Archive | Physical Health

Fresh Ginger Ale!

One of my students knows I love and make my own ginger tea. I modified a recipe I got on my first yoga retreat to Parrot Cay – the retreat that changed my life as well as my palate.

Well, ginger is getting more popular and she sent along this New York Times article highlighting the trend of home made ginger ale – Ginger Ale Without the Can.

I couldn’t agree more:

But beyond current fashions, homemade ginger ale has a lively bite that is especially appealing as summer nears.

“It’s a very refreshing, vibrant feeling,” said Geoff Alexander, the managing partner of Wow Bao, part of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the Chicago restaurant company.

Typically less sweet than store-bought sodas, the handmade ales get an added zing from fresh ginger.

Here’s a recipe to make Ginger Ale at home. Also from the New York Times.

Thanks Sara!

Yoga – The Reliable Raft

Gary Kraftsow has long been a hero of mine but I did not know of his own personal health “opportunity” until I read this piece, Radical Healing, in the current issue of Yoga & Joyful Living (formerly Yoga International). Kraftsow won’t allow his brain tumor and surgery to be called an ordeal.

I’ve admired him because of the medical studies on yoga he conducted which got wide coverage:

Kraftsow may be best known as the architect of rigorous studies of yoga’s efficacy. He showed that yoga can alleviate chronic back pain in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the results of which were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

That’s the sort of credibility yoga needs and won’t garner with gym rats taking a weekend yoga teaching course and hanging out a shingle.

In the three hour teaching seminar I took with him, Gary Kraftsow also impressed me greatly with his knowledge base, intuition and approach. So I own both his books. Perhaps he simply resonated with me because of my own health opportunities. He articulated my experience. I feel I have a sense now of how and why.

Of his health crisis, he says, “I would never wish it on my worst enemy. But if it happens to you, it’s an extraordinary opportunity to grow.” In the hospital, when the haze lifted, Kraftsow discovered new depths of stillness. “The stillness of meditation is one thing, but this stillness—I hadn’t had any experience of it before,” he says.

I’ve said, and never lightly, that yoga saved my life. Not simply the poses, but all of it. This article on Kraftsow explains what yoga teaches beyond the asanas.

Kraftsow stresses two aspects of yoga – the individuality (which is the primary difficulty in conducting medical studies) and that yoga is more than the physical poses (asanas). He properly notes that asana is mentioned only twice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

“My desire for all those who have only been exposed to the asana part of yoga is that they have an opportunity to appreciate the depth and breadth of this great tradition,” he says. “When you have a life-threatening or serious condition, you can’t rely on what you could rely on before. Yoga is like a raft that can help you go through these things. But in my case it wasn’t asana. It wasn’t even breathing. It was attitude, prayer. These are going to help you when you can’t do anything else.”

Just as illuminating, the piece fleshes out the Kraftsow’s principles by following Ellen Fein’s pilgrimage after she became ill. She came to study with Gary Kraftsow and he helped her. Regarding his teaching method –

“It’s so individual,” says Kraftsow. “You never know what it’s going to be, what gives somebody a sense of pleasure, fulfillment. What we as teachers are trained to do is read body language. When someone makes a connection to something that’s meaningful, they’ll light up. That’s like a clue, and then you’re like a treasure hunter. You follow it, try to bring it out, and help them make a connection to something that can give them some sense of joy.”

Here’s just a clue to one part of his teaching which touches on the layers of the body (some translations call the layers sheaths).

The cornerstone of Kraftsow’s practice is pancha maya, a model of the human system referenced in ancient Indian texts. According to this model, also known as the kosha model, we are comprised of five dimensions or layers: the physical body (annamaya), the breath or life force (pranamaya), the intellect (manomaya), the personality (vijnanamaya), and the heart, which is the seat of bliss (anandamaya). In the days leading up to surgery, Kraftsow plumbed every dimension of his being.

Yoga teaches so much, so much that is valuable and helpful.

Meditation Alleviates Medical Symptoms

Natural News headlines – Meditation Benefits for Those with Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia

I knew this already. Guided meditation can be especially helpful when the symptoms are persistent. I’ve experienced remarkable improvement after listening and following the instructions of a 15 to 20 minute guided meditation (Shiva Rea’s is a favorite).

The article outlines the mental/emotional benefits of meditation:

  • More even moods, fewer mood swings.
  • Releasing Depression
  • Less anxiety
  • Increased energy and vitality
  • Improved memory and cognitive function
  • A sense of peace and calm
  • Less Stress
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate
  • More balanced nervous system
  • Better Sleep
  • May help balance the immune system to help the body resist disease and heal
  • Less physical stress and a more balanced the autonomic nervous system (which is what governs the stress response in the body.)

Specially in regard to FM and CFS, the article outlines this:

Stress exacerbates CFS and FM, as well as causing more of it, creating a vicious circle. Lowering stress in some way is important for sufferers…Meditation has also been shown to improve sleep patterns and increase energy. Furthermore, research has continually shown that it reduces pain levels. It can enhance the body’s ability to heal itself, and improve overall quality of life. Physically, it can lower the level of cortisol in the body, which is a stress hormone. Mentally, it helps you to get your mind off of worries, pain, stress, and illness. It allows you to cultivate a focus on something completely unrelated to your life, your pain, or your illness.

Johns Hopkins Study Finds Yoga Alleviates Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Here is news of the benefits of yoga for those with Rheumatoid Arthritis:

On a more positive note, scientists from John Hopkins University in Baltimore have discovered that people with RA can greatly benefit from a program of yoga poses, breathing and relaxation.

And the article concludes with this:

Those who participated in the yoga program had significantly fewer tender and swollen joints than they did before beginning the class. The waiting list group saw no significant changes in their tender and swollen joint counts. “We have previously reported that yoga helps people to feel better, and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t harmful to arthritic joints. So, we were glad to find that there actually seems to be improvement in joint symptoms for RA patients,” said Steffany Haaz, MFA, and recipient of the Arthritis Foundation grant that funded the study. “The next big question is figuring out how and why yoga might be having this effect, since it is such a multi-faceted activity.”

Great Recipe to Substitute for Your Morning Coffee

I highlighted a Yoga Journal article last week on how to wean from caffeine.

Now, here’s a terrific substitute from Gillian McKeith, host of the BBC America show, You Are What You Eat.

Assemble into a blender the following ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons dandelion coffee granules
  • 1 Tablespoon hot water
  • 1 ripe medium banana
  • 200 ml unsweetened rice milk

Mix it up and drink. Yum! This recipe, with the banana, helps boost depleted potassium, which can be a result of caffeine addiction.

Whole Foods Not So Wholesome

Check out this investigative report from the local ABC affiliate, WJLA, here in DC. As usually the FDA is protecting the industry more than the public. Most of the problem foods are under the Whole Foods label 365, which also tends to be the cheapest on the shelf. Problem is that most of the frozen packaged food is grown and packaged in China. So don’t be sure it’s really organic or safe for you or the environment.

To see the list you can click here. It’s an 8 page pdf with the subheading – “Whole Foods Internal Document – Do Not Distribute”

Click here for more information (scroll to bottom) and to file a complaint with the FDA National Organic Program.

Well, I suppose now I’ll be going to the Dupont Circle Market today and every Sunday……

Green Your Fridge

Vegetarian Times offers 10 steps to “green” your refrigerator. Several would only be pertinent if you were building or remodeling your kitchen (i.e. move your refrigerator away from a window or don’t buy a refrigerator with ice and/or water dispensers).

Nonetheless, some of the other suggestions are helpful. The link also includes some food safety tips.

How to Eliminate Caffeine

Caffeine drips into my diet via chocolate. I’m not sure how much I get in my dark chocolate fixes, but I feel lucky not to be drawn to coffee every day. It’s evolved into a luxury I reserved for after dinner, when I’m dining with someone with whom I wish to prolong the time!

Why eliminate caffeine from your diet? Well, the kidneys and adrenals are depleted by caffeine as are numerous minerals.

But doing so is not easy to do – headaches, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings can ensue.

Yoga Journal offers some concrete counsel on how to kick a caffeine habit. Before changing anything they suggested adding a few items to your diet. One is yogurt or kefir and other is a bit labor intensive. Then a plan for the big day is suggested and to help with the transition, a peppermint infusion is said to help provide that wake up feeling without the caffeine.

I’m thinking of a few guys I know who are addicted to caffeine who will never do this, but I offer the link anyway. It may just work.

Psychotherapy Uses Mindfulness Meditation

In a story entitled Lotus Therapy by Benedict Carey, The New York Times reported on the use of insight meditation to deal with pain, both physical and emotional. And on how the practice is infiltrating psychotherapy.

“I was able to be there, present for the pain,” he said, when the meditation session ended. “To just let it be what it was, without thinking it through.”

The therapist nodded.

“Acceptance is what it was,” he continued. “Just letting it be. Not trying to change anything.”

“That’s it,” the therapist said. “That’s it, and that’s big.”

This exercise in focused awareness and mental catch-and-release of emotions has become perhaps the most popular new psychotherapy technique of the past decade. Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha.

So what? What’s the promise?

The promise of mindfulness meditation is that it can help patients endure flash floods of emotion during the therapeutic process — and ultimately alter reactions to daily experience at a level that words cannot reach.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is at the forefront of this and his book, Full Catastrophe Living:Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, published in 1990. I have found this book to be invaluable. I recently bought it on DVD so I can listen to it when I’m too unwell to read. And he is featured in the Times report:

Buddhist meditation came to psychotherapy from mainstream academic medicine. In the 1970s, a graduate student in molecular biology, Jon Kabat-Zinn, intrigued by Buddhist ideas, adapted a version of its meditative practice that could be easily learned and studied… The goal of mindfulness meditation was different, to foster an awareness of every sensation as it unfolds in the moment.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn taught the practice to people suffering from chronic pain at the University of Massachusetts medical school. In the 1980s he published a series of studies demonstrating that two-hour courses, given once a week for eight weeks, reduced chronic pain more effectively than treatment as usual.

Word spread, discreetly at first. “I think that back then, other researchers had to be very careful when they talked about this, because they didn’t want to be seen as New Age weirdos,” Dr. Kabat-Zinn, now a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, said in an interview. “So they didn’t call it mindfulness or meditation. “After a while, we put enough studies out there that people became more comfortable with it.”

A related technique is Action and Commitment Therapy, which is focused on results:

Steven Hayes, a psychologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, has developed a talk therapy called Acceptance Commitment Therapy, or ACT, based on a similar, Buddha-like effort to move beyond language to change fundamental psychological processes.