Healthy Eating for a Healthy Heart Heart Health Month

February is American Heart Health Month so nothing is more important than to discuss nutrition. What to eat and what not to eat for a healthy heart. This is often a confusing subject for many people, complicated by a plethora of contradicting diet books/plans, all claiming to be heart healthy. I personally don’t like the word “diet” because it implies a temporary change in how you eat only to resume prior habits. What I think is important is to have a nutritional way of life that becomes your new habit.

As a cardiologist, I have used many tools including medications and interventional cardiac procedures to “treat” my patients. However, without the patients taking the necessary lifestyle changes, including proper nutrition, exercise, smoking cessation, and stress management, all I have done is put a band-aid on their disease. It’s time to focus more on prevention and to empower patients to heal themselves because heart disease is largely preventable.

I recently read “Eat to Live” written by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and I strongly recommend this book for anyone wanting to be healthy. Dr. Fuhrman is a board-certified family physician and nutritional researcher. While it technically is a weight loss book (obesity being a major risk factor for heart disease), I think it is valuable for everyone. The basic concept is that

Health = Nutrients/Calories

Your health is predicted by the amount and quality of nutrient intake (vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals) in your caloric intake (carbohydrates, fats, and protein). The higher the ratio, the healthier you are. This simple approach to eating not only results in significant, sustainable weight loss but also helps to PREVENT heart disease and cancer.

Our Modern American Diet is MAD. Over 90 percent of calories consumed by Americans comes from refined foods or animal products, both of which are essentially devoid of nutrients.

“Refined” foods are foods that have been processed or altered, such as grains, sugar, and oils, so that they are no longer in their natural state. While words such as refined or enriched may sound good, it is quite the opposite.

  • Limit (if overweight, Avoid) Refined Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cold cereals, muffins, bagels – you get the point
  • Limit sugar
  • Limit processed foods (because they are refined, contain sugar and are empty calories)
  • Limit animal foods

Animal foods increase the risk, not only of heart disease but also many cancers. All animal products are low (or completely lacking) in the nutrients that protect us against heart disease and cancer – antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals. The risk is linked to all animal foods, including lean meats and poultry and appears to be related to the animal protein as much as the animal fat.

So, what foods are nutrient dense and therefore heart healthy

  • Green leafy vegetables – kale, chard, collard greens, spinach, arugula
  • Other green vegetables – broccoli, asparagus, string beans, peas, Brussel sprouts
  • Non-green vegetables – beets, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, radishes, bean sprouts, bell peppers, cauliflower, carrots
  • Fresh Fruit– all berries, apples, bananas, peaches, pineapple, grapes, kiwi
  • Beans – lentils, kidney, great northern, black, pinto, chickpeas, edamame
  • Raw nuts and seeds – sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flaxseeds, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts
  • Colorful starchy vegetables – sweet potatoes, squash, turnips
  • Whole grains – oats, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, bulgur, millet, whole grain bread

 

As you can see, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Nutritional density is highest at the top and decreases going down the list. So when you’re thinking about what to eat, start at the top, make the greens the largest portion of your daily food consumption and then add the others.

Changing how we eat is not easy. Trust me, I understand (yesterday I had pasta and wine). Eating is emotional and social. But it is also the only way to real health. It is a choice we make for ourselves and our families. I suggest aiming to consume 60 percent of your calories from nutrient dense plant foods. This is 10 times what most Americans consume and will decrease your risk of heart disease (and cancer) significantly. Let’s get started and stay healthy.

Let food be thy medicine” – Hippocrates

 

Millie Lee, MD

 

February is Heart Health Month What You Should Know for a Healthy Heart

February is Heart Health Month – A time to raise awareness of the seriousness of heart disease and how to prevent it.

What you should know About Heart Disease

Cardiovascular Disease (Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, & Strokes) sadly remains the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.  Here are some startling statistics.

  • One in four deaths in this country is caused by heart disease.
  • In 2008, over 616,000 people died of heart disease.
  • Coronary heart disease (i.e. blockages in the heart arteries) is the most common type of heart disease
  • Every year about 785,000 Americans have a first heart attack. Another 470,000 who have already had one or more coronary attacks have another attack
  • In 2008, 405,309 people died from coronary heart disease.
  • In 2010, coronary heart disease alone was projected to cost the United States $108.9 billion. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

These are shocking statistics in spite of the tremendous advances we have made in the treatment of heart disease.

You may ask why? You should ask why because with these frightening statistics it is very possible to affect you or a loved one.

What you should know for a healthy heart

In my professional opinion as a cardiologist, it is because people are not aware they are the empowered ones to prevent and nearly eliminate this disease (not doctors or scientists). Likewise, many are not aware of the warning signs and symptoms and thus do not act quickly enough to avoid death or limit the damage from a heart attack.

Good News – Heart Disease is predominantly preventable! Yes, PREVENTABLE!  So, don’t wait for it to happen… because it will if you don’t do something now. It’s never too late to reduce your risk of heart disease.

This month, I will focus on heart disease -facts you should know and more importantly, how to prevent it!

Common risk factors for heart disease

  • Hypertension or High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes Mellitus or High Blood Glucose
  • Hypercholesterolemia or High Cholesterol
  • Smoking Cigarettes
  • Stress
  • Age
  • Family History of Premature Heart Disease

Looking at this list, you can see that almost all are preventable -Hypertension, Diabetes, High Cholesterol, smoking, and stress.

 Sorry.. can’t do too much about your age or family (although even our genes are modifiable!).

All of these risk factors are preventable with proper nutrition, exercise and stress management. It is not difficult, but it does require a commitment to your health every day. Next blog, I’ll talk about heart-healthy foods. Here’s a sneak peek! It’s this easy.

 

First tip for Heart Month: WALK. Log those steps. Every step you take is a part of your journey to heart health. Walking briskly can reduce your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Rx: 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity (brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity (such as jogging or running) or a combination of both.

Click here to learn more from the American Heart Association  http://heart.org

Dr Lee signing off…..

till next time!

 

 

Periodic Cleansing &Detoxification is Important for Health & Wellbeing Time to Detox

“When the body is cleansed, the mind purified and the senses controlled, the joyful awareness needed to realize the inner self also comes.” – Yoga Sutra

 

Why do a Cleanse or Detox? Why stop eating the things you “love” or “need” like coffee, dairy, carbs, and alcohol?

Our bodies have an amazing capacity to neutralize & eliminate many of the toxins that we are exposed to in everyday life. These toxins are in the form of food, water, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, including prescribed medications and external toxins such as pollution. As you can imagine, our natural detox systems get seriously overburdened. Furthermore, these natural detox systems rely on many dietary vitamins and minerals to aid in the process. Unfortunately, most people are not consuming these vital nutrients.

Now while maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle every day is the best way to avoid overburdening our detox organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, colon, lymphatic system), it is not always the case. So, I believe, that occasional cleanses can be beneficial to restore the body’s natural detoxification systems.

This is done by decreasing the number of toxins we put into our bodies while at the same time supporting our body’s detoxification and elimination systems (liver, kidneys, lungs, skin) with the nutrients it needs to function properly.

I have tried a number of different cleanses and they all have their pros and cons. The different types of cleanse include the Master Cleanse, Juice Cleanse, Raw Food Cleanse, Colon Cleanse, and various combinations. They can range from one day (not long enough) to several weeks.

This time I am doing a 3-day Juice cleanse with Pressed Juicery. You drink 6 juices each day, which are a blend of raw, organic vegetables and fruits. You do not anything solid to rest the digestive system and eliminate all toxins including caffeine, dairy, and alcohol. I like this cleanse for several reasons: the juices taste great, it’s effortless – no time spent on preparation and its portable.

Be forewarned, you will likely feel worse before you feel better – that is withdrawal from the toxins. I definitely felt the detox physically; the body initially feeling fatigue and muscle soreness as the toxins are released from the cells of the body. But then you feel energized and healthy. You will sleep better. The skin glows from inside out. And, for many people, you lose some weight.

I also take this time to detox at all levels, not just the physical, but the mental and spiritual, letting go of toxic thoughts and emotions. Your mind becomes clear as you let go of toxic thoughts and your heart becomes light as you let go of toxic relationships and anything that no longer serves you. I guess that’s why fasting and cleansing rituals have been an important part of many cultures and religions for thousands of years.

One of the principles of Yoga is Sauca, Sanskrit for purity, cleanliness of mind, body, and spirit. A purified body and mindful eating is just one component. Asana (postures) and Pranayama (Breathwork) are also powerful means to cleanse our physical bodies. “The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes the toxins and impurities caused by over-indulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves” (BKS Iyengar, “Light on Yoga”). Hot Yoga (my favorite) potentiates the detoxification process.

At its very core, Sauca is about purity of the heart. So, live with a pure heart and good intentions and Feel your divine goodness.

Namaste

Dr Millie Lee

The True Meaning of Yoga On and Off The Mat

What does “Yoga” mean to you? —Do you consider Yoga to be a form of exercise, stretching, complex twists and poses for only the ultra-flexible, meditation, a  religion or religious cult? The idea of Yoga is different for many people.

“Yoga” has become widespread in our modern culture. This is a wonderful thing. However, the understanding of the true meaning of Yoga still remains elusive to most Westerners, even many who “practice” yoga regularly.  For most, it is a form of stretching exercise or crazy postures that many (including myself) cannot perform.

I never thought I’d see the day when my dad was doing yoga, or my patients would stop making funny faces when I suggested they practice yoga. So, yes I’m delighted that so many more people are being drawn to yoga, even if it is initially only to the physical aspect. I myself came to yoga for the physical benefits but what I have gained is far more.

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root, “yuj”, which means to yolk, unite or connect. But what is united?

Yoga is a Science, the intellectual and practical study of the structure and behavior of human nature – why we suffer and how we can reduce our suffering and find peace.The goal is to help human beings become Aware of their deepest, truest nature. Thus, Yoga “connects” us to our highest nature. The practice of yoga strives to connect body, mind, and spirit. This can only be achieved by quieting the mind. The physical practice we know (the Asanas) is one small part of this “practice” towards that goal.

How do we achieve this lofty goal?

Yoga is the path and the destination

Yoga is an Art, a way of life, an approach to life. This way of life has been around for thousands of years. A wise teacher by the name of Patanjali codified yoga into what is now known as the Yoga Sutra — 196 Aphorisms or concise statements of Yogic wisdom. “Sutra” is Sanskrit for “thread” and these threads of wisdom offer guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life.

sutra 1.2  Yogash citta vrtti nirodha:

In the second sutra of the first chapter, Patanjali defines Yoga as the control of the modifications of the mind; the modifications being the mental chatter that constantly distracts us from the present moment – the only time and place where we achieve a peaceful mind.

The Yoga Sutra describes an 8 limbed path that forms the structural framework for yoga practice, which includes physical practice (Asana), breathwork (Pranayama), Concentration, and Meditation. What most of us know as yoga, the physical practice is just 1/8 of its true meaning and potential. The objective is to use the body and breath in a concentrated and focused approach to foster an awareness of our true Selves. With focus and concentration, we quiet the mind. And in that quiet space, lies our true Selves. In addition to these 4 limbs, Yoga gives us guidelines on how to treat ourselves and others with kindness and compassion. This too brings us Peace.

The goal of trying to experience this deepest potential is not part of any religion, but an experiential science of self-study. Yoga does not contradict or interfere with any religious beliefs and can be practiced by everyone, whether they regard themselves as agnostics or members of a particular faith.

There are many paths but only one Truth.

So, next time you take a yoga (asana) class, bring awareness to your mind. What are you thinking about? Then, without judgment, shift your awareness to your breath and how you feel. Over time, your distracting thoughts will fade for .. at least for a few moments.

And so … We Practice.

Namaste

Dr Millie Lee

NEW YEAR, NEW ME – FOR REAL RETIRE THE OLD, BRING IN THE NEW

 

 

I know what you’re thinking… more of that New Year, New Me bullshit. This year, however, brings a whole new meaning to Happy New Year for me. I officially retired as a cardiologist on January 1st!  No more pagers!… No more rude awakenings in the middle of the night…No more hospital administration telling me how to talk to patients! So, this New Year really is all about a New Me – the evolution of which I am excited to  witness and share with my readers.

Many have asked “What will you do now”? seemingly expecting me to practice somewhere else or in some similar capacity, surprised to hear my answer “I don’t know”. But, honestly, why should I know? Medicine is all I have known for a long time. I have spent my entire adult life in the study and practice of medicine & cardiology. It was a wonderful career and I am honored to have been a part of it. However, I know that there are many paths to health & wellness and IAM ready to do something different.

The truth is I don’t have any immediate career plans. I do have a lot of dreams and ideas and things that I am passionate about.  I will forever be a doctor and will bring the skills and knowledge that I have built up over the years with me to whatever I do. But I want to take time ( a luxury I never had before) and allow the mystery to unfold. Because it is when we are in sync with the Universe and its plans for us, that we find Joy and Peace.

Here are a  few of my ideas for the new me:

  • Completely immerse myself in the practice of Yoga. This will bring the clarity and direction that I need to move forward
  • Shine in the presence of loving family and friends
  • Spend precious time with my dog (my baby), Rocky in the final chapter(s) of his life
  • Try new things — maybe learn a new language, relearn to play the piano, Acroyoga, the sky is the limit!
  • Hike Utah’s mighty National Parks
  • Travel often
  • Volunteer where I am needed
  • Blog about my adventures, health, nutrition, & of course yoga/Maybe write a book
  • Teach
  • Open a business
  • Laugh heartily
  • Love deeply

Namaste

Dr Millie Lee

A Time & A Perfect Season For Change

 

Autumn is a time of natural transformation.  It is a season of change where the leaves on the trees change their colors from warm green to fiery red and vibrant orange, then float away slowly to the ground. Like the leaves, we are in a season of transformation where we can find the courage to change our colors as well.

 

 

 

 

There often come times in our lives (for seasons do change), when we just know deep in our hearts, that is it time for a change. That change may be big or small, related to career,  relationship or place of residence. Or perhaps, when we are quiet, we hear the subtle calls for small but transformative changes in our attitudes and behaviors. Or maybe you just have the feeling that you are not living your life authentically.

For me, this season of transformation is a time of major change. After a long career in medicine as an interventional cardiologist, it is time for a change. Time to retire my stethoscope and discover what else this life has in store for me.

In many ways, this has not been an easy decision. But I have no doubt that it is the right decision. In Yoga, we talk about Dharma. Dharma is our Purpose… Our calling to be of service but more importantly to be authentic and true to our selves. When we are on this path, we find true Joy. This purpose can change with the seasons as well. My Dharma has been to serve others in the practice of medicine. I have been blessed with wisdom and intelligence and put on this particular path of service, and I pray I served it well. Being a physician is a profession that I have been privileged and deeply honored to be a part of.  I believe that I’ve done it well, saving many lives, touching many lives and being touched by even more. As a healer, however, I know that there are many ways to heal and that I can still be of service.

I have spent my entire life following my mind, my thoughts and ideas, of how my life should be, which led me to this life of practicing medicine, specifically cardiology, the science of the heart.

But now, for probably the first time in my life, it is time to follow my heart and not my mind.

I have always envied those people who lived by the mantra/motto…

Do what you love… Love what you do. For these fortunate people, work is not work but joyful Dharma.

Where the road leads, I do not exactly know, but I go there with Faith and Excitement. I do know that my new Dharma is driven by my passion for the healing powers of Yoga. I hope to use all the wisdom I have obtained through the years, practicing Cardiology and Yoga, to continue to be a healing Source for others.

A friend (Anna) referred to this change in career as Chapter 2. We all have many chapters in our book of Life.  Sometimes, when the days get shorter, and the wind blows a cool breeze, we find the courage to shed our leaves and go with the flow of life.

Please follow along as I take this journey as I will most certainly be writing regularly about my lessons and adventures.

Namaste

Dr Millie Lee

Holy Hip Pain – Healing Journey

That’s right .. “Holy” hip pain because pain is often our most divine teacher. This is what I’ve learned.

“Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional” – Buddha

Needless to say, I was shocked to find that I was having hip pain after my recent pilgrimage to India. I was feeling incredible mentally and emotionally and felt that I had done a lot of personal “healing” through meditation and self-study. I came back home ready to live my life with my new perspective. As a physically active person, I was really ready to jump right back into my workout routines and yoga asana classes, committed (once again) to regular practice. For the most part during my trip to India, there was very little movement (108 degree days), and a lot of sitting and most of the yoga asana practices were very gentle.

Unfortunately, once home, every time I tried to run, I had this nagging hip pain that wrapped around my upper thigh, and by nagging I mean it stopped me in my tracks. Walking on the beach, I noticed the same nagging pain. Flow classes – same. Ugh!!

 

With some new introspective tools from my Yoga pilgrimage to India, I have learned a lot about my body mechanics and my coping mechanisms. As any athletic person will attest to, the worst advice you can be given is to rest.

Finally, nearly 3 months after my return from my spiritual journey in India, I return from a different journey, a healing journey. All in all, I have learned
Perseverance , Patience, Compassion for myself,  and Trust in the timing of the Universe – which means letting go of control

I would stop running for a few days and try again, but there it was. What was driving me crazy, as an inquisitive physician, was that I couldn’t comprehend WHY I was having pain. For god’s sake,  I had done nothing to injure myself – quite the opposite, I essentially was inactive for almost 3 weeks in India. I’ve had issues with my sacroiliac joints in the past, so I got a chiropractic adjustment, which realigned the S-I joint, but the hip pain persisted. Thinking this was all tight muscles, I got several massages, which seemed to help, until I tried to run. A chiropractor thought it could be hip bursitis and an orthopedic surgeon agreed +/- Iliopsoas tendonitis. So, more rest (ugh), ice and NSAIDs. When I tried to run again, at this point a month after my return from India, pain was still there but not as intense.

Time to examine Everything I have been doing in more detail. Before I left for India, I was in pretty good shape, running regularly. I, like many runners, have chronically tight muscles – hamstrings, quads, glutes. But, I would not say that I had pain. Then I went to India and did not run for 3 weeks (108 degrees). Since I wasn’t doing very much, could it be all the sitting? Could it be how was I sitting? For lectures and meditation, I was sitting for hours on the floor or in a chair; I had also sat for hours on long flights and long bus rides. I also started to ask myself “Could it be emotional? Is this all part of my spiritual healing?”

With the help of Dr Clayton, chiropractor extraordinaire, who treats the entire musculoskeletal system,  I think I have some answers, at least on the physical plane. On top of baseline hip rotation and imbalances, prolonged sitting led to shortened and contracted muscles, which led to pain with activities. Prolonged sitting in which muscles are in a shortened state for extended periods can lead to the muscles adapting to this position. Once in an adapted state, muscles have trouble returning to their normal resting length.

This is often the case with the  the Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Iliopsoas muscles. This was the case for me.


The iliopsoas is actually comprised of two muscles: the Psoas muscle and the Iliacus muscle. The Psoas originates from the lower spine (T12 and L1-L5) and inserts into the inner thigh. The Iliacus originates from the iliac fossa then descends to join the Psoas major tendon.

The primary function of both the Psoas and Iliacus is hip flexion, also known as flexion of the thigh. In other words, these muscles lift the knee to take a step in walking & running. Due to its attachment along the spine, the Psoas also plays a major role in maintaining upright posture.

The Hamstrings consist of three muscles in the back of the thigh, originating from the ischial tuberosity (the sit bones) and inserting into the bones of the lower leg below the knee. This large muscle mass plays a key role in knee flexion (bending the knee), extending the thigh and rotating the knee. When tight, contraction can cause the hips and pelvis to rotate back flattening the lower back and causing back problems. Tight hamstrings can also be responsible for postural problems and other back problems such as sacroiliac joint pain (thinking chicken or the egg), as they will tend to pull the pelvis out of normal position.

Consequences of Chronic Muscular Contraction

If a muscle cannot return to its normal resting length, it then resides in a state of chronic contraction and numerous undesirable consequences can result:

1. Ischemia.  A state of low blood flow.  An ischemic muscle is often a painful muscle.

2. Trigger Points which refer pain – felt in the affected muscle or in other parts of the body (radiated pain).

3. Distorted Movement Patterns. A chronically contracted muscle can distort the movement of the joint it crosses. For example, a chronically tight iliacus could reduce movement at the front of the hip.

4. Muscular Compensation.  If a chronically tight iliacus, for example, reduces movement in one hip, then the other hip or the spine or other parts of the body will be called upon to compensate or to change their normal pattern of movement.

5. Nerve Entrapment. A chronically contracted muscle may be responsible for entrapment of nerves, another cause of pain.

So what to do? Sometimes all you need is stretching. But while in India, I was doing yoga stretches everyday. Sometimes you need more aggressive manual therapy in order to enable the muscle to fully lengthen. The reason for this is that the fibers of a muscle can become adhered or stuck together.

Sometimes this “adherence” is within the muscle itself, and sometimes one muscle can become adhered to another muscle. In both cases the attempt of the muscle to fully lengthen or fully contract is impeded. This results in a dysfunctional muscle which can be painful in and of itself, but also can result in compensatory muscle patterns throughout the body.

Once contracted, a muscle cannot lengthen on its own. The contractile units of the muscle (sarcomeres) must be stretched back to their original resting length by an outside force (such as an opposing muscle group) before the muscle is able to actively contract and relax again.

In enters ART – Active Release Therapy (and in my case Dr Clayton).

ART is a patented soft tissue system movement based manipulation technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Every ART session is actually a combination of examination and treatment. The ART provider uses his or her hands to evaluate the texture, tightness and movement of muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Abnormal tissues are treated by combining precisely directed tension with very specific patient movements.

ART is not a cookie-cutter approach. These treatment protocols – over 500 specific moves – are unique to ART. They allow providers to identify and correct the specific problems that are affecting each individual patient. It has been a game changer for my body!
Finally, after much divinely determined rest, during which time I focused on healing, inside and out,
I am back — Running slower, shorter distances but running! 🙂
 

Namaste

 

International Yoga Day and Summer Solstice

It is no coincidence that the International Yoga Day falls on the same day as the Summer Solstice. June 21, 2017 is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun appears to stand still, a perfect opportunity to find “stillness” in our lives through the practice of Yoga.

The Sun is a powerful symbol of Light, of Energy and of Consciousness. Yoga is the practice of connecting with the Light, the Energy, and the Consciousness within us, as when we practice Sun Salutations.

Recognizing it’s appeal and health benefits, the United Nations proclaimed this day of Yoga to increase awareness of yoga’s benefits for healthy body, mind and spirit.

“Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. This tradition is 5000 years old. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being . Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.”

— Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly
Yoga continues to grow in popularity. It is now practiced by over 36 million Americans (up from 20 million four years ago). Of those Americans who don’t practice yoga, 34% of them say they would like to try yoga for the first time over the next 12 months. 
Yoga and the Sun (despite it hiding for many of us today) will be celebrated in iconic locations throughout the word.
Prime Minister  will participate and lead over 50,000 participants (10,000 more than last year) in a  practice in India

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi participates in the mass yoga demonstration at Rajpath on the occasion of International Yoga Day, in New Delhi on June 21, 2015.
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi participates in the mass yoga demonstration at Rajpath on the occasion of International Yoga Day, in New Delhi on June 21, 2015.

In Times Square, in Celebration of the Summer Solstice, The 15th annual “Mind Over Madness Yoga” event takes place all day. There are different free yoga classes for people with all different skill levels

times square solstice

 

Here on the beautiful beaches of the Chesapeake Bay in Norfolk,  the donation based Bhav Brigade will have a pop-up Yoga class for the community. http://www.bhavbrigade.org

 

 

sun salutation

How will you celebrate Yoga Day? Maybe, you’ve never done yoga before and are curious – well, there are numerous studios and athletic stores such as Lululemon, around the country offering free classes.

Whatever this day brings for you, live it mindfully and breathe. This is Yoga.

Namaste

Millie

Memorial Day – Warrior Pose

Memorial Day, a day Americans remember and honor those warriors who have given their lives defending and protecting our freedoms that we hold so dear. We must also honor today’s warriors, who have served our country (our veterans), or continue to risk their lives for our country.

A warrior embodies the following characteristics – Courage, Faith and Service. As we honor those brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the name of service to this country, we should ask ourselves, “How can we be warriors in our own lives?”

Yoga gives us many opportunities. In Yoga, we often practice various Warrior Poses. But where did they come from? It may seem odd that the peaceful practice of yoga includes postures known as “Warrior”.  As with everything in Yoga, there is a lot of hidden meaning behind it. The meaning is rooted in Hindu mythology. It originated from a story of love, hate, rage, violence, sadness, compassion and forgiveness which begins with the marriage between Lord Shiva, Supreme Ruler of the Universe and his bride Sati.

According to ancient texts, Sati’s father, the powerful King Daksha, did not approve of this marriage. One day, Daksha held a large event known as a Yagna but did not invite Sati and her husband Shiva. Sati found out and decided to go alone to the Yagna. When she arrived, Sati entered into an argument with her father. Unable to withstand his insults, she spoke a vow to her father,

“Since it was you who gave me this body, I no longer wish to be associated with it.”

The story goes that Sati sat down on the floor, went into a meditative trance, and began to increase her inner fire (Agni) until such point that she burst into flames and dies.

When Shiva heard of Sati’s death, he was devastated. He yanked out one of his dreadlocks and beat it into the ground, where upon rose a powerful Warrior. Shiva named this warrior Virabhadra. Vira (hero) + Bhadra (friend) and ordered him to go to the Yagna and destroy Daksha and all his guests.

Here is where the poses come in.

  • Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I): Virabhadra entered the Yagna by thrusting his way up from the deep underground with his sword held over his head in both hands.

  • Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II): Virabhadra sights his opponent, Daksha and steadies himself in preparation to strike.

 

 
  • Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III): Virbhadra lifts his sword (in his hand behind him) into the air, swings forward, and severs the head of King Daksha.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shiva then arrives at the Yagna and sees the destruction. Shiva absorbs Virabhadra back into his own form. Filled with sorrow and compassion, Shiva finds Daksha’s body and gives it the head of a goat, which brings him back to life. In the end Sati is also reborn.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

When Virabhadra kills Daksha, one could say the warrior represents an aspect of the higher self that manifests to slay the human ego, represented by Daksha. Then, when Shiva brings Daksha back to life, he reminds us that inner work isn’t as simple as destroying the parts of ourselves we don’t like. Instead, if we extend compassion toward the harmful sides of ourselves, we can invite them to soften and relinquish control. Through our warriorship, we can accept ourselves, even the aspects we wish to discard.

Reverse Warrior

 

Reverse Warrior teaches us to stand strong on our mats, just as we strive to stand strong in the highest, most benevolent truth of who we are. And as we gaze upward, as if toward our potential, we also reach back for support; we are thus encouraged to call upon the tools we need to navigate the inner realms of ego—whether those tools take the form of meditation, self-inquiry, a regular asana practice, or the words of a master teacher.

So, what makes a great warrior?

Courage, Faith and Service.

It is easy to build impervious walls and shield ourselves from “harm”.  It takes Courage to show up in your life, to feel and care for ourselves and those around us. On our mats, we find courage, not only in the challenging postures, but also, and perhaps more so, in the stillness of Shavasana.

Faith is complete trust or belief in someone or something, sometimes trusting something not easily seen or understood. Our warriors serve with absolute faith that what they’re doing is right and in the best interest of our country. Connecting with your warrior requires you to believe in yourself and your unique gifts. When we develop our gifts, we are serving others. It takes faith (and courage) to show up on our mats, to consciously breath,to stand on one foot, to go upside down and to be still in Shavasana.


savasana

 

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”. – Muhammad Ali –

Being a warrior means taking responsibility for your actions as they relate to others and the world around you. We all have a responsibility to live this life to the best of our ability. This means taking care of ourselves, our family, our neighbors, our Earth, our Universe. The principles of Yoga teach us to live a life of loving kindness, on and off the mat.

To all the Warriors,

Namaste

Millie

 

A Yogi’s Pilgrimage to India

Why do so many Yogis make a pilgrimage to India? A pilgrimage is a different kind of journey. It has a deeper, personal purpose. A pilgrimage is a journey of spiritual significance, in search of spiritual growth. My recent trip to India was more of a pilgrimage than a vacation. I went to India in search of wisdom – about Yoga, about myself, believing that Yoga is the path to that wisdom.

It is incredibly challenging to describe India in a few words. When I think of India, 3 phrase come to mind – 1) sensory overload, 2) coexistence, and 3) spirituality.

While in India, every single sense organ was awakened and stimulated – the eyes beheld the vibrant colors, the beautiful people, the spectacle of the overcrowded streets; the ears rang with the constant car horns, the dogs barking, the chanting; the nose smelled the spices, the incense, the flowers; the tongue enjoyed the spicy food, the delicious naan bread; and the skin felt the hot, hot Indian sun. Woven into all the intensity that is India, is an undercurrent of stillness, of peace.

A friend used the term “Peaceful Insanity”.

This is what I mean by coexistence. The streets are … CRAZY, at least to us Westerners, but apparently, completely normal for India. The streets are filled with cars, rickshaws, buses, people, dogs and cows with no apparent order. At first glance, it appears and sounds chaotic, with all drivers having one finger firmly fixed on the horn. Apparently, however, there is a certain pecking order on the street. The pedestrian is at the bottom, giving way to  the bicycle rickshaw, then the auto rickshaw, then the car, then the bus. The bus stopping only…. for the Holy Cow that rules the street. Then you veer off this busy street, make a quick turn, and enter through a gate into a beautiful garden or temple. Complete juxtapositions. The chaos and the peace co-existing.

When I speak of spirituality, I’m not talking about any particular religious worship. Spirituality is a search for meaning, for purpose and direction in life. It fulfils our need to have a foundation for living, a path or way of life in the light of a larger context. It speaks to the need to be “aligned” with something bigger than our body and mind. The religions of India (whether it be Hinduism or Buddhism) and their spirituality are greatly misunderstood in the West. Although there are many statues representing numerous deities, it is not about idol worship. What I’ve learned is that all the deities and their different forms and manifestations represent important values that guide us on our path towards spiritual growth.

From my experience, Indian people live spiritual lives where their daily actions are influenced by their belief in loving kindness and compassion to all beings. Imagine what life would be like here if everyone you came into contact with, greeted you with a heartfelt bow, hands to their heart, saying  Namaste.

Namaste – we say it at the end of every yoga class. What does it really mean? Nama means bow, as means I, and te means you.

Therefore, namaste literally means “I bow to you.” Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. The gesture represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that we recognize as One.

My pilgrimage to India included time in Delhi (the capital), Agra (to see the Taj), Khajuraho and Rishikesh. Everywhere I went, I was impressed with the ever-present juxtapositions – from the grand palaces and temples to the poverty in the streets, from the NOISE to silence in meditation.

I had the privilege to stay at the Himalayan Institute (HI) in Khajuraho, founded by the great Swami Rama.  The Institute’s 30-acre campus is the ideal setting for sadhana or spiritual retreat. Surrounded by hills and forest preserves, it is blessed with natural beauty and tranquility. Here, we studied, meditated, practiced asana, chanted and grew together as a beautiful spiritual community.

We studied a book called the Devi Mahatmyam – the Glory of the Goddess, an ancient allegory. Part myth and part philosophy, the text addresses some very important existential questions that have plagued mankind since time immemorial. Its stories can be taken as metaphors relating to our own psycho-spiritual development, as well as the challenges we face in life.

 


 

 

Rishikesh was the exact opposite experience. Rishikesh is a city on the Ganges river that is renowned for being a holy site and a pilgarimage location. Hindu sages have traditionally come here to meditate throughout the centuries.  All of the great yoga masters have their roots here.  The spiritual connections here mean that it is a place that is free of both meat and alcohol.

Rishikesh has also been given the name of “the yoga capital of the world” as students from all over the globe, including myself and the Beatles in the late 1960s, converge here to learn the ancient wisdoms of yoga. YOGA, we learned over and over again, is “simply” a way of life, a way of being and the Wisdom that we seek is found in ourselves. Siddhartha Krishna, a compelling Yoga Philosophy Teacher, that we had the great honor to learn from, told us that the most important component of yoga is Ahimsa, literally translated as nonviolence, which is really all about compassion. Yoga gives us the tools so that we can practice compassion.

In the words of Swami Shivananda who began the Divine Life Society, the goal of Yoga is to:

SERVE       LOVE       GIVE

PURIFY       MEDITATE     REALIZE

With deepest gratitude to my fellow pilgrims and teacher, Indu Arora.


Namaste