A recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University and presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience seemed to prove that friendship has benefits beyond the emotional. In studying treatments for peripheral neuropathy, a pain and numbness of the hands and feet that’s a side effect of diabetes and one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, researchers found that lab mice paired with a cage-mate experienced far less pain from nerve damage than those who were caged alone. Mice who had “friends” had higher thresholds for pain; they also experienced reductions in inflammation. The lonely mice were just lonely.
In this piece, Stephen Cope, Director of Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, investigates how and why practices like yoga and meditation create a sense of well-being and ease.
Recently, I was talking on the phone with my friend Sandy, who had just gone through an unexpected relationship meltdown. Her partner, Tim, she said, had suddenly developed “intimacy issues” and had fled the relationship “like a rat off a sinking ship.”
For an hour or so, we talked about the difficulties of her situation. She expressed her sense of disorientation and sadness. Toward the end, she said something interesting: “Thank God I have my yoga practice.” I could feel the gratitude in her voice. “It’s a little island of sanity. Like coming home. That hour between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. has become the most important hour of my day.”
The fields of Positive Psychology, mind-body medicine, yoga, and the spiritual disciplines offer wisdom—culled from research and centuries of experience—that can sustain our unique over-40 needs. Here are five of these wisdom teachings.
1. Remember that change is possible at any time. Not only is our brain plastic (able to be “remapped” toward greater health, calm, memory, and reduction of pain) but also our thoughts and feelings can be reshaped on a daily basis. We can begin to experience positive transformation within days—a transformation that can be sustained over a lifetime.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a morning person, there’s still much to love about those first few moments after you roll out of bed: In their stillness you can get ready to step into the day by organizing your thoughts, assessing your needs, and—when it comes to breakfast—nourishing your whole self.
As we’re all unique individuals and our bodies call for different things, there isn’t a formula for a breakfast that suits everyone. Instead, starting the day off right means understanding your body and digestion, and choosing what works for you. This tuning in is at the heart of what we teach at Kripalu, which can help point the way toward a breakfast that’s balanced with you in mind:
1. Heed your hunger. Not everyone can eat like a lumberjack first thing in the morning, so prepare the right-size meal for your body type. From the Ayurvedic perspective, for instance, those with more delicate constitutions (vata types) should have a warming but light meal, like simple hot cereal, while hardier folks who wake up hungry (pitta types) can handle things like eggs, nuts and seeds, and fruit.
2. Fresh is best. We all know the best breakfast comes from our own kitchens—so look for whole foods (grains, fruits, and vegetables) that you can easily prepare for yourself each morning to optimize their freshness. Meat, eggs, and dairy may also have their place on the breakfast table, but only if they arrive fresh from a trusted local source.
3. Stay on schedule. Get into the habit of having your breakfast at a regular time. The body tends to get attuned to things, and if you eat at 6:00 am one day and 10:00 am the next, that can throw off your digestive rhythms. (But you don’t need to eat the same thing every day. In fact, Ayurveda encourages eating seasonally, which ensures an ever-changing lineup of fruits and vegetables.)
4. Savor every bite. Ayurveda teaches that being in tune with your meal—from selecting and preparing it to quietly sitting with it and appreciating it—feeds far more than just your body. Breakfast is an ideal time to explore this practice, and discover that the more you create consciousness around what you’re putting into your body, the stronger and healthier your whole body-mind-spirit complex becomes.
Carly Sachs, guest blogger
Outside it is a perfect fall day—lots of colored leaves, blue sky with low-hanging clouds. It’s a day that feels like when I walk outside I’m stepping into a canvas, the day so gorgeous, it seems almost painted, too good to be true. Inside, I don’t feel so picture-perfect. And it’s hard being a yoga intern at a yoga retreat center and feeling bad. Even though I am using my tools—being compassionate to myself (sort of), breathing, meditating, and sharing—it still feels like something is wrong with me.
While I’m outside everything in the world looks perfect, and everything in my life looks perfect: a great romantic relationship, meaningful work, and loving family and friends. But something feels terribly raw and empty inside. The sense is that I’m not doing something I feel I should be doing, but I don’t know what’s missing. Or rather, somewhere I know there is a knowing in me, I just haven’t been able to unlock or translate the message. In this moment, it is a feeling.
With all the focus on overindulgence—of food and family—we often forget that Thanksgiving is, at heart, a day for giving thanks and being grateful. That said, let’s get back to the food. Some of us choose to “let go,” and eat whatever we want, giving ourselves myriad excuses: It’s tradition, it’s etiquette, it’s just so delicious! But Thanksgiving offers a bounty of ways to enjoy fresh, local vegetables, so while it’s okay to treat yourself, it’s also entirely possible to indulge but not overeat—and, even, put together an optimally nutritious Thanksgiving dinner that sacrifices neither taste nor holiday spirit.
Still, if you can, try to avoid flour and bread products, says John Bagnulo,PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs. “This will significantly help reduce the tendency to overeat,” says John. “Grains and flour raise levels of leptin—the hormone that controls appetite and cravings—more than any other food after sugar.” We asked John to share his ideal grain- and cruelty-free Thanksgiving meal.
“Who knows what will arise when we watch ourselves?” asks Kripalu Yoga teacher and life coach Michelle Dalbec in her R&R retreat workshop Reflections on Your Inner World. By opening up to the richness of our interior life through meditation and journaling, she elaborates, we can invite deeper self-reflection and self-expression into our daily existence.
Both meditation and journaling create an “open-hearted space of discovery,” Michelle says, by letting things be as they are—not changing, not critiquing, but simply observing and noting our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. “If we look at a situation long enough through the lens of meditation and journaling, we might be able to shift our perspective on it,” she says.
Ashley Winseck, guest blogger
Doing yoga at home is considered a vital part of deepening your personal practice. While it may be intimidating to attempt a practice without the guidance of an instructor and a weekly class, rest assured that you don’t need to be a super yogi to create a home yoga practice.
Create a habit.
Just like taking care of your car or brushing your teeth, your yoga practice should (and will!) become a habit and a standard part of your daily routine. Kripalu Yoga teacher Evelyn Gonzalez leads workshops at Kriplau designed to help people determine how to start practicing yoga at home. Using her personal experiences to guide others, she says, “If I go for months without a regular yoga routine I can feel my body start to fall a part.” The goal is to get to the point at which no doing yoga would be like not brushing your teeth, not getting your car’s oil changed.