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Posts Tagged ‘Detoxification’

Fall Focus: Top Tips For Finding Balance During Vata Season

Happy Autumnal Equinox! Here at Five Pillars we hold the Intention to move through life in synch with the seasons. Listening to the messages and even advice each has to share with us and going with the flow or counterbalancing where beneficial – letting the pillars of Right Movement, Nutrition, Breathing, and Relaxation support and inform our choices.

According to Ayurveda—an ancient traditional system of medicine in India that’s been called Yoga’s sister science—Fall is Vata season. As the humidity of summer begins to wane and the Northeast experiences the incredible annual display of colorful Fall leaves, you may discover some signs and symptoms that suggest your Vata dosha is aggravated. You can adopt Vata-balancing practices to attain optimal health and feel your best.

But first, what’s a dosha? Three primary energies (aka doshas) based on the elements make up our physical and mental constitutions. These energies are Vata (Air & Space), Pitta (Fire) & Kapha (Earth + Water). Each of us has all of these elements, though one will likely be dominant in our constitutional makeup. If you want to #GoDeeper, try an online quiz.

The cooling weather patterns, Fall winds and shifting daylight hours that have arrived with the equinox often aggravate Vata. After all, the qualities of the Vata dosha are cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic—just like the weather patterns—and a basic tenet of Ayurveda is like increases like. Some common symptoms that occur when the Vata dosha is out of balance are anxiety, dry or chapped skin, indigestion, sudden bouts of fatigue, and light interrupted sleep.

Additional symptoms can occur on the physical or mental dimensions.

Common physical signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • cold hands and feet
  • • constipation
  • • gas
  • • bloating
  • • aversion to cold and wind
  • • irregular appetite
  • • twitches
  • • spasms
  • • restlessness
  • • low body weight
  • • aversion to loud noises
  • • hypertension
  • • arthritis
  • • weakness
  • • restlessness
  • • irregular menstruation

Common mental signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • nervousness
  • • fear
  • • panic
  • • racing mind
  • • worry
  • • spacey
  • • scattered
  • • inconsistency

The Five Pillars of Fall Wellness can help bring you back into balance, achieving your optimal state of being.


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Right Intention: Want To Book The Next Plane Ticket Out Of Here? Think Again And Dig Into A Steady Routine


When the Vata winds blow, we all need a little more grounding and stability. Now is the time to dive deeper into your mindfulness practices and stick to routines. It may help to begin by creating healthy patterns of eating and sleeping—try to sleep before 10 p.m. and eat regular meals around the same time each day. Beyond the basics, this is the perfect time to pick up or continue a yoga and meditation practice. Set an intention to be gentle and loving with yourself, and allow for plenty of time to reflect and go within. Your inner clarity will keep your health and wellness on track no matter what life throws your way.

Our recommendations: Take time to set an intention to stay grounded and stable during Vata season. Avoid the temptation to discard your routines and book the next plane ticket out of here. Instead, take a moment to organize your days into a soothing routine full of self-care and balance.


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Right Movement: Take It Easy


Choose a Right Movement practice that is light and easy on your body. Focus on flexibility and balance rather than long distances and speed.

Top movement tips: Walk through the park or take an easy breezy stroll with a friend. Power down your yoga practice and opt for therapeutics or gentle yoga, yoga nidra, tai chi or qi gong. Take some time out to practice pranayama and meditation. Focus on breathing deeply and be gentle with yourself.


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Right Breathing: Alternate Nostril Breathing


Pranayama (aka breathing practice) has incredible balancing effects on the entire body and can ward off unwanted stress & anxiety. Our favorite pranayama for inner balance and harmony during the Fall season is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, otherwise known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama synchronizes the right and left hemispheres of the brain, helping to focus the mind and keep unwanted stress and anxiety at bay, providing the very foundation we need to stay peaceful and responsive no matter what the Vata winds blow into our lives.


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Right Nutrition: True Nourishment For the Fall Season


Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural seasonal shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.

Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.

As you know, food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.

Try cooking a healing coconut-milk curry with plenty of spices and seasonal vegetables. For inspiration, view this recipe: South Indian Style Vegetable Curry. For more information about Ayurvedic wisdom, check out this article: Vata Pacifying Diet.

Additional Vata-Pacifying Recommendations:

  • *Eat full-sized, well-portioned meals, but avoid overeating.
  • *Sip on tea and warm liquids throughout the day. Avoid chilled beverages.
  • *Sweet, sour, and salty tastes pacify Vata. Favor warming, oily, and heavy foods such as natural grains (particularly rice and wheat), soups and stews, cooked root vegetables, and sweet fruits (bananas, avocados, coconut, figs, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, dates, etc.). If you consume animal products, warm milk soothes Vata. Buy organic eggs, chicken, turkey and seafood.
  • *Integrate Vata-pacifying spices: cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, basil, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper.
  • *Avoid bitter, pungent and astringent foods. Minimize your intake of beans, aside from mung bean dahl and tofu. Light, dry fruits such as apples and cranberries can aggravate Vata. To avoid indigestion, steer clear from cabbage, sprouts, and raw vegetables in general.

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Right Relaxation: Self-Care


Book your favorite masseuse, invest in acupuncture, or get some reflexology done. These practices boost circulation and promote relaxation. Consider investing in a weekly or monthly self-care routine that includes your favorite treatments.

Want to keep it simple and stay at home?

  • *Give yourself a massage using warming oils such as sesame or almond.
  • *Play relaxing music
  • *Connect friends who make you feel calm and relaxed
  • *Try aromatherapy
  • *Take deep breaths often
  • *Pause in between tasks
  • *Take an Epsom salts bath
If you’d like to discuss how best to attune to the season, we’re here to support you! Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, or for an individual consultation.

 

 

*Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

The Yoga of Swimming

If you love swimming and are interested in deepening your pranayama practice on the mat, you are in for a wonderful surprise. Whether you swim laps or enjoy water recreationally, you probably recognize that swimming can transform the way you feel. Similar to yoga, the before and after effects are astounding! A powerful, low-impact activity, swimming can also become a incredible pranayama.


Pranayama refers to breathing exercises or breath control. Breath control is one of the very first things we learn during swim lessons by blowing bubbles into the pool. Aside from yoga practice and swimming, there are few places in life where we intentionally control our breathing. With intention and awareness, we can transform swimming into yoga.


What was that about pranayama? Most of the time, we breathe automatically. During yogic breathing exercises, we control the breath to create more energy or prana in our bodies. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga = eight limbs) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is a pathway to ultimate freedom and bliss. Although modern-day yoga is often dominated by yoga asanas or postures, breathing exercises are given equal importance in the Yoga Sutras.



How do we practice pranayama while swimming? When we swim, we hold our breath to go under water and then slowly let the air out while we propel ourselves forward or backward. When we surface, we take another big breath and continue the pattern we have started. The more rhythm we create with our breathing, the more ease we feel when swimming. In essence, we learn to coordinate our breath with movement, which is the foundational concept in a yoga vinyasa class. In fact, the word vinyasa means “a method in yoga in which movements and breath are coordinated.” Paying attention and controlling our breath during yoga practice and swimming alike has the capacity to create a vinyasa, or a moving meditation.


 Swimming and pranayama are mutually beneficial.


Practicing swimming requires breath control and rhythmic breathing, which will deepen your yoga practice on the mat. And practicing pranayama on land can help to enhance your swimming techniques and lung capacity in the pool. Win-win.


That said, you may be thinking to yourself: I swim all summer and even during the other months of the year, but my mind races while I swim and I am hardly aware of how I am breathing… I am on autopilot. How is this like yoga?


Like the ease we feel peddling and balancing once we have learned to ride a bike, breath control while swimming becomes automatic. Even though we are raising our energy levels and opening energy channels in our body when we swim regardless of our intention, awareness and mindfulness gradually shifts our experience in the water.


The Yoga of Swimming = Swimming + Intention + Awareness


Without intention and awareness, yoga resembles stretching, calisthenics, sitting, or even napping. Similarly, without mindfulness, swimming is the act of moving through water. Intention and awareness transforms these movements and postures into what we call yoga. Yoga is the union or yoking of mind with spirit.


When you cultivate mindfulness and intention, swimming can become yoga, leaving you with a deep sense of inner peace, freedom, and even bliss! Ready to dive in?



Three Ways to Practice the Yoga of Swimming:


In the pool: How does your physical body feel before and after you swim? What happens to your energy before and after you swim? Do you feel pulsing, streaming or tingling sensations? How do you feel emotionally before and after your swim? Notice your state of mind before you enter the water. Then notice your state of mind at the end of your practice.


On the mat: While you are practicing yoga on your mat, imagine you are moving through water. Anytime you expand (raise your arms, lift your heart, head, or hips), inhale deeply. And anytime your contract (fold forward, root into the ground, sink your hips, lower your hands), slowly exhale. When you hold postures, create long inhalations. Imagine you are about to dive under the water at the top of your inhalation and pause. Then slowly exhale. At the bottom of your exhalation, imagine you are still under water and pause. Continue this breathing pattern. With a little intention and imagination, you can use your experience in the water to deepen your yoga on the mat.


Practice yoga by the water: Practice yoga by the water. If you are by a pool, take your standing balancing postures into the shallow end of the pool. Then, end your asana practice with savasana on a floatation device or lying down next to the water. Try meditating near water after you swim or practice yoga.


*Be sure to use safety precautions while practicing by water, especially the ocean, and have fun!

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Summer Superfoods

So what is a superfood? Superfoods are whole, unprocessed foods that contain a concentrated amount of nutrients. They are nutrition powerhouses. These incredible, natural packages have superpowers such as warding off cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and more! When you consume seasonal superfoods regularly, your skin will glow, your digestion will be incredible, and your inner superpowers will be unleashed as your mind clears and your body thanks you.



Here our our top 5 summer superfoods, plus quick tips for incorporating them into your daily diet. 


  1. Spinach (and other dark, leafy greens)



    Ahhh, the queens of alkalization! Dark leafy greens have been #1 on any reputable list of healthy foods for quite some time now and they are still at the top today. Spinach is often recommended, because it is mild in flavor and can be added to smoothies. That said, kale, arugula, beet greens, Swiss chard, lettuce, and dark green herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro) are also incredible sources of nutrition! Brimming with key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, low in calories, and full of fiber, dark leafy greens keep the whole body system in tip top shape.


    Add greens to your smoothies, make delicious salads, sauté greens with garlic and olive oil, or make trendy kale chips in your oven! For inspiration, check out our fav Green Smoothie recipe. Consider making this delicious Summer Greens Power Pesto for extra nutritious flavor!


  2. Blueberries



    These sweet blue treats contain a concentrated amount of fiber, potassium, magnese, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Blueberries contain the most antioxidants among commonly consumed fruits or vegetables! So what does this all mean? They help protect our bodies from cancer-causing free radicals and are chalk full of nutrients that support the immune system, nervous system, circulatory system, and digestive tract. They help our brains and our hearts. Need I say more?


    Add blueberries to your morning smoothies, cereals, or yoghurt. Eat blueberries as healthy snacks throughout the day. Check out this Summer Smoothie Bowls recipe and enjoy!


  3. Tomatoes



    Juicy red tomatoes are a sign of summer. Entirely different from out-of-season tomatoes harvested across the globe, in-season tomatoes are sweet, flavorful, and contain an abundance of nutrients and antioxidants that fight disease and keep us healthy. They are also a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect us against breast and prostate cancers.


    Add fresh tomatoes to salads, sauce, salsa, and soup! Enjoy fresh with a pinch of salt, or top with mozzarella and basil for a delectable treat!


  4. Watermelon



    Sweet and juicy watermelon is a blissful delicacy on a hot summer’s day. Watermelon’s superpowers include nutrients and antioxidants that promote heart health and bone health, and aid in the prevention of prostate cancer. Watermelon has an alkalizing effect on the body and can act as an aphrodisiac! Each bite provides incredible hydration. True to its name watermelon is 92% water. Providing vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium, watermelon is a fun and delicious guilt-free summer treat. Feel free to enjoy watermelon all summer long!


    Check out this Watermelon Smoothie recipe for inspiration or try watermelon salad with our fav Sexy Summer Watermelon Salad recipe.


  5. Avocados



    Hass and Anaheim avocados are the commercially grown varieties that are in season during the summer months. Not only delicious, they contain one of the healthiest fats there is: monounsaturated fatty acids.  Plus avos are chalk full of vitamin K, C, E, B5, and B6. They also provide a significant amount of folate and more potassium than a banana. Since our brains are made of fat and we need healthy fats to protect our heart, a daily avocado may be the easiest and most delicious choice we could make for our health. And don’t be fooled by the word “fat.” Avocados can help with weight loss!


    Add avocados to smoothies, salads, guacamole, salsas, and more! Check out this Simple Summer Salad recipe for inspiration.


 

*Photos from Dr. Axe, California Avocados, and Authority Nutrition

 

Spring Self Cleaning – Nice & Easy

As the cold of Winter sluggishly makes way for the energy of Spring, our bodies go through a similar process… Yearning to let go of all we’ve stored for the colder months, our body craves foods and practices that will help us detox and freshen up. Spring Cleaning starts from within!

Bitter greens, like arugula and dandelion, are the first edibles to sprout after the last frost, and it’s exactly these that we should be eating! An example of the genius and perfection of nature that we can use to inform our Right Nutrition. The bitter quality of these greens wrings out the liver and stimulates our digestive system. A far cry from the hearty curries, stews and casseroles that keep us warm December – February (or April this year!?), these young plants alert the body that winter is o-v-e-r! So, put Dandelion Tea and Arugula Salad at the top of your shopping list. Wash, rinse, eat, repeat! Mirroring the warming of the weather, the heating qualities of Ginger also help warm up and melt any stored abundance, while the light cooling qualities of cucumbers and the activating qualities of green tea can help lift us out of hibernation mode.


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Some Recipes to Get You Started:

Easy Sauteed Dandelion Greens

~ Arugala’s Greatest Hits, Courtesy of Marth Stewart

~ Spring Detox Smoothie

~ Easy Ayurvedic Cleansing Tea





As for Right Movement, the same principal applies: out with the old, in with the new! Our bodies crave TWISTS at this particular time.Twists give our organs a deep yet gentle massage, waking them up from sluggish functioning. Just like wringing out a wet towel, twisting enables our body to release stored toxins and acts as a general reboot, bringing about optimum functioning for the lighter, brighter season to come.


Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 3.29.07 PMTwo very basic but yummy options are Seated Spinal Twist and Reclined Spinal Twist. Getting a bit more advanced, you could opt for Revolved Triangle or Twisted Side Angle. Best not to go into deep twisting too early in the morning, before your body has a chance to get the Prana flowing… but practice a couple of these midday (or even at night as the body goes to sleep and into its rest/rejuvenate cycle) and your body will thank you!

Click Here To Check out Yoga Journal’s Encyclopedia of Twisting Shapes To Get Inspired

Or Try This Energizing, Twisty Sequence At Home

 

Save Face

Our skin, our largest organ, absorbs what we put on it: The ingredients in our body lotions, shampoos, lipsticks and sunscreens eventually make their way into our bloodstreams. The products we use impact us in much the same ways as the foods we eat—turns out you are what you apply, too.

So, what’s in all those creams and concealers? For the most part, not stuff you’d want to put in your smoothie. The list of what to avoid and why is long; for an in-depth breakdown of common ingredients and what they do, visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics‘ comprehensive Chemicals of Concern list to learn about what’s in your lip gloss.

While the US food industry is attempting to keep up with consumer demand for transparency in labeling and regulations, the beauty industry is lagging behind. Label claims like “organic” and “natural” and even “FDA-approved” mean little to nothing at all, and, for now, it’s up to consumers to be their own fact and label-checkers.

Our advice: Keep it simple. Products with lengthy ingredient lists are likely to have more ingredients to avoid; a pared-down beauty routine—one with fewer products to vet and claims to investigate—is an easy way to feed your skin good food. If an ingredient is unpronounceable, look it up and learn more or move on.

Beauty Brands We Love

There are, thankfully, companies doing it right. We look for brands that champion holistic practices and pure products. Here are a few favorites: 

 

Earth Tu Face

Plant-based skincare from two herbalists in California. Their products are made from organic, high quality and food-grade ingredients.

Product we love: Virgin Coconut Oil + Cardamom Body Butter. 

 

Vitner’s Daughter

Winery owner April Gargiulo created her cult-favorite skin serum in an attempt to simplify her complicated skincare regime. It took two years of tinkering, but the result is a game-changing, nutrient rich face oil that uses anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich plant ingredients to maintain and restore skin’s natural radiance.

 

Tata Harper

Made in small batches in the company’s laboratory in Vermont, Tata Harper products are packed with from-the-earth, active ingredients like red algae (for elasticity) and borage (moisture retention). Many of their ingredients are grown on their own bucolic farm.

Product we love: Be Adored

 

Living Libations

For love-infused products from two high-vibrational souls, look no further than Living Libations. Essential oils, a holistic oral healthcare line and self-proclaimed “renegade” beauty products are all meticulously sourced; the founders, husband and wife Ron and Nadine Artemis, believe that radiance is a birthright, and they manage to capture that philosophy in every offering.

Product we love: Seabuckthorn Shampoo and Shine On Conditioner

 

In New York we love visiting CAP Beauty in the West Village (they also have an excellent website), and Living Libations‘ newly-opened store in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. For treatments, questions, and holistic beauty coaching, pro-makeup artist and Ayurveda expert Jessa Blades is a bi-coastal treasure.

Top image: Splash Happy; all brand images from their own websites; the Living Libations image is Courtesy of CAP Beauty.

Yoga 101: Inversions

While most inversions can be built up to slowly over time, upside down shapes can really click after spending an entire class, workshop, or series of classes focusing on floating your feet over your head.

Dedicating extra time to inversions makes sense for a number of reasons. On a physical level, pressing up into handstand in the middle of a regular vinyasa class be challenging because of all the energy you’ve put into the other asanas; on a safety level, establishing a solid foundational practice is really important before attempting to freestyle without guidance.

Inversions are also in their own category energetically. Going upside down affects the body in the same way vigorous aerobic exercise does, by circulating blood down to the feet and up the back. That’s not to say inversions are a stand-in for something that gets your heart rate up, but they are another way to stimulate venous return, the flow of blood back to the heart (a good thing).

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 Why It’s Good to Go Upside Down

Inversions positively impact four major body systems: the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine.

Cardiovascular

  • Inversions give the heart a break. When blood floods the carotid arteries in the neck, the body senses the increase of blood and subsequently slows the flow of blood to the brain, giving the heart a much needed respite.
  • They fortify lung tissue and create an efficient oxygen-to-blood exchange by bringing blood to the oxygen rich upper chamber of our chest.

Lymphatic

  • Lymph, a fluid containing white blood cells, is our first line of defence against illness. When we flip over, lymph can flow to places it might otherwise have a hard time reaching and strengthen the immune system.
  • Head below heart postures reverse the effects of gravity and promote glowing skin by flooding the face with fresh oxygen and flushing toxins.

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Nervous

  • The brain uses 25% of the body’s oxygen; increasing blood flow to the brain means more oxygen, which translates to improved concentration, memory and awareness.
  • Going upside down may help you sleep and calm down the parasympathetic nervous system. Check out the benefits of Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall) in our Deep Sleep post.

Endocrine

  • The endocrine glands run from the base of the spine up to the brain and release hormones like testosterone, estrogen, adrenaline, insulin and dopamine into the blood.
  • Flooding these glands with blood from the lower half of the body makes it easier for the glands to absorb nutrients from the blood and release built-up waste. The result is a possible improvement in gland function, hormone secretion, and the circulation of hormones to the rest of the body.
  • Inversions are natural mood boosters. Turning the adrenal glands on their head gives them a chance to flush and release endorphins that can leave you feeling uplifted.

 

All things considered, inversions are worth floating heels-over-head in love with! Best of all, there are countless variations, from moderate to advanced that allow practitioners of all levels to reap the benefits. 

 

 

 

Photos: Top handstand from Whole Living; forearm stand with eagle legs

Yoga 101: Uddiyana Bandha

A few weeks ago we dove into the Bandhas, a series of energetic locks in the body. We’re working from the base of the pelvis up, so read our first post for a refresher on Mula bandha, the Root Lock.

The next bandha is Uddiyana, the Navel Lock. In Sanskrit Uddiyana means to fly or rise up. On a physical level, your diaphragm, stomach and abdominal organs lift up when this bandha is engaged. Energetically, you’ll feel uplifted.

In the chakra system, Uddiyana bandha corresponds with Manipura, the third chakra; fiery and powerful, Manipura is the seat of our personal will and motivation. Picture it located at the solar pelxus and imagine the energy of fire and the sun. If you’ve ever practiced Breath of Fire you’ve connected with the third chakra and experienced an element of Uddiyana bandha. In that breath the belly contracts in and back with each exhale, a quick and less concentrated version of the abdominal engagement that occurs in Uddiyana.

How to Engage Uddiyana Bandha

Before you begin, be sure to:

  • Practice on an empty stomach after a complete exhalation.
  • Start your inquiry in a standing position. Over time, you can explore this bandha while seated.

1.

  • Stand with your feet about hips’ width distance apart.
  • Take a slight bend in the knees and rest your hands above your kneecaps.
  • Keep your arms straight but round your torso forward.

2.

  • Breathing through the nose, inhale deeply and exhale quickly and forcibly. Use your abdominal muscles to push as much air as possible out of your lungs.
  • Relax and stay empty.

3.

  • Perform a mock inhalation. Expand your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but don’t take in any air. This will pull your abdominal muscles up and hollow the belly.
  • Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest. We’ll go into this posture, Jalandhara Bandha, in more depth in our next post.

4.

  • Hold on empty until you feel any strain, tension, or tightness—anywhere from five to 15 seconds for beginners. The hold should feel effortless.
  • Slowly release the hold and inhale normally.
  • Perform several more rounds, keeping an eye on any dizziness or lightheadedness, alternating with normal breaths between each round.

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Benefits

If you’re looking to float, fly, lift, twist, or invert in your asana practice with less effort, Uddiyana bandha is key. This is a hold that’s all about rising up.

Given all the focus on the gut and its connection to the chakra in charge of digestion, it’s no surprise that Uddiyana bandha is an effective remedy for constipation, indigestion or bloating. It tones the inner abdominal muscles and serves as the yogic equivalent of crunches (i.e. flat abs). Try it when you need to beat fatigue, lethargy or stress.

Photos: How-to drawing; third chakra; floating yogini.

 

 

Morning Breath

Earlier this week we wrote about caffeine’s influence on the body (CliffsNotes’ version: It’s a mood-altering drug.) and suggested a few caffeine-free beverage recipes to try instead of coffee. The caffeine-free and mood-altering substance we didn’t mention was breath. Regular pranayama practices, as part of an intentional morning routine, may eliminate the need for coffee or energy-boosters entirely.

Try a morning practice that uses breathwork to prepare the body for meditation. Commit to a length of time that feels comfortable to you and feel free to adjust the minutes you spend on each component. If you’re new to the practices outlined below, start with five minutes and then work your way up to a 10, 20 or 30 minute practice.

If possible, let this be the first thing you do in the morning, before you check your phone or engage in conversation. For a really mindful morning, wake up with oil pulling and tongue scrapping, and then settle into a comfortable seat.

Morning Pranayama Practice

  • Seated well and free of distractions, start with Alternate Nostril Breath. For a five-minute total practice, do two minutes of this pranayama.

  • Next, take one minute of Kapalabhati or Breath of Fire. A long spine is especially crucial here. Work with your arms extended overhead in a wide V with your thumbs extended and your fingers curled into your palms; or rest the backs of your hands on your knees, palms up, thumb and index finger touching in Chin Mudra.

  • When that round of breathing is done, sit in silence. If you’re short on time, dedicate two minutes to stillness. Otherwise, stay for as long as you like.

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As you gain comfort and familiarity with this practice, try to weight it a little more heavily toward meditation. The breathwork here serves as a way to subtly focus and balance the mind—that would be the work of Nadi Shodana—and then purify the container—the work of Skull Shining Breath or Breath of Fire. Those two, especially, work like an espresso shot on the nervous system: practicing them helps everything come into sharper focus.

For a 10- or 20- or 30-minute practice, try the following breakdown:

  • Alternate Nostril ~ 3 / 5 / 6 minutes
  • Kapalabhati or Breath of Fire ~ 2 / 3 / 4 minutes
  • Seated Meditation ~ 5 / 12 / 20 minutes

If possible, commit to the practice for a week and see what, if anything shifts. If you can ditch coffee that week, too, go for it. Here’s to getting high off your own supply.

Photos: Morning light by Ethanea; Chin Mudra by Cortnee Loren Brown via The Chalkboard.

Candy Crush

A few weeks ago an article on sugar industry inter-dealings that took place half a century ago made national news. According to the piece, the Sugar Research Foundation funded studies in the 1960s that downplayed the maleffects of sugar and its link to poor coronary health and positioned fat as Public Health Enemy #1. The project concluded that cutting fat from the American diet was the best way to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Enter the low-fat and no fat craze of the past decades, a time when bold-printed claims on the front of packaged food became more important than the list of ingredients on the back. Whole milk, red meat, cheese, oils and butter were positioned as devious culprits, while fat-free, processed foods claimed health food status.

It’s a prevailing belief. The trendy Atkins diet shifted the blame to carbohydrates in the nineties, but the idea of fat as a health food will still sound far-fetched to most. And Americans’ sugar consumption? You don’t need a whistleblower to know it’s through the roof.

So what’s the story with sugar? Earlier this year we wrote about food cravings and how to understand them. Sugar, in short, makes us feel good, provides us with a burst of energy, and, ironically, actually helps us hold on to fat — an energy reserve for later use (good for hunter-gatherers, less important for driver-microwavers).

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But, what is it exactly?

Sugars have several names that all end in –ose. Fructose and glucose are naturally occurring carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables and honey. Lactose is a milk sugar.

What we think of when we picture sugar in the baking aisle or next to the cream for our coffee is refined sucrose. Unrefined sucrose is found in the roots of sugar beets and in the stems of sugar cane. To make table sugar those plants are harvested, processed and refined (a process that usually involves bleaching and crystallization), ultimately stripping them of minerals or nutrients. By the time it reaches your coffee cup it’s just pure, refined sugar.

What does it do in the body?

One of two things. Depending on the efficiency of your fat-burning cells, your body will either use the sugar as energy (fast metabolism) or convert it to fat and store it (slow metabolism).

Either way, when sugar enters the blood stream, the pancreas detects it, recognizes it as potentially problematic, and releases insulin to deal with it, primarily by sending it to the liver and muscles to use as fuel.

The more sugar we consume the more insulin we produce. And if we flood the body with sugar, like on a Halloween candy binge, the body may produce too much insulin in an attempt to get the balance right. All that insulin moves the sugar out of our bloodstream, causing our blood sugar levels to drop, triggering hypoglycemia, a sugar crash, which can feel like this:

  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating and chills
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hunger and nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Blurred/impaired vision
  • Tingling or numbness in the lips or tongue
  • Headaches
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Anger, stubbornness or sadness
  • Lack of coordination

And how does the body respond to being in such a state? By asking for more sugar to right the balance, setting the whole process in motion again.

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It’s not an impossible cycle to break, but it does take effort, information and discipline. For starters, the more we can decrease our intake of added sugars, the better. To get an idea of how much sugar is in your diet already, check out sugarstacks.com, a visual aid that stacks foods against sugar cubes.

We’ll take a look at naturally-occurring sugars, like the ones found in sweet fruits, in an upcoming post on candida overgrowth — an excess of sugar-fueled yeast that can disrupt the gut and compromise the immune system — and geek out on the Glycemic Index.

Until then, binge wisely.

 

Photos: Top illustration; Clare Crespo’s candy mandala; doughnut

Ayurvedic Oral Care: Jihwa Prakshalana and Swish

We are well documented fans of Ayurveda at Five Pillars (here’s an intro, if you’re curious) and especially love the ancient science’s approach to oral health.

Two simple practices we’re advocating: Jihwa Prakshalana (a.k.a tongue scraping), and oil pulling. Chances are you’ve heard of both. Oil pulling is a celeb fave (Gwyneth Paltrow approves) and tongue scraping is a practically compulsory part of any cleanse.

So why do them?

Tongue scraping is like popping into your dentist’s office for a quick cleaning. The ancient oral hygiene practice removes bacteria, toxins and dead cells from the surface of the tongue, one of the easiest places in the body for germs to brew.

While we sleep, our digestive system deposits unwanted toxins on the surface of our tongue. If these toxins aren’t flushed out or removed, they get reabsorbed, compromising our immune system and leading to digestive ailments and respiratory woes.

Brushing and flossing will help with the toxin removal, but sometimes these practices just move bacteria around. Better to scrape.

It’s very simple: Using a metal or copper tongue scraper (this one’s great), drag the curved blade down toward the tip of your tongue, rinse the scraper and repeat until the scraper stops picking up residue.

This is best to do in the morning, before you brush your teeth and right after…

Oil pulling, another straightforward practice with natural detoxifying powers.

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The idea is to swish (not swallow) up to 3 teaspoons of high quality, unrefined, cold-pressed oil like coconut or sesame for up to 20 minutes first thing every morning. Try swishing in the shower, while you steep your tea or while you make your bed. Don’t try to talk at the same time.

The actual pulling itself can take some getting used to, but working the oil around the mouth helps loosen the body’s overnight bacteria out from the teeth and gums, resulting in brighter teeth, stronger gums, fresher breath and a cleaner smile.

When you’re done, spit the oil out the window or into the trash to avoid a clogged sink. Follow oil pulling with tongue scraping, brushing and then flossing.

Your dentist will be impressed.

Photos: Tongue scraper from gaiaguy.com; coconuts from dontmesswithmama.com

Simple Summer Salad

Early summer meals are the best. The farmer’s markets are stocked with late-spring finds like ramps, garlic scapes and asparagus alongside summer sweets like the season’s first tomatoes, fresh basil and tiny, tart strawberries. Summer cooking can be as simple as assembling — picking up a few fresh items you like and arranging them on a plate or tossing them together in a bowl with a sprinkle of salt and a nice glug of olive oil.

The recipe for this shaved asparagus salad is in the same vein. The flavors are bright and refreshing. The avocado and chickpeas are full of protein, while the lemon in the dressing is a natural detoxifier.

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As for asparagus, here’s the 101:

  • Great source of fiber and folate
  • Full of vitamins A, C, E and K
  • Rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and free radicals
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Helps regulate blood sugar

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Golden Roasted Chickpeas, Avocado and a Lemon-Miso Dressing 

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 cup or 1 can of chickpeas (if using dried, be sure to soak overnight)
  • 1 avocado
  • fresh lemon juice
  • turmeric
  • Himalayan pink salt
  • olive oil
  • miso paste (Miso Master makes a great chickpea-based variety if you are avoiding soy)
  • maple syrup or honey

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Toss with olive oil, salt and turmeric. Roast at 400° for 30-40 minutes until the chickpeas are firm but still fork-friendly.

Use a mandolin or a vegetable peeler to thinly slice or shave the asparagus. If this is too finicky, simply slice the asparagus very thinly with a knife.

For the dressing, combine lemon juice, olive oil, a dash of miso and a little bit of maple syrup or honey to taste. Use water to thin the dressing out if necessary.

Toss the asparagus in the dressing. Top with the roasted chickpeas and sliced avocado. Season as needed with salt and pepper.

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Photos: Alison Baenen 

Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Pranayama

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas. So far we’ve also covered the niyamas and asana.

Pranayama, the fourth limb on Patanjali’s path, acts as the gateway between the first three (yamas, niyamas and asana) and the final four (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi). In the first three limbs we are focused on the corporeal body and our place in the world; in the latter limbs we shift our focus to our internal landscape.

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Pranayama is tied to both worlds, bridging the physical and the spiritual. The word breaks down to pranalife force — and yama, which, taking it back to the first limb, means a reining in or a mindful monitoring of our thoughts and conduct. But ask another Sanskrit scholar and she might highlight the word ayama tucked in there, too, which translates to extending or drawing out.

Pranayama, then, is a mindful controlling of the breath, the source of our life energy; it is also the extension of that vital force, the act of fostering and stimulating it. However you slice it etymologically, pranayama is about getting intimate with what keeps us moving. Practices like Breath of Fire and Alternate Nostril Breathing (get breathing with our how-to guides) ask us to retain, quicken, watch, manipulate and imagine the breath in unusual and initially uncomfortable ways. The result is a greater awareness of our own organism and of the dynamic life force at work within it. By feeding our breath we grow it, strengthening the respiratory system and soothing the nervous system. More prana in our systems makes us more vibrant and more dynamic. As Iyengar once said, “The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of days but by the number of his breaths.”

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Alongside asana, pranayama can also serve as a potent tool for purification. By generating tapas in the body and by making space for prana to flow freely, these practices cleanse and condition from the inside out. And, as the body settles and relaxes into its rightful state — healthy and unblocked — the mind is free to dive deeper into meditation and reflection. We’ll revisit this idea in our next Eight Limbs post on pratyahara, the withdrawal of our senses from the outside world.

For more on pranayama take a look through our articles on Right Breathing; clearly we are pranayama advocates, seeing as intentional breath is one of our five pillars! And consider this quote from Krishnamacharya, the widely acknowledged father of modern yoga: “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.”

 

Photos: Iyengar in a breath vortex found here; Travis Bedel’s anatomical collage found here

 

Love Your Roots

The feet are gateways to our internal organs and, when stimulated, can aid in a powerful detoxification. They also withstand a lot of pressure throughout the day. They are our literal foundation and, be it through unsupportive footwear or unforgiving pavement, often take a lot of abuse. Last month we posted a guide to simple and profound self care practices in honor of Mother’s Day; this month, when summer officially begins and our feet are on display — and withstand hot sand, sweaty shoes and wedding dance floors — we put together a foot-specific treatment plan in the same vein of loving-kindness.

Show your soles some love with an aromatic foot soak and massage. It’s a simple way to recharge from the ground up. Here’s how:

For a cooling soak, fill a foot tub with cool water and a handful of dried lavender and rose petals. If you don’t have fresh herbs and flowers on hand, essential oils work just as well; peppermint is another cooling, calming option.iStock_000011316485_Small-300x300

For a warming soak, use hot water, powdered or fresh ginger (sliced), and a few tablespoons of Epsom salt. The body will absorb the magnesium in the salt, helping to reduce inflammation, and the ginger will increase circulation.

Soak your feet for at least 10 minutes. Resist the urge to scroll through Instagram or answer emails. Use this as a chance to meditate or simply recharge.

 

After patting your feet dry, rub them with a generous helping of sesame, almond or coconut oil. Use oil liberally throughout — the skin, our largest organ, needs hydration any way it can get it, and oil on the skin helps it retain water. Give your toes, ball mounds, arches, and Achilles tendons lots of love and attention. Be intuitive and apply as much pressure as you can handle.

Here are a few ways to get started:

Cross your ankle over your knee and, using both hands, move your ankle in slowly widening circles. Take the circles in one direction and then the other.

Press your foot between your palms and rub back and forth, toe to heel, moving quickly to stimulate circulation and warm up cold toes or slowly to calm the nervous system.

Join your thumbs at the base of the sole and and press up and out toward the ball mound, just below the toes. After several sweeps, move to the toes, pressing all five back and forth at once, like the hinge of door. Then, massage each toe individually, spending time at the base, on each knuckle and at the nail bed.

Take a cue from Reflexology:

enhanced-7505-1409163740-4Our kidney point is located in the very center of the sole of each foot. An acupuncturist once described the kidneys to me as our bodies’ battery packs: they are what keep us charged. Anyone dealing with stress, fatigue, the stimulation of an urban environment, or general loss of “me” time will experience imbalance and strain on the kidneys. In Chinese medicine the name for this point, Kidney 1, is Yongquan, Bubbling Spring. I love the image of an eternally replenished stream, bubbling up and over, never losing energy or flow.

Locate and massage this point to bring your own spring back into action. The benefits associated with stimulating and caring for the kidneys, via the feet, are a grounding down of energy; the alleviation of dizziness, headaches and insomnia; and increased fertility and vitality.

For more opening, consider wearing yogi toe separators before your soak, and around the house in general. They stretch the toes, contribute to a general awareness of how we stand, and make it easier to find “the four corners of the feet” yoga teachers are always talking about; they are absolutely goofy and totally worth it.

 

Photos: Top photo found here; herb photo found here; Reflexology chart courtesy of BuzzFeed;

Yoga Lab: Parivrtta Trikonasana

Spring on the east coast has had a bit of a late start, but it’s still the season for clearing out and starting fresh (see our colon cleanse post for a specific sort of purge), and twists are where it’s at when it comes to self-cleaning.

Deeply stimulating for our internal organs, twists improve digestion and create heat in the belly — great fuel for starting a new project or finishing one that’s been lingering. Twists also energize the spine by creating space between the vertebrae, letting energy flow more freely (consider the energetic difference between a slumped spine and a tall one).

So, let’s get into one! 

A challenging standing twist we love is Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle). There is a lot going on in this posture — twisting, forward-folding, hamstring-stretching, and balancing. It requires rooting down into the ground and ascending up toward the sky; there is an ease and lightness in the upper body and a strong level of action in the legs. The center of this pose is an engaged belly, fired-up enough to support the low back as the spine lengthens forward, and soft enough to allow the twist to happen from the navel.

How to prepare:

Start by lengthening and warming up your hamstrings in Janu Sirsasana: 

Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with both legs extended out in front of you. Draw the sole of your left foot to the inside of your right thigh, ground through your sitz bones, extend through your spine and hinge forward over your straight front leg. Move the crown of your head toward your flexed toes, keeping your spine straight. Bend your elbows out to the sides to draw yourself deeper. Repeat on the left side.

Next, take a seated twist, like Ardha Matsyendrasana or Marichyasana III: 

Come back to Dandasana and bend your right knee toward your chest, sole of your foot on the floor. For Marichyasana III stay here and wrap your left arm around your bent right leg, bringing the elbow to the outside of the knee. For Ardha Matsyendrasana, place the sole of the right foot outside the left thigh and take the twist. When coming into both, twist from the navel first, slowly turning your chest to the left. Repeat on the second side.

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Ready?

Come into Triangle pose in your legs, right foot forward. The distance between your feet will depend on your own body geometry, but start with your back foot behind you by about 3½ to 4 feet. In Triangle, the heel of the front foot is in line with the arch of the back foot, like in Warrior Two; traditionally, Revolved Triangle maintains the same set-up, but I like to work with the feet slightly wider apart (toward the long edges of your mat). Find a happy distance somewhere between Warrior Two and Warrior One. The back foot should be at a 45-degree angle or so.

What’s happening in the legs? Good question. The thighs are moving away from each other (outward rotation), away from the midline. Knees are slightly bent, quad, hamstring and calf muscles engaged. The outer edge of the back foot is pressing firmly into the mat.

If you have one, use a block. Place it, to start, on the inside of your front foot at the highest height.

Bring your hands to your hips. Use an exhale to square them, as much as possible, toward the top of the mat (this is where having your feet slightly wide apart comes in handy). You’ll most likely need to drop your front (right) hip point down, shift it toward the back of your mat and and pick your back (left) hip point up.

Keep your hands on your hips and hinge forward. Find a long spine and flat back; reach the crown of your head out in front of you until there’s no where else to go and then reach a little more. Keep your right hand on your hip and place your left hand on the block inside your right foot.

Hook your thumb into your right hip crease to draw your right hip back.

Inhale to draw your belly up and away from your hip crease. On your exhale, turn your torso to the right, keeping your hip points as square as possible. Ground your back heel, press through the knife edge of your back foot and move your left thigh bone back in space.

Press into the block with your left hand or come onto fingertips. Continue turning your torso to the right, twisting from the navel. Think about pressing your heart against the ceiling.

Keep your hand there or slowly raise your right arm up, shoulders in line, shoulder blades drawing toward the spine.

Being mindful of your neck, shift your gaze to your top thumb if that arm is extended. Other options for the gaze are out in front of you or toward the floor.

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Stay here for several long, grounding breathes. On an exhale, release the twist and bring your torso back upright on your inhale. Repeat on the second side, twisting to the left.

 

Top photo courtesy of Garvey Rich; Marichyasana III picture from gymflowstl.tumblr.com

Breathwork Basics: Kapalabhati + Breath of Fire

In our last breathwork post we covered Alternate Nostril Breath, a harmonizing practice designed to balance the left and right sides of the body. This week we explore Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire, two similar and dynamic pranayamas that significantly increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and the brain. Stimulating and detoxifying, they can clear the head and sinuses and fire up the belly — perfect for alleviating springtime allergies and general sluggishness.

While the terms Kapalabhati and Breath of Fire are often used interchangeably, they are slightly different. Breath of Fire is prescribed in Kundalini yoga on its own (eventually building up to a 31-minute practice) or as a jetpack to boost many kriyasKapalabhati translates to Skull Shining Breath and is practiced with the intention of clearing the cobwebs of the mind — imagine polishing a fogged-up window until you can see through it clearly.

The main difference is in the length and nature of the inhale. In BOF they are the same length. In Kapalabhati the exhale is longer and the inhale is passive; essentially it happens on its own.

Here’s what you need to know about both:

  • Breath is rapid, rhythmic and continuous.
  • Inhales and exhales are through the nose.
  • Breath is powered from the navel and the solar plexus through rapid stomach pumps: On the exhale, air is expelled through the nose by pressing the navel back toward the spine. On the inhale, the belly relaxes and the diaphragm flattens down
  • For Kapalabhati, focus on the exhale; it should be forceful but not forced. The vacuum created by the exhale will naturally lead to an inhale; teachers often call this a passive inhale.
  • In Breath of Fire, work toward producing inhales and exhales of equal length.
  • This breath can be fast and rigorous but the body stays relaxed, especially the face. No wrinkles!
  • As you become more accustomed to them, these pranayamas can be practiced for long periods of time; but start small, one to three minutes — this is powerful stuff.

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How to do them:

  • Find a comfortable sit with a long spine, head gently inclined toward your chest.
  • Set your attention at your third eye, just between the brows, with eyes gently closed.
  • Hands can rest on your knees, fingers in maha-chin mudra (index fingers under the thumbs); or, to turn up the volume a bit, arms extended in a wide V over your head, fingers tucked into your palm with your thumb stuck out like a cosmic hitchhiker.
  • Take a regular inhale and exhale to begin. Then, inhale partway and begin breathing rapidly while engaging the belly, letting it move in with the exhale and out with the inhale.
  • When you’re done, draw a deep breath in, retain the air in until it no longer feels comfortable, and then slowly release air through the nose.
  • Sit quietly and observe the effects.

Why do it?

Breath of Fire and Kapalabhati are incredibly potent practices for arriving in the present moment, a snap to attention.

Here are some additional benefits:

  • Releases toxins
  • Expands lung capacity
  • Strengthens the nervous system
  • Balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
  • Powers up the third chakra
  • Increases stamina
  • Energizes blood flow and circulation
  • Delivers oxygen to the brain, resulting in improved focused and a natural state of calm awareness
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Aids in digestion

As noted above, these are powerful practices, so begin with short sessions and rest if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Neither of these pranayamas are recommended for pregnant ladies and they’re uncomfortable to practice on a full stomach. As with any pranayama practice it’s wise to study with a teacher. Energy moves up and out in unexpected ways, so a safe container for experimentation is really vital. Practice them on their own, as part of your meditation, or add to an asana like plank or utkatasana to heat things up.

 

Top photo from Open Hearted Healings; bottom photo courtesy of Susan Rae

The Deep Clean

A few weeks ago we wrote about a simple and nourishing one-day cleanse to mark the beginning of spring. As grounding and fortifying as a day spent in meditative mindfulness is, there may be those among us looking to detoxify a bit more rigorously. Colon cleanses require a few more steps and tools than a cleanse not specifically designed to flush toxins, but, they can be worth it for the deep clean and the built-in intrigue factor (You put what where?!).

In the past few years conventional medicine has embraced the idea that a healthy gut is key to our overall health and vitality. You may have heard that we are more bacteria than we are human — that is, we have fewer human cells than we do bacterial cells. Those microbes make up our microbiome, an essential processing system that does just about everything: regulate inflammation, detox, produce serotonin and dopamine…the list goes on.

So, gut as second brain? Absolutely. We’re actually twice as brainy as we think we are. The microbes in our belly have their own neural network, the enteric nervous system (ENS), that communicates with Brain #1, the central nervous system (CNS). When the gut is irritated or imbalanced it can trigger anxiety or depression in the CNS, meaning our bacteria impacts our emotional wellbeing. Another nerdy cool fact? These two nervous systems go way back: They arose from the same tissues during fetal development.

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Keeping our gut healthy, then, is crucial to strengthening our mind-body connection and ensuring our entire system stays vibrant. Our colon, a.k.a large intestine, is responsible for peristalsis, the final stage of digestion in which leftover food leaves the body. The theory behind colon cleansing is that food waste can get stuck in the walls of the colon, inhibiting the release of toxins and causing a build up of gunk. Flushing it out clears the way for smoother elimination and reduced toxicity. Win-win. Of course, there are those who argue against colon cleansing, fearful that too much flushing will rid the body of bacteria it needs so dearly. So, with any practice, do your homework, use moderation and listen to your gut.

Here are more of the possible benefits:

  1. Cleanses the colon and improves peristalsis
  2. Increases energy levels and improves mental clarity
  3. Mood lifter
  4. Helps eliminate parasites and candida
  5. Improves digestion and eases bloating and constipation
  6. Detoxifies the liver

And here’s the breakdown of ways to do it:

Colon Hydrotherapy

This is the big one. Colon hydrotherapy, also called a colonic or colonic irrigation, had a mass moment a few years ago when celebs like Ben Affleck and Beyonce touted them as part of their A-list body maintenance routine. Performed by a colonic hygienist, here’s everything you wanted to know about a colonic but were afraid to ask:

The hygienist places a speculum attached to two tubes into the client’s rectum. One tube connects to a large tank of filtered water (sometimes enhanced with lemon or hydrogen peroxide), and the other receives and takes out bodily waste and water, disposing of it the septic system. The water from the tank flows into the colon, loosening and moving along any residual food waste. It’s a totally clean/sterile process that will sometimes involve a bit of abdominal or lower back massage to aid in internal movement and relaxation.

A good colonic hygienist isn’t just there to perform the procedure; she or he will counsel about diet and lifestyle, and depending on what one witnesses coming out the second tube, will give targeted advice about foods to avoid. A session takes about an hour. Side effects can be nausea and fatigue; other people leave feeling light as air, fully energized. Drinking water before and after is key, and many people will schedule a colonic at the end of a cleanse, when the body has taken a break from serious food processing and the colon is free of recent food waste. It is also highly recommended to follow a colonic by taking a dose of probiotics.

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At-Home Enemas

The basic principle behind enemas and colonics are the same: use fluid to flush out the colon. The difference in an enema is that liquid is held in the body and then expelled, instead of a steady input-output stream. If colonics were buzzy a few years ago, coffee enemas are having a moment. A coffee enema can function as a powerful detoxifier.

Here’s how: Compounds in coffee (theobromine, theophylline and caffeine) travel to the liver and help it release bile by dilating blood vessels, opening bile ducts and relaxing muscles. Another possible effect: Coffee stimulates the liver to produce Glutathione S transferase, a detoxifier that acts like an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and natural blood cleanser.

In our earlier cleanse post we linked to a great step-by-step guide for doing an at-home coffee enema. Read the how-to here.

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Colon Flush

Perhaps the simplest and least invasive way to clean the colon (besides eating a clean, plant-based diet free of processed foods) is by doing a saltwater flush. Try it in the morning and give yourself time for the water to work its way through the colon (read: do not get on the subway if you’re still waiting to evacuate). The body absorbs the minerals in the salt as the solution moves through, helping to balance pH levels in the GI tract.

To make at home, simply add 1 tablespoon of high quality sea salt or Himalayan pink salt to 1 quart of room-temperature or warm filtered or spring water. Drink the solution slowly, but try to do it all at once. Lie on your side somewhere comfy and wait, sometimes up to an hour, for the solution to process.

As with all holistic health remedies, it’s great to discuss with your primary care doctor the effects, benefits, and what is right for you personally. But whether or not you choose to try a colon cleanse, the importance of a healthy gut and smooth digestion cannot be overemphasized. A great first step is eating mindfully, not only in terms of what but also how. Eat slowly, and chew a lot — digestion starts in the mouth. And consider adding a probiotic to your regular routine.

 

Pink salt photo courtesy of LaurenConrad.com

One-Day Cleanse

If the word cleanse has you picturing weird supplements, expensive juices, bone broth or a voluntary enema, take a moment to excise those thoughts from your mind. All clear? Despite its reputation, a cleanse can be, simply, simple. With spring approaching, the outside world is nudging us into awareness of new growth, so now is the perfect time to give your own system a seasonal reboot. Outlined below is a simple one-day cleanse that is easy to achieve yet still delivers some great benefits.

Like any other practice, a cleanse works best if you set an intention: The clearer it is, the more benefits you will receive. Here are a few:

  • To eat joyfully, mindfully and gratefully

  • To give my body a chance to rest and restore

  • To slow down and make space for a day of intentional self-care

First step: Plan ahead. Choose a day for your cleanse at least a week in advance. Give yourself time to look forward to and plan for it. Deciding to fast the day after a boisterous, excessive dinner party may seem like a good idea that morning, but you’ll end up hangry, tired and craving anything by lunchtime. Instead, treat your cleanse day like a hot date: Fall asleep dreaming about all the things you’re going to do (or not do), plan what you’re going to wear, and tell all your friends not to call — you’re going to be busy.

Instead of trying to fit your cleanse into your life, see about reordering your life–just for that day–to accommodate your cleanse.


If you can take a day off of work, do it. Turn on your out-of-office message and turn off your phone. In the week leading up to your cleanse, decide which self-care rituals you’d like to do and gather your supplies. Maybe you’d like to take an Epsom salt bath with one of your favorite essential oils; or take a long walk with the intention of smelling every flower you encounter; or spend an hour journaling, meditating, or drawing — whatever it is that brings you back to center.

Arguably the most important part of advance planning concerns what you’re going to eat. Below is a recipe for a simple, delicious and easy to digest mung bean and rice soup from Puakai Healing‘s Maggie Harrsen and Good Water Farms Brendan Davison. Prepare this recipe a day or two before your cleanse so it’s ready and waiting for you on the day of. Start the morning of your cleanse with a tall glass of room-temperature water with a splash of lemon juice. Keep your pot of mung beans simmering on low on the stove, and enjoy mindful bowls throughout the day.

Here are other rituals to consider:

Start the morning with oil pulling and tongue scrapping. Both part of an Ayurvedic approach to wellness, these practices promote toxin elimination, glowing skin and overall oral health. Swish a teaspoon or so of unrefined coconut oil in your mouth for up to 30 minutes, spit it outside or in your trashcan (so as not to clog the drain), and follow by dragging a tongue scrapper from the base to the tip of your tongue until it feels clean, rinsing the scrapper after each stroke.

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Dry skin brushing is another morning practice that will promote detoxification. Our skin is our largest organ, and using a natural fiber brush to stimulate and cleanse it improves circulation, reduces cellulite, tightens skin and strengthens the immune system. Do this first thing, perhaps while swilling coconut oil, before your morning shower while your skin is still dry. Using long strokes, start at the soles of your feet and work your way up the body, stroking toward your heart and moving clockwise around the navel and buttocks. End at your arms and hands.

Mung Bean and Rice Cleanse

Ingredients:

1 cup green mung beans (or lentils)

1 cup basmati rice

9 cups spring water

4-6 cups assorted seasonal vegetables (carrot, sweet potato, etc.)

2 yellow onions, chopped

1/3 cup grated ginger root

8 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. red chilis, crushed

1 tbsp. sweet basil, dried

sea salt, to taste

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Rinse rice and beans. In a large pot, add 9 cups of spring water and bring to a boil. Add rice and beans and cook on a medium flame. Begin to chop vegetables and add to the simmering pot of rice and beans. Begin to chop onions, garlic and ginger. In a separate pan, brown onions, garlic and ginger in 1/2 cup of  olive oil or coconut oil. Add the spices to the oil and then combine this mixture with the mung beans and rice, stir often. Add the herbs. Continue to cook together until creamy and soup-like. Top with a dip of plain yogurt and freshly picked herbs or microgreens.

 

If this seems more nourishing and loving than some of the more hard-core cleanses you might have heard about or even tried, that’s because it is! The magic of this cleanse is giving the digestive system a break with a simple mono-diet. When we tax the system with hard-to-digest foods like processed foods, animal fats and proteins, starchy foods etc, it doesn’t often get a chance to recalibrate. In as little as one day you can give this over-worked system a restorative day off. Plus, the other detox methods, like dry brushing, are even more effective on a simple diet. Best of all, this is the type of cleanse you could factor into your regular weekly routine…

And, if after all this, you’re still dying to do a coffee enema, here’s a lovely how-to from mindbodygreen.

Big thanks and much love to Puakai Healing and Good Water Farms for the beautiful image and delicious recipe; tongue scraper and dry skin brush are on Amazon.com; burning sage shot found here

Age-Defying-Asana

Have you ever seen those incredible yogis who look and feel ageless? Timeless? They might be 45 they might be 65? The wisdom of their years is reflected in their soulful gaze, and their smile lines actually make them look more attractive? Our “cover woman” for this post, Tao-Porchon-Lynch, is one such example – she’s 97 years young and still teaches yoga four days a week.

Put simply: In the quest for youth and longevity – Yoga Works!

In addition to all the things we do internally (such as eating properly and taking supplements) and all the things we do externally (like sunscreen!, creams and body treatments), Yoga offers some activities and principals to help us stay youthful, energetic and radiant!

 

Here is an easy sequence to support “Aging Gracefully”

Shaking Qi Gong – 5 minutes

Begin with this standing movement to get the circulation going, the prana flowing and the skin glowing!

~ This practice supports bone health (in the far east the rates of osteoporosis are negligible, and this movement is practiced by many for 15 minutes a day!).

~ This gentle vibration also supports lymph function and removal of waste and toxins from the body, which helps keep the skin clear and glowing.

** Check out our recent post on Bone Health for a Shaking Qi Gong video demonstration

 

Chair Pose (Utkatasana) x 3

Incorporate strength building by taking chair pose three times. Start with 30 seconds each time with a short rest in between, and try to build your endurance. Eventually perhaps you can hold the pose for 30, then 60, then 90 seconds.

~ Holding this strengthening pose builds the large muscles of the thighs, not only protecting knees from injury, deterioration and pain, but maintaining a shapely derrière!

 

Tree Pose  (Vrikshasana) x 2

Next up: Standing Balancing for a nimble mind and nimble body. Take Tree Pose in whatever variation(s) feel interesting and slightly challenging.

~ By practicing balance we maintain our equilibrium as we age, a key factor in preventing falls and broken bones (like hips) which have challenging recovery periods. To challenge yourself, get into the pose and then imagine a wind blowing – allow your body to flow and blow in the wind to build your stability.

~ Balancing on one foot takes focus! Cultivating our attention and focus in this posture helps keep the mind sharp and agile.

 

Standing Forward Bend x 3

Choose either Uttanasana and keep your legs together (with bent or straight legs) or open the legs into a wide straddle and bend forward in Prasarita Padottanasana. Or mix and match!

~ When the head is below the waist, as in these postures, blood flows to the head delivering oxygen and nutrients, boosting collagen production and cellular regeneration – great for youthful skin!

 

** If you’d like to get fancy – you can collate the three standing postures – instead of taking each one three times, go from Chair –< Tree –<  Forward Bend and repeat!

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.44.18 AM  yogapedia_270_01_450x450 PrasaritaPadotanasana

 

 

Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) – 5-10 minutes

Finish up with this sweet restorative posture that delivers a host of rejuvenating effects

 

yoga_legs_up_the_wall_ART~ Inversions like this improve circulation, and “reverse gravity/reverse the flow of time”

~ This posture also helps the lymph system detoxify the body – keeping organs healthy and skin glowing

~ Legs up the wall helps reduce excessive cortisol in the system, which can lead to a host of chronic issues.

 

So there you have it – a quick and easy sequence specifically designed for anti-aging and vibrant longevity. The practice may be age-old, but the results are timeless!