“The body is stimulated by proper exercise, which both strengthens and relaxes. We all must travel a long distance in this physical body. If we do not care for it, how can we reach our goal?” —Swami Kripalu
Summer is perfect for opening our senses to all that’s fresh and local. Choosing produce grown close to home yields great taste, supports your community’s farmers and economy, and cultivates a more direct connection to the earth. Nothing is more local than the herbs and greens you grow yourself. Greens are chock full of phytonutrients, plant compounds that provide a range of anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as support the body’s natural detoxification process. Even if you’re not a gardener, you can still get a huge nutritional bang for your effort-filled buck by planting a few parsley, cilantro, or basil seeds in a window box.
Scientists are learning more about the power of phytonutrients every day. A single piece of fruit or serving of vegetable may contain hundreds or even thousands of different kinds, and the complex phytonutrient profiles of simple-seeming plants reminds us of the complexity of nature and of life itself. The role these nutrients play in health—if and how they synergize with other nutrients, and the interplay between them and our environments and lifestyle choices—are all active areas of research.
It’s clear that scientists are discovering what yogis have known all along: Fresh, local herbs and produce carry the essence of health. Let’s enjoy the taste of what summer offers us now.
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.”
Welcome to the Kripalu Yoga Posture Clinic, week twelve! Here, Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, and Jovinna Chan, Assistant Dean, share sound tips to help your savasana soar and soothe. These clips can be enjoyed independently or as a series for a complete practice, once they’re all published. Thanks for coming back every Wednesday for this 12-week series. Enjoy!
Where Yoga and Shamanism Meet, Bold Directions Unfold
In 2006, Kripalu faculty member Ray Crist was recovering from a debilitating illness. A yoga teacher, martial artist, and Reiki practitioner, Ray had spent four years traveling the world seeking those who could heal him. His quest took him from the Buddhist monasteries on the borders of Cambodia to the clinics of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. But when he ventured into the jungles of Peru to study with Incan shamans, the experience opened new doors of perception—and healing—within himself.
Guided by Don Manuel Portugal, a shaman in Cuzco, Peru, Ray discovered the culture, mythology, and practices of Incan shamanism. “Shamans are the medicine people of their tribe,” Ray says. “Their methods of healing center on the ‘energy body’ and plant medicine.” The deeper he delved into Incan shamanism, the more he began to notice profound similarities with yoga. “Yogis and shamans view the world as a physical world,” he explains. “Traumatic experiences are embedded in the body—near a joint, muscle, meridian, internal organ, or chakra. Yoga and shamanism help us delve into the root of our traumas to find healing on physical and emotional levels.” Ray began incorporating shamanistic principles into his yoga practice, imbuing it with a new richness. “Shamanism brought to my practice a direct awareness of energy moving through my body, a visceral understanding of what each asana offers,” he says.
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?
Melanie Roche, MA, is a healer in private practice who works with clients worldwide. She served on the faculty of the Barbara Brennan School of Healing at both the Miami and Tokyo campuses, and is now developing her own method, integrating healing with mind-body practices.
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A Work to heal clients via phone or Skype and in person, and lead workshops internationally.
Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.
A I found a lump in my breast when I was in my early thirties. I had surgery, but also went to an energy healer. That healing was a profound experience—it changed my life, and I switched careers. Now I give healings and teach others how to do the same.
Q What do you love about teaching?
Americans love protein; in fact, most Americans eat twice the amount of protein recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Institutes of Health. (It recommends about 50 gm of protein per day for the average adult. For reference, a cut of animal protein the size of a deck of cards contains about 21 gm of protein) While the media and food marketing companies suggest that these high levels of protein make us strong and healthy, a growing body of science disagrees, reminding us that when it comes to nutrition, more isn’t necessarily better. While protein is critical for good nutrition, too much can cause problems, such as an acid-base imbalance, which can undermine bone and overall health. The food we eat profoundly impacts this balance.
Our bodies operate best at an overall pH of 7.35. When we eat foods that create acids (typically those that are high in protein and low in minerals), the body needs to buffer the acid in order to maintain its pH. The buffering process taxes the respiratory system and other organs, works the kidneys harder, and can draw calcium out of the body. In addition, research has shown that cancer development and growth is much greater in even slightly acidic conditions.