The Science of Yoga: Book Review

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This book cover promised promises to scientifically examine the risks and rewards of practicing yoga. This interpretation is misleading, however.  I was hoping for clarity on how certain poses or techniques are beneficial or risky – a true scientific examination of yoga that could be directly applied to my practice.

William Broad instead examines the history of the science of yoga in an almost chronological fashion, organized in vaguely entitled chapters like health, fit perfection, risk of injury, and healing.  The author views the science of yoga as a disjointed field that is reaching a critical evolutionary point, and this perspective is apparent throughout the muddle of the book. Furthermore, the rambling prologue and overzealous epilogue politicize the subject and throw the author’s credibility into question.

Although this book did not meet my expectations, it does cite several sources for scientific research on yoga worth examining further. It also is a fascinating, and therefore relatively quick, read. In my own practice, which barely spans two years, I have experienced many of the benefits of yoga that are touched on throughout the book.

Fortunately, the risks of certain poses were brought to my attention more than a year ago. My awareness benefitted from reading this article highlighting the risks of yoga [1], a quick article adaptation from The Science of Yoga that highlights the same risks with the same stories. The author’s connections with the New York Times and publicity must immeasurably contribute to the popularity of his novel, despite its failure to actually explain the science of yoga.

No Equipment Necessary: No Excuses

Bodyweight-ExercisesLately I have observed that one of the biggest excuses that people have to not work out is that either they have no time or money to go to the gym. They forget that they can exercise while brushing their teeth or even on a work break, and that an intense workout can easily be done at home – with no equipment!

Although I’m a huge fan of working out on my yoga mat, exercise ball, a chair and frequently use free weights and a chin-up bar (when not pregnant), more than half of my routines typically require no or minimal equipment. Pushups, planks, lunges, crunches, leg lifts, squats, most yoga positions and many other bodyweight exercises are actually done best without extra equipment to slow you down or “help” you balance. Such exercises force you to concentrate on your form and use your core to balance, resulting in an additional calorie burn and belly toning.

Bodyweight exercises, also called calisthenics, have been used as strength training by athletes for centuries. Demonstrating just how ancient such exercises are, the word “calisthenics” is derived from the greek root words kallos and sthenos, meaning beauty and strength, respectively.

Also, bodyweight exercises are easy to modify to match anyone’s fitness level, which makes them ideal for someone who wants to challenge and push themselves while observing progress regularly. For example, when I first tried P90X, which includes many bodyweight exercises, I could barely do 5 to 10 pushups, and I was easily doing 40 after the initial 90 days. Seeing such progress is incredibly motivational and has helped me push on to another level repeatedly.

I truly hope that nobody who wants to be healthy and fit stops themselves with an excuse as weak as a lack of access to the gym. A gym can be motivational and convenient for some, but it’s simply an accessory for a workout. As my husband Kevin said earlier “gyms are a form of exercise materialism”; just like you don’t need fancy clothes to workout, you don’t really need gym equipment to complete an intense routine.

Natur’el Tea Tasting

Natur'el TeaShortly after I last wrote about how much I love tea, Jolene from Canadian tea company Natur’el Tea contacted me. She offered to send me some samples of her organic tea. I sure am glad I accepted her offer!

I tried several blends of my choosing and I am particularly fond of the “Black Mate Morning” and “Assam… man!” flavors of Natur’el Tea. They’re both strong, yet not overwhelming black teas with a nice tannic mouth-feel. I could taste that the tea leaves are hand blended in small batches, because of the subtle flavors that seeped through every sip of tea that I’ve taken – and although I’ve been looking forward to reviewing the tea, I have to admit that it’s been a busy month or two and it’s been incredibly nice to enjoy the tea throughout this time.

If you’re in the market for some great flavors and a fan of trying some interesting tea that’s sourced from exotic locations throughout the world, definitely check out the Natur’el Tea website at http://www.naturelifestyle.com/. You can also use the coupon code HappyTea0113 to get a 25% discount if you order in the next two weeks!

UnBLOK by Manduka: Product review

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The UnBLOK is a yoga block that’s rounded and convex on one side. It’s one of Manduka’s most recent innovations, and I’m a big fan.

To begin with, I want to clarify that I love rounded things because they don’t hurt me when I walk into (or in this case, fall onto!) them. Indeed, this rounded feature has been my favorite part of the UnBLOK. I can comfortably lean back onto it and do a chest opener without having a corner poke into my back! Since I do chest openers most days, even when I’m not doing a full practice, I have used it almost daily since receiving it.

I have also been using it like a regular block throughout practice. Some of my top uses for it include stability in balance poses, as well as to prop up my supported shoulder stands and a supported bridge pose now that I’m more pregnant and feeling it in practice.

My chief concern with the UnBLOK was that it might be less stable. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to work with a pair of these to try elevated transitions in arm-balances, for example, I haven’t had any issues. The convex side of the block is the side you’d hold in your hand in such poses, however, so I do anticipate the possibility of aggravating wrist issues using the UnBLOK directly in arm-balance situations.

The look and feel of the UnBLOK is also unique. The texture is smooth and comfortable, and the color of my block is a beautiful aqua (marketed as “breeze”), which is relaxing to look at. Plus, more than 50% of the materials it’s made of are recycled; it’s eco-friendly and sustainably sourced, just like most of Manduka’s products. It’s more solid (less foamy-feeling) than most of the blocks I’ve used in various yoga studios (including Gaiam and Yogitoes brands) although it is still made out of foam and lightweight. This is a plus for me because the block feels more solid beneath my weight, and because the sides are rounded anyway the potential problem of a hard corner poking in your back was solved in its design. That just about rounds out everything I could think of about the UnBLOK, please let me know if you have any questions, and get your own UnBLOCK here!  http://www.manduka.com/us/shop/categories/products/gear/recycled-foam-unblok/

“You’re Never Alone” Mentality

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As the media show us almost daily, a single individual has the power to destroy others lives instantly. Bystanders are often put in harms way because someone has lost touch with humanity and succumbed to their irrational emotions. But we all are only human, and developing a mentality of never being alone can help society improve the quality of life for everyone. I wanted to write about this topic for Mental Health Day.

Countless cases have shown instances of physical brain trauma, from undetected tumors to accidents or even chronic stress, which have altered people’s decision-making abilities.[1] A least a portion of the harmful acts in the world happen due to such a loss of control, which anyone could experience! What if we could spot this loss of control? Or train people to recognize it in themselves and in people that are confiding in them?  And could we teach everyone to seek professional help at that point?

The first step is to follow Machiavelli’s advice: “Know your enemy and know thyself.” We tend to distance ourselves from people who we don’t understand, instead of trying to see situations from an opposing perspective. By respecting everyone’s point of view, and encouraging open and respectful discourse in the case of disagreements, we can build a foundation upon which people will learn to be vocal in times of need. It will be a strategy that will not only protect us from potential harm, but also help grow and learn as individuals.

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.Through listening to different viewpoints respectfully we all become much more accepting, broadening our horizons. Most importantly, listening and acceptance reduces the isolation from society that many people feel at one point or another, or even consistently throughout their lives. It diminishes the prevalence of negative stereotypes, including racist and sexist assumptions that have been slowing the evolution of our society for millennia.

We can never prevent all bad events from happening. But we can definitely seek to improve our own lives, and those around us, through the simple act of listening and accepting people who are different. At times, we may all need to seek professional help – whether it’s for ourselves or someone who has confided in us – and doing so could change countless lives for the better.

Myth Debunking: Beans cause gas

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Beans are an important part of my diet as a legume with a high fiber and protein content.[1] I eat them daily, and it hadn’t crossed my mind recently that they may cause gas, until the subject came up during work discussions surrounding our Cinco de Mayo potluck preparations. Since then, I’ve been wondering: are beans a musical fruit that makes you toot?

A recent research study found that the myth that beans make people gassy is vastly exaggerated. Less than 50% of participants became more gassy when they introduced beans into their diet, and black-eyed peas specifically caused less than 19% of participants to become flatulent.[2] So while one type of bean may make you fart, your body may react differently to another kind of beans.

Another study found that if you pre-soak beans prior to cooking them you actually allow them to ferment a little, which introduces bacteria that prevents flatulence.[3][4] Therefore, the gas you may experience after eating beans could also be caused as a result of how they were prepared.

About two months ago, I slow-cooked a large batch of pre-soaked beans and packaging them in 2-cup zip-locks to freeze and eat later. I tend to eat about 2 cups of black beans a week, which is why I packaged them in that quantity. I never expected that cooking my own beans, instead of eating canned beans, would reduce the odds of gassiness – this is yet another example of the unintentional positive effects of avoiding processed food.  I thought that I was just avoiding sodium!

For some people, beans may cause gas, but for most of us they are a healthy, filling food that can be eaten regularly with no worries. Additionally, if you do have symptoms of flatulence, pre-soaking beans and cooking them can naturally help your body deter the gas. It’s worth the effort given their nutritional benefits, which include high-quality protein, low fat and high-fiber content.[5]

My Cup of Tea

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Whether morning, noon or night, hot or cold, a cup of tea is soothing and relaxing to enjoy.  I drink tea daily, and choose different flavors based on mood or time of day. I’d like to share some of my favorites and when I tend to drink them!

P&G Tips, English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe , Tetely Ginger and Cardamom are all teas that I tend to drink with a splash of milk in the morning. The milk counterbalances their bitterness or spice. They’re all fairly bold too, which is why I enjoy them at the start of the day.

When stressed out, my go-to teas include ginger, peppermint (Celestial Seasonings and Stash are my favorite brands), chamomile and a mixed tea called “Tension Tamer” by Celestial Seasonings. These flavors are all calming, and great for any kind of stomach issues, which sometimes accompany my stress.

My favorite flavor of tea, which I will drink any time of day and buy in bulk, is “Bengal Spice” and it’s also by Celestial Seasonings. This tea is a mix of cinnamon and other warm, amazingly smelling spices that make me all fuzzy inside. I tend to drink it whenever I feel like a random cup of tea and prefer something decaffeinated.

Another perennial favorite tea of mine is jasmine. I’ve been drinking it since high school and love both green and black jasmine tea varieties. I quite possibly have never had a bad cup of jasmine tea. Maybe it’s the particular taste, or the thought of those pretty white flowers as I drink it. Either way, it’s relaxing and soothing, generally precisely what I love about tea.

Of course, I drink other teas as well. I have tea drawer at work, and another drawer in my kitchen. Everything from oolong to matcha powder and a random tea sampler can be found somewhere nearby and I love it. At the end of the day, all of it warms me up and makes me happy, which is exactly my cup of tea.

To Eat or Not to Eat: Soy

soySoy is found in many of our foods, and is processed as the main ingredient for many meat and dairy substitutes. This is because soy is a plant-based protein that can also be liquefied into a milky substance or solidified like a cheese. In addition to soymilk and soy-based cheese, it’s also the main ingredient in soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, vegetarian burgers, TVP (textured vegetable protein), soy bran, some meal replacements and supplements, and also can be eaten whole as edamame or soy nuts. As a result, many people eat soy daily. But is this a good choice?

Pros

  • Soy is an adequate source of Vitamin D for those who are allergic to cow’s milk[1]
  • Soy protein can trigger weight loss for obese or overweight people where meat protein does not[2][3]
  • Soy may help prevent cancer or stroke, as well as reduce cholesterol[4][5][6][7]

Cons

  • Soy is often processed in the same facilities as wheat and grown alongside wheat pastures, meaning it may not be the best option for people avoiding gluten[8]
  • Overconsumption of soy could boost your estrogen levels, which can result in male infertility[9]

Conclusions

Soy appears to be a great choice for gluten-tolerant people looking to diversify their sources of protein. It may help promote weight loss and contains many beneficial properties.  Personally, I’ll eat it a few times a week, but just like anything else, soy should be eaten in moderation.

Excess soy consumption can lead to wonky hormones and consequential health problems. If you find that you’re eating too much soy, then the fix may be easier than you think. Substitutes are readily available, including almond milk, rice milk and hemp milk-based dairy products.  Also, consider alternative plant-based sources of protein. Keep diversifying your diet and include some soy occasionally, just make sure not to over do it.

Myths About Feeling Pregnant

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I’ve always heard stories that women feel a certain way when they become pregnant; that they “just know” that that is it. I realize everybody is different but I want to share how I’ve been feeling. Today, I’m about a month and a half into my first pregnancy and, for me, “just knowing” turned out to be a myth. Noting symptoms of pregnancy, even when you’ve just begun trying for one, was also much more complex than I had expected.

Myth #1: I did not “just feel” pregnant

Myth #2: The symptoms of pregnancy are obvious

In hindsight, my first clue that I was pregnant should have been my abdominals. I had been attending bar method classes regularly during the month of March. The workouts are super core-focused and I felt my abdomen tightening up starting from day one. By mid-month my stomach began to expand despite my consistent diet and these tough, regular core-focused workouts!

Then, I actually thought that my period was late a couple of weeks ago. At the time I was feeling bloated, and had the same type of slight mood swings that generally signal PMS for me. I skipped on drinking with some friends because I knew that alcohol makes me feel worse at the start of my period. I expected it at any moment…

But the bloated feeling continued and the period never started. The pressure began to change too; it went from just feeling like I may have gas to an outward pressure on my stomach.  At that point, I took an at-home pregnancy test and it came out positive. My husband and I took a few days to let it sink in before telling a close friends and family.

I also began telling my yoga teachers at this point. I did not know how to adjust to the pain in my stomach, and what feelings were good or bad. Right now I’m pretty comfortable with all of the adjustments and am continuing to deepen my practice. It’s fairly intuitive adjusting to the changes in my body so far, both in yoga and other aspects of my life. Mostly I’m very much looking forward to the next few years, more than ever before. I also now feel much closer to my husband and have been experiencing strong emotions from time to time, but they’ve been controllable thus far. I’m incredibly thankful for all of the support I have from the people in my life, the research I’ve been doing for this blog, and for the hard work I’ve put into making my lifestyle healthy and happy.

My Yoga Practice

agata crane poseIt’s impossible to adequately describe the amazingness I feel when I can relax into an awkward pose, and the blood-pumping awareness of flow that boosts the feeling in every nook and cranny of my body. My practice escalated from a yoga session three times a month to three sessions a week in just over a year.  It’s become an irreplaceable part of my routine.

Yoga became a weekly workout when I committed to P90X, though that is my least favorite video from P90X because it’s off rhythm. Regardless, it made me feel increasingly strong and I began reading up on different routines, and even planning my own. I also bought a few deals for yoga classes in studios nearby, and the teachers greatly improved my practice and drew me in even further. I’m at the point where I miss the practice when I scale it down to just two sessions in a week, which only happens if I want to focus on a different type of exercise.

I’ve been so drawn in because yoga is not just an exercise routine. There are elements of focus, awareness, balance and meditation that go beyond physical challenge and enter the realm of spirituality. The positivity in my life is much greater because of the joy I regularly experience during the routines.

Thanks to the skills that are inevitably developed when practicing something so regularly, I’m increasingly enjoying my yoga practice. I’m constantly exploring various routines on my own and, also, there are a few teachers, Derek Beres in particular, who keep me on my toes in class by constantly switching up traditional poses to flow in peculiar and beautiful ways. So much work and focus goes into the yoga, and it feels empowering when it’s all over because I know that I’ve become stronger both in body and mind.