Archive for June, 2012

“Why should I limit my dairy intake to one to two servings a day?” The question and answer are in the June 7, 2012 issue of Harvard HEALTHbeat, a publication of the Harvard Medical School.

The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)  has created the Healthy Eating Plate to highlight its differences from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPlate. Both are designed to help make good nutrition easier for the public. For a comparison chart, visit Comparison of the Healthy Eating Plate and USDA’s MyPlate. Through all the links provided, readers of this blog from around the world can access more detailed information to see what works for them. Both are excellent resources for portion size, nutrition guides, tips on healthy eating, recipes, and more.

A major difference between the two is on dairy. The USDA recommends three servings of dairy a day. HSPH recommends one to two servings of dairy a day. The article in Harvard HEALTHbeat states that this is enough to satisfy “much of our calcium requirement.” The rest is better obtained, ingested, absorbed from dark green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu, fortified orange juice, and cereals. Eating this way may also reduce the number of calories consumed as the other sources are likely to have fewer calories than dairy.

Unlike dairy (even low-fat dairy), the other sources are lower in fat, high in fiber, high in anti-oxidants and vitamins. Dark green leafy vegetables are a good source of vitamin K which is important for bone formation. So the glass accompanying the plate in Healthy Eating Plate is filled with water and for MyPlate is filled with milk.

Both plates are half covered with fruit and vegetables. Both recommend filling the rest of the plate with protein and grains. MyPlate recommends at least half the grains be whole grains whereas Healthy Eating Plate specifies whole grains.

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This was much fun to read and one wonders if this futuristic ride, The Ascent, will ever be open to the public. Brain Waves Lift Me Higher could be billed as the first spiritual joy ride!

Here is a brief description from the The New York Times article, June 22, 2012, by Ariel Kaminer.

Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times  (photo credit)

The author, above, levitating on “The Ascent” in Brooklyn.

“Part art installation, part adventure ride, part spiritual journey, ‘The Ascent’ claims to let users harness their brain’s own electrical impulses, measured through EEG readings, to levitate themselves. During its brief stay in New York, it welcomed representatives from cultural organizations like PS 122 and Lincoln Center, event promoters and friends of the team.”

Now to the next bit of factoid.

A State of Military Mind is published in the Pacific Standard, June 18, 2012. It written by Brian Mockenhaupt.

(Photo by Eric Schwabel)

“To train future soldiers, the Department of Defense is using new technologies and centuries-old techniques, like yoga and meditation, to hone their minds, help them make better decisions on the battlefield, and prevent trauma.”

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Once the foundation is laid and the body prepared with the practices listed in the previous two posts, the next step is balanced breathing where the breath is comfortably paced. This breath is also called equal inhalation and exhalation and samavritti pranayama. It calms the mind, making it quiet. The breath will gradually become deeper and longer.

The exercise begins by relaxing the body and making it still. Then the attention is drawn to the belly. The breath is observed as an inhalation and exhalation. The inhalation and exhalation are measured by counting 1, 2, 3, etc. from the start to end of inhalation and then the exhalation. Or if it is easier, count how long it takes for the belly to softly rise with the inhaled breath and fall with the exhaled breath. The two are then made even or equal–for instance it could be three seconds to inhale and three seconds to exhale. So there is a gentle and active control. (Kapalbhati and bhastrika are intentionally not given here as I do think that people need direct guidance from an experienced teacher to determine if it is suitable for them, and if so at what pace and rate. A teacher must also observe these two breaths to make sure the breathing is done correctly, that there is no hyperventilation and elevated blood pressure.)

All these steps help make the mind still and focused to prepare it for meditation.

Here is a free audio track for balanced, paced breathing (requires no iTunes or MP3) from Mahasri Yoga that anyone with Internet service can easily access:

Samavritti Pranayama

Samavritti means equal or uniform movement. In this breathing the flows of inhaled and exhaled breaths are of equal duration and intensity. The breathing is paced, but it is paced to your own comfort and not to a given count–usually four to six seconds. As the breath is observed with uninterrupted awareness over an extended period of time, the inhalation and exhalation spontaneously become equal. The breathing pattern becomes more rhythmic and this has a calming effect on the body and mind. This is an important step in pranayamaSamavritti pranayama is soothing and creates a feeling of equanimity. As you get more comfortable with it, you can add one more second to each inhalation and exhalation to slowly make the breath longer and deeper, gently increasing the lung capacity. Never go beyond your comfort level–there should be no shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, any discomfort. Notice the changes in your body and the mind as they change with the rhythmic, balanced breathing. Breath retention should be done under expert guidance after the initial stages are completed and is not included here.

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To safely learn to control the breath, stretch it and make it deeper, here are the basic foundations to pranayama. The audio links are to tracks on Mahasri Yoga.

Whole Body Breathing

Conscious breathing requires some effort initially but after some practice it becomes a natural part of you. Another deeply relaxing practice, whole body breath is simple and effective. There is a gentle expansion and contraction of the body.

Belly Breath

A deeply relaxing practice, the belly breath is one of the first breaths taught in yoga. Also known as abdominal breath, it is a simple and effective way to slow down the breath and mental activity. Awareness is shifted from the mind to the belly. The belly is a space of stillness, a vast ocean of peace. Anxiety brought down to the belly dissolves in this ocean of tranquility. The belly breath is the most relaxed and efficient breath (once you get used to it, particularly if you are a chest breather). It is much more difficult and strenuous to deepen a chest breath than it is to deepen the belly breath. The body gets the most oxygen with the least exertion. It is an effective way to increase lung capacity.

Full Yogic Breath

An energizing and soothing practice, full yogic breath is a basic core breath. It flushes out the entire respiratory system. The breath becomes deeper, more relaxed, and more efficient. The muscles of the belly, midriff, and chest are gently engaged. The breath is experienced in different parts of the torso. A gentle expansion of the body helps stretch and elongate the breath. The stretch and expansion are predominantly vertical as opposed to horizontal. A vertical stretch engages the diaphgram so it actively moves the lower parts of the lungs. This movement helps flush out the lower lobes, areas that normally get little movement.

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This post, following up on the previous post, offers specific suggestions and a process for safe breathing for pranayama and increasing lung capacity.

Asana: Some gentle movements can definitely help loosen muscles and help tone the diaphragm and lungs for better breathing. Refer to the movements of the Upper Body on Mahasri Yoga.

A few other movements are palm tree pose (tadasana), swaying palm tree pose (tiryaka tadasana), waist rotating pose (kati chakrasana) cat/cow (marjariasana), cobra (bhujangasana), fish (matsyasana), bow (dhanurasana), shoulder pose (kandharasana), bridge (setu). This blog uses asana names from the Satyananda Yoga style.

Body Relaxation: After doing 15-20 minutes of simple physical movements or asanas of your choice, we suggest the following audio tracks that are free downloads (like podcasts) from Mahasri Yoga–you can hear everything directly from your computer speakers. Try one track for a week or two (practicing five days a week). This will take four to eight weeks. It is our belief that it is important for those new to this to go slowly and establish a firm foundation for most gain.

  • Base Position:
    A proper physical posture can be important for practicing pranayama and meditation. Three different positions are described here to accommodate varying needs: sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, and lying down. They can be tried out to determine which one is the most comfortable for your body.
  • Body Stillness:
    The first step to having an effective pranayama practice or meditation practice is learning to use the breath to still and calm the body. As long as the body is restless or tense, the mind is drawn to the body and distracted by it. Making any progress in pranayama is difficult in the agitated or distracted state.
  • Deepening Body Awareness:
    After establishing a base position and learning to still the body, we deepen body awareness. The process of witnessing the body as a spectator deepens the process of relaxation, and that in turn facilitates more efficient rhythmic breathing.
Observing the breath: Before any attempt is made to control the breath, there must a strong awareness of the breath–how it moves in the body, how it feels. The following audio track may be of help.
  • Breath Awareness:
    With this practice we continue the process of deepening awareness of the breath by becoming more sensitive and observant. This can help curb the constant vortex of thoughts that spin around and around. We observe more deeply when the mind is becoming inert and sleepy or going off in tangents. Then through the will power of the witnessing awareness, the mind is trained to stay anchored and focused on the breath. It learns to rest on the breath.

The next post will provide links to audio tracks that begin controlling the breath gently at an individual pace, not a given count.

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Here are the problems with being told to count to 4, 5, 6 while breathing in and doing the same breathing out by various sources (newsletter from our medical provider, yoga books, stress management advice, etc.):

Average rate of breathing: I have been watching the number of breaths per minute, called eupnea, in the age range of 14 to 87 years. It is about 15 breaths per minute. It is in the range of the figures cited by a Bihar School of Yoga book on prana. Going online, Wikipedia confirms that the observation falls roughly in the middle of the range. So assuming 15 breaths per minute, each breath is 4 seconds or a count of 4–2 in and 2 out. It is also counted by counting the number of times the chest rises in one minute.

Stretching the breath: So if people are asked to double or triple the duration of their breath, they are likely to strain their lungs, have discomfort in the chest, and feel light-headed. Longer breath is more calming but there is a method to it. Before beginning a breath control exercise, observe the length of your own natural breath.

Those of us who for years have trained ourselves to breathe from the belly may not have a significant rise in the chest and that may affect the counting based on chest rises.

Chest breathing versus belly breathing: Most people are chest breathers. Try breathing through the chest and lengthening the breath (I did for this blog post) and see what happens. The breath creates tightness and discomfort in the chest. After a few of these breaths, people may experience gasping and shortness of breath. A short breath seems to feel fine in the chest but not a long one. The chest fills up quickly and it is a more stressful breath. It is good when you need quick bursts of oxygen in times of stress. However, if you learn to breathe from the belly (also called abdominal breath) it is much easier to lengthen and deepen the breath. There is no tightness, no discomfort as long as you don’t overdo it. The back must be straight and the chest very slightly raised, otherwise the breath is constricted, strangled, and short. This breath is relaxed and soothing.

Gradual lengthening: The breath cannot be doubled or tripled at once. The lungs cannot be stretched that much without strain. It must be done gradually, slowly. This is a step-by-step, systematic process: relax the body and mind, become aware of the body, and become familiar with the breath. Then breathe with the whole body flushing out the respiratory system and gently stretching it with comfort. This brings awareness of the breath in all parts of the respiratory system. Then teach the body how to breathe from the belly and retrain it. The body is then ready to pace the breath to a comfortable count and adding one second at a time till the breath settles to the new pace–just like in exercise, repetitions and sets are gradually added. Adding sound is an effective way to stretch the breath.

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