Jul
3
0

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient technology designed to integrate mind, body and soul. No one really knows exactly how old yoga is but stone carvings of figures in yoga postures were found at archeological sites in the Indus Valley that date back 5000 years or more. By practicing yoga you become a part of an ancient tradition designed specifically to create well-being and health.

There is a common misunderstanding that Yoga is a religion that has its roots in Hinduism. But Hinduism evolved much later and only incorporated some of the practices of Yoga. Religions throughout the world have also incorporated practices and ideas related to Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita are great source texts to learn more about the philosophy of yoga.

Most schools of yoga that are practiced in the west have some connection to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is Raja yoga (See the Four Forms of Yoga) and what is called the eightfold path. The foundations of yoga’s philosophy were written down in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in approximately 200 AD. This ancient text provides a blueprint for controlling the mind and how to enjoy lasting peace.

The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:

  1. Yama: Universal morality (societal codes of conduct)
  2. Niyama: Personal observances (personal codes of conduct)
  3. Asana: Body postures (yoga poses)
  4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises and control of Prana (breath)
  5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses (Savasana)
  6. Dharana: Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness (present-moment awareness)
  7. Dhyana: Devotion and meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi: Union with the Divine

The whole system together becomes a way of life. A way to achieve wholeness at all the different levels of who we are – a mind/body/soul. You can be a beacon of light both on and off the mat. Apply some of yoga’s teachings of non-harming, non-grasping, truthfulness, and generosity in your life.

Explore the other limbs. If you’re only practicing asana you are missing out on some amazing stuff. There is a whole world of meditation, breathing exercises, chanting, singing, and being in devotion. Find a teacher and a path that resonates.

The reason Yoga has been around so long and practiced so widely is because the health benefits are so strong. Following is a list of Benefits sited by Yoga Alliance:

  • Stress relief: The practice of yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body. The body responds to stress through a fight-or-flight response, which is a combination of the sympathetic nervous system and hormonal pathways activating, releasing cortisol – the stress hormone – from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is often used to measure the stress response. Yoga practice has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of cortisol. Most yoga classes end with savasana, a relaxation pose, which further reduces the experience of stress.
  • Pain relief: Yoga can ease pain. Studies have shown that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.
  • Better breathing: Yoga includes breathing practices known as pranayama, which can be effective for reducing our stress response, improving lung function and encouraging relaxation. Many pranayamas emphasize slowing down and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience of and response to stress. This may be one of the most profound lessons we can learn from our yoga practice.
  • Flexibility: Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity.
  • Increased strength: Yoga asanas use every muscle in the body, increasing strength literally from head to toe. A regular yoga practice can also relieve muscular tension throughout the whole body.
  • Weight management: While most of the evidence for the effects of yoga on weight loss is anecdotal or experiential, yoga teachers, students and practitioners across the country find that yoga helps to support weight loss. Many teachers specialize in yoga programs to promote weight management and find that even gentle yoga practices help support weight loss. People do not have to practice the most vigorous forms of yoga to lose weight. Yoga encourages development of a positive self-image, as more attention is paid to nutrition and the body as a whole. A study from the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that regular yoga practice was associated with less age-related weight gain. The lifestyle study of 15,500 adults in their 50’s covered 10 years of participants’ weight history, physical activity, medical history and diet.
  • Improved circulation: Yoga helps to improve circulation by efficiently moving oxygenated blood to the body’s cells.
  • Cardiovascular conditioning: Even a gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.
  • Presence: Yoga connects us with the present moment. The more we practice, the more aware we become of our surroundings and the world around us. It opens the way to improved concentration, coordination, reaction time and memory.
  • Inner peace: The meditative effects of a consistent yoga practice help many cultivate inner peace and calm.

 

 

Chia Seeds: Miracle Food or Just Another Fad?

shutterstock_271146815You might be most familiar with chia seeds from their early incarnation as novelty “Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia” Pets in the 1970s and 80s, where sprouted chia seeds became the green “fur” on clay animals.

Although the Chia Pet fad faded away, chia seeds have found the limelight again as a new superfood. So what are chia seeds and just how “super” are they really?

Ancient History of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are small (1 mm) seeds that grow on blue flowering stalks of the salvia hispanicaplant, a member of the mint family native to Mexico and Central America. Historically chia seeds were revered for their high energy and eaten as a staple by Aztecs and Mayans. It is reported that 1 tablespoon of chia seeds could sustain an Aztec warrior for 24 hours.

Extremely high in antioxidants and zinc, among other phytonutrients, chia seeds with their immune-boosting properties were also traditionally used to treat colds and flu, as well as to relieve joint pain and skin conditions. There’s even some evidence to suggest that chia seeds were so valuable to Aztecs that they were traded as currency.

Then, with the arrival of first Europeans to the Americas, chia crops were eradicated during the destruction of the Aztec culture. Prior to the mid 1970s only a few indigenous farmers grew chia seeds and so they remained virtually unknown outside of Mexico and Central America until recently. For centuries Chia seeds have also fueled the renowned Tarahumara Indians long-distance runners in Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Today chia seeds can be found in health food stores and restaurants. They are used as a binder in foods like puddings—see Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding recipe below—and as a gelatinous substance in some chia fruit drinks.

Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds

New York Times bestselling author, Christopher McDougall writes about chia seeds in his book about the Tarahumara Indians, Born to Run:

“In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone. As tiny as those seeds are, they’re packed with omega-3s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, and antioxidants. If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.”

Chia seeds are packed with nutritional benefits. One ounce (about two tablespoons) of chia seeds is high in protein (4.4 grams), omega-3 fatty acids (5 grams), and fiber (11 grams). They’re also high in several key minerals, with one ounce of chia seeds containing 179mg of calcium, 95mg of magnesium, 244mg of phosphorous, and 115mg of potassium.

Packed with phytonutrients, chia seeds boost the immune system, support bone-building health, and improve hair, skin, and nails. Chia seeds have strong anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce joint inflammation, and recent research suggests that they may also provide some protection from breast cancer.

And unlike flax seeds, chia seeds don’t need to be ground up to make their nutritional benefits bio-available; they can be eaten whole.

Chia Seeds for Weight Loss

Though there are many chia seed weight-loss claims out there, studies at several universities have not shown any correlation between chia seed diets and actual weight loss.

That said, chia seeds have been touted for weight loss because they pack a lot of protein and fiber into a small amount of food, helping to slow digestion and suppress the appetite by making you feel full. One of the ways chia seeds can make you feel full is by expanding in your stomach during digestion. Interestingly, chia seeds act like sponges absorbing about 12 times their volume when exposed to water.

Because of their hydrophilic (water-absorbing) properties, you should drink plenty of water when eating dry chia seeds so they don’t pull water out of your system as they expand. Alternatively you can soak them in water before eating them.

When used in cooking and baking, chia seeds absorb a lot of the moisture content, plumping up to act as a binder or filler, with a consistency similar to cooking with flax seed meal or tapioca. This is one reason their consistency makes such a great pudding, similar to tapioca.

Health Risks of Chia Seeds

While chia seeds have many wonderful nutritional benefits, they also have a few potential side effects. Due to their high omega-3 content, chia seeds can cause thinning of the blood, so it’s recommended that you talk to your doctor before eating them if you’re on blood thinners, taking aspirin regularly, or are having surgery.

Studies on heart disease and diabetes have shown chia seeds to be effective at lowering blood pressure and controlling blood sugar. Studies also indicate that chia seeds may boost the effects of blood pressure and blood sugar medications. If you take medications for diabetes or heart disease, chia seeds can interact with those medications, so it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before eating them.

Though allergies to chia seeds are uncommon, there is some evidence to suggest that cross-reactivity (when the immune system confuses one food for another molecularly similar food and causes an immune response) can exist between chia seeds and certain foods that are molecularly similar, including thyme, oregano, mustard, and sesame.

Chia seeds have also been known to cause gastric distress both in the form of constipation or diarrhea, due to their high fiber content. It’s interesting to note that ancient Aztecs also used chia seeds as a laxative.

Taking bio-individuality into account (meaning that every body is slightly different and what works well for one body may not work for the next body), if you’re new to eating chia seeds you may want to start in moderation, with just one teaspoon, and build up from there.

Tip: Make sure your chia seeds are GMO-free.

If you’re eager to try chia seeds but don’t know where to start, try this easy-to-make chia seed pudding.

Chocolate Chia Pudding Gluten-free | Vegan

Ingredients

4 tablespoons black chia seeds

3 tablespoons cacao powder

2 tablespoons organic raw honey or organic maple syrup

1 13.5oz.-can of coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk)

Pinch of sea salt

Quart size glass jar with lid

Directions

Place all of the ingredients in the order listed, into a quart size glass jar.

Stir ingredients together, put the lid on and shake it well for a few minutes to mix everything thoroughly.

Refrigerate until thick and pudding-like, at least 4 to 8 hours, shaking or stirring occasionally.

Serve the pudding chilled with toppings if you’d like. See suggested toppings below.

Serves 4

Toppings

Whipped coconut cream

Dark chocolate shavings

Blueberries or raspberries

Crystallized ginger

Coconut flakes

Bananas

Nuts

Pomegranate seeds

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center’s Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

– See more at: http://www.chopra.com/ccl/chia-seeds-miracle-food-or-just-another-fad#sthash.NxvxVJiq.dpuf

Apr
10
0

Spring Cleanse

While you’re in the spring cleaning spirit, take a few minutes to see how you can simplify your life. As we transition into springtime it is an ideal time to sit back and reflect on what may be out of balance in our lives, then take steps to restore our equilibrium.Spring Cleanse

Ayurveda recommends a seasonal cleansing, purification, and renewal process in which we eliminate whatever physical and emotional toxicities we have accumulated, allowing our mind-body to return to a natural state of balance and health. One of my teachers at the Chopra Center, Sheila Patel, M.D., really helped me understand that only after we’ve released the stored toxins that weigh us down can we experience real health.

Here are some simple detoxification practices that I’ve made apart of my own life. I teach these practices in more depth at my workshops but the good news is you can do these at home!

First, set aside a week or at least an extended weekend to disengage as much as possible from the outside world.

Prepare by stocking up on healthy food, getting caught up on bills and errands, and letting friends and families know that you’re going on a personal retreat and not responding to email or phone calls. As best you can, create a sacred space for yourself where you won’t be bothered or distracted. Enlist the people directly around you to honor this time by alleviating you of as many duties as possible.

A thorough program of cleansing and rejuvenation includes:

  1. Practice Meditation and Deep Breathing (Nadi Shodhona is best for this cleansing process). The practice of meditation and deep breathing restore our mind-body to a place of harmony and unity with our true nature. In many Eastern healing traditions, these important self-awareness practices are the foundation of connecting with our divinity or spiritual essence, which is the source of all healing.

A simple meditation practice used for thousands of years is the technique of observing the breath. You can try this meditation right now by finding a quiet place to sit comfortably. Now close your eyes and put your attention on the inhale and exhale of your breath. If your mind drifts away from your breath, gently return it to the object of your focus. Try this for a few minutes and observe how your body and mind feel both before and after the practice.  You can use this meditation practice during your cleansing and rejuvenation process.

  1. Exercise! 
Various forms of mind-body exercise mobilize and move stored toxins out of the physical and emotional body and towards our channels of elimination.  When performed deliberately and mindfully, yoga is a deeply cleansing and rejuvenating practice that also helps us experience the unity of our body, mind, and spirit.

Other mind-body exercises include tai chi, Chi Walking, and qigong. I would recommend mindful walking or other gentle activities (nothing that demands too much energy like cycling or running – this is a week to renew). This movement can be practiced for 30−60 minutes a day, preferably in the morning and/or early evening.

  1. Indulge in Daily Sauna Therapy
Externally heating the body increases the circulation to our tissues, mobilizes toxins, and dilates our channels of circulation (known as srotas) to facilitate movement of toxicity away from the tissues so that they can more easily be eliminated.

Many gyms or health clubs have saunas; I’ve recently become a fan of Hot Yoga. There are many Yoga Studios around town that offer Hot Yoga. If you don’t already belong to a Yoga Studio or belong to a gym, you could find one in your area offering a free trial week – or try a day pass at the YMCA or other public recreation center. If none of these options are available to you, you can run a very hot bath or shower to create a sauna effect, or sit in a warm tub.

Listen to your body to guide you as far as the proper amount of time to heat the body. Because there are different mind-body types (or doshas), some may feel ready to step out of the sauna or shower after 5 to 10 minutes, while others can remain for 15 to 20 minutes. Placing a cool, moist cloth on your head reduces the chance of lightheadedness and allows the head to stay cool while the body heats up. In addition, some people may prefer a moist sauna, while others prefer dry heat. Experiment a little to see what serves you best.

Sit quietly and imagine the stored toxicity being mobilized and eliminated.   A quick rinse after breaking out in a sweat allows you to visualize the released toxicity flowing off of you. Drink plenty of water before and after the sauna.

4.  Enjoy Nutrient-Rich, Fresh Foods

Ayurveda teaches us to use food as our medicine. Choose plant-based, organic foods of all colors and prepare them in a healthy way. The natural rejuvenative phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables neutralize toxicity and restore our tissues and energies to balance.

Ideally, the food you ingest during your cleanse should be light to strengthen your digestive fire, or agni. Try steamed vegetables, rice and dahl, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and dairy and animal products. Eat slowly and mindfully, paying attention to and appreciating the nourishment the food is giving you.

To facilitate digestion and elimination, make this recipe for sesame bliss balls, containing ghee (clarified butter), sesame seeds, raisins, and herbs with detoxifying and cleansing properties.

Recipe for Sesame Bliss Balls

1 cup toasted sesame seeds

½ cup golden raisins or regular raisins (unsulphered)

2 teaspoons ground ginger powder

2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1½ teaspoons ground cardamom

2½ tablespoons ghee or organic sunflower oil or flax oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix together until well incorporated. Roll into 1-inch balls. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated.

  1. Treat Yourself to a Healing Massage
Your cleanse will ideally include Ayurvedic massage using large amounts of warm herbalized oils. Ayurvedic massage is designed to free up our channels of energy and circulation, and mobilize toxicity stored deep within our tissues. Massage and hands-on healing techniques energize and rejuvenate us, and have been shown to increase our mood and sense of wellbeing while decreasing stress. If you don’t have access to authentic Ayurvedic massage therapy, you will still benefit from relaxation or other types of massage – whatever feels right to you.

You may also treat yourself to a daily Ayurvedic self-massage known as the self-abhy. Find instructions for a self-abhy here.

  1. Try Detoxifying and Rejuvenating Herbs
Ayurveda recommends the use of specific herbs that can cleanse the organs and rejuvenate the tissues. Some of the recommended herbs include triphala, ashwagandha, guggulu, brahmi, ginger, turmeric, and neem, among others. These herbs help by enhancing our bodies’ own detoxification pathways. They have also been shown to contain helpful natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, as well as several anti-cancer chemicals. At an energetic level, they help to balance our doshas as well.

The appropriate doses of certain herbs may vary, depending on a person’s balance and other medical issues. Check with your health care provider or practitioner  as recommendations will depend on your individual mind-body type, medical conditions, and other medications you may be taking.  However, most people can benefit without any side effects from the following regimen:

Triphala: 1,000mg, twice daily

Turmeric capsules: 500mg, 2−3 times daily

Ashwagandha: 500mg, twice daily

Fresh ginger tea: 5−6 servings each day

How to Make Ginger Tea

Ginger tea has a strong cleansing effect on the body, mobilizing toxins and restoring balance. It benefits the digestive system and helps reduce cravings for sweet and salty foods. Prepare ginger tea by adding one teaspoon of grated or sliced fresh ginger root to a cup of hot water. We encourage you to get a thermos bottle so that you can sip ginger tea throughout the day.

  1. Get Plenty of Rest. 
Our mind-body has an incredible system of detoxification and self-healing, and by removing ourselves from some of the daily stressors and distractions in life for a short while, we can enhance our innate healing powers. Each day, take some time for yourself to sit and rest in a peaceful environment.  Consider disconnecting from watching the news, or spending unnecessary time on the computer or phone.

Get plenty of sleep each night and take a nap if you feel the need. A lot of our body’s healing takes place when we sleep. Ideally, we should be in bed by 10−10:30 p.m. in order to maximize our natural detoxification process.  Melatonin, our natural sleep hormone, is an important anti-oxidant, and studies are showing that it has beneficial effects on other hormones in our bodies as well as on the immune system.

Bright lights in the evening suppress our natural melatonin levels and make it more difficult for us to sleep; in addition to interfering with the beneficial effects that melatonin has on our physiology at night. It is best to avoid bright lighting and stimulation in the evening. Take this week to develop a good nightly routine. Engage in relaxing activities in the evening to prepare yourself for sleep such as drinking chamomile or valerian tea, and light candles or incense scented with lavender or sandalwood.

  1. Connect to Nature. Spending time in nature is deeply restorative. Take time during your week to nourish each of your senses with nature’s beauty and healing power. Gaze up into the space of the night sky, feel the wind on your face and the warmth of the sun; listen to ocean waves or a bubbling brook (if you don’t live near water, there are wonderful nature recordings that you can use). Walk barefoot on the earth.
  1. Keep a Journal
. Writing is an extremely useful tool for self-reflection and emotional detoxification. Take time each evening to write about what you have been feeling both physically and emotionally. Note what you are grateful for, and then try to identify things in your life that you would like to eliminate. Write about how it will feel when these things have been eliminated − and also identify what you would like to bring into this space that you will create in your life.

By engaging in regular programs of purification and rejuvenation, you will allow yourself to eliminate any stored toxicity and strengthen and revitalize your mind-body. In this process, you will connect to your wholeness and allow your true and beautiful nature to emerge.

 

*Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, fitness, or other health program.

 

The environment in which food is prepared and consumed makes an important contribution to the nourishing influence food has on the body. By paying attention to a few simple principles, you can help your system extract the highest levels of nourishment from everything you eat.

  • Eat in a settled atmosphere.
  • Don’t eat when you are upset.
  • Sit down to eat.
  • Eat only when you feel hungry.
  • Reduce ice-cold foods and drinks; they put out your fire.
  • Don’t talk while chewing your food, engage in light-hearted conversations.
  • Eat at a moderate pace, neither too fast nor too slow.
  • Wait until one meal is digested before eating the next.
  • Sip warm water with your meals.
  • Eat freshly cooked meals whenever possible. Reduce FLUNC (frozen, leftover, un-cooked, nuked [microwaved] and canned) foods
  • Minimize raw foods – cooked food is much easier to digest.
  • Do not cook with honey, replace with maple syrup. Honey can be used as a condiment.
  • Drink milk separately from meals, preferably warm and either alone or with other sweet foods.
  • Experience all six tastes at every meal.
  • Leave one-third to one-quarter of your stomach empty to aid digestion.

Sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal. Take a walk if you can.

 

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denise@falconyoga.com