Omron BF-400 Fat Loss Monitor with Scale
The HBF-400 Fat loss Monitor with scale is designed to help lose weigh AND maintain that loss! Its easy-to-read display shows you your weight, body fat percentage, and BMI index -- all in seconds. Get a better look at how your weight loss is going - and always know just where you stand!
Easy to read large Digital display
Weight, body fat %, & BMI in seconds
4 person profiles with previous measurement results
1 scale for the whole family
Weight capacity up to 330lbs.
4 AA Batteries included
Omron HJ112 Premium Pedometer
The OMRON HJ112 Premium Pedometer is a fun and useful way to quantify all that great "burn" you're feeling.
Counts footsteps and aerobic steps while you walk or work out
Tracks distance traveled in miles along with amount of calories burned
Advanced technology provides added flexibility to count steps while pedometer is placed in your pocket or clipped to your belt
Monitor your time with AM/PM clock
7 day Memory function
Great for use while jogging!
1 year Warranty
Oregon Scientific PE823 Pedometer with Calorie Counter and 7 Day Memory
This pedometer measures distance walked, time elapsed, and calories burned while you walk. The Memory captures Data so results can be compared and progress checked over an entire week of activity.
Measures distance walked & time elapsed
Measures calories burned
Memory stores 7 days of walking data including steps, distance and calorie data
Target feature measures progress toward and estimates time to reach goal
Step counter measures 0 to 99,999 steps
HiGlo electroluminescent backlight for easy viewing
Count up timer up to 99 hours, 59 minutes, 59 seconds
Batteries included: 1x CR2032 3v
Dimensions: Length 2.0 x Depth 2.0 x Height 1.75 inch
Fitness Quest 17700 Leg Magic Exercise Machine
# Tone your legs the fast and easy way. Fitness Quest Leg Magic is an exercise machine that targets the leg muscles. Leg Magic will give you super model legs. It works both the outer and inner thighs. Get the lower body of your dreams by working out as little as 60 seconds a day. The 17700 folds for easy storage. Fitness Quest offer what may be an industry first, "Sixty Second Guarantee:" If you don't feel Leg Magic working within 60 seconds, you can return the product for a refund. Its lateral sliding motion and curved track targets your entire lower body for an intense, effective workout. It helps boost your heart rate and lose Weight too. Features sturdy steel construction that folds for easy storage. Leg Magic features a Step Counter to Monitor your moves. Workout DVD and Eating Nutrition Guide included. 90-day limited warranty. Tagets the Leg Muscles
# Folds for Easy Storage
# Assembles in Seconds
# Sixty Second Guarantee
# Helps boost your heart
# Lose weight too
# Step counter
# 30-Day Money Back Guarantee
# Work out DVD / Eating Nutrition Guide Included
Fitness Quest 17350 Ab Lounge Ultra
# Get that sexy firm stomach and slim waistline you always wanted. The Ab Lounge Ultra by Fitness Quest offers a full range of motion for more muscle activity in the upper and lower abdominals and obliques. The unique Ergonomic design helps support your head, neck and back, while the Focus Strap and Iso-Grip padded handles help provide multiple hand positions. The entire unit folds when not in use for easy storage. Supports up to 250 pounds. Workout DVD included. Features: Focus Strap and Iso-Grip padded handles for multiple hand positions
# Premium ergonomic mesh seat breathes and supports neck, head and back
# Folds for easy storage
# Premium foot pedals
# Rolled steel frame
# Supports up to 250 lbs
# Workout DVD included
Forerunner 50 Workout Sports Watch with Heart Rate Monitor
Jump start your training with Forerunner 50. This sleek sports watch is ideal for running, cycling and other fitness activities, and comes with a wireless heart rate monitor. It provides you with instant workout Data including training time, pace, distance, lap pace, lap time, lap distance, average and best pace, calories, maximum and average heart rate. It also records both lap and detailed data. Forerunner 50 also comes bundled with a wireless heart rate monitor. It effectively tracks and records your heart rate while you work out, providing instant feedback about how hard your heart is working. The included Digital heart rate monitor continuously tracks heart beats per minute which is wirelessly transmitted to the Forerunner 50. Even train in a certain heart rate zone to improve your fitness level. And well after your workout is done, Forerunner 50 is still working, wirelessly transmitting your training data to your PC. Plus, with Garmin’s innovative Optional ANT + Sport wireless technology, your workouts are automatically transferred to your Computer when your device is within range, with no need for cables or hookups. You can then analyze, store and share data with the Garmin Connect online community!
Sleek sport watch that records workout data, including training time, pace, distance, lap pace, lap time, lap distance, average and best pace, calories, maximum and average heart rate
For inside or outdoors training
Wireless heart rate monitor effectively tracks and records your heart rate
ANT + Sport™ wireless technology transmits your workout data right to your computer
Store and share data with the Garmin Connect online community - Windows Compatible only
Polar Heart Rate Monitor Watch FS1
The FS1 Monitor is designed to help users achieve their Personal fitness goals and to indicate the level of physiological strain and intensity during an exercise session. It has added features beyond the basic heart rate monitor to give a complete workout.
Visual and audible alarm in target zone / Stopwatch / Water resistant to 50 meters / Extra large digits
Recording features: Exercise time (total) / Average heart rate of total exercises
Watch features: Time of day / Stopwatch
Includes Wrist Unit with CR2025 battery, Transmitter with built-in lithium cell, and Elastic Strap to hold transmitter on chest.
via |Coupons' Choice
Monday, December 31, 2007
Sugarest™ is a "sugar blocker", used as an aid to any diet, and has become a media phenomenon. In just two months since its introduction, Sugarest™ has been featured on Good Morning America, newscasts on ABC, CBS, and Fox, and in feature articles in the Washington Post and New York Newsday! Sugarest™ works by temporarily neutralizing the sweet taste receptors on the tongue so you cannot taste the sugar in any food. Just allow one Sugarest™ tablet to dissolve slowly in your mouth, and sugary foods and sweets lose their taste and appeal. If you eat something containing any type of sugar after taking Sugarest™, it won’t taste sweet and you won’t want to eat it. You will immediately lose your cravings and desire for sweet fattening foods. The result will be healthier eating habits and a new slimmer you! Sugarest™ also works on cigarettes! did you know all cigarettes have sweeteners added? Sugarest™ neutralizes these sweets, and takes away the taste of cigarettes. Since the smoke tastes bad, the smoker will put the cigarette out, helping them to quit the habit!
Over the past ten years or so, it appears that Americans have been at war with carbohydrates. There have been diets that have gained popularity that have completely eliminated this entire food genre from millions of people's lives. The thought behind these diets is that carbs will make you gain wait so that if you do not eat them, and eat mostly protein, you will lose weight. However, carbohydrates do serve a good purpose in your body and you should not be afraid of them. This guide will explain to you what they are, why they are good for you body, and how you can healthily incorporate them into your diet.
Carbohydrates can be found in many foods, such as breads, beans, potatoes and pasta. They are the most common source of energy in our diet. Although technically a human being can live on only proteins and fats, it is not advisable. Proteins and fat are important for body tissue and cells and if they have to be completely redirected to provide energy for the body, because a person is not taking in any carbs, it could cause problems for the body.
Although there are diets that say that you should not have any carbohydrates, national organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization have set as a guide that Americans should get 55-75% of their total energy from carbohydrates. That is a pretty substantial amount and therefore you should not shy away from eating foods containing carbohydrates.
You may have read about the distinction between "good" and "bad" carbs. What these phrases means is that certain carbohydrates contain simple sugars and do not provide long-lasting energy for the body. You need to consume "good" carbohydrates more often to ensure that you are getting the right kind of food for your body. Also called "complex" carbohydrates and include fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains.
Hopefully this guide has helped clear up some of the mystery surrounding carbs and you are staring to realize that they are not the enemy. Although you should not be consuming a diet solely of french fries and bread, having "good" carbs in your diet will only serve to aid your health and increase your energy as you go throughout the process.
If after reading this guide you are still unsure about how to incorporate carbohydrates into your diet, you may want to consider signing up for a program like the one available through Bistro, MD. They will deliver healthy, balanced meals to your home. These meals will have the right balances of carbs, fat, and protein that is right for your body. If you think this is something that would help you with your diet click here. There you will find a guide regarding the various types of programs available. You will also be able to speak with a nutritionist who can help guide you through the process.
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Sunday, December 30, 2007
Cross-Training Is Not the Total Solution
So how do you correct imbalances? Some try other sports. In hopes of reducing the injuries, they may begin to follow various types of cross-training regimens where they depend on other sports or activities to keep them in shape while the muscles needed for the primary sport rest or heal. "Well, if I can't run, maybe I can bike or skate or swim."
Training for other sports helps, but it is not the end solution. Even though it may help to counter the effects of sport specificity (training at only one sport), or allow you to continue one or another aspect of your exercise during injury, it is not the complete answer to injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, and balanced training. There are two fundamental reasons why it is not.
First of all -- and this is extremely important to remember -- discontinuing a specific sport or exercise does not fix an imbalance that has resulted from or been aggravated by that same sport! Rest may give torn connective tissue or muscle tissue a chance to heal, but it doesn't eliminate the source of the problem. Once you start training again, the same imbalance will cause the same injury over and over again. The tightness never goes away. Muscles don't get longer by themselves. For example, if you ran track in high school or college, and are now forty-five and haven't run a day since then, your muscles are as tight as they were the day you stopped running. You will have lost your strength or your running fitness, of course, but the muscles, unless you have done something about it, are exactly the same length as they were twenty-five years ago. And there is a good chance that if you developed an injury as a result of that tightness, when you start running again the same injury will return like a ghost to haunt you.
A good analogy for this might be to imagine you have driven your car over a major pothole and this has knocked the front end out of alignment. You continue to drive the car, not realizing that it's a little out of balance. Without your awareness, one of the tires begins to wear unevenly, getting thinner and thinner in one spot until, eventually, the tire wears through and one day goes flat! Uh-oh, you think. Flat tire! You are forced to stop driving, yes? So you sit for a while (you rest the injury). You put on a new tire (new tissue forms, the pain and inflammation are gone). If you start to drive again without getting the car aligned and correcting the imbalance, the new tire will begin to wear in the same place and eventually go flat, too.
I generally use this analogy in the first class of every Power Yoga session I teach at the New York Road Runners Club. Then I ask if anyone in the class has had the experience of developing an injury, resting, then resuming training and developing the same injury again. It's amazing. There are tons of people in every class who answer yes.
So what do you do? You straighten the frame! "Muscular imbalance and structural irregularities don't fix themselves" (Axiom No. 5 of the Power Yoga program). You have to do something about it. And that is what you use the Power Yoga workout for, among other things. If you carried a baby on one hip for two years, and now you are running and have a knee problem, it may take having another baby and carrying that baby on the other hip for two years to solve the problem. It might also mean doing Power Yoga for two years.
Second, no one sport perfectly balances and complements any other in strict biomechanical terms. Some sports complement one another well, like cross-country skiing and distance running; others not so well, like basketball and distance running. Some sports have a good direct muscular crossover effect, like Rollerblading and cycling, or climbing and kayaking. Others have very little muscular crossover effect, like cycling and running. Besides, most of us hate to shift our exercising priorities to the point where we would be backing off from the level of achievement that we worked so hard to reach. Only a program designed to specifically open, realign, and build power and flexibility will work effectively as an antidote to the negative effects of exercise and keep us on the road.
Even Iron Will Bend
If the fender of our car gets banged up, what do we do? We take the car to a body shop where the "body workers" will heat up the frame and then remold it to take out the dent. "Even iron will bend if you heat it up" (Axiom No. 6 of Power Yoga). In many of us who've been active exercisers for years, our muscle and connective tissue are starting to feel like the iron in our cars. The only way to get rid of a dent (unless you just want to hammer it out cold -- and some of you actually try that method!) is to heat up our frame and remold it.
Let's say we have a serious injury and need surgery. The surgery might repair a bone or reconnect a severed ligament or muscle, but it does not restore the tissue to the preinjured elastic, supple state. The "memory" of the injury will stay there forever until we do some body work.
More often our injuries are less traumatic. Yet we feel pain. So for relief many of us seek out a sports medical specialist or an orthopedist and expect some miracle. We might get some information about what specifically is wrong with us. Frequently, as is the procedure in allopathic medicine, the doctor will give us drugs, generally painkillers, muscle relaxants, or anti-inflammatories. Then what? We may get rid of pain, spasm, or inflammation. But something caused the pain, spasm, or inflammation. Did we get rid of the cause of the problem? Probably not. Surgery might correct a structural imbalance, but drugs rarely do!
Perhaps we stop all activity and rest. But Axiom No. 7 of the Power Yoga system states: "Stopping training doesn't correct an imbalance." It may give the injury time to heal, but as soon as we begin to train again, as I mentioned previously, the injury will come back. Why is that? Imagine misaligned moving parts rubbing against one another, causing friction, or what we feel as pain. If we stop exercising, the friction stops, so the pain diminishes and the inflammation subsides. But when we start things up again, the moving parts are still in the same biomechanical relationship to one another. And the moment we start using them in the same way, the rubbing starts and the pain returns.
You have to take out the "dent" to stop the rubbing! How do you do that? You have to get in there and knead it around like bread dough and work out the trauma. You have to take the tissue in every direction, both in a stretch and in a contraction. And in order to remold and reshape the tissue while you are doing this pushing and pulling, you have to heat it up. Without the heat, the realignment is not safely possible.
The Alchemical Process
The primary ingredient of the Power Yoga practice -- and what makes it so particularly effective as physical therapy -- is heat. Think of what a glassblower can do with a piece of glass tubing when it is heated. The glass can be shaped into swans, baskets, and unicorns. But imagine trying to reshape the glass without the heat? What would happen? You would end up with a pile of shattered glass.
The heat does more, though, than allow us to realign our frame without breaking. As the connective tissue becomes heated by our practice, it becomes less "solid" and more "liquid." We become pliable for reshaping. In this pliable state, we apply the form of the practice that begins the remolding process. Tight, "dead" spaces that may have been shut down and in shock for years begin to open up and allow increased circulation. Thus, old clumps of gnarly scar tissue, debris, and other by-products of the healing process get moved out, not to mention environmental toxins that accumulate in the body.
The practice can then undo the rigidity and create more space for intercellular fluids to circulate and bring in nutrients while carrying off toxins. So not only does the practice work on restoring function to an injured area and facilitating realignment, but it also works to detoxify the organs and tissue and revitalize the entire system.
When gold is mined it comes in the form of ore. It looks kind of dirty and not much like the gold we think of in coins or jewelry. In order to persuade the gold to come loose from its setting in the ore, we must heat it. Gold can only be purified in the presence of heat. In the same way, to develop the "gold" in ourselves, we must apply heat and cleanse ourselves of the unwanted "ore."
Every injury, whether old or recent, is embedded in "ore." The Power Yoga practice works to restore the gold luster of the tissue, joint, or bone by applying heat and helping the bodily systems of circulation and elimination carry off the unwanted elements.
It's funny how when something goes wrong with us, most of us expect medicine to make it right. Sometimes it can. But what we will learn with our yoga practice is that much of our healing potential is in our own hands, and our active participation is frequently the essential element in effective medical therapy and long-lasting health.
Copyright © 1995 by Beryl Bender Birch
Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout
by Beryl Bender Birch
Buy this book at Barnes & Noble
Saturday, December 29, 2007
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Friday, December 28, 2007
When Oprah Winfrey wants to lose weight, she turns to Bob Greene's Best Life Diet, a three-phase plan that bans six foods in particular during the most aggressive weight loss stage.
The first phase of the diet focuses on increasing activity, while the second phase emphasizes shedding pounds. The third phase is lifetime maintenance.
Greene, author of "The Best Life Diet," says the pounds will really drop off in the second phase, which lasts at least four weeks. "Now is the time to eliminate a few foods from your diet and replace them with less fattening foods that will curb your appetite," he writes on Oprah.com. While you can add these foods into your diet in moderation once you've reached your weight loss goal, you shouldn't eat any of them while you're actively trying to shed pounds.
If you're serious about losing weight, make sure these six foods aren't in your pantry or on your plate:
1. Soft drinks
Talk about empty calories! Ditch the sodas and drink plain or flavored water, herbal iced tea or skim milk. If you just have to have a sweet drink, indulge in one glass of fruit juice a day. Even diet sodas should be limited to just one a day to help you diminish your taste for sweet drinks.
2. Foods Containing Trans Fats
Read labels so you know which foods contain this diet-busting, unhealthy ingredient. Be especially alert to trans fats in margarine, vegetable shortenings and processed foods. If a food has "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil," it has trans fats. Instead, choose heart-healthy olive oil and canola oil.
3. Fried Foods
Fried foods in restaurants are typically cooked in oil that is reused, which can create byproducts that are linked to a number of diseases. These foods are also high in calories. If you just love fried food, try "frying" in the oven. For example, make your own French fries by cutting potatoes into strips, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then bake them at 400 degrees or until they are brown.
4. White Bread
You don't have to ban all carbohydrates, but you do have to make sure the carbs you eat are whole grain. Besides, they are more nutritious and their increased fiber will fill you up longer.
5. Regular Pasta
Pasta, in and of itself, isn't a bad food. It's the way we eat it that can be bad. Look for whole grain pasta with at least four grams of fiber per two dry ounces.
6. High-Fat Dairy Products
Cheese, milk, yogurt and even ice cream are good for you because they are an excellent source of calcium and protein, but you don't need to eat the full-fat version. Instead, choose low-fat or no-fat to lower the calories and fat content.
--From the Editors at Netscape
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Thursday, December 27, 2007
All I know is that the minute I saw this form, it reached out and grabbed my attention. And whether it came from an ancient manuscript as sacred as the Dead Sea Scrolls, from an ancient culture like Atlantis, from outer space, or from somebody's imagination, didn't matter in the least to me. I didn't know it at the time, but here was a 5,000-year-old tradition come to life in front of me in twentieth-century New York City. There was something very exciting about that day and that discovery. I had been wanting something stronger in my teaching. I had always taught a somewhat vigorous yoga class, especially when I had been working with skiers. But still, something had been missing. That missing "something" was here in front of me.
I began to study the astanga form with Norman Allen at 6:00 A.M. the day after I first saw the practice, and every day after that for nearly two years. I practiced in earnest with this man, and then one day he moved 6,000 miles away from New York and I never saw him again. I eventually tracked down his teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and over the years I spent many months studying with Jois directly, and slowly learned of the origins of this unique yoga form.
More than anything physical, what I learned is that you start slowly, do what you can, go one day at a time, and appreciate the moment. You build strength and discipline the way you build a sand castle: a couple of grains at a time. I guess, now that I think back on it, what really captured my heart about astanga was the discipline, or more correctly, the way in which this system enabled me to learn focus and discipline. It forced me to be constantly vigilant in practice, and over the years this began to carry over into all aspects of my life.
The way most yoga was taught in the 1970s and early eighties, a posture would be performed, followed by rest. Then another posture and more rest. It always felt to me as if the class would start and stop. You are at it for a few minutes and then the mind has its own free time. This is changing in the nineties -- in part because of the influence of astanga and in part because of the needs of the times -- but much hatha yoga is still taught in a fragmented way. You do some work and then you discuss it. This method is okay, even necessary, for beginners. But you don't ever really have the yoga experience (which is the sustained quieting of the mind, the literal cessation of mind activity or chatter) through these forms of yoga practice. Or at least I never did.
In this practice, however, you don't concentrate for a minute or two, then rest or space out. In astanga you are training yourself in mental endurance. You are training the body to build physical endurance in order to flow through the form without stopping. But more important, you are training the mind through continuous practice to stay focused for the duration and not break concentration. This was extraordinary to me! And many years later, after many thousands of hours of practice and much study of the ancient yoga literature, especially the Yoga Sutras, I would come to my own understanding of the authentic and original nature of this form of hatha yoga.
In 1971 my friend Edward Ruscha, the famous American artist from Los Angeles, gave me a painting of his called Focus, which still hangs over my desk. At the time, although my life wasn't in total disarray, I hadn't a clue as to the meaning of the word. It would be ten years before I realized the significance of that word in my life. Here I was attempting to learn something that, when I first saw it, seemed overwhelming, awesome. I wanted to be "there." But I really didn't know how to find the discipline to get there.
So I just started. I didn't start with handstands and headstands and back walkovers. I started with the warm-ups, which is the way you will start in chapter 3. Then I went on to the standing postures, which are the beginning of the Primary Series and the foundation of the Power Yoga workout. They follow in chapter 4. Like me and everyone else who studies this form, you will find that there are some postures that are easier than others and some that are more difficult. In the beginning you may struggle, but after time, as you learn the sequence and correct alignment, you will start to notice greater strength and fluidity, and better concentration.
The Early Days
A year after I had begun to study the routine of astanga yoga, I began to teach the form as I was learning it. This was the "real stuff," as Norman Allen had called it, or the "correct yoga method," according to Pattabhi Jois, and practicing or teaching anything else for me would have been a waste of time and unthinkable. The first place I taught the Power Yoga workout, as I eventually came to call it, was the New York Road Runners Club (NYRRC). At first I was afraid to call it yoga, for fear the word was too loaded with preconceived notions of pretzel positions and foreign-sounding words, and no one, at least not any runners, would come to the class. So I continued to call it The Hard & The Soft.
The NYRRC had just bought a townhouse on East Eighty-Ninth Street, near Central Park, and the first couple of years we held classes in the front room on the second floor of the club. The room was big enough to handle about twelve to fifteen people maximum, which was fine because when we started, there was plenty of extra space in the room. But slowly, people started to tell their friends and other runners about the classes, and by 1983 we had begun to spill out into the hall. As the classes continued to grow and we began to see more and more runners, I began to realize how desperately runners, and everyone else for that matter, needed this program. They were so tight! They were constantly injured not only from their training, but from tension, imbalance, and life in general. Many were actually disabled by their tightness!
In the early eighties, practically no one came to class unless they were injured. So in those days the Power Yoga workout was basically a rehab class for injured runners. Over the years I watched as people with joint pain, back problems, muscle pulls, tendinitis, strains, and sprains would come to class and begin to practice. Slowly their pain and injuries would disappear. I watched them increase range of motion, agility, flexibility, strength, lung capacity, endurance, and general body awareness. If there was ever any secret or miracle to the practice, that was it! From a physical standpoint, the bottom line was this: People did this and got better -- better in terms of healing and rehabilitation, better in terms of practice, better in terms of strength and flexibility, and better in terms of the elimination of pain. I thought back to my experience with the U.S. Nordic Ski Team and realized how great this practice would have been for them!
Order, Flow, and Heat
As the NYRRC wellness director to 30,000 international members, I've seen literally hundreds of so-called stretching programs, exercise devices, gimmicks, and the like come across my desk for sampling or evaluation over the years. Many include slick promises to increase speed, range of motion, strength, flexibility, and solve a vast array of ailments and injuries for all sports. For a number of reasons, no workout, no machine, no device -- nothing -- has ever come close to being as complete, effective, thorough, or well rounded as the form of astanga yoga.
First of all, the sequence of postures in the system is brilliant and extremely well balanced. Successive postures within the series are uniquely complementary, developing strength and flexibility both concurrently and alternatively. Astanga is the most sophisticated form of physical therapy I have ever been exposed to. I have analyzed in detail every posture in the Primary Series, or first grouping of postures, and have looked at each of them not only as a single unit but as a piece of a synergistic system. After many years of practicing and teaching this form, I am still amazed at the contemporary relevance of the practice.
Second, the idea of connecting postures together with movement and a unique breathing technique to keep the whole practice flowing and alive is completely original. This concept of uninterrupted flow, or vinyasa in Sanskrit, tied to an empowering breath, sets the practice apart from every other form of yoga. This is what starts and maintains the heat, which is what enables the healing and therapy to take place. Vinyasa, along with the particular breathing technique explained in chapter 2, and other "mindfulness" techniques explained in later chapters, is what makes this authentically yoga.
As early as the sixth century B.C. the word yoga referred to the spiritual endeavor of controlling or harnessing the mind. By all accounts, this requires dedicated practice and presence. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras says that yoga is the suspension of the mind's waves or vacillations (vrttis), and that to learn to control these waves requires constant practice (abhaysa) and nonattachment (vairagya). Yoga isn't about fluctuation; it is about constancy and focus and being present in the moment. As long as you are practicing the postures, for example, and the breathing, you pretty much have to be focused on the moment and cannot be attached to a thought about the past or future. Once you stop and start in your practice, though, you lose concentration and tend to think more, which invariably takes you into the past or the future. So because of the uninterrupted, flowing nature of this practice, it is possible to actually experience the state of yoga through the practice of yoga. Constancy and focus are standard equipment. They are built into the training, which is the thing that is so ideal about this form. The practice itself compels continuity and attention, as you will see.
Third, whoever figured out that without heat, any attempt to stretch or realign the body was a complete waste of time, had the jump on current thought in the sports medical community by 5,000 years. As recently as 1980, I was practically the only one saying, "You have to be hot to stretch" (Axiom No. 1 of the Power Yoga workout). At that time, most people still thought that you did stretching to "warm up" for sports, not vice versa. The next step, which I propose in this book, is that not only do you have to warm up to stretch, you have to be warm while stretching -- and not only warm, but hot and sweating. This is accomplished by doing strength work concurrently and continuously along with the stretch.
I often tell people in my classes that for an active sports or fitness-minded person, the traditional "stretching" routines are the biggest waste of time imaginable, and that they might as well stay home and eat paper towels expecting to become more flexible. What?! People don't expect me to say this. Wait a minute, they think. Isn't this about stretching?
No. This is not about stretching. There is no study in the body of sports medical literature (that I have ever seen) that shows "stretching" does any good whatsoever. Why not? Because all the studies have obviously been done on some funky type of passive stretching, often done cold or on muscles mildly warmed by some previous activity. It just doesn't work, especially for athletic-type people.
Many professional athletes, for example -- both men and women -- have tried various "stretching" programs of one sort or another, only to end up injured or with a feeling of wasting valuable training time. Additionally, since stretching by itself sort of represents the "soft" aspect of training, it is often regarded as too "feminine" by the male coaches or athletes themselves, and not something that should be practiced by "real" men. This is probably good, because it keeps more tight male athletes from getting injured by trying to push themselves into doing something that they think is "good" for them.
It's funny. Most of us are way too tight, and we do seem to think we need to be more flexible. Ask practically anyone you know who is athletically active, "Do you stretch?" A few people will look proud and say, "Yes, I stretch religiously," and look all proud. But most will look guilty and say something like, "I know I should, but..."
We are on the right track with this. We are too tight and our intuition that we need to be more flexible is correct. It will help us to prevent injury. It will improve performance. But the stretching programs that have been available up until now are for the most part a complete waste of time and totally ineffective. To undo all the negative effects of our fitness quest -- shortened muscles, limited range of motion, and imbalanced or misaligned musculature -- it takes something more intense than just leaning up against a tree after we run or bouncing a little before we strap on our Rollerblades.
The major question then is, How in the world do you stretch intensely without injuring yourself? You do Power Yoga! Power Yoga is about strength. Flexibility comes as a result of the strength work. Axiom No. 2 of Power Yoga states, "Strength, not gravity, develops flexibility." And without the strength work, the heat is not there and, consequently, the stretch work is not effective, safe, or even possible.
All Sports Injury Is Caused by Imbalance
Obviously, the idea of a yoga workout specifically designed to build and maintain complete strength, flexibility, fitness, and health is unique in the world of sports and fitness today. But it is catching on like wildfire and is filling a tremendous gap. The answer to fitness and balance certainly isn't found in sports. Yes, sports are fun. They give us exercise. Most get us out of doors. Some are even good for us. But if you are considering taking up a sport to get in shape or lose some weight, or if you are already fitness-minded and working out regularly, you should know that, according to Axiom No. 3 of Power Yoga, "Sports do not get us in shape. In fact, sports get us out of shape."
Sports develop tight muscles and create imbalance because of repetitive training and uneven use of muscle groups, or the uneven use of one side of the body. Running, for instance, is great for the cardiovascular system. But it dramatically tightens the muscles at the back of the legs and does virtually nothing for the rest of the body. This intense shortening or disproportionate strengthening results in mind-boggling muscular and structural imbalance.
The harder you train, the tighter your body will become, and this is true of nearly any sport. One aspect of this tightening will be positive, especially if you are new to fitness or exercise. You'll probably lose a few pounds, burn a little fat, get a little fitter, and feel terrific about yourself. Another aspect, however, will be disastrous, almost guaranteeing that if you continue training without Power Yoga work, you will become injured and have to stop exercising for a period of time, or until you take up a "new" sport.
Invariably, a lack of awareness about either an existing imbalance or the need for total fitness training and what that entails is what ultimately leads to injury in sports. Axiom No. 4 of the Power Yoga system says, "All injury in sports is caused by structural and muscular imbalance," with the obvious exceptions of falling off your bike or getting hit over the head with a hockey stick. If you come into a training program with a structural imbalance that may have developed over the years from poor posture, an old injury, genetic bad luck, or whatever, this imbalance will definitely make its presence known sooner or later through your training. The same thing is true of developing muscular and structural imbalance as a result of training.
Because the old-fashioned stretching isn't something most people like, have time for, or find effective, many athletes watch -- at first perhaps with pride and then with remorse -- as their bodies get tighter and tighter. They enviously recall their pretraining days when they could still touch their toes. In the mornings they crawl from bed to a hot shower to their training clothes, perhaps downing an aspirin or two on the way. They prowl the streets in search of chiropractors, physical therapists, and orthopedists. They will only stop training when threatened with paralysis, permanent disability, divorce, or murder. And sometimes not even then!
And although chronic injury in most cases (see the Appendix) comes on slowly as the body goes further and further out of alignment, the day eventually comes when the imbalance breaks through as debilitating pain. And this is the point where we absolutely have to do something about the imbalance or face stopping our training. If we were paying closer attention, we might have been able to notice the slow, incremental decrease in our range of motion and agility that has come about from training. But generally we aren't paying attention, or if we are, we're looking the other way. We're focused on our training. We like being fit. We want to stay fit. Being fit makes us feel good. It's worth the little inconveniences, like getting tight! But all of a sudden, there it is: a very noticeable pain and (gasp!) an injury! Ah yes. Injury is a very effective means used by the body to get your attention.
Copyright © 1995 by Beryl Bender Birch
Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout
by Beryl Bender Birch
Buy this book at Barnes & Noble
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which is common. GER occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens spontaneously, for varying periods of time, or does not close properly and stomach contents rise up into the esophagus. GER is also called acid reflux or acid regurgitation, because digestive juices—called acids—rise up with the food. The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The LES is a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that acts like a valve between the esophagus and stomach.
When acid reflux occurs, food or fluid can be tasted in the back of the mouth. When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus it may cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn or acid indigestion. Occasional GER is common and does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Persistent reflux that occurs more than twice a week is considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems. People of all ages can have GERD.
What are the symptoms of GERD?
The main symptom of GERD in adults is frequent heartburn, also called acid indigestion—burning-type pain in the lower part of the mid-chest, behind the breast bone, and in the mid-abdomen. Most children under 12 years with GERD, and some adults, have GERD without heartburn. Instead, they may experience a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing.
What causes GERD?
The reason some people develop GERD is still unclear. However, research shows that in people with GERD, the LES relaxes while the rest of the esophagus is working. Anatomical abnormalities such as a hiatal hernia may also contribute to GERD. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm, the muscle wall that separates the stomach from the chest. Normally, the diaphragm helps the LES keep acid from rising up into the esophagus. When a hiatal hernia is present, acid reflux can occur more easily. A hiatal hernia can occur in people of any age and is most often a normal finding in otherwise healthy people over age 50. Most of the time, a hiatal hernia produces no symptoms.
Other factors that may contribute to GERD include
Common foods that can worsen reflux symptoms include
* citrus fruits
* drinks with caffeine or alcohol
* fatty and fried foods
* garlic and onions
* mint flavorings
* spicy foods
* tomato-based foods, like spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili, and pizza
What is GERD in children?
Distinguishing between normal, physiologic reflux and GERD in children is important. Most infants with GER are happy and healthy even if they frequently spit up or vomit, and babies usually outgrow GER by their first birthday. Reflux that continues past 1 year of age may be GERD. Studies show GERD is common and may be overlooked in infants and children. For example, GERD can present as repeated regurgitation, nausea, heartburn, coughing, laryngitis, or respiratory problems like wheezing, asthma, or pneumonia. Infants and young children may demonstrate irritability or arching of the back, often during or immediately after feedings. Infants with GERD may refuse to feed and experience poor growth.
Talk with your child’s health care provider if reflux-related symptoms occur regularly and cause your child discomfort. Your health care provider may recommend simple strategies for avoiding reflux, such as burping the infant several times during feeding or keeping the infant in an upright position for 30 minutes after feeding. If your child is older, your health care provider may recommend that your child eat small, frequent meals and avoid the following foods:
* sodas that contain caffeine
* spicy foods
* acidic foods like oranges, tomatoes, and pizza
* fried and fatty foods
Avoiding food 2 to 3 hours before bed may also help. Your health care provider may recommend raising the head of your child’s bed with wood blocks secured under the bedposts. Just using extra pillows will not help. If these changes do not work, your health care provider may prescribe medicine for your child. In rare cases, a child may need surgery. For information about GER in infants, children, and adolescents, see the Gastroesophageal Reflux in Infants and Gastroesophageal Reflux in Children and Adolescents fact sheets from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
How is GERD treated?
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* If you smoke, stop.
* Avoid foods and beverages that worsen symptoms (See Above)
* Lose weight if needed.
* Eat small, frequent meals.
* Wear loose-fitting clothes.
* Avoid lying down for 3 hours after a meal.
* Raise the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches by securing wood blocks under the bedposts. Just using extra pillows will not help.
Antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, and Riopan, are usually the first drugs recommended to relieve heartburn and other mild GERD symptoms. Many brands on the market use different combinations of three basic salts—magnesium, calcium, and aluminum—with hydroxide or bicarbonate ions to neutralize the acid in your stomach. Antacids, however, can have side effects. Magnesium salt can lead to diarrhea, and aluminum salt may cause constipation. Calcium carbonate antacids, such as Tums, Titralac, and Alka-2, can also be a supplemental source of calcium, however they can cause constipation as well.
With any medication, even over-the-counter medications such as laxatives and fiber supplements, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Some people report a worsening in abdominal bloating and gas from increased fiber intake, and laxatives can be habit forming if they are used too frequently.
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What if GERD symptoms persist?
If your symptoms do not improve with lifestyle changes or medications, you may need additional tests.
* Barium swallow radiograph uses x rays to help spot abnormalities such as a hiatal hernia and other structural or anatomical problems of the esophagus. With this test, you drink a solution and then x rays are taken. The test will not detect mild irritation, although strictures—narrowing of the esophagus—and ulcers can be observed.
* Upper endoscopy is more accurate than a barium swallow radiograph and may be performed in a hospital or a doctor’s office. The doctor may spray your throat to numb it and then, after lightly sedating you, will slide a thin, flexible plastic tube with a light and lens on the end called an endoscope down your throat. Acting as a tiny camera, the endoscope allows the doctor to see the surface of the esophagus and search for abnormalities. If you have had moderate to severe symptoms and this procedure reveals injury to the esophagus, usually no other tests are needed to confirm GERD.
The doctor also may perform a biopsy. Tiny tweezers, called forceps, are passed through the endoscope and allow the doctor to remove small pieces of tissue from your esophagus. The tissue is then viewed with a microscope to look for damage caused by acid reflux and to rule out other problems if infection or abnormal growths are not found.
* pH monitoring examination involves the doctor either inserting a small tube into the esophagus or clipping a tiny device to the esophagus that will stay there for 24 to 48 hours. While you go about your normal activities, the device measures when and how much acid comes up into your esophagus. This test can be useful if combined with a carefully completed diary—recording when, what, and amounts the person eats—which allows the doctor to see correlations between symptoms and reflux episodes. The procedure is sometimes helpful in detecting whether respiratory symptoms, including wheezing and coughing, are triggered by reflux.
A completely accurate diagnostic test for GERD does not exist, and tests have not consistently shown that acid exposure to the lower esophagus directly correlates with damage to the lining.
Surgery is an option when medicine and lifestyle changes do not help to manage GERD symptoms. Surgery may also be a reasonable alternative to a lifetime of drugs and discomfort.
Fundoplication is the standard surgical treatment for GERD. Usually a specific type of this procedure, called Nissen fundoplication, is performed. During the Nissen fundoplication, the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the LES to strengthen the sphincter, prevent acid reflux, and repair a hiatal hernia.
The Nissen fundoplication may be performed using a laparoscope, an instrument that is inserted through tiny incisions in the abdomen. The doctor then uses small instruments that hold a camera to look at the abdomen and pelvis. When performed by experienced surgeons, laparoscopic fundoplication is safe and effective in people of all ages, including infants. The procedure is reported to have the same results as the standard fundoplication, and people can leave the hospital in 1 to 3 days and return to work in 2 to 3 weeks.
Endoscopic techniques used to treat chronic heartburn include the Bard EndoCinch system, NDO Plicator, and the Stretta system. These techniques require the use of an endoscope to perform the anti-reflux operation. The EndoCinch and NDO Plicator systems involve putting stitches in the LES to create pleats that help strengthen the muscle. The Stretta system uses electrodes to create tiny burns on the LES. When the burns heal, the scar tissue helps toughen the muscle. The longterm effects of these three procedures are unknown.
Monday, December 24, 2007
The Eightfold Path
The particular yoga practice I watched that Saturday morning was called astanga yoga, named by an Indian Brahman and Sanskrit scholar whose teacher purportedly recovered the lost form from an ancient manuscript he found while traveling through India. In Sanskrit, the word astanga means "eight limbs," from the two root words ashta, meaning "eight," and anga, meaning "limb" or "part." It refers to the classical eight-limbed yogic path as described in the famous Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the primary text of the science of classical yoga, written (according to most estimates) between 400 and 200 B.C. by the great Indian philosopher and spiritual leader Patanjali. Patanjali did not "invent" yoga, but rather collated and systematized existing techniques and knowledge, giving Yoga credibility as one of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophical thought.
I was familiar with most of the postures Norman Allen was doing and teaching. It wasn't the postures that were new, different, and captivated my attention. What was it, then? I slowly realized that there were a number of aspects to this practice that made it distinctive. One was the vinyasa, or connecting movement between the postures. Another was the sequential linking of the postures -- or as it is called in astanga yoga, the "series."
Then there was the strength of the postures, the powerful breathing technique that accompanied the practice, and the resultant "heat," all combining to make this form unique. Also, the emphasis wasn't on how flexible or weird you could look. The emphasis was on strength and constancy, on concentration and flow. Watching Norman do his practice was like watching an Olympic gymnast work out. As he moved effortlessly through an awesome and challenging nonstop series of postures, his body began to glisten with sweat, which poured off him throughout the entire routine. I had never seen anybody continuously sweat while doing yoga before.
Finding the Form
Norman Allen had gone to India in 1971 on his own quest. One day on the beach in Goa, he happened to see a young Indian man doing a totally awesome yoga practice, unlike anything he had ever seen before. After watching respectfully for several hours, Norman approached the yogi and asked him where he had learned yoga.
"From my father, Pattabhi Jois," was the response.
"Where is he?" asked Norman.
"In Mysore," came the answer, "but don't bother going to see him, because he wouldn't teach you."
"Why not?" Norman had asked.
"Because you aren't Indian and you aren't Brahman," was the answer. Of course, Norman went immediately to Mysore, sat on the senior Jois's doorstep for weeks, and steadfastly asked to be taught this incredible yoga form, only to be ignored.
According to doctrine in the Hindu caste system, Brahmans, or the priest class, are the highest station and associate socially and professionally only with other male Brahmans. Jois was raised as a traditional Brahman and had never even taught this system to lower-class Indians, much less any foreigners. Jois spoke no English and could only have looked at this crazy American on his doorstep with bewilderment.
Apparently, Norman was not willing to be chased off, because he continued to sit there. Eventually, Jois relented, perhaps disregarding old dogma, or perhaps concluding that this persistent spirit, being American, must be Brahman, and agreed to teach him. Perhaps Jois even thought nostalgically back to the way his teacher, Krishnamacharya, had met his teacher before him -- going off to the mountains in the north to find this yogi of whom he had heard, and then sitting on his doorstep and refusing to eat until the sage agreed to take him on as a student.
Norman Allen was the first foreigner and American to learn astanga yoga from Jois. He went on to become a serious and uncompromising yogi, mastering all four series of the astanga form, spending a number of years in India learning the native Kannada language that Jois spoke so they could communicate, and taking a master's degree in Indian studies from a local university.
The Yoga Korunta
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Pa-TAH-bi Joyce) is a renowned Sanskrit scholar and yogi in India who came from a prosperous Brahman family in the southern city of Mysore. As a young man, Jois was surrounded by the lingering aroma of the still-plentiful sandalwood trees of southern India, and he was schooled, as are all good Brahman boys, in the ancient texts and scriptures of Indian philosophy. As a college student in the 1930s, his mentor was the renowned Sanskrit scholar and elder yoga teacher Krishnamacharya. Jois was an eager and dedicated yoga student. He spent years studying the rigorous path of a young Brahman priest, and became one of Krishnamacharya's leading students and disciples.
Krishnamacharya spent much time traveling throughout India as an invited guest, giving lectures and demonstrations on yoga. During one such tour, Krishnamacharya supposedly traveled to Calcutta, and while doing research in the archives of the National Library, came across an old manuscript, the Yoga Korunta. The manuscript was bound together, written on some kind of leaves, and as he started going through the crumbling pages, he discovered a lengthy and intricate description of a system of hatha yoga, written in Sanskrit by an ancient seer named Vamana Rishi. You can easily imagine the excitement of this Sanskrit scholar, finding an ancient Sanskrit manuscript with much of the work intact. It would be like a team of archaeologists uncovering a dinosaur with all the bones in place!
Sanskrit is generally regarded in both Eastern and Western thought as the most ancient of any human language and the oldest continuously used language on the planet today (at least as far as it can be determined). Even though Sanskrit is commonly associated with India and its ancient history, there is a common bond between our modern European languages and Sanskrit.
Sanskrit was the precursor of Greek and Latin, and many, many Greek and Latin words have roots in Sanskrit. It is still uncertain, though, as to whether the European languages were actually derived from Sanskrit or whether they go back still further to a common source. For many years European scholars attributed the presence of Sanskrit in India to an 1800 B.C. invasion by seminomadic Aryan tribes from the steppes of southern Russia. These groups were believed to have spoken an archaic form of Sanskrit. However, that theory has recently been challenged by some Eastern scholars and the American Sanskrit scholar David Frawley, who believe that Sanskrit actually originated in ancient India and was in use before 6000 B.C.
The form of Sanskrit that has been used for the past 2,500 years is called classical Sanskrit. According to another American scholar, Vyaas Houston, in his Sanskrit and the Technological Age, the standards and style of classical Sanskrit grammar were set down by ancient grammarians who had the difficult task of organizing and codifying a scientific approach to language. All classical Hindu writings and much of Buddhist and Jain literature are written in Sanskrit, and it has long been a primary language of religious scholars in these traditions.
Thus Krishnamacharya, as a renowned Sanskrit scholar, could easily look over the Yoga Korunta manuscript and estimate the age of the work from the grammatical style. According to his evaluation, the manuscript itself was about 1,500 years old, but the style of the language used derived from an oral tradition predating classical Sanskrit, and possibly going back as far as 5,000 years.
The Yoga Korunta manuscript reportedly consisted of hundreds of stanzas of rhymed, metered sutras, or phrases, much like the Yoga Sutras. A separate stanza dealt with each movement, or individual posture, and explained how to get into the posture, how to get out of it, how many breaths to take in the posture, and the total number of movements required for completion. In addition, there was specific information on the breathing and so-called secret techniques for enhancing performance, concentration, strength, and so forth.
The asanas, (postures) had been known over the years and handed down from teacher to student through a variety of traditions. Each yoga school had its own way of doing the postures, and a recommended grouping. But this was the first time that a manuscript had ever been found explaining in detail not only the postures, but all the connecting movements and the correct order of the postures as well.
According to Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya recited these slokas, or verses, from the Yoga Korunta to him, and he faithfully recorded them. Jois subsequently became the primary proponent of this system from the Yoga Korunta, naming it astanga yoga, as he believed it to be the authentic and original asana practice as intended and known by Patanjali.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yug, which means "to yoke or harness." Since 500 B.C., yoga has traditionally referred to the art of "yoking," or hooking up, the lower (or individual) consciousness with the higher (or universal) consciousness. Over the centuries the word yoga has also been used to mean "union," and often refers not only to the union between lower and higher levels of consciousness, but union between mind and body.
Practice of the physical exercises -- the yoga asanas -- is generally referred to as hatha yoga. Hatha commonly means "force" or "forceful," but the word also has a deeper esoteric significance. The two component roots of the word, ha and tha, are often defined as standing for "sun" and "moon." I like to think of yoga as also referring to the union between these two basic energies of the universe -- the solar or contracting energy, and the lunar or expanding energy.
These two forces can also be understood in terms of direction. One moves toward you and one moves away from you. They are the same energies that hold the planets in place and your organs in place. They are also called the male and female energies, the yang and the yin, or the pingala and the ida, as they are named in yoga. You could go on forever citing the two polarities in the universe and their expressions. I call them hard and soft. Simple. One makes you solid, strong, focused, grounded, powerful, effective, and unyielding. The other makes you fluid, gentle, expansive, compassionate, sensitive, spacious, and yielding. We all need them both in varying amounts from moment to moment. It depends on what is appropriate at any given point.
Copyright © 1995 by Beryl Bender Birch
Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout
by Beryl Bender Birch
Buy this book at Barnes & Noble
Sunday, December 23, 2007
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Saturday, December 22, 2007
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Friday, December 21, 2007
Everywhere I went the search continued. Four years in California. I looked in the sea. Seven in Colorado. I looked in the mountains. In 1974 I even traveled to India for six months and looked there in the cities and the mountains. The pretext for the trip was to cover -- as a photojournalist for East West Journal -- Kumbha Mela, a huge spiritual festival held only once every twelve years on the banks of the Ganges River. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus from all over India make a pilgrimage to Hardwar, a small town north of Delhi, and all try to bathe in the Ganges at the same auspicious moment. I was in India to search. Photographing and writing about monks, mystics, and myriads of spiritual sojourners was just a way to validate my own ethereal wandering.
One evening in the swarming marketplace of Bombay, weeks before I was due in Hardwar for Kumbha Mela, I was hard at work on my search. In Bombay at night, small fires of burning dried buffalo dung are omnipresent, and a hazy yellow-orange curtain hangs over the churning sea of night life. The smell is intoxicating. And the dark, turbulent mystery of a Far Eastern city at night was irresistible to a young photojournalist.
I was so curious to find what I was looking for. I was so innocent. When those two polite gentlemen in the open-collared white shirts and loose jackets, with armloads of books on their hips, wanted to talk politics, I thought it might lead me to the answer. I was compliant. They said all Americans only wanted to stay in the Taj Mahal Hilton and have toilet paper and sheets and didn't have a clue about Indian life.
That's not me! Let me show yousome of us care, some of us are down-to-earth, I thought. "Let's sit in this brightly lit tea stall," they said. I'm thinking, Gee, yes, let's sit in this quaint little shop with the pictures of Lord Ganesha, the elephant god, on the walls and discuss the socioeconomic implications of Third World countries visited by First World tourists! Yes! Almost as good as Paris cafés in the thirties with Chopin and Liszt.
When the picture of Ganesha and the clock next to him started to melt visually down the wall, I realized instantly I was in trouble. As a voice audibly said, "Get out of here now!" I jumped up, knocked over my chair, and lurched out the door. I did get out, barely. Even as I escaped into the taxi, which miraculously appeared out of nowhere in front of the tea stall, a hand reached out unsuccessfully toward the cab door to follow me into the covering darkness of the backseat. The cab pitched forward and we bumped off toward my destination. Where was this search to end?
I sat all night on a veranda overlooking the Sea of Bombay, in shock. Searching the string of pearl lights along the harbor, encircling the city, I wondered what in the hell I was looking for. I watched the lights melt and drain into the sea and then rebirth themselves as fireworks. What was in that lime drink those men insisted I drink instead of chai, the ubiquitous tea served in India? And the voice I heard? What was that, and where did it come from? Perhaps it was Lord Ganesha the Elephant, patron of travelers, and favorably regarded in Hindu mythology as the remover of obstacles. Alone, out at night, in Bombay? Are you serious? What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking. I was looking for God.
God had very nearly let me get offed that night. It never fully dawned on me until I returned to New York City five months later that I had been drugged, almost kidnapped, and very nearly ended up a casualty of the white slave trade. I came within microseconds of disappearing off the face of the known earth. Things never seem real till you live them. You can cry and sympathize and shake your head, but whether it's a movie or TV news about a hijacking, a bombing, or an earthquake in San Francisco, it isn't real. It isn't real till you feel it, smell it, taste it, live it.
What was I looking for that night in Bombay? The same thing I had been looking for as long as I can remember. The same thing all of us seek in one way or another. The "answer" to life, whatever that might mean. The "truth." The reason for living, dying, or being "here" at all. What is the point to it all? I guess I expected to turn a dark corner and stumble upon a soul -- preferably a good-looking male, someone like Christ or Buddha -- who would materialize a couple of bananas and show me the secret to life.
Well, it didn't take long to realize that if what you are looking for is someone to pull out a couple of wrist watches from his sleeve, then that is what you will find, and that being impressed with magic tricks is a serious deterrent to the genuine search for truth. Finding the truth takes hard work. I finally found what I was looking for in February of 1981 in New York City.
From California to Colorado
As a philosophy and comparative religion major at Syracuse University in the early sixties, it seemed only fitting for me to move to the West Coast for the early seventies. It was the early days of the human potential and New Age movements, and California was the epicenter. I was taking pictures and working as a biofeedback researcher in Los Angeles, studying the brain-wave patterns of meditation. One day while walking across the UCLA campus, where I was taking an anatomy and physiology course, I literally stumbled up some steps. I sat down for a few moments to compose myself and noticed a flyer advertising a yoga course on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I took the course.
It was okay -- it wasn't what I was looking for, but it was okay. Other people in the course got all fired up about the guru who taught the course and the wild breathing we did, and they joined on -- changing their names, their dress, their eating habits -- to become enlightened. I thought this guy was reasonable, but no enlightened master. I finished the course, said thank you, and went back to my search. It was 1971 in California. If you were an introspective type, except for the smog it was heaven on earth. Over the years, I continued to study yoga and everything else California had to offer, taking a variety of courses and workshops.
After I returned from India in 1974, I moved to Winter Park, Colorado, to continue my quest in a more environmentally friendly milieu, and began to teach yoga. Naturally, I taught skiers. I worked with the ski patrol, the ski school, and the handicapped-skiers program. By routine yoga standards, my class was pretty conventional. Oh, perhaps it was a bit more energetic than the average yoga class because we were all skiers. Most of us skied every day from nine to five, and we were used to being in motion, training. We didn't rest between postures, the way you do in many yoga classes. But basically, from a physical standpoint this was a (shudder!) "stretch" class.
I was able, however, to utilize many of the techniques I had learned while working in the field of biofeedback. So we did lots of visualization and progressive relaxation in class. We did autonomic training, which consisted of repeating phrases like "I am relaxed, I am calm, I am at my center." Most of the students in my class were also competitive skiers, so during racing season we would practice a technique called Visual Motor Behavior Rehearsal, or VMBR, as it was called. This was a visualization technique where you would simply rehearse an event, such as a ski race, in your mind step-by-step before you actually did it.
The classes were fun and popular, and pretty soon just about everyone in this mountain valley was onto my yoga program. When the U.S. Nordic Ski Team came to town for a few months to train at Devil's Thumb Ranch (an international cross-country facility in nearby Fraser), it was only a matter of hours before Marty Hall, the coach of the team, ran into a local skier who told him about the yoga classes. Marty called me up to see if I could do a session for the team.
Well, I guess I was a little overenthusiastic, or these kids were tighter than average, because the day after their first class, Marty called me again to say that everybody on the team was so sore they couldn't walk, much less ski. That night while reading a book of Zen stories, I came across a proverb that said "Only when you can be extremely soft and pliable can you be extremely hard and strong." It didn't sink in right away, as Zen koans, or teaching puzzles, tend not to. But a few weeks later, one morning on waking I saw the letters THE HARD & THE SOFT laid out on the side of a mountain in my mind, like the HOLLYWOOD sign in L.A.
The Hard & The Soft became the name of my yoga program and the underlying philosophy for everything I either entertained or actually experienced from that moment on. Every challenge in life seemed to me to be a question of finding the balance between hard and soft in any given situation. The men and women on the ski team came back to class. We did a little stretching, but mostly I did visualization and VMBR with them. They loved it. But thinking back to that first experience, wasn't it odd that here were world-class athletes, yet they couldn't move outside the range of their specificity of training without being incapacitated? What had caused them to get so sore?
Well, for one thing, although they were very fit, they were also very tight. Tight in the back, the shoulders, the thighs especially, and the ankles. They were all hard and no soft. No wonder they all got injured so easily and frequently, I thought. When they fall, there is no "give," no malleability. They tumble through an unaccustomed range of motion, and something tears as a result of being so tight. I tried to visualize what the stretching had done to them. The muscles didn't want to stretch, and had resisted. The muscles were used to contraction, not surrender.
For another thing, all they did was ski. They took the same biomechanical path through the woods, day after day. I had asked them to take a different route. They had used new muscles in new ways, and were feeling the effects. Third, I had given them too much too soon. And last, it seemed to me that if the muscles had been warmed up a bit, they might have been willing to stretch a little more easily.
These were some of my first musings about the role of heat in yoga, the importance of what twenty years later would be called "cross-training," and the significance of balance between hard and soft, or strength and flexibility. I realized that no matter how fit a person might be at his or her particular sport, he or she had to ease into activities that were not muscularly familiar to avoid strain, soreness, or even injury.
In my classes, I began to introduce beginners to the work a bit more gently. Instead of drop-in classes, I started to offer yoga "semesters," where the intensity of the class increased progressively as the course went along. I encouraged students to start at the beginning and slowly accustom themselves to the practice. I began to be more sensitive to the temperature of the room. I always tried to turn the heat on before class so that the room was at least 70°F for practice -- which in Winter Park, Colorado, in the winter, was always welcome. The Hard & The Soft yoga system was evolving, but still not where I felt it should or could be.
By 1980 I had pretty much taught yoga to everyone in Winter Park. After seven years in the mountains I was restless and hungry for cultural stimulation. I was hosting a talk show on public television in Denver on Friday nights and thinking about moving to Denver. I thought, "Well, if I'm going to move to Denver, I might as well move back to New York."
The Search Ends
Just about the time I started giving energy to thoughts of returning east, I received a call from the Jain Meditation International Center in New York City. They invited me to conduct a yoga teacher-training program at their center in Manhattan. I had returned frequently to New York over the years to study Jain meditation and was somewhat familiar with their organization. So in the autumn of 1980, I traveled back to the East Coast, planning to spend a few months and see what evolved.
It was here, in February of 1981, that I walked into a Saturday morning yoga workshop and experienced a totally unique form of yoga unlike anything I had ever seen in my ten years of prior training. The workshop was given by a dark-haired, bearded American just recently returned from India. His name was Norman Allen, and from the first moment I saw him, I had the feeling I had met him before.
The first half of the program was a demonstration. Allen and his student, a woman in her early fifties, began to practice. They started with warm-ups, or Sun Salutations, as they are called. I was familiar with Sun Salutations, but these were different from the ones I had been practicing and teaching. They then began to flow though a series of yoga postures -- or asanas, as they are called in the yoga language of Sanskrit -- going from one to the next without stopping.
I was completely riveted by this youthful man in his forties, doing yoga in front of me. I could hardly believe this was yoga. This was stronger than any other yoga practice I had ever seen, and it looked like what I always felt yoga was supposed to be: a balance between strength and flexibility. Hard and soft. I knew immediately it was something I had to learn. It motivated me in a way no other yoga training had.
I had never seen such strength, grace, and fluidity in a yoga practice before. Every posture was connected to every other posture with movement. The whole practice flowed along like a dance. The minute I saw this form, I knew that I had found what I had been searching for all these years. It looked familiar to me, like something I had lost and then found again after a long time. And in the second half of the program, when we began to do the practice itself, it felt as though I had come home.
Copyright © 1995 by Beryl Bender Birch
Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout
by Beryl Bender Birch
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