Thursday, July 24, 2014

Yantra Yoga Lecture reveiw

Yantra Yoga Lecture at the Rubin Museum of Art: Review

I absolutely love the Rubin Museum of Art here in New York Citys Chelsea neighborhood. It is my  new favorite place in New York City.

Recently, I went to go see the Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine there. I read about the exhibit in the New York Times, and, being a Buddhist who is interested in yoga, Chinese medicine, martial arts, and Eastern philosophy in general, I went to the exhibit. Needless to say, it was astounding!

And so I signed up for the mailing list for the museum and learned about this summers series of workshops and lectures focused on Tibetan healing and medicine. I excitedly got tickets for the July 9th lecture on the Health Benefits of Yantra Yoga. I had never heard of Yantra yoga and I have been practicing yoga since the 1970s.

I got dressed up and went to the lecture. The space at the museum was beautifully set up I enjoyed a classical Indian band playing on the floor level as I headed downstairs toward the lecture hall. I got my seat next to a bunch of professor types and yoga heads (I was probably the only person in the room who lifts weights).

We were greeted by the teacher a Tibetan Lama (priest) in full orange robes and a rust-colored skirt, and his beautiful Russian assistant wearing a super-cute Asian-style outfit.

One of the museum curators introduced the topic and then Lama Lobsang Palden, the teacher, rang a bell, and blew a horn and greeted us. He began his lecture by briefing us on his background: Like Yantra yoga, Lobsang was born in Tibet. During his lifetime, he had to flee to Nepal because of international turmoil. Yantra Yoga is a 500-year-old style of yoga, he explained. It was kept secret from the West for all of this time.

Next, it came time for a demonstration. As it turns out, one of the Lamas who teaches Yantra yoga did a mediation and came to the conclusion that it was OK to teach this style of yoga to the world. I suspect the reason may not be so spiritual, there is a ton of money in teaching yoga these days.

There is nothing wrong with this style of yoga as many people have asked my why it was kept secret. In Asia there are many cultural reasons for keep such things secret. Remember, Bruce Lee was one of the first Chinese immigrants to teach martial arts to Westerners, and many other Chinese hated him for it. He got into tons of trouble with his community of origin over bringing martial arts out of the East and into the West.

Yantra yoga involves a whole set of mental meditation. Lama Lobsang was very clear, too, about the mental process and mediation being the most important part of this yoga. Do not just do this as exercise, he warned.

This beautiful form of yoga combines martial arts-like moves, some movement mediation, pressure points, and lots of heavy, purposeful breathing. It was not an easy, gently yoga style like Hatha. Rather, it was a hard yoga style like Vinyasa.  There were floor moves and standing moves and the practice of breathing through one side of the face that made it challenging. The standing moves  included tree and triangle poses with circular arm movements that evoked Tai Chi.  

Each move came with a mental process, one move got rid of jealousy, one anger, one brought in positive energy.

It seemed like you would feel great after taking a whole class.

Lama Lobsang also told us about herbs and diet in Tibetan medicine and offered a story about how he conquered ear infections with herbs and meditation. He also gave a good small talk on spirituality.

There is not a lot of information about Yantra yoga out there yet but Lama Lobsang is working on a book and DVD. I signed up to get notified as soon as they are produced.

Lama Lobsang greeted everyone at the lecture afterward and was just an amazingly kind, wonderful, and warm-spirited man.

You can find out more about Lama Lobsang on his website

This was an amazingly informative lecture in a beautiful space and a good time as well. I think I will benefit from attending this lecture for years to come.

The Bodies in Balance workshop series events will be going all summer. I highly recommend them to anyone. You can find out more about the Rubin Museums Bodies in Balance programs at

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Great Summer Recipe!!

Citrus Cucumber Herb Salad

This wonderful, refreshing salad has everything you need for sophisticated summer dining. It is very easy to prepare, refreshing, nutritious, and hydrating.


3 medium Kirby cucumbers

1 pink grapefruit (I used organic)

1 cup cilantro leaves

1/8 teaspoon French Grey Sea Salt

DIRECTIONS (Makes 2-3 cups):

Peel the cucumbers lightly, enough so that some of the green still shows. Slice into thin rounds.

Peel and pith the grapefruit and slice into one-inch sections.

Remove the cilantro leaves from the stalks and chop the leaves slightly.

Add the dash of French Grey Sea Salt and mix.

You can use just about any grapefruit but I found the pink to be the best, in terms of flavor and nutrition. At just 100 calories, an entire grapefruit offers 120 percent of your daily Vitamin C requirements, plus more than 50 percent of your Vitamin A needs. Any type of cucumber can be used, but Kirby’s cucumber packs a little more nutrition than other types of cukes. Kirby’s cucumbers are a lean 30 calories each, and are packed with fiber, calcium, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A. Fresh cilantro adds so much flavor, and for almost no calories. I added the Roland French Grey Sea Salt, a product I am really liking these days. While it is a little on the pricy side, at about $5 for 8.75 oz., I am finding this product very worth the price, as it lasts a long time. However, any salt can be used for this salad if you do not have access to gourmet salts.

This salad stands alone -- there is no need for dressing, which also saves one a lot of calories. If you want to dress this salad I would use a simple grapeseed oil and white or rice vinegar dressing to match the fruity flavors. Just be sure to use it sparingly: While a healthy fat, grapeseed oil is 40 calories per teaspoon.

Without dressing, this salad as about 70 calories per 1.5-cup serving and zero grams of fat, and is rich in Vitamins A, K, and C. You get about five grams of fiber per serving.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Foam Rolling 101

Foam Rolling 101: The Physical and Health Benefits

While many of my clients are up to date on the latest cardio fads, they don't know much about foam rolling and its great health benefits. Here, I will explain why learning more about foam rolling is a great way to improve overall health.

Foam rolling, also known as "self myofascial release," had been popular outside of physical therapy and made its way into the gym about 10 years ago.

I foam roll almost every day and bring a foam roller to my sessions. However, I am surprised to see that most people know little to nothing about this wonderful way of self massage and have never even seen a foam roller.

Why do you foam roll?
As we use our muscles they contract, and can stay contracted when they are not supposed to for various reasons such as to protect an injured area, lack of electrolytes from dehydration, or simple everyday use. This permanent contraction of the muscle can lead to pain and even can move joints out of alignment over time. Foam rolling can help keep the joints in alignment by removing the tightness in your muscles.

Precautions for Foam Rolling
Sounds great so far? Be warned: Foam rolling can hurt when you first do it. I won’t lie when you first try foam rolling it does not feel good. I had so many knots in my thighs when I did my first bout of foam rolling it hurt a lot. It feels like the pain of a very intense stretch. This pain can be especially overwhelming when you first try to foam roll your IT band (the outside of your legs). But when you are done you feel like you have new legs. It's just amazing how good you can feel when you have rolled out all those locked muscles. Here are a few other precautions:

1. Don't foam roll on top of the roller if you have bone loss. Foam rolling involves putting your body weight on the roller and rolling back and forth on it. This is not safe if you have osteoporosis. It can supposedly cause small stress fractures if you have bone loss. You can safely use the foam roller with bone loss by rolling it using your hand on your tight areas. You can also roll out your back by placing the foam roller against the wall and rolling your back gently against it.

2. Don't foam roll when you are hurt. Foam rolling is not for broken bones, or sprained or bruised areas. Wait until you are completely healed and your doctor clears you for exercise when you want to resume foam rolling. When you are better foam rolling can prevent permanent pain in the injured area.

3. Never foam roll your lower back or neck. Foam rolling the lower back can put undue pressure on your kidneys, and your neck and back are too delicate for the pressure of foam rolling.

How to foam roll
Place the foam roller on the floor. Place the body part you want to roll on top of the foam roller, hold yourself up with your hands (kind of like a plank position), and roll your thighs back and forth on the foam roller. When you feel a lump or a very painful area when you are rolling, stay on that area for a few seconds. Then roll over the whole area back and forth three to five times. Finally, get off the foam roller and shake your legs out. Chances are you will feel like you have new legs.

The benefits of foam rolling
Here are just a few benefits:
·     Improved circulation
·     Maintenance of proper nerve-to-muscle communication
·     Improved athletic performance, speed, agility, and recovery time. (These benefits go hand in hand, because when muscles are locked up they put unneeded pressure on the nerves and blood vessels, and this can cause pain and prevent them from doing their job).
·     Pain reduction
·     Maintenance of proper joint alignment

… And foam rolling can just plain feel good!

Foam rollers as exercise equipments
You can exercise on a foam roller sort of like you do on a Swiss ball, but not as hard. It can be used a stability tool in the same way. Try lying on your back, and place your feet on the foam roller and lift up your hips for a challenging bridge exercise. You can lie on a large foam roller and make crunches twice as hard.

Which foam roller to buy
Foam rollers can cost anywhere from $7 to $80 and have different textures and sizes. Right now I use the Trigger Point Performance textured foam roller with a steel core. I have the small one, and most of my clients do too. I wish I had the large one to do exercises on. This is one of the most expensive ones on the market but it is a great deal. Keep in mind that foam rollers can take a beating, but are easy to clean. One of my client's Trigger Point foam rollers even stayed intact after a hurricane and the abuse of several grandchildren. Mine has survived dog bites. Personally I do not like the high-density foam rollers, but that is just a personal preference.

You can find foam rollers at Paragon, finer yoga or running stores, and sometimes at discount chain stores. Add foam rolling to your fitness routine today!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Are Sea and Gourmet Salts Healthier?

There are all kinds of delicious salts on the market today. Pink, Green, Sea, Grey Sea, Black, and Kosher salts are all available at most higher-end supermarkets and specialty stores these days.

Whats with all of these colored salts? You might have heard they are healthier and keep you more hydrated.You may have heard that these newfangled salts have trace minerals that the body needs. Are any of these claims true? Why would anyone spend six dollars on salt when they can just get some Red Cross-brand salt for 99 cents?

Lets looks at some evidence about the health claims of these salts and what to do with the many varieties of salt on the market today.

What are gourmet salts?

Sea salt is collected from the sea and made in drying beds in places that sound just delicious, like France.

Black and pinks salts are mined out of the ground from places like Tibet or Africa.

American table salt is mined and then put through a refining process, and iodine is added to it as well. There a big differences in the way table salts and gourmet salts are produced.

Gourmet salts are wonderful to cook with and use on food. They have a more subtle flavor and seem to beautifully bring out the flavors when used in cooking . I have to admit I am hooked on gourmet salts and have two on hand in my kitchen now: Pink Himalayan and French Grey Sea Salt. 

The French Grey Sea salt is used purely for cooking due to the chunkiness of it. I use a little less of it when cooking than I would table salt. The Pink salt tastes earthy and I sprinkle it on my foodyou only need a tiny amount to bring out the flavor. I spent about $6 on my French salt; thats almost $8 a pound for salt. But I would say it is worth the money. The jar lasts me about six to seven months. That is about a dollar a month. Not as good as the three cents a month I would spend on table salt but the flavor and the fact that I use less gourmet salt in general when I eat at home make it money well spent to me.

The health claims:
First of all, you are not supposed to have too much salt; we all know this. Try and stick to about a teaspoon of salt a day. People with certain health issues may need to have even less salt then that.

The Pink and other colored salts claim to have trace minerals that are good for you. According to nutritionists there are not enough of the minerals in the salts to make a difference or to even be added to the nutrients in the label. I think it does make a difference in the taste of the salt and your cooking. 

Now, Ill address the claim that these fancy salts keep you more hydrated. 

More hydrated than what is my question. The best way to stay hydrated to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water. I am not sure how they test these claims of hydration or who is so amazingly hydratedafter consuming these salts. During special situations such as excessively hot days, or when I am training too much, I will put a few grains of sea salt in one glass of water.  I do seem to notice that my thirst level is less when I use sea salt as opposed to table salt in my drinking water.

What these salts to not have is the addition of iodine. Iodine has been added to most table salts since the 1930s, when lack of iodine in the American diet was causing a health crisis country-wide. Table salt is a reliable source of iodine. It has the some amount of this nutrient every time you eat it, whereas the unrefined salts may not have the same amount of iodine every time. Rather, they may go up and down depending on the batch, or may not be there at all. 

However it is not the 1930s anymore, and today we have much better access to iodine-rich foods such as cranberries, seafood, sea veggies and seaweed, dairy products and eggs.

My conclusion regarding gourmet and colored salts is that they are much better for your taste buds than they are for your health. I think they are worth the price and are the best for cooking purposes. The health benefits may include the small amount of trace minerals, and lack of processing. You may use a little less of gourmet salts than you would of regular table salts due to the extra flavor enhancement that comes with these salts.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The microscopic work out.

Working Out Is Good for Every Cell in Your Body!

Even the biggest fitness enthusiast may think that exercise mainly benefits muscle cells, building them up and stretching them, but exercise is actually healthy for every single cell in your body. You may notice that everyone’s favorite gym rat looks a little young for their age. They have a healthy glow. This is because not just their muscle cells are in top shape but working out actually changes you at the cellular level.

When I first began working out I listened to other trainers who encouraged me to get into the fitness business. I remember telling one friend how great I felt after my rigorous kickboxing class. I said that I felt cleaner on the inside, like every bit of waste and all the toxins were cleaned out of my body after a good workout. My friend told me I was weird and said that I was just getting an endorphin rush, a rush of natural ‘feel-good chemicals’ and by my own growth hormone which is released by exercise. It turns out that I was right.  A new study confirms the way I feel after working out; exercise does help clean out your body at the very deepest level.

The latest research reported in the publication, Nature, and in the New York Science Times this month, suggests that exercise helps a long a process called autophagy, by which cells rid themselves of waste products. A recent study was conducted by Dr. Beth Levine, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The New York Times said, “Dr. Levine and her colleagues concluded that an increase in autophagy prompted by exercise, seems to be a crucial step in improving health.” They termed the findings, “extremely exciting.”

Exercise also increases your mitochondria, or the energy producers in your cells. This means that a person working out can potentially have millions more little energy producers in their bodies than someone who does not. This is one of the reasons why exercise increases your energy level.

Working out also helps your nerve cells, by preserving them and by increasing their power to channel the electrical currents that make the nerves function. As we age, our nerve endings begin to degenerate. This is one of the reasons why senior citizens lose their balance and are prone to falls. Exercise is proven to help preserve the nerve endings and increase nerve-to-muscle communication.  A proper exercise program for people over age 50 should include several  balance exercises to keep the nerve cells healthy, and help prevent falls. Exercise also helps improve the  parasympathetic nerves. These are your involuntary nerves, which, for instance, tell your heart to beat and your lungs to breathe. The increased heart rate and increased respiration brought on by exercise simulate the parasympathetic nervous system to its maximum capacity.

These are just some of the myriad ways through which working out benefits every cell of your being. As medical science continues to prove, as if you couldn’t recognize it on your own, exercise is not just for your muscles anymore.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Alternative Approaches to Pain Management

Pain is something that we all have to deal with at times. And it’s a valuable messenger because it tells us when something is wrong, when to stop doing something, and when to be careful with our bodies.

Traditional medications such as acetaminophen are great but I have some alternative suggestions if you are looking to go a different route with no side effects to get rid of some regular aches and pains.   

After an especially hard workout you may notice that you are sore for 2-3 days. This is called delayed-onset soreness, and it is a good pain. This means that there are microscopic tears in your muscles caused by working out that are going to heal over and create all kinds of new muscle cells for you and make you all buff.

The best remedy for this type of pain is some light stretching to the sore area, and hot baths with Epsom salts. The Epsom salt bath is not only is a very pleasant and relaxing way to get rid of pain but it is also a great way to get some magnesium into your system. Yes, all of that wonderful mineral absorbs right into your skin in an Epsom salt bath!

Another tip that I often give clients: Don’t clench up or stress out when you are in pain. Muscles tense up around painful areas as way of protecting the areas; this “protective muscle tensing” can cause pain to become chronic when muscles begin to lock up permanently. This muscle-locking process that causes chronic pain works in the following way: First, the muscles start to lock to protect the painful area, and then the nerves get constricted due to the muscle pressing down on the nerves. Then, because proper electrical conductivity is compromised, the way messages travel through nerves to the brain is off. The nerves start to misfire like short circuits and tell the muscle to contract all the time when such contraction is not needed.

The next thing you know you have a rock hard muscle that is painful. The locked muscles also constrict blood vessels in the locked area, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting into the locked area, which makes the pain and locking even worse.

This process is a major cause of chronic pain, especially in the neck and shoulders. Understanding this process and consciously trying to relax can help prevent an injury from turning into chronic pain.  

One technique that I use when I am in pain is mental technique I call “relax into the pain.” Our normal reaction to pain is to get upset and think “I am in pain, oh no,” which makes us get all stressed and clench up our bodies. This is good for a new pain that needs attention. But for pain where the cause is known, such as chronic back pain from stress or menstrual pain, using this relaxation technique instead can keep pain from getting worse, help to relax your mind, and help the stress levels that are caused by pain to lower.

Whenever I have this type of chronic pain I try and relax and tell myself, “Yes you are in pain, but it will go away soon, so just relax.” And then I try not to tense up. It may not be the same as taking a Codeine pill, but it does keep the pain from getting worse and/or chronic due the constant stressing out and muscle clenching. The Epsom salt baths are also very helpful for locked-muscle pain and stress-related pain.

There are all kinds of analgesic balms and ointments available at all different prices; they work pretty well, but my favorite from traditional Chinese medicine called White Flower Analgesic Balm works wonders.

White Flower Analgesic Balm has no side effects, but like most skin creams, it shouldn’t be used on sensitive areas, mucus membranes, or cut or broken skin. This balm has some very simple but effective ingredients such as camphor, menthol, wintergreen, lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint. At about 3 or 4 dollars for a 20 ml bottle at most Asian markets, the price also cannot be beat. Even better, I have seen small bottles for a little as $1.25. This stuff lasts forever, too; you only need a few drops. It’s a great deal that really works. The balm does have a strong smell, is but it is not unpleasant.

Arnica creams and preparations, also known as “Dancer’s Secret,” are also recommended for pain. Although I do not find Arnica as helpful as the White Flower Balm for pain, Arnica does seem to help tremendously with bruising. Arnica preparations should cost you about $10 a tube. They are available in homeopathic and herbal compositions. I have found both kinds helpful. Again, Arnica has no known side effects.

Pain can be unpleasant but these easy, inexpensive, and gentle pain-relief techniques have worked for my clients and me. So relax and enjoy a nice Epsom salt bath next time you feel hurt.