12.29.2013

Gentle Yoga for Better Breathing & Balance

A 20-minute guided practice appropriate for all levels.  Try it at home, share with a friend, and leave your questions and comments below.

12.14.2013

I Don't Know How to Write About Yoga Anymore


In a couple of weeks, I will have been writing this blog for four years.  It started as the lonely outcry of a sequestered home practitioner.  Then it went on to become a detailed journal of my practice, an account of my experience in yoga teacher training, and a record of my life along the yoga path.

Oh, and Asanas of the Week.  Lots of those.

Over the course of the past year, since I have gone back to school, I have written less about my own life and far less about my practice.  I've been spending a lot of time with one particular person whose company I enjoy.  That closeness seems to pacify my creative energy, for better or worse.  And while practicing and teaching yoga are largely solitary pursuits which leave much of my thought free for putting on the page, being in the classroom saps me dry.  There are times that I yearn for that winter I spent largely unemployed, eating beans, doing nothing but practice or huddle in blankets and write.  

Sometimes, when I have an interesting insight or experience on the mat, I try to write about my practice now.  But it doesn't feel right.  Occasionally, I have a spark of inspiration to compose a post about the best time to shower in relation to practice, the importance of refinement in jumping back, or how to bind Pasasana.  But then I think: jesus, who cares...?

The truth is, I care.  I ponder these trivialities every day.  In my practice, or with my students.  I research.  I troubleshoot.  I tinker.  I continue to examine this yoga, this thing that sometimes seems so full of mystery and other times absurdly plain.  But I've forgotten how to write about it.  Maybe I don't have the energy, or maybe I don't think I should.  As the nature of this blog has evolved over the years, so has the nature of my relationship to practice.  It's become a comfortable relationship.  An everyday relationship.  One that isn't always satisfying, but one so wrapped up in who I am that it's impossible to leave.  And it seems almost that whatever happens in a relationship like that is too intimate to share, too gnarly and complex for understanding.

So I don't write about my practice anymore.  Don't talk much about it either.  I just do it, and that's enough.  Maybe this will change.  I enjoy reading about others' practice once in a while, and early on I learned a lot from blogs.  Maybe next week I will need notebooks for detailing my drop backs or logging meditation time, but for now, practice is enough.  And where does that leave the yoga blog?  Who knows.  Who cares?

12.09.2013

Natural Health Hack #10: Three Steps to Better Digestion

The "Tao" Bamboo Squatty Potty
Improper digestion is a primary cause of poor health and one of the most common complaints in our modern world.  Everything from constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and hemmorrhoids to acne and infections may be the result of inadequate digestion.  The most obvious answer to digestive trouble is a simple whole food diet with plenty of fresh greens and healthy fats.  But sometimes, particularly if digestive trouble is long-standing, a nutritious, fibrous diet is not enough to get digestion back on track.

While I was brainstorming this topic, I realized I could write a number of posts on ways to improve digestion, from diet and herbs to exercise and stress-relief, but I've decided to focus on just three easy but important solutions to get you started:

#1)  Squatty Potty

The human body is designed to squat during elimination.  Though many countries around the world still use squat toilets, the porcelain throne has become ubiquitous in today's modern Western restroom.  While it may seem more dignified to sit high and tall on a toilet, the sitting posture in which the body is positioned on a modern toilet is not conducive to evacuation of the bowels.  


As illustrated above, an upright sitting posture in which the tilt of the pelvis is relatively neutral actually places the rectum at an angle, reducing the efficiency of defecation, and causes the puborectalis to compress the narrow opening of the rectum.  This leads to difficult and incomplete evacuation, resulting in toxicity, illness, and increased potential for infection.

The "Ecco" Squatty Potty
A squat position, on the other hand, in which the pelvis is tilted forward and the knees are brought toward the body, brings the rectum into alignment and loosens the sling of the puborectalis, freeing up the digestive tract.  Squatting also creates downward intra-abdominal pressure, encouraging things to move along more quickly and easily.

Fortunately, you don't have to rip out your toilet and squat over a hole in the floor to achieve proper digestion.  The Squatty Potty (pictured right) is a footstool designed to fit at the base of your toilet which allows you to elevate your feet and bring the pelvis forward into a posture more conducive to elimination.  The Squatty Potty comes in two different heights: the 7" for those with more limited flexibility, or the 9" for a deeper squat position.  The basic, economical model is made from durable plastic and costs $35.  It is well worth it.  For those craving more refined bathroom decor, there is a bamboo model (pictured above) currently priced at $80.  

*Links to purchase at the bottom of this post.

#2)  Nauli

The practice of nauli, also known as abdominal churning, is a yoga kriya or cleansing practice designed to tone the digestive organs and stimulate agni.  Agni is the inner fire of digestion.  To put it in contemporary terms, agni is your metabolism.  A hotter fire in the belly means faster metabolism, and a faster metabolism means we are digesting our food quickly and completely.

I learned how to practice nauli while studying with David Swenson, but there are numerous resources online to show you how.  First, a few tips:
  1. DO practice nauli on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.
  2. DO develop your nauli practice gradually.  Start by learning to isolate just one side of the abdomen at a time, and work toward the full rippling motion over days or weeks of practice.
  3. DO NOT strain to the point of gasping or sweating.  Take a few free breaths between each round.
  4. DO NOT practice nauli if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or menstruating,
And now, here's Kiki to show you how it's done:


#3) Triphala

Triphala is an affordable Ayurvedic herbal compound used for stimulating digestion and detoxification.   Translated from the Sanskrit, tri means "three" and phala means "fruit."  Triphala contains the powder of dried amalaki fruit, bibhitaki fruit, and haritaki fruit.  Combined, these three fruits have a mild diuretic and laxative effect and may be taken daily as part of an ongoing detoxification program.

Always get organic
I take my triphala powder twice a day:  in the morning after nauli and in the evening at least one hour after dinner and an hour before bed.  You may choose to take triphala only once a day, either in the morning or at night, as is most suited to your lifestyle.

To prepare triphala for consumption, mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon in a small glass of water.  Stir it up and set it aside for at least a few hours.  I like to use a small jar with a lid to mix my triphala, so I can simply shake it up and then set it aside with the lid on until it's ready to drink.  It is most convenient to prepare the evening's triphala in the morning, and the morning's triphala at night so that the powder has the chance to completely settle to the bottom.  Drink the cold infusion when it's ready, but leave the powder at the bottom of the glass.  It will have an earthy, bitter taste that is only mildly unpleasant.  When you're done, dump the powder, rinse the glass, and prepare your next dose.

*Link to purchase at the bottom of this post.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned, these three steps are just a few of the many things you can do to improve your digestion.  However, I have chosen to highlight these particular three because I believe they are the most affordable and immediately beneficial changes one can make.  Healthy digestion is the cornerstone of a healthy life.  If you have any persistent health problems or obvious signs of poor digestion, I strongly encourage you to take at least one of these steps toward your long-term health and wellbeing.

Links to Purchase