The Tongue Never Lies

images-3While we might let slip a few white lies across our tongue from time to time, the surface of our tongue can’t help but speak the truth.

In Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India, the tongue is considered the emissary of the digestive tract. I like thinking of it like that, a representative or spokesperson, non-opinionated simply reporting what is.

The tongue reports the facts to us about what we’re eating through our tastes but it also reports facts to us about how we’re digesting what we’ve eating and if the organs are functioning properly.

This last form of reporting takes a little bit of translating, but once you get the hang of it, it’s one of the coolest and most informative daily practices from the Ayurvedic tradition.

It’s called Ayurvedic Tongue Diagnosis, and while Ayurvedic doctors can read a great deal into how the tongue looks, any person can get a useful daily read on their health simply by learning the basics. This should become a regular tool for any yogi.

The tongue reports on our state of digestion and health through it’s appearance. 

The digestive tract and organs are mapped out on the tongue and so it tells a tale of health or imbalance in any of these areas through colour, texture, coating, moisture, shape, smell and more (see info-graphic and charts below).

Ayurveda recognises that anything we don’t digest accumulates in our body and then becomes toxic. This accumulation is called Ama, and when we sleep at night the body works to eliminate ama, particularly through the membrane system of our body.

We see this as goop in our eyes or mucus in our nose or stool. The tongue is also a membrane and the white coating that appears on it each morning is considered ama, or toxicity, that the body is processing and pushing out.

As Dr. Bruce Fife, author of The Detox Book put it, “Your tongue can reveal how much toxic material is stored in your cells and vital organs. The tongue is a mirror of the membrane system of your body.”

Paying attention to the quality of this ama appearing on our tongue can reveal a great deal and help us make day to day choices that direct us back into balance.

Research Your Tongue Every Morning! 

A great practice to get in the habit of is sticking your tongue out first thing in the morning and checking out how it looks. Do this before you drink water or brush your teeth to get the best reading of what your body was processing through sleep.

Then compare what you’re seeing in the mirror with the Tongue Diagnosis Charts (see below).

Things to think about when checking our your tongue:

  • What colour is it?
  • Is the coating evenly distributed across your tongue or accumulated in particular areas?
  • Does it smell?
  • Is it dry or moist? Frothy?
  • What do the edges look like? Smooth or scalloped?
  • Are there red bumps or patches? Where?
  • Are there cracks? Where?

Compare this information to the charts and graphs and start taking action to bring yourself back into balance based on what you see.

Spend a week drawing your tongue, what you observe and how it changes. I love this practice not only to help me monitor my body but also because sticking out my tongue in the morning makes me laugh to myself.

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Tongue Scrapping

After you’ve listened to what the tongue is telling you about your health, scrap that toxic ama off it with a metal tongue scrapper rather than swallowing it back into the system. Lightly scrap from back to front 5-7 times. Notice the color of the ama on the tongue scrapper.

Tongue scrapping is a simple Ayurvedic oral hygiene practice done every morning before drinking water.

Doing this on a regular basis will also heighten our sense of taste and increase the intelligence of our tongue. The more intelligent our tongue, the healthier food we eat and the better we feel.

Tell us what you’ve discovered through checking out your tongue this week!?

Ayurvedic Tips to Get Your Body Summer Ready

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The weather’s warmed up around Sydney and I can feel a real buzz in the air with the anticipation of summer just around the corner. But while our mind’s might be ready for fun in the sun, but how about our bodies?

I’m seeing a lot of students lately sniffling their way through class, complain about throat tickles, feeling a little low energy and worrying about dawning the bikinis again.

Spring is the sticky season according to Ayurveda. Our body’s often have an excess of mucus from winter stagnation and we want to use this time of year to shake that off, clear our channels and get things moving again.

This is the season dominated by the elements water and earth, called Kapha, and after the winter months of slower metabolism and movement many of our digestive, breath, immune and energetic channels can be clogged up with accumulated toxins.

Basically, we’ve got a bit of the winter sweater hanging on still and Spring time is the perfect time to shed it by cleansing the body. So I’ve come up with a list of yogic and Ayurvedic recommendation for how to do that.

  1. Up your exercise

Spring time is the best time for vigorous exercise because the weather is not yet too hot and our body has extra stored fuel from the winter insulation we often put on.

Being that is Kapha season also means we’re most connected to the dense physical earth and water elements and naturally gravitate toward being more aware of our bodies. Try those hand stands, forearm balance or challenging physical things you’ve always wanted to do. When we have greater cohesion of Kapha energy we’re less likely to get injured.

  1. Eat more pungent, bitter and astringent foods

In Ayurveda all food falls under one of six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.

Sweet, sour and salty are considered building tastes, meaning when we eat them they build mass. Pungent, bitter and astringent are considered reducing tastes, meaning when we eat them they reduce mass.

We want to reduce mass and shed the winter sweater, burn through accumulated fat which holds toxins and lighten our physical being to find balance.

Pungent includes anything spicy, onions, garlic, chills, ginger ect.

Bitter includes bitter greens, turmeric, dandelion root, herbs ect.

Astringent includes things like grapefruit, legume, raw veggies ect.

  1. Drink spicy lemonadeUnknown

Hot or cold this a great drink to have in the spring time to stoke the digestive fire and bring lightness into the system. Simply mix juice of half a lemon, slice of fresh ginger, pinch of cayenne pepper and teaspoon of maple syrup or coconut syrup.

This is a great thing so sim warm in the morning or evening, and cool throughout the day. It also curbs appetite and can helps us snack less through the day.

  1. Relieve allergies and sinus with neti pot

For years I dreaded spring time because my sinus were so sensitive to the the pollens and flower fragrances newly bursting forth. But that sinus pain has nearly vanished since I started a regular practice of flushing my sinuses using a neti pot (one of the traditional yogic cleansing practice). Ask at any health food store or chemist and you’re likely to find one with instructions.

  1. Eat more greens

Eat all the fresh greens you can! Nature is always guiding us into balance. In the Autumn when we want to put on a bit of weigh for winter it provides us with a harvest of nuts and root veggies, in the spring when we want to lighten our system for summer it provides us with a harvest of leafy greens.

Try to bring greens into every meal this time of year. Play with spinach in your green smoothie for breakfast, big salads at lunch and steamed greens for dinner.

  1. Sprout at home 

Along the same lines as above, we always want to fallow the wisdom of nature. Right now everything is Unknown-1sprouting, and sprouts are an amazing super food. Sprouts have more protein per pound than lean meat and far more absorbable and diverse nutrients.

It’s so easy to sprout at home there’s no reason not to do it! Simply get a packet of alfalfa seeds, put a scoop full in a jar, place a cheese cloth over the mouth of the jar and hold in place with a rubber band, rinse the seeds with water and drain in the morning and evening. In a few days you’ll have a jar full of fresh sprouts, voila!

  1. Fire up your breath with pranayama

Keeping the breath channels open and cleanse is really important. Our body pushes unwanted waste out of us via the mucus channels of our body, and one of the main ways we see this in the Spring is through a snotty nose.

Get a box of tissues ready and practice Kapalabhati and Bhastrika pranayama. Check out this article by Yoga International to learn more. 

  1. Spring clean your space

Finally, we feel energetically clear and light when the environment around us is also clear and light. Spring cleaning our home and space helps the energy around us flow better, and when this happens the energy within us also flows better.

Lifestyles to Die For

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I was recently telling someone about my background getting a degree in Environmental Science and they commented, “Wow, now you’re doing something completely different.” But, I don’t see it that way. The deeper I go down my path as a wellness provider through yoga, bodywork and lifestyle coaching the more I relate to my environmentalist background; rather than working to clean up external ecosystems I’m working to clean up internal ecosystems. And it’s just as socially, culturally and globally revolutionary as other environmentalist work.

According to a landmark global study by The Lancet Group, lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer are now the leading cause of death and disability globally. The study shows that since the 1970’s men and women worldwide are living longer but they also spend more years living with injury and illness caused by bad lifestyle choices like drinking, smoking, poor nutrition and too much stress.

In both Australia and America lifestyle disease is the leading cause of death – with heart disease begin the most prevalent, followed by cancer.

So why are we choosing lifestyles that kill us?!? And what motivates us to choose a lifestyle of heath?

I don’t have the answer but I’m on a mission to try and find it. So far on this mission I’m realizing that everything starts from within and from our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world. My meditation teacher gave a great analogy about the process of calming the mind: you can train a dog to sit next to you, but it will still be full of energy wanting to run around, or you can give the dog a bone and it will happily sit next to you and chew the bone.

Forced external rules on how to live tend to make us feel like a dog trapped on a leash, and while we might be abstaining from unhealthy habits, there’s always a part of us that wants to break the leash and run after those things we’re abstaining from. I don’t consider this healthy, and I’ll go as far as saying it can even create stress…which is one of the leading causes of heart disease and other physical and psychological diseases.

So what’s the bone we can give ourselves to keep us sitting happily next to health? 

I think the bone of satisfaction and motivation is a strong positive self identity. In yoga we do this with the practice of Sankalpas. Yoga teaches us to recognize that we already have and are everything we could need or want, we must simple clear what’s covering up that light within.

A Sankalpa is a positive affirmation like, “I am healthy.” The practice is to repeat this daily. The more you chew on this identity, the more you not only believe it, but also act based on it. You start to live up to that identity effortlessly simply because it feel right.

According to habit change research people stick to identity-based goals far more than to performance-based goals. Habit change expert James Clear says, “The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).”

This Sunday I’ll be leading a 5 week journey with a group of people ready to uncover the light within, reinforce and deeply ingrain a positive self identity of healthy living. I can’t wait! There are still a few spots left so if you’re craving lasting transformation join the yoga r-evolution. Check out the 30 Day Yoga Evolution program at Qi Health and Yoga.

What is your positive self identity statement, your sankalpa? 

Stop Should-ing on Yourself

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What if we never felt we SHOULD eat better or exercise more or do yoga or meditate?

What if we simply craved all of the things we know make us feel healthy and vibrant? Likelihood is healthy living would be a whole lot easier. In fact, living would be a whole lot easier.

So why can’t we just crave the things that make us feel our best?

Recently I’ve been studying more about habit change. Learning what enables us stick to practices and what sets us up for sure failure. Looking at this, speaking with friends and students and reflecting on my own path of habit transformation, I’ve started to see that this one little word “should” is more of a roadblock than a on-ramp to healthy living.

Often the most simple and obvious things are also the most elusive. One brilliant blogger I follow, James Clear, talks about three R’s of successful habit change. The last R stands for reward.

Clear says to successfully change a habit we need to either reward ourselves each time we do the new action with positive self talk or acknowledge the benefits and rewards of that new action. It’s really simple. When we are rewarded by something our mind starts to create a desire for that reward. This motivates us to repeat the new action, until ultimately it becomes a habit.

The irony is that when most people try to change their life and create new patterns it’s often accompanied by a barrage of negative self talk, self criticism and a whole list of should’s that feel far from rewarding. We tend to go gun-ho for the new change and follow up each attempt with what we should have done more of or different to be better or progress faster. Each time we do this our mind feels punished for our efforts and rather than creating a desire for the healthy habit we actually cultivate resistance around it.

On the flip side of the same coin is our affinity to SHOULDN’T when trying to improve our life and health. I shouldn’t eat that chocolate or drink that wine or stay up too late. While this might be true, when we repeat like a mantra the things we know make us feel less than optimal, what happens? Those very things stay in the forefront of our mind, and by thinking about them more we end up craving them more.

So how can we acknowledge the habits we don’t want and make changes toward those we do want without should-ing on ourselves?

The first step is to focus on the positive changes we’re already attracted to and very slowly and incrementally reinforce this change. Trying to change too much too quickly is a sure plan for failure. Instead we want to teach our mind to desire and crave these positive changes, but if it’s too hard our mind will only build a pattern of resistance.

One of my favorite exercises during my detoxes is getting everyone to write down the cravings or habits they once had but wouldn’t in a million years do now. Go on, take a moment and do it yourself.

Doing this reminds us of a few things. Firstly, that we do indeed change. No matter how solidified one of your current bad habits may seem, just remember back to the old habit that seemed just as solid and now has completely dissolved. Secondly, that change likely happened slowly, not over night, and with many small relapses.

Clear says we should plan for failure when attempting to change our patterns and have a strategy for getting back on track. If we recognize that getting off track is just part of being human and part of our individual evolution we stay out of negative self talk and instead stay connected to our deeper desires for health and happiness. Clear says what separates top performers from everyone else is that they get back on track very quickly.

Not only is relapsing a part of the process of change for EVERYONE, but it can also powerfully reinforce the new lifestyle.

My mom shared a great story with me recently that demonstrated this perfectly. She and my stepdad have been focused on healthy eating for quite a few years now, but before that ate the standard American diet (not so healthy). So one night recently they decided they were sick of health food and went out for a nice Italian meal with lots of cheese, wine, pasta and meat. Because they’ve been eating so cleanly the meal hit them both like a ton of bricks, they felt heavy and awful and it made them crave the light clean meals more than ever.

This is what we want! We want to want the new habit, not feel like we should do it. And when it becomes a craving and desire then it becomes effortless and enjoyable, not a chore.

When cultivating a yoga practice what we’re really doing is cultivating the desire to practice yoga.

When I first started yoga over 10 years ago I got my fix going to class twice a week. Then the desire grew to more and more classes, then to a daily Mysore morning practice, then to workshops, my own home practice and teacher training. There were many relapses between all of this and each time I got back on track I fell even more in love with yoga. Now I can’t imagine going a day without my yoga, breath work and meditation practice.

This evolution hasn’t come from a should base mindset, the dedication comes from wanting to do the practice to feel the rewards (it makes me feel good). I don’t worry much about doing it perfectly but just know what ever bit of practice I can do will make me feel better.

The new 30 Day Yoga Evolution program I’m leading at Qi Health and Yoga is all about cultivating that deep desire for your practice which will lead you into effortless, joyful and sustainable healthy living habits. And doing it in a group rather than on your own makes it that much easier and more fun. The program starts this Sunday April 27th, so if your wanting to want a stronger yoga practice there’s no better time than now!

Making Truly Tasty Meals

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by Morgan Webert

Does your food satisfy your tastebuds?

Accoding to Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India, the sense of taste is a natural guide map towards proper nutrition. Our tastebuds do more than just simply identify if something seems yummy or not; they open the body to receive the nutritive value of foods by providing the initial spark to the digestive process by stimulating salivation and enzyme secretion.

Ayurveda categorizes all foods into six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. The tastes, just like everything else in nature, are comprised of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. The wisdom of understanding food based on its taste comes from this elemental connection.

When we identify the taste of a food and know what elements create it, we then also know how it will effect us and we can tailor our eating to draw in the elements we need.

Ayurveda recommends two simple principles for achieving a balanced diet through the Six Tastes.

Include all 6 Tastes in each meal.

Each taste nourishes us in a different way. The brain speaks to the body when it requires nourishment in the form of food. When we incorporate all 6 Tastes into each meal, we’re making sure these signals are properly met, thus avoiding food cravings or the over consumption of certain foods.

One of the greatest nutritional issues in western society is subclinical malnutrition. This means someone may consume a large amount of food, but because the food lacks in nutritional quality their tissues are malnourished. This creates a vicious cycle of the brain signaling constant hunger because the body isn’t getting enough nutrients, stimulating cravings and overeating until the nutrients are provided.

By including all 6 Tastes we incorporate the various ways in which our body needs nutrients and thus it feels satiated.

Determine the proportion of tastes you eat based on your unique constitution.

We each have a unique constitutional make-up of the five elements. Some people are more fiery and hot, while others are more light and airy and other dense and solid.

The body often naturally desires tastes that balance it and reject tastes that aggravate it. If we observe our natural tendencies, and which elements we’re dominated by, we can choose tastes that balance our constitution rather than aggravate it.

The typical modern diet has an excess of sweet and salty tastes and lacks the balancing effects of the other four tastes. This is a primary cause for the epidemic of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease in the West.

Which tastes do you mostly eat? Which tastes do you need to eat more of?

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Stress Reduction, a Simple Equation

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by Morgan Webert

In the past week my meditation teacher dropped a number of lovely gems into my bag of memorable quotes, a number of which all relate and brought some simplicity and clarity to my understanding of stress.

First he said, “Stress is when a demand for change or adaptation is put upon us and we don’t have the energy to meet that demand for change or adaptation.”

In other words, we get stressed out when our energy levels are low because we just don’t have it in us to deal with the demands being asked of us. When we have sufficient energy the same demands very easily could be fun and exciting, or at least not stressful.

He then went to define, “Suffering is when we put energy into resisting a change that needs to be made.”

I’m beginning to see a cycle!

Putting our energy into resisting a change that needs to be made depletes our energy reserves, and less energy means that demand for change becomes even more stressful, leading to more resistance and more suffering.

So how do we get out of this cycle? If the change can’t be avoided then the only thing to do is put more energy into the system.

We do this intuitively, but sometimes not always sustainably. We grab a cup of coffee or afternoon sweet treat to get an energy hit to deal with the demands of the day (and when I say we I mean it, I’m no stranger to this habit). But, the sugar and caffeine buzz wears off quickly, often leading to poor sleep and is physiologically taxing on the body, ultimately depleting our energy reserves more and creating more stress.

And this my friends is where yoga comes in! Yoga is all about capitalizing on our natural energy, our Prana. In fact, most mind body breath practices do. This is why we feel less stressed after a beautiful yoga session or meditation, it fills up our cup of internal energy in a natural, sustainable way. Have you ever felt stressed about something, gone to a yoga class, and afterwards thought, “What was I worrying about, I know exactly what to do now.”

So how does yoga refill our energy reserves?

1. Deep Breathing.

The name for breathing practices in yoga is pranayama. Prana refers to life force energy and is synonymous with breath. Yoga teaches us to open our breath channels and in doing so oxygenate our brain and body and draw in lifeforce. When we breath deeply throughout the day we think clearly and feel alert. When our breath is restricted so is our energy. Try this practice, it will only take one minute, no excuses not to do it! Close your eyes, take 30 very deep breaths (Billows Breaths, or Bastrika in Sankrit) and then sit with your eyes closed for the following 30 seconds and feel the effects of oxygenating your system. Better than a shot of espresso. Try it now! Do it often!

2. Conscious Relaxation and Meditation.

Many studies have shown that mediation and conscious relaxation can be more restorative to our body than sleep. If we watch a child or partner fall asleep we’ll notice their breath become very soft, the body very still and heart rate really low, but then when they fully fall asleep the breath rate increases, the body twitches slightly and the heart rate lifts again. This is an evolutionary defense mechanism. When the mind checks out to the unconscious state of sleep the body metabolism increases so that we can physically respond quickly to any potential danger. When we practice conscious relaxation and meditation the mind is alert to any potential dangers so the body is sent signals that it’s safe to deeply relax and release. This is also why energy work like Reiki or a massage can be so rejuvenating.

3. Movement and Rest Pulsation.

While an hour of meditation and conscious relaxation can be more restorative than an hour of sleep, nothing fills the cup of energy like a proper nights sleep. But, so many people in our culture struggle with sleeping, deprive themselves of it or simply don’t get quality sleep. New parents aside, this often has to do with either having too many stimulants in the system (as mentioned above) or having too much physical stagnation. Good exercise and good movement leads to good sound rest, whereas stagnation in the system and sitting all day leaves us physiologically restless.

4. Eating energy filled foods.

Finally, we all know we are what we eat, and yogi’s focus on eating sattvic foods. That means fresh, wholesome, nourishing foods that will make us feel light, energetic and clean. Anything that is too heavy requires a lot of energy to digest and therefor depletes the system even more. Anything too stimulating and spice can cause us to burn up our energy reserves faster than we can refill them. Sattvic food keeps us balances and full of energy.

Share with us how you bring these yogi practices into your daily life to refill your energy cup?

Five Yogi Tricks to Shift Perspective

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by Morgan Webert

In one of Shakespeare’s many yogic moments he wrote, “Nothing is good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.”  

We’ve all experienced this realization when caught in a moment that isn’t going as planned, the stress or frustration levels rising, and then something happens to change our perspective and suddenly what was a massive problem just a moment before dissolves into a less than big deal. The power of perspective cannot be under rated. In fact, some would say that perspective is everything.

Many aspects of yoga practice are really all about cultivating our perspective and working with our mind. The practice gives us a framework in which to observe our triggers and reactions, and then train ourselves to choose a perspective that generates ease in life rather than stress.

When you find yourself triggered or trapped by a moment, try these yogic tools to keep your thoughts supporting you rather than working against you.

Find an Expansive View Point of Oneness

Simply stop and telescope your perspective away from the room you’re in, away from the town your in, away from the country, away from the planet and if you can all the way out into the cosmos. In the process you’ll be reminded of how small you and that moment are, and rather than making you feel insignificant it can make you feel liberated and connected to the whole. Yoga means union, and teaches us the intrinsic truth that all is one. When we remember we are the world, we shift out of the perspective that the world is against us, and often begin to see solutions or an intelligence behind the moment we otherwise missed.

Observe without Identifying 

Yoga philosophy differentiates between our mind, the source of our ego identity and our purusha, our true self or soul. The purusha is the observer connected to the highest source of wisdom and observes without identifying. While the ego identity constantly changes, the purusha is steady and unchanging. Choosing not to identify with an experience can be wonderfully empowering! I might have made that mistake, but I am not that mistake. I may not have the physical ability that I desire, but I am not that physical limitation. 

Find Gratitude

Being grateful for what you have can quickly diffuse tension generated from a feeling of lack. That may in part be because gratitude actually improves your mood by reducing the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical well-being as a result of this cortisol reduction.

Remember that All Things Change

Feeling stuck or that “it will always be this way,” can often be a huge trigger for aggravation and even depression. According to yoga philosophy, the only thing that does not change is your purusha, the part of you connected to infinite love, light and wisdom. Everything else will pass! While that can be a slightly scary thought, it’s also a great reminder to be patient. If you feel stuck, walk back through the changes of your life, who you were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, 40 years ago. Embrace and relax into the inevitability of change.

Watch Your Thoughts as They Become Your Life

Finally, simply observing how our thoughts shape our moment to moment, day to day and ultimate life, is an important and on-going part of yoga practice. Notice how you react to physical challenges in class, ability to focus, resistance to release or attention to detail. Is the mindset you have supporting you or limiting you? Can you see the same pattern in class also playing out in your daily life?

This quote by Laozi epitomizes why observing our thoughts is so important.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”