Alyssa Giacobbe

Alyssa Giacobbe

Posted on September 21st, 2012 by in Kripalu Kitchen, Studies, News, and Trends

Organic—and Ornery

Does eating organic make us mean?

A recent study conducted by researchers at Loyola University New Orleans looked at how food related to morality: how and whether what we eat influences how we think and act. The results, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, revealed that eating organic foods can most definitely impact morality, kindness, and attitudes toward others—but not necessarily in a good way. Participants who were exposed to organic foods, the study reported, volunteered significantly less time to help a stranger in need. They were also far more judgmental about others’ actions as they related to food and non-food subjects. In short, people who ate organic food were more likely to be jerks.

While most of the organics-loving people we know are kind, generous, lovely non-jerks, the results of the Loyola study could perhaps be explained by what Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a certified life coach and program advisor for Kripalu Healthy Living programs, calls “the curse of consciousness.” That is, the more we know, the more we want to impose that knowledge onto others. As we make changes for ourselves it becomes easier to notice those who have not made those changes for themselves, or who otherwise live differently. We may then judge them, even unconsciously.

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Posted on September 15th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Think… Negative?

It’s not the thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them.

A recent New York Times op-ed took issue with positive thinking. “What if we’re trying too hard to think positive?” asks Oliver Burkeman. According to research, he writes, visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it. “Or take affirmations,” he writes, “those cheery slogans intended to lift the user’s mood by repeating them: I am a lovable person! My life is filled with joy! Psychologists at the University of Waterloo concluded that such statements make people with low self-esteem feel worse—not least because telling yourself you’re lovable is liable to provoke the grouchy internal counterargument that, really, you’re not.”

But is this really true? According to the principles of Positive Psychology, focusing on growing happiness, love, success, and strengths through positive thinking is far more effective than trying to overcome anxiety, neuroses, and weakness alone. At the same time, overcoming anxiety and finding happiness needn’t mean denying less desirable emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or sadness. “Negative emotions are fact of life,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads many Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “Instead of thinking about how we can live without them, we should be thinking about how to deal with them.” That is, it’s not negative thinking that‘s the problem—it’s how we choose to react to it. “Sadness is part of life, grief is a part of life, but depression means your sadness has gotten stuck,” she says. “The idea is to be mindful of the kinds of thoughts we have. Some are positive and some are negative. Our lives involve both.”

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Posted on September 6th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Declutter Mentally and Physically

How to clear your head—and your life—of all that stuff.

For their book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles visited the homes of 32 typical middle-class, dual-income families in Los Angeles and recorded what they saw. The book was intended to provide, as they wrote, “an unflinching examination of actual homes amid all the joys and messiness of real life.” And messy it was:In the first house they went to, researchers logged more than 2,000 possessions—in the first three rooms alone.

Our well-documented obsession with stuff has spawned a backlash, naturally, including a movement of people who aspire to pare down to no more than 100 items—and utensils and underwear count. Many claim that among reducing the wastefulness associated with over-acquiring, a less cluttered home will lead to a less cluttered mind. But does it really work that way? Not necessarily, says Coby Kozlowski, MA, E-RYT, a professional life coach, inspirational speaker, and yoga teacher at Kripalu. “I don’t think it’s so black and white, though I do think having less stuff creates space in your life that can be supportive to reducing stress,” she says. “Stuff requires maintenance, which can eat up time and energy.”

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Posted on September 3rd, 2012 by in Ayurveda, Studies, News, and Trends

Aging Gracefully Through Ayurveda

It’s possible—really!

We’re a nation obsessed with youth. Even if you’re not actively trying to look like you did 10 years ago (or even one year ago), chances are you want to at least feel, and possibly think, younger. Who doesn’t?

“There seems to be a point where people realize that their previously youthful bodies—and minds—are changing, and they want to get back to where they were,” says Hilary Garivaltis, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. That’s normal. What isn’t normal—or needn’t be—is the notion that aging has to be filled with inevitable aches and pains. “We shouldn’t expect that we’ll get old and decrepit and that our bodies should hurt,” says Hilary. “We don’t need to suffer inordinately. That’s not necessarily the reality of aging.” Not according to Ayurveda, anyway.

The truth is that our bodies do break down as we get older—that’s fact. As the synovial fluid in the joints starts to wear thin, our bodies become more brittle, causing friction and pain. Bones, joints, and organs are more delicate. In Ayurveda, this also means an excess of vata, the dosha that governs movement in the body. Too much vata can mean dry

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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 Nutrition, Studies, News, and Trends

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, Studies, News, and Trends

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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