Alyssa Giacobbe

Alyssa Giacobbe

Posted on August 31st, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Kripalu Kitchen, Medical Insights

Breakfast—Not Just for Champions

Mom was right: It really is the most important meal of the day.

For 20 years, researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health followed 5,000 men and women, looking specifically at their breakfast habits: what they ate and when. The results, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, found that people who ate breakfast every day were significantly less likely to become obese or develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate breakfast three times a week or less. These findings are significant, if not particularly surprising. Haven’t our mothers been telling us to eat our breakfast for years?

“This study affirms everything nutritionists have been talking about,” says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs. “When people eat breakfast, and in particular foods that give them less of what I like to call a ‘blood sugar tsunami,’ they make much better food choices throughout the day.” This includes avoiding foods containing sugar, not overdoing it on caffeine, and practicing portion control. “It’s all related to blood sugar,” says John. “If someone misses breakfast, their blood sugar levels come way down. They’re starving by 10:30 or 11:00, and because they haven’t eaten all morning, they crave foods that have a higher glycemic index,” like muffins, breads, candy, or pasta. Then they crash again by 1:00 pm—and look for yet another sugary pick-me-up. Sound familiar?

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Posted on August 25th, 2012 by in Medical Insights, Nutrition

Egg to Differ: In Defense of Eggs

A study recently published in the medical journal Atherosclerosis reported that a diet rich in whole eggs is as artery-clogging as smoking. Researchers surveyed about 1,200 middle-aged male and female patients—all of whom had suffered a stroke or “mini-stroke”—about their egg yolk consumption, smoking, exercise habits, and other lifestyle factors. They concluded that the top 20 percent of egg consumers had a narrowing of the carotid artery that also appeared in two-thirds of the smokers. Of course, the media jumped on the catchiness of being able to call out that “Eggs are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes” and “Your Breakfast Eggs Are Going to Kill You,” as the Atlantic and others did.

But what most media reports didn’t point out—or buried after the alarmist headlines—is that the study was incomplete, says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “The way that eggs are cooked is a huge factor,” he says. Certain high-temperature cooking methods—including frying and scrambling—oxidize the cholesterol into a substance known asoxysterol, a molecule known to accelerate both heart disease and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. More, though, he worries about how the study’s information was gathered and presented. “Research like this is not good science,” he says. “I might be able to see the detrimental weight of eating fried or scrambled eggs as comparative to smoking, but even that seems a stretch.”

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Posted on August 20th, 2012 by in Words from the Wise, Yoga

Talking with Seane Corn: Activism Starts from Within

Right away, Seane Corn will have you know: She is not perfect. Although she is one of the yoga community’s best-known teachers—a gifted orator, physically beautiful, and, as the founder of the grassroots outreach effort, Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM), certifiably giving—the Los Angeles–based yoga star can be impatient, controlling, short-tempered, and reactive. She has a mouth like a truck driver. Corn makes it clear, however, that she hasn’t succeeded despite these shortcomings—rather, she has succeeded because of them. Learning to recognize, and claim, those imperfect parts of herself has, she says, made her a better teacher, friend, daughter, and partner, and directly benefited her efforts as an activist.

Corn began her relationship with activism at an early age. As a recent high school graduate living in Manhattan, she participated in emotionally charged rallies concerning women’s and gay rights. Before giant, angry crowds, she’d hop on stage, grab a megaphone, and release her point of view in bouts of rage, thinking that she needed to be loud in order to be heard. Eventually—and largely, she says, through her yoga practice—Corn began to understand that change happened only when both sides were willing to see, and hear, the other’s point of view, which first required her to learn to truly appreciate her own.

“For a long time, I had a need to change or fix certain circumstances but an unwillingness to look at my own issues,” says Corn. “I realized that if I was going to change the world, I needed to start with myself.” She came to understand that being a good activist meant taking responsibility for her feelings and respecting those of others even—especially—those with whom she might not necessarily agree, a philosophy that became a natural extension of her yoga practice.

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Posted on August 16th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Get Happy

Can you learn to be an optimist? The answer is yes.

We’re always talking about the mind-body connection: how our emotional and mental state can affect our physical health. Now, a new study in the journal Aging confirms the notion, reporting that having a positive attitude about aging, but also generally, can add years to your life. That is, optimistic people live longer. Of course, optimism is a state of being often linked to genetics—you’re either born an optimist or you’re not—how you’re raised, and your life circumstances. For many who’ve faced certain hardship or personal struggle, it can be difficult to retain a sunny outlook when everything seems to be going wrong. What to do in that case?

“Centenarians often share genetically inherited positive personality traits: They’re easy going, out going, competent, and laugh easily,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads several Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “They also tend to manage and express their feelings more freely than the general population.” These qualities have them—and their parasympathetic nervous system—living in a more relaxed state, which in turn optimizes organ function, slows down aging, and decreases the risk of developing disease. The question is: Can those of us who did not inherit a sunny, extroverted disposition develop this orientation toward life? Can we literally learn optimism?

Yes, says Susan. “Most of us are familiar with trying to change out of fear of getting sick or out of hating how we are now,” she says. “But this rarely works because it increases stress, which exacerbates the situation rather than turning it around.” When we focus on positive states, however, we actually change the brain, creating new neural pathways or habitual patterns of emotional stability, competence, positivity, contentment, and even joy—things that are consistent with longevity and good health outcomes. “Most of us spend entirely too much time wishing things were different, both in our past and our present,” she says. “We focus on negative emotions and memories so that is what we experience and create for ourselves. But neuroscience has shown that to change, we must put our attention on what we want instead of on what we don’t want.”

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Posted on August 7th, 2012 by in Nutrition

Me Eat. You?

The Paleo diet trend is catching on.

It used to be called dieting. Now our food restrictions, most of them self-imposed, are called a lifestyle choice. From the vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free to nut-free, low-fat, no fat, no carb, and raw, pretty much everyone’s not eating something.

The newest abstainers may be followers of the Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet” and populated by Loren Cordain, PhD, author of three books on the topic: The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, and The Dietary Cure for Acne. Cordain and other proponents of the Paleo diet argue for a return to prehistoric ways of eating, pointing out that the human body was designed to thrive on—and best digest—the foods available to us when we were hunter-gatherers: meat, vegetables, and fruits, but not dairy or grains. Before the invention of agriculture and processed foods, we were fitter and less disease-stricken, he argues; those who’ve had success on a Paleo diet, meanwhile, credit it for everything from losing weight to lowering blood pressure and eliminating acne. Like nearly any other restrictive way of eating, including veganism, the Paleo diet has dedicated followers and ardent detractors.

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Posted on July 30th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Life Lessons

Stop and Smell the Roses

In the age of over-busy, what does it mean to make every minute count?

A recent op-ed in the New York Times entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap”—in which writer Tim Kreider describes a 21st-century America dominated by people whose favorite catchphrase is some version of “I’m sooo busy”— drew virtual nods of acknowledgment from across the web. This busyness, Kreider argues, is most often self-imposed: work and activities we’ve taken on, or encouraged our kids to take on, voluntarily. We’re busy because we’re ambitious, and we’re busy because we’re scared of what not being busy says about us. And it’s costing us our physical and mental health, our relationships, and, ironically, our productivity.

“We live with a lot of demands,” says Kripalu Senior Life Coach Aruni Nan Futuronsky. Aruni says that the amount—and the intensity—of stress she’s seeing among her clients has grown stronger and more pervasive over the last few years. She points to the “sandwich generation,” the set of adults tasked with taking care of both their children and their aging parents. At the same time, she says, life’s job is to take us away from the moment. “We’re so infrequently unplugged from work or news that our bodies are literally flooded with cortisol and adrenaline 24 hours a day,” says Aruni. “Our culture does an extraordinary job of making us wacky. Our responsibility is to find ways to reclaim some stillness, no matter what’s going on.”

But haven’t we heard for ages—from everyone from our grandmothers to our gurus, contained in songs on the radio and sermons at church—that we have but one life; we need to ‘make it count’? How do we tell the difference between making the most of every moment and busying ourselves into destruction? It’s actually pretty simple, says Aruni. “Yogically speaking, the way you make every minute count is to literally stop,” she says. “Yoga, and its principles, don’t deny us the external world but help us appreciate it by slowing down, by stopping the constant doing.”

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Posted on July 24th, 2012 by in Medical Insights, Yoga

Hot Yoga: How Hot is Too Hot?

It’s been a record-breaking summer so far, with early-season heat waves pushing temperatures along the typically seasonable Northeast into the upper 90s and past 100. Those of us who are fans of hot yoga— whether we’re talking about mildly heated vinyasa or Bikram, where the room is set to a sweaty 105 degrees F—know that the practice can be a welcome relief in the cold winter months. But what about when temperatures outside the studio are hotter than temperatures in?

Whether induced by vigorous exercise, high heat, or both, sweating is the body’s way of cooling us down, by absorbing heat and releasing it into the atmosphere. The process of evaporation is key to this function; that’s why doctors say to avoid wiping sweat if you can, letting it dissipate on its own instead. (If you’re dripping, however, you might as well wipe; anything that hits the floor won’t get a chance to cool you down.) But when we’re so used to “sweating it out,” how do we know when hot may be getting a little over the top?

It’s a simple matter of self-awareness, says Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga and a fan of hot yoga. “Sweating is detoxifying, while the heat itself can make our bodies more amenable to certain postures,” he says, noting that people with high blood pressure or heart conditions should use extra caution—or, even better, get the okay from a doctor first—when doing yoga in high heat. The downsides, of course, include the risk of dehydration and becoming overly exhausted. “Levels of tolerance are very individual, and can vary day by day,” he says.

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Posted on July 19th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Life Lessons, Medical Insights

What, us worry? Better than anyone.

In his new memoir,Monkey Mind, Daniel Smith describes a life spent in near- constant panic. He’d have recurring nightmares about premature death. He’d wrestle over the decision between ketchup and barbecue sauce. He’d sweat, a lot. In Monkey Mind—the title comes from the Buddhist term meaning “unsettled, restless”—Smith, now mostly recovered though still no stranger to the panic attack, uses humor and blunt-force honesty to describe what is an ever-present, and very American, condition: worry.

These days, everyone’s a worrier. Nearly one in five Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. If there were an international war of worriers, we’d be winning: According to a recent World Health Organization study, 31 percent of Americans are likely to suffer from an anxiety issue at some point in their lives. Compare that to second-place Colombia, where the anxious top out at 25.3 percent. Even those in developing countries are less likely to fret: According to the 2002 World Mental Health Survey, people in developing-world countries are up to five times less likely to show clinically significant anxiety levels than Americans. Until, that is, they move here.

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Posted on July 14th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Cooking Right: The Best Cookware for Healthful Eating at Home

In recent years, cookware has been the center of a hot, so to speak, debate, as environmental and health groups warn against the dangers of Teflon and other nonstick surfaces. According to tests issued by one group, cooking at very high temperatures can break down Teflon coating, emitting fumes and chemicals that include perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which can cause flulike symptoms in people (and kill pet birds). The Environmental Protection Agency, however, ruled that while Teflon and other nonstick products may contain trace amounts of PFOA, the levels are so small that the routine use of such products is not a concern, while lawsuits seeking to link PFOA in the water supply to an increased risk of cancer have been unsuccessful. Still, it’s been tough to overcome Teflon’s bad rap, and many people worry about using any form of nonstick, even if it’s labeled “PFOA-free”—just in case.

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Posted on July 7th, 2012 by in Yoga

Big Yoga

Yoga for the People—All 500,000 of them

Yoga is getting bigger—literally. The quarterly conferences run by Yoga Journal have grown considerably over the last decade, with the more popular teachers leading packed classes in giant ballrooms. Now in its third year, yoga and music festival Wanderlust runs four sold-out summer weekends throughout the country, attracting tens of thousands of people to group classes led by Seane Corn, Rodney Yee, and others. A few weeks ago, 500,000 Manhattan yogis gathered to celebrate the summer solstice in the middle of Times Square. And coming up, the GLBL Yoga Project, set for August 16, will turn Central Park into a giant yoga studio, with 15,000 yogis practicing to live music.

There are great advantages to practicing yoga in a large group, says Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga. “A yoga practice is called sangha, which means ‘community coming together,’” he says. “And there’s no doubt that our personal, spiritual, and individual growth is quickened when we have a community of like-minded souls reflecting back to us, with honesty, who we are.” Group experiences, says Devarshi—who recently returned from teaching at the Wanderlust Festival in Stratton, Vermont—can be especially conducive to forming an energy that’s much bigger than what we experience on our own. He points to the musician MC Yogi’s performances at Wanderlust. “His songs brought people together singing, screaming, moving,” he says. “It was so inspiring, I was sobbing.”

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