Dairy & Children’s Flexibility

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Amy asks:

What would you recommend for someone becoming a vegetarian?

We’ve had vegetarian questions for the last few weeks, always happy to help. Amy, if you’re new to it, what I always recommend, or what I’ve been recommending for about the past seven years, is that people start by becoming what I call a reverse vegetarian, and that’s where you give up dairy products, specifically things like milks and yogurts and cheeses, butters and things are less problematic, and instead focus on ideally, ethically raised, organically raised meats.

And I know that’s probably not what you wanted to hear, and that’s a very kind of controversial answer, but from all my research and all my knowledge, you’re just as much a vegetarian not eating dairy as you are eating dairy and not eating meat. It’s more complicated than I can go into here, but what I mean by that is whether your concerns are moral and ethical or environmental or whatever they are, I find that you have a bigger impact by not eating dairy and instead eating meat, what I call reverse vegetarianism.

The big benefit of that is from a health perspective, meat is a whole lot less problematic than dairy. Most people do pretty well with animal products, assuming they’re high quality and hopefully not loaded with pesticides and hormones and these kinds of things, whereas dairy, for most adults, becomes inflammatory, mucus-forming, allergy-forming, one of the more common causes of sinus allergies, a very, very common cause of acne, digestive problems. And it gets worse and worse as you get older.

In any case, that’s what I would recommend. Weird advice, probably not the advice that you wanted to hear, but from a health perspective, from an environmental perspective, and I would even go so far as to say from an ethical perspective, I think it’s really the way to go.

Nicole asks:

I take your YOGABODY Stretch capsules. I’m aiming for greater flexibility. What are your thoughts on dairy and yogurt?

Okay, another good question on dairy and yogurt. So dairy works really, really well for some people. For most people, the older they get, the worse they do with it. Your ethnicity has a great deal to do with it. For example, people from northern Europe has some of the highest ability to digest lactose, one of the sugars in dairy. People from Asia have some of the worst ability, like 80 percent are lactose intolerant.

By the time you’re an adult, almost everyone is having some kind of reaction to dairy. Your reaction might be very small. Someone else’s reaction might be very, very large. A large reaction would be chronic gas and bloating, it would be acne, sinus problems, mucus problems, all of these things can be related to that.

Now, a lot of these complications and issues go away, when you can start eating raw dairy. Unfortunately, in most parts of the world it’s not safe to eat raw dairy. It’s all fine and good until you get tuberculosis, and then it’s no longer good. There are raw dairy forms that I know of in the U.S. and Australia, where you can get raw dairy, and specifically raw fermented dairy, like in the form of a curd or a kefir or a yogurt. For some people, at some time, with some sources, it could be a really good food.

But when you walk into your average supermarket and you’re looking at the animal products available, you’ve got meats and you’ve got fishes and you’ve got dairy, yogurts, milks, they’re the least natural animal product available. They’ve been really, really tweaked and messed with, in most cases pasteurized, homogenized, eradiated, they’ve been de-fatted in some cases. I’m not a big fan.

If you are going to eat dairy, and specifically for younger kids and things it can be really essential, the best thing to do is to make your own yogurt. So store-bought yogurts are crap, they’re made with poor-quality dairy and they’re also over-priced and most of the beneficial bacteria have been killed, because the yogurt is pasteurized. Making your own yogurt is about the easiest thing you could do. It’s about as hard as making a cup of tea.

Literally, you get a yogurt-making kit, which is just a little insulated thing. You have this big glass jar, you dump a bunch of full-fat milk in there. If you are eating dairy, by the way, you want to go with full-fat, non-homogenized milk. And you throw all that in there and you have a little yogurt starter, which is a little packet of friendly bacteria, and you wake up the next morning, you’ve got a big jug of yogurt.

I don’t know why everyone doesn’t make yogurt, it honestly couldn’t be easier. Somehow Dannon and all these yogurt companies have convinced us that there’s some kind of magic that happens with the berries on the bottom or something.

But if you’re going to do dairy, buying your own local dairy from any farmer you know who’s not a big farmer, is going to be better. Ideally, getting grass-fed dairy. What happens is, all our big agricultural animals like chickens and cows, basically chickens, cows and pigs, they all just eat corn. When people talk about grain-fed animals, that’s the grain they’re talking about. They mostly just eat corn. They eat other things, too, but mostly corn. So you’ve got all these animals just eating corn all day, and the quality of their health really suffers because of that.

And so when you get animals eating more naturally, you get better nutrient density in the foods you’re eating. So that’s why alternative dairies, like buffalo milk, like goat’s milk and here in Europe they have donkey’s milk, they’re almost always nutritionally superior and less allergenic, because the animals are healthier eating more natural foods.

For whatever reason, people get squeamish thinking about goat’s milk and donkey milk. I have no idea why. If you’re totally up for drinking cow’s milk, why not a goat? It’s kind of crazy to me, the weird hang-ups people have about one animal product and another.

In any case, yogurt is not amazing. It’s an interesting food. It’s much, much more interesting when you make it yourself. Store-bought yogurt is not that exciting as a food, and it’s a problematic source of protein, in that it tends to be inflammatory. It is a really great source of fat. The best thing about dairy is the fat, and so it’s a shame that people pull out the fat. Non-fat dairy is like taking away the best part of it. It’s like taking the skin off an organic apple. The skin is where all the nutrients are. Dairy fat is the best thing about it. And if you’re eating grass-fed animals, that fat can have all kinds of really great nutrients in it as well.

So my thoughts on dairy are see what works for you. Everybody is different. Some people do great with dairy their whole life. Most people get less and less tolerant of it, and they might just have little signs like some acne or some digestion or some bloating or gas or some sinus problems. You kind of have to weigh the benefits of it, but for sure, fermented dairy is less allergenic.

Part of the reason is because the fermenting process, that lactose is partially digested by the bacteria, so it gets rid of some of those dairy sugars. Hope that’s helpful, kind of a long answer there.

Robert asks:

Do you have a view on goat’s milk? Is it better than cow’s milk? Could you recommend any exercises for stretching ankles?

Okay, we’ll talk about the goat’s milk thing first. Do I think goat’s milk is better? I don’t think a goat is better than a cow. What I like about goats is they’re less commercially bred than cows, exponentially less, and so what that means is, as an animal, it’s a more natural animal. A cow, as it currently exists, is more like a poodle. It’s kind of perversion of modern agriculture. So a goat is more natural, in that sense.

There are some people that argue, too, that goat’s milk is closer to human’s milk, in terms of the fat and protein ratio, so it’s more digestible. As a product, generally your goat farmers tend to be organic goat farmers, so you can get higher-quality goat’s milk. So I for sure think it’s something to try, if you’re a big milk person.

In terms of ankle stretches, Robert asks particularly bending the foot upwards, so it’s possible to squat down with your feet flat on the floor. This is a great question. Say your feet are about as wide as your hips and you want to squat down, as though you were squatting down to go to the bathroom in the woods. A lot of people get stuck about halfway or three-quarters of the way, and they feel like it’s their ankles. It’s a funny thing, but it’s almost always not your ankles, but instead it’s your hips, and tight hips keep you from being able to squat down.

When your hips are very open, you can squat down with your bum right against your heels, very, very comfortably, with your heels flat on the ground. And so, Robert, I would focus on hip openers. Your ankles do need to stretch, but that will probably happen naturally and much more quickly than your hips, which is a very, very big, complex joint.

Kim asks:

I would like my daughter, who dances, to become more flexible. She is 7 years old and can’t swallow capsules. Actually, I don’t even know if the supplements can be used on children. Can you direct me to information about increasing the flexibility of children beyond stretching?

Kim, this is a great question. So children tend to be naturally flexible. They can start to lose it very, very fast, which is a strange thing, but generally a child’s body is very floppy and very open, and a lot of that has to do with lack of coordination. So they don’t have that same strong stretch reflex, like an adult will, where they’ll immediately tense up and resist a stretch. A child, the nervous system part of it, they’re able to relax a lot faster.

Now, children have trouble with the patience and any discomfort, so when you get into a stretch, they can really suffer. What people do, and this is not something I’d recommend, but what people do to help children get flexible in the dance schools and the gymnastic schools is they stretch them. So you’ll see gymnastic coaches and dance teachers actually physically stretching kids out, meaning holding them down in the splits, standing on their legs and all this kind of stuff. That makes me pretty nervous. I wouldn’t recommend that, but that is what’s done.

In terms of food and things, just make sure she’s properly hydrated. Make sure not a whole lot of mucus-forming foods, so try to lay off the grains and dairy. The thing about kids is they can double their flexibility very, very fast. They can make huge gains very, very quickly. It’s more about just getting into a routine and trying to keep kids still. The holding things for a long time is really a challenge, so you might play around with showing some cartoons or singing a song when she’s in a stretch, something like that. But without doing stretches, it’s going to be challenging.

If she’s doing dance, she’s doing a lot of dynamic flexibility movements. What I mean by that is she’s doing leaps and bounces and plies and these kinds of things, which are dynamic, which is very important to have dynamic flexibility. But in terms of building flexibility, dynamic stretches are less effective than passive stretches. Dynamic would be kicking your leg in the air, passive would be hanging over your leg, completely relaxed. Hope that’s helpful.

Elizabeth asks:

Over the past six months, I have developed tendonitis in my left ankle and foot. I’m no longer able work in a job which requires standing on my feet. The only form of exercise my doctor says is swimming or floor exercises. Can you recommend some exercises to help with the condition?

Elizabeth, very common, I’ve had tendonitis off and on, many times in my life in my heel. There is no simple answer. The one thing that I can tell you that’s helped me, which may or may not help you, for sure talk to your doctor, but it’s getting rid of supportive shoes, and this is counterintuitive.

What you think is, I need the support because my feet are weak or because I’m prone to these tendon problems, but the reality is that oftentimes over-supported shoes turn us into what they call a heel striker, which means when you walk or when you run, you land way too hard on your heel because your shoe is so padded, you can just whack that heel and it doesn’t hurt initially. But that radiation, that high pressure really turns into something big.

So about seven years ago, I quit wearing shoes with any kind of support whatsoever. I wear completely flat shoes, in many cases with a very, very thin sole. At first it felt hard to walk, my gates changed significantly. The most dramatic thing that happened to me is I gained a full shoe size, an entire inch on my feet, and that happened because I’d been wearing hyper arch support shoes my whole life, because the same thing like you, when I was a kid I had really bad tendonitis and I just always assumed I needed to wear massive arch support, and it just did the opposite. It turned me into a heel striker, a chronic heel striker where I’d just whack my heels every time I’d step and that really caused a lot of things.

Other things are just no or low-impact stuff, like your doctor recommended, like swimming. Cycling would be a great one. Most yoga you’ll have no trouble with as well, so I wouldn’t be afraid to do athletic yoga classes, like a power flow ashtanga class, something like that. Hope that’s helpful.

Leon asks:

Have you got any advice and natural remedies for athlete’s foot?

Leon, there’s a famous comedian, Chris Rock, who does this routine where he’s talking about how all our medical advances, we haven’t gotten anywhere because we can’t even cure the common cold or athlete’s foot, and that is really true.

It’s completely unsuccessful. What people do is there’s topical creams and there’s ingestible anti-fungals. They’re really, really harsh on your body, though. They’re really harsh on your liver and things. But the reality is, there is no cure, and it’s just kind of part of our life. You think of it like a turtle with barnacles stuck to its shell. It’s kind of like that.

People don’t realize, but our entire bodies are covered with bacteria and fungus. It’s part of who we are. In any case, it’s more about managing, not about curing, and so you just have to figure it out. At any given point, pretty much everyone in the world has the fungus spores for athlete’s foot on their feet, it’s just a matter of whether or not it’s going to get manifested.

Yoga rooms are notorious for this, yoga locker rooms, yoga showers. You just have to try to figure out the best ways you can do to keep your feet dry, keep your feet clean, remove dead skin, change your socks, try to wear open-toed shoes, but it’s a plague of the 21st century.

Suri asks:

I have just purchases your YOGABODY Handbook, which is fantastic! When attempting the Lightning Bolt, I can’t even sit on my heels, as my ankles are too tight. I also cannot sit up straight, due to the flexibility in my ankles is so bad. Should I keep on practicing, or is there another way you would recommend?

Suri, so Lightening Bolt is a pose where you’re on your knees and you sit down between your heels or on your heels. So, Suri, what I want you to do is put a blanket underneath your feet, and I want you to put a pillow between your bum and your heels. So you’re doing exactly as before, but you’ve got a blanket underneath your feet, so your ankles have some softness, and then put a nice big pillow under your bum and just work from there.

The key thing is not trying to get the pose perfect, but just figuring out a way to work it. So start from there and work slowly, and you’ll find that very, very soon you’ll be able to put your bum on your heels, just always be cautious of your knees. Never, ever push your joints. I always say don’t fry your joints, don’t burn your joints. Take it one step at a time, and you’ll get there quickly.