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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Diet

Today, our fourth point is proper diet.  According to yogic belief, the optimal diet is the vegetarian diet.  I know to many meat eaters, this idea sound extreme!  It sounded extreme to me when I studied at an ashram this past October: I had been eating meat for 24-years and now they wanted me to give it up!? Impossible. Well, not completely impossible. It has been five months since I have touched ANY meat! Now, I will admit, I fall more into the pescetarian category, because I do still eat fish (I haven't been able to part ways with sushi yet.) But, I'm only five months into this new lifestyle, so I feel that's a good start in the right direction.

Enough of personal anecdotes and on to why you may want to consider switching to the vegetarian lifestyle. According to one of my teachers, Swami Sitramananda, the body needs food for two main purposes: for energy and for repairing tissue. To harvest energy and repair tissue, your diet should consist of four things: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals. A lot of meat eaters are under the impression that gaining enough protein from a vegetarian diet can be difficult, but did you know that vegetable tissue contains a higher proportion of ALL these elements than animal tissue? I was surprised as well. Soy beans (as well as soy bean products i.e. tofu), nuts, beans, and milk contain large amounts of protein.  Rice, wheat, oats, and most other grains are sources of carbohydrates. To obtain the healthy levels of fat we need, dive into those protein sources as well as oils, such as olive oil.  Last, minerals can easily be found in vegetables and fruit.

Even though the yogic diet recommends you avoid meat and fish, it does not eliminate all animal products. It actually encourages one to drink healthy amounts of milk and use products such as honey as a substitute for sugar. However, it does suggest that one avoid stimulants and depressants such as: caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs of all kind, overly spicy foods, onions, garlic, eggs, overcooked food, old food, frozen food, canned food, sodas, and processed food. Whew... That was a long list, and I wouldn't expect anyone to quit cold turkey overnight (I am guilty of ingesting a number of items on this list.)

So why incorporate some of these ideas into your diet? First, there is the idea of non-violence. I could go into a whole long and drawn out argument of why the meat industry is terrible, but I won't step up on my soapbox just yet. However, I will say that the meat industry is filled with corruption and cruelty toward animals. Also, the meat is more often than not contaminated with hormones, chemicals, and even fecal matter that you are ingesting.  If you are interested in more information on where your food comes from, I would highly recommend the documentary, Food Inc.  Still not willing to give up meat? Then buy organic, free range foods. With these foods, you are guaranteed that your food is free of hormones, chemicals, and unnecessary cruelty.

Another reason yogis follow the vegetarian diet is it greatly improves one's asana practice and actually helps joints to become more flexible.  Also, with heart disease, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, and other chronic conditions on the rise, the vegetarian diet seems the best way to prevent and remedy these diseases.

Converting to the vegetarian lifestyle and even eliminate things off of that "impossibly" long list can be a very challenging thing... That's why it should be a gradual change.  Slowly incorporate fresher options into your diet.  If you're not willing to give up meat, maybe set aside one night a week where you enjoy a vegetarian meal (Trying new things can be fun!)  But most importantly, educate yourself on where your food comes from. You just may be surprised. Om Namah Sivaya!  

**Information learned from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta. For more information on diet, please visit this link or check out Swami Sitaramananda's book Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy.
***Please note that I am not a medical professional. Please discuss any dietary changes with your doctor.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Relaxation

The next phase of our five point yoga series is relaxation.  Relaxation is absolutely vital to the human body.  How many of us have absolutely ran our bodies down? I know during college, my bodies was continuously in a state of disrepair because I was always pushing it beyond its limits.  Sleeping and eating always came secondary to the many tasks I needed to fulfill... I think it goes without saying that I was always exhausted and became ill very easily.

Yoga breaks relaxation down to three levels: physical, mental, and spiritual.  All three levels must be satisfied in order to fully recharge our bodies.  On the flip side of relaxation, there are also three types of stress, and you probably have guessed them: physical, mental, and spiritual.  In order to relax properly, we must do our best to rid our bodies of stress.

So what causes these stressors that make relaxation difficult? Physical stress comes from too little physical movement and too much repetitive movement (How many work at a desk for 7+ hours a day doing the same task over and over?)  Poor posture can also contribute stress to the body.  Another cause of physical stress is eating a poor diet.  I know far too many people who cling to the idea of convenient instead of exploring more healthy eating options that are just as easy to prepare as a box dinner.  We can eliminate physical stress on the body by correcting our posture and becoming more physically fit (Asana practice is the ideal "workout" for both.)  Also, incorporating fresh foods into our diet instead of relying on preservative infested meals is a quick way to feel a difference in your body.

Mental stress is a result of hectic lifestyles.  Having too much on your plate is enough to make the mind go crazy.  But when you add distractions, low prana, and negative emotions to the mix, relaxing the mind is practically impossible.  One thing that you can do for you mental state is focus on proper breathing.  As stated in my last post, proper breathing brings more oxygen into the body, thus creating more energy or prana.  But the most important step to mental relaxation is focusing on positive thoughts!  Negative thinking drains the body of precious prana, and let's face it, who wants to be around a Negative Nancy?  Instead of thinking, "Oh there's no way I'll be getting that job," think, "I have just as good of chance as anyone else." I know, I know, it's hard to break a habit such as the way we think, but being conscious of those thoughts is the first step.

Lastly, spiritual stress comes from those philosophical questions in life. "Where did I come from?" and, "What is my purpose?" are just a couple examples of these daunting mysteries. Spiritual relaxation is much harder to obtain because it means detaching one's self from the physical body and mind.  Instead of seeing yourself as your body and as your mind, you would only see these things as a vehicles that carry you through life.  You would see the soul (in yogic terms, atman) as the actual self.  Now, this is a highly advanced state of relaxation.  It is very difficult to detach oneself from the believe that they are their appearance, profession, and state of mind.  However, attaining this state is the only way to observe complete relaxation.

I bet many of you are thinking, "Wow, it takes A LOT of work to become relaxed."  No one is expected to pick up these habits in just one day.  It takes years of practice to fully incorporate these ideas into your lifestyle.  It is my hope that this post will inspire you to step back and make an assessment of your life. Maybe there are one or two habits you could possibly tweak in order to incorporate more relaxation into your life.  Om Namah Sivaya!

**Information learned from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta. For more information on proper relaxation, please visit this link.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Breathing

"The Yogi, using the method of pranayama, is able to absorb the energy from the infinite mass that exists behind, uses this energy for his quick growth, and within a short time is able to reach the highest perfection."
-Swami Vishnu-devananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

On Wednesday, I began a new series, pointing out what it is to live the yogic lifestyle by discussing the five points of yoga developed by my guru, Swami Vishnu-devananda.  Today we move on to the second point, proper breathing.

 So, what does it mean to breath "properly"?  In my particular yoga tradition, it means to use the yogic breath, or, three-part breath. To complete the yogic breath, follow these steps:
1. Inhale slowly but deeply into the abdomen.
2.  Once the abdomen is full, start expanding the ribcage.
3.  The last step is the raise the clavicles (collarbones).
The exhale should be done in the same order by caving in the abdomen, ribcage, and finally lowering the clavicles.

But, why breathe this way? The yogic breath places emphasis on using full lung capacity, thus allowing for the intake of more oxygen on the inhale and the release of more toxins on the exhale.  Breathing this way makes us more conscious of how we breath, balances the energy in our system, and helps us use this energy for a higher purpose (Fingers crossed for enlightenment!)

However, the yogic breath alone won't cut it for serious yoga practitioners: It must be combined with pranayama exercises as well.  Pranayama is important because it allows for the control of prana (energy) in the body, thus leading to the control of one's mind (aka serious preparation for obtaining enlightenment).  It is recommended that 15-20 minutes be done everyday.  The two most popular pranayama techniques are Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma, also knows as breath of fire and alternate nostril breathing.  If you are interested in learning these techniques, I would recommend asking a yoga teacher to demonstrate or finding a video on youtube, as describing them can be very difficult.

If you have any questions on proper breathing techniques, please, feel free to ask. Or, you can check out the Sivananda website for more information. Om Namah Sivaya!

** Information learned from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Exercise

"Yoga is a life of self discipline built upon the tenets of simple living and high thinking. If you follow these five points,which compose a true holistic approach to our whole system of body, mind, and soul, you will gain strength and balance in this demanding stressful world.  Obstacles become stepping stones to success, and life is a school for the development of character and compassion and the Realization of the Divine all-pervading Self."
-Swami Vishnu-Devananda in The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

I know that I stated in my last post that I would soon be starting a series on meditation. However, I just didn't feel right about diving right into the act of meditating without at least giving you a brief introduction on what it is to live the "yogic" lifestyle.  So let's do an experiment:  What is the first thing you think of when I say (write) the word 'yoga'?  I bet it was some form of exercise, wasn't it? But did you know that "exercise" is only a small portion of what makes up yoga? That is why I've decided to give you a crash course in the five points of yoga.

My guru, Swami Vishnu-Devananda, very generously broke down the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles.  He synthesized these points so that people like you and me would be able to easily incorporate them into our everyday life.  So, what are these five points? Well I intend on breaking them down for you in my new series!

Point One:  Proper Exercise - Asanas
Many of you are already familiar with this point, because it is what many westerners believe yoga to be in its entirety: exercise.  Asana, when translated, means steady pose.  So why were these poses created and why are they so important to the five points? Asana practice is what prepares one for serious meditation. Think about it:  When you meditate, you sit in the same pose for an extended period of time.  This practice becomes easy when one is able to hold more difficult poses for long periods of time.  Also, asana poses should be done with meaning and concentration, thus furthering your ability to meditate successfully.

Another reason asanas are so important is that the practice strengthens and stretches muscles without using violent movement.  When violent movement is eliminated and thoughtful, precise movements are emphasized, the build-up of lactic acid on muscles is avoided.  We've probably all felt the effects of lactic acid and know that it can cause extreme fatigue to our bodies.  With asana practice, we are actually increasing oxygen circulation in our bodies, thus creating energy.

And finally, let's talk about the effects of asana practice on the mind.  There is a lot of philosophical information I could fill the page with on this topic, but it would take you awhile to read and then I would probably lose you somewhere between the nadis and the prana (See?). So basically, the practice of asanas aligns the body with the mind.  When these two are working in harmony, the practitioner gets a deeper sense of Self and meaning, thus furthering one's meditative experience.

Confused yet? I know, this stuff can blow your mind. But, if you have any questions, hit me up in the comment section below.  And, look out for the next point in the series, proper breathing. Om Namah Sivaya!

** Information learned from the teachings of The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta. For more information on proper exercise, check out this link.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My New Friend: Tea Tree Oil

The last two weeks have been especially crazy, so please forgive me for my lack of postings. :) I have gotten some feedback from a few people and will hopefully be starting a series on meditation in the near future.  But for today, I want to share a holistic sinus remedy since allergy season will soon be upon us!

If you are anything like me, when March hits, you suffer from severe sinus problems.  Springtime means more pollen production which can wreak havoc on the sinus system.  So what are your options when sinusitis hits?  Normally, I would make an appointment with my doctor and take antibiotics (most likely a z-pack).  However, that really wasn't an option for me when I developed a sinus infection this past week:  My husband and I were driving from Mississippi to Texas.  So in an attempt to get well, I began googling home-remedies for sinusitis and one thing kept popping up: tea tree oil.

Tea tree oil originates from the leaves of the melaleuca alternifolia tree which is native to Australia.  It has a variety of uses such as a household cleaner, a pesticide (especially effective on lice), a skin rejuvenator,  and is effective at treating bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.  In my research, I found that tea tree oil, when used effectively, can actually kill the bacteria that causes a sinus infection.  At first, I was skeptical.  Then, I realized I had little to no other option, so I gave it a shot.

According to Tree Hugger, the following steps can be taken in order to ward off a sinus infection. What you will need:
*1 bottle of tea tree oil - Please do not confuse with tea oil. It is completely different. You can usually find tea tree oil in the vitamin section of your pharmacy.
*A sauce pan large enough to boil water.
*Olive oil

First, you will want to fill the saucepan with water and add a few drops of the tea tree oil (maybe a tsp worth).  Bring the water to a boil and inhale the steam.  Be careful to not inhale too closely or too deeply because irritation may occur.  Inhale for twenty-minutes or so. You can even drape a towel over your head in order to catch the steam, just be careful not to set yourself on fire. This can be done twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.  I pulled a bar stool up to the stove and hung out for twenty-minutes while listening to the TV. Not too bad considering the results.

Another thing you can do to kill bacteria, is make a tea tree salve.  This is where the olive oil comes in.  Mix about 1 tbs of olive oil with about 1/2 tsp of tea tree oil.  After mixing, you can apply it under your nose, or even inside the nostril if you aren't especially sensitive to the tea tree oil.  I would not recommend applying tea tree oil alone to the skin.  It can prove to be a skin irritant, which is why I cut it with olive oil.  You can apply as needed. I personally only apply it before bed.

After two days of this routine, mixed with sleeping with a humidifier and nasal strips, I am feeling much better.  This is going to sound gross, but I am no longer producing bright yellow mucus (hooray!), my nose is no longer itchy, and I'm less congested.  I plan on doing the routine for the next couple of days just to make sure I fully kill the infection.

Hopefully this little remedy helps you as much as it has helped me.  I know if another infections hits, I'm using tea tree oil again instead of rushing to the doctor's office! Om Namah Sivaya!

** Please note that I am not a medical professional.  My advice should never replace the opinion of a trained medical doctor.  

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mission, Complete

So today marks the final sequence of the 21-day challenge!  If you were able to complete the challenge, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for a job well done! And if you never got around to doing any of the sequences, they're still available online for your viewing pleasure.  :)

Now that the challenge is over, I've gotta figure out what I want to write about.  So here's what I'm thinking: I'm thinking of making a schedule where I dedicate a specific day for different topics.  But I need your help in deciding what topics are important.  Would you like to know more about  specific asanas? Want more information on the vegetarian/organic lifestyle?  If there's anything that interests you, please let me know in the comment box. :) Anyone can comment, even if you don't have a blogger account. *hint, hint* Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Om Namah Sivaya!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spinach Lasagna

Upon checking my email today, I noticed that today's challenge is the core sequence again. I love that sequence, but I won't bore anyone by repeating how I feel about it. So while making dinner, I was thinking of what I could right about today instead. And then it hit me, I could write about what I was having for dinner!

An important part of the yogic lifestyle is a vegetarian diet. When I found this out, I was highly concerned. How would I ever be able to give up meat!? But I am now nearly four-months clean and haven't really missed it.  In fact, I was nearly sick last night watching my husband cut into a steak at dinner (Which I did not cook. I refuse to prepare or clean up after meat products.) I had to get up from the table!

Tonight, I decided to prepare a quick and easy vegetarian dinner: Spinach Lasagna. It's delicious and the best part is, it's meat free! Take a look at the recipe and give it a try. :)

Vegetarian Spinach Lasagna:
Oven Temp: 350
Cook time: one hour
Serves 4

What you will need:
8 lasagna noodles (I like to use the precooked kind)
1 (10 oz) packaged frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (24-oz) jar marinara sauce
1 cup mozzarella
parmesan, to taste

*** I personally try to buy organic products. Also, you may want more or less mozzarella depending on your taste. :) I also use a small glass dish to cook the lasagna in... It's about an 8x8.

-Preheat the oven. Prepare noodles as directed on packaging (A great reason to use precooked!)
-Squeeze the water from the spinach and place in a large bowl.  Add the lemon juice, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
This is the order that I like to layer:
1. 1/4 jar of sauce
2. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/2 of spinach mixture, 1/4 jar of sauce
3. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/4 jar of sauce
4. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella, 1/2 of spinach mixture, 1/4 jar of sauce
5. 2 noodles, 1/4 cup mozzarella

I also like to put a bit of parmesan on top, but you may not. Once you have it prepared, cover with tinfoil and cook for 45-minutes.  Remove tinfoil and cook for 15 more minutes. And then voila! Served with a side-salad, you have a nice, healthy vegetarian dinner that was easy to make. And to make life even more simplistic, you can prepare the dish early, refrigerate, and bake later.

Mmmmm... Cheese.

Look at those delicious layers!

Let me know if you decide to try this delicious meal. Om Namah Sivaya!