Monthly Archives: April 2014
What is a healthy lifestyle? I used to think it meant eating “right” and getting enough exercise. But, as I study the subject, I’ve come to realize that it is much more. A healthy lifestyle is about the whole person from the outside in.
There is a ton of research being conducted about how meditation, restful sleep, healthy diet, emotional and social well-being, exercise, breathing techniques and healthy relationships can help healthy people stay that way and change diseased genes.
New technologies are being developed to monitor and quantify exercise, sleep and stress in our bodies. Several of my friends have monitors that count their steps. It’s becoming big business because the writing is on the wall. Unless we change how we approach health and aging, the cost of acute care will bankrupt our country.
The good news is that people are becoming more aware of the impact of their life choices on their health, and they are making changes. Deepak Chopra says that well being is the #1 trend in the world at the moment. As I reflect on this trend, I think how the more things change; the more they stay the same.
The Ancients, those earliest inhibitors of our planet, knew the importance of total well being. They identified 5 dimensions or layers of the human system and knew that all of these layers needed to be cared for in order to be a well person. These 5 layers are directly correlated to what modern day research says are the components of health and well being. Amazing! It’s like we’ve come full circle.
Following are the 5 layers (Steps):
- The Physical Body: This is the outer most layer. In the yoga tradition this is the physical fitness aspect of yoga. The ancients used the tool of asana (postures) practice to prepare the body and mind for seated pranayama (breathing) and meditation. They knew that being fit physically was important to feeling good and to being able to withstand stress. Today, we are told to “keep moving” to stay healthy.
- The Energetic Body: Moving inward, the next layer relates to energy and the metabolic functions that maintain life. The Ancients referred to this as prana or life force. They used the science of breath (pranayama) as a tool to assess their vitality, energy and general health. The quality of our breath reveals so much about our physical, mental and emotional states. Today, breath techniques are being used by individuals and health practitioners to get a sense of overall well being.
- The Intelligent Body: Our ancient ancestors recognized the power of the mind and how it influenced the whole person. They knew it was important to develop the mind and to keep it sharp. Chanting was the tool they used to train the mind and to pass along the philosophy from generation to generation. Today, we are encouraged to continue learning and be life long learners after our formal education ends. Learning a new skill helps keep aging brains sharp and is considered a key component of total well being and healthy aging.
- The Personality: This layer relates to how we interpret life’s events and is based on our conditioning. The Ancients recognized that our responses to situations, our motives, attitudes and basic beliefs come from our conditioning. They knew it was important to understand this conditioning and used the tool of meditation to recognize and refine the personality. Today, meditation is widely accepted as a way to manage life’s stresses and to be more aware of our perceptions. Awareness is the first step to change.
- The Heart: This is the deepest layer and it involves relationship(s). The Ancients understood that we humans do not do well in isolation. We need family, friends, and community to feel connected. Having a passion is another aspect of this layer. Today, we hear of the importance of staying social and that people who share common interests with others live longer, healthier lives.
The Ancients called these layers by different names but their truth has stood the test of time. We will explore these tools in greater depth. My hope is that these ancient tools are useful for your modern day life management.
Enjoy and Breathe Easy!
The other day someone asked me an interesting question, “How is yoga different from traditional exercise (a workout)? Is there a difference?” The short answer is “yes”. Yoga is very different from a workout but there are also similarities.
Yoga and exercise have many things in common and share some of the following benefits:
- Improves strength and flexibility
- Reduces stress levels, anxiety and depression
- Increases sense of well being and happiness
- Improves mood
- Lowers blood pressure
- Combats health conditions and disease
- Helps with weight contro
- Increases energy levels
- Promotes better sleep
- Helps maintain brain function
They both can be done in group classes, with friends, solo or with a private instructor and coach. And, just as exercise can be experienced in many forms (spinning, weight lifting, running, swimming, etc.), yoga has many different types and forms.
When I first discovered yoga, I was exercising regularly and still do. Each one helps me stay fit just in different ways. With exercise, my awareness is more external. I am looking at the people around me, listening to music, thinking about my to do list. I am more competitive with myself and others. Exercise has more of a physical, external focus.
With yoga, I discovered that it started with a physical, external focus. But as I practiced my focus moved deeper, more internal. That is the way yoga works. It has a physical focus through the asanas (postures) but it goes deeper than that. The postures are the starting point. They are a tool for preparing the body and mind to sit for pranayama (controlled breathing) and meditation.
Meditation helps us to become more observant and more aware. One of yoga’s purposes is to reduce our misinterpretation and misunderstanding of people and events. It allows us to see more clearly and to observe ourselves and others in a less judgmental way.
Yoga makes us more aware at the physical, mental and emotional levels. This deeper awareness is the great gift of yoga and the major difference between it and physical exercise.
Enjoy and Breathe Easy
This past weekend I went to Moab, Utah for a landscape photography workshop. Moab is perfectly situated for visiting Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse Point State Park. The area is a photographer’s dream and April is an ideal time of year to visit – not too hot or too cold.
In photography, it’s all about the light and in landscape photography that means sunrise and sunset shoots. We’d get up really early to be all set up to shoot the sunrise. In the evening, we stayed until well after dark. One night we hiked down a mountain with only light from the full moon and a couple of flashlights … so fantastic. Normally, I don’t function on less than 7 hours sleep, but I had no trouble functioning on 4 to 5 hours during the workshop. It was so inspiring to be among like-minded people, seeing spectacular scenery, and learning so much. Who needed sleep?
My favorite site was Arches National Park. I marveled at the extraordinary landscape filled with gigantic arches, natural bridges, spires and rocks balancing on each other. They have been there millions of years – millions! I kept wishing I could hear the rocks tell their stories out loud. I suppose they do “speak” through their inspiring presence.
The National Park Service explains that its mission is “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations.” Arches National Park was truly an inspiration.
The source of inspiration is a very individual thing and something we need to decide for ourselves. No one else can tell us what to feel passionate about or to be inspired by. It comes from the heart.
Years ago a friend of mine co-authored a research study through the University of Georgia on the “oldest old”. The study included people in their 90’s and 100’s who were still living productive lives. They were looking for common characteristics among this age group.
They expected to find that lifestyle (diet, exercise, rest, etc) was the common thread. But, that was not the case. Instead, they found that having a passion was the common characteristic. Each of these “oldest old” was so inspired by some ____________ that they could not wait to get up in the morning do it all over again. They radiated passion.
What is your passion? What inspires you?
Enjoy and Breathe Easy
This past weekend several of us attended a Natural Grocers, a/k/a Vitamin Cottage brunch featuring paleo recipes. By the way, if you’ve never been to one of their educational cooking programs, I highly recommend going. They are free and you will get a ton of information. We had never heard of paleo eating so it was quite the learning experience.
Paleo is short for Paleolithic (think of the cavemen period) and refers to eating more whole and less processed foods. Other terms used to describe it include primal; grain free; whole food; nutrient dense; real food or ancestral.
Extensive research on the paleo approach began in the 1950’s. There is hard science showing that our Paleolithic ancestors had optimal health. They ate local, of course, and had diets filled with fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. Humans ate like this for 100,000’s of years and also got lots of exercise.
Eventually, humans moved from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle to an agrarian lifestyle. Interestingly, when archeologists analyzed sites where societies became agrarian and consumed grains, they saw diseases they did not see in pre-agrarian societies. For example, in Egypt archeologists found obesity and diabetes in mummies, which they directly connect to the Egyptians’ agrarian lifestyle. Scientists today see links between high intakes of refined and processed carbohydrates and many of our modern day health issues.
What I find most interesting about the paleo approach is the belief that this is not a one size fits all “diet”. Rather, it is a way of eating that is appropriate for all humans because it is customized for each individual’s physiology with the goal of achieving optimal health.
Relationship to Yoga
This philosophy of customizing nutrition to meet each individual’s unique needs is exactly like the philosophy of Viniyoga. In Viniyoga, the posture is adapted to the individual’s unique needs. There is no forcing someone into a posture that is not appropriate or could cause harm. In other words, there are many “right” ways to reach the goals.
The downside – if there is one – is that the paleo lifestyle requires active involvement, which means a time commitment. There is much experimentation, observation, learning and questioning that goes into discovering what does and does not work for you. What combination of foods will give you optimal health?
It’s a journey of discovery … Enjoy and Breathe Easy
Last week I blogged about the importance of strong, flexible muscles for good posture and that posture is directly related to our ability to keep our balance. Lots of things get better with age but balance is not one of them. That is, unless we do something about maintaining it. To do that, it’s important to engage in activities that challenge and enhance balance.
Yoga, with its combination of dynamic and static activities, is perfect. Dynamic movement tends to increase circulation to the muscles and improve muscle flexibility while remaining static tends to improve muscle strength.
The bridge posture combines both dynamic and static activities. It’s also fun and a favorite of many of my private yoga students.
Here’s the process:
- Come to a lying position on your back
- Hug knees to your chest and gently rock from side to side to warm up your hips and back
- Next place your feet flat on the floor with heels a comfortable distance from hips. Knees are lined up with your feet and about a hip bone distance apart
- Arms remain by your sides
- As you inhale, push down on your feet, engaging your buttocks and lift your hips up off the floor toward the ceiling.
- As you exhale, engage your abs and buttocks and slowly lower your hips back down to the floor. Feel like you are coming down one vertebra at a time.
- Repeat these movements (#5 and #6 above) a total of six times
- Rest on your back for a couple of breaths
- Then inhale back up (#5 above) and stay with hips raised for a breath or two
- Then exhale down (#6 above) and rest for a breath or two
- Finally, counter pose the bridge by bringing your knees to your chest and repeating #2 above
- If your back feels uncomfortable when lifting your hips try bringing your heels slightly closer to your hips. Be careful not to stress your knees.
- If you sway, engage your core muscles more fully to stabilize yourself
- Keep your shoulders and toes against the floor
- Tuck your chin as you inhale up for a gentle neck stretch
In my blog, Brain Booster … Improve Concentration, I talk about using the posture Tadasana to improve brain function. It’s also a great posture for improving balance.
Enjoy and Breathe Easy.
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