Remove the Cause
It SHOULD be obvious but many people are so busy they forget that being healthy or returning to health is never as simple as taking a pill.
We work work work and fail to eat a healthy breakfast from whole fresh ingredients because it takes "too much time" and we have to rush out the door because we could not wake up early enough because we just HAD to stay up late to see the next episode of our favorite show and then we could't get to sleep because we were too agitated.
We didn't have the ability to prepare a proper lunch at work because there was no way to cook in the break room (and no, microwaving is NOT cooking) so we ate snacks all day or brought something to put in the fridge for later or we went out to get something from a local fast food restaurant because we only get 1/2 hour to get all that done.
We were too exhausted to eat a proper dinner at the right time, or we came home after dark so we scarfed down whatever was left over or prepackaged because it was easy to reheat.
And then we relaxed by sitting in front of the TV, eating there and perhaps not noticing that the meal made us feel bloated or the agitation from the exciting TV show made it difficult to digest in time to avoid getting reflux when we finally collapsed into bed around midnight, only to be jolted awake way too early by the alarm clock to start this entire routine all over again.
"I'll sleep at my desk" said one corporate yoga class participant who would come to class with a can of Red Bull (and he always skipped the rest at the end of class).
Why am I harping on the obvious?
I recently spent a wonderful weekend attending the annual conference of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (the second in-person conference since the pandemic shut down the economy). It was held at the beautiful Art of Living Ayurvedic retreat center on a mountain outside of Boone NC where we were surrounded by forests, breathing clean air, and enjoying the sounds of birds and spring peepers instead of being bombarded by the sounds and smells of industrial "civilization". Our meals were prepared from fresh ingredients prepared by an incredible chef. Many of us had to deal with our own personal health issues such as sleep disturbances, musculoskeletal issues, and other health conditions (which drew us to Ayurveda as we were not satisfied with what allopathy could offer). It was immediately apparent to me how powerful the Ayurvedic "dinacharya" (daily routine) is when the causes of most of my distresses (having to move from my quiet single family home to a noisier mobile home park sited next to an industrial site) were removed.
While the sessions I attended may have covered specific topics such as the Ayurvedic management of addictions and addictive behaviors or Ayurvedic management of perimenopausal symptoms the ONE common thread was how important it is to do one's best to follow a daily routine that obeys Mother Nature's rhythms, AKA "circadian rhythms":
1. Rise close to sunrise if possible
2. Eat meals prepared from fresh ingredients at regular times (with the largest meal close to noon and the last before the sun sets) as much as possible.
3. Go to bed between 9 - 11 pm if possible.
There will always be exceptions to every rule, such as if we get sick or we have to work irregular hours, but the more we can do to create a regular rhythm to our days the more resilient to stress we will be. Find ways to create some calm from the chaos of life and for more individualized recommendations we can learn about traditional forms of medicine such as Ayurveda.
Once I have reopened my private practice I will be available for consultations in person. Until that time, feel free to explore the videos and blog posts on my website, email me with questions, and I can do limited consultations via Zoom.
Who Da Guru? YU da Guru!
I know it's been a while since my last post, but let's admit it's been a rough couple of years for everyone:
A worldwide pandemic that killed millions and sickened millions more that STILL isn't quite over (some due to the novel virus itself, some because many were afraid to get medical care for other issues BECAUSE of the virus, some because the virus was one more nail in coffin...).,
An economic that threw millions out of work as the world shut down (I was one of them),
The emotional toll the above two things have imposed on EVERYONE: those who lost family and friends, those whose children have suffered from the sudden shift to online learning, those who had to figure out how to get the financial help they needed in time to pay the bills that didn't stop coming, those who had to find work in other fields once the financial assistance came to an end.
While many yoga therapists and Ayurvedic professionals were able to restart their businesses (some were already offering online programs, some easily transitioned to that platform, some had other resources to draw on), I needed some time to figure out the right time and the right place to begin again.
I've found the place where I can begin again, an innovative and integrative wellness practice being birthed by one of my former yoga students! A brilliant and humble young man who told me many years ago that my yoga course at UMBC had changed the trajectory of his life, he has graciously offered to help me rebuild my dream and fulfill my life's purpose: to help others learn the skills and love the process of using the tools that yoga therapy and Ayurveda offer to us as we navigate the twists, turns, and challenges of living in a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad.
More will be forthcoming as our plans coalesce...
Food and the Gunas
You may have had encounters with people who urge you to eat a "sattvic" diet, implying that foods that are "sattvic" are somehow more virtuous or inherently better for you than foods which are labeled "tamasic" or "rajasic". Perhaps as a Westerner my opinions are less rooted in the traditional teachings regarding these gunas but in my personal experience with food and with my teachers (who learned from traditional teachers) I have a different perspective.
Continuing with the definitions given in the previous post there can be no inherent virtue in eating or avoiding certain foods; in Ayurveda there is a concept called "satmya/astatmya" and as you might infer the root Sanskrit for this concept is shared with the Sanskrit word for "truth", "satya" (as well as with the word for "balance", or "sattva"). Every culture has foods and recipes passed down from ancient times that are rooted in the place in which that culture evolved. For example, peoples that are native to tropical islands tend to have diets rich in starchy roots like taro, coconuts, fruit, and seafoods. Those who lived in high mountain regions or other cold areas tended to be hunters of large fatty game and only included plant foods when they were naturally abundant in warmer seasons. Others may have been blessed with long warm seasons and a large variety of plant foods to gather and harvest, supplementing the animals foods from the hunt.
Some cultures learned to make use of the milk of certain animals (to make cheeses, yogurt, lassi, kefir, or other fermented products) while others never consumed milk or cheeses. Descendants of cultures which consumed milk products may do well or even prefer them while descendants of cultures which NEVER consumed dairy lack the enzyme necessary for digesting it, having evolved lactose intolerance. When someone consumes a food that they tolerate or are used to, it is called "satmya' while consuming a food that is not tolerated is "asatmya". The foods themselves are not inherently good or bad but if someone can't digest a food that food is not good for them no matter how healthy that food might be for someone else.
Another instance is the "yogic prohibition" of consuming "rajasic" foods like onions or garlic; that teaching considers those foods to be disturbing to the mind while many yogic traditions teach that milk from certain species of cow are highly supportive to yoga practices. However, other cultures noticed that onions and garlic are excellent for supporting the immune system (and science supports this).. My mother, an elementary school teacher, noticed that her students of Korean descent who consumed traditional fermented foods that included LOTS of garlic NEVER got sick while the White students who didn't eat that much garlic got sick every winter. Traditional Chinese Medicine makes use of may varieties of mushrooms while Ayurveda tends to think of mushrooms as being tamasic in nature, tamasic foods being minimized or avoided because of their possible effects on the mind.. Just as Ayurveda recommends that one should eat in order to balance one's constitution and current state of balance, our ancestors' experiences with food may help us find food ways that help us do the same.
`A more contemporary view of food also takes into consideration the source of the food: where was it grown (if a plant food), how was it raised/fed/slaughtered (if an animal food), how processed or refined is the final product or is it a whole natural food with minimal or no processing? Was it genetically modified, subject to spraying of pesticides or herbicides, was it harvested from poor soil or before it was fully ripe? Was the animal living in poor conditions, fed foods not natural for that species, or subject to extreme stress on its way to slaughter? Many people want to consume a meal free of "violence", ie a fully plant based diet, without considering that if their soy based meat substitute came from a monocropped field their Tofurkey came from a farm that lacked natural biodiversity, may have resulted in the killing of beneficial microbial soil communities or the deaths of beneficial insects along with the pests. Others may consume large raw veggie/fruit smoothies on a daily basis without realizing that the bloating they feel and lack of hunger is from their inability to fully digest large amounts of raw plant foods. In some cases, the antinutrients in plants (the lectins, oxalates, phytates, goitrogens) cause serious health effects by blocking absorption of needed nutrients. Cooking often removes or deactivates these antinutrents and makes the nutrients more bioavailable to the human body, the inclusion of animal fats in many traditional recipes can also help with nutrient absorption.
Ayurveda uses ghee, a form of butter made from cow's milk or yogurt that is cooked to remove the sugars and proteins int so only the fat remains. Ghee helps make turmeric, a root or rhyzome noted for its anti-inflammatory properties, more bioavailable, and black pepper or ginger are often also used with the turmeric and ghee to improve digestion. Ayurvedic texts also teach the use of animal foods for medicinal purposes (as does Traditional Chinese Medicine), meat soups and stews being very grounding and settling for "Vata" individuals who are naturally high in the "Space" and "Air" elements - for them, tamasic foods help to stabilize them. "Kapha" individuals are rich in "Earth" and "Water" elements and would find animal foods to be heavy; these people do better on plant based diets because the plants help lighten them.
One of my yoga teachers once said, after a student asked him if he had to eat a certain way in order to be a good yogi, "eat what you feel is appropriate for you". May you find the the highest quality, most deeply nourishing, and emotionally satisfying foods that balance your body AND your mind.
New Intentions for a New Year
As we continue to navigate the harsh realities of living with and through a pandemic we still need to bring ourselves back to other realities: that Light casts out Darkness, Love conquers Hate, and forgiving ourselves for being human allows us to touch the Divine in whatever form we seek it or wish to embody it.
In Ayurvedic terms the Gunas,, or qualities of the mind, can help point us in the direction we need to travel:
Sattva is balance. If everything is running smoothly we don't need to make changes as we are happy where we are.
Rajas is instability but also the impetus behind change, both "good" and "bad". If we have no desire for change and no impulse to make changes in our current situation then change doesn't happen. This is not necessarily a good or a bad thing. Sometimes we may need to stay where we are because we feel safer there. Perhaps we need more support, better ideas, or the proper tools.
Tamas is stability but also stagnation; which way it manifests can be assessed by noting if you feel "stuck" vs feeling "comfortable" or "safe". It can be a challenge to know the difference between Tamas and Sattva as they can appear similar to each other from the outside (this is why it's so difficult for people to know if a Guru/teacher is the "real deal" or a pathological abuser sucking us into a cult.
With so much going on in the world today learning how to take care of ourselves in healthy ways is key to our resilience. The foundation of the style of Yoga Therapy I share is based on breath awareness. Feel free to access the two free Teachable courses, with recorded guidance sessions, to help build your own resilience practices and may your year be a time to heal, to love, to build a better future for all embodied beings.
This is a great guide to help seniors and their families understand financial options and programs for eldercare:
"This page is designed to aid Maryland residents in understanding the costs associated with elderly care throughout the state. The cost of assisted living, in-home care, and adult day care in different regions of the state is explored. Various payment options, as well as programs that offer financial or care assistance, whether it be residential or in the home, are also explored."
In Maryland, according to Genworth’s 2019 Cost of Care Survey, in 2020, the average cost of assisted living per month is $4,300, with average monthly rates ranging from $3,750 to $6,263. This is a quite a range of cost, ranging from $45,000 to $75,156 annually. However, one can make cost saving efforts by relocating to an area of the state where the cost of assisted living is more reasonable. The most inexpensive assisted living can be found in the areas of Hagerstown, Baltimore, and Cumberland, where the average monthly rate is between $3,750 and $4,225. Salisbury has an average monthly cost approximately 20% higher than the statewide average at $5,250. However, the most expensive average cost of assisted living is found in California, where the monthly cost averages $6,263."
For more information please click the link below:
Yoga on Juneteenth: Liberation
Now that Juneteenth (June 19th) is a US Federal holiday we can use this opportunity to not only learn about a part of US history that was not always taught but to apply the "liberation theology" of traditional Yoga practices as a metaphor to describe that history in another way.
If you possess a passing familiarity with Patanjali's Yoga Sutras you may remember the "8 Limbs" (Ashta Anga, or Ashtanga) of this philosophy (not the only method of yogic practice): Yama and Niyama, the first two limbs, could be considered the "Ten Commandments" of yoga as they describe the the moral, ethical, and basic daily practices that make one suitable for learning the other 6. Hatha Yoga, which may be rooted in Shaivite or other spiritual/religious practices, takes these Yamas and Niyamas to be a given and may name them in different orders of prominence - for example, Patanjali lists Ahimsa (non harming) as first of the Yamas while Gandhi considered Satya (Truth) to be the first and most important. Shantideva, a Buddhist saint, once said that if the Truth would cause harm one should keep the mouth shut. Ašteya (not stealing) can be applied not only to possessions but to the emotional peace of those with whom we interact which should negate any claims of one group of people to the right to enslave another group of people. While Brahmacharya is often (incorrectly) translated as "celibacy" its root language refers to "walking with God" and is also one of the stages of the human lifecycle, brahmacharya referring to the stage of a young one's life where they are meant to concentrate on learning so they can become a fit husband or wife as well as a productive citizen in their community. Aparigraha (non grasping, non seizing) refers to the deliberate cultivation of non attachment to things, especially things which are not so important in the grand scheme of things.
The limbs that follow the ethical and moral precepts then could be construed to follow in a natural progression: the physical practice (Asana) balances the physical body, the breath practices (Pranayama) begin to balance the energy in the body (and there is now scientific evidence of how changing our breathing patterns can have an effect on our health from lowering blood pressure to helping us manage anxiety. Learning how to turn our attention away from distractions (Pratyahara) helps prepare us concentrating fully on an object or topic (Dharana) which prepares us to meditate (Dhyana) which then leads to liberation (Samadhi).
One fuller examination of the Yamas and Niyamas appears on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niyama
How can one achieve liberation when the knowledge of one's enslavement is not evident? The practice of traditional Yoga is but one path towards eventual liberation but while some are attracted to the spiritual side of the original practice others prefer to use the physical practice to free their bodies from the pain caused by structural issues or previous injuries that may prevent a full appreciation of life. Some fear anything labeled "yoga" because they think they are too old or too stiff, or that it's a religion that would interfere with their spiritual advancement within their preferred tradition. How does this relate to our new national holiday?
June 19th was the day that enslaved Africans learned that President Lincoln had made them free; their enslavers may have known much sooner about the Emancipation Declaration and withheld that knowledge knowing the truth would eventually become known and fearing what would happen. The enslaver and the enslaved were both enslaved, one by fear of those they abused and by their own attachment to the power they held and the other by the ignorance that the political winds were shifting in their favor as the North fought the South's treasonous secession. Many whites are STILL enslaved to their presumed superiority over those with darker skin and willfully remain ignorant of the benefits of freeing themselves of their heavy chains. Black people are weary of the horrendous treatment still being inflicted on their communities by police (our style of policing has disturbing roots in the old "slave patrols" of the Deep South" and are no longer remaining silent even in the most dangerous days of the COVID pandemic, marching daily with their allies after the open murder of George Floyd which was recorded by a courageous young woman and widely disseminated. While the officer responsible was convicted and will spend a long time in jail this was not the end of abusive police treatment; Black people still are enslaved to the fear that they might be next just for having a broken tail light or for having dated someone who had already been arrested for a crime.
This Juneteenth will first be about teaching and learning about what this day symbolizes to those celebrating the declaration of an end to chattel slavery. From this day on, let it be about continuing to liberate all of us from beliefs that keep us from eliminating inequities in our government, policing, economics, education, and every other institution - things that perpetuate White privilege and supremacy (this doesn't mean that all White people are rich or privileged or that all Black people are poor and disadvantaged). For the United States of America to live up to the promises made in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence every citizen must remember what comedian Stephen Colbert once said: that we have two ears and only one mouth; let's act accordingly.
To amplify a Black voice crying in the wilderness that passes for discourse in our diverse and divided nation, read this excellent piece by L. A. Justice in Medium, here is a small observation:
"Legalizing Juneteenth as a national holiday does nothing to bring about any type of racial justice to the Black community, or racial harmony to this country, in the same way that the signing of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day did not."
Back when I taught Yoga to university students I would use examples of ordinary everyday topics to illustrate how the Yamas and Niyamas (the first two limbs of Patanjali's 8 Limbed Path). With this post I hope to use the analogy of cultivating balance in our bodies to the topic of striving for a balanced and equitable democratic society.
There has been a great deal of discussion surrounding White Privilege, systemic racism, and other barriers to full participation in what is purported to be a democratic republic. The ideals of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution have not always been upheld for all citizens (to put it mildly) and in many cases ignored or subverted in ways that White people may not notice (as we have often grown up in rather insulated fashion) but which are all too apparent to Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous people.
If we think of our nation as a body, we must consider the health of the entire body as being supported by the health and maintenance of each individual component of it. If we only care about our outward appearance but neglect our digestive health we may find that over time our outward appearance begins to show that neglect. For example, if we only eat toxic food our tissues will eventually break down as they don't have the nutrients needed for repair. Once we begin eating healthful nutritious foods again we can notice ourselves looking and feeling better.
If we consider our nation as being represented by our legs, with one leg being much stronger than the other we may not notice for a while how we favor using that dominant leg until we injure the weaker leg or the muscular imbalance causes an injury elsewhere in the body because of the unequal stresses placed on it. Only by strengthening the weaker leg until both legs are equally strong can we reduce the potential for an injury due to an imbalance between the two.
A couple hundred years ago the leader of the Bahai'i Faith used the analogy of the wings of a bird, one wing representing men and the other women: "The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment.".
Extending this analogy to encompass the human body as a metaphor for the various communities in the US, only when we strive to support the health of all of our various people (Black, White, Indigenous, poor, middle class etc) can we as a nation become a truly strong and healthy democratic republic that truly lives up to its promise.
The unrest and division our nation is experiencing is our "body" experiencing symptoms of an illness or disease that must be addressed if we want to survive as a nation. First we must attune ourselves to the messages our struggling body is sending us, then we must strive to act on those messages in order to create and maintain a balance of power and avoid allowing one group to abuse their imbalance of power.
Hope your week is going well! I wanted to let you know about the work my team is currently doing to help support those who suddenly find themselves with a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Based on conversations we have had with families across the US, it can be an overwhelming and heartbreaking time; and there are many questions especially since each situation is unique. We started to put together a series of guides meant to cover the common initial questions people had.
You can see them here:
Community Outreach and Senior Advocate
Caring.com is a leading senior care resource for family caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses and other loved ones. We have been featured by AARP, The Administration for Community Living, The National Legal Resource Center, and Forbes, as well as referenced by many governmental agencies and organizations across the Internet.
The pandemic has led to many people spending the majority of their time at home. Sequestered away from gyms or fitness classes, many of us have fallen out of our exercise routines. However, it’s arguably the worst possible time to stop exercising. The physical and emotional benefits of regular movement are more important now than ever before.
Here are some ways you can get yourself moving again.
Remind Yourself Why
Motivation begins with evidence.
● Exercise improves almost every aspect of health.
● You improve coordination and reduce injury risk when you workout regularly.
● Symptoms of depression and anxiety go down with exercise as well.
● Exercise is the best way to develop body awareness and physical mindfulness.
Build Movement Into Your Day
Your schedule has room for exercise, you just have to discover where.
● Working out first thing in the morning works well for early risers and those who’d like to get it out of the way.
● Your lunch break can also be a good opportunity to get in some exercise.
● If you work out at night, be mindful of how close you are to bedtime.
Get Your Family Involved
Exercise is always better together.
● Online exercise videos can be a fun way to work out with kids.
● You can also enjoy walks together — encourage them to identify plants or animals they encounter along the way.
● Hiking is a great way to get fresh air and sunshine while exploring your local parks.
● Set up a home gym so your family has a dedicated exercise space.
Keep these resources on hand as you create your pandemic exercise routine. This is no time to deprive yourself of the movement you need to thrive. Find ways to work out and home, and your body will thank you.
Photo Credit: Unsplash
As Above, So Below
I finally had the opportunity to take an online Zoom class with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who is a pioneer in Body Mind Centering, a mindful philosophy of movement that is not Yoga and yet IS Yoga to its core. Less a type of exercise and more a means of cultivating awareness of the body through movement, Bonnie weaves together such topics and shifting away from biomechanical reductionism (concentric vs eccentric or flexion vs extension etc) towards moving from a "different place" (expansion vs contraction, responses vs answers to questions).
She spoke of "cellular consciousness", of using movement and awareness to awaken our cells to themselves. Each individual cell has certain functions that every other cell has, and yet may be differentiated between groups of cells performing certain actions while others are dedicated to other actions, such as digestive cells breaking down ingested nutrients while other cells differentiate between the nutrients, recombine them into what is needed, and then sending those nutrients where they need to go. Any part of this system can break down, and when one organization of cells is not working coherently it affects how other organizations of cells work.
Think of our bodies not as one physical organism but a collection of them, our cells are collections of atoms and those atoms are collections of protons, electrons, and neutrons. Each one of us as individuals are then organized into collections of family units, communities of family units, and so on until we realize that collectively, nations are collections which form the larger ecosystem of the Earth, the solar system is a collection of planets, and so on as this universe is a collection of galaxies.
We all notice when we don't feel well that often we have digestive disturbances; we get constipated or have diarrhea or have issues digesting certain foods. We may notice when one member of our family isn't feeling "right" and they act differently than they used too. We feel unsafe when some members of our community act in ways that are not beneficial to the community, when "rogue" nations take actions that make the world less safe.
We as individuals can't always "fix" things to our own liking but we as individuals CAN work on how we react to things we can't change and take action on those things we CAN change. Perhaps we make a vow (vrata in Sanskrit) to be kind to strangers (hold the door for the person behind us), pick up the trash without being asked, ask someone who looks like they are having difficulty what can we do to help. These may seem like such simple inconsequential things but to the "other" they may help them to do the same for someone else.
Not everyone is able or inclined to take big actions in a public arena but others do feel called to publicly demonstrate for the things they believe should happen. Perhaps one day we won't need to resist policies that systemically oppress others because we will recognize and remain conscious of how the harmonious relationships we cultivate with each other is a reflection of the harmonious relationships we are nurturing within our own bodies.