Posted on October 17th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Sleep, Perchance

We need eight hours, yes. But all at once?

Americans have a twisted relationship with sleep. Most of us, when asked, would say that we don’t get enough. We’re too busy, we’re too wired, we can’t manage to stay in bed past 6 am. But then we do all the things we know we’re not supposed to: triple lattes in the afternoon, late-night snacks, e-mailing on our smartphones from under the covers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 41 million of us get six or fewer hours of sleep per night, a fact that stresses us out and causes us to sleep still less. As a collective group, we’re exhausted.

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Posted on October 16th, 2012 by in Nutrition

Harvest Nutrition

Although most of the fruits and vegetables we associate with autumn are not related botanically, they offer our bodies a consistent nutritional theme. Apples, pears, grapes, beets, and squash are all excellent sources of soluble fiber and all but the squash are great sources of one particular type of soluble fiber: pectin. Pectin has a long list of research-substantiated health effects that range from lowering cholesterol levels to removing heavy metals and other contaminants from the body. This is truly nature’s soft detox agent and a great way to prepare for the short days of winter.

In addition to this great source of soluble fiber, these fruits and vegetables are very alkalizing as they are all great sources of potassium. They have unique phytonutrients that are protective against carcinogens. The ellagic acid in grapes and the betacyanin in beets stand out in this area, but winter squash varieties that cook to a dark orange are loaded with a wide variety of carotenoids that offer similar protection. Autumn makes it easy to eat the amount of fruits and vegetables that we need to feel our best.

What are your favorite autumn fruits or vegetables to eat? Share your recipes!

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Posted on October 15th, 2012 by in Life Lessons, Meditation, Yoga

Cultivating Inner Strength

Do you suffer from anxiety, poor digestion, or lack of focus? When life’s demands overwhelm us, Angela Wilson, Manager of Evidence-Based Yoga Curriculum for Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living, explains in her R&R retreat lecture Cultivating Inner Strength, our nervous system gets out of balance. Through the practices of yoga meditation, and mindfulness, however, we can build resilience in order to be fully aware of all our experiences.

As Angela explains, there are two main branches of the nervous system. There’s the sympathetic nervous system, which activates the fight-or-flight response in reaction to stressful situations. It’s a hot, reactive state, which increases heart rate and primes the body for action. The other branch is the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated when the body is relaxed. The parasympathetic supports a cooling, restful and state. It soothes the system, aids in digestion, and can be fostered through yoga practice.

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Posted on October 14th, 2012 by in Moment of Quiet

Moment of Quiet

“Growth allows a portion of the mind to remain an objective witness even in a disturbed state. The witness is always there, if one can keep a wakeful attitude in one’s self.”—Swami Kripalu    

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Posted on October 13th, 2012 by in Life Lessons, Yoga

Training the Judgy Brain

That girl isn’t pretty enough to be that annoying.

WHAT? WHAT did you just think? Who ARE you?

Oh, right. I’m me. Hi. My name is Valerie and I have a judgmental brain feed that reads like a cross between Mean Girls,The Hangover, and Heathers. It’s stunning to me. But there it is. Judge, judge, judge, all the livelong day.

Swami Kripalu once said, “Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart.” I’m pretty sure that judging others also breaks our heart. That’s partly because we bear the brunt of the poison that burbles up to form a negative judgment, and partly because we’re all energetically connected. I’m convinced that, on some level,we feel each other’s psychic barbs, especially if we intentionally throw them. They’re also the seeds of violence and war.

Harsh, constant judging creates barriers—which at times can actually be helpful. When judgments protect us from maniacs who cause harm, that’s good (yep, I’m judging!). But we also use judgments to protect our hearts from other scary things, like, you know, love. If I’m judging you, then I don’t have to take you in. I don’t have to need you. I don’t have to be vulnerable to you. I’m tough—I’ve got my barbed wire thoughts and they’re protecting me! (Or not.)

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Posted on October 12th, 2012 by in Kripalu Kitchen, Nutrition

Tea for Two and Happiness to Go

A few weeks ago, I came across an article from The Atlantic called “New Reasons to Drink More Tea.” Though I didn’t really think I needed more reasons to enjoy my daily green tea, I read on just to see how science was catching up to what us tea devotees already know: A cup or two of tea a day not only keeps the doctor away, but it also keeps us in tune with the joyous rhythms of life.

The article says that scientific studies are, in fact, starting to show all kinds of health benefits from drinking a few cups of green tea—and in some cases black tea—a day. Benefits range from weight loss to heart health to increases in bone and muscle strength. Plus, as Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science at Tufts University, points out in the article, “It’s really important to remember that tea is a plant.” He explains that the flavonoids extracted from tea leaves are similar to the beneficial phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. So if we can’t eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables, he suggests, why not count tea as one or two servings?

When I read this, I instantly thought of my 16-year-old daughter. Though she eats a basically sound diet thanks to the fact that we only have quality foods in the house, I have to say that she isn’t exactly a huge fan of kale. However, she loves starting her day with a cup of green tea.

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Posted on October 11th, 2012 by in Outside Our Walls, Yoga

The High School Brain on Yoga

Iona Smith, guest blogger

Like most of us, I would not want to relive my teenage years—unless I could do so knowing what I know now. Even so, I’ve been drawn to working with teenagers in my adult life. As a high school biology teacher back in my twenties and in my current role as a yoga educator in high schools, I’ve been able to pursue my passion for providing teenagers with tools for coping—tools I wish I’d had at their age.

Four years ago, I helped the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL) launch a pilot research study on how yoga affects teenagers. To date, we’ve found that our Yoga in the Schools program does indeed have beneficial effects on students’ resilience and ability to manage anger. As I head into my fifth year teaching yoga in a high school setting, I’m confident that I’m providing students with the wisdom and tools to help them navigate their teenage years in healthier, more skillful ways.

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Posted on October 10th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Studies, News, and Trends

Cancer Prevention

It’s a lot simpler than we think.

At the Union for International Cancer Control’s recent World Cancer Congress,Washington University School of Medicine researcher Graham Colditz, PD, DrPH, reported that more than 50 percent of cancer could be prevented if we implemented certain “lifestyle changes,” including quitting smoking and avoiding obesity.

Seems somewhat obvious, right? Maybe, maybe not. Although we read enough to know that eating right, exercising, and minimizing our exposure to known toxins (cigarettes among them) can limit our risk of developing cancer, most of us don’t necessarily believe it. “Many people are still under the impression that most cancer is genetic,” says Susan B. Lord,MD, a faculty member in Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “But the real figure is actually five percent.” That is, five percent of cancers have strong genetic ties, and the rest are related to environment and lifestyle. This means that the disease is far more preventable than we tend to think it is. In fact, Dr. Colditz estimated that improvement in diet could reduce cancer incidence by 50 percent, and increases in physical activity could reduce cancer incidence by as much as 85 percent, in five to 20 years.

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