Archive for September, 2006

Fasting to better health

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian science of healing, attaches great importance to fasting when it comes to detoxifying yourself. An overwhelming number of people who come to me for advice on their diverse health problems need to fast before they are put to an appropriate regime of yoga exercises.

Fasting has been found to be quite beneficial in toning up your digestive tract and complete system.

When you skip a meal the first thing you get is hunger pangs. During this time digestive enzymes and gastric acids flow from the epithelial lining of your stomach wall into your stomach.

In the absence of food the stomach wall comes in contact with the digestive enzymes and gastric acids which are mainly utilized in breaking down proteins into amino acids. Amino acids being smaller molecules can get readily absorbed by the epithelial cells of the digestive tract.

The digestive enzymes and acids first break down the food particles from the previous meal and digest them. This is followed by the digestion of dead bacteria and even dead cells that are invariably clinging to your stomach wall.

Thus the whole digestive tract cleanses itself when there is no fresh supply of food. Hunger pangs originate from the action of digestive juices on the stomach wall, amongst other factors. The pangs subside over an hour or two and so does the appetite for food.

As a result of digestive cleansing, our body can digest, assimilate and process food more efficiently.

Therefore even a healthy person without major health problems is advised to fast for at least half a day each week. This keeps him in good shape throughout the week.

You may choose your day of fasting. Some people like Fridays for fasting so that they can prepare themselves for a dining binge over the weekend. Some prefer Mondays after they have taken liberties with their digestive tract over the previous days.

The first time you choose to fast you may feel quite uncomfortable. the second time may not be as bad. The third time could be easier and you may even feel light and cheerful.

Happy fasting.

Add comment September 28th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Off the path

Lalit, our resident yoga and ayurveda expert, wrote a blog yesterday that reminded me that I was meant to be well down the path to enlightenment by now.

Oh dear, I have been letting my Pranayama breathing exercises slip recently.

For those who read this blog regularly, you will know that I place a lot of importance on keeping fit, and I go to the gym, or swim, most weekdays. This takes up any free time I could devote to calmer pursuits such as yoga and the Pranayama breathing exercises that Lalit gently reminds me about.

It sounds strange, as I write this, that I can’t make time in a twenty four hour day, to spend ten minutes relaxing and breathing deeply and in a controlled way. the benefits to doing this are huge. I feel more clear headed and calm after practising Aalom Vilom (AV) and that sense of calmness seems to last for a number of hours.

In fact, a few weeks ago, I was rushing to the shops to get the weekly shopping, which, unfortunately, I had been tasked with. I ended up getting there before the shops were open and had ten minutes to wait in the car park. I realised that I felt a bit stressed, as there is a lot going on at the moment, so I sat there doing AV for a few minutes.

A sense of calmness and clear headedness descended upon me and I felt rejuvenated. I know that the deep, deliberate and controlled breathing ensures that your blood is maximally oxygenated, but it does wonders.

So here I sit after another busy day. I’ve been to the gym. I’ve worked hard on a number of projects and organised a range of different tasks, but I haven’t spent that ten minutes of Pranayama, which could probably help the most.

Thanks, Lalit, for giving me the nudge again. Its about time that I stumbled back along that long and winding path. Tomorrow I’ll make the effort. I mean it!

Add comment September 27th, 2006 Written By: chris

Yoga for those with busy lives

Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of healing teaches us that our digestive tract is key to our overall health and wellbeing. Most of the physical disorders have their origin in a sick digestive constitution, something that may go undetected all your life.

Hence, the system of yoga, as the ancient Indian regime of breathing exercises, developed and evolved around making our vital environments conducive and fit enough to interact with our vital organs to keep them in good health.

The practice of yoga, as with any other discipline, needs time and effort. I can imagine it is difficult to begin with and then sustain over a period of time for the busy and really hard pressed for time.

Including my friend Chris, who runs this web site, I know at least two dozen such busy persons who started yoga whole heartedly but gave up after a few days to a week or so. But all of them have reported good feedback on their few days of the practice, regretting their inability to continue.

Lately I had been busy experimenting trying to work out a yoga package for those who have little time to practise.

In the series of seven breathing exercises called pranayama, as prescribed under the regime of yoga, Bahya and agnisar pranayamas prove to be a great solution to the problem. You don’t really have to make time for the breathing exercises. You can do these while you are driving or travelling by public transport to your place of work and back; you can do these while you are working on your computer or when you are not talking. And the practice needs just less than three minutes whenever and wherever you have that time.

For Bahya pranayama all you have to do is inhale as much air as you can and then exhale. While you exhale contract you stomach muscles gradually inwards as much as you can. Remain in this position for as long as you can without breathing. Repeat this exercise three times.

For agnisar pranayama contract your stomach muscles as in case of Bahya pranayama, without breathing. While in this position contract and expand your stomach muscles; give you stomach as much muscular exercise as possible before relaxing and breathing in.

The two breathing exercises will improve the vital environments of your digestive tract and your lungs. The exercises must be performed about five hours after a full meal and a couple of hours after a light meal. Otherwise, fifteen minutes before lunch and five hours thereafter are ideal times for the practice.

The best way though would be to practise while travelling back home from work in the evening.

These exercises have significant health benefits. The first one that you feel within a few days is that you do not get fatigued during the day. Those who are sick will feel improvements in their conditions.

And it costs you nothing; not even your time.

1 comment September 26th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Save your kids from toxic toys

One of the banes of industrialisation that we are forced to live with is chemical pollution. Within or without safe limits we have the presence of noxious chemicals in our water, air, soil and hence in our food. A recent study by a reputed Indian environmental group, Toxics Link, on how toxic are the toys our children play with, is an eye opener.

The study has reported the presence of lead and cadmium in toy samples collected from the major cities in the country. It warns that children chewing and sucking on PVC toys are potentially exposed to long-term health hazards.

Hence a rubber duck or a teething ring, which you might think is a harmless and a happy diversion for your child, may be poisoning and damaging his health irreparably.

The global toy market is estimated to be worth US $105 Bn. The United States is the biggest importer of toys and buys US$ 35 billion worth of toys annually and has 35% of the world market. Chinese are relatively new entrants into the global market contributing to 70% of the US$2.5 billion Indian market alone. Chinese toys have penetrated world wide for their exceptional imaginative designs and entertainment value.

The study about the toxicity of toys includes Chinese products among the unregulated manufacturers.

According to the study, toys produced in unregulated manufacturing conditions have been found to have cadmium, lead and other heavy metals, high levels of which can cause itching and allergies, even over a short term. Sustained exposure to these can damage liver and kidneys and cause memory loss. They are also known to cause dermatitis and wheezing, chest infections, movement disorders and convulsions.

Heavy metals also cause anaemia that has ripple effect on the nervous system, causing toxic metabolic encephalopathy. Any degenerative disorder of the brain is termed as an encephalopathy.

Besides, the study underlines, the soft squeeze toys like beach balls, bath toys, dolls, knapsacks, etc., have toxic additives like phthalates. Some phthalates have been known to cause cancer and damage liver and kidneys. Phthalates do not bind with PVC and can leach out easily. Since young children would put toys in their mouth, they are at potential risk.

Having known this and more on the state of our environment that our kids are inheriting, one gropes for solutions.

My yoga teacher has an answer though. “The Majority of you cannot leave your cities and towns which spew poison, but you surely can bring down toxic levels in your body by pranayama,” he says. Pranayama, being a part of yoga, is a set of breathing exercises which is known to reduce toxic levels and help improve our metabolic systems.

Teach your kids the simple techniques of yoga and save them from the scourge of chemical pollution that they have to live with.

Add comment September 22nd, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

The wonderful elderberry

I am fascinated about how certain foods can improve our health and was interested to read how elderberries can be used to combat bird flu.

It seems that an extract from the elderberry, Sambucol, can reduce the number of bird flu viruses that can enter cells of an infected patient, by blocking the viral entry through the cell membranes.

The elderberry extract isn’t actually curing bird flu, by killing the viruses, and eliminating them from the patient, but it can stop bird flu viruses from spreading through the cells of the body. Apparently the extract can also be used to control seasonal influenza too.

The work is still experimental at the moment and much more research is required before we all start growing elderberry bushes in our gardens, however this shows how natural plant extracts can exert powerful pharmaceutical effects, and may even be our saviour should the worst happen and the world succumbs to another flu pandemic.

Add comment September 21st, 2006 Written By: chris

We made time for jogging

A study on the eating habits of children by Dr Olds, professor at the University of South Australia could not have come at a more opportune moment than when I was getting nervous over my inability to take my seven year old daughter out to the playground.

The study, among other things, points out that parents worldwide are too busy to spend time with their children out in the parks; the lack of physical activity being the main cause of rising incidence of obesity among children.

My daughter has had a bit of paunch which has reduced quite a bit over few months of yoga practice with me. But more than her physical health what bothered me was her increasing tendency to stay indoors – ours or at other children’s where she often goes to spend time in the evening. I knew very well that my inability to spend time out with her in the park was taking toll of her outgoing and healthy disposition.

After having posted a blog here on the Dr Olds’ study, I decided to make a few resolutions with my daughter – not using our car for short distance travel and to go out jogging early in the morning; I promised her the latter will soon be replaced by a few rounds of badminton.

Last Sunday was the first day when we walked five kilometers to and from a market near our home. We had a good time shopping and window shopping, and got back home tired and perspiring. The next morning was our first day at the park. While I jogged around it three times, my daughter gave up after one, promising to do better next day, which she did.

While nutrition has its important place in our lives and more so in the life of our children, physical activity prepares us to take imbalances and deficiencies in our diet in our stride.

As we perspired while jogging, my daughter did not like the sweat beads going down her forehead. I had to explain to her that sweating flushed out excess salts from our body which are bad for our health. She stopped complaining about the sweat straight away!

Add comment September 20th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

“Me time” for more healthy living

Like many others, I have many commitments which often seem to collide and conflict. I guess this is part and of parcel of being a parent. We are conditioned to put our children first and to look after their needs before ours.

This must be the right approach, mustn’t it?

Well actually it seems that so called “Me time” is an important part of our lives that is easy to ignore as we rush of to our next commitment. “Me time” is time in which we can focus on what we want to do, temporarily stepping off the treadmill of our busy lives and chilling out for a while.

A leading American cardiologist believes that life without sufficient “me time” can cause all sorts of stress related conditions such as elevated blood pressure, heart disease and even diabetes. These sound like stress related disorders initiated by continually living a pressurized life style.

It seems that “me time” can be anything that we find enjoyable and relaxing, anything that takes our minds out of gear for a while and lets us gather our thoughts and de-stress. Personally I find going to the gym on most weekdays is a perfect “me time” activity. Doing something physical is very different from my time working at my computer and its pleasing how more focussed and clear thinking I can be after a session working out.

Other people can spend their valuable “me time” in different ways. My wife, for example, relaxes watching soaps on TV for about an hour after the traumas of putting our two tired children to bed. Personally I find these programmes mind numbing, but maybe they allow her to gather her thoughts and just chill out for a while.

This is the point though. “Me time” is personal and is what gives you, the individual, an enjoyable and beneficial break. We could all lead more healthy and fulfiling lives if we created a bit of space and time to be ourselves and put ourselves at the centre of our universes – just for a short while.

Add comment September 19th, 2006 Written By: chris

Bring the kids back to the playground

Dr Olds, professor at the University of South Australia has researched children’s diets from over three decades and has arrived at this conclusion – Children of today are eating less food (including less fat) than they used to.

According to his research, which included an extensive study of 1700 published research papers, two-year old children in Australia were eating 16 percent less than a decade ago. Similarly, the intake of 11 year-olds was down by 5.6% over the same period.

The professor blames the drop in physical exercise as the reason for rampant obesity in childhood and not overeating or fast food consumption as believed.

While the popularity of fast food among the children is definitely on the rise – be it Australia, US, UK or Asia- as the spiraling sales at the global outlets of fast food indicate, ruling out its role in child obesity could be debatable.

But even more important observation that’s come from Dr Olds is the fact that busy parents have no time to take the kids out to the playground. This is a serious trend and probably universal too.

I do not have to look far to find an example on this. As a busy parent myself, I do not recall when was the last I took my daughter out to play in the park. It’s not that she did not ask me to take her out. And it’s not that I have been too lazy to meet the demand. The fact of the matter is that the daily grind of working life and long distance travel between home and office have clearly taken toll of responsible parenting.

It is precisely for this reason that I put my daughter to regular practice of yoga. For, even I was concerned about her paunch and her being increasingly lethargic about going out with other kids whenever they came calling.

Fast foods are a bane of our times for reasons of their being low on nutrition and essential fibre. We as parents have an immense responsibility of educating our kids about not just healthy diets but also bringing them to the playground and the world of physical activity.

Add comment September 18th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Acupuncture is effective for back pain

I have been fascinated with acupuncture for quite a while. Being used to conventional medical practises and knowledge, I find it fascinating that strategically placed needles can have such a beneficial affect on so many conditions, which shows that there are energy flows and processes occurring in the body that conventional medicine cannot detect or influence.

Research and a cost benefit analysis by the UK health service – the NHS – has shown that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for back pain. Importantly too, in this age of cost justifications and quality of live calculations, acupuncture has been shown to be both medically effective as well as an economically viable, treatment.

I’ve suffered from a back injury so I know how debilitating back pain can be. A few years ago I trapped a nerve whilst having a “race” with someone on rowing machines at the gym. Taken to the local hospital in an ambulance, I was treated with strong pain killers and anti-inflammatories and basically told to go away until it got better.

I would have welcomed the opportunity to ease my back pain with a visit to the Acupuncturist. I would probably have recovered from my injury far more quickly, as re-gaining my mobilty, through pain management, freed the trapped nerve.

That acupuncture could be soon be generally available within our health service is good news for those suffereing from back problems. It will also help increase awareness of the more respectable alternative treatments and therapies that could be used alongside conventional medicine.

Add comment September 15th, 2006 Written By: chris

Yoga can help Young Onset Parkinsons Disease

Young Onset Parkinson’s is the new scourge of our times. A study conducted in India indicates more and more patients in their late 30s are being diagnosed with the Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, speech and posture.

The incidence of the disease in the age-group between 30 and 40 in India, as the study indicates, has risen from 3 % to 10% in the last five years. The disease afflicts both men and women almost equally.

Holywood star Michael J Fox suffers from Parkinson’s desease. But unlike several famous personalities – Salvador Dali, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Mohammad Ali, Pope John Paul II- associated with the degenerative disorder, Fox was just 30 when he was diagnosed with the disease.

Hardly known in the 1990s when Fox announced he had the disease, the phenomenon of Young Onset Parkinson’s is now becoming a global reality.

0ver 60,000 newly diagnosed cases every year join the current 1.5 million tally of those affected by the disease in the USA. While the condition usually develops after the age of 65, 15% of those diagnosed are under 50, according to National Parkinson Foundation of the US.

In India 360 people per 100,000 suffer from the disease, which has no known cure. Over 5% of those over 60 are afflicted in the country.

According to specialists at the Parkinson’s disease clinic in New Delhi, the increasing prevalence of Young Onset Parkinson’s has turned the popular perception on its head. Till recently it was thought to be an old man’s disease appearing mostly in people in their 60s. Today patients in their 20s are being diagnosed with the disease. Such cases are relatively few though.

The doctors suspect the main cause to be the fast-paced modern day lifestyle marked by increased stress, improper diet and inadequate sleep. Other known reasons are genetic, environmental, high levels of toxins one has to live with and drug induced Parkinson’s.

The effects of stress, environmental pollution and pesticides in our food and water are successfully managed by time-tested regime of yoga. A well-defined system of breathing exercises under the name of pranayama and physical exercises called yogasanas have been found to be very helpful in mitigating the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Experiments to investigate the effect of yoga on the Parkinson’s disease have revealed encouraging results.

Add comment September 14th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

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