26 Aug

What To Read When You’re Expecting: Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood

As part of my Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training with Mindful Mamas, I was tasked with reading at least four books related to pregnancy and/or prenatal yoga and review them.

Each week for 4 weeks I am posting a  brutally honest review so all you pregnant readers know what books to read and which to avoid. So far, I’ve discussed my surprising enjoyment of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and severe disappointment of Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful.
Next up . . . 

Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood

Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood Review

Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood was the book that I was most looking forward to because I wanted a solid reference on sequencing of asana as it pertains to pregnancy. This book is a veritable encyclopaedia of the prenatal yoga practice and is an excellent reference and resource.

The book is a thick, heavy hardcover with glossy pages full of photographs of pregnant women demonstrating every pose. It covers, in detail, yoga poses that are appropriate for conception through to 6-months post-natal. It also goes into prenatal physiology in a more detailed manner than I was expecting, and touches on pre and postnatal ayurvedic health and diet.

It’s important to set about the book as an encyclopaedia. I attempted to read it from cover to cover and had trouble staying focused because it reads like a textbook and not a novel. When I realized that this wasn’t the right way approach, I got comfortable with the table of contents and index and used them to help me navigate to the information that I was looking for.

Armed with post-its, flags, and a highlighter I scoured the book for the information that was pertinent to my needs, namely prenatal yoga sequencing, asana benefits, and contraindications. I found it was easy and quick to find everything that I needed and get a high level understanding of the material.

I flagged what I considered to be the most useful tables and chapters for quick reference. “Problems A-Z” is one of my favourites. It is essentially an index of common ailments experienced during pregnancy with a list of all the poses that are helpful to relieve them. Additionally, I appreciated the tables throughout the book that succinctly indicate on which poses are suitable for which stages of pregnancy.

However, my flags and notes in the book have become essential to me quickly navigating to the material I need. In spite of all the relevancy and helpfulness of the material, in some ways I feel like the book contains too much information. Because of its size, Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood is relegated to the bookshelf; it’s not something that I can carry around with me to reference quickly when I need it. It would be nice to have a Pocket Guide to Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood which would have the pertinent tables of asanas by trimester and/or prenatal ailment.

Each asana referenced in the book has its own dedicated page which shows a photo of the pose, detailed instruction on how to perform it, and tables highlighting the benefits, contraindications, hints, and special instructions for the pose. Pictures are even provided for recommended sequences of poses which, since they can be referenced on other pages, seems redundant to me though I admit I can see the benefit for someone who wants to open the book and follow along with the pictures.

In the end though, I’m glad to have this book in my library. It’s something that I know that I will reference over and over again as I start to teach pregnant women and address their problems, concerns, and questions.

24 Aug

Links for a Sunday Morning

“Congratulations, You Have a Yoga Body” – Yoga Journal

Squeeee! My very own interview with yoga journal. I’m famous!

The more I practice yoga, the more I am able to embrace and accept the limitations of my body, which means I can embrace and accept everything about my body.

Rich People Exercise, Poor People Take Diet Pills – The Atlantic

One reason the underprivileged face an obesity crisis is that they rely on ineffective weight-loss strategies.

Can You Be Heavy and Healthy? – Marie Claire

Twenty-five percent of obese people and 50 percent of those considered overweight have no or very few health problems. Whether you’ll get a disease is largely determined by genetics, diet, physical activity, and other factors—not weight

Yoga Can Boost Your Brain Power – Daily Mail

At the end of the eight weeks, the yoga group was speedier and more accurate on tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task-switching than it had been before the intervention.

How Science Sold Me on MeditationBig Think

There was a study out of Harvard that shows that short daily doses of meditation can literally grow the gray matter in key areas of your brain having to do with self-awareness and compassion and shrink the gray matter in the area associated with stress.

What Makes People Look Like Pets? – Slate

It’s one of those curious observations that’s had scientists scratching their heads for decades. When shown a photo lineup of random people and random dogs, people are able to match the pets with their owners at a rate greater than chance.

What do you think? Do we look alike?

DSCF5175DSCF5502

19 Aug

What To Read When You’re Expecting: Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful

As part of my Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training with Mindful Mamas, I was tasked with reading at least four books related to pregnancy and/or prenatal yoga and review them.

Each week for 4 weeks I am posting a  brutally honest review so all you pregnant readers know what books to read and which to avoid. So far, I’ve discussed my surprising enjoyment of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.
Next up . . . 

Bountiful Beautiful Blissful

Bountiful Beautiful Blissful Review

Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful by Gurmukh was, quite frankly, an uninspiring read.

I’ll be honest and admit that I’m probably not the most open-minded yoga instructor and, because this book expects you to believe blindly, an open-mind is essential. The fact that the book is written by an American woman who goes by a single Sikh name and it is forwarded by a supermodel is enough to put off any cynic but, all that aside, the content was mostly drivel that I found uninspiring and unsubstantiated.

Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful combines spirituality with yogic philosophy and kundalini movements to provide advice on how to handle all stages of pregnancy with meditation and exercise. It is broken down by trimester, touching upon the experiences a mother-to-be will face in each stage of pregnancy.

In each chapter author Gurmukh offers gentle encouragement to keep the expecting women optimistic and hopeful about the transformation of their body, the challenges they will face during pregnancy, and the changes they can anticipate in their life after the baby is born. She focuses on the positive energy that can be felt within the body during pregnancy and emphasizes how special this time is in the life of a woman.

I appreciated that Gurmukh’s writing style was accepting, encouraging, and supportive. She was not hard-line or assertive in her suggestions for mothers-to-be and she placed primary emphasis on the fact that, at the end of the day, the most important thing is holding a healthy baby. I liked this approach because in the current mommy culture many women have formed opposing camps with firm beliefs on what should or should not be done during pregnancy and childbirth—this can lead to confusion, guilt, and tension in a population already vulnerable to these thoughts.

Unfortunately this book earns no favour with me in terms of content. Gurmukh spews out countless details without basing them in fact or providing a sensible explanation. I’m not going to get greedy and expect scientific evidence behind her claims; a philosophical or theoretical explanation will suffice. Unfortunately Gurmukh stops shy of giving any further information behind her “facts”, thus leaving the reader to assume that they’re unfounded.

“For each month of pregnancy you actually relive on a deep, emotional level your own time in the womb.” Gurmukh stops there and, aside from giving an example of a woman whose pregnancy mirrored her own mother’s, leaves you wondering how this could be true.

“After birth, stay within nine feet of your baby to solidify the aura.” What aura? Mine? The baby’s? What if I stray 10 feet, or 12 feet?

“Women are 16 times more intuitive than men are.” How exactly does one quantify intuition? Is it possible to compare? I suspect Gurmukh herself intuited this fact.

At the end of each chapter there were delightful meditations and exercises that each addressed a different, specific situation that could be encountered during pregnancy, like Meditation for Commitment, Meditation to Unlock Hidden Power, or Meditation for Leaving the Fear and Welcoming the Challenge. I loved the idea behind this, but the execution fell short. Again, Gurmukh provides no

reasoning behind why certain movements, mantras, and meditations were supposed to do what she claimed they would. Like the Prosperity Meditation which “ancient texts have been written on”, yet she fails to explain what those texts posited and why saying HarHarHar for seven minutes will bring prosperity.

In the end, I found Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful to be very disappointing. While I concede that Gurmukh’s nurturing voice in the book is ideal for expecting women, the advice and the exercises she provides lack purpose which prevents her from really connecting to her audience. If you expect a busy pregnant woman to sit still, “maaa”ing like a lamb for eleven minutes, you damn well better explain to her why she’s doing it.

18 Aug

August Challenges: Halfway Point

I’ve made it halfway through August and thus halfway through my two August challenges: The Relaxation Challenge and the #ShesGotLegs Yoga Selfie Challenge.

Relaxation Challenge

Lotus Pose

The Challenge: meditate for at least 15 minutes per day, every day.

How It’s Going:

I have only missed two days so far which I’m proud of. I mostly practice vipassana style meditation which means focusing the attention on actual sensations of the breath and body.

It has been very tough for me to find stillness of mind during my meditations but meditation takes practice. Lots of practice.

What is most important to me is the fact that I am actually taking the time to meditate and the fact that I am not berating myself for not being very good at it.

I have noticed that when I meditate right before I teach a yoga class it sets the tone for the class. Every student follows my lead and is quiet and mindful as they set up their mats and prepare for their practice. It creates a really calm, quiet environment and settles down the class.

#ShesGotLegs ChallengeMarichyasana A

The Challenge: Practice a different hip and groin opening pose every day in preparation for Legs-behind-the-Head pose.

How It’s Going:

It can be both frustrating and liberating to post a picture of myself in a pose that I can’t actually do or that I need to modify. In this challenge, that includes many of these poses.

Heron Pose

There are so many binds that are not accessible to my wide shoulders. There are many stretches that are limited by my tight hamstrings. There are many ways in which I can’t get these poses “perfect” and that’s the whole point of my doing this.

People might say “Yeah but I couldn’t even do the poses to the point that you do it! Let alone make them perfect. I’m not even going to try.” But that’s the problem. We only focus on our flaws and let those hold us back. I bet even the yogis whose poses look ‘perfect’ to me are analyzing and telling themselves “well if I just could have done this” or “I wish I could do that”.Half Bound Lotus Pose

Our ability to embrace our weaknesses and our limitations is what helps us to grow and find self acceptance. This is what I’m working toward: embracing my weaknesses without insecurity.

17 Aug

Links for a Sunday Morning

Do We Look Fat in These Suburbs? – The Atlantic

Cities with more compact street networks—specifically, increased intersection density—have lower levels of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The more intersections, the healthier the humans.

It’s Sunrise In London And Time For A Rave – NPR

Sun streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows. There are no dark and dingy corners in this club. The closest things to a bar are the vendors making smoothies and freshly ground coffee.

The dangers of sharing ‘Genie, you’re free’ – Washington Post

The starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option, presents suicide in too celebratory a light.

On Yoga’s ‘Race Problem’: Has The Practice Become Too White? – Forbes

The white-workout phase probably had to exist to get yoga “in” [in the West], but it’s probably just that – a phase. So framing yoga as an as-yet undiversified white practice? It doesn’t make much sense.

The Rise of Beefcake Yoga – NY Times

‘I couldn’t squat down, I couldn’t get down on my hands and knees. I weighed 308 pounds. My daily workout was a crack pipe and a six-pack.’

There’s No Reason to Skip Headstands During Your Period – Slate

Almost all women who get periods experience retrograde menstruation (when your period flows backward out of your fallopian tubes and into your abdomen, instead of out of your vagina). But only about 10 percent of women of reproductive age develop endometriosis.

12 Aug

What to Read When You’re Expecting: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth Review

As part of my Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training with Mindful Mamas, I was tasked with reading at least four books related to pregnancy and/or prenatal yoga and review them.

Over the next four weeks I will post my brutally honest reviews each Tuesday so all you pregnant readers know what books to read and which to avoid. Enjoy!

First up. . .

Ina Mays' Guide to Childbirth

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth Review

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was a surprisingly stimulating read. Coming from someone who knows nothing about the ins and outs of pregnancy and childbirth the book was extremely informative, enlightening, and more interesting than expected.

Even before I began reading I fully expected that a book written by “the nation’s leading midwife” would have a very strong natural birth partiality. My own attitude at the outset was that home birth is borderline insane, that natural birth is great if you have the balls to tough it out, and that since augmented labour is done with such frequency it’s probably a safe bet.

The book begins with a collection of positive and empowering stories about childbirth. Gaskin uses the stories as a tool to counter our culturally-driven preconceived notions that natural labour is unbearable rather than an ordinary (albeit challenging) practice for which women’s bodies are designed.

With the reader’s mind now open to the idea that childbirth has the potential to be not quite as terrible as she originally believed, Gaskin dives into part II of the book: The Essentials of Birth. Here the bodily changes that occur during pregnancy and the mechanics of childbirth are detailed, again with a natural birth favouritism.

I appreciate that Gaskin’s descriptions of the stages of labour are thorough, well laid out, and easy to understand. She details, with scientific precision, everything that happens to the body, why it is important to the delivery of a child, and what hormones are causing it all to happen.

Gaskin also outlines the importance of the connection between mind and body and how a woman experiencing negative emotions like fear or regret or uneasiness can stall her own labour since these emotions can prevent her cervix from opening up for the baby. This is an important takeaway for the purposes of instructing prenatal yoga, a practice with a heavy emphasis on the mind-body connection and how the mind can subconsciously impact the body.

The stance Gaskin takes on obstetricians is enough to scare women off of a hospital delivery entirely. She speaks of a medical system that removes the laboring mother from the childbirth equation almost entirely, not considering their physical needs (food, movement, dim lighting) or emotional needs (support, comfort, privacy). It becomes a problem for the doctor to solve: getting the baby out as quickly and painlessly as possible. As a result, the woman will receive medical intervention that may not be necessary in order to prevent pain that she might be able to handle on her own or to speed up the labour process that she might be able to do with emotional support from a partner or doula.

Augmentation of labour—induction, epidurals, and cesarean sections—have become so commonplace that the negative implications are often overlooked by women looking to deliver their baby in a hospital. Gaskin describes the domino effect of medical intervention caused by augmentation of labour: By electing an epidural the labour is stalled, which leads to doctor to recommend a drug induced labour. By electing drug induced labour, the woman is subjected to contractions that are more painful than they would be naturally leading her to choose an epidural to deal with the pain. Those strong contractions are also related to higher instances of fetal distress which can then lead to a forceps delivery or cesarean section.

I found Gaskin’s descriptions of the medical process to be informative, providing a very different perspective from the current culturally accepted view that medical interventions is necessary for even healthy pregnancies. However, many of Gaskin’s statistics on natural births are based on her experiences at “The Farm”, her commune’s midwifery centre, which may not be reflect the same level of care received from midwives at a national level.

Also, I felt as though the idea of medical intervention in pregnancy was being demonized by Gaskin. As a result, readers are led to believe that natural delivery is the best way to bring a child into the world and those readers who end up receiving augmented labour that is medically necessary may feel as though they have failed to do what was right for their child. Women should never feel judged based on their chosen or required method of delivering their child.

In the end, I think that Gaskin delivers excellent material that encourages women to understand that labour is a natural process that their body is built to endure. It certainly changed my perspective about delivering a baby. I believe that if I had a low risk pregnancy I would opt for as little medical intervention as necessary– if an epidural were offered to me I would certainly opt out. That said, I believe that due to this book’s bias, it should be read in conjunction with other material that provides broader statistics on pregnancy and childbirth so the reader can get a better picture of all the options available to her for delivering a healthy child.

09 Aug

Links for a Sunday Morning

Be Lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn – The Telegraph

Lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

The Ideal Commute Isn’t No Commute  – City Lab

Maybe there really is something enjoyable, or at least psychologically beneficial, about the trip from work to home and back.

This is your Brain on Fish – The Atlantic

If you eat fish just once a week, your hippocampus—the big memory and learning center—is 14 percent larger than in people who don’t eat fish that frequently. 14 percent. That has implications for reducing Alzheimer’s risk.

The Ebola Outbreak in 5 Sentences – Vox

Ebola is really a problem of broken and underfunded health systems that can’t put those basic public-health measures into place.

A Good Way to Wreck a Local Economy: Build Casinos – The Atlantic

The impact of casinos on neighboring property values is “unambiguously negative.” ..Casinos don’t encourage non-gaming businesses to open nearby, because the people who most often visit casinos do not wander out to visit other shops and businesses.

Researchers create a formula that predicts happiness – The Globe and Mail

The equation suggests that momentary happiness hinges on individuals’ expectations, not on the rewards of their decisions. In other words, you’re likely to be happier only if the outcome of a particular decision turns out to be better than you had anticipated.

05 Aug

Metro Detroit Bakery Tour

On Monday Matt and I took advantage of the Civic Holiday to eat cookies in America.

Wait, let me backtrack.

I had expressed an interest to Matt in visiting every single one of these 13 Sweetest Bakeries in America, of which we had visited only one. Matt suggested we visit bakeries in the Detroit area. I agreed.

I printed off a bunch of maps and a list of over 10 different bakeries including bread bakers, cupcake shops, café/bakeries, and pie places. We were well on our way to diabetes.

Not surprisingly, we made it only to 4 of the 10 select bakeries.

Halfway through our second bakery (Pinwheel) Matt was hardly able to eat another bite of the Oatmeal Cream Pie I ordered. He told me he was throwing in the towel. I told him I was finishing the Oatmeal Cream Pie.

In the end, we had a fun day and though all of the things I ate were good, none of them wowed me.

Here’s my recap of each of the four bakeries we visited.

Avalon International Breads

422 W Willis St, Detroit, MI
(313) 832-0008

The servers were slow and confused. The Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie was mediocre (I’ve made much better CCC’s on more than one occasion). The Baguette was nothing to write home about. (I’ve made better baguettes too). Jan’s Magic Bar was delicious with a cookie crust and filling of condensed milk + chocolate + coconut but very sweet.

Final Verdict: Fun, funky atmosphere but I don’t think I’m cool enough to hang out here with all the hipsters and vegans. Or maybe I’m too cool. I respect the fact that the bakery is organic and was one of the pioneer businesses in a slowly gentrifying area of midtown Detroit, but, yeah, I’m unimpressed. And this wasn’t my first time unimpressed by their stuff.

Avalon International (6)Avalon International (2)Avalon International (5)Jan's Magic BarSea Salt Chocolate Chip CookieAvalon International (9)

Pinwheel

220 W Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI
(248) 398-8018

Good coffee. Should I lead with that? I guess that’s fair since the place is more coffee shop than bakery. Actually it had two business names (Pinwheel and Red Hook) which was very confusing.

Matt only wanted one thing but I ordered two. The Oatmeal Cream Pie was fantastic (like Little Debbie’s but so much better). The Snickerdoodle was just the right snickerdoodle texture and crumbliness and great for dunking in their coffee (did I mention the coffee?). So it was good for a snickerdoodle, but I forgot that I’m not a huge fan of snickerdoodles. It’s the name, it’s so damn cute it gets me every time.

Verdict: Coffee + Oatmeal Cream Pie = happiness. Must return the next time I find myself in Ferndale which is, typically, never.

Pinwheel (5)Pinwheel (7)Oatmeal Cream PieSnickerdoodle

Achatz Pie Company

1063 E Long Lake Rd, Troy, MI
(248) 457-1372

Fuck yeah, pie! I like pie almost as much as cookies so this place was a must. I was “worried” (read: secretly hoping) that we would have to buy a whole pie but luckily (unluckily?) they sold pies by the piece. There were samples of classic Apple Pie which was good but a little sweeter than I’m used to so we opted for the Michigan Four Berry Pie. The crust was good and flaky, the filling was a good mix of sweet and tart and the whole thing had a nice crumb topping.

Final Verdict: Nice place, good pie. I left happy.

Achatz (5)Achatz (1)Michigan Four Berry PieAchatz (7)Achatz (3)Achatz (6)

Ackroyd’s Scottish Bakery

25566 5 Mile Rd, Redford Charter Township, MI
(313) 532-1181

We dodged 457 pot holes to get here, but we made it. We needed something savoury at this point and Ackroyd’s was the only place to get it. Meat pies, meat pasties, meat tarts. Lots of meat and flaky dough can’t be wrong, right? We had to take our pies to go and heat them up at home but I snagged some Shortbread for the road. And Hobnobs.
We waited until the next day to eat our Meat Pie and Beef Pasty with abandon. The meat pie was really well seasoned but could have used more meat. The pasty was my favourite. It was like a samosa with beef and a flakier crust (that means, delicious).

Verdict: I ordered 4 shortbread and got 5. I paid $4.50 for a $6 jar of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. This place was winning before I tried anything at all. The fact that I wanted to recreate those meat pies and pasties after tasting them means that Ackroyd’s had my favourite baked goods on our tour. We saved the best for last I guess!

Ackroyd's (4)Ackroyd's (2)ShortbreadDSCF5974DSCF5975

03 Aug

Links for a Sunday Morning

The Health Benefits of Trees – The Atlantic

It is becoming increasingly clear that trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published this week. And we’re only beginning to understand the nature and magnitude of their tree-benevolence.

Mothers teach babies their own fears via odor – U of M Health

Research findings in animals may help explain a phenomenon that has puzzled mental health experts for generations: how a mother’s traumatic experience can affect her children in profound ways, even when it happened long before they were born.

Rethinking dining value: Eating at restaurants shouldn’t be only about volume – Washington Post

Why is everyone obsessed with a good deal, instead of just a good meal, when dining out?

Why Yoga Could Help you Thrive at Work – NY Post

Practicing physical yoga helps you shift your way of thinking over time.The effect is more gradual. Once you do yoga, things start to slow down. You start to see things that before were just one big ball of stress.

You Would Rather Endure Electric Shocks Than Sit Alone With Your Thoughts, Study Finds – Time

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Running 5 Minutes a Day Has Long-Lasting Benefits – NY Times

Runners’ risk of dying from any cause was 30 percent lower than that for the nonrunners . . As a group, runners gained about three extra years of life compared with those adults who never ran. Remarkably, these benefits were about the same no matter how much or little people ran.

01 Aug

August Challenges

Tomorrow is August 1st which means noticeably shorter days, phenomenal local produce, vacationing, and general summer laziness.

It also is the start of not one but two challenges in which I am participating.

Relaxation Challenge

The first one is a Relaxation Challenge (an oxymoron of sorts, no?) hosted by Breathe Pilates & Fitness here in Windsor. The challenge is to meditate for at least 15 minutes per day for every day of August. I’m looking forward to this because meditation is one of those things for which I need to force myself to make time. And I often don’t.

It’s so beneficial to finding calmness and relieving stress. Meditation actually changes your brain activity and teaches you how to suppress the stress responses in your body so that you can relax. It’s a phenomenal thing and totally simple.

meditation

Simple, but not easy. Hence the ‘challenge’.

So I’ll be dedicating myself to 15-20minutes per day for every day of the month (mostly at home, but will try to pop into the guided meditations at the studio when I have a chance). I will document how I felt during the meditation and if anything came up. Feel free to join me!

#ShesGotLegs

Yes, another yoga selfie challenge.

This challenge works toward getting into Legs Behind the Head Pose (Dwi Pada Sirsasana).

The reason that I’m doing it is because the extent to which I can get into half of these poses is minimal and I’d like to show that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. For #BackbendMadness I, for the most part, didn’t have a problem. I have a pretty strong backbend practice so with a good warm-up most of the poses were accessible. These poses however. . .

She's Got Legs

. . . not so much

So my goal is not to show the perfect pose but how every pose can be modified for every level of ability and still get the same benefits.

My goal is also to show that it doesn’t matter what your body’s limitations are because awareness of bodily limitations is what is more important than the limitations themselves.

So here comes August and here goes nothing.