveda is yoga’s sister science and it’s mostly focused on healing the body with nutrition and simple personal care practices. Although some of the teachings seem old, out of date, strange or difficult to follow, I like that it’s based on my personal type, it feels easy to follow once you give it a go, and it’s based on whole, simple foods. My top 3 in this category: The Yoga Body Diet by John Doulliard is an easy, simplified version of Ayurveda. I like his other book the 3 Season Diet because eating seasonally just makes sense. I also like Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing by Vasant Lad.
The Veganomicon. Ok. It’s not a diet book but it’s a damn fine cookbook dedicated to all things veggie. I don’t think veganism is for many people, but we could all benefit from having more veggies in our life. Yes, I mean you. How close are you to 5-10 services a day?
Other interesting reads that I’ve enjoyed and haven’t thrown away, although they aren’t my main squeezes: Food Rules by Michael Pollan for some common sense inspiration; The Paleo Solution & The 4 Hour Body for those who enjoy focusing on performance and aren’t partial to whole grains; The Engine 2 Diet is a simple instructional manual created by a Texan triathlete firefighter; Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Staying Healthy With Nutrition, and The Detox Diet by Elson Haas are all good basic nutrition books.
I’m a junkie. A Prana Flow Vinyasa Yoga Junkie. This article from Rod Stryker proposes that other styles of yoga bring different, deeper benefits. Will I be able to slow it down enough to feel those benefits? Hmmmm….Will you?
There are a dizzying number of styles and approaches to yoga these days. Some involve resting in simple supported postures in quiet, candlelit rooms. Others push students to the edge of their physical capacity or are done to the beat of loud, rhythmic music. Some focus on physical alignment, while others offer a heart-centered approach. There is so much variety that describing them all is impossible.
Different in tone and substance as the various yoga styles might be, they share one quality that inspires people to practice them: They work. Put simply, you feel better when you walk out of class than when you walked in. The question is, why? Better yet, how does yoga work? As you’ve probably heard, one reason asana leaves you feeling so good is that it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, thanks to two elements that almost all asana practices have in common—the lengthening and strengthening of musculature and calm, even breathing. The parasympathetic is the part of your nervous system that slows you down—it’s responsible for telling your muscles to relax, improving your digestion and assimilation, boosting immunity, and helping you sleep better. It also normalizes your blood pressure and lowers your heart rate. The parasympathetic nervous system counteracts many stress-related symptoms and the negative by-products of our modern, fast-paced, high-output lives.
But the truth is that much of the yoga being practiced these days doesn’t do as much for the parasympathetic nervous system as you might think. To build your parasympathetic nervous system, you need to do poses that encourage deep relaxation, such as forward bends and hip openers; do fewer standing poses; and do more sitting, supine, and prone postures as well as inversions. You also need to hold poses longer, as you would in restorative yoga, and dedicate longer periods of time to developing slow and complete breathing. Vigorous vinyasa, backbends, handstands, and arm balances are powerful and beneficial, but they don’t stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system as much as the practices listed previously. So if the positive changes you gain from yoga can’t be entirely credited to its impact on your nervous system, what is helping you feel and live better? The answer is life force. Almost all styles of hatha yoga increase the flow of prana, or life force, in your body.
Yoga, like the science of acupuncture, or tai chi and qi gong, is based on prana (referred to as chi in the Chinese arts and sciences). These disciplines see prana as the essential force that sustains everything. Yogis went a step further, prescribing the intelligent use of prana as the key to facilitating spiritual awakening. “Having known the origin…and the physical existence of prana, one achieves immortality,” says the Prasna Upanishad. In other words, the aim of life (and practice) is realized through the skillful use of prana.
What the heck is that word, bhujapidasana, you might be wondering? It means “shoulder pressing pose”. I taught a class focused on it this week from a sequence I got from Shiva Rea (surprise, surprise) back in 2009. I was taught the sequence back then, ignored it because it scared me, and have recently re-discovered it. Like shopping in your own closet, shopping in your own yoga library can be quite fruitful. I’ve been so inspired by my students willingness to play with it this week. While teaching it I realized just how much I was letting my own perceived limitations of my abilities get in my way of sharing really fun, inspiring, albeit challenging yoga. I must admit too that part of my resistance to teaching this was that it’s just plain HARD to practice on a regular basis when you have a demanding full-time job. I’m the first to recognize that! I’m thankful I have the space to dedicate more time to my practice now and may we all be appreciative for the moments we get to spend on the mat.
So, here is the class sequence. I share it in hopes that my students who’ve practiced it with me might try to play on their own. I would not recommend teaching it without having practiced it quite a bit to get the flow and transitions. As with all yoga practices, omit what doesn’t work for you, or make modifications, be smart, be nice to yourself, listen to your body. I tried to be clear about my modifications. I tried to include English translations of poses but if you don’t know the poses by name, you can look them up at Yoga Journal’s Pose Finder. It’s a great little resource. I found a great article from Shiva on one of the peak poses in this practice, Visvamitrasana and she talks about how it has related to her surfing. There is also a video from Jason Crandell teaching the pose with progressions. Thanks for keeping me inspired my student friends & Shiva!
Surya Namaskar A 3-5x
Surya Namaskar B 3-5x
Ardho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog) to
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) to
Vira II (Warrior II w/shoulder opening) to
Parsva Vira II (reverse warrior)
Utthita Parsvokonasana (extended side angle w/optional bind)
Connecting Vinyasa w/Cobra pulsations as backbend
Repeat other leg w/connecting vinyasa, end at top of mat
Standing Anahatasana (standing backbend)
Forward fold / yogic squat
Bhujapidasana Prep to Bhujapidasana
(first in forward fold with shoulders squeezed by knees, web of hands holding back of heels, to optional twisting with shoulder opening, to optional bird of paradise to full shoulder pressing pose w/both arms bound)
Padahastasana (gorilla pose, forward fold with hands under feet, palms face up)
Prasarita Padottanasana A (wide forward fold with arms at right angles) to
Malasana (yogic squat, standing with side opening) to
Prasarita Padottanasana C (wide forward fold with shoulder opening)
Connecting Vinyasa w/ Dhanurasana as backbend (bow pose)
Parighasana (gate or side opening pose w/arm pulsations) to
Ardha Ustrasana (half camel) to
Visvamitrasana Prep to (low lunge, hands inside foot, shoulder under front leg, to turn back foot in take outer edge of foot with hand, extend half or full visvamitrasana or visvamitra’s pose) to
Eka Pada Koundinyasana
Connecting Vinyasa to other side to
It’s been 9 full months since I took over as owner of Smiling Dog Yoga, the sweetest little yoga space in SLO town. I don’t write much about what it’s really like to run the studio from my perspective of straight-laced cubicle dweller gone yogi-entrepreneur renegade. Today I’m in a squirrel-y mood.
Last week I let the stress get to me. And that’s what it really is isn’t it? It’s a choice that we often forget we have. As I was crumbling under it, losing sleep, unable to relax, I thought about all of my adult jobs and how they all came with their own version of debilitating, relentless stress. In my version of the corporate-america I was stressed because I was bored and didn’t respect anyone around me or what the business was doing. During my waitress stint I was stressed because of my social life and relationships. In grad school I was stressed because I didn’t love what I was studying and I was teaching apathetic kids. I could go on.
It made me think about the other a-ha life lessons owning my own business has taught me. An opportunity for a top 5 list perhaps? I cannot resist. I love John Cusak and High Fidelity! These aren’t in specific order but these are some of my major lessons so far in owning my own business. Something I’m so excited to have the opportunity to do, but I REALLY didn’t see this in my future when I was a 22 year old telling my first job interviewer, “I just want a job that will pay me, that I can work for 40 years, get a pension, and spend my spare time on yoga.” Aw, I was cute back then wasn’t I?
Be ready to face your biggest, darkest fears. The fears surrounding money and rejection can be fierce. Money is supposed to be a tool to help with the exchange of goods, time, services. I’ve noticed in myself and others around me how subtle and powerful fears surrounding money and rejection are. Anything that comes from fear isn’t going to work, right?
Step away from the line of fire. I think it’s super important to step away from our main role in life and just decompress without expectation or being productive. Western culture teaches us how productive we need to be, but what do we really need to put out there to be productive, functioning adults? We need rest as much as we need productivity.
Stop resisting what is. Focus on what you CAN do and what your ultimate mission is. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like, or what’s not happening. So what if your business/project/relationship fails? That just means that it’s had it’s time and what else can you do or offer the world that will serve people that you can enjoy and feel good about?
Your career or business doesn’t define who you are. I know I’ve thought this before but I have to remind myself time and time again. I take a lot of pride in my work and always have. When it doesn’t go how I expect it should, I get negative. Why? I am more than this one job, this one role. Yes, it often feels heavy and important and I care a lot, but the good stuff does!
Find ways to deal with stress. Or it will haunt you. It’ll sneak out in little ways in which you’ll snap at your loved ones, won’t sleep, dream about it, eat poorly, overall you’ll just be “bajigity”.
Owning my own business has been a wild roller coaster so far. It constantly challenges me and helps me face my biggest fears and grow and learn. For that, I’m so grateful. Hopefully the next time I have a mini breakdown I’ll remember this list.
Tomorrow is the summer solstice. When I worked as an office dweller I often let these days drift on by and I noticed how seasons would come and go without much ado. Now that it’s my job to share yoga, I enjoy taking a moment to recognize the transitions of our earth, and connecting my yoga practice with the reality of what’s going on outside my window. Worldwide, interpretation of the summer solstice has varied among cultures, but most have recognized it as a sign of fertility, a time to celebrate the bounty we have sown through spring, typically involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.
A common more ritualistic, meditative yoga practice for the solstice is to do Surya Namaskar A 108 times. I’ll be doing smaller divisions with my classes this week: 54, 36, 27, 9, or 3 depending on our energy levels. I’ve discussed the significance of the number 108 on this blog before, but I also found an epic article on Elephant Journal on the subject. Below are some of my favorite tidbits on the significance of 108 and a video of Surya Namaskar A to get you moving. Go ahead, do a couple at home, you can do it. Celebrate the sun and the longest day of the year!
A japa mala or mala is an eastern rosary with 108 beads. The mala is used both in Hinduism and Buddhism for counting mantras, chants or prayers. 108 has been a sacred number for a long time, and this number is explained in many different ways.
Traditionally, Buddhist have 108 beads, representing the 108 human passions that Avalokiteshvara assumed when telling the beads. This number ensures a repetition of a sacred mantra at least 100 times, the extra beads allowing for any omissions made through absentmindness in counting or for loss or breakage of beads.
Sometimes smaller divisions can be used: 108 is divided in half, third, quarter, or twelfth, so some malas have 54, 36, 27, or 9 beads.
108 may be the product of a precise mathematical operation (e.g. 1 power 1 x 2 power 2 x 3 power 3 = 108) which was thought to have special numerological significance.
POWERS of 1, 2 & 3 IN MATH: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2×2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108
SANSKRIT ALPHABET: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
HARSHAD NUMBER: 108 is a Harshad number, which is an integer divisible by the sum of its digits (Harshad is from Sanskrit, and means “great joy”)
9 x 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. That 9 times 12 equals 108.
ASTROLOGY: There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas.
9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
PLANETS AND HOUSES: In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.
SUN AND EARTH: The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth.
PYTHAGOREAN: The nine is the limit of all numbers, all others existing and coming from the same. ie: 0 to 9 is all one needs to make up an infinite amount of numbers.
STAGES OF THE SOUL: Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey.
MARMAS: Marmas or marmastanas are like energy intersections called chakras, except have fewer energy lines converging to form them. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.
Joseph Campbell says it’s 1+0+8 = 9, the number of the goddess.
Or one can look at 1, 0, and 8 as:
1 = God or higher Truth
0 = emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice,
8 = infinity or eternity
This is “the” question that always comes up in the yoga community, and I’ve been pondering it lately. To answer the question first I feel like I must look at what yoga really is. I looked up the definition online to start. Here are a few of them. Yoga is…
A science and art of living.
Intended to unite the mind, body and spirit.
A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline.
A practice of physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India.
But, what about the real reason many people come to yoga…stretching out because our bodies are whacked from years of overuse or under-use and sitting too much?
So, I suppose just by definition “yoga” is something more than the physical practice most of us interpret it as. It tones, strengthens, and lengthens the body, it can be a contortionistic, challenging, and fun way to move the body. Many of us are only drawn to the physical practice although that is only one piece of the yoga pie. Don’t get me wrong. People being healthful physically is important. Without that quest, nothing else really works, does it? Have you ever noticed this? Without a clear body, the mind can easily succumb to the BS of life. And it’s just harder to live a good life that way. But isn’t it good to be honest about the fact that what we do in a yoga studio is connected to something more, even if we don’t care to acknowledge it most days?
But is yoga spiritual, even if what we regularly practice doesn’t feel like it is? What is the definition of spirituality?
The first definition was “Property or income owned by a church.” —Well that’s kind of funny. Would we get free rent at Smiling Dog if it was a church? That would be sweet!
Here’s a good definition of spirituality from Wikipedia: “Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.”
I suppose the historical practice of yoga does contain spiritual components. It teaches us how to live, breathe, get out of our overactive minds, and if we’re lucky, life to our fullest potential. BUT there are parts of yoga that are merely physical, and many people will spend their entire lives only working on the physical body with yoga and will never address the problems their crazy minds inflict upon themselves. Most yoga classes aren’t spiritual and those offered at gyms, jails, and beyond most certainly aren’t. Or maybe they are, but it’s just more subtle. I wonder if that’s a good thing or bad thing? And I wonder how much spirituality is appropriate? And why does the word spiritual only get to be used by churches and Christians? The word frankly turns many off and turns on defensive responses. I often refer to tidbits of yogic philosophy in my classes and I wonder if it’s just spirituality that I’ve learned to define in a way that isn’t daunting or offensive.
So, my answer is this. No, yoga doesn’t have to be spiritual. But I wonder if yoga teachers should be? And how much spirituality should be brought into classes? Can you learn one part of a vast subject and teach that one part well without knowing or honoring the related pieces? Probably well enough. But why is it that doesn’t sit well with me? Oh, I’m getting deep today folks. So deep! It reminds me of my math teaching days. I most certainly would be a math professor if I could have done so without learning the theory behind the calculus.
Donna Fahri says it well in her book Teaching Yoga, “If we profess to be teaching Yoga, which is a science and art of living, we must practice that way of living ourselves. If we wish only to teach poses or postures, it would be better to call what we do by a name other than Yoga”.
I used to think I wasn’t spiritual and that spirituality wasn’t part of my yoga experience. I now realize the opposite is true. Sure, I can call it mindfulness, philosophy, being present, but it’s all leading me to live a healthier, happier, more sane life, and that’s what counts. Who cares what label it has.
Feeling a little fiesty or over-heated these days? As spring starts to transition to summer I started noticing my pitta fires getting inflamed already. What the heck is my pitta fire? No, it’s not a crazy yogi bon fire party. The season of summer is related to the pitta dosha in Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science of nutrition and healing. it’s important to keep our internal cool and balance the extra heat that’s easy to accumulate and cause aggravation this summer.
Signs of pitta imbalance include diarrhea, burning sensations, skin irritations, acne, odorous sweating, fever, general inflammation, and a hypercritical or intense mental outlook. I personally notice it most when my skin breaks out, I sometimes get cold sores, I get angered easily, and I get “hangry” often. “Hangry” is when I am hungry and it makes me angry and I can’t think and I eat the first food I can find. It’s not pretty. Pitta governs digestion and metabolism, so the fire may flare first in the small intestine and the stomach—pitta’s main seats in the body—with excesses of digestive acid and bile. That’s heartburn by the way.
It’s a fundamental principle of Ayurveda that like increases like. In Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing (South Asia Books, 1998), Ayurvedic teacher and author Maya Tiwari writes, “The doshas are not simply the dynamic energy within the body; rather, they are influenced primarily by seasonal variations.” As summer heats up, we become prone to accumulating excess pitta. If we already possess a pitta prakriti (nature), we’re at an even higher risk of becoming out of balance. If you are curious what your prakriti or nature is according to ayurveda you can take a quiz online. It’s kind of fun.
What to do when pitta’s boiling over? Keep in mind that doshic imbalances can vary in manifestation and severity, depending on many factors. If you’re simply a touch overheated, tune in to your senses and try applying opposing qualities to maintain balance in the midst of summer’s swelter. I have started to eat more fruit, smoothies, and have been thinking about ways to shift my yoga practice and teaching so it’s more aligned with the season. I’ll be focusing more on forward folds and twists and transitioning from the inversions and strength of spring. The following are some ways you can cool down according to Ayurveda and yogajournal.com:
TASTE – Bitter, sweet, and astringent tastes calm pitta, so eat more foods like apples, grapes, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, cilantro, and fresh organic dairy. Eliminate or reduce your intake of alcohol, heavy meats, and fried, oily, salty, spicy, and sour foods. Instead of salt, use fennel seeds, coriander, fenugreek, and fresh lime juice for seasoning.
TOUCH – Wear breathable natural fibers that have a cooling effect, such as cotton and linen.
SMELL – Treat yourself to a fresh bouquet of tuberose, gardenia, or freesia. Or dab on a diluted essential oil: Try rose, jasmine, geranium, vetiver, or ylang ylang.
SIGHT – Take a break from work that requires intense visual focus. Gaze at summer’s verdant trees and meadows. Surround yourself with cooling hues of pearl white, blue, green, silver, and gray.
SOUND – Listen to calming music which can help calm your heart and soothe your spirit.
I’m thankful that the universe is allowing me to stick with my commitment to continuously grow while at my second yoga training with Shiva Rea this year, Fluid Power! Based on her teachings and sequences from her DVD Fluid Power Yoga, I remember it as one of my favorite trainings to date. When I’ve taught these sequences at Smiling Dog they are always the most popular and well received classes I teach. You might remember my friends “coily lunge” and “coily squat”. Shiva says it best:
“The practices you will experience are based upon the primary characteristics of the fluid body that benefit your health and well being. The first characteristic of our fluid body is that our bodies are physiologically rhythmic, vibrating and pulsating with the constant tide of or breath, heartbeat, and brainwaves as a few examples. You will experience a rhythmic and energetic approach to vinyasa flow yoga where the breath initiates and inspires all movement. In particular, we explore a three part vinyasa technique I developed based on the teachings of Krishnamacharya that express this wave through the pulsation of breath to enhance the state of flow and the instinctual alignment of your inner and outer body. I call this “thawing out poses” which are often rigidly held so that you can access your strength and flexibility with grace.”
I couldn’t have said it better. My homework today is to think about the following: my state of the union, how I’m doing; to contemplate the fluidity in nature and in life like the waves of the ocean; to contemplate the blockages to fluidity, like a dam in a river, or a caged bird maybe.
After practicing Namaskar 1008 with Shiva this morning I was so humbled by my attempt to capture it on video! If this is remotely interesting you should buy the Fluid Power DVD and do it properly. Or even better, come to a Fluid Power training down the road. I’ll share it with you again as it’s what I’ll be practicing all weekend long!
My second yoga video is of a simple, seated yoga sequence. Suitable for all levels and abilities, it will loosen your spine and hips. A great little practice on it’s own or as a warm up to a longer practice or another activity. Let me know what you think. It’s inspired by Kira Ryder of Lulu Bandha’s in Ojai, CA.