10 things my grandma knew before MindBodyGreen

walking with Grandma

Walking with Grandma from Sharon Lill

When I was little and we would visit my grandma, the smell of whatever food she was cooking was an immediate comfort.   In fact, to this day, when I make vegetable soup, the scent is like olfactory Xanax.  Grandmas are wise, we all know it.  They have home remedies, sayings and knowledge that get us through illness and heartache. Many of which we may not even realize we’ve adapted. Many of which are now scientifically proven.

There are a grillion websites and blogs right now that tout grandma’s natural remedies.  But, rather than indulge in reading the ’10 ways I’m destroying my body’ or ‘5 things I should stop doing right now’ articles that pervade my social media feed unsolicited, I tend to focus on the positive, and hearken back to what used to work for grams that has served me well.

Without further ado, here are 10 things my grandma knew all along (before scientific journals):

Drink a cup of warm water with lemon in the am.  She never got into the ayurvedic cleansing aspects of it, she just knew it was hydrating, got her digestive system working and cleared out her throat.

Use basic skin cream. The most expensive skin care line in the world is no substitute for a good diet, good hygiene and clean living.

Always carry Kleenex. I keep a packet in my purse in case of sneeze or to dry a friend’s tears.  Unlike grandma, my tissues aren’t tucked in the sleeve of my shirt or  in my  bra.

Always have a reserve of homemade soup in the freezer. You never know when your power is going to go out, or a sick friend could use a hand.  For me, I have tons Tupperware concoctions in the freezer. Who needs a preservative filled Lean Cuisine, when I can warm up a slice of homemade lasagne?

Eat real food.  As Michael Pollan said (who was quite possibly paraphrasing his own grandmother), “Eat Food. Mostly Plants.” There’s no substitute for homemade grub nutritionally or flavorfully (is that even a word.)  I’ve tried the trendy dietary things, but for the most part, my body likes it when I eat like an old Italian woman. The science on how eating a plant-based, unprocessed diet is infinite.

Love God. Whether it’s church, meditating, praying or going to a wiccan ritual, a spiritual practice is what brings us home. It’s what brings us peace.

Vinegar and borax clean just about anything. My grandmother used vinegar for everything — it was her ‘Windex’ (for those of you who have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding.) Nana would use vinegar to clean the counter, and in the next moment stick some on a my lip if I had a fever blister. 20 Mule Team Borax is another wonder substance with tons of uses

Chicken noodle soup cures a cold. There is science that has proven that chicken noodle soup actually helps stop the inflammation that comes with having a virus.  Google it.

Wrinkles merely indicate where smiles have been. This wasn’t exactly a saying of hers, but she had a little plaque with this saying on it, and it sticks with me to this day any time I see a sign of aging.

Family comes first. Whether it’s the family you were born with or one you’ve come to adopt, family will get you through anything. Treat your genetic and friend family with love, respect and loyalty. And you will be rewarded with the same.

These nuggets are actually stitchings of what two grandmas and my mom have taught me. There are dozens of habits I’ve picked up, and musings that regularly echo in my head from generations of wise women.

What did your mom or grandma pass along to you?

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

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5 ways singing is good for your health

Singing is good for your health - singing squirrels

I’ve always been a fantastic singer…in the shower or car.  In the privacy of my own home or vehicle, I happily sing at the top of my lungs. When I need an energy boost or catch myself getting into a mental loop of some sort, I’ll throw on some of my favorite tunes to switch my thinking and mood. Singing helps me pass the time during a potentially stressful commute, and helps me to regulate my breathing when I’m stressed or anxious.

As it turns out, there is some actual science to how singing can improve our body and mind.

There are hundreds of research studies on how singing and music therapy can help treat everything from chronic pain to attention deficit disorder. Singing creates vibrational frequencies that have been found to have a direct effect upon physiological systems.  All you have to do is Google it.  When is Google going to be able to understand when I sing my questions into search anyway?

Here are 5 ways singing is good for your health:

1. Singing is good for your heart. According to a study in the Journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, music structure determines heart rate variability of singers.  In fact, singing demands a slower than normal respiration, which may affect heart activity and be beneficial for cardiovascular function. According to researchers, the controlled breathing used in both activities may have positive long-term effects on heart health and blood pressure.

2. Singing improves your mood & helps you cope with stress. A study out of the U.K. on choral singing and psychological well being found the benefits of singing include: experienced focused attention; deep breathing; social support; cognitive stimulation; and regular commitment.

 3. Choir singing creates social bonds. A project called, “The Sound of Well-Being” in Norway showed how shows how cultural activities like choir singing positively impacts work environment and improves the psychosocial health of employees who participate.

4. Singing improves pulmonary function. According to a study from Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent and the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, singing may ease symptoms of COPD, improve lung function and quality of life in people with chronic respiratory illness.

5. Singing can help you cope with pain. According to a report published in the Journal of Music Therapy in 2004, help patients cope with chronic pain. A joint study by Harvard and Yale Universities in 2008 went one step further, claiming that choral singing in a Connecticut town had increased residents’ life expectancy.

So take a cue from Buddy the Elf…

Fertility yoga: Asana and beyond [free online videos]

fertility yoga

One of my readers recently sent me a message asking about yoga for fertility. Admittedly, I’m not certified in pre-natal yoga, but I do know a few amazing teachers who are.  Jill Petigara, literally wrote the book on yoga and fertility.  Her book, Yoga and Fertility: A Journey to Health and Healing, delves into the role yoga can play in helping women conceive.

The book can be a great guide for soon-to-be-moms, and it includes exercises they can do at home. However, if you ARE trying to get pregnant, I highly recommend you find a yoga instructor or workshop that specializes in yoga and fertility.  A certified pre-natal instructor, particularly someone who specializes in fertility yoga can help guide you though an optimal practice for you. Of course, check with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program.

If you can’t find a class specific to fertility, a restorative yoga class is a great place to start.  Many of the same poses are integrated, and the class is a gentle, nurturing, ‘restorative’ environment.  That said, there are some things in addition to the physical poses in yoga to help with fertility.

Trying to get pregnant can be stressful and emotionally trying, so it’s a perfect time to begin a meditation practice. A daily meditation practice, even for five minutes can help reduce stress and balance emotions and hormones. Keeping a journal to unburden yourself of intrusive thoughts also helps. You also may want to try acupuncture and massage.

Fertility Yoga & Meditation Videos

To help you along with your home practice, here are a couple of videos as you journey toward pregnancy and motherhood.

Yoga poses that aid fertility


Fertility Meditation through the Chakras

The most important thing to remember during this time is to let go of all self-judgement. Be kind to yourself, nurture yourself, and allow any emotions that arise to be.  Accept them. Breathe.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

Photo: Joyful Birth Babies

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You are bigger than your wheel of emotions

wheel of emotion

Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions

Lately, I’ve incorporated a new ritual into my morning practice.  As soon as I wake up, even before I’m out of bed, I recite a set of affirmations from A Journey into Wholeness given to me by Benita Esposito.  One of those affirmations is, “I find myself big enough to contain my emotions, and know that I am larger than they are.”  It’s an interesting approach to bringing awareness to emotions as part of our being.  Similar to Rumi’s guest house.

Understanding our emotions helps us process them on a conscious level, so our bodies don’t have to experience them on a physical level.

Robert Plutchik, a psychologist and professor at the University of Florida developed an evolutionary theory of emotion supposing that emotions have an evolutionary history. He believed there to be eight primary emotions – anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise,anticipation, trust, and joy. Like natural selection, he believed that our emotional responses adapted overtime, and were passed on as part of the psychoevolutionary process.  Think the psychological version of Darwin. He even developed a ‘Wheel of Emotions” graphic to illustrate how nuanced our emotions can be.

He suggested 8 primary bipolar emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation. Additionally, his circumplex model makes connections between the idea of an emotion circle and a color wheel. Like colors, primary emotions can be expressed at different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotions.

The theory was extended to provide the basis for an explanation for psychological defence mechanisms; Plutchik proposed that eight defense mechanisms were manifestations of the eight core emotions.

I find the theory fascinating, particularly how he incorporates the light and the dark aspects of emotions like surrender.  Even though it’s quite colorful, it’s still a little two ‘defined’ for my taste.  It would have been great (if he were alive) to see a collaboration between he and Eckhart Tolle.

The point is, no matter what emotions you experience, you can ride them out by being bigger than they are.

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”

– Eckhart Tolle

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo/Quote: Wikipedia)

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Yoga for lower crossed syndrome

yoga for lower cross syndrome

Got low back pain?  It might not be your back. It might be your glutes – or lack thereof.

If you work in an office, chances are you sit a lot, maybe even all day.  Chronic sitting can lead to muscle imbalances and even cause some muscles to go completely dormant.  If you’d noticed that you suffer from chronic lower back pain, but haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause, your lower back pain may be due to lower cross  or lower crossed syndrome.  The good news is, you CAN recover with some exercises throughout the day, and a yoga sequence designed to fire the muscles that have gone night-night.  Continue reading

How to let go so you can sleep

woman looking at the clock with sleep problems

If you are human, chances are you have, at some point in your life, had trouble sleeping. But, if you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may want to look into what’s causing it and chances are you can do something about it. Without getting too much into the physical, medical causes of insomnia, there are some things you can do to improve your quality of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 30% of adults suffer from some form of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, non-restorative or poor quality of sleep.)

Here are some common causes for insomnia:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Certain medications
  5. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
  6. Medical conditions
  7. Change in your environment or schedule
  8. Poor pre-sleep habits
  9. ‘Learned’ insomnia i.e. worry about not being able to sleep
  10. Eating too late

Barring any physical or medical causes for insomnia, there are a few controllable factors that may contribute to your inability to fall or stay asleep, and there are some ways you can give give your brain the night off.

Here are some things to do to help improve your ability to sleep:

  1. Recognize your need for sleep.  If you need to cut corners at night, give up that last activity rather than short yourself on sleep.
  2. Cut out chocolate, and caffeine they overstimulate the adrenal glands which causes an overproduction of hormones which leads to adrenal fatigue or exhaustion
  3. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm
  4. Exercise.  An overabundance of energy can lead to anxiety and sleeplessness, which leaves you feeling sleepy and depleted. While it might seem like you’re too tired to exercise, give it a try.
  5. Have a healthy pre-sleep routine comprised of hygiene and winding down
  6. Write down your worries. If you capture your list of worries (early in the day), your mind will consider it accounted for and can help you to let go.
  7. Only use your bed for sleeping (and intimacy). You’ve heard this before, but it’s true.  Don’t use your bed for television watching or gaming as they stimulate your brain and make associations with the bed for NOT relaxing.
  8. Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Keep it cool, and dark.  Any amount of light or fluctuation in temperature can interrupt your sleep.
  9. Pre-sleep yoga.  Poses like forward folds and child’s pose relax the nervous system.
  10. Meditate. If you find your mind wandering during meditation, try a guided meditation that’s timed to go off automatically so you can drift off into sleep.
  11. Breathing. Often, we breathe only in the chest in ‘fight or flight’ mode making it impossible to relax. Exercises like alternate nostril breathing or taking slow deep belly breaths with controlled exhale can help calm the mind.
  12. Give your mind something else to do.  When all else fails, and your mind is still racing when you hit the pillow, focus your brain on something else like a good memory or thinking of fruits with a certain letter.

If none of these things work, you may want to consult a sleep specialist to find out if there’s more going on.  Here are a couple of videos that you might find helpful in your quest for sound slumber.

Yoga for Bed Time with Tara Stiles

Guided meditation to sleep


Give your brain permission to stop working so you can get some sleep.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: My Healthy News Daily)

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The foam roll: Your personal massage therapist

woman using foam roller for myofascial release

The benefits of using a foam roller for myofascial release and massaging tight muscles  are well discussed among sports medicine practitioners, massage therapists, chiropractors and physical therapists.  Fascia is an interconnected web of tissue just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body.  It’s literally what holds everything together. Muscle and fascia together make up what is called the myofascia system. Overtime, we develop at adhesions and scar tissue from injury, misuse, lack of stretching or misalignment.  These adhesions can restrict movement causing pain, reduced flexibility, and can even lead to more injuries as we compensate.

The good news is, in addition to getting regular massages, you can work to break up the adhesions yourself at home using a foam roller.  I like to use the foam roller before my morning practice on larger muscle groups. After I work out, I tend to use more localized techniques like using a tennis ball on particularly tender trigger points to facilitate release.

Here are some foam roller techniques you can try at home.
Foam Rolling Infographic

Roll, roll roll your glutes gently to relief.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: 70sbig)

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Yoga when you can’t do yoga

sick teddy bear yoga when you're sick

Time and time again, a yoga practice of asana and meditation have proven to help people get healthier in mind and body. But having and keeping a healthy body sometimes means recognizing when it’s time to modify our yoga practice. If you’ve ever had a migraine, the flu, an injury or something else, you know that it can be hard to keep up with a yoga practice and that’s an important message to receive from your body.

As the song goes, you gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.  When we get a nice momentum or groove going it can be frustrating to take a step back for rest, but rest is important — especially when you’re sick. And then comes the dreaded ego sneaking in with messages like, “You can do it, it’s all in your head” or “If you take a break now, you’ll never get back into it” or even “If I want to look like Jennifer Aniston, I have to push myself.” None of which are factual or helpful.

I like this post from Mary Catherine Starr, yoga instructor &  studio director in Arlington, VA.  She writes about her own struggle with maintaining a yoga practice during a sinus infection, and has some great tips on how to practice when you can’t practice.

This inability to do exactly what I love when it comes to asana and the abundance of sick or sniffly people around me got me thinking, how do you still “practice” yoga when your’re under the weather? I have a few ideas, pulling from what I’ve actually done over the past week, and thought I would share them with you today. But let me also say that these tips are for people who are struggling with seasonal allergies or sinus infections–for people who, like me, can still go about their day, albiet uncomfortably, but are just under the weather enough to be unable to practice–not those who are so weak that they’re stuck in bed or unable to do much of anything.

Read the full post ‘Yoga for when you can’t do yoga‘ on her blog, Starr Struck.  And, here are some great yoga poses for when you have a cold from Yoga Journal. When all else fails, approach your practice like a beginner.  Once your’e feeling better, take it back to square one. Allow your body to re-experience the newness of yoga and get reacquainted with the poses.

The most important thing to remember is that yoga ISN’T just about physical poses.  When you’re sick or rundown, expand your meditation and pranayama practice (if it’s accessible).  Perhaps it’s the universe’s way of reminding you that there’s more to your practice than asana. Try some guided meditations or transcendental meditation in place of asana (or shorten your asana practice and opt for a longer meditation.)

It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations he is born with, a person never comes to grief. ~ Krishna from The Bhagavad Gita

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Suddenly Susan)

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Confessions from a germaphobic yogi

cartoon germs under microscope

As I’ve said before, no amount of sun salutations or meditation will change who you are, but rather allow you to accept ALL that you are without judgement or derision.  I accept all that I am, including my germicidal tendencies. My best friend and I joke about our shared quirk, what gives us the heebie jeebies and how to get past them.  It’s my mountain to climb, folks. I’ll meet you at base camp.

My ‘concern’ about germs started after I was hospitalized with a respiratory infection a decade ago.  And, thanks countless blogs and hidden camera television shows about ‘where germs lurk’, I’m pretty much a regular hand washer and microbe sheriff.  On a scale of 1 to Howard Hughes, I’d say I’m about a 6 or 7. I do what I can to stay healthy in a world of colds and flu.  That said, I find the Niyama ‘Saucha’ right up my alley.

A clean yogi is a Saucha yogi

Saucha is often translated to mean cleanliness, clarity, purity or even simplicity. Foundationally, saucha is concerned with keeping different energies distinct, and protects the sanctity of the energy around us.  Part of this has to do with the physical plane and how we treat our bodies and our surroundings. I think I’ve got this one down.

Day-to-day practice & teaching  

So what’s a germaphobic yogi to do? On a day to day basis, I exercise common sense mixed with ayurveda.  I shower everyday, use a neti pot to keep my sinus passages clean, I wash my hands before I eat, after I go to the bathroom, after I shake someone’s hand, stay home when I’m sick, and I keep my surroundings clean.  In my personal asana practice, I use incense to clear the air of negative energy, I practice pranayama to rid my lungs of toxins, I clean my mat, and I put away my props.

When I teach, I try to create a healthy environment free of germs. I protect myself and students by washing my hands between classes — particularly if I’ve done any hands-on adjusting. On a larger level, I encourage students to leave shoes by the door when they enter and to put away their props and leave the studio as clean as when they entered. P.S. I’m not alone in my quest for clean.  The blog, Vegan Cinephile did a post called, “Yoga Cooties: My favorite green cleaning products.”  You had me at cooties, VC.

Travel kit & survival tactics (think 

Ok, so we’ve got day to day covered, now here’s where it will either seem over the top or enlightening. Either way I’m arming you with ideas.  Travelling and public places are a whole other ball of ear wax. I don’t touch handles, particularly escalator handles. I flush public toilets with my feet,  I open bathroom doors with a paper towel, I use hand eco-friendly hand sanitizer and I’ve been known to bust out the Clorox green cleansing wipes to wipe down a cafeteria table.  Don’t get me started on the public pens we use to sign everything… Accept it. I have. Let’s put it this way, if you could see germs, you’d wash your hands.

Germaphobic Yogi’s Travel Kit Essentials

Hotels & airplanes propel us into yet another dimension of protection & safety. So, here’s what I take with me when I’m traveling and know I’ll be staying in a hotel (you’ll thank me later).

  • Clorox green wipes – You never know who was in the airplane seat or touching the hotel room remote before you.
  • Hand sanitizer – Self-explanatory.
  • Resealable plastic bags – Use these to store your shoes in a suitcase so you’re not transferring microbes to your clothes and toiletries. Plus you can seal up dirty laundry or any linens you brought from home.
  • Tissues – Keep your own germs to yourself.  Be the solution.
  • Allergy pillow protectors – I zip up hotel pillows with an allergen protecting cover and bring my own pillow cases.
  • Travel Lysol – I do spray down surfaces in case housekeeping wasn’t thorough.
  • Talcum powder – I’ve seen a variety of sources that suggest sprinkling talc as it acts like diatomaceous earth which bed bugs are resistant to.
  • Vitamin C, Echinacea &  Zinc – I do up my intake of vitamins prior to travel to give my immune system a boost.
  • iPhone white noise app – A good night’s sleep is key to staying healthy and hotel noise can be distracting.

Of course, I recognize the need to expose myself to bacteria so that I can build up a tolerance, which happens all the time (unless you truly live in a bubble), but that doesn’t mean I have to leave myself completely vulnerable. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come face to face with one of your quirks and celebrate it.  We are who we are, warts and all. Happy cleansing.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Yelltale Blog)

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The scientific promise of yoga

Despite being recently called a fad by the BBC, yoga is an ancient practice that can be traced back more than 5,000 years.  It came to the U.S. in the late 1800s, but didn’t really begin to gain popularity until the 1960s.  The more we learn about yoga, the more we recognize what the yogis in the Indus valley already knew — it improves the health and function of the body and mind.

Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together in harmony, and its benefits are older than the science to support it. From fighting anxiety and depression to preventing heart disease and managing pain, the benefits of a well-rounded yoga practice continue to be discovered.   I found this wonderful infographic on the Promising Scientific Studies on Yoga & Health from Alison Hinks’ blog that sum up some of yoga’s many health benefits.

alison hinks yoga science graphic

For more information on these specific studies, visit Idea Fit’s research section. (Photo: Alison Hinks)

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

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