Yoga & Meditation: Complementary Therapies for Chronic Pain & Inflammation

thepositivepear_meditation_yoga.pngOn November 11, 2016 at 11:11am, so 11-11-16 at 11:11am this blog will be four years old! All I can think is WOW!  In spite of my long hiatus from posting any updates, this blog continues to be a wonderful resources for “Spondys & Spoonies,” I still receive emails and FB messages from people thanking me for information that I’ve shared here, which is so very touching, quite amazing and extremely rewarding.  Anyone who continues to follow the blog, or checks back periodically to read posts, can probably gather that I’m a big advocate for holistic health and I’ve shared on a variety of topics relating to complementary therapies and alternative treatments and one of my absolute favorite posts, were those where I shared information on the wonderful benefits of yoga and meditation for Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I posted in those days as a lover of yoga and an avid practitioner, now I have the wonderful privilege of sharing information from the perspective of not only someone who practices yoga, but also as someone who teaches both yoga & meditation. Since starting this blog, I’ve become a Registered Yoga Teacher & Meditation Teacher. Though I’ve been in the Health, Wellness & Fitness industry for a very long time and have always helped people achieve their health, wellness and fitness goals in one capacity or another, I’m very excited to travel this new path. I’m even more excited to have the opportunity to work with “Spondys & Spoonies” in person as I help them to incorporate yoga & meditation as a means of helping to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. This a huge milestone towards the vision that I had for this project when starting it fours years ago.

I referred to yoga & meditation as complementary therapies, which speaks to the traction that yoga is gaining in the health industry, as providers incorporate “yoga as a therapy” into their practices.  While acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and nutritional counseling are some of the more common “complementary” therapies, yoga is quickly joining the ranks. Especially when considering the fact that Rehab Hospitals and clinics that provide occupational therapy, commonly incorporate Iyengar yoga into their patients health care regimens, as a means of helping them to build strength through proper alignment.  This is because yoga poses are isometric movements, which make it much easier for patients to achieve, in spite of inflamed tissues.  As opposed to the repetitive movements used in traditional physical therapy, that tend to exacerbate inflammation.  Iyengar and true Hatha yoga not only encourages proper alignment, but builds strength from holding the poses a lot longer than you would in a Vinyasa yoga and the use of breath helps patients to endure the temporary discomfort.  Incorporating yoga helps patients to achieve alignment awareness, which makes it easier for them practice the postures at home, thus contributing to a more successful recovery. 

Cancer Centers have been incorporating yoga into their cancer treatment programs for more than 10 years. Studies have shown that yoga helps to reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue and stress for some patients. Combined with meditation, the results have been improvements in sleep quality and a boost in patient mood and overall well-being.

Some medical centers are also incorporating yoga, along with other complementary therapies into their primary care. Doctors are actually referring patients to the on staff clinical yoga specialists, who works with patients to help develop a yoga sequence specifically for their particular ailment. This is exactly what I envisioned two years ago when posting an article on how yoga and alternative therapies were beginning to show up as elective courses at many medical schools across the country. This is so much better than a prescription for yoga that I spoke about in that post, because doctors and yoga therapists are now collaborating in medical centers to develop comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to healing. As someone living with chronic pain, who advocates for holistic health and appreciates the value of yoga as a practitioner and teacher, seeing western medicine incorporating so many aspects of eastern medicine and philosophy makes me very happy.

Did you know? The Superfood Chocolate + Exercise = A Thinner You!

Got a chocolate addiction? Well that’s a good thing. According to a recent study led by Associate Professor of Medicine Beatrice Golomb at the University of California San Diego, chocolate has proven to have favorable metabolic effects on healthy adults who combined reasonable consumption with exercise. In this study those ranging in ages from 20 to 85, reported eating chocolate twice per week while also exercising an average of 3.6 times per week, had lower Body Mass Index (BMI).  BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fat and is a calculated by using a person’s weight and height.  A normal BMI is typically 18.5 – 24.9, while anyone considered overweight would have a BMI of 25.0 – 29.9 and 30+ for those falling into the obese category.  Adults who consumed chocolate more frequently had a lower BMI than those who consumed chocolate less often. Galomb further stated “Our findings– that more frequent chocolate intake is linked to lower BMI — are intriguing,”  while calling for more detailed research and perhaps a randomized clinical trial of chocolate’s metabolic benefits. In conclusion she added “We have seen in multiple studies the benefits of chocolate, and yet again, we see as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, chocolate does not add to weight gain, but in fact, might help control it,”

Chocolate  a treat ordinarily associated with a guilty pleasure, is high in antioxidant polyphenols and flavonols, which can improve mood by releasing the neurotransmitter serotonin and in the process can also enhance sleep and reduce stress and the sensation of pain.  This amazing superfood can also lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and the plasma concentrations of proinflammatory cysteinyl leukotrienes.  Thus lowering risks of heart disease, by reducing inflammation. Also beneficial to those with live with chronic inflammatory conditions. According to a study led by Elizabeth Triche of Yale University, pregnant women who consume dark chocolate during pregnancy are less likely to develop pre-eclampsia and according to a study led by  Katri Raikkonen at the University of Helsinki in Finland, using 300 pregnant participants, it was further established that pregnant women who consume one small square of chocolate each day have happier, livelier babies thanks to phenylethylamine an ingredient in chocolate. Having  a chocolate bar a day does not necessarily keep the doctor away, so before you begin stocking up on chocolate bars remember that moderation is key. In addition, the types of chocolate and how it’s processed is incredibly important, because those less processed will have a higher flavonoid content and those with less sugar are healthier options.  Consider a few Positive Pear recommendations:  RAW unprocessed chocolate in the form of cacao nibs and Navitas Naturals is a great brand.  ZICO chocolate flavored coconut water and your favorite whole food, high quality, chocolate flavored protein powder, such as Monitoba, Alive, Vega or Amazing Grass. If you’re dying for a chocolate bar make sure it consists of at least 70% cocoa, that it’s also Organic and/or “Fair Trade” chocolate.   Your local health food store, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Amazon.com are all great sources.

Keep Calm, Eat Chocolate & Exercise More!

Dr. Beatrice Galomb Interview MSNBC

Association Between More Frequent Chocolate Consumption and Lower Body Mass IndexCocoa polyphenols and inflammatory mediatorsChocolate Consumption in Pregnancy and Reduced Likelihood of Preeclampsia, New Scientist magazine Journal reference: Early Human Development (vol 76, p 139)

Natural Anti-Inflammatory, Vegan Friendly & Gluten-Free: Roasted Seaweed Snack!

When I talk about healthy gluten-free snacks I can’t help but rave about one of my all time favorites and that’s the Roasted Seaweed Snack by Trader Joes. These small paper-thin snacks are only 30 calories while offering only 2 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 50 mg of sodium.  If you are now thinking, “why on earth would I ever want to eat seaweed” then consider its incredible healing benefits. Seaweed is packed full of Amino Acids, ionic and trace Minerals plus Vitamins, most specifically Vitamins A, B and C. It also contains Beta-Carotene and Iodine, essential for Myelin production which helps to combat symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) by nourishing the mitochondria.  Seaweed also contains high amounts of Iron, Calcium, and Fiber, along with the non-essential amino acid Taurine, which is great for alertness and mental clarity.  Incredibly beneficial to those who suffer from *Fibro Fog, memory issues and depression. It also aids in bile production which helps with digestion. Seaweed is also instrumental in naturally lowering cholesterol levels which is essential to heart health. This wonderful super food also has antiviral and antibacterial properties, as well as an abundance of anti-inflammatory properties.  Proving very beneficial to those with chronic inflammatory conditions such as Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS).

Seaweed also contains Selenium, Collagen, Asparagine, Boron, Bioflavonoids and Antioxidants. When you eat this amazing little snack, you are strengthening your hair, bones, teeth, gums and connective tissue, while improving your thyroid, eyes and skin.  You are also sharpening your brain, removing toxins from your body such as mercury, lead and heavy metals, while helping your body to fight infection, colds, flu, allergies, and other respiratory problems.  In addition to lowering your risks of breast and prostate cancer. Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snack is vegan-friendly and a great substitution for chips and other high calorie, high sodium snacks. Plus, there is no need to swim to the bottom of the ocean to enjoy this tasty little snack.  They are packaged nicely, sold at your local Trader Joe’s and are very reasonably priced at only $.99. They also travel well for eating on the go and they are quite addicting, so be sure to stock up!

Great packaging, opens easily and travels well. Roasted seaweed remains fresh and in tact.

Beautiful snacks which you can serve on a plate or in the included plastic container. They tend to absorb moisture rather quickly, so be careful of leaving them out for too long.  Especially in humid climates, or you’ll risk losing the crunchiness which is their appeal.

Paper thin, filling and incredibly delicious!

If you like a little kick be sure to try their mouth blowing Wasabi Roasted Seaweed Snack. I like spicy, but one bite of this flavor was all that I could take.  I will say it’s worth trying and if you can’t handle the heat revisit the idea of the original flavor.

Are You Eating Real Food? Allergies, Inflammation & Cancer 3 Reasons to Go Organic!

Are You Eating Real Food? For those heavily involved in a holistic, natural and organic lifestyle this is a very familiar topic, but for many this might be your first exposure.  When the subject of healthy eating comes up in discussion, many often feel this is a non-issue because they refrain from eating “junk food,” without knowing that what they’re eating may not be considered healthy or even considered real food.  You’ll soon discover that what you choose to eat may not only make you sick, but it can also exacerbate symptoms of chronic conditions and with a weakened immune system it might also make you more susceptible to other conditions and diseases.

I find it very interesting that word “food” does not represent what we think it does.  We now have to use the term “real food” when referring to foods that have not been modified or tampered with in some way.  Over the last several years I’ve often wondered about the increase in the number of peanut allergies and not only gluten allergies, but gluten sensitivities, food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowl disease and the increase in “new” allergens. The most logical explanation that I could come up with for the increased number of peanut allergies was overexposure.  Since at one point you could find traces of peanuts as an ingredient or filler in many food products.  The same for gluten, its an ingredient in toothpaste, shampoo, make-up, gum, lotions, medications, sauces, gravies and all wheat products.  While we’re on the subject of wheat, this is one grain that you’ll want to keep your eye on, because it’s one of the next grains soon to be effected by what you read below.  Why is it that we have such high cases of food allergies and high levels of food intolerance IBS and IBDs, especially now when compared to 15 or 20 years ago? What happens to the GI Tract after it’s been exposed to toxic chemicals over long periods of time? You’ll discover the answers to many of these questions as you read on.  Once you begin to take a closer look at what we’ve been exposed to, you’ll quickly realize that overexposure is only a small glimpse into a much larger issue. To really understand where we are today, we’d have to travel back to the mid 90’s when we stopped eating real food.

 In 1996 the food industry changed and not necessarily for the good. New proteins were engineered into our food supply to maximize profitability in the food industry.  This was after synthetic protein hormones were injected directly into cows with adverse reactions in 1994, so the government had to find another way,which was adding the synthetic protein directly to the livestock food supply. While the US allowed the use of GMO proteins because it had not been proven dangerous, Canada, Australia, the UK, and 27 other European countries did not allow its use, because there were no studies available to show how these chemicals effected the livestock much less the effects on human health after consumption. When you hear the term “synthetic protein hormone” you have to wonder about both the long-term and short-term effects of exposure to elevated hormone levels on humans and if there’s a link to breast, prostate, colon cancer and other types of cancers.  In 2008 Dr. Leonard Hardell and Dr. Mikael Eriksson of Sweden, revealed clear links between one of the world’s biggest selling herbicide, glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup, marketed by Monsanto), to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer. Keep this in mind as you read along.  According to Livestrong and American Cancer Society, the US has the highest rates of cancer than any other country in the world. If you move to the US from another country your chances of developing cancer increase exponentially. According to cancer research studies 1 out of 2 american men and 1 out of 3 american women will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime.  1 out of 8 american women will develop breast cancer and out this group only 1 in 10 is genetic.  This means that 9 out of 10 of these cases are environmentally triggered.  These chemicals which cause allergic reactions, and trigger the inflammatory response in the body are also responsible for the increased incidents of certain types of cancer.

During the time that our milk supply was being engineered with a new synthetic protein there was an increase in the number of allergies, especially those dairy related. As dairy allergies were on the rise, so were other types of allergies. Since dairy is one of the top 8 allergens, you would not have to venture far to identify the next genetically modified food.  To no surprise soy was also engineered by scientist, with increased profits as the motivator,  especially since the primary use of soy was to fatten livestock. Scientists were able to modify the soybean, by taking genes from bacteria and forcing it into DNA of the soybean plant, causing it to produce a protein that would allow it to withstand increasing amounts of Monsanto Roundup Herbicide by absorbing its main ingredient glyphosate.  Soy is known as the first Roundup Ready crop, and was produced at Monsanto’s Agracetus in 1991.  In 1996 the US incorporated this newly modified bean into our food source. If this isn’t enough to make you cringe, just wait to hear what scientist were able to do with corn. There was an increasing concern of insecticide being sprayed over cornfields, so scientist were able to genetically modify corn by engineering this very insecticide into the DNA of a corn seed, so that as the corn plant grew it released its own insecticide.  As a result, corn was then regulated by the EPA as an insecticide. So in essence, when we eat GMO corn we are essentially eating an insecticide.

Those of us who suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions and auto-immune disease want to be especially mindful of these facts, because these same harmful chemicals can also exacerbate these conditions and make those of us with weakened immune systems even more susceptible. Symptoms such as inflamed irritated stomachs, discoloration of stomach lining, leakage of intestines, as well as behavioral symptoms of irritability and anti-social behavior have been associated with animals who consume glyphosate. Inflammatory bowel disease in humans has risen 40 percent since 1992, though the consumption of GMO foods and IBD have not been scientifically linked, there are many scientist who suspect a connection. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor at Purdue University and senior scientist on USDA’s National Plant Disease Recovery System, a plant physiologist and pathologist for over 40 years. Addressed many of his concerns in a  letter to the US Secretary of State Tom Vilsak which was leaked in February 2011. He speaks about a pathogen “new to science” in glyphosate-tolerant GM crops and its negative physiological effects on plants, crops, animals and humans.  If you have doubts on the effects of ingesting GMO foods simply read the warning label of any herbicide or pesticide.

You might wonder how these foods were introduced into our food supply without human trials.  Well, thanks to a term known as “substantial equivalence”, a conceptual tool used by the tobacco industry to facilitate the approval process of something for which no human trials had been conducted, we were exposed without our consent. Its was in 1997 that legalization of Direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical marketing was enacted by the Food and Drug Administration, approximately one year after GMO foods were introduced into our food supply. Timely, and a great opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to capitalize on the many sick people who GMO foods would soon create.

The FDA has very strict food labeling regulations, even the organic food industry has to meet a rigid criteria before food products can carry the USDA Organic label.  Despite the fact that mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in the United States has been proposed, there has been no law passed requiring it.  At least 35 other countries have adopted mandatory labelling for any product that has been genetically modified. The European Parliament passed laws in July 2003 on products containing GMO foods, lifting the seven-year ban on the introduction of new biotech products. As of April 18, 2004, all products containing an ingredient that contains more than 0.9 per cent of GMOs must be labelled. Animal feed containing GMOs will also must be labelled. One way to protect ourselves here in the US is to grow our own organic foods and when you must purchase foods, buy organic or look for foods labeled Non-GMO project verified. Keep in mind that all livestock has been exposed to genetically modified foods so this effects, beef, chicken, pork, eggs, milk, soy, corn, and all products carrying these ingredients,which are countless.  In the mid to late 90’s when I became aware that we were being exposed to GMO foods, I made the decision to go 100% organic. In spite of this effort I know there were many times that I or my family members were exposed to GMO foods and that was anytime we weren’t eating at home.  Though I’m grateful that I was able to make the decision to purchase organic foods, some people can not afford to make this same choice.  It’s frustrating to know that our tax resources have gone to subsidize the growth of the crops with chemicals and GMO foods. While organic food farmers who grow foods without harmful chemicals are charged absorbent fees, which they in turn to pass on to us.  Plus, they are not privy to the same  insurance and marketing that GMO food farmers have. Even conventional farmers are adversely effected, now having to pay royalties on these newly engineered seeds or risk being sued.

Tell the FDA that we have a right to know what’s in our food

What about the manufacturers who use GMOs in their food products? Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg, Coke, Pepsi, Heinz and Walmart meet the demands of their consumers in other countries by using non-GMO foods in their products that they distribute outside of the US. Ironically these same companies have jumped on the “organic” money train by offering organic products or purchasing long-standing organic brands. (We’ll question the integrity of these organic products in another post.) If these companies can make these non-GMO food exceptions for other countries, certainly they can distribute these affordable products here in the US, giving us the ability to choose as consumers. Of course, costs become an issue when GMO has become the industry standard, but it is possible as a corporation to thrive in a non-GMO environment. Take the Pro-Terra Foundation for example, who announced that since 1996 it has distributed 4.8 million tonnes per year of traceable and verified socially responsible, environmentally stable, non-GM soy and in a bid to encourage more food manufacturers to switch to non-GM soy, cereals and grains, plus they’ve introduced a new not-for-profit organization consumer orientated logo which has been set up around the established ProTerra standard.

You have to also wonder about the impact that being exposed to these high toxicity levels has had on our healthcare dollars, not just us individually but also a country.  The US spends more on healthcare than any other country in the world, 16% of our gross domestic product or (GDP) goes to managing disease. Companies spend more money on healthcare for their employees then they do on the products they actually sell or promote. This not only affects us individually but it affects our country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

We’ve been exposed to genetically modified foods for the past 16 years, this is enough time to learn of  it’s harmful effects. Most recently there have been studies which show an increase in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, childhood leukemia, breast cancer, while also causing cardiovascular, nerve, respiratory, kidney, liver, and gastrointestinal damage. As well as reproductive damage resulting in infertility, sterility, birth defects, infant mortality relating to the consumption of GMO Soy and the ingredient glyphosate. A great quote to ponder from health advocate Dr. Mercola “I strongly believe that one of the most obvious clues about the danger of GMO foods are that just about EVERY species of animal that is offered a GMO food versus a non-GMO food will avoid the GMO one. Many times they will do this to the point of starvation, as they have an intuitive sense of the danger of this food.” What can we do when our own government can not see the error in its ways?  Well, we can’t afford to wait for legislature or regulation, we need to continue driving awareness and begin making the needed changes regarding our own individual health, whether we’re considered healthy or afflicted, and the health of our families by choosing to purchase, eat and grow real, natural and organic foods. This will in turn influence our communities and corporations while ultimately effecting the economy. Once we begin to take on this personal responsibility, combined with determination and passion, in the words of Robin O’Brien “we have the ability to effect remarkable change.”

Soy first Roundup Ready CropStatus of GMO Wheat, Herbicide Tolerance,” New Study Links Monsanto’s Roundup to cancer,” – June 2001,  GMO Soy Linked to Infant Mortality in Rats,  The Pesticide Education CenterThe Chemical Injury Information Network (CIIN)The Unhealthy Truth, Pro-Terra StandardSeeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods,

Is There A Prescription for Yoga In Your Future?

There is now neuroscience research that support yoga’s positive effects on anxiety, stress and depression. As the medical community continues to embrace the healing benefits of yoga does this mean that one day your doctor just might prescribe yoga for what’s ailing you?

We’ve heard about the amazing healing effects of meditative techniques such as relaxation, meditation and yoga for many years, including how these reduce the activity of the autonomic nervous system, alleviating stress-related maladies, including migraines, anxiety and depression, among others.  Now there’s additional medical research available to back these claims. Dr. Chris C. Streeter Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine practices yoga and conducts research on its effects.

Dr. Streeter conducted a study with doctors of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, comparing two groups of exercisers (group 1) people doing yoga and (group 2) people walking.  After 12-weeks, those in the yoga group showed greater improvements in their mood and anxiety levels compared to the walkers, and there was a positive correlation between increased  Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), a key neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA levels were measured through brain imaging, and improved mood. The results of her study latest study is published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicinein 2010.

There is an estimated 20 million Americans practicing yoga.  It’s no wonder that yoga and alternative therapies have shown up as elective courses at many medical schools across the country, including Boston University, Dr. Rob Saper of BU a former burned out medical student in the 80’s took a year off to study at Kripalu, the yoga retreat in western, Massachusetts, which he says, inspired him to “try to change medical education and medical care in a way that’s more wholistic” with an emphasis on self-care.  Medical students at BU learn of  yoga’s research-based benefits, in hopes that these future doctors will be able to exploit their knowledge to help patients as they become comfortable enough to include this alternative therapy in their evidence-based practice (EBP), perhaps one day prescribing yoga as they would Prozac or even pain killers.

Thanks to much research, the medical community continues to embrace the healing benefits of yoga among other natural and alternative healing methods, this is a wonderful news for those of us with who live with invisible chronic illnesses, and their multitude of symptoms, and many of which we might choose to manage naturally.  Yoga is also great for chronic pain, it also lowers levels of inflammatory proteins, and helps with many other ailments.  As an avid yogi and sufferer of Ankylosing Spodylitis, Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue & Immune Dysfunction, I for one look forward to seeing yoga or even acupuncture appear on doctor’s electronic prescription pads. Perhaps doing so will garner even more support from insurance companies, hopefully making alternative treatments affordable and accessible to everyone.

Natural Stress Management Techniques

Natural Pain Management