Put Your Feet Up

If your busy mind has been on the office treadmill all day, you can expect to feel tired when you get home. Problem-solving, creative thinking, and just generally trying to keep up with the pile of work on your desk can leave you physically and mentally drained, even though you’ve been sitting down all day.

When we arrive home after such a hectic day, we often turn to food for comfort. We are too tired to exercise, and the mind is too dull to concentrate on anything more than the mind-numbing flicker of the television.

If this scenario is all-too-familiar, try turning things upside down for a change: Viparita Karani, or Legs Up the Wall Pose, is a simple and effective way to get inverted, rest weary legs, restore hips and back, and calm the incessant chatter of the mind.

To come into the pose:

1. Choose a quiet place with a clear wall where you’re unlikely to be disturbed for at least 5 minutes. (The bathroom is a good place.)

2. Sit sideways on the floor with one hip touching the wall. Bend your knees and shift your weight to your forearms as you roll onto your back.

3. Straighten your legs up the wall and shimmy the hips until the buttocks touch the wall. The legs should be passive. If you have tight hamstrings, allow the buttocks to rest away from the wall. The floor should support your low back and pelvis.

4. Relax the shoulders and arms and let the legs sink into the pelvis. To increase the mind-calming quality of this pose, rest with the arms overhead.

5. Stay in the pose for 5 to 15 minutes. Your feet may become cool or start to tingle slightly. If this gets uncomfortable, bend your knees and roll to one side to release the pose.

The many benefits of this pose include increased blood circulation to the pelvic region and upper body, soothing the digestive system. Viparita Karani also gives a boost to the immune system by stimulating the major endocrine glands, and it’s a wonderful aid to sleep.

 

Image credit: kellinahandbasket via Flickr (CC)

The Daily Grind

With a Starbucks on virtually every corner and consumers ready to pay upwards of five dollars for a grande mocha latte, coffee is a thriving business. But is all that caffeine good for us?

It takes approximately 80% of the adult population to guzzle the 100,000 tons of caffeine consumed annually in the U.S. This common ingredient in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate products is the world’s most widely used stimulant. In fact, coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world behind petroleum.

Introduced to Europe by Venetian traders, the first English coffee house was opened in 1652. From the very beginning, marketers touted the supposed health benefits of the drink, heralding it as “a very good help to the digestion.”

But doubts were also voiced, and coffee drinkers were said to appear haggard, agitated and depressed. From those initial observations sprung a plethora of studies on everything from the effects of caffeine on frog muscle tissue to the link between caffeine and decreased fertility.

To Drink or Not to Drink?

Sensitivity to caffeine differs greatly from one person to the next. Studies of twins have found that there is a genetic component to how caffeine affects an individual’s body, and of course, tolerance develops with regular use.

Depending on who is doing the study, caffeine can look like an addictive, sleep-robbing stimulant or an FDA-approved cure-all. Most research agrees that caffeine in low doses can increase alertness and decrease fatigue and drowsiness. There is also some evidence that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than three cups of coffee a day) may help protect against neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Consumed in higher doses, however, caffeine may promote headaches, mood swings and anxiety. Drinking five or more cups of coffee per day can cause irritability, insomnia, restlessness, and muscle tremors.

How to Cut Back on Caffeine

The prolonged consumption of caffeine can cause physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms such as headache, lethargy and depression may result from going cold turkey. If you do decide to omit caffeine from your diet, it would be less stressful to wean yourself off gradually to diminish the withdrawal response.

Medical experts agree that caffeine consumption is safe in moderation and produces no adverse health effects. If you find that the symptoms of caffeine overuse are troublesome, try cutting back on your intake. Here are a few ways to decrease your dependency:

1. Try drinking decaffeinated coffee at least some of the time. Alternatively, switch to half-caff, pouring yourself half a cup of regular and half a cup of decaffeinated.

2. Be aware of the pitfalls of free caffeine refills in restaurants. It may seem like a good deal, but you could pay for it later.

3. If you have an ever-brewing coffee pot in the office, limit yourself to just a few cups a day—or switch to herbal tea, which doesn’t contain caffeine.

4. Make a conscious choice to drink more water. Your thirst will be quenched and the water will dilute the caffeine, helping detoxify the body.

While caffeine alone causes little or no ill effects, it will interact with some medications. If you’re a heavy coffee drinker or consume large amounts of caffeine in other products and are taking a prescription drug, you should check with your pharmacist for possible side effects.

For more detailed information on caffeine, check out “Caffeine Fact & Fallacy” by Augustine S. Aruna.

 

Image credit: Amanda via Flickr (CC)

Culinary Zen

I love food—I love eating it, preparing it and thinking about it. The most direct and intimate contact we have with our environment is eating, especially when we eat fruits and veggies that are grown locally or even in our own backyards.

As some of you may know, Yoga Nook is a pick-up destination for the Underwood Family Farms CSA program (community-supported agriculture), so my husband and I enjoy local produce picked fresh from the farm and delivered the next day. I don’t look at what we’re going to get in the box ahead of time, as I like the surprise of opening it and making the best of whatever arrives.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been finding peppers and chilis of every shape, color and variety in our weekly box; and I must say that I was challenged to think of something that would use such a large quantity to its best advantage.

Then I remembered my recipe for Panang, a spicy Thai dish that we first ate in Hawaii over 20 years ago. Not only is the dish fragrant and spicy, it’s also easy to make and allows me to take advantage of some culinary Zen.

We should nourish our mind and body with the food we eat. More often we eat on the run—doughnuts and coffee in the car serve as breakfast, and a trip to the drive-through is lunch. Who has time to cook anymore? If preparing or even eating food has become a chore, then perhaps we could learn something from the Zen approach to cooking.

Culinary Zen focuses on moment-to-moment awareness, balance and wholeness. This mindfulness in everything you do begins with the food gathering and preparation. Even the cleaning of the workspace is carried out with diligence and attention to detail. The freshest ingredients, organic if possible, are chopped and diced with focus, love and harmony.

As I slow down and enter a state of moment-to-moment awareness, cooking becomes a meditation. Chopping the veggies for the Panang, I enjoy the bright primary colors of the peppers and the rhythmic sound of the knife on the chopping board. I linger for a moment to savor the fresh lemony scent of cilantro, the aroma of an onion as it sizzles in the frying pan. The pungent mix sends a spicy hotness into the very air that I breathe, and I douse its heat with a cooling coat of coconut milk. The result is a creamy, spicy and somewhat soupy dish served with rice.

Granted, with our busy lifestyles, we may not have time to prepare a meal like this every day—so why not try some mindfulness as you peel and eat an orange, or bite into a juicy peach? Think of the cycle of seasons that has brought the food to your plate, the sun and rain and the energy that the food contains. As you change how you think about food, you’ll be more likely to choose foods that truly nourish your mind and body.

For more on Zen cooking, check out “Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings” by Edward Espe Brown.

 

Related article:
Food for Thought

Image credit: Young Sok Yun via Flickr (CC) 

My Retrograde

Need to get things in perspective? Then escape the ambient light of LA, lie on the desert floor and look up. The view will take your breath away — stardust scattered like grains of silver sand across an indigo sky. Light reaching us from the inky blackness of space is thousands, sometimes millions, of years old. As you are looking up, you are also looking back in time.

I lie on a blanket, a pillow under my head, a pair of binoculars and a star map in my hand. I gaze through the binoculars, a poor man’s telescope. I’m a closet star-spotter, finding patterns in the randomness of space and rejoicing in names like Ursa Major and Andromeda. I lose myself and find myself at the same time in the infinite depths.

This month, low in the western sky just after sunset, you can get a glimpse of Mercury. This scorched and barren planet is closest to the Sun and has an unusual, highly elliptical orbit that causes it to change speed as it journeys around the Sun. Mercury is at its slowest when it’s furthest from the Sun, giving Earth a chance to “catch up.” Much like driving next to a car on the freeway that speeds past you and then slows down, this motion creates the illusion that Mercury travels backwards in the night sky at certain times of the year. These cycles are called Mercury retrogrades and are traditionally blamed for confusion, delay and frustration.

mercury retrograde infographic
Infographic via MySign

Don’t worry, Mercury doesn’t enter its next retrograde until September 17; and as any astrologer will tell you, Mercury’s influence will depend on your own astrological makeup. My personal experience of Mercury in retrograde has been frustrating at times — but the chance to revisit, re-experience and re-do has been valuable, even advantageous.

Frequently during a retrograde, I see absent students returning to the studio and remembering how good they feel after class. People from my past seem to make their way into my thoughts or dreams, then randomly call or get in touch. The retrograde reminds me to be specific when I communicate and make sure that I dot the “I’s” and cross the “T’s” when completing paperwork. I can re-launch a class or theme and find people interested and engaged.

I found the new studio space on the cusp of the last retrograde in May while I was reminiscing about Body Venture, a women’s gym I used to work at over 20 years ago, located in the same shopping center as Yoga Nook @ Fifth. The new yoga studio is a re-visiting in so many ways for me, and as we prepare to launch on September 8, just a little before the next retrograde, I find myself in familiar surroundings geographically, emotionally and physically. As we work to create the same warm, comfortable and safe environment in this new space, I hope to ride the wave of Mercury’s influence, giving people a chance to reinvest in their relationship with Yoga, the Nook and themselves.

 

Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Flickr (CC)