Becoming a Vegetarian?

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Mathieu asks:

I have scoliosis, which creates very painful stiffness in the legs. Stretching and yoga bring temporary relief, but that relief quickly vanishes and I feel stiff and sore in my muscles, calves, hamstrings and hips, and it gets really painful. I hoped your book would help, but it seems like my body doesn’t want to open up. Can you give me some advice?

So, this is a challenging situation, Mathieu. Anybody with scoliosis – everybody is different with scoliosis, first of all. Minor scoliosis is very, very common, in the same way that people will have a right leg longer than a left leg. Minor scoliosis, minor abnormalities in the curvature of your spine is very common, but some people have a major scoliosis that can cause ongoing pain, stiffness, lead to lots and lots of problems in walking and running and everything that they do.

So, for some people, for sure, yoga can be helpful, and for other people it can actually aggravate. So, the best advice that I could give you, is if it’s working, if it’s helping, keep doing it. If it’s not, stop. And just make sure you’re working with somebody who understands yoga, and whether it’s your chiro or your physio or your MD, whoever it is you’re working with, and keep tabs on how you’re progressing.

I do know many, many people get fantastic relief from scoliosis doing yoga, but I also know people who have to quit doing yoga because it’s just not the right thing for them. So just make sure you know what you’re doing, get some help. Keep us posted, let us know what you discover.

Nimsay asks:

Do you have people asking about eye problems when they experience flashes and some dark floats? Could you please tell me what causes it and how to avoid it?

Nimsay, this is nothing I have any idea about, but it sounds like something a cataract or some kind of other problem. For sure, go check with a doctor. I’m just a yoga teacher. I’m not the guy to talk to about eye problems.

Edward asks:

I want to be more flexible. So, my question is, where can I find more information on what I could eat or if I should become a vegetarian? Is there a list of some sort that I can change my diet?

Okay, this is a big, big question, Edward. The first thing I would suggest, is before you go giving things up, just start by adding. So the first thing you want to add into your diet, into your daily diet, is lots and lots of live food and lots and lots of green vegetables. Green vegetables are very rich in chlorophyll, which is very cleansing. It’s thought to increase the oxygen in your blood, and it’s all very rich in magnesium and magnesium is a very important mineral for yoga students. It relaxes your muscles, can really help with flexibility, and no surprise, magnesium deficiency is extremely, extremely common.

So, start by adding more live foods, particularly dark green vegetables. And for your cruciferous dark greens, a lot of times you’ll want lightly cook or steam them, that’s fine. But try to get more greens into your diet. That’s the first thing.

Second thing, you want to have a lot more water than you’re used to. Most of us eat dry, cooked foods and most of us don’t drink enough water and most of us drink caffeine. The combination of those three dehydrates most people. Literally, most people are dehydrated, and it’s counterproductive for flexibility. So start drinking a lot of water, like whatever you’re drinking now, try to double it. So two to three liters a day, sometimes even more if you’re in a hot climate, is a good place to start.

In terms of going vegetarian, if you’re talking about for moral and ethical reasons, there’s lots and lots of great information out there. There’s a website I like called Vegweb.com. If you’re talking about going vegetarian for health and for flexibility reasons, what I always recommend is reverse vegetarianism. What I mean by that, is where you give up dairy and you give up milk first and you keep eating meat. And the reason is, is that meats rarely cause massive digestive problems, inflammation problems, allergy problems. Milk, dairy, butter, creams, very, very common allergens, very common digestive irritants, lots and lots of complications come from dairy.

From a health perspective, it’s much more healthy to be a reverse vegetarian, where you’re eating meat but not eating dairy, and my vegetarian friends get very mad at me for saying this, but when I take a look at the health benefits and when you take a look at the environmental impact and even from a moral and ethical standpoint, if you’re going to give up one or the other, I always recommend people start with dairy. Start there and see what happens. It’s a much more conservative way to go, much less risky in terms of restrictive dieting.

Depending on where you live, it can be really easy to do. Now if you live in Western country North American, Northern Europe, it’s really hard to give up dairy. It’s in everything. But if you live in Asia, for example, giving up dairy is really simple. In any case, take it one step at a time. Trust your body. People get into trouble when they start doing things, forcing their body to give up foods. Whatever you’re doing, it should be fun, it should feel good and it should come naturally. If you’re waking up at three in the morning craving steak or sausage or whatever it is, you’re probably doing something wrong, so you’re missing some kind of nutrient. But keep asking questions and love the fact that you’re experimenting. Just that in itself, you’ll discover some really interesting things.

Neel asks:

My main goal is to be able to sit on the ground, half-legged, cross-legged, full lotus, comfortably with correct posture for long periods without distracting aches and pains. So I got the YOGABODY HANDBOOK, I’ve been doing the stretches every day, I’ve been eating more greens, taking MSM, and I’m noticing changes in my body which makes me feel really good. I used to be really into weight lifting. Should I completely avoid resistance exercise to regain my flexibility?

So, Neel, the answer is maybe. It sounds like your goal is really to get flexible. If it is, resistance training is going to be a problem. Now, resistance, I’m using that term differently, resistance with weights. Now if you’re just doing body weight exercises, they’re very beneficial. So pushups, pull-ups, hand stands, all these kinds of things are very, very balancing and you can do those and still retain your flexibility.

Anytime you start picking up the iron, you’re going to really struggle to increase your flexibility. With most of the body builders, weight lifters that I work with, the goal is really just not to lose flexibility, because most of them, that’s going to happen. So most of those people are trying not to lose flexibility, but if you really want to gain flexibility, yeah, it’s going to be helpful if you stop lifting the iron. So, I hope that’s helpful. Let me know how it goes.

One more comment on that full lotus. Even when you can sit in full lotus, you’ll never get away from the aches and pains. If you ask any long-time meditator, people who can sit for hours at a time, I can sit for 60 minutes in full lotus without too much discomfort, but it’s still uncomfortable and I’ve done multiple 12-day meditation retreats where you sit for 8 to 10 hours a day, so I know that world in and out and everybody suffers.

It’s part of the practice, and so the idea that you’re going to sit down on the floor, cross your legs in full lotus and bliss out, it’s really a myth. Part of the practice is the suffering. Part of the practice is the fact that your knee’s twinging and your hip’s a little uncomfortable, and that’s a hard thing to get their head around. But once you do get your head around that, you stop being so hard on yourself and you realize, wow, I can meditate now. Even though my back aches or my hip aches, it’s just part of it.

Pamela asks:

I’m an almost 60 years old, female. I’ve loved yoga for the past year. I have mild Piriformis Syndrome, resulting in Sciatica, and I still enjoy my yoga. I do Ashtanga, but would like to get rid of the nagging ache. I am diligently doing gravity poses and recently ordered YOGABODY Stretch. Should I continue to use YOGABODY to bring relief, or is there any another recommended products?

So, for those of you that don’t know, Piriformis Syndrome is kind of this big – the Piriformis muscle is a big muscle kind of in your butt, and it gets locked up. They call it Piriformis Syndrome because it’s like a chronic engagement of the muscle and it can irritate your sciatic nerve, which can give you echoing pains down your leg, into your back, kind of all over the place.

Okay, first thing, Pamela, anything nerves, you want to make sure that you’re getting lots and lots of green vegetables. I sound like a broken record saying this, but it’s very, very important. You might also consider taking B vitamin supplements, particularly B12 is really great for your nervous system. Make sure you’re taking anti-inflammatory foods, and those would be omega-rich foods, like cold water fish, if you’re a fish eater. In the plant kingdom, flaxseeds and chia seeds, that can be really helpful.

And the last thing is take a look at your magnesium. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, a natural muscle relaxant, and you might consider trying a good form of magnesium for a couple of weeks, to see if that helps. A good form would be a magnesium citrate. You’ll find crappy forms of magnesium, like magnesium carbonate. These are really cheap and junky forms that are in most supplements. Get a good one. It’s not too much more expensive. Magnesium citrate is a good one to use, and see if that works.

Even better than supplementing, if you can, just eat tons and tons of dark green vegetables. Do spinach juice and steam kale and have wilted kale salads and things like that, and just keep an eye on it. It does happen. Just because you’re 60, that may or may not have anything to do with it. I know students who are 17 and they have Piriformis Syndrome, so not necessarily connected to age. Let us know how it goes. Hope you find some relief.

Carole asks:

I am not so flexible. I am a vegetarian for one year now, and I am little more fat. Do you think I can do anything except take spirulina or chlorella greens? Do you think it is enough to practice yoga?

So, this is an interesting statement, Carole. What happens, is a lot of people go vegetarian and they lose weight initially, and a lot of them do that simply because their food choices are restricted. So they end up skipping meals, they end up eating just the side orders at restaurants. And so, in the short term, a lot of people lose weight when they go vegetarian. When we’re talking about vegetarian here, I’m assuming we’re talking about giving up meat but still eating dairy.

In the long term, a lot of vegetarians suffer from weight gain. If you go to any vegetarian festival, you’ll see that people who have been at this for a number of years, they tend to put on weight and they tend to struggle with weight because of a very simple thing. When you get rid of animal protein from your diet, you’ve got to replace it with something.

So we’ve got three macronutrients, nutrients that are calorie-bearing, carbs, proteins and fats. And when you whack out the protein from the animal kingdom, most people don’t replace that with enough protein from the plant kingdom. In the plant kingdom, really, you’re talking about nuts and seeds and legumes as your protein-dense sources. There aren’t too many other sources. There’s lot of other great sources of protein, but the really dense ones are basically nuts and seeds and legumes, and a lot of vegetarians don’t eat any of those, ever.

And so what happens is, they replace that protein they took away with extra carbs. They eat more bread, they eat more pasta, they eat more rice, they eat more sugar, whatever it is, because that’s what happens. And so, you could be eating the same amount of calories, but if you’re eating a high-glycemic, a much sweeter diet than you used to, and by sweeter I don’t necessarily mean tasting sweet, but high-glycemic foods, whether that’s potatoes or rice or pasta or whatever it is, breads, what happens is your body chemistry changes.

And over time, some people very fast, most people over a number of years, will become insulin resistance, and essentially your body gets more and more efficient at storing fat and you screw up your body’s chemistry and it becomes easier and easier for your body to store fat and more and more difficult for it to burn fat. People start to lose energy, eating the same amount of food. Their body is moving less, less interested in exercise and all these things really compound over time.

So to be a healthy vegetarian, you really, really need to make sure that you find good quality sources of abundant fat and good quality sources of abundant protein, both of which are a challenge. Most vegetarians are what I call bread-aterians, and they mostly try to live off bread, and that is a sure-fire way to gain weight and really, really screw up your health.

In terms of supplements, there’s no supplement that can fix this. What you need to do to fix this is really control your sugars and sugar in all forms. That’s starches, that’s bread, pasta, wheat, that is all your sodas and all processed foods as well. It’s a much, much bigger topic than we can go into in detail here, but it’s a really important question so I appreciate you bringing it up.

Kenneth asks:

Do have any hamstring stretch tips for me?

Hamstrings are a group of three muscles in the back of your legs. There’s a couple of things you can do that we don’t often teach, but PMF, which is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, big long word for a really simple practice, it works pretty well with your hamstrings.

What you do, Kenneth, is when you’re doing a forward bend, engage your quads hard as you can. Keep your knees bent a little bit here, but engage your quads as hard as you can, count to 10. Your legs will start to tremble, and then release. And then take about 10 breaths and then do it again. Engage your quads for as hard as you can and then release. Do make sure your knees are bent a little bit, but that PNF stretch, that engage, release, engage, release, it kind of tricks your nervous system, and that can be really, really helpful. If you’re feeling stuck, I’d give PNF stretching a try. For forward bends, it’s relatively safe, and it can be really effective for some people.

Caroline asks:

Can you eat too much fruit? And how many times a day is it good eating?

Caroline, this is an impossible question for someone to make generalizations about, but can you eat too much fruit? Yes, you can. Can you eat too much meat? Yes, you can. Can you eat too much fat? Yes, you can. Can you eat too much protein? Absolutely. So, everything is everything, and really we’re looking for a harmonious balance. Most people don’t eat too much fruit. In fact, I’ve rarely met anyone who eats too much fruit.

And just to put things in perspective, at one point, when I was living in Thailand, I was living about 90 percent of all my calories came from fruit and I had about a 4.7 percent body fat. I actually couldn’t keep weight on, and I was eating fruit all day long. Every kind of tropical fruit you could imagine, I would buy five mangos, eat those for breakfast, kilos and kilos of rambutans and lychees and all kinds of sweet fruits. But that was a different climate than I live in now, and that was a different biochemistry going on in my body at the time.

The reason I’m guessing you’re asking this, and the reason a lot of people ask this is because a lot of modern diets right now suggest that people should give up fruit to lose weight. And it’s not bad information that they’re giving, but it’s not good information.

What happens is, a lot of weight gain is connected to too many simple carbohydrates, simple sugars, processed sugars, starches, breads, including whole-wheat bread, rice, including brown rice, and so too much rice, bread, pasta, cookies, crackers, all that kind of stuff. And so what happens is, a lot of these modern diets, they’ll say give up the fruit. And the reason they do this is because if you’re eating tons and tons of pasta or rice, cereals, all this kind of weird grains, you’re getting way too much sugar anyway. And so, adding fruit on top of that, yeah, that adds to your sugar load and yeah, that can contribute to weight gain.

The reason a lot of these diets recommend this, is because they don’t even want to tell people to stop eating grains, the pasta, the bread, the rice, because they know people won’t do it. But, if you can do it, it’s much, much better to give up eating grains. Much, much better to control your sugar intake by giving up grains. Grains are inflammatory, all kinds of challenges. They spike your insulin, they spike your blood sugar really fast, and so fruit is a much more natural form of sugar and your body handles it very, very well, specifically when you cut out all the processed grains and you cut out all the processed sugars and all the high fructose syrup and all these kinds of things.

So, can you eat too much fruit? Yes. Most people do not. If you’re struggling with weight and this is a weight question, I’d say keep eating the fruit, stop eating bread, stop eating pasta, stop eating rice and you’ll do just fine.

Tara asks:

I’ve been doing the gravity series for a couple of weeks now, and every time I do Hangman, I experience a lot of pinching in my left elbow. It almost feels like my elbow is over flexing. Is the gravity series recommended for hyper mobile students, or does that put too much pressure on already-lax joints? Is it okay to do the arms one arm at a time in Hangman? Or are there any modifications so I am not putting pressure on my left elbow joint?

Tara, great question. You’re doing the pose wrong. Your elbows should be facing up, so you should not be resting on your elbow joints. It sounds like your arms are inner spiraling, meaning twisting to the inside, and you’re resting on your elbow joints. You want to do the opposite, so the hinge of your elbow is facing up towards the ceiling. A simple way to do this is just bend your elbows a little bit. Your elbows should bend down, not to the sides, not up towards the sky.

If your elbows bend down, you’re in the right position, and you can keep your elbows slightly bend. And in your case, I would recommend that, just bend your elbows a little bit. But no, you don’t want to hang on your joints like that. That’s not the idea.