Mindful awareness

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Surrender Experienced as Ease

I remind myself as I head into a few months of heavy travel of my ongoing lesson of learning to surrender. I’m a planner with every idea of how I expect my travel to be and my life to unfold. I expect airlines to transport me on schedule and on time so I can catch connecting flights. I expect menu items in foreign countries to be served the way I interpreted the menu. Of course none of these things happens often. More often than not travel goes awry and my plans get turned upside down. But travel is trivial. I’ve been fortunate to have only a couple of big life crises, way fewer than some people I know. Any of these events offer lessons to surrender.

I cannot control everything and there are times that I need to let go of my expectation. One day I’ll remember that it is my response to the event that causes me more suffering than the event itself. My pattern is to struggle against the disappointing event and to make it right. I argue to make the other person see my perspective and change course. I argue with the airline ticket agent even though he has no authority to find another plane. But because I have no control over these circumstances my only real course of action is to surrender. Only after I finally surrender my struggle do I finally find ease and peace. The outcome might not be what I wanted but in the end what will happen will happen. I may as long go with it and accept the outcome.

I find hip openers to be a great way to work with surrender on my mat and I hope that practice there helps me to surrender to life circumstances out of my control. Of course my dear yoga students practiced lots of hip openers last week because that is what was on my mind. For most people eka pada rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) is an excellent example of surrendering into the pose. In this deep hip opener people often tense the muscles around the hip and pelvis rather than relaxing them. In fighting against the pose they feel the challenge of the hip external rotation opposing hip internal rotators that are tight from sitting much of the day. People often feel themselves further opposing the pose by tensing through the jaw, lips, shoulders, and other muscles nowhere near the hips. This week we practiced exhaling away that tension. We tried to stay with the pose by surrendering into it, feeling length in the hip muscles and ease with the result. If that is an easy lesson then try it in double pigeon pose (knee to ankle pose)!

Perhaps posting this blog will help me to surrender to travel snafus. Who knows how well I’ll implement my own recommendations to stay present and find ease by surrendering to the circumstances. I know I will try. May each of you find ease and peace as you let go and surrender to the challenges the holiday season brings.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Facts about the Common Cold

Winter on its way so marketing for various cold remedies is beginning to proliferate. Many products claim to prevent or cure the common cold and still more claim to reduce the length of time one might experience cold symptoms. It’s time to consider what the common cold is and what one can to do about it.

The common cold is caused by viruses, most frequently by rhinoviruses. Viruses are microbes composed of nucleic acid and protein.  Unlike most microbes, viruses replicate only in their host’s cells. The virus is transmitted from one infected person to the other by contact with mucous membranes. No one ever has caught a common cold by being exposed to the elements. Going skating without hats and gloves and getting wet feet traipsing through snow will not cause someone to get a cold. The virus infects a new host when it comes in contact with that person through the nose and mouth. We catch a cold by being in close contact with someone with a cold or with items (like door knobs) handled by someone with a cold.

Because a virus is not a bacterium, antibiotics and antibacterial agents do not kill viruses. Hand sanitizers will not kill viruses that cause the common cold. The best way to wash one’s hands to reduce the spread of the infection is with soap and water. Some vaccinations and antiviral drugs have been developed to kill some viruses (for instance herpes and hepatitis) but these agents are specific to certain viruses. None has yet been developed to cure common colds, in part because so many different viruses can cause the common cold and the viruses vary from one year to the next.

No remedy on the market has been shown to cure the common cold. None has been shown to reduce the length of time one has a cold once infected with the virus. No remedy has been shown to reduce likelihood of showing symptoms of the virus once infected. Products marketed for these purposes are no more effective than placebo. Their claims are not valid any more than a placebo effect.

The best way to reduce cold symptoms is to rest and take pain killers (aspirin or ibuprofen) to feel better. Reducing swollen mucous membranes by using saline sprays, drinking hot liquids, and taking hot baths will help to reduce congestion. Menthol lozenges and honey will help to soothe a scratchy throat.

The best way to protect oneself from getting a cold in the first place is to wash hands frequently with soap and water (antibacterial hand sanitizer will reduce bacterial transmission, not viral) and to keep one’s hands away from the face. General good health achieved by eating a balanced diet, reducing stress and exercising, will help support the immune system. Overloading on vitamin pills has not been shown to reduce risk of getting a cold. At best taking too many units of vitamins will just make one’s urine extra expensive (vitamins such as B complex and C are excreted through the urine). At worst, some vitamins are stored in the body and can lead to vitamin toxicity when taken in doses higher than recommended (vitamins A, D, E and K).

Of course not all symptoms are indicative of the cold. Although a cough, sore throat, sneezing and stuffy nose are common symptoms of a cold, it is unlikely that fever and chills are related to the common cold. These are more likely flu symptoms. Some antiviral agents and vaccinations are available for certain strains of the flu. Making an appointment with a physician is unnecessary for the common cold, however, you might consider making an appointment if you suspect you have bronchitis, sinusitis, an ear infection or pneumonia. These ailments are caused by bacterial infections that would respond to antibiotics. Generally you will want to seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen or don’t get any better after a week or so, if a fever won’t break, if you experience shortness of breath, or if your face is painful around the sinuses.

The common cold is annoying and it would be fantastic if there were a cure. But the best we can do is stay healthy, keep our germs to ourselves, and rest and stay home if we have a cold. Good luck for a healthy cold season!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sneaky Absolutely Do Not Eat Non-Food

Three categories of things (I won’t call them foods) found in grocery stores and restaurants posing as food are not food and have no role in any diet. The first of these categories of things can be tricky and difficult to spot. They can end up in your processed food without your realizing it unless you are diligent and know what to look for.
I’m speaking of trans fats. Trans fats are mostly manufactured. Small amounts do occur naturally in some animal products (meat and dairy), but the vast majority occurs in processed foods. Trans fats are created when liquid vegetable oils (such as safflower and sunflower) are processed by hydrogenation into solid fats (margarine and shortening). This means that food companies add hydrogen to the liquid oil. Food manufacturers prefer adding hydrogen to liquid oil to extend shelf life of their products. They are useful in fast food chains because trans fats withstand higher heating temperatures used in fryers.

Most types of fats occur naturally and are required for a healthy diet. The FDA recommends up to 30% of one’s calories be composed of fats (although other nutritional sources recommend smaller percentages, as little as 15%, of fats). But not all fats are the same. Monounsaturated fats are healthiest for one’s heart. They can be found in olive, canola, sunflower, safflower, avocado, almond, peanut, corn, sesame, rice bran, and soybean oils. Saturated fats are not as heart healthy and are found in animal products. The oils that provide saturated fats include coconut and palm oils.

Sunflower oil in its natural liquid form represents the healthier oil option. It’s when it is hydrogenated that it is trouble. The research is unequivocal: trans fats are not good for your health. Although as a monounsaturated fat, sunflower oil can reduce your risk for heart disease, once it is hydrogenated into trans fat it increases coronary artery disease. Trans fats increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Trans fats increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and reduce HDL (the good kind). They are even less healthy than saturated fats which increase LDL but don’t have a negative effect on HDL.

Current guidelines recommend limiting trans fats to less than 1% of one’s daily caloric intake (about 2 grams in a 2000 calorie diet). Unfortunately, a product can legally be labeled as having no trans fat if the product contains up to 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving. That means that even a cautious consumer may end up with trans fats in her diet. Eating four of such labeled products can result in one eating 2 grams of trans fat without realizing it.

So how does a health-minded consumer select foods that are unlikely to have trans fats? I recommend two methods of evaluating food for trans fats. First, know the kinds of foods that are likely to contain trans fats. They are likely in fried foods, baked goods, cookies, crackers, stick margarines, chips, and microwave popcorn. Avoiding processed foods such as these will limit the amount of trans fats in your diet. If you do want to consume a product from this list then look beyond the nutrition label. Remember that the nutrition label needs to list the percentage of trans fat but it could contain half a gram and still say 0% on the label. I recommend reading the ingredient list instead. Avoid products that list partially hydrogenated anything. Avoid products that list shortening in their ingredient list. In restaurants, avoid fried foods and pastries, pie crusts and biscuits. Opt for natural food sources rather than processed foods. Prepare meals and desserts in your own kitchen where you can control the contents. Just avoid trans fats completely to care for your health.

Oh, and the other two non-foods posing as foods in grocery stores and restaurants are easier to identify and to eliminate. They are: processed meats (anything cured, smoked, deli meats, jerky, hot dogs, sausages, etc) and sodas (full sugar and diet alike).