In this edition of Ask the Expert, Angela Wilson, a senior Kripalu faculty member and Project Leader for the Institute for Extraordinary Living’s Frontline Providers program, answers questions about the health benefits of meditation, the best time to meditate, and more. Does meditation have any actual health benefits? What does meditating do for my parasympathetic […]
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In this edition of Ask the Expert, Cristie Newhart, yoga advisor for Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs, deconstructs two foundational postures—Triangle and Standing Forward Fold—and explains why meditation doesn’t just have to happen on the cushion.
When I practice Standing Forward Fold, I tend to hyperextend my legs. Any recommendations for practicing this pose safely?
There are many reasons why people hyperextend the knees, and most of the reasons are due to the relationship of hamstrings to the quads. It’s important to practice in such a way that the muscles around the knee protect and stabilize the knee. In most cases, it’s helpful to lift the quadriceps muscles in the front of the leg. Also, remember to lengthen the front of the body as you fold. The top of the pelvis tilts forward as you bend at the hip crease—think of the way an old-fashioned Rolodex flips forward. Don’t be overly concerned with your torso coming to your thighs—instead think in terms of spinal length. Be aware of the support of abdominal muscles below the navel. This support allows for greater flexibility in the lumbar spine. If your arms don’t reach the floor, try resting them on blocks rather than letting them dangle. Pressing the hands into a stable surface can help you find more length in the spine. Please do not be afraid to practice this posture with bent knees until you have strengthened your hamstrings.
I don’t have time to meditate for more than 5 or 10 minutes early in the morning. Is that enough?
In this edition of Ask the Expert, Kripalu Yoga teacher, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist, and senior faculty member Janna Delgado answers your questions about the practice of yoga, exercises for the feet, and yoga-class etiquette.
When coming into Upward Facing Dog, how should I be utilizing my leg and abdominal muscles? Also, can you describe where my shoulders and arms should be in reference to my neck and head?
The leg muscles provide the power for the pose, so they should be engaged and active. The strength of the legs also supports the spine and protects the lower back. The knees are lifted and the toes are pointed, with the tops of the feet pressing firmly down into the floor. Maintain an internal rotation of the upper legs—the outer thighs should roll toward the floor in order to broaden the sacrum and prevent compression of the low back.
Core engagement is the other safeguard for the low back. You want to lift the perineum up, and draw the solar plexus in and up. The sacrum and tailbone lengthen down toward the heels, and the buttocks are soft, not clenched. This helps distribute the arc of the back bend evenly throughout the upper, middle, and lower back.
In this edition of Ask the Expert, Kripalu’s Lead Nutritionist, Annie B. Kay, answers your questions. An integrative dietitian and a Kripalu Yoga teacher, Annie is the author of the book Every Bite is Divine.
What would you recommend as a good diet for someone who is vegan and has IBS?
I invite those with IBS to try the experiment of eating gluten free as a starting point. Nutritional science research suggests that up to 40 percent of people have some level of difficulty digesting gluten, and if you have an IBS diagnosis, that risk skyrockets. Try it for 30 days. And don’t think of it as, I’m never going to be able to eat my favorite foods again. Think of it as collecting data. Even if you do find you’re sensitive to gluten, most people can tolerate a little bit of gluten.
You may not notice the full benefits for as long as six months, but you may notice a significant difference before then. Then you can determine whether eating gluten free is a lifestyle choice for you, or if you want to try reintroducing gluten. About half of those with IBS who go gluten free find it’s a miracle cure.
What kinds of tea have the most beneficial properties?
Ayurvedic Answers: Ancient approaches to health and wellness
In this edition of Ask the Expert, Larissa Hall Carlson, Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living and School of Ayurveda, answers your questions on Ayurveda for better health.
What would an Ayurvedic approach for treating insomnia look like?
One of the most essential things is to create a routine around bedtime. Try to get to bed between 9:30 and 11:00 pm, before the second wind hits, and ideally wake up with the sunrise, between 5:30 and 7:00 am. This gets the body, the nervous system, and the mind in harmony with the rhythm of nature, which is key for deep and satisfying sleep.
It’s also really important to create space between dinnertime and bedtime—give about two hours to digest dinner or that final snack before bed. The same goes for drinks—don’t drink too much water, tea, or alcohol close to bedtime. Generally, avoid drinking anything caffeinated after about 3:00 pm. If you’re feeling depleted, you might try making your last drink of the day be a cup of warm organic milk with a pinch of ginger, a pinch of cardamom, and a pinch of nutmeg—maybe drop in a few soaked, peeled almonds or dates. It’s extremely soothing, grounding, and yummy!
Decompressing properly before bed can really help as well= try staying off the computer, the TV, and the phone for at least an hour before bed to reduce sensory stimulation. One of my favorite bedtime rituals is to massage the feet, lower back, and ears for a few minutes, using warm sesame oil in the cold weather and coconut oil in the warm weather. Another really helpful technique is journaling before bed—or in the middle of the night if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep—to clear out the chatter in your mind and get your to-do list down on paper. I love to write down a gratitude list, too, so my mind is clear and my heart is open.
In this edition of Ask the Expert, John Bagnulo, PhD, Kripalu Healthy Living faculty, addresses questions on whether to eat or avoid common ingredients including fish, eggs, stevia, and whey.
The jury still seems out on the benefits vs. harm of eating fish. Based on the newest available evidence, what are the biggest risks, and do you recommend eating it at all?
I do advise people to eat fish. It offers nutrients that are more elusive in a vegan diet, without the health compromises that other sources of animal protein require you to make. I highly recommend sardines and mackerel as they are small, very clean, and packed with beneficial oils and trace minerals. They are on my top-five food list, in spite of being animals. I recommend that people avoid all big fish, especially large varieties of tuna and swordfish. These are tainted with PCBs, which I am much more concerned with than mercury.
Is there any harm in eating just egg whites (not the yolks)?
In this edition of Ask the Expert, senior Kripalu faculty member and yoga philosophy professor Randal Williams answers your questions about bringing awareness to your outdoor activities.
I like to hike and cross-country ski—what are some ways I can incorporate yoga and meditation practices into my outdoor activities?
When you’re physically active outdoors, it naturally enlivens your focus. When you’re climbing over rocks or roots, walking on slippery or rough terrain, you have to pay attention. This is good for sharpening your mind just like meditation does, along with the added benefit of being physically active.
In my own practice, I like to start out slow and take cues from the environment. If I hear a brook rushing or wind blowing, I’ll stop and listen. I approach the experience with a receptive frame of mind. You never know what you’re going to find, and that reinforces the feeling of being part of something bigger. This mindfulness approach is very much an intervention for calming busyness and stress.
In this edition of Ask the Expert, meditation teacher and senior Kripalu faculty member Bhavani Lorraine Nelson answers questions from readers like you.
My mind races when I sit. Can mantras help?
The reason I cover five or six different techniques in my Introduction to Meditation program is because not every type of meditation is effective for everyone. Some people thrive on simply sitting with the breath; for others, the breath is very ephemeral, so the mind has free rein to wander. Some concentration practices can be more engaging for the mind and help it to quiet down. Mantra is one of those—it can be helpful for people who find it difficult to sit simply with the breath.
Recent scientific research on mantra practice shows that it is very soothing to the nervous system because of the repetition. Setting an intention when repeating a mantra adds to the power of the practice. There are different mantras for different goals; practitioners can create a “family” of mantras to use at specific times and for specific purposes. It’s important, though, to have a primary mantra, just as you have a primary yoga practice. To find one, you might start with Thomas Ashley-Farrand’s book Healing Mantras. Choose a mantra that you’re drawn to and can imagine wanting to repeat often.
Is it “cheating” to visualize pretty patterns and concentrate on those, to stop “thinking”?