Tuesday, February 2, 2010

yoga and weight-loss, worth a shot?

Yoga Journal had a very interesting article about weight loss and yoga. I have read at least 3 separate mentions of this in other fitness magazines in light of a study that was recently completed. I'm writing this article in my living room and the fitness magazines are upstairs otherwise I would give you more detail (who authored the study, how many participants were involved yadda yadda yadda). The point is, the study was about the correlation between yoga and weight loss. I tend to be kind of old-fashioned when it comes to weight-loss. I believe in big scary deadlines (Costa Rica in two weeks) lots of salad and hours strapped to the treadmill.

Past experience dictates, (as does the experience of many others) that this kind of yo-yo weight-gain and loss combined with miserable crankiness (I have to be fed every 3 hours or I'm unbearable to be around) makes this kind of thing unmaintainable.

The solution for many could be yoga. I know, yoga is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of weight loss. The ginormous stack of magazines on my bedroom floor would urge me to run, swim, eliptical (which is, as far as I can tell some evil made up exercise) do kick boxing, join the army, really anything for weight loss but yoga. Don't get me wrong, they always advocate yoga to de-stress, manage sore muscles and generally be as healthy as possible, but to suggest that yoga could help with weight loss or weight maintenance seems to be relatively new in the yoga dialogue.

Go to a yoga class and you cannot help but wonder why. Pre-injury I remember visiting and trying out some studios and I was absolutely flabbergasted looking at the lithe and fit bodies around me. Ultimately this makes sense, these people were clearly regular practitioners and regular practitioners seem to have a sort consciousness that wouldn't allow for mindless snacking in front of the TV, or emotionally downing a pint of ice cream after a rough day (or 4 drinks for that matter).

However, part of me is also going to raise my eyebrows in skepticism a little bit. Yes the Yoga Journal issue featured a personal story about one woman's struggle with her weight and how yoga helped her overcome it, but I wonder if this article, or even if the study it was sort of based on considered certain socio-economic factors that could be at play. In my search for the perfect yoga studio, with varied class times and affordable monthly membership I inevitably noticed once again how classist good health can be in North America.

The average cost for monthly membership at yoga studio in Toronto based on my little Internet shopping excursion was around 100$ for a student. To me that is almost totally unaffordable and I come from an upper-middle class family, I live at home and I earn around 600 a month. Even with all of the charitable and not-for-profit organizations oriented around yoga out there, it is simply not accessible to a huge chunk of North America's population.

Furthermore, we know that the wealthier tend to be better informed about health, often because they have the luxury to spend more time and money on their health (and if you didn't know I highly recommend that you read something by Michael Pollan). Because of these reasons I tend to be more then a little suspect when a study announces that yogis lose weight because of body acceptance and increased self-awareness.

All that said, I have found yoga to be beneficial in terms of weight management and my health has certainly been affected by my forced sabbatical.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What am I supposed to do?

I'm sorry I've been gone. I've had a cold so I've been feeling sorry for myself and watching a lot of the Food Network. I've been thinking a bunch too. One of my favourite days of the month has become when I find the latest issue of Yoga Journal and they had a very insightful aspect about balancing these four aspects of your life. I couldn't even think about the other three however because I'm totally hung up on the first aspect, dharma. Dharma is duty in yoga. It is your job, your duty to your family and your community and following your life's purpose. In terms of my job, I'm a student which is going fine, I'm a research assistant, I lag a bit in that department and I'm a lifeguard and since no one has drowned on my watch I think that's going ok. But am I serving the world the way I'm supposed to? Am I serving my community? Am I working towards my life's purpose? These are such deep questions and my answer is unfortunately, heck if I know!

I know the things I like, but I cannot differentiate between those that are my life's purpose and those that are my passion (what I do for fun). I love politics but sometimes the vast unfixability (yes I know I made that up) of the world can overwhelm me and intimidate me. Sometimes when I read about the catastrophe that is Haiti, or Somalia or even the Reservation system in Canada I just want to curl up in a little ball with a romance novel and pretend the world outside doesn't exist.

Instead what I'm going to try doing is taking a deep breath and working a little closer to home. I want to volunteer at this community centre that I heard about where they grow most of their own food and have an after school cooking program. I want to open a farmer's market at my school (there's an ambitious project!) and change the world a little bit through food.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Yoga off the mat and on the dinner table

So I would be lying if I said that I have not shifted the purpose of this blog a little bit. My intention, to do one fearless thing a day, or week, or even a month hasn't really happened. I'm still terrified of talking to strangers (blame it on being told from childhood that its a bad idea), I still seem to be pretty much convinced that I'm not going to succeed at anything that I really like. In spite of my anxieties and my neuroticisms (that's not really a word, I invented it, you're welcome Freud) I'm happy about a lot of things, I like my classes, I like my job in theory, I like my friends though I don't see enough of them and I'm enjoying delving into the world of yoga. Don't get me wrong, I plan to take that cooking class, go on that yoga retreat, and talk to more guys (because really, that's what this is all about) and finally trust myself enough in crane pose tha I can hold it for longer then half a second, but I'm 21 it's ok that I cant do all of these things yet.

The direction of this blog seems to have taken a sort of yogic turn, maybe you noticed, maybe I noticed you noticing. Well, the reason is because anything that makes people happy, serene, content and uplifted, that provides answers to life's hardest questions, that helps people find answers to life's hardest questions and that gently suggests a way of living that makes you say "If everyone lived this way the world would be a much better place" is something that I want to talk about.

Now as I mentioned previously, I injured myself last month. It really cramped my style or threw out my groove or whatever young cats are saying these days. So what could I do? I don't really have a lot of experience meditating, I have a true (as Buddhists say) monkey mind. I'm not a vegan and am currently serving the greater good by getting my degree political science or, as I have started calling it, understanding the world. I always feel as though I should be doing more however. So taking advantage of my winter holidays I have been studying up on mindful or ethical eating. By ethical, just so we're clear, I'm not suggesting vegetarian or vegan (though most serious students of yoga eventually follow that path) however since I'm relatively new to the world of yoga let me suggest a smaller step. Eat local. What does local mean? The definition varies, however the first people to really bring this issue to the forefront (authors of the 100 Mile Diet) suggest a limit of 100 miles. This is tough and it is unrealistic for your diet to comprise of 100% 100 mile food, (especially during the winter) however, if you do you're best you will find yourself cutting down on packaged foods, meeting the farmers who grew your food, eating pesticide and artificial fertilizer free food and (if you can afford it) eating happier and healthier meat. The health benefits of eating this way can be enormous. You enjoy a more varied seasonal diet, many people have reported weightloss, they have reported being satisfied by their food more easily and of course there are the social benifits (think of the time you can spend at the farmer's market with your family, and think of the pride your kids will have in opening up a jar of jam that they helped make the summer before). In short, veganism is a big step and it isn't right for everyone (I'm talking to you anemics) but there is no reason why we can't all be a litle more aware of where our food comes from.

More to follow on this later!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Asana on Hold

I am frustrated beyond measure. Why? Because I fell off my mat (the yoga wagon if you will) quite literally. Before I fell let me explain the appeal yoga has for me. In a phrase, I like how there is no such thing as a perfect yogi/ni. Every other thing I do is something that I feel that I should excel in. If I fall short of being a perfect daughter, being a great friend, being an amazing student (and I inevitably do) it's really quite heartbreaking. Yoga has always been something different however. Just touching my toes felt like an accomplishment after years of tight hamstrings. To feel downward dog change from a struggle to a wonderful stretch was a joy. As my core grew stronger I could hold tree pose for longer. I had all the wonder and enthusiasm of a new yogini. So I started to branch out. Anyone with the privilege of living in one of Canada's major urban centers has access to something called passport to prana, which is a pass that, for a nominal fee gets you a free class at over 30 different studios around Toronto.

So there I was, happily branching out. Being adventurous, trying out different studios, different styles, different teachers when one day I fell off my mat. I was tired, it was a vinyasa class and everyone there was far more advanced then I was. Rather then focusing on my own practice, listening to what my body needed and trying to stay present I did exactly what I was avoiding. I started pushing myself, not just trying to keep up but trying to prove that I belonged there at this ritzy studio catering to blond, fit stay at home moms with their six-packs. (In my defense, the teacher did not encourage us to take a moment and reconnect but she pushed us harder then I had ever been pushed before.) So there I was, near the end of the practice doing one final vinyasa, and as I rolled over my toes and pushed myself back into downward dog, I felt an enormous wrench, as though my knee had suddenly turned around to face the back, and as I fell down, in excruciating pain and put my hand on my knee, I realized that that was exactly what had happened (actually my knee cap had dislocated itself and was now on the outside of my leg).

I saw a physiotherapist and she said the one thing I was the most scared of hearing: don't go back to yoga just yet. Get that knee healthy first. So I heaved a big sigh and acquiesced.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bikram vs Laura

Conventional yoga wisdom says that if there is a pose or posture that you ABSOLUTELY detest, you should do it more often. Case in point, in your standard vinyasa (flow) practice you could do downward dog anywhere from 10-20 times. Most people hate their first downward dog of the day, it strains their wrists (which are stiff from typing and writing) it stretches your hamstrings uncomfortably (as they are used to sitting), it makes your arms and shoulders burn until you adjust to put more weight into your legs. The second downward dog however, feels a little easier, on top of that, it stretches your back wonderfully. You may take advantage of your second one to work your legs up and down to help loosen up your hamstrings, or maybe you'll wiggle your hips side to side to relax the tension in your lower back and enjoy as each inhale expands your ribs. By the time you do your last downward dog of the day I swear you will feel as though your vertebrae have all been stretched out a couple of millimeters and any tension in your back is gone. You love downward dog, you can't remember not loving it, but you did. The whole process will start again next class.

So, like I said, conventional yoga wisdom dictates that the poses you hate are the ones you should be doing, but what about styles of yoga? Should you do the one that you hate the most? On Sunday I blithely signed up for 10 days of unlimited bikram yoga at the studio near my house. I figured the heat (bikram is done at 40 degrees Celsius) would be nice, it would help with my flexibility and clear up my skin. I knew that they only did 26 poses over a 90 minute class so I figured it would help me work on my fundamentals.

I have only done two classes and already I hate it.

Firstly, I have learned that I'm not really a heat kind of person, I seem to be all about more temperate climes. I do not enjoy the sensation of sweat dripping down my face and body in tiny rivulets. I do not enjoy the sight of my beet red gasping face in the mirror. Gone is the elegance of yoga, gone is a half lotus pose or an upward dog (they don't do any of the "dogs" in bikram) of which I could be proud. Instead I was surrounded by thinner darkly complected women who's faces flushed prettily and who could hold the poses astoundingly well even though their limbs (like mine) were slicked with sweat.

I also did not enjoy the near constant feeling of nausea that lasted the duration of the practice. These days, in my other yoga classes, I don't have to go down into child's pose (or recovery pose) unless our instructor tells us to. In bikram I felt as though I could happily spend most of the practice lying on the ground, trying to breath that thick, hot uncomfortable air.

In terms of flexibility, it certainly made me more flexible but at what a price. I am so sore today lifting a laptop strains my forearms and climbing a flight of stairs virtually sucks my energy away.

Of course, when I'm not struggling I'm kind of bored with the lack of variety in the postures as well.

So the question is, if I hate it should I keep it up? Is it worth the misery?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Before I made the suggestion of a year long project based on self-help books, I naively thought that it would be encompassing a much smaller field. But no. It is huge, there is self-help in the kitchen, self-help (swimming) stroke improvement, self-help self hypnosis. The list is quite long. So yeah, what kind of self-help do I need? And also what makes these people experts? What is the qualification? As far as I can tell its living a good life.

It's interesting though isn't it? It's been enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence (I think, I'm nothing if not wilfully indifferent to everything grand and wonderful about American politics so please don't quote me) that the pursuit of happiness was a fundamental right. In fairness since this was heavily inspired by Locke who was a raging libertarian capitalist if I ever saw one, the pursuit of happiness was probably tied into the accumulation of wealth (not much has changed eh?)

So yes, this is how we work in North America, we go to therapists, we read self-help (or magazines which are kind of mini, much more shallow self-help books), we take up yoga and we try and find a job that we don't absolutely detest.

Well that was depressing...

So yeah, anyway I'm pretty sure happiness for me lies some place in France, some place with good food, darkly good looking men, amazing wine and picturesque bicycle rides through the countryside while I look adorably bohemian in torn jeans comfy sandals and some kind of stripey, vaguely french t-shirt. Or maybe happiness for me is in a bakery, eating croissants and sipping a creme. Either way I know it's there, not here. So let's make the best of a situation, of the difficulty of being born on the wrong continent let alone the wrong country and see what people who are much older, wiser and in the possession of more degrees then me have to say about improving my life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


My goodness, what an evocative term. It is a word that is just full of potential. It's up there with "Home-made chocolate". "Naked Male Models" and world peace. I went to my happy place today (well one of them anyway) I went to the book store. Now, I love looking at the new and hot fiction, I love looking at the cook-books, I love looking at the snazzy stationary that I AM NOT ALLOWED TO BUY UNTIL I USE ALL MY OTHER NOTEBOOKS, NOT EVEN IF ITS SUPER PRETTY.


I also, (I confess) have a weakness for the self-help section. Why? Who knows, I'm sure its connected with my deep-lying perfecionist tendancies which are my main barriers against success and happiness. I'm sure it also has something to do with my love of books and my general admiration for the Published. My admiration is child-like and naive considering how many truly shitty books there are out there, nonetheless I continue to assume that if someone is smart enough to write a book they absolutely must be smart enough to fix my life and all my stupid little anxieties and woes which, when added up are nearly crippling and are certainly suffocating (at times anyway).

So... I had an idea. There are quite a few famous blog projects out there (and quite a few obscure ones I'm sure) Living Oprah comes to mind, the premise being that the author spent an entire year following Oprah's advice on everyone of her shows. She did this I think mainly to hold Oprah accountable for her frequent contradictions and her encouragement of rampant counsumerism amongst her housewife devotees. Another one had to do with following magazine advice I believe, and the most famous of all has a movie based on it (Julie & Julia). So, here's my wild and weird and abstract thought. I am a rampant perfectionist who is absolutely immobilized by stupid little fears, if anyone could benifit from self-help it's me. The theory being that my problems are not so grave so as to require psychiatric help (though I do enjoy making use of the school's counselling centre occasionally) but nor are they so minimal that I can ignore them. In my own wildly biased and unprofessional assessment of myself, I think I am the perfect candidate. So what I'm thinking is 26 books over the course of a year (1 every 2 weeks) follow their advice to a T and hope for the best!

So, I need to decide a couple of things:
  • How do I select the books? Alphabetically? At random? As around and see what other people have used?
  • What constitutes as self-help? Is it purely psychological? What about "lifestyle" books that incorporate health and wellness as well?
  • What about relationship and love advice? Or should it be purely me?

So what do you guys think? Fun project no? PLEASE let me know your thoughts (I've noticed a distinct lack of commenting going on these days, way too much lurking folks.)

Anyway, let me know loves!