What You Should Know About Your Liver by Melina Meza

The liver is the second largest organ in the body (your skin is the largest) and arguably the most popular one mentioned in yoga studios, health magazines, and wellness centers throughout the spring and summer season. Considering your liver is involved in nearly 500 bodily functions—including detoxification and producing important proteins such as enzymes, hormones, blood proteins, clotting factors, and immune factors—there’s no mystery why it’s important to honor and protect this essential organ no matter what season it is.

The liver and kidneys are the primary organs for detoxification and naturally help you cleanse by eliminating waste products in your sweat, urine, or feces. If your liver is in good shape, you will feel energetic and find it easy to think clearly and maintain a happy, stable mood. When the liver is not functioning well, it will not remove waste products efficiently and you will feel quite the opposite of healthy.

The liver acts like a proverbial club bouncer, standing guard at the entrance; on a daily basis, the liver filters unwanted items out of your bloodstream such as drugs (over the counter and prescription), alcohol, cigarettes, environmental pollutants, caffeine, food additives, smog, chemical household cleaning products, plus ammonia and bilirubin (which are produced in the body as a result of protein metabolism).

Please remember that every toxic substance mentioned above will eventually be processed by your liver. If your liver can’t break down the toxins, they simply don’t go anywhere, which makes it harder for the liver to do its regular job. To help give your liver a break, please take extra caution with alcohol consumption. If alcohol is consumed on a regular basis, normal liver function may be interrupted, leading to chemical imbalances and depression. Liver cells may be destroyed or altered, resulting in fatty deposits (fatty liver which will be covered next month), inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis), and/or permanent scarring (cirrhosis). Mixing alcohol and medications may also damage the liver.

If you use alcohol to relax or reduce stress at the end of a long day, consider getting some exercise instead, then treating yourself to a “mocktail” (non-alcoholic drink) and see if these replacements help you to feel more clear and emotionally stable at the end of each day. 

One of the numerous incredibly cool things about your liver is that it has the extraordinary gift of regenerating itself. However, I don’t recommend overburdening it with unhealthy lifestyle choices and foods high in fat, sugar, cholesterol, and pesticides that may cause harm down the road.

Diet: Liver-Supporting Nutrients

Making an effort to eat seasonal, local, organic, whole foods rich in the following nutrients below are important preventative steps for optimal liver health. Here’s a short list of important liver-supporting nutrients and the foods rich in them, which can help keep your liver happy. I hope you enjoy adding them to your cart during your next visit to the market. 

Folate (a B vitamin): Green leafy vegetables, spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, asparagus, broccoli, avocados, and brewer’s yeast.

Vitamin C: Grapefruit, lemon, red bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts and strawberries. 

Flavonoids: Beets, apples, blueberries, cabbage, parsley, tomatoes, strawberries and white, green or black tea.

Magnesium: Dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, almonds, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, wheat bran, millet, brown rice, dried apricots.

Iron: Kelp, brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses, wheat bran, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, millet, organ meats, parsley, clams, almonds, dried prunes, raisins, Jerusalem artichokes, beet greens, egg yolks, whole wheat bread, oats, brown rice, dried peas, lima beans, kidney beans, green peas, almonds, artichokes, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Selenium: Found in our soil and will vary greatly depending where your food was grown and how healthy the soil is. Foods with concentrated selenium include brewers’ yeast, wheat germ, liver, butter, molasses, Brazil nuts, oats, garlic, mushrooms, radishes, and tomatoes. 

Cruciferous Vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower.

Root: Turmeric (anti-inflammatory, helps liver detoxify carcinogenic chemicals and stimulates production of bile). 

Herbs: Echinacea, dandelion, red clover, burdock, and milk thistle, which has a reputation for promoting the growth of new liver cells and might be worth exploring during a seasonal detox If you are considering a liver flush or cleanse, it’s important to make sure you stay hydrated and are also having regular bowel movements each day.

Daily bowel movements are essential because the chemicals and pollutants that get released in the body from the liver will end up in your stool for elimination. Slow or irregular elimination patterns may lead to further complications. During a detox phase, I often recommend mild laxatives such as triphala (Indian formula found in most health food stores in capsule form), psyllium, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and prunes to ensure your colon is being emptied two to three times a day. I also recommend consulting with your local Ayurvedic practitioner (yogi health scientists) or nutritionist to support you in building a custom program that addresses your uniqueness and health goals. 

As you can see there is a lot you can do in your daily life to support your liver. If you give your liver a break and limit the amount of drugs, alcohol, pesticides, fatty foods, artificial sweeteners, and sugar in your diet on a regular basis, there would be less need to “detox” your liver. A balanced diet with regular exercise and hydration goes a long way in regard to the health of your organs. 

 

 

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How to Cultivate Compassion and Peace In Times Of Suffering by Mark Van Buren

How to Cultivate Compassion and Peace In Times Of Suffering

2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught his first followers the Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth stated that life is dukkhaDukkha is typically translated as “suffering,” but it can more appropriately be understood as “dissatisfaction,” or “unsatisfactoriness.”

Although this may seem pessimistic, the Buddha’s message was to take an honest look at our human life. Inevitably, there will be suffering because we live in an impermanent world where the only unchanging promise is endless change. Grasping on to any of our experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is like trying to grab water from a flowing stream with our bare hands–as soon we think we’re getting a hold of it, it has already seeped through our fingers.

Of course, the Buddha did not end with “life is suffering,” but went on to explain the cause and the end of the dukkha found in our lives. His approach was an all-inclusive one, based heavily on our ability to be “awake,” or rather our ability to cultivate mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion in every situation of our lives–nothing left out. Suffering, he taught, was not a curse or something to be avoided, but rather a natural part our lives to be embraced and fully experienced. By going right through our suffering we are able to drop our resistance to it, see it clearly, and ultimately making peace with it.

As mediation master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said when talking about difficult emotions/situations, “…there is nothing to take over if you are not putting up any resistance.” If we can understand our suffering as an impermanent moment in time and patiently endure it, it will flow through us just like a leaf making its journey down a stream.

How Suffering Can Be Used To Cultivate Great Compassion

Any suffering we experience is shared suffering. In other words, there is always someone else out there who shares the same suffering we are experiencing. We are never alone in our suffering. When we experience any form of discomfort or pain in our lives, we can open up to it, wishing that all beings experiencing this suffering (including us) be free from it.

A great way to do this is by taking one hand to our heart and fully feeling our pain and suffering. We can acknowledge, without judgment, our struggles with this difficult time in our lives. For example, if we are experiencing pain from an illness, such as cancer, we can bring our hand to our hearts, fully feel our suffering, and say “I am struggling with the pain from this illness.” This connects us with the truth of our suffering and also acknowledges it in a direct, judgment-free way.

Open Your Heart, and Wish for Freedom

The next step is to wish all beings experiencing similar suffering, to also experience freedom from it. This may look something like this, “May all beings experiencing the pain and struggles of cancer, be free from it.” With this wish we are not only embracing our pain, but also embracing the pain and suffering of the world. Approaching our suffering in this way connects us with our vulnerability, and allows our hearts to stay open–rather than letting life’s difficulties harden us into stone.

Ultimately, all of our lives will include suffering and dissatisfaction. Aging, sickness, and death are all very real aspects of our lives which we can neither deny nor escape. Instead of allowing these difficult times to make us bitter and fearful, the Buddha offers us a new way: Face the suffering in our lives, experience it fully, and allow it to come and go as it will–it is only the movement of life.

Cultivate compassion for all beings experiencing similar suffering, and keep your heart open to life, no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in.

I wish you all well on your journey.

Journey Through the Chakras by Heather Ivany

Discovering the mystical world of the chakras can at first feel like learning a new language or a way of existing that is foreign to our ‘normal’ way of being.  However, there are many ways in which our everyday language speaks on a chakra level.

When we blend the energy world into our everyday physical world we can begin to appreciate that we are adding to our ‘tool bag’ of life, rather than feeling as though we are entering a new scope of being. Here are some examples of how we already relate to the language of the chakras: When we ‘feel grounded’ this is a relationship to our first chakra. Having a ‘gut feeling’ about something relates to our third chakra. Experiencing the heart bursting with love is our fourth chakra. Deja vu is the third eye or sixth chakra. Spiritual awakening is connected to our seventh chakra.  The chakras are already understood on an emotional level, deep within our consciousness.  Now we begin to take that understanding to an intellectual level.

 What are the chakras?

There are seven major chakras within the body and several other smaller chakras scattered throughout.  The chakras exist on the subtle body plane and although they affect the physical body, they are by nature energetic.

The seven chakras follow the length of the spine and are stacked on top of each other. The energy highway that they follow is called the sushumna. It is here that there exist two types of energetic currents: the liberating current and the manifestation current. The liberating current stems from the base of the spine and brings us freedom, excitement, novelty, and energy (Shakti). The manifestation current begins at the crown of the head and brings us grace, peace, and stability (Shiva). Manifestation without liberation leaves us in repetitive patterns, fearing change and clinging to security. Liberation without manifestation leaves us spacey, unorganized, and scattered. It is referred to as a ‘highway’ so that we can see that energy needs to travel in both directions at all times.

The body is composed of masculine and feminine qualities.   The chakras themselves are masculine and feminine.  Chakra one (survival), three (power), and five (voice / noise) are all masculine.  Chakra two (emotion), four (love / compassion), and six (intuition) are all female.  The final chakra seven is neither female nor male because when we combine and unite with the Divine, gender dissolves.

It’s interesting to observe whether the masculine or the feminine is more predominant  within your body. Take a moment and think of your favorite yoga poses. Standing work, inversions, backbends, and balancing are all masculine poses.  Forward folds, lateral extensions, seated work, and meditation are all feminine.  Generally speaking we are attracted to poses that support our dominant masculine or feminine tendencies.  If we are the “go-getter” type we most likely are drawn to Ashtanga styles of practice.  If we are the “sit back and relax” type we may enjoy the soft Hatha styles of yoga. Yoga’s intention is to restore the body, mind and spirit into balance. Therefore we may want to consider a yoga practice that creates greater stability and draws out the traits within us that may be suppressed by either our dominant masculine or feminine tendencies.

We will delve into the chakras individually in the upcoming weeks.  Outlined below is a synopsis of each:

1. Earth (Muladhara):  Feet, legs, base of spine, nerves, and intestines. Ability to feel safe, secure and grounded.

2. Water (Svadhisthana): Sacrum, genitals, hips, knees, low back. Relationship with your self.

3. Fire (Manipura ): Located between the navel and base of the sternum, the solar plexus is related to willpower, self-confidence and power.

4. Heart (Anahata):  Located in the heart, lungs, thymus gland, and behind the sternum. This chakra aids in immune function.  It’s related to how we give and receive love, empathy and compassion.

5. Throat (Visuddha):  Throat, neck and shoulders. This chakra is related to how we speak what we feel and if we speak too much.

6. Third Eye (Ajna):  Located at the forehead between the eyebrows.  Related to intuition and visualization.

7. Crown of the head (Sahasrara): Thousandfold, referring to the infinite unfolding petals of the lotus and related to spiritual relationships.

It is important to note that the division between the chakras only exists on an intellectual level.  We divide the chakras so that we can understand what each means. However we will see that this is where the division ends. Chakras are a concert of constant feedback and release of information. Each is so closely intertwined to the other that the response of one affects all.

5 Ways to Cultivate the Silence Within by Pragya Bhatt

Many of us spend our lives searching for inner peace. We look for it in our thoughts, our surroundings, perhaps in the food that we eat, the people who we choose to be with; however, we can’t look for peace outside and assimilate it within us at the same time. We have to create a silence within us for peace to reside, and we have to look at life from the vantage point of this silence. Only then can we be in a state of bliss.

So here are five ways to cultivate the silence within:

1. Spend five minutes every day observing your thoughts. Make an effort during these five minutes to sit in non-judgement. Let your thoughts pass through your mind. Also make an effort to avoid reliving the emotions brought about by these thoughts, be they positive or negative.

2. Start your day before those in your house do. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes early, spend those first fifteen minutes of the day with yourself. Water your plants. Drink lukewarm lemon and honey water. Stretch. Smile. Read. Making this daily commitment will help you to nurture a more fulfilling relationship with yourself, and this will ensure a better quality day and life.

3. Pursue an extra-curricular activity with passion. If you’ve always wanted to learn photography, do so now. If you’ve always wanted to learn krav maga, do so now. If you’ve always wanted to start a yoga practice, start now. Making time and putting in the effort to pursue something you’ve been putting off creates a behavioral pattern which tells you that what you want to do can be fulfilling, and enables you to put yourself first.

4. Accept the situation and work around it. You might not like your job, or your neighbor or your current haircut, but until you can change it, your only choice is to deal with it. So deal with it.

5. Breathe deeply. Breathe whether you are stressed, overwhelmed, happy, annoyed, joyful, irritated, elated, blissful, worried, tired, energetic, optimistic, pessimistic, disappointed, fascinated or delighted. Always breathe.

Kitchen Medicine for the Winter by Melina Meza

Kitchen Medicine for the Winter

If after the holidays you want to do a little detox, lighten up, shed a few pounds, or save a few dollars, and begin the New Year with a healthy diet, I would suggest starting the year with a one to three day kitchari monodiet. Kitchari is an Ayurvedic superfood that is easy to prepare and costs approximately $2 a bowl if you make it from scratch. The recipes may vary, but the recommendation to eat kitchari is universal in Ayurvedic treatments. Kitchari is primarily used to help people restore their digestive functions, reduce unhealthy cravings, recover from illness or stress, and help clear ama (toxic sludge) from the body (signals of ama may include a thick, white coating on our tongue, a feeling of sluggishness, or a new unpleasant body odor). There’s no time like the present to treat yourself to a few days of tasty kitchari when you’re hungry and allow your body to rest after the decadent holiday season.

In addition to the kitchari monodiet, here are a few Ayurvedic herbs and spices to help reduce kapha and improve your health throughout the winter:

  • Trikatu – Improves metabolism and destroys Kapha
  • Triphala – Cleansing action supports weight loss
  • Triphala Guggulu – Aids fat metabolism and detoxification
  • Neem – Reduces sweet cravings
  • Chywanprash – Helpful for colds and immune support
  • Ginger – Improves digestion, circulation, and metabolism
  • Garlic – Its antibacterial and antiviral qualities help knock out the common cold or infection. Add to soups or enjoy raw if your stomach can handle it
  • Cardamom – Refreshes the palate and reduces cravings
  • General warming spices include cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, black pepper, cayenne, and ginger.
  • Kitchen detox spices include black pepper and whole coriander seed.  Blend together in a traditional pepper grinder and add a quarter teaspoon to meals, even sweet ones. Black pepper promotes healthy circulation. Coriander is the digestive regulating spice of Ayurveda.

Once you feel you detoxified from the holidays, consider stocking your refrigerator, pantry, and spice cabinet with the following food items during the winter season:

  • Lemon – Drink lots of warm water with lemon
  • Soup Stock – Make soup stocks (chicken, seaweed, or mushroom), adding spicy herbs—such as garlic, ginger, onion, and chilies.
  • Vitamin C Foods – Stock your house with foods high in Vitamin C like grapefruits, lemons, oranges, Brussels sprouts or broccoli. Their antioxidant goodness supports collagen growth, healthy tissue maintenance, and immunity.
  • Nutrient Dense Foods – Eat foods concentrated in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamin D on a regular basis. Examples include almonds, black beans, bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, navy beans, pumpkin seeds, spinach, sunflower seeds, Swiss chard, and turnip greens.
  • Consume foods that nourish the water element such as buckwheat, kidney/black/pinto beans, mushrooms, beet greens, nori, red cabbage, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, chia and black sesame seeds, miso, soy sauce, umeboshi plums, and pickles.
  • Cut out sugar (at least for a few weeks at some point during the winter) and carbonated beverages, which leach minerals from your bones.
  • Herbal allies – Consider marshmallow root (soothes irritation and inflammation), ginger root, and nettle (tones the kidneys).

As a general rule, when you want to decrease Kapha imbalances (weight gain, depression, weak digestion, white coating on the tongue, and/or excess mucous in the body) this season, minimize sweet, sour, and salty foods and increase foods and herbs that are pungent (like ginger), bitter (like coffee and turmeric root), and astringent (like chickpeas and goldenseal) to ensure good digestive fire. When digestion is good, immunity is strong and life is full of possibilities! Om.

A New Year, A Fresh Perspective by Tiffany Haziza

A New Year, A Fresh Perspective

There is something sacred about the different calendars that the world follows. Our calendar here in the West holds a great deal of power and tradition.

We follow the calendar through the months, by the seasons and by where and when the light of the sun touches our earth, and we do so with great respect as the solstices come and go. It truly is amazing that the ancient rhythms, that guided our ancestors, continue to guide us today.

At this time of year especially, we put a great deal of pressure on what the new year will provide for us, and we raise our own personal expectations to match the heightened energy that surrounds us. Many of us tend to focus on all of the different things that we either didn’t accomplish during the last year, or on the things that we need to “fix” in this new year. We create lists of resolutions and make pacts that we will do better, be better and live fuller lives. The disconnect occurs when we spend little to no time basking either in our accomplishments or enjoying the fruits of all that we did well or achieved during the prior year. We forget to welcome those accomplishments into the new year with us.

We seem to fool ourselves into thinking that, with a new calendar, we must move on, move ahead and face the new day with little thought of the previous twelve months.

The truth is that we actually deserve to relish in the goodness that we’ve manifested, and with an open heart. It would serve us well to bring the joy created by our achievements into the new year with us, so that we become able to further nurture and grow those things that served us so well before. Naturally, it is important to create and pursue new goals, but it is also important to continue to celebrate the goals that we have already realized.

There is, in fact, something very refreshing about a new year. January brings with it a fresh start and a clean slate. During this month we want and need to aim higher and invite new challenges and experiences into our journey; however, we must remember to honor all of our hard work from yester-year and build on any momentum that will further our personal growth going forward.

There is a fine balance at play that requires us to use impeccable discernment when deciding how to begin a new year. We can charge into it with great hope and excitement, or we can greet the new year with the pressure to redefine ourselves with unachievable expectations (which may only lead to failure). We must remember that turning a page on a calendar, however freeing that ritual may feel, does not change who we authentically are. But it also doesn’t hold us back from who we are destined to become. The new year simply acts as a reminder of where we are in our journey. It highlights all that brings us joy, and it reminds us that there is no time like the present to change that which is not working for us. It invites us to take inventory of our bucket lists and it allows us to adjust the many lists in our lives accordingly.

While you are making renewed promises to yourself to practice yoga with regularity, to meditate daily, and to eat local organics whenever possible, remember that you are exactly where you are meant to be and doing exactly as you are meant to be doing right now. You are perfectly imperfect this year… just as you were last year. Any improvements you employ will be worth celebrating, and any moments that remind you that you are (after all) human are all as exquisitely amazing.

If you make yourself any promises in honor of the new year, allow it to be this: That you will be as kind to yourself as you are to the strangers that you meet. That you will find as much compassion for yourself in your perfection and imperfection, as you do for your friends and family. And, most of all, even as you spread your light and love into the world through your thoughts and gestures, remember to surround yourself in the same white light that you so generously give to others.

If we as a society could manage to keep this promise to ourselves, imagine the world we would live in! But it’s not necessary to try to manage the world, because you can only (and only need to) manage yourself. By allowing yourself to tread into 2014 with an open heart and self-compassion, accepting yourself exactly as you are, you are setting the intention that this will be a year filled with love and light… which we all innately deserve….

We truly can affect our community in this way, and perpetuate our light in ways that we cannot even fathom.

Happy New Year!

 


Tiffany is a North Vancouverite, married, mother of two young children, who has enjoyed a successful career as a jewelry designer. While her priority is nurturing her family, her other passions include, writing, creating and manifesting light and love where ever she goes.

How to Balance Baby and Yoga by Charlotte Singmin (dedicated to my daughter- Olivia)

How to Balance Baby and Yoga

With the birth of our tiny miracles, life changes forever. Since celebrating my son’s first birthday a couple of months ago, I have been reflecting on many of the ways things are different for me now; my radically changed yoga practice being one of the most significant.

As a passionate yogi, one of the most challenging adjustments for me was accepting my new yoga practice.  Not only did it take me most of this year to regain my strength and flexibility, but the amount of time I am able to spend on my mat has diminished considerably.

Before baby I was a typical full time yoga teacher; biking to classes all over the city, teaching from morning till night, practicing in between, and loving every minute of it.

Nowadays I have to choose my teaching gigs carefully, balancing my yoga schedule with my baby’s needs. And those long sessions in the studio working on my personal practice?  Let’s just say anytime I get on my mat is a luxury, although I do make a point of trying to squeeze in some time every day.

Balancing baby and yoga has been a challenge, and one year in I am only now starting to feel confident that both our needs are being met. Here are five of my favorite ways to make the process easier.

1. Let go of the past and embrace the present.  The sooner you adjust to your new way of life, the more satisfied you’ll be with what parenthood has to offer. Yes, caring for a new baby means way less time to yourself to be in the studio, or even to make it onto your mat at home; but, you’ve been blessed with a tiny, gorgeous, little son or daughter, and you still get to do yoga, just not quite as much, for now. Be thankful for the quiet moments you do get to stretch, flow, and meditate.

2. Share your practice with your Little Yogi.  Studios offering post-natal yoga often include classes where your little one is welcome to join in the fun.  New babies can lie or sit comfortably on your mat while you practice, and teachers will incorporate gentle asana with infant massage. Crawler and toddler yoga classes are also gaining popularity, encouraging mom and little one to practice together.

3. Practice at home.  Having a home practice has been my saving grace since my son was born. Whether I’m practicing my own sequences, or studying with the help of an online site like My Yoga Online, it’s often so much easier to find time to do yoga in my living room than it is to get to a local studio. I practice with different instructors via online videos while baby is napping, and if he wakes early, I bring him onto my mat and flow through a couple of sun salutations as he plays around me.

4. Practice outside.  During the summer months, parks and beaches provide a great setting for yoga. Try a stroller yoga class where the stroller acts as a yoga prop for balancing and strengthening poses. Or roll out your mat while baby sleeps or plays in the park.

5. Remember that yoga is not just asana.  Although the physical poses are important, there are many other rewarding aspects to a yogic lifestyle.  On the days when it isn’t possible to make it onto your mat, try to focus on other yogic qualities of life.  Enjoy a healthy home-cooked meal with baby, or spend some quiet moments in meditative thought while nursing or walking.  Even washing dinner dishes can be yogic when you do it with love and gratitude for the gifts you’ve been given, and the beautiful life you are living.

With love

Olga…

Yoga lifestyle with Olga Tsibarnea