13 Sep

Links for a Sunday Morning

I apologize for the lack of links the past few Sundays.

Actually, I don’t.

I was on vacation in Japan with ample internet access but limited time to use it because I was too busy having an awesome time.

SanjusangendoSanjusangendo Hall, Kyoto

When I have a moment, I fully intend to give you some recaps of all the awesomeness I experienced. In the meantime, you’ll just have to settle for interesting things I read this week.

Drink Soda? Take 12,000 Steps – NY Times

Walking at least 12,000 steps a day effectively wiped out all of the disagreeable changes wrought by the extra fructose. When the [study participants] moved more, their cholesterol and blood sugar levels remained normal, even though they were consuming plenty of fructose every day.

Can Recommending Sandwiches, Eggs and Roasted Chickens Really Be Considered ‘Elitist’? – US News

There’s no doubt that the inconvenient truth of healthful living is that it does indeed require effort. There’s also no doubt that there are some people who, for a myriad of reasons, are so disenfranchised that regular home-cooking is genuinely impossible. But simply put, sandwiches aren’t elitist.

Decriminalize cocaine and psychedelics, global group urges – CBC News

The risks associated with drug use increase, sometimes dramatically, when they are produced, sold and consumed in an unregulated criminal environment. The most effective way to advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.

Seniors and the Generation Spending Gap – Maclean’s

The dramatic change in the fortunes of seniors, from the impoverished pensioners of yesterday to today’s wealthy retirees, is among the greatest policy success stories in Canadian history. . . and governments continue to focus so much of their resources on supporting the plight of economically fragile seniors at the expense of their far more fragile children and grandchildren.

Fighting Words with Windsor’s Randa Markos – Windsor Star

The Ultimate Fighter Episode 1 featured Randa in the first fight of the season — in which she emerged victorious over top-seeded Tecia Torres with a decision win after three action-packed rounds.

Forget blue or pink: For newborns, it’s the greener the better – Digital Journal

Where a family puts down roots may make a difference for expectant mothers. Eco-friendly neighborhoods, ones with green trees and open areas with grass have been found to positively influence a baby’s birth weight and other growth factors.

12 Sep

Getting Caught Up in the Visuals

Every Body is a Yoga BodyImage Source: Etsy – When Guinea Pigs Fly

Through countless images primarily depicting yoga as lithe white women in impossible contortions has come the prevailing idea that you need to have a certain body shape, skin colour, gender, or BMI to practice yoga. This idea needs push back.

Yoga is diverse enough to be accessible to every body, but we’re driving people away from continuing to practice or from even attempting it by making them feel unable to fit in in a yoga class and giving them the impression that they don’t belong here because they don’t look like a Yoga Journal cover model.

I’ve had so much positive feedback and commentary on my recent interview with Yoga Journal regarding yoga and body image because this is what people want to hear. They want to know that it’s okay for them to try yoga even if they can’t touch their toes. They want to know that they won’t feel like the odd one out if they have to modify a pose. They want to know that they won’t be judged for their body and its limitations. In other words, they want to feel safe.

In response to the interview, a reader sent me an e-mail saying
I am always amazed at how society gets caught up in the visuals in life and forgets to look at the whole picture”
100% true. We suffering to make ourselves look perfect even when ‘perfect’ feels pretty terrible. We are more afraid of appearing flawed than of losing out on some really great experiences that don’t uphold appearances. It’s shit, really.
And it’s something that even I struggle with. In fact, I think it is because I myself struggle with getting caught up in the visuals that I can understand why other people do too. In a yoga practice, I can motivate them to listen to their body and forget about aesthetics.
I’ll look at pictures or see yogis doing crazy poses and think ‘That looks so cool. I wish I could do that!’. I try it and fail, or I find it doesn’t feel quite as awesome as it looks. Then I struggle to let go of my ego and modify poses in a way that may not me the most attractive, that may not win me any praise, but in a way that feels pretty damn good.
From my failures and ‘imperfect’ poses I end up learning about the subtle idiosyncrasies of my body. It gives me this real connection as if my mind and body are in on a little secret that no one else will ever be able to experience. And that kind of intimacy feels better than anything else.
Cobbler
02 Sep

What to Read When You’re Expecting – Mindful 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, severe disappointment of Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful, and how Iyengar Yoga for Motherhood impressed me.
Last up . . . 

Mindful Motherhood

Mindful Motherhood Review

Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten is a book I would recommend to every pregnant woman and new mother and, because of its practicality and universal message, I’d probably recommend it to people outside its target demographic as well.

Vieten’s book teaches the reader to use mindfulness techniques to handle stresses, emotions, and challenges that arise from the life-changing act of becoming a parent. The book is divided into 3 sections: Mindful Motherhood Basics, Qualities of Mindful Motherhood, and Mindful Motherhood in Everyday Life. The beginning of the book tackles the fundamentals of mindfulness, which are applicable to all people, but with a parenting spin. The latter part of the book dives deeper into how to approach situations with compassion, acceptance, curiosity, and non-judgment and without reacting on gut-instinct. It also provides more specifics about how to use mindfulness to connect to your baby and develop a degree of synchronicity with your baby’s needs.

The author is honest and straight-forward about the content and delivers it in a manner that is approachable, factual, and comprehensible. She easily convinces the readers that they can reduce stress, improve mood, and persevere through adversity by implementing mindfulness techniques, and most importantly that they don’t have to change their lives to do it.

Mindfulness, generally speaking, is a relatively simple concept to grasp: Be aware of your senses, your emotions, and your thoughts in the present moment without qualifying these things as good or bad. That’s it. However, Vieten manages to get so in depth into such a simple concept—to spin it and look at it in so many different ways—while delivering it with an honest writing style that made the material fresh and interesting to read.

Vieten’s presentation of the concept of mindfulness is straightforward. She does not try to glamorize it, or wrap it in bows, or market it as the next big thing, yet she is still able to get the point across that, as simple a technique as it might be it, it is extremely beneficial to improving mood, and handling stressful situations with a cool head and sound judgment. She encourages the readers to adopt mindfulness slowly when they have time and not to try to overhaul their life for the sake of adopting the technique. By the same token, she developed the book in such a way that the chapters are brief and simply written and the short and easy mindfulness exercises that accompany the chapters are equally realistic and accessible.

The exercises that were included in the book were great and I not only have made an effort to incorporate them into my yoga practice but also into my own life. Exercises like Quick Body Re-Entry (find your centre of being and relax into it), Quick Connect with Baby (match your breathing to baby’s and breathe side-by-side), Curiosity (wonder about and become fascinated by baby), and Expanding Your Container (breathe through and explore your sensations in an uncomfortable situation) are all simple techniques that provide a number of different ways to become more present and fulfilled.

Overall this book is a fantastic resource for parents and those working with new parents and the techniques are applicable to individuals from all walks of life.

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.