Medical Insights

Here, find posts from our Kripalu faculty that relate to scientific studies, medical findings, and health research.

Posted on August 4th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Off the Mat and Into the Woods

Where Yoga and Nature Meet

Tresca Weinstein, guest blogger

Each time they co-teach the Kripalu program Yoga and Kayaking, Greg DiLisio and Johnny Snyder lead what they call a “floating meditation.” As the sun begins to rise over the Berkshires, the group rows together toward the center of Lake Mahkeenac, its surface shrouded in early-morning mist. Then they pull in their paddles, close their eyes, and let themselves float wherever the current and breeze carry them.

“There’s a universal feeling that water can provide—a sense of being in the flow, and of being connected to the source,” says Greg, a quigong, tai chi, and yoga teacher as well as avid outdoor sportsman. “We encourage people to touch the water, to sense it around and within them, to appreciate it as a life force.”

Just as our yoga practice on the mat can serve as a microcosm for our day-to-day experience, nature can be a powerful metaphor for life. Confronting and moving through discomfort in the context of nature opens the door to overcoming fear in other areas of life. The offshore meditation in Greg’s kayaking program brings people face-to-face with their fears of being unmoored—literally and figuratively—and alone in the unknown.

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Resilience Through Positive Connection

In this video series, Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Maria Sirois, PsyD, shares her wisdom on the topic of resiliency and suggests ways to cultivate it in your daily life. Are you resilient? What does it mean to you to be flexible?

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Posted on July 26th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Turning Point: Q & A with Mark Pettus, MD

Mark Pettus, MD, is a board-certified internist and nephrologist who has been practicing for more than 25 years. He currently serves as Chief of Medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, New York, and is the author of The Savvy Patient: The Ultimate Advocate For Quality Health Care. Mark has been featured on numerous television and radio programs nationally.

Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A I serve as Chief of Medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, New York, overseeing all aspects of patient care, quality, safety, and performance improvement.

Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
A Ten years ago, when I was in my early forties, my blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and quality of life were beginning to take a turn for the worst. This was an epiphany for me, as I became awakened to the power of self-care and self-regulation. As we are clearly not prisoners of our DNA, I started on a mission to transform the health trajectory that had consumed both of my parents at young ages. I eat whole, nutritious foods, move a lot, and meditate often. My life will never be the same-or, as another famous Yogi (the baseball player) once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

Q What do you love about teaching?

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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 June 30th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Get Happy: Lessons from the New Field of Positive Psychology

Is happiness possible for all of us? How do we take the first step?

Cheryl Kain, Guest Blogger

Because the Constitution declares our right to pursue happiness, contentment can seem, for many Americans, like a birthright. At the same time, the quest for happiness can feel like herding cats—elusive and frustrating. We’re failures if we aren’t “happy” all the time—that’s why scores of books are written promising the secrets to happiness. But the search for happiness as an aggressive imperative can have the opposite effect, especially since happiness is relative for many people, including those facing poverty, health problems, or deep despair. The questions become: Can we ever truly achieve happiness? And could there be a set of universal prescriptions for getting there?

Teacher and author Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology and author of Being Happy: You Don’t Have to be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life, says the number-one predictor of well-being is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. “Latin Americans are happier than North Americans, because of the emphasis on relationships,” he says. “Friends and family play a much more central role in their lives.” This certainly rings true for me: In my own life, I have been far happier in my thirties and forties than when I was a singing-career-obsessed twentysomething. According to Gail Sheehy’s New York Times bestseller, Passages, I am a “deferred nurturer” and, admittedly, I did not value relationships as much as I did getting ahead in those earlier years. Smack dab in early midlife, relationships trump all for me now. My daily relational experiences, whether with my bestie or the grocery clerk, far outshine the pleasure of those long-ago pipe dreams.

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Posted on June 26th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Vitamin D: On the D List?

Vitamin D has been the subject of great debate in recent years, with most experts agreeing that we’re dangerously deficient but little consensus regarding just how much we need—or how we should be getting it. According to the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly half of all U.S. adults are vitamin D deficient, and even more have levels that are lower than is ideal.

We need D. Studies have shown that vitamin D—which is, in fact, not a vitamin but rather a hormone—may help prevent a number of serious illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, certain types of cancer, and cardiovascular disease. What’s more, it’s believed to be an important factor in ensuring healthy bones, since D aids in the body’s absorption of calcium. But in recent years, deficiencies have climbed in direct relation to our awareness of the need to wear sunscreen. Our bodies produce all the D we need through the sun’s UVB rays most—though not all—of which a decent sunscreen filters out. And though certain foods are rich in D—including fatty fish, eggs, and fortified dairy—most experts have thought that we don’t eat enough of these foods on a consistent basis to take in all the D we need. And so until recently, the smartest move, experts have said, was to get a little D from the sun and the rest from supplements. (The most recent recommendation by the Institute of Medicine put the amount of D we need per day at 600 i.u. for those ages 1 to 70, and 800 i.u. for those over 70, up from the previous recommendation of 200 to 600 i.u.)

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Posted on June 21st, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Eating for Good Behavior

What’s really causing your kids’ ADHD?

Here’s some food for thought—literally. About 10 percent of kids in the United States have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), leaving many parents to weigh the pros and cons of treatments that often include behavioral therapy, medication, and dietary modifications like coffee before school (really!). But researchers in the Netherlands argue that 64 percent of those diagnosed kids are actually experiencing a hypersensitivity to food, and that the key to treating ADHD—and perhaps even preventing it—is as simple as a change in diet.

The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, suggests that with a dietary overhaul—which often calls for an elimination of some combination of sugar, dairy, gluten, and preservatives—kids with ADHD could experience a serious reduction in symptoms like excessive fidgeting, outbursts, and the inability to concentrate. A follow-up study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that a diet rich in fish, vegetables, whole-grain foods, fruits, and legumes seemed to improve symptoms for kids with ADHD, while an Australian study found that kids who typically eat a Western-style diet—often including fast food and high-fat dairy—were significantly more likely to have ADHD than kids who ate a more healthful diet.

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Posted on June 4th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights, Meditation

Meditating for a Better Brain

Aging Gracefully Through Meditation

Meditation has long been believed to be a win-win proposition, carrying certain psychological benefits with zero risk or cost. People who meditate regularly report lower levels of stress, improvements in concentration and memory, and slower reactivity (no more road rage!). The mental relaxation produced by meditation can have physiological benefits, too, in the same way we know that a calmer emotional state is good for our physical body. But a few new studies reveal that the practice may have profound effects on actual brain development—something traditionally believed to peak in our 20s and then begin to decline.

Researchers at the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at UCLA have spent years studying how meditation may affect neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to make physiological changes. In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the lab reported finding that long-term meditators had brain function that not only did not decline as they aged, but improved, thanks to an increase in brain gyrification—activity that happens in the cerebral cortex, or the outermost part of the brain. The lab also determined that the brains of dedicated meditators have more gray matter, which affects the brain’s ability to process information, and white matter, which helps a person communicate clearly.

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