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NSAIDS & Ashtanga. Do they belong together?.

I don’t use NSAIDS – I usually take turmeric! It’s a natural anti-inflammatory that you can add to your food or take as a supplement. Ginger also works well, and both turmeric and ginger together are quite powerful!
I’ve also learned (sorta) how to take things a bit easier during my practice since I am a menopausal woman – recovery takes longer…

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Training in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (and now by his grandson Sharath) is very physical as only with daily physical practice would the other seven limbs (Anga) of Ashtanga (Ashta = eight, Anga = limb) become apparent.  Sri Jois always called his system “Patanjali’s Yoga” after the legendary ancient sage who wrote the Yoga Sutras in which these eight limbs (Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Pratyahara Dharana Dhyana Samadhayo ‘Stavangani:  II-29) appear.  Slowly over time with daily practice (Abyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah:  I-12;  the mind reaches the state of yoga through practice and detachment) the yogi cultivates awareness of the first two limbs – Yama (restraints) and Niyama (observances) which are the Ten Commandments of Yoga – which support the third limb of Asana (the physical postures) and lead by natural progression to the other limbs of Pranayama (breath/energy control), Pratyahara (restraint of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dyana (meditation), and Samadhi (equilibrium, union with the Divine, state of bliss.  

How can a physical practice lead to good behavior, healthy lifestyle, meditation, and even enlightenment?  The concept of “tristhana”, the three parts of the practice, involve yoking the posture, the breath, and the gaze to train the mind to focus on the practice itself and withdraw for a time from the frenetic pace of daily life.   At first the mind may wander, become bored or distracted, or even rebel against the performance of a fixed series of postures six days per week with only full and new moons, Saturdays, and major religious holidays off.  Continuing to practice through these challenges develops fortitude, determination, “tapas” (one of the Niyamas, from the root word for fire or heat) and eventually the mind becomes trained and disciplined rather than scattered and distractible while the body becomes strong, supple, and balanced.

When one becomes immersed in yoga practice, it becomes easier over time to reduce and eliminate habits which interfere with that practice.  The Yamas (Ahimsa/non-harming, Satya/truth, Asteya/non-stealing, Brahmacharya/moderation, Aparigraha/non-greed) and Niyamas (Shaucha/purity, Santosha/contentment, Tapas/dedication, Svadhyaya/study of the Self, Ishwaripranidhana/surrender to the Divine) slowly evolve from seemingly austere and difficult to follow “laws” to guidelines for healthy living to a seamlessly integrated and easily practiced lifestyle.  Once the body is no longer plagued by frequent illness, injury, or disease the mind then naturally begins to turn inward via the other limbs.

So what do these Yamas and Niyamas mean for the modern human (yogi or non yogi)?  For example, Ahimsa, non-harming or non-violence, is usually taken to mean that the yogi’s diet must be vegetarian but what if that body seems to require meat or other animal products and declines with a strictly vegan regimen?  Simply switching from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian or vegan one “cold turkey” (pun intended) might cause harm to that body if the primary replacement involves large amounts of improperly prepared soy protein.  Many cultures in Southeast Asia have traditionally followed a more vegetarian diet which included some sea foods or dairy products and so have over time found a balanced approach which provides enough nutrients to sustain life (even then, most vegetarians become deficient in B12 which is most easily assimilated from animal foods);  Sri Jois lived into his 90’s and his guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, both vegetarians from birth, died at the ripe old age of 101.  But those whose ancestors regularly consumed animal products (ie European, some African, or Native American descent) including meat, may have different dietary requirements but those following their traditional diets also often lived long and healthy lives.  

 Yoga’s “sister science” of Ayurveda provides some insight into these differences using the theory of the “doshas”:  Kapha dosha being a combination of the heaviest of the Five Great Elements (Pancha Mahabhuta) would be most benefitted by the lighter vegetarian or vegan diet as they need to balance their tendencies towards gaining weight when consuming heavier animal foods.  Vata dosha, being a combination of the lightest of the Elements would be depleted by that same diet and would most benefit from the heavier animal foods (though well cooked as Vata digestion can be irregular or weak).  Pitta dosha, being high in Fire Element which relates to digestion, can often eat anything (lucky Pitta!) but must be careful not to aggravate that same Fire or suffer consequences like acid reflux.

A body in balance with balanced digestion will experience good health, and more important than whether the diet is vegetarian (or not) is whether the diet is “clean” – the first of the Niyamas, Shaucha, requires purity of food, speech, and even thought.  A vegan who consumes conventional soy and other plant foods is possibly ingesting pesticides and herbicides applied to the crop while in the field;  if that soy is also genetically engineered (ie “RoundUp Ready”) the crop may have had higher amounts of toxic chemicals applied plus there may be evidence that the gene inserted into the soybean (which “tells” the plant to create pesticides to kill the pests) just might transfer to human gut flora, ie the microbes that help us digest our food may now be creating pesticides in our gut instead (thus driving an increasing epidemic of serious gut disorders like Crohn’s Disease).  Even more disturbing is the fact that industrial production of soy to feed consumer demand is causing devastating changes in ecosystems where it is farmed;  our very quest to consume a “clean” diet free of harming animals while promoting our physical health is causing harm to the planet and thus violates that first Yama of Ahimsa!

If the animal destined to become food lives a happy life eating its natural diet and allowed its normal behaviors, then is dispatched quickly so it feels no pain or fear, would that meat be a cleaner, more compassionate food than the chemically saturated mono-cropped rainforest-destroying plant food?  If the human eats a diet that keeps his body healthy and mind happy and practices in a way that minimizes harm to himself and others while not being “perfect”, is he not the better yogi than the one who is consuming a diet that is not supportive to his practice because of a lack of nutrients or inability to digest them in addition to destroying the environment in which it’s grown?

As a teacher of yoga rooted in the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga I strive to help my own students find their own path most suitable for their growth and development which may change over time and with practice.  It may be that at this moment some students feel no need to eliminate animal foods while others feel compelled by their beliefs to become vegan;  perhaps their nutritional requirements change over time as the vegan begins to crave animal foods as their bodies become depleted while the omnivore is gradually able to eat more “veggie” most of the time.  As one who has tried to be a “good yogi” for over 20 years it has become a part of my practice to follow Ahimsa by not judging myself for my own shortcomings while remaining understanding of others’ attempts to do the same.

“Without practice, theory is useless;  with practice, theory is obvious.”  David Williams, early student of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2568

1 http://kpjayi.org/biographies/k-pattabhi-jois

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pata%C3%B1jali_Yoga_Sutras

3 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Translation and Commentary by DKV Desikachar pg 43

4 ibid pg7

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samadhi

6 http://www.ashtanga.com/html/background.html

7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapas_(Sanskrit)

8 http://www.westonaprice.org/press/experts-denounce-high-soy-diet-of-illinois-prisoners

9 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tirumalai_Krishnamacharya

10 http://www.westonaprice.org/about-the-foundation/vegetarian-tour

11 http://www.banyanbotanicals.com/ayurveda.html#anchor2

12 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dosha

13 http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/11/01/genetically-engineered-soybean.aspx

Sometimes the time is right to cut loose a bit from one’s “secure” existence and begin to find one’s own way in the world; the practice of Yoga can help keep us grounded while the rest of our lives are in turmoil.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna (as Arjuna’s charioteer) teaches that one must surrender to one’s chosen path and do what’s right and fitting without thought to gain or loss. In today’s world, many have lost their jobs, life savings, homes, and more yet some have seen opportunity in their losses and carved out a new path based on old long held dreams.

When you find the path you are meant to walk, things just feel right; even though there will still be difficulties, you will have no more doubts about the direction you are heading. Keep your eyes open, mind at peace, and know that when all the stars are aligned things will happen as they are meant to happen.

Even though you may have meandered along your path, which seems to twist and turn back on itself, ultimately you are traveling in a straight line from your heart to the Truth.

Brrrrrrrr…..

Winter is cold, dry (even with the precipitation), dark, and did I mention cold?

Winter is, however, necessary for Spring to make an appearance. Many plants go dormant (as do some animal species) and need a period of cold so they can rest before emerging with the warmer weather to reproduce. If you have crocuses in your lawn, this is one example of required dormancy before flowering. No cold, no crocus!

Humans may not go dormant but Winter season does affect us more than one might think even with our modern climate-controlled buildings and access to out-of-season foods. The cold, dry, and dark attributes can show up in our skin, make our hands and feet feel icy, or make us feel “dark” and depressed. We can modify our habits during this time to alleviate these symptoms and feel more “normal”.

In Ayurveda, the ancient wellness lifestyle system of India (of which Yoga is a part), Winter is considered “Vata”: the energies of the elements of air and ether (or space). The qualities of Vata are cold, dry, rough, light, mobile, astringent, and clear. Vata in the human body is responsible for movement: movement of our thoughts and emotions, movement of nutrients through our digestive tract, movement of blood through our circulatory system, and more. In balance, the qualities of Vata allow us to live full, happy lives. Out of balance, excess or insufficient Vata makes us ill.

A Vata person (someone who has a nature primarily of the qualities associated with the elements of air and ether/space) will tend to go out of balance quickly during winter. Others who may not be Vata (and we will go through these later) may also go out of balance because of an overly mobile lifestyle (lots of traveling), eating the “wrong” foods (too much cold, dry foods or cold drinks), or erratic sleep schedules.

To bring yourself back into balance, eat more warm, moist, nourishing foods of the season (perhaps more root veggies, stews and soups), sip hot or warm drinks through the day (plain water is best, but teas can be good too – just don’t go overboard with caffeine which is drying).

Try to establish a regular schedule – routine is good for balancing the chaos that Vata tends to become – getting up and going to bed at the same times each day, eating meals at regular intervals (with your biggest meal around noon). Find a regular time for exercise: not only can exercise boost your mood, it can help reduce Winter weight gain. If you must do a lot of traveling, keeping as regular a schedule as possible will help keep you sane (as well as rested!).

Yoga in particular has been found to help women stick to a steady weight as we age. During Winter, we may need to slow down a little (cold makes our muscles tight) but we can still work up a sweat moving slowly and mindfully through our asanas (postures). An added benefit is that Yoga can directly affect Vata through forward bending postures which massage and tone the internal organs, which just happen to be the primary seat of Vata in the body

And if your skin tends to dryness, add more natural (organic) fats and oils to your diet such as sesame and ghee (clarified butter). Sesame oil in particular is used in Ayurveda to balance Vata because of its heating qualities (while coconut oil, for instance, is cooling and balancing to Pitta/fire). You can cook with it (Chinese stir fry!) as well as use it for self-massage everyday to soften the skin without the strange chemicals that appear in commercial moisturizers.

If your mind tends to darkness (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) avoid exposure to upsetting things as much as possible (a real challenge right now – try turning off the nightly news for a start, or get your news from the Daily Show!) and work on finding activities, people, and small things that make you feel content and peaceful. My personal favorite is to watch the birds as they visit the feeder outside my front window and the antics of the squirrels as they chase each other and “steal” the birdseed (look up ‘Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder” on YouTube). I also share my life with two cats, one a shelter rescue and the other a former feral, who love to snuggle next to me and purr their little heads off when they’re happy. So I work to make them happy, and their purring makes me happy!

So, not only can we bring ourselves back into balance (and become happier in the process) we can also save ourselves quite a lot of money while eating well, finding a routine, and making others happy. Simplifying our lives purifies the mind while preparing natural (unprocessed) food purifies the body, and observing how we react to seasonal changes teaches us how to keep ourselves and our families in balance.

A Well-Seasoned Woman can heal herself, and then we heal the world!

December 2017
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