Health & Wellness Blog

Low Back Safety: 

Safety Tips for the Winter Season

For those of us in the Northeast U.S. and anywhere with heavy snowfall, navigating through the "Dog Days" of Winter is tough enough without adding a low back strain or injury to the mix.

Prevention: The best way to avoid injury is to avoid the shoveling if you can :-)

If you have to shovel, Here are some simple reminders and ideas to help you stay safe:

1) Buy or borrow a snow-blower

2) Hire someone to blow the snow and/or shovel.

3) Please use an "ergonomic" shovel -- with an extra bend in the handle to help with the lifting.  


Body Mechanics -- When we bend forward, with our head out in front of shoulders and hips, we put extra strain on our neck & shoulder muscles, and in turn the cervical vertebrae.

The longer you stay in this position, the more strain you are adding and the more pain you will end up in. If you are normally sitting at a computer or over a steering wheel during the day, the effect will also be one of over-stretching the muscles and ligaments that are meant to keep the cervical spine in place.

Add to that the motion of shoveling and the weight of the snow in the shovel and you can easily create some BIG KNOTS in your neck and shoulders!


And remember: 

  • Pushing snow forward (or any weight) is always a preferable motion to pulling it.
  • Make sure to keep your elbows slightly bent as you push so that your muscles are working and you're not grinding down your cartilage in the joints.
  • A slight bend in the knees will also go a long way in protecting those joints too.
  • When you are out there with shovel or snow-blower, also stay mindful of your twisting and turning with the spine -- remember to take a deep inhale before turning your mid-body, this will allow the discs some room to expand and you can avoid herniation or nerve impingement.
     

Before you Shovel, PLEASE:

1) Do some yoga stretches down on the floor for low back, hips and obliques.

2) Shovel in small amounts -- take lots of breaks.

3) Shovel with a partner -- spouse, adult child, neighbor, friend -- many hands make for lighter work.

4) Keep your cell phone in your pocket in case of emergency, ESPECIALLY if you end up having to shovel alone.

5) Everyone knows to keep their knees bent, but stay mindful so that you don't forget!

6) Keep your knees slightly bent even as you CARRY snow in your shovel - do your best to stay upright and keep elbows in to your sides.

7) Whenever possible, keep the shovel on the ground and PUSH the snow aside -- it's the safest way to go.

8) Switch the shovel to your other hand/arm every 10 to 15 minutes -- giving each side an even workout.

9) Use deep, deliberate breaths in and out to stay fully present in the moment, tuning into your body and recognizing your physical limitations.

10) Allow yourself to STOP when you feel fatigued instead of pushing through -- that's when injuries are most likely to happen.

11) Do some yoga stretches when you come back inside -- get down on your back -- knees into chest, half-frog on your belly, you can also swing your legs over a chair or sofa and stay there for 5 minutes.  This will loosen up the low back and hip muscles.

12) If you have a heating pad or a neck/shoulder wrap, use them!!  You will sleep a lot better and release lots of tension BEFORE there is any muscle spasm, etc.

13) Have some medicinal hot chocolate (low sugar) or herbal tea when you come back inside :-)

**If you already HAVE a low back, hip or knee problem, you really have no business going out and removing the snow. It's worth it to spend some money to have someone else do the work and avoid hurting yourself!

Lastly, take a break from the gym workouts if you've been shoveling snow; that's plenty of cardio!! BUT DON'T SKIP YOGA!! Yoga is different -- even if you are sore, the stretching will be really good for your neck and whole spine!! You will be very happy you came when you are relaxing on your back in savasana :-)

Take care and be safe out there.  

The Power of Yoga Therapy --

An Interview with Vandita Kate Marchesiello

 

As a yoga therapist myself, I was very excited to hear that the theme for the 23rd Annual KYTA Conference is "The Power of Yoga Therapy" and I am thrilled to be presenting this year! Can you speak about the process of choosing the theme and the presenters?

 

The world of yoga continues to grow and expand. Kripalu is very interested in supporting yoga teachers who in turn focus on the needs of their students. Yoga Therapy provides insights, methodologies, and techniques beyond basic training and serves Kripalu’s vision of an awakened, compassionate, and connected world.

 

How long ago did Kripalu Center begin training yoga teachers? I am suspecting that it's one of the oldest programs and schools out there.

 

Yoga teacher training was initiated by Amrit Desai in the 70’s as Hatha Yoga, it was later in the 80’s that it was named Kripalu in honor of Amrit’s teacher in India, Swami Kripalu.

 

Shobhan Richard Faulds has said, Kripalu is a "living wisdom tradition," that is, it is alive and constantly evolving, thanks to all of the staff on-site and all of us teachers who go out into the world. And in spite of the turbulence, discomfort and personnel changes at Kripalu Center that happen over the years, somehow the message of Swami Kripalu still feels present to me. Can you share your feelings about how KYTA has grown and evolved over the years along with the Kripalu tradition, and how it's role has changed to serve teachers?

 

KYTA-the Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association was birthed from the Kripalu International Network-KIN 23 years ago and has grown from an organization of a couple of hundred members to one that now encompasses the Kripalu School of Ayurveda as well as the graduates from the Kripalu School of Yoga with nearly 2500 members. Now with 35 tangible benefits that include CD’s, discounts on visits and trainings at Kripalu, and eligibility for grants to teach yoga to underserved populations, KYTA is part of a larger umbrella known at KPA-the Kripalu Professional Associations. The essential teachings of Swami Kripalu continue to be the corner stone for KPA and Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.

 

 

I feel like we are really blessed to have an organization like KYTA for support. I've been a member since I graduated back in 2003 and you and your staff have always been a great resource for me. What is "new" in KYTA and at the Conference?

 

KPA, the umbrella for KYTA and KAPA - the Kripalu Ayurveda Practitioners Association, is now overseen by Micah Mortalli who is also the director of both of these schools. He and I have collaborated to create this year's conference, The Power of Yoga Therapy. The associations will offer new benefits in 2015 that we look forward to announcing in the coming year. Watch for this information in Sangha, the monthly newsletter of the associations.

 

Are there projects and programs for KYTA members that you are in the process of developing?

 

In 2015 we will launch new modules in the 500 hour Yoga Teacher Training-these too will be announced soon is Sangha and highlighted in the winter catalog.

 

What are you excited to share with Kripalu teachers and the upcoming conference?

 

  • Sat Bir Khalsa will share important research information regarding yoga therapy and it’s proven benefits.
  • Stephen Cope will deliver a dharma talk on building a secure and flexible self.
  • Amy Weintraub has prepared a talk on the Koshas and how they relate to yoga therapy.
  • Priti Robyn Ross will share one patient’s remarkable story on adapting yoga for a serious condition.
  • Beth Gibbs, the director of the Professional Yoga Therapist Internship program, will speak about the emerging field of yoga therapy and its growing acceptance as a complement to allopathic medicine.

  

This year's KYTA Conference on "The Power of Yoga Therapy" will take place October 14 through 17th at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. All yoga teachers from all traditions are welcome to attend.

 

Raven Sadhaka Seltzer, MA, E-RYT 500 is a yoga therapist, back pain expert, author and Executive Director of the Boston Wellness Center project. She will be introducing her ground-breaking Yoga Teacher Training program: "Back to Balance: Heal Your Spine, Heal Your Life" at this year's KYTA Conference.

 

For more information and registration, please see the website: http://kripalu.org/be_a_part_of_kyta/35

 

 

 

Leg & Foot Cramps Explained

Electrolytes and hydration will help

So many people, including myself, have issues in class with a muscle cramping up in the toes or the calves. Now that I've been studying anatomy and physiology again over the summer, I've had a really great review of what happens and how to possibly prevent this. Just to be clear -- no one knows for sure what causes the cramping, but there are at least 3 possible reasons and 2 of them are easily remedied.

"Electrolytes" are the positively and negatively charged ions that dissolve in water. In our body, there are a number of these ions present that are necessary for balancing our internal environment.

When it comes to muscle contraction and relaxation, the 4 main ones are: Sodium, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium. Sodium ions constrict and Potassium ions relax the muscle with Calcium and Magnesium triggering each phase of the action.

If someone is low in Potassium, that singular deficiency can permit a cramp to occur. Without enough Potassium available to complete the relaxing cycle, a random signal (or even a conscious one) can leave almost any muscle in a locked position.
 
The supply of Calcium and Magnesium as we age is often insufficient, though blood tests are not always an accurate measure of this. If you do get frequent muscle cramps, chances are you have a deficiency.
Of course, this is what Gatorade is all about -- and G2 Lo Cal Gatorade has less sugar and is loaded with electrolytes. You can also check out Powerade Zero and Vitamin Water Zero. Try out the different brands, read those labels and see if you notice a difference for yourself. Of course, if you have Diabetes or any other medical condition, make sure you check with your doctor. 
For myself, I researched and selected a product by Trace Minerals Research called "40,000 Volts! Electrolyte Concentrate." It comes in an 8 fluid oz. size and is Gluten Free and Certified Vegan. The 4 main electrolytes are in it, plus Sulfate and Boron. I mainly use this product at home, putting a teaspoon into some water or juice according to the instructions. It does not require refrigeration so it could travel with you. You can also by this online or at Whole Foods Market. 


The other 2 possible causes of muscle cramps are 1) dehydration and 2) lactic acid build up. It never hurts to drink more water and I always encourage people to bring a bottle of water to class. As for lactic acid build-up, this primarily happens after extreme and strenuous physical activity. My gentle yoga classes would not cause this, but if you do any other serious working out at the gym, this may be your problem. Chances are it's not -- go with drinking more water AND try an electrolyte drink or solution added in and see if it makes a difference.

Please remember to check with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns, especially if you have diabetes or any other medical conditions.

 

Nasal Rinsing for Sinus Health (The Practice of Jhala Neti)

by Raven Sadhaka Seltzer, MA, E-RYT 500

Neti pots have become all the rage in the last few years which is a funny thing since they have been around for thousands of years. As the song goes "everything old is new again."

 

I was amazed to find about 7 different makes and models of Neti Pots or "nasal rinse cups" in my local CVS. A little bit of trademark trivia for you -- the term "neti pot" was trademarked by the Himalayan Institute in the U.S. a number of years ago when they began making and selling their own ceramic version of the ancient one. I believe they also were granted a trademark on the design which looks a bit like a very small genie lamp.

 

Unfortunately, this means that no other company can use the term "neti pot" or the classic design. Regardless, the practice of "Jala Neti" is ancient and can be very beneficial to anyone, and especially to those who are prone to allergies, hay fever, head colds, sinus infections, etc. It has helped me to get through many a winter without getting an upper respiratory infection, and it has also relieved my hay fever in Spring and Summer and allowed me to avoid taking some of the usual OTC medications.

 

Jhala Neti is the rinsing of the nasal passages with warm, saline water. The head is tilted slightly to one side as the pot is placed just slightly inside of the nostril. Water flows up into the nostril through the passageway in center and drains out the other side. It's a very gentle process which irrigates the nasal passages and loosens any debris and bacteria that may have gotten stuck there.

 

Sometimes I also put a few drops of Nasya oil (medicated sesame oil) into the pot as well in order to keep the nasal passages lubricated. This is especially useful during the winter time when we are spending most of our time indoors with dry heat blowing around and causing a lot of discomfort by over-drying the nose and the eyes.

 

I know I initially had a lot of issues about putting a spout in my nose and pouring water through to the other side. I had had some bad experiences using nasal inhalers and I was dreading how uncomfortable or forceful it would be. Well, it wasn't at all and the relief that followed after trying this was worth any inconvenience or slight discomfort.

 

It's common to fill the neti pot with warm water and either 1/4 to a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt or you can use a pre-mixed and measured salt/baking soda powder from NeilMed. The packets from NeilMed are great for traveling purposes. I use about 1/2 a pot on one side and then blow my nose (you really have no choice) and use the other half for the other nostril. If you are having an acute situation and needing to clear out lots of mucous, you can use a whole pot of water for each side.

 

I highly recommend using a lead-free, porcelain or ceramic rinse cup. Banyan Botanicals sells a very good version and sometimes I have these in stock for my workshops. I would advise against using any of the soft or hard plastic nasal rinse cups as they are ultimately not as sanitary as ceramic/porcelain -- they need to be put through the dishwasher and the hot water activates the chemical in the plastic (you can smell them with the soft squeeze bottles) and you also have to discard them after 3 month. They are not recycable and will end up in a landfill somewhere. If you must use plastic and need to bring it along if you travel a lot, use the hard plastic model -- the best one is from Himalayan Institute and is dishwashable.

 

There's been a great deal written about Jhala Neti over the centuries. Not only is this practice powerful for your physical health, but it also clears the mind and the emotions. It is yet another form of yoga and self-care. I do demos of using a neti pot in my workshops. I believe they also have videos posted on YouTube with more detailed instructions.

 

Priced at about $15 to $20, it is a great investment in a healthy tool and practice. The woman in the photo is using the same nasal rinse pot that I have, available from Banyan Botanicals.

 



Ayurveda for Spring: Thawing Out & Cleansing

Just as the northern hemisphere is thawing out and warming up, so are our bodies, minds and spirits. And they can always use a gentle helping hand. Melting is good!

 

Spring is a time of softening, opening, coming back into the flow -- like the Fall, it is also a great time for cleansing. Now we are working on letting go of any stagnant energy or ideas -- foods should still be warm and cooked whole grains and veggies (not over-cooked). Bitter greens are a favorite for cleaning out the intestines -- lightly sautee some kale or collard greens or dandelion greens for yourself. Kapha is the dominant dosha which flows into Pitta as we work our way into the warmer months of summer. 

 

As you move into your Spring cleansing, let it be gentle -- taper off heavy foods and introduce more of the lighter foods to counter the dominant Kapha energy. Drink more warm water/hot teas. Dandelion tincture can be a great addition to your daily regimen. A dropper full in water or tea two or three times a day before a meal is very healing. 

 

As strawberries come into season, eat these as a snack -- they are delicious, fat and sugar-free, and the small seeds also help to gently cleanse the intestinal tract.

 

This is also a time of planting for late summer and early fall harvest -- and it's a time of blossoming. Our bodies and lives very naturally mirror these phases and seasonal shifts. Staying tuned into the moon phases can also be very helpful. The full moon is usually associated with a great deal of intense energy and creativity, where as the new or dark moon is connected with more introspection and withdrawal into the self for healing and nurturing.

 

This is also a great time of year for gentle yoga twists to help dislodge and wring out the abdominal organs and the spine of any toxins that accumulated over the winter months.

 

Ayurveda for Summer: Staying cool when it's hot!

As we work our way into the heat of the summer months, here are some basic tips you can use to stay cool:

 

If you are a Pitta-dominant person, the summer will aggravate you more than any other season, especially if there is extreme heat and humidity. Too much heat will make you angry, irritable and difficult to be with. Do what you can to cool yourself down on all fronts.

 

This is the best time of year for raw foods -- cold salads with vegetables. Still use the best quality organics as possible.

 

Drink cool or room temperature water and beverages and avoid extremes (nothing too cold). There are always exceptions of course -- if you've just played sports in the hot sun, then your body heat is high so ice and cold are fine!! I am talking about in all of the moments when you are not physically exerting yourself.

 

Even in the hot summer, our stomach and intestines need heat to breakdown and digest food. Downing a tall glass of iced tea with lots of ice will douse that inner digestive fire -- especially if you drink it WHILE eating a meal.

 

Along those lines, drink any large quantities between meals when you have no food in your system. During meals, just take sips. This will also aid your digestion.



Every time you consume large quantities of a cold liquid, your digestive system has to work that much HARDER to warm itself up and breakdown food. This extra energy needed will actually create more heat in the body. Think about what happens when you push on the gas pedal too much as you are trying to start your car -- the engine gets flooded! There is no spark to start the car.

 

In the human body, repeating this habit over and over again ends up causing indigestion and eventually acid reflux and finally ulcers and more serious conditions, like colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You wash away enzymes and good bacteria while dousing the fire -- and it leaves your "engine" unable to run properly! And this causes a great deal of discomfort.

 

Practicing these two awarenesses and habits alone will make a difference!!

 

Ayurveda for Fall: Staying Grounded and Warm

The dosha associated with the Fall season is Vata. The qualities of this dosha are dry, rough, cold.

 

The harvest is drawing to a close, the wind is beginning to pick-up and the trees are drying out. Their leaves will soon be changing color which is due to that process of losing moisture. Finally, the leaves will turn brown, shrivel up completely and fall off of the trees.

 

Notice how busy everything gets in September -- school starts again, everyone is back from vacations and working hard. We are blowing around with busy-ness from activity to activity. We may feel more uncomfortable and irritable physically and emotionally due to dry sinuses and dust and other irritants picked up by the breezes. The skin will start to become more dry -- so will the eyes. And when the autumn chill comes, we'll be needing some warmth and comfort in all areas of our lives.

 

Here are a few things you can try to stay grounded, calm and warm as the season changes:

 

Take walks and connect with the natural world.

 

Start or continue a meditation practice for a short time, twice a day (morning and evening)

 

Try using a neti pot with a couple drops of nasya oil in the water -- this will lubricate and cleanse your nasal passages.

 

Stick to warm, cooked foods and beverages -- stay away from cold salads, raw foods and beverages. Soups are great at this time of year.

 

Cut back on or quit your caffeine intake -- caffeine badly aggravates Vata and add to your chaotic feelings.

 

Ayurveda for Winter: Hibernating & Stoking the Fire

This is the time of the dark days, where it feels best to stay inside and go deep inside of ourselves to nurture and nourish what we want to blossom in the Spring. We need to take the time to stoke our own inner fire, both literally and figuratively.

 

In Ayurveda, this is known as Kapha season. Kapha is associated with the qualities of earth -- heavy, solid, moist/damp, cold. If you have a Kapha-dominant dosha, you are most likely very uncomfortable in the winter months -- you easily get chilled and the dampness affects your joints and the darkness affects your mood. All of us get moody, actually, and feel sluggish, especially when the weather is quite cold and the sky is dark. It has been a remarkably mild winter season here in New England, but we still have our days and it's good to be consistently aware of how you are feeling and using adjustments in diet and lifestyle to create a deeper sense of well-being.

 

Using food is our first line of defense against the winter blues -- cut out most if not all raw foods/vegetables: they are harder too digest and they are cold, dry, rough. Think about this from a common sense standpoint -- the qualities of the food you eat will manifest that same feeling or "weather" inside of you. Raw foods are much more appropriate for the summer months when the body craves coolness and relief from the heat outside.

 

Soups, stews and cooked whole grains and vegetables are great, nurturing winter dishes. It's the perfect time of year for Kitchari (the ancient basmati rice dish), especially as we head into Spring.

 

Warm or mildly hot (in temperature) beverages are ideal at this time of year -- and in general, you want to avoid ice and cold drinks in all seasons as they douse the "agni" or digestive fire.

 

Warming spices are very good in Kapha season -- especially ginger, cumin, cloves and cinnamon. A cup of warm milk with cinnamon is a great tonic before bed; it will promote a more restful sleep.

 

Abhyanga or self-massage with oil can be a great addition to your daily routine, any time of year. In the winter, run hot water in your sink and let your oil applicator bottle sit in it for a time -- you will then have warm oil to soothe the skin and joints. Any massage is great for circulation and moving lymph.

Review of NeilMed Sinus Rinse kit -- May 2010

          It's been a busy Spring and I have been meaning to offer this "review" since early April, right after my last Yoga and Ayurveda workshop. This fits in beautifully with the last short piece I wrote below on the practice of "Jala Neti."
          People frequently ask me for opinions on products and want to tell me about new things they've found. It's difficult for me to comment on something I have not tried, so when a couple of the participants in the last workshop mentioned this Sinus Rinse kit, I wanted to check it out.
          I went into CVS and was surprised to see that the Neti Pot has truly gone commercial! CVS decided to make their own generic, hard plastic version. And there are several other options available -- two that use a soft plastic squeeze bottle (Ayr and NeilMed Sinus Rinse). The Sinus Rinse kit retailed for about $14; the plastic neti pots were selling for $15-$20.
          Before I go on to review the plastic bottles, I want to share that the real, old-fashioned (centuries old, that is) neti pot looks something like a genie lamp. There's a reason this design and this practice has been around since about 5000 B.C. -- it works!!

         Once you've mixed your warm water and sea salt solution, you place the spout up to the side of one nostril to create a seal and tilt your head in the opposite direction (over a sink)  and allow the water to flow from one nostril up and through your nasal passage and out the other nostril. It might sound kind of gross or uncomfortable, but it's not -- it takes a little getting used to and the benefits far outweigh any messiness or inconvenience.

           The ideal material for a neti pot is lead-free ceramic -- it's the most sanitary -- a hard, solid, smooth surface is much easier to clean and disinfect, and is dishwashable.
          Getting down to the actual use and comfort factor of the SinusMed bottles: I squeezed and the water shot right up and over. I was surprised at how forceful the bottle was! I found it jarring and uncomfortable, regardless of the saline solution inside. I wondered if this had been the only experience of the folks who were raving about it at the workshop!!?? I found this drastically different from the gentle flow of the neti pot, though I can see how it will get the saline solution up further into the sinus passages.
          Re: soft plastics and sanitary matters, again, I was surprised that a medical doctor would have designed and endorsed this -- not that it is "bad" perse. The bottle shoots the water straight up and over, but not all of it goes over and out the other nostril -- there was "backwash", that is some of the solution flowed back down into the bottle. There's really no way to prevent this. That kind of defeats the whole purpose of nasal cleansing -- if some bacteria and other irritants are constantly being washed back down into your container, this does not make sense. The beauty of the pot design is the tilting of the head -- when the head is tilted, everything flows out the other nostril; no backwash! No lingering bacteria in the container.
          Now, if the container were solid and hard and we could scrub it out with a brush or put it in the dishwasher, that would be different. In this case, it is specifically printed on the side to "Replace bottle every 90 days."  That's because soft plastic is not truly sanitary. Replacement bottles cost $3.00 if ordered from the company -- not sure what CVS charges.
          I also noticed, as with all soft plastics, that there was a strong chemical smell when I first took out the bottle. Even now, I just took a sniff of the bottle and it has an odor. These are extra chemicals that are being added to the mix every time you use it to rinse out your nose.
          Always keep in mind is that there are many companies, doctors, etc. who are re-inventing the wheel and putting it in a pretty, shiny new box with lots of words on it like "#1 Physician Prescribed OTC Nasal Rinse" but it doesn't give any indication as to where that rating came from. This nasal rinse "system" was designed by an Indian medical doctor. That's fine, it doesn't mean it's the best way to go. I thought it was also interesting that the box advertised another version of the neti pot called "NasaFlo Neti Pot." It's hard plastic and looks like a teapot.
          So, you are probably thinking that I really hated this thing, and for the most part, you would be correct. I will say that the "kit" came with a box of 50 pre-mixed packets of salt and baking soda. I really liked these -- more for traveling, but I can see the value in the convenience. The only I would question is the cost -- I believe a replacement box of these packets sells for $10.99. A canister of sea salt sells for $2.00, and baking soda is actually a new addition to the picture and not really necessary for your solution.

          For the past 5 years, I have enjoyed Jala Neti with just the dissolved sea salt -- everyone needs a slightly different amount for comfort.
          As always, I would say take in this information and use what you need. If you have one of these squeeze bottles and you like it (?) and you have a steady practice with it and you are feeling positive results, then great. Keep going. Just beware of the sanitary issues -- make sure you get a new bottle every 90 days (saying that does bother me -- more non-recyclable plastic being dumped into landfills!), or better yet for $15 to 20 bucks, buy yourself a ceramic neti pot that you never have to throw out and you can easily disinfect and re-use for the rest of your life.

 

The Wonderful World of Jala Neti -- February 2010

 

         This is a great time of year to start your Jala Neti practice if you don't already have one. This is yet another form of yoga (yes, it's true) that involves a small ceramic "pot", some water and your nose.
          The term is from the Sanskrit, with "Jala" meaning water and "Neti" meaning nasal cleansing. The neti pot and the practice of Jala Neti have come into the spotlight in the last few years thanks to the rise in awareness around Ayurveda and that story on the "Oprah" show didn't hurt either!  I now include a neti pot demonstration in my seasonal Ayurveda workshops -- I remember how much easier it was to begin this practice after watching my mentor give a demo.
          In winter, unless you are lucky enough to still have the old steam heating system, you are dealing with the extreme dry heat of the indoors. In addition, many Americans suffer year round from allergies and extreme sensitivities to our breathing environment. Using a neti pot will help you to flush out debris or excess mucus in the nasal passages with a saline (salt water) solution. This practice can alleviate congestion, facial pain and pressure, and reduce the need for antibiotics and nasal sprays. Here is a list of overall benefits of Jala Neti:

          • removes dirt and infectious microorganisms from the nasal cavities and passageways
          • reduces the frequency and duration of colds
          • reduces allergic problems such as hay fever
          • improves your nose breathing generally and therefore reduces diseases such as asthma and bronchitis
          • moistens dry nasal cavities and passageways
          • reduces the symptoms of chronic sinusitis
          • flushes the tear ducts and increases eye sight
          • improves your sense of smell and taste, is therefore very good if you want to stop smoking
          • can be beneficial for some types of ear disorders
          • stimulates Ajna-Chakra (Third Eye – between the brows)
          • has a harmonizing and calming effect on the mind

          It is recommended to practice Jala Neti at least once a day, year round. I use about a half pot of water for each nostril.  Body-warm water is best and it's better to use a natural sea salt (with no anti-caking agents) and not desirable to use iodized salt -- this introduces more chemicals into the mix and why complicate matters.
          Use the neti pot over your sink, placing the spout in one nostril and tilting the head to the side. You want to make sure you don't get water running down the back of the throat -- if this happens, re-adjust your head position.
          Any side effects an individual experiences using the neti pot usually subside by changing the temperature of the water, the frequency of use, or amount of salt in the solution. The pot should be thoroughly cleaned after each use to prevent infection. Periodically, the utensil should be placed in the dishwater for a thorough sanitizing. Like other personal hygiene devices, the pot should never be shared.
          If you would like to learn more about using the neti pot, check out I always do a demonstration in my Ayurveda & Yoga workshops at The Center at Westwoods. Check the Events page.

Begin from Within:

A New Approach to Goal-Setting -- January 2010

 

           As we leave one year and move into the next, it’s quite a common practice to review our list of goals from last year, evaluate our progress or performance around them and make up new “goals” for the coming year. Here are some goals that appear on many traditional lists:

                    I will pay off all of my debts.

                    I will buy a house.

                    I will get a new and better-paying job (or better yet, I will retire to an island in the Caribbean.)

                    I will win the lottery jackpot.

                    I will move to Paris and write best-selling novels.

                    I will find the mate of my dreams and get married.

          What do they all have in common? They are “external goals” which depend on elements and events to happen – and most of the time these elements and events are things that we could not possibly control. We also tend to make goals that are not realistic or practical to achieve within the span of a year.
           With a list like the one above, at the end of the year, we invariably focus on all of the things we did not get done, even if we did accomplish some of what we had committed to paper. Our ego will take any opportunity to bring us down. The more it can keep us in that place of “not being enough,” the more it is in control of our lives and blocking us from our dreams.

         As part of the deep, personal transformational work I am doing with my teacher, Barbara DeAngelis, she offered to me that I make a list of “soul goals”.  And she reminded me, we really can’t control what will and will not happen to us out in the world, but we can ask ourselves, “what is it that you need to do for your SOUL this year?”

Here are some of my Soul Goals for 2010:

  • Allow more of my light to come through and shine in the world.
  • Share and contribute my brightest light and my highest vibration at all times.
  • Check in with gratitude as many times a day as possible – every waking hour.
  • Open to and receive abundance and prosperity, 24/7.


         These are goals that cannot be measured in the traditional way. They are “feeling” goals. If I allow more of my light to come through and shine, I WILL FEEL IT and so will those around me. When you shine, people do notice and they feel better and lighter too. I will see evidence all around me of my “goals” in process already.
          Likewise, another wonderful practice is to look at the “gifts” that you received in 2009. What are the things in your life that really mattered – that you really felt and are grateful for?  Some of mine are:

  • My father surviving a stroke.
  • My opportunity to be a Mom for a short time and make a difference in a child’s life.
  • Nine months of deep personal work in Transformation Circle with Barbara DeAngelis.
  • My healthy body and mind.


          Try making your list from a FEELING place and see what happens! Let your soul speak up and take notes. I can tell you, it will be very different from your usual “to do list” and it may inspire you to take some chances and make some unexpected choices in the coming year.
          As I am fond of asking each week in class – “what do you need to let go of?  And what do you need to cultivate more of?” The answers will be a great way to begin your “soul goals” list!  And here’s wishing you a New Year of peace, light, love and blessings – may you learn what your soul needs and wants and feed it accordingly!

 

Ayurveda for Baby! -- November 2009

 

        Well, I've been thrown into motherhood head first with a two year old foster child! And already I have been able to use many of the tools in my yoga and Ayurveda tool box to help little Bryn adjust. Here are a few tips that may help you Moms out there!
          For constipation/gas -- email me for my Kichari recipe. This is the same recipe I share with my workshop participants. You can leave out the black mustard seed and the cumin if your babies are too young -- or you can subsitute cumin powder. The spices are aromatic and they can help to gently stimulate the digestive tract, along with the ghee butter and basmati rice.
          Yoga poses such as knees into chest and happy baby (holding the toes and rocking), boat, child, bridge and even down dog can be great for relieving these conditions in combination with the Ayurveda. And kids love these poses -- they take to them very easily, especially the toddlers!
          For settling down to sleep -- warm some milk and mix it with a dash of stevia powder (to make it a little sweet) and 2 dashes of cinnamon powder. This is particularly good for vata imbalance (too much air/gassy), but it is calming for all babies. It also helps to turn off TV and any other devices, keep the lights low and be quiet with them yourself. Warm touch is wonderfully healing and soothing -- stay close to them and give them a rub on the back or stroke their hair if  they are having trouble settling down.
          For a dry, stuffy nose -- gently apply nasya oil (medicated sesame oil) around the nostrils and a little inside with a q-tip, if they will let you!  If you can get hold of a Neti Pot stick (from Himalayan Institute), they are great. It reminds me of the old Vick's Vapo-rub inhaler sticks they had when I was young.

          Just gently hold the stick under their nose and let them inhale the menthol/camphor to help them breathe easier.
          I am also using Reiki for Bryn as well -- Reiki is an ancient Tibetan system of hands-on energy healing. It works beautifully with the yoga and Ayurveda.

Yoga & Animal Medicine: A Wake-Up Call from Skunk

-- September 2009

 

          The other night as I was driving home from a visit with my mother, I came upon a little creature in the middle of the road. It was running around in circles, chasing its tail and it appeared to have something covering its head.  I had to pull over.  I couldn’t allow this animal to get run over on my watch.
          As I moved in for a closer look, I saw a baby skunk that had gotten a yogurt cup stuck on its head – one of those Yoplait cups where the top is skinny and the bottom is wide.  This struck me as cute and comical at first, but the poor kid was using all four feet to run around in the middle of the road with no way to dislodge the cup. Another animal-lover pulled over and we both approached the little skunk tentatively.

          “Should we call the Animal Rescue League?” she asked.

          “Yes, that’s a good idea” I said and got out my cell phone.

          As I made the call, the skunk inched closer to the busy intersection and the other woman and I tried to corral it back the other way. We succeeded on getting it  up onto the sidewalk by waving our arms and whistling and cooing at it and making other ridiculous noises. The baby stopped and wavered on its little legs and toppled to one side and then regained its balance.
          “Sometimes when animals run in circles, they are rabid,” my new friend said.
          “I think it’s just confused because it can’t see or breathe.”  I said, but the catastrophist voice inside of me was panicking -- “What, are you crazy? Are you up to this task?  Are you ready to get sprayed?”

          No one answered at Animal Rescue, not a great surprise after 9:00PM, so I called 911.  The State Police connected me to the Boston Police and as I explained where I was and what was going on, the little skunk ran directly towards me, bumped straight into my ankle with the yogurt cup and got knocked back on its haunches. I hung up my phone and stared down at the baby in front of me. I knew I was lucky to get this close and it might be the only opportunity to save it.
          I reached down, grabbed hold of the cup on its head and pulled.  The cup didn’t budge, so I lifted it straight up and the skunk came with it.  I held onto the cup and gave it a couple of firm shakes until the little guy fell back onto its four feet, free again.  I quickly turned and ran, dragging the other woman with me.
          A little ways down the street, we turned to see the baby skunk scamper across the road and through the iron gates surrounding Roxbury Latin School.  It was so small and so startled that it hadn’t even thought to defend itself by spraying, or maybe, somehow, it knew that it was receiving help and that there was no danger from the helpers.  Who knows for sure?  I did not have to touch it, so hopefully mother took back her baby.
          The woman who had given her moral support to the effort, turned to me and said “I want to give you a hug! You saved the little skunk!”
          “You saved it too, we both did.  I am glad you were here,” I said, my heart still racing.
          As we hugged and then took off in our separate containers on wheels, I thought about what had just happened: this was a wake-up call from the universe if nothing else, to pay attention. This was also an opportunity to consider all the ways I “go blind,” unable to see what is right in front of me, or, conversely, from seeing the “bigger picture” in life; how I fool myself into stepping into containers and putting on “hats” that really aren’t right for me or are even harmful. The skunk must have been so tempted by the sweet smell of the cup that nothing else mattered – and whammo! A trap. Let’s face it, we’ve all taken that dive and tried to lick the bottom of that cup at one time or another and gotten our heads stuck.
           Even with two legs, a larger brain and opposable thumbs we are still susceptible to same traps as a skunk. So what does your “cup” look like? Are you wearing one? Do you even know? What shape is it?  Does it cover your eyes, your face, or your whole head? Does it have a name (toxic relationship, soul-draining job, fear of failure, magical thinking, etc.)?  Perhaps you’ve had this thing on your head for a long time, but you’re kind of used to shallow breathing and you’ve painted pretty pictures on the inside and poked some eye holes for yourself just to survive and be able to function.

          Perhaps the cup is large enough that it may not even seem uncomfortable, but it’s keeping you small. Who put it on you and when? Or did you step or dive into it yourself?  Do you remember what made you go “unconscious” in your life? And are you really that stuck or do you just need a good wake up call and a few shakes? Are you proud of your cup? Do you use it as a victim story and excuse for not living? What, exactly, is holding you back from life? It became quite an intense evening of asking myself all of these questions and I am amazed at where a word, a sound, a smell or an experience can take us.
          As a yogi, I always think about “building a stronger container,” that is, strengthening the body as a container for mind and spirit. A strong body is better able to withstand the storms of life that wash through and over us. When we forget to focus inside, breathe, and stay in awareness, we forget who we really are. We go unconscious and get distracted; lose our path or our footing and may get pulled into a wide variety of external containers, allowing them to define us, shape us
and have power over us. As long as we can wake up and be in awareness, we have a choice. There is always a way in, out, over, around or through whatever you are experiencing.
          For me, the purpose of life is simply to awaken and be aware of my own thoughts, actions and choices; and to listen and watch with my heart and not my head.
          I am so grateful to skunk for crossing my path, and reminding me that all I need to do is remember who I really am, show up, offer what I can and stay the course.

 

What the Heck is "Ayurveda" Anyway? -- August 2009

 

        Deepak Chopra was one of the first big names in Ayurvedic Medicine here in the U.S. and is a master teacher/medical doctor in his own right. Here's his explanation of Ayurveda:

          "The guiding principle of Ayurveda is that the mind exerts the deepest influence on the body, and freedom from sickness depends upon
contacting our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body."

 

       Ayurveda is all about "self-healing." As a consultant, I feel like it is my job to "remind" people of how to heal themselves -- with no elders around any more to pass down natural remedies and wisdom to us, most of us have forgotten that we actually are capable of creating our own healing. (Likewise, we also create our own disease, but that's a dissertation for another day!)
     In other words, the only difference between those of us who heal or recover completely from illness or injury and those who don't depends more upon those six inches between their ears than anything else. It has virtually nothing to do with the method or therapy. As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." It certainly applies here.
     There are many ways to heal yourself -- Ayurveda is just one path, but it is the most comprehensive and simplest I have found. One of my teachers, mentors and a gifted Ayurvedic consultant herself, Rosy Mann, has this definition: "Ayurveda is a living science -- it's how we live everyday. In my consultations, I tell people that this is the beginning. Ayurveda is a journey. Once they live the principles, the changes will come."
     One of the most difficult challenges comes from our modern expectations of "convenience": Rosy says: "We don't even come into contact with the elements. Recently, I was talking to someone in consultation and I told her, 'We're approaching the winter season, you should eat warm foods and beverages.' And she said, 'But I don't like
them.'  Because she's used to artificial heat, her body never gets cold. If it did, she would automatically think "I want something warm." This is just one small example of how we sometimes end up sabotaging ourselves by not connecting with the natural world around us.
     Interestingly, Ayurveda's very individualistic approach is something that does fit in well with the American mentality -- there is no "one-pill cure." Everyone is unique and has different needs and so the Ayurvedic suggestions for each person may be quite different, even if they present with the same physical, emotional or psychological issues.
     I continue to be amazed at the way Ayurveda has impacted my own personal health journey and how I have witnessed it help my clients and students transform  themselves. I have brought my digestion back into balance after years of difficulties with my stomach; I have helped my knees and other joints to stay healthy and avoid further surgeries; I can’t remember the last time I had a cold or sinus infection, thanks to my neti pot!  These are just a few of my personal “a-ha’s” and I have witnessed many with my clients. Yoga, meditation and pranayam (breath work) used in conjunction with Ayurvedic practices can create profound healing energy.
     To learn more about this Ancient approach to your health and the world around you, come to the workshop on November 6th, 2010 and you’ll get to make a batch of “kichari” with  me in the kitchen!