Tag Archives: books

Book Therapy: Shadows on the Path

I just finished an amazing book (which was a total impulse buy) if anyone is looking for a quick read.

Shadows on the Path, by Abdi Assadi, highlights the challenges we face on a path towards self-realization, notably the acceptance of our shadow sides. The book covers addiction, teachers, spiritual paths, romantic relationships, death, grace, parental legacies, shortcuts, and change. His voice is clear and conversational, sharing lessons learned from his own studies of martial arts, meditation, and love, as well as his treatment of thousands of acupuncture clients with various physical and emotional difficulties. There were a lot of fresh insights for me, such as the distinction (or the need for distinction) between spiritual work and psychological work, or the relationship between care-taking and avoidance.

My sorely-missed Kundalini teacher Vanessa Kudrat shared a podcast interview w/Assadi, check it out (the button is the square at the bottom) and then head to his website to buy the book. (You can get it from Amazon for a few bucks less, but their $4 shipping makes the total about equal to Assadi’s price of $25 including shipping.) Some more interviews are here.

New (Ancient) Books on Yoga

A book written on palm leaves
A book written on palm leaves

Yoga Journal just posted about an exciting project underway:

The proposed 600-page project is called the Tantric Studies Reader, and it’s being put together by renowned Sanskrit and Yogic scholars. These scholars estimate that only 4% of the hundreds of key texts on yoga and Tantra have yet been translated. There are thousands more, unknown to the Western world, written on palm leaves … in libraries in India and Nepal. This project is all about getting a hold of these manuscripts, translating them, and making them available to the yoga community at large.

Only 4% of the texts have been translated? That seems unreal. No wonder you have to learn Sanskrit as a Brahmin.

(Tantric philosophy is basically the belief that one can achieve enlightenment in this lifetime, not just the domain of Sting and his wife. The body is seen as the vehicle for enlightenment, not the obstacle.)

Pesticides in Produce: The 12 Most Important Organic Purchases

My friend and I were talking about nutrition this weekend, as I am wont to do, and the price of organic food came up. Here in New York, where a small box of shredded wheat is often $7, it’s hard to conceive of committing to an even more expensive lifestyle. (I’ve seen some marketing articles saying that moms are a big target for organic corporations, because they will buy only the best for their baby, even if they won’t for themselves.)

There’s rising awareness that all food is not created equal. Michael Palin, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, reminded us that organic foods are more full of nutrients and less full of pesticides. For anyone on a budget, however, the prices are hard to resolve.

One thing that helped me was to hear that certain fruits and vegetables are not as important to buy organic. It’s not a black-and-white situation! Whew! (I’m queen of the gray area.) Fleshy fruits and vegetables absorb more pesticides, so you want to buy those organic. Hard-skinned ones, you can go for cheap.

I found a great wallet card from the Environmental Working Group, here’s their list:

DIRTY DOZEN: (buy these organic)

  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Sweet Bell Peppers
  4. Celery
  5. Nectarines
  6. Strawberries
  7. Cherries
  8. Lettuce
  9. Grapes (imported)
  10. Pears
  11. Spinach
  12. Potatoes
CLEANEST 12: (can buy conventional)

  1. Onions
  2. Avocado
  3. Corn (frozen)
  4. Pineapples
  5. Mango
  6. Peas (frozen)
  7. Asparagus
  8. Kiwi
  9. Bananas
  10. Cabbage
  11. Broccoli
  12. Eggplant

So I can skip the $4 organic broccoli at my local Key Foods.

You can download the wallet card, or get more information at www.foodnews.org. Here’s their explanation:

Why Should You Care About Pesticides?
There is growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can adversely affect people, especially during vulnerable periods of fetal development and childhood when exposures can have long lasting effects. Because the toxic effects of pesticides are worrisome, not well understood, or in some cases completely unstudied, shoppers are wise to minimize exposure to pesticides whenever possible.

What’s the Difference?
An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 14 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to less than 2 pesticides per day. Less dramatic comparisons will produce less dramatic reductions, but without doubt using the Guide provides people with a way to make choices that lower pesticide exposure in the diet.

Will Washing and Peeling Help?
Nearly all of the data used to create these lists already considers how people typically wash and prepare produce (for example, apples are washed before testing, bananas are peeled). While washing and rinsing fresh produce may reduce levels of some pesticides, it does not eliminate them. Peeling also reduces exposures, but valuable nutrients often go down the drain with the peel. The best option is to eat a varied diet, wash all produce, and choose organic when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Your Body Type in Ayurveda

My sister and I were talking about the three body types (doshas) in Ayurveda, and I wrote a long response to her, so I thought I’d share it here. She said “I’m not quite sure how to balance the food suggestions. It seems like foods okay for Vata are not ok for Pitta. According to any of the surveys or tests I’ve taken, I’m under 10% Kapha. What does that mean? Is the goal 33:33:33?”

It’s kind of confusing at first. But let’s say you’re 60:30:10 Vata:Pitta:Kapha. Your goal is to stay 60:30:10. You would be considered a Vata-Pitta type, in modern Ayurveda they break it into 10 types not just three. V, P, K, VP, PV, VK, KV, PK, KP, and VPK. But everyone has a little of all three; 100% or 1/3 of each is very rare. So look for food recommendations for Vata-Pitta, not Vata and Pitta. Maya Tiwari’s book has detailed food charts.

Dosha means “thing which goes out of balance”, so they are always getting slightly unbalanced through food and lifestyle, and we bring them back in balance through the same. For example, Vata likes and does well with sweet flavors, they will keep Vata in balance. But if we overdo it, eat too much sweet, we get overly Vata (anxious and worried). If you took a dosha test at that point, you might think you’re 80% Vata, but really you just have a Vata imbalance. (Vata is the element which gets most frequently out of balance btw). Or if you have a job where you’re on the phone all the time, making deadlines, overachieving, that would push your Pitta. So part of it is figuring out what your natural, healthy state is. But even this “permanent” dosha blend can change over time, if you change environments or other major elements of your life.

It’s just a nice, kind of poetic way to see some more lifestyle causes and effects. For example, the parts of the day rotate through the doshas.

6am – 10am is Kaphic, it is cold and wet, Pittas are calmed down while Vatas/Kaphas don’t want to get out of bed
10am – 2pm is Pittic, it is hot and sunny, best time for work or eating, but Pittas might overheat
2pm – 6pm is Vatic, it is clear and light, we can be stimulated or frazzled, good to think and reflect
6pm – 10pm is Kaphic, it is dark and cool, good for relaxing and slowing down
10pm – 2am is Pittic, if we stay up past 10 we often get a second wind that keeps us up til 2 (why Ayurveda says retire at 10)
2am – 6am is Vatic, clear and cold, best time to meditate

So you might notice your energy is different at different times of day.

Fall pushes Vatas out of balance, too (they don’t like the cold and wind cause they are that way already). So have a good autumn!

An Anatomical View of Emotions

The Spirit of Sharing by Tom Geisler
The Spirit of Sharing by Tom Geisler

I’ve been meaning to share this amazing illustrator (Tom Geisler) who has drawn out the internal organs as they respond to emotion. Very cool!

No word on whether you can go backwards, and stimulate the organs (aka do yoga) to generate the emotion.

I tried medical illustration once and it was a bust, it is so hard to visualize such detailed configurations of three-dimensional objects that you’ve never seen. Quite impressed with Tom’s work.


Recommended Reading for New Students

From the Iyengar Institute:

Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar
The classic guide to yoga. All yoga students should have this book. In addition to detailed instructions on over 200 asanas (postures), there is a comprehensive explanation of yoga philosophy.

Yoga in Action: Preliminary Course by Geeta Iyengar
Specifically geared towards students who are participating in Iyengar classes. Clear and easy-to-follow instructions on most of the postures encountered in the first couple of years of practice.

Tree of Yoga by BKY Iyengar
An accessible and easy-to-understand collection of talks and essays on yoga philosophy.

Yoga the Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta
For students from beginning to advanced levels. Includes an in-depth course of sequences to practice.

How to Use Yoga by Mira Mehta
Recommended for beginning students. Includes sequences with photographs for ease of understanding.

The Anusara website also has a long list of recommended yoga books for teachers.

Yoga for Back Pain: Pilates

The Pilates Body by Brooke Siler
The Pilates Body by Brooke Siler

Today I did Pilates at home. I count it as yoga; a lot of the Pilates moves are lesser-known yoga moves you can find in the older texts. And, as much as yoga insists you should engage uddhiyana bandha (navel lock) throughout vinyasa practice, you can go for years without doing it right or at all. It’s supposed to keep your energy turned inward, and it definitely protects the lower back as you’re swinging your legs and torso in all directions. Beth Biegler, my anatomy teacher, said that injury results when the limbs are not supported all the way to the center of the body; we tend to use just the most immediate muscles.

Anyways. I’ve finally started to figure out my lifelong bad posture and my recent (year or two of) back pain. I’m tall, so I tend to slouch, which rests all the weight of my torso onto my lower back. And, because I used to wear saggy pants, I tend to push my belly outwards (to keep my pants up! I hate belts), leaving the spine unsupported in the front. Then, an Iyengar teacher finally told me I was doing all my backbending at just one vertebrae. L4, I believe. My lower back had started to hurt, but Vinyasa teachers told me “You have such a beautiful backbend!” and I ate it up like a sucker. So I went to the Iyengar camp-of-perfect-alignment for a while, and they scared me straight.

Pilates is like an obstacle course where you get points for each exercise you complete — with your core muscles fixed firm. It doesn’t matter if you kick your leg highest, or fastest, or beautifulest — just keep your navel touching your spine. (Like the Operation game, in opposite.) Slowly you build that habit while you’re walking the legs, or bicycling them, or bending over, or twisting. Obviously, that soon transfers into your normal life. After a week of Pilates (when it was too hard to do “real” yoga in the morning), I noticed I was even picking up my toothbrush differently. Joseph Pilates says, “After 10 sessions you will feel a difference. After 20 sessions you will see a difference. After 30 sessions you will have a new body.”

I can’t speak for the machine classes, I’ve never tried them. Supposedly they are very helpful.

This book is a really nice sequence. I did 3/4 of it this morning, and it took 30 minutes. My butt aches from the leg circles. But it’s not really supposed to hurt, one of the big principles here is to detach from “no pain, no gain” and its masochistic tendencies. When you learn correct postural habits, your daily activities are full of gentle exercise. So it’s often much easier to convince yourself towards this book than a sweaty vinyasa class, at least if you’re an expired Type A personality like myself. The illustrations are also cute and helpful: manhole covers resting on your stomach to press it down, or springs stretching the leg up and away.

If you are suffering from acute back pain, I dare to say this book not only assuages symptoms through gentle stretching, but prevents future injury by building core strength.

In addition, I actually prefer this book to studio classes, as it has ALL the directions for each pose, versus the piecemeal delivery forced by any group class. (It is hard to read and move sometimes… podcasts are the future.)

One more practice to add to the infinite list!

Prana Yoga with Shana at Greenhouse Holistic

Tonight it was Prana Yoga at Greenhouse. Strange class — we chanted a chakra mantra 1–3 times at the beginning of each pose. As in “stretch your arm out and down into Triangle, exhaling ‘Lam Lam Lam’ as you go.” Each pose is supposed to activate a chakra along the spine, so I assume we were saying the mantras corresponding to the chakra activated. (For more information, look up “seed mantras.”) I read yesterday (in Jill Camera’s Yoga Fan) that there are basic correlations, I hope I remember them correctly:

  • Standing Poses activate the Root Chakra
  • Forward Bends activate the Sacral Chakra
  • Twists activate the Navel Chakra
  • Back Bends activate the Heart Chakra
  • Arm Balances activate the Throat Chakra
  • Balance Poses activate the Third Eye
  • Inversions activate the Crown Chakra

From tail to skull, the chakra mantras are Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om, Om. Sound vibration is also supposed to help your glands — according to Beth Beigler they prefer gentle touch, like the landing of a fly — so the chanting could also help the neuroendocrine system.

In any case, I had a very deep final relaxation. Shana, subbing for Julianna, had us hold each pose for 7-8 breaths, and only then do the chanting, so it was a slow, muscle-burning class at times.