Touching Your Toes Has Nothing to Do with It

What would you think if I told you that a paraplegic could become a sophisticated and very advanced yogi?

You might do a mental double-take: What? Don’t you have to be able to twist yourself into some insane human pretzel to be considered an advanced yogi? Don’t you at least have to be able to touch your toes?

No way, José.

The truth is, what we in the West consider to be “yoga” — the part where you move your body and stretch and strengthen and balance — is only a fraction of the full practice of yoga. One eighth, to be precise.

The Yoga Sutras, written by an author named Patanjali perhaps over 2,000 years ago, is considered to be one of yoga’s most sacred texts. In it, Patanjali lays out an eightfold path to attaining a higher state of consciousness, one in which the practitioner learns to still the craziness of his or her mind.

This path is yoga.

It’s often called the Eight Limbs of Yoga, but I like to envision it as a flower with eight petals. Below you’ll find my original interpretation (it’s really big so you can print one out for your fridge). If you like it, you’ll have to thank my teachers for passing on the lessons so very well.

patanjali's eight limbs of yoga

You’ll notice that the practice of asana, or the physical postures of the body, doesn’t even come along until the third petal! Furthermore, yoga scholar Chip Hartranft says to practice asana means to cultivate “profound physical steadiness and effortlessness in meditation.” So, really… touching your toes has very little (if anything) do with it.

I hope you enjoy looking over the eight petals of a flower I’m becoming increasingly infatuated with. Each of the individual pieces of information — each petal, each yama, each niyama — could be explored infinitely. This infographic barely scrapes the surface.

Which of the eight limbs (or petals) surprised you the most? Do any of them speak to you in some way? If you were already familiar with the eight limbs, I’d love to know your interpretations of the original Sanskrit. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below!

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Balancing Omega-3 & Omega-6

We hear again and again about the benefits of essential fatty acids in the diet, particularly omega-3s. But what’s the difference between omega-3 and omega-6? If you prefer visual learning like me, you’ll love this explanatory info-graphic, which I based on an article by Andrew Weil, M.D. with complimentary research from The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC. omega-3 omega-6 balance infographic - MindBodyPlateCheck out the two pie charts at the bottom: the left is what our Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio should look like (1/1), and the right shows a fairly generous average ratio for a Western diet (15/1). Yikes! We’re pretty far off, and yet it’s so important that we strive to lower that ratio. In their academic article, The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids, Simopoulos explains that a lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio is effective in “reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world.” In particular:

  • “In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality.”
  • “A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer.”
  • “The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk.”
  • “A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.”
  • “A ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma.”

The clinical benefits of increased omega-3 can also be seen in:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Brain Trauma
  • Chronic Pain
  • Osteoporosis
  • Skin Disorders
  • Fertility
  • Fat Loss

Because the western diet is overflowing with omega-6 fatty acids, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is simple: just eat more omega-3s. Eat more salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. Or buy a high-quality fish or krill oil (mine is a liquid that is extra purified for safety and tastes like lemon). Vegetarian sources such as flax seeds and walnuts are wonderful too, just remember the body has to go through the extra step of converting them to EPA and DHA (the two critical kinds of omega-3s). How much is enough? Well, in a lecture I attended by Dr. Barry Sears, he gave the following guidelines:

  • Everyone would benefit from: 2-2.5 g (2,000-2,500 mg) per day
  • For those suffering from obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease: 5 g (5,000 mg) per day
  • For those battling cancer and chronic pain: 7.5 g (7,500 mg) per day
  • For those with neurological disease: >10 g (at least 10,000 mg) per day

Ideally, one would consume a fish oil or omega-3 supplement in conjunction with anti-inflammatory meals, moderate exercise, and stress reduction techniques. As always, remember that I am not a medical professional nor a registered dietitian. Please consult your physician before making any abrupt changes to your diet. References: Simopoulos, AP (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 56(8), 365-79. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909