Recently, we have been focusing on heart health in my weekly yoga class series. A key resource for this class has been the book Yoga for Healthy Aging by Baxter Bell.
According to Bell, yoga is great for the heart because it incorporates active exercises, resting and restorative poses, and stress management practices.
These are the ways yoga benefits the heart:
Yoga exercises the heart,
When we practice longer holds in yoga poses or do a dynamic sequence of poses, we get the heart pumping which strengthens the heart muscle in a healthy way.
Yoga rests the heart
When we do restorative and resting poses, we slow the heart rate down and lower our blood pressure.
Yoga improves circulation
A well-rounded yoga practice supports healthy circulation through the active contraction and relaxation of muscles. Inverted poses are beneficial for improving circulation because in these poses the veins move the blood toward the heart. These poses can also reduce swelling in the lower part of the body.
Yoga helps us reduce stress
One of the clearest ways in which yoga benefits the heart is through resting the heart and relaxing the body and mind. When we're stressed, our body's sympathetic nervous system, fight or flight response, causes a release of cortisol and adrenaline which narrows our arteries and increases blood pressure. This is good for getting away from the tiger but not good for our heart if this becomes frequent or chronic. Yoga helps the body turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest response, which helps us de-stress, lowering blood pressure and lowering levels of cortisol in the body. Practiced over time, yoga can help us be less reactive to stress and intense emotions.
Such stress management techniques also reduce inflammation which is understood to be a primary cause of obstructed arteries and contributes to the hardening of blood vessels. Further, stress management can lead to maintaining a healthy weight which is important for overall heart health.
Resources/articles on yoga and heart health
Yoga for Healthy Aging by Baxter Bell
How Yoga May Enhance Heart Health by Harvard Health
The Heart Yoga Connection by Johns Hopkins Medicine
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Ayurvedic wellness is a time tested tradition that excels at guiding individuals toward greater well-being through lifestyle habits, individualized diet recommendations, and mind-body practices.
How to cultivate health and well-being in a busy, complicated world
These days health and well-being can be hard to come by. There is so much information out there about diet, exercise and lifestyle. You may wonder what diet you should be eating. Vegetarian, paleo, raw, vegan? Should you go gluten free? Should you cut out dairy? Caffeine? What is the best exercise for you? Yoga, pilates? Cross fit? Running? And what can you do to get better sleep, more energy and manage stress?
Ayurveda can help! In this post, I am going to give you an introduction to Ayurveda and the Ayurvedic dosha model, a time-tested model that can help you understand your own unique mind-body so you can make choices to optimize your wellness.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda means the “knowledge or wisdom of life.” Ayurveda is a holistic system of health and well-being that originated in the ancient Indian Vedic system of knowledge and is considered the sister sciences of yoga as it shares with yoga the goals of optimal physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Ayurveda offers a holistic lifestyle approach to health including lifestyle habits and guidelines, specific body practices, individual diet recommendations, and herbal remedies.
A central concept in Ayurveda is the tridoshic system. Health is considered to be the balance of three basic energetic forces or principles called doshas. When these doshas are in a normal state in terms of quality and quantity, there is a balance. When the quality or quantity of a particular dosha shifts, there is an imbalance.
In this post I give an overview of Ayurveda’s 3 dosha model. This knowledge can help you understand how to choose an appropriate diet, movement and lifestyle. Stepping into an understanding of Ayurveda allows you to align to your bio-rhythms and to the larger rhythm of nature.
When it comes to health, there is no one size fits all.
Each of us is unique. Our mind-body is unique. Not understanding your body and constitution can lead to suffering. When you don’t know how to eat, move and care for your unique mind-body, you may make choices that don’t serve your body-mind and can cause problems in the short and long term such as:
How I discovered Ayurveda
I’ve had a life- long interest in healthy living. I come from a family that engaged in regular exercise and a love of the outdoors. I have always loved to cook and became interested early on in whole foods cooking. In college, I worked at a vegetarian collectively run restaurant and in college, I also discovered yoga. Through yoga, I began to learn more and more about my unique body mind, and I began to discover my innate strengths and limitations. I became more and more curious about how to build a healthy life for myself.
Nearly twenty years ago I was on retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs and picked up the book Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra. It was in this book that I first was introduced to the ideas of Ayurveda. Chopra writes:
“Everywhere you look, your body is doing something unique with every molecule of air, water, and food you take in, guided by its innate tendencies. You have the choice to follow these tendencies or to modify them, but to recklessly oppose them is unnatural. In Ayurveda, living in tune with nature – easily comfortably and without strain – means respecting your uniqueness…
The Ayurvedic body type is a blueprint outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system….. By knowing your body type, an Ayurvedic doctor can tell which diet, physical activities and medical therapies should help you and which might do no good and even cause harm.”
This was so intriguing to me that I devoured the book over the weekend I was there and I purchased my own copy of the book later. This was my own first intro into Ayurveda and it was compelling. And it was comforting. I could see through the lens of Ayurveda more clearly my innate physical, mental and emotional tendencies.
Through learning Ayurveda, I have learned to understand and respect my body-mind and to live in sync with it. Even though I had many healthy living habits such as a whole foods diet, regular exercise, yoga, and meditation, prior to adopting Ayurvedic guidelines and habits, I tended to suffer in my life from worry, anxiety, sleep issues, irregular or poor digestion and stress. With the Ayurvedic living principles, I now enjoy a diet, physical activity and a daily routine that are right for my constitution. As a result, I get deep rest, feel naturally exuberant, grounded and well nourished.
I’m excited to share the Ayurvedic body-mind constitution model with you.
5 Elements and 3 Doshas
According to Ayurveda, the entire universe is an interplay of the five elements - Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Ayurveda groups the five elements into three basic energetic forces or principles called doshas that are present in all bodies and in all things. The literal meaning of dosha is “fault” or “impurity”, but this idea is misleading. I believe doshas can be better understood as organizing principles or influences. When these doshas are in a normal state in terms of quality and quantity, there is a balance. When the quality or quantity of a particular dosha shifts, there is an imbalance.
The Three Doshas are:
The Doshas and their Attributes
Ayurveda describes 20 attributes or gunas that exist in our bodies and in the natural world. They are:
Vata: air + ether has the following attributes:
Pitta: fire + water has the following attributes:
Kapha: water + earth has the following attributes:
Doshas at a glance
Vata Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Vata is governed by the elements of air and space. Vata people are enthusiastic, mentally quick, alert, creative, flexible, and may speak quickly. Vata people tend to have lankier, slighter builds, and less stable joints. Vata eating patterns and digestion can tend to be irregular. When a vata person is out of balance, she may feel over-stimulated, ungrounded, restless, and suffer from anxiety and insomnia. Vata individuals are aggravated by dry, cold windy weather, overstimulation, travel, lack of routine, and too much change. Those with vata constitutions benefit from a consistent daily routine for rising, eating and sleeping, and need to focus on keeping warm and hydrated.
Pitta Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Pitta is governed by the elements of fire and water. Pitta people tend to be passionate and intense. They generally have medium, athletic builds, paler, ruddier complexions, and lighter-colored eyes. They exhibit strong precision, willfulness, focus, courage, articulate speech, and goal-oriented behavior. Pitta individuals have strong appetites, strong thirst, and generally have regular digestion. When out of balance, a pitta person will overwork, burning the candle at both ends. An out-of-balance pitta person will become aggravated, overly competitive, controlling, quarrelsome, intolerant, and enraged. Excess pitta manifests as inflammation, infection, and irritation.
Kapha Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Kapha is governed by the elements of water and earth, and tend to be calm, unruffled people by nature. Kapha individuals tend to have larger, stable body types, large, soft eyes, and slower metabolisms. When in balance, kapha people tend to be grounded, consistent, calm, romantic, devoted, and patient. When out of balance, kapha people can be stubborn and feel stuck and sluggish in body and mind, tend toward procrastination, weight gain and excessive sleep, and may become possessive, melancholy and depressed. Kapha is aggravated by cool and damp weather.
What constitutional types or dosha(s) seem to best fit who you are in general? Note: Most people exhibit more than one dosha with one dosha being more dominant.
Take my Ayurvedic Constitution Assessment
Download and print the PDF below to discover your Ayurvedic dosha
Whatever your age, yoga and Ayurveda are meant to enhance your wellbeing and help you live with ease and age gracefully. This winter's yoga series focuses on healthy aging, and one of the areas we focus on is: balance.
Physically and anatomically speaking, balance refers to our ability to maintain a stable position.
According to Baxter Bell in his book Yoga for Healthy Aging, our ability to balance is reliant on the health of various systems and factors in our body:
As we age, some of these systems may start to decline. Some of these changes are a fact of the aging process such as the fact that the functioning of our inner ears gradually declines as we age as does the vision for most older adults. As we age, muscle atrophy can cause loss of strength over time. Muscles and joints become stiffer with age which affects our range of motion. Wearing shoes over time can affect the sensitivity in our feet, making the feet stiffer, weaker, and less sensitive. A more sedentary lifestyle can lead to reduced proprioception over time.
Fortunately, a little bit of yoga every day or a few times a week can really help adults maintain and improve balance.
This is how yoga helps:
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This Saturday I turn 50! I'm excited to step into my 5th decade. I started practicing yoga in college thirty years ago, just after I turned 20. This morning as I sat to meditate and do my asana practice, I was reflecting on my experience of practicing yoga almost daily for three decades. Here are my musings on my thirty years of practicing yoga:
I have often said that yoga was my saving grace and I still find this to be true. To have found a practice that would help me in so many ways and lead me home to discover and know myself on a deeper and deeper level has been truly a gift. Each decade of yoga has shown me new things about myself. In my twenties, I learned to touch my toes and stand on my head. It was thrilling. Yoga made me feel strong and free and I gave myself over to the discipline of yoga with a great deal of zeal and enthusiasm. More importantly though, in my twenties, yoga taught me that there was a place inside me that I could go to release the doubt and anxiety that often plagued me as a young woman (and sometimes still plagues me). I learned how to settle my nervous system, to be comfortable in my own skin, and to be content with my own company.
In my thirties, I became a mother, and yoga became precious "me-time" in the midst of raising two young kids. Yoga was usually the only time I had to be alone in a day, and I deeply cherished my practice as a time of crucial self-care and self-reflection. In my thirties, I learned that the bigger practice of yoga was often "off the mat." These words of yogi and author Judith Lasater rang true for me: "the strength of my yoga is not necessarily tested during my practice of poses or breathing techniques but in my intimate relationships." I realized that yoga as "skill in action" meant that there was a deeper way of practicing yoga off the mat that included my thoughts, as well as my words and actions.
In my forties, my yoga practice shifted to prioritize meditation. I became part of a dedicated meditation community, and I committed to a regular twice daily meditation practice. Although I have continued to practice yoga asana nearly daily, my pillar yoga practice in this decade has been meditation. My meditation practice has opened me to an increasing depth of experience inside myself and also with regards to myself in the world. This decade has also opened me to Ayurveda. As I moved into peri-menopause in my early forties, I realized my body and mind needed support that was different from what I was doing on the mat and cushion. The sister tradition and science of Ayurveda has offered me a framework for understanding my unique constitution so I can make conscious choices with regards to my lifestyle, diet and work in order to orient my life toward ease rather than dis-ease. Ayurveda has taught me how to align my body-mind with the rhythms of nature so I can age more gracefully.
Where will yoga in my fifties take me? I'm excited to find out!
Thank you for being my yoga community! Many of you receiving this email have practiced yoga for a long time too. I'd love to hear how yoga has shaped your life.
We are used to using spices to enhance the flavor or food. Our spice pantry is also a medicine chest! Learning the beneficial health properties of spices and herbs is a fun way to turn your kitchen into a pharmacy.
There are so many herbs and spices to choose from! Here is a list of some of my favorite herbs and spices with their energetic qualities and health benefits.
Anise: pungent, heating, light, detoxifying, boosts digestion
Allspice: pungent, heating, boosts digestion
Asafoetida: pungent, heating, dispels gas, boosts digestion, anti-parasitic, antibiotic
Basil: astringent, warming, stimulating
Black pepper: pungent, heating, increases circulation, promotes digestion and weight loss, relieves cough and congestion
Bay leaf: pungent, bitter, heating, boosts digestion
Caraway: sour, pungent, warming, reduces gas, relieves water retention
Cardamom: sweet, mildly pungent, cooling, digestive stimulant, curbs sweet cravings, relieves gas and indigestion
Cayenne: pungent, heating, promotes circulation, heating, and drying
Cinnamon: sweet, mildly pungent, warming, boosts circulation, detoxifying, antiseptic
Clove: pungent, heating, stimulates digestion, remedy for colds and coughs, antibacterial, anti-fungal
Coriander/cilantro: astringent, cooling, relieves excess heat, boosts digestion, relieves gas
Cumin: slightly pungent, bitter, warming, strong digestive, boosts appetite, cleanses fat and toxins, antimicrobial
Fennel: sweet, cooling, cooling digestive, breath sweetener
Fenugreek: pungent, bitter, boosts digestive fire, relieves gas and indigestion, increases lactation,
Garlic: pungent, heating, anti-parasitic, immune booster
Ginger: pungent, warming, strong digestive
Mint: sweet and slightly pungent, cooling, boosts digestive fire, curbs cravings, antibacterial, reduces inflammation
Mustard seed: pungent, heating, boosts digestive fire
Nutmeg: pungent, heating, stimulates digestion, binds stool, induces sleep
Oregano: slightly pungent, warming, boosts digestive fire, diuretic, decongestant
Parsley: astringent, pungent, warming, drying, reduces water, digestive aid, alkalizing, aids in weight loss
Rose: sweet, mildly bitter, cooling, soothes inflammation, calms nerves
Rosemary: pungent, heating, reduces gas
Thyme: pungent, heating, reduces mucus, astringent, antibiotic
Turmeric: bitter, heating, digestive, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungal
We all have to eat, and what we choose to eat affects our own health and the health of the planet. To this end, I have created a downloadable Healthy Eating Tip Sheet (see below).
In this blog, I discuss meal timing, meal spacing, and why a bigger, better lunch may be healthier for you.
What is a plant based diet?
Unlike most diets, a plant-based diet is defined by what it focuses on, not what it excludes. When you eat a plant based diet, you maximize consumption of nutrient-dense plant based foods while minimizing processed foods, oils, and animal foods. Eat veggies, fruits, beans, seeds, and nuts. Include local and sustainably-raised dairy, eggs, poultry, and meat in smaller amounts if you wish.
Foods to Favor for Summer
The summer season has these characteristics: heat, long days of bright sun, and sharp intensity.
These are all attributes of pitta dosha (fire and a little water), which is why summer is considered in Ayurveda to be a pitta season. And, even though some climates are also humid this time of year, the cumulative effect of intense heat is to dry things out, so summer is also considered dry.
According to Ayurveda, our bodies heat up over the course of the summer season. The effects of this heat can show up as skin irritations, rashes, hay fever, and disrupted digestion. If you suffer from any of these, it is likely that your body has accumulated excess heat. If you can cool and release the hot, sharp qualities of summer from your body, you will enjoy the summer season more.
Thankfully, if you look to what is fresh in your area, you can cool the heat by eating what nature provides best this season.
Inflammation is the cause of many serious diseases. Inflammation in the body occurs due to factors such including stress, lack of movement, genetic disposition, and a poor diet. If you are eating a plant-based diet, chances are you are probably eating an anti-inflammatory diet as well.
I acknowledge that life continues to be pretty crazy for all of us. Despite all that is challenging and intense, I hope you are treating yourself to some time outside. Nature's healing energy is good for all of us. With this in mind, I offer you some seasonal wellness tips from Ayurveda.
The Mighty Dandelion
What is more hip than kale? Dandelions! Dandelions are some of the healthiest greens around, and, they are everywhere... in your yard and garden, along roads and pathways, in fields.
Ayurveda is all about embracing what's seasonal. As the summer heats up, you can balance the heat of the summer with bitter greens.
Read more and watch a video about spring season foods and ideas on my blog: Foods to Favor in Spring
Ever since I was young, I have always loved ringing in the New Year. It has always been a special and potent time for reflecting on my past and envisioning the future. As a kid, I always enjoyed the ritual of writing New Year’s resolutions. As a yogi, this ritual has morphed into what I call a New Year's Reflection and dharma exercise.
The word dharma comes from Sanskrit, and it refers to your unique purpose and passion in life. The dharma alignment exercise is an opportunity to get clear on who you are, who you are becoming, what you stand for, and where you want to put my time and energy. The premise is that you are not entirely the same as you were twelve months ago. Hopefully you have evolved. That is the point! Hopefully you have learned and grown from the past year and have acquired new gifts and skills to take with you into the New Year.
The Busy Month of December
If your life is like that of most North Americans, the month of December is intensely busy with activities, to-lists, gift lists and holiday events. Peace and tranquility may be what you want, yet for many, this month and the holiday season is far from peaceful.
Yet, I believe in my capacity (and yours) to cultivate peace this month and and anytime.
Thanksgiving is coming right up!
Here is a list of 13 tips for a making your Thanksgiving weekend healthier.
1. Plan to eat your Thanksgiving meal at midday or in the afternoon. This is when your digestive capacity is at its peak. Studies show that eating the bulk of your calories earlier in the day supports maintaining a healthy weight.
Don’t you hate it when you realize that you’ve been living life in the fast lane, being too busy, feeling stressed, not eating well and not resting enough, and you wear down on your immune system and you end up sick. Let’s not let that happen!
An on-going theme that I teach my clients and emphasize in my wellness courses and explore in my own life is how to step into the role of being your own best care-giver and how to prioritize self-care. This is the intelligent stance of putting yourself first when it comes to health. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
Are you tired of being tired?
I can't believe how often I hear this. I get it. I'm 48 and may women (and men) in my age bracket just don't sleep as well as they used to.
This post is for you if..
Eat for the season.
I so appreciate how Ayurveda, the healing tradition from India that I am so found of, offers guidance for living in sync with the seasons of the year and suggests adjustments for diet and daily activities to stay healthy and balanced.
If we don’t live in alignment with the seasons, we can easily fall into imbalance and dis-ease. When we understand the nature of the season and how to adapt, we can weather the changes and thrive.
The days are getting chillier. Apples are falling off the trees. The trees in my back yard are starting to drop their leaves. The natural world is in transition and the Ayurveda tradition offers a wonderful lens from which to understand this season and practical guidance for healthy living.
In Ayurveda, autumn is considered a vata season dominated by the elements of air and space. The qualities of autumn according to Ayurveda are dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear. To see this in nature and in our own lives, think of dry leaves and skin, windy weather, erratic schedules, cool mornings and clear nights.
Because this season is dynamic, moving and changeable, there is a sense of excitement and possibility. At the same time, the qualities of dynamism and variability inherent to Autumn can leave us feeling overwhelmed or depleted, especially those of us who have busy schedules. Therefore Ayurveda recommends focusing on the qualities that balance vata.
To bring balance to the busyness of this season, focus on creating more predictable routines and boundaries to support them.
Autumn is a time of transition. In Ayurveda, the autumn is the season is dominated by the elements of air and ether, which Ayurveda calls the Vata dosha (learn more about the Ayurvedic doshas here). Fall is a time of transition in the natural world. Plants and trees shed their leaves, the temperature begins to drop, and the wind begins to pick up. Depending on where you live, the temperature can be very changeable, warm one day, and cool the next. This is a season that is filled with possibility, and at the same time autumn can make us feel like we are up in a flurry!
Why Do a Seasonal Detox?
I hope you had a fun summer. I hope you enjoyed celebrations, travel, vacation, BBQ, ice-cream, and exciting late nights with people you enjoy. know I did. Getting back into the swing of work and family life after a busy summer can be tough. If you played hard in the summer, it's possible that you put on a few extra pounds, let your healthy diet slip a little, and tended to stay up later than usual. When September comes around, you may feel exhausted rather than rested. If this is the case, then you may be starting the busy fall season from a place of health depletion rather than health abundance.
A fundamental principle of Ayurveda is that our habits, routines, and dietary choices should align with the seasons. Ayurveda views our physical bodies, along with everything in the Universe, as being made up of the five primary elements; earth, water, fire, air, and ether or empty space. These elements are expressed in the physical body as qualities of stability/support (earth), feeling/fluidity (water), heat and metabolism (fire), respiration and circulation (air), and space and lightness (ether).
The characteristics of summer are heat, long days of bright sun, and sharp intensity. These are all attributes of pitta dosha, which is why summer is considered a pitta season.
While the warm summer weather is appealing for most of us, too much heat creates imbalance. When the fire element becomes too intense, it creates an excess of the pitta dosha. To move toward balance, Ayurveda reminds us that “like increases like and opposites balance.” This wisdom is extremely helpful when considering your physical activities in the summer.
Read on to learn how to best practice yoga in the summer and to receive a guided heat reducing yoga practice for summer.
Educator, certified health coach, educator and yoga instructor.
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The information on this website is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. I am not providing medical, psychological, or nutrition therapy advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your own medical practitioner. Always seek the advice of your own medical practitioner and/or mental health provider about your specific health situation. For my full Disclaimer, please go here.