Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘We Love Research!’

Coffee Alternatives

Depending on who you ask, coffee is either great or terrible for you. It’s been linked to certain health benefits—like a lower chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes or Parkinson’s disease—and contains minerals like magnesium and chromium, both of which help regulate blood sugar levels. It’s also high in antioxidants.

But coffee, of course, contains caffeine. Caffeine consumption is so normalized that it’s easy to forget it’s a psychoactive drug, meaning it changes how our brain functions and affects our perception, mood and state of being. A central nervous system stimulant, caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline, the body’s fight or flight hormone, which in turn increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow.


Caffeine also increases our dopamine levels. A neurotransmitter—a chemical that transfers nerve impulses from one nerve fiber to another—dopamine controls the reward and pleasure centers in the brain, regulates movement and emotional responses, and controls where we focus our attention. In really simple terms, increased levels of dopamine makes us feel temporarily great; less dopamine, not so much.

Because it activates adrenaline and cortisol—the hormone that manages our stress levels—caffeine can be hard on our adrenals, the glands that secrete them. Unstable and spiked rates of both hormones cause blood-sugar fluctuations and create a generally volatile habitat for healing and restoration. If you suffer from inflammation, adrenal fatigue, or mood swings, eliminating or cutting back on caffeine may help alleviate those symptoms.

Still need a lift? There are other options. 

Rhodiola Rosea

A traditional Taoist herb prescribed in Chinese Medicine practices, rhodiola increases energy, has been shown to improve focus and actually lowers cortisol levels.


A Peruvian root rich in protein and Vitamin B12, maca can increase stamina, improve sexual function, and provide an overall boost. It’s also a source of several B vitamins, as well as Vitamins C and E, along with calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and amino acids.


If you’ve ever had coffee in New Orleans, it may have been blended with chicory, the roasted root of a flowering plant. Chicory came into widespread use during a major coffee shortage in France; locals mixed the root with the coffee they did have to stretch their supplies farther. On its own, or blended with dandelion root (here’s a recipe for Dandelion and Chicory Chai), it serves as a convincing stand-in.

Caffeine Free Chai

A few weeks ago we posted a recipe for a traditional chai masala. Make it with a caffeine-free tea like rooibos or tulsi for a little lift without all the hormonal havoc.

Below are two recipes using rhodiola and maca from The Chalkboard, one of our favorite resources for inventive recipes and wellness tips:

How To Beat Fatigue: A Replenishing Tonic For Coffee Drinkers

The Coffee Dupe: A Mushroom + Maca Tonic To Counter Caffeine

As herbs like maca increase in popularity, be sure you’re buying from a distributer you trust. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, a company whose ethos and products we love is Sun Potion.

Photos: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images from the Huffpost; Caffeine compound illustration by Daniel Seex


Therapeutic Essentials: Dynamic Stretching

I recently came across a New York Times article titled Stretching: The Truth, revealing new findings on the effectiveness of stretching on boosting athletic performance. More specifically, which kinds of stretching actually can boost athletic performance. Studies revealed that static stretching, the type we’ve all been doing since middle school gym class, didn’t actually help athletes’ performances, nor did it increase the health of their muscles and joints. In many cases it actually had detrimental effects on their sporting performance.

What does this have to do with Yoga Therapeutics?

Well, our Therapeutics classes integrate many different healing modalities – Yin and Restorative yoga, strengthening and core work, breath work, guided meditation, Ayurveda, and, Self Awakening Yoga Movement Inquiries… some of which I’ll fondly refer to as “rolling around on the ground.”

When I came across the article I was struck by the images… there were a few that looked remarkably similar to some of the Self Awakening Yoga Movement Inquiries. Like this “Scorpion” and “Straight Leg March” examples below. The images drew me in, and the article itself reinforced the significant value of these movement inquiries.


According to the research complied by the Times:

“The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them…

Stretching muscles while moving, on the other hand, a technique known as dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups, increases power, flexibility and range of motion.”


I’ll often describe one of the intentions of Self Awakening Movement Inquiries as: Reclamation of Our Inherent Range of Motion. That’s a big fancy phrase, and sometimes I imagine a king’s trumpeters blowing in the background as I say it. But the truth is, that kind of effect in the body does deserve a little fanfare. We move through this life, stub a toe here, break a leg there, slip a disk here, pull a muscle there, and pretty soon we’re lopsided, sore and in pain. Don’t we deserve to reclaim a bit of our mobility and suppleness? Turns out, we’re empowered to do exactly this, just by rolling around on the ground.


Full scorpion


Many of you know, I’m super nerdy about the science of yoga and love me some cutting-edge research. But I’m also in the fortunate position of being able to witness the powerful effects of this practice first-hand. What I see in class and in private sessions absolutely upholds what the experts are finding.


The other day I was working with a brand new client, he has arthritis in his neck, symptoms of Lyme disease in his joints, has had numerous surgeries and does not practice yoga. He started as we often do in class, by lying on the ground and noticing how it felt. He shared that was very uncomfortable, and he had to bend his knees and place the soles of his feet on the floor to alleviate pain in his lower back. We began with some head rolls from side to side and I asked him how it was going. He said “Fine. Well, I just go to where I feel resistance and push.” This is something we’ve all done and in fact most of us were taught in grade school. I explained that this was a little different, that movement inquiries aren’t about pushing past our edge, but that the exploration was actually where the benefit lay. I suggested something that many of you have heard me say — that he not worry about getting all the way to the edge, and instead focus on feeling every millimeter between one side and the other. Feeling the shifting of the weight of his own body and exploring all the places the head could roll.


He was able to slow down and really try this unfamiliar (and, admittedly, kind of strange) practice. We went through the whole therapeutic reclining spinal series and then I asked him to notice how he felt. He was lying fully on the floor with his legs outstretched, his back and his whole body felt “settled” on the floor, “not like before when there were just a few painful points touching the mat.” He was really surprised at how comfortable he felt when he had begun in such agony a mere hour prior.


Hmmmm. So there’s really something to this dynamic stretching thing.

Movement Inquiries take dynamic stretching it one step further – a key distinction being the act of paying attention. Bringing consciousness to our bodies, our sensations, our movements and even our stillness. This is where stretching can become yoga. Inviting the body to move, and turning our attention on that movement, is like shining a flashlight into all the little nooks and crannies that time forgot. Sometimes just by shining that flashlight of awareness on a forgotten nook is enough to re-enliven it and reawaken even more range of motion. This is where movement becomes Movement Inquiry.

Leg walks

Now, does all this mean there is no place for stillness in stretching? Absolutely not. For example, both Restorative and Yin Yoga incorporate stillness for longer periods of time with profound health effects. Over the coming weeks as we continue this Therapeutic Essentials series of articles we’ll #Go Deep into these modalities as well. Instead, what this article reveals is that, whether we are athletes or not, we benefit from this “dynamic stretching.” In considering regular body maintenance, or as we prioritize healthy aging and self-recovery from physical issues, I believe this form of Right Movement is absolutely essential.


I encourage you to read the full article and to incorporate some of the concepts into your regular routine. Better yet – see you on the mat!




6 Quick Tips to Turn Presence Into Charisma

Last week the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley published an article outlining the ways a mindful practice can lead to people viewing you as more charismatic.

Great leaders in politics, media, and even within our personal network of friends tend to share a charisma that separates them from others. They radiate an energy and charm that is attractive and garners respect. Research now shows that you don’t have to be born with this star-like power to be successful, but rather you can harness the tenants of a mindful practice to be more present with others, and cultivate a charisma within yourself.

“Charismatic people are often described as having the ability to make you feel as if you are the only person in the room.”


women-shaking-handsHere are six common traits that you can practice to cultivate charisma:

  1. Empathy
  2. Full listening
  3. Eye contact
  4. Enthusiasm  
  5. Self-confidence
  6. Skillful speaking


All of these tips boil down to being present with the people you interact with.

“One research study showed that the mere presence of a cell phone impaired the sense of connection in a face-to-face conversation.”

Social media creates the illusion that getting one hundred likes on a Facebook post can be equated with real-life influence and respect. However, this is not always true, and as a result, creating and maintaining meaningful relationships that extend beyond the digital sphere is more important than ever. 

Slowing down to breathe and be present with the person you’re talking to does not decrease the productivity of your day. On the contrary, it allows you to get more from the interaction: a deeper connection with the person, a better understanding of the information you exchange, and (as this article notes) a greater chance of happiness and success within your personal and professional networks. 

So go ahead and #GoDeep