Shrink My Belly Yoga Poses?

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Seda asks:

I’m a runner (long distance) and I LOVE Ashtanga Yoga as well. Even though my body is getting stronger, I feel like my running is going backwards, in terms of speed. I was wondering if running and Ashtanga can be done together. Will I break down at some point if I keep up the intensity of both of them?

There’s no right and wrong answer to this, Seda. The truth is, if you’re trying to get really, really good at anything, whether it’s a certain style of yoga or running or Olympic dead lifting or whatever you’re trying to do, obviously if you focus mostly on one thing you tend to excel more, which is why professional athletes, they tend to focus just on one sport, even though they might be able to perform professionally at just one level. It doesn’t sound like you’re a professional athlete, but just to kind of put things in perspective.

So can you do them both together? Yeah, for sure. They are definitely yin and yang activities, in terms of balancing each other out, so it could be really great. But could your running slow down your yoga practice? Sure. Could your yoga slow down your running practice? It might, but I think the real question is, if you love them both maybe that’s more important than anything. And so anything that you love that’s physical, I always tell people never quit doing that, because there’s nothing that feels better than doing something that you love with your body.

Cheong asks:

My main problem being raw vegan is that I think I was eating way too much fruit instead of vegetables. My sugar levels were crazy, and I’d be starving an hour or so after eating, craving sugar and fat really badly, usually fruit and avocado/nuts. Are there any foods you suggest to balance a mostly fruit diet that would fill me up a little more and not get my sugar levels out of whack?

In the raw food world, there’s a bunch of different little cults within the raw food world, and one of them is the people who eat primarily fruit. It’s kind of led by a guy named Douglas Graham, and they have an 80/10/10 diet, where they’re eating 80 percent of their calories from carbohydrates in the form of fruit primarily, and then 10 percent fat and 10 percent protein.

The reality is when you’re eating that way, for very few people is that going to make you feel good. This kind of sugar cravings, constantly being hungry that you’re experiencing, this is really, really common. And so there are some people it works for, but most people it won’t. So if you’re eating a high raw or raw vegan diet, the question you need to ask yourself is, “Where am I getting my protein, and where am I getting my fat?” Primarily fat, because there’s not that much protein. There’s plenty of protein, so that’s not the concern, but you need to be asking yourself where are you getting it, so you have to focus on eating a high-fat diet.

The most successful, most intelligent way to approach mostly raw food, plant-based diet is a high-fat approach, and those are plant-based fats, things from nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fruits like durian and coconuts. But if you do not do that, you have to eat a lot of sugar. If you’re eating a lot of sugar, your blood sugar levels will go up and down, up and down for most people, and they’ll feel exactly what you’re feeling. Cravings, energy changing, very moody, people get cranky and it can even lead to metabolic disorders long term. Now because it’s fruit, it’s much less likely to create metabolic disorders, but it still can happen.

So focus on eating a really healthy source of fat all the time and eating a lot more fat. If you want to do more reading about this, the guy to read is Dr. Gabriel Cousens. He was a medical doctor and he teaches raw food, and he’s been teaching a low-glycemic, high-fat raw food diet for 30 years.

Ravi asks:

I have a tummy which is not going down. Do you have any gravity poses for reducing it?

This is a common question. People want to do spot reduction, so they’ll say, “I’ve got cellulite on my thighs. Can I spot reduce that?” Or, “I’ve got this double chin. What can I do to get rid of that?” Spot reduction doesn’t really work, and what I mean by that is you can’t decide, “Okay, I have a little bit of belly fat, I’m going to do sit-ups and that’s going to burn away that fat because my stomach will get sore.”

That’s not really the way your body works. Your body tends to gain and lose fat uniformly. Now your body doesn’t store fat uniformly, as you know. You might have no fat on your wrists but a lot of fat on your ankles, or you might have no fat on your back but a lot of fat on your belly. So your genetics and your eating habits determine where your body is going to store fat. In terms of getting rid of fat, it’s not that easy to do spot reduction.

Now that said, belly fat, lower abdominal fat in particular, can be triggered by a couple of different things. There are certain types of sugars which are metabolized in the liver, and they have a tendency to store abdominal fat. The most clear example of this would be alcohol sugars. So somebody who is an alcoholic, somebody who drinks a lot, will say they have a beer belly. I’m sure you know somebody who has a beer belly. Their body looks perfectly normal until you get to their belly, and they have this big, rotund ball right in their lower abdomen.

So there’s certain foods that do that. One of them is alcohol sugars. Another one is fructose, so if you’re eating a lot of high fructose corn syrup, such as in processed foods, or if you’re eating—it’s not going to happen from eating fruit, but if you were to eat piles and piles of fruit. It’s primarily from fructose, fructose that’s been extracted and used in processed foods. That can do it. Sweet, sugary drinks, soda pops, all these kinds of things.

But it’s also just possible that that’s where your body stores fat, and in order to lose tummy fat you need to reduce your total body fat. How can you do that? Well there’s a number of different ways. Exercise is one of the least effective ways. Diet is going to be responsible for about 80 percent of that, and focusing on low-glycemic, higher protein, mostly higher fat foods is what is going to put your body in a metabolic state, where it can burn its own fat as fuel, where you can balance your blood sugar and you’re not going to be craving sugars all the time. There’s a lot more complexity to that, but hopefully that gives you a place to start from.

Claire asks:

Regarding staying bendy, I have developed an inflammatory condition which is making it difficult to flex my shoulders and arms and stiffens my knees and causes my plantar fasciitis not to heal. Do you have any advice you can give me?

An inflammatory condition, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if that’s Lupus or if that’s some other autoimmune inflammatory condition, I’m guessing yes. Inflammatory conditions cause all kinds of joint problems throughout the body, systemic inflammation, which it sounds like you’re suffering from.

Without knowing more, I can’t really tell you much. All I can tell you is that this goes for everybody, but particularly for you, you need to really reduce inflammatory foods in your diet. One of the biggest offenders is wheat and wheat gluten. It’s very, very inflammatory. Wheat and wheat gluten has been linked, in some cases, to arthritis. In fact, people stop eating grains and sometimes their arthritis goes away altogether. I don’t know if that’s going to happen here for you, but for sure I would try to get rid of all the gluten in your diet and see if that helps.

Also focusing on anti-inflammatory foods, one of the top on the list are omega-3 fats. They’re very, very effective at reducing systemic inflammation, so make sure you’re eating them every day. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, if you eat animal products, small coldwater fish or fish oils of really good quality could be a good choice for you.

Bev asks:

My husband suffers terrible motion sickness travelling on boats and most recently, swimming in the ocean from jetty to jetty across the natural flow of water. Is there a particular yoga practice or pose that could help balance the middle ear, or are there specific foods or vitamins that can be taken?

So motion sickness is something that you just get used to in general. So somebody will, let’s say they’re a deckhand on a boat, they’ll be puking their first couple of days, suddenly any storm comes and they never get sick. So it’s something you get accustomed to. For example, I spend very little time in cars. I can now get car sick very easily. Meanwhile, in my past life, I drove all the time, passenger all the time, never got car sick. So it’s something that you just get habituated to.

The one thing is, if you’re getting motion sickness when you’re swimming in the ocean, that’s uncommon because you’re sort of interacting with your environment. It’s the same as when you’re driving. You should never get motion sick because your eyes are following the road, which makes me wonder if perhaps there’s something going on in your inner ear, like a mucus block or like an infection or something like that.

I would for sure go get it checked out, because it certainly could be. People will get vertigo and they’ll get nausea when they have mucus blocks and things. That might not be the case, but that’s what I would go and take a look at.

Other than that, of course there’s motion sickness pills. Fresh ginger is said to be more powerful. It’s tested more powerful than any of the motion sickness pills. The challenge is you need to take quite a lot of it. So unless you’re juicing it or unless you’re eating like dehydrated ginger, it’s hard to get enough of it for it to be effective. But it is, in theory, more effective than any of the Dramamine or over-the-counter pills you would get.

Margo asks:

I am 62 years old, I walk for an hour every day, I have been doing yoga for three years. Today I am cutting out dairy, but I am still drinking my one morning coffee, without milk. I am very interested in improving my flexibility. My only health issue is Glaucoma. It is controlled, but I have been told not to hold inverted poses due to the pressure. What is your experience with this? Holding the standing forward bend is tempting, however do you feel I should be cautious with this?

First of all, walking an hour a day, awesome. Probably nothing better you could do for your health, fantastic. Cutting out dairy, again, I think you’ll probably find that makes a huge difference. If you’re just drinking one coffee a day, I wouldn’t worry about it. There’s a lot worse things that you could do. If you’re controlling it to one, you’re not putting sugar and milk in there, don’t worry about it.

In terms of Glaucoma, yeah, if your doctor is telling you don’t go upside down, don’t do it. You can do the same thing, in terms of a passive forward bend, you can do it seated on the floor. You have to use maybe a prop underneath your bum, like a pillow, or a block or a book, and you want to bend your knees to soften it on your lower back, but you can certainly do that on the floor. So I wouldn’t push it. You don’t want to mess around with Glaucoma. Follow your doctor’s order, but try that pose seated on the floor.

Malathy asks:

I am curious to know your perspective on health about taking superfruit juices like acai, mangosteen, goji and Noni. Do you think they can help yoga students improve strength and flexibility?

What happens is, every year the nutritional supplement manufacturers, my colleagues, they go out looking for some new, weird fruit, it’s usually a fruit, some new fruit, berry, vegetable, herb, something that has crazy amounts of antioxidants and then they give it all these properties and make all these wild claims about it.

Acai is the most well-known example. For two years, everybody was selling acai as a weight loss supplement. Acai is a berry from South America. Acai, like blueberries, is really high in antioxidants. Mangosteen is really, really high in antioxidants. If you don’t know mangosteen, mangosteen is a delicious, sweet/sour fruit from Southeast Asia. We get them in Thailand all the time. It’s very, very difficult to store. Goji berries, gojis are red-looking raisins, and Noni is a barely edible tropical fruit that’s fermented before it’s eaten. So all of these foods are fantastic, acai, mangosteen, goji, Noni, they all taste great, they make you feel great.

The challenge is, whenever we’re talking about anything antioxidant, freshness is a huge factor. And acai, mangosteen, goji and Noni, almost nobody gets those fresh, unless you’re living in the tropics. When I lived in the tropics, I would buy mangosteens from the back of a truck on the side of the road, and I’d buy them by the kilo and that was very, very fresh. We’d also have fresh, local Noni that was fermented and live. Everything else, I’ve never had fresh acai, I’ve never had fresh goji.

And so what happens is, if you’re comparing apples to apples, or in this case berries to berries, a fresh blueberry is going to be better than a dried acai, and let’s say a fresh, wild plum is going to be better than a dried or freeze-dried or processed mangosteen. All their antioxidant properties that they’re so renowned for, they all really become inert when you have to package them.

So if you can get fresh acai, fresh mangosteen, fresh goji, fresh Noni, go for it. If you can’t, go buy whatever’s in your area. Buy the super foods, buy the super antioxidants, fruits and vegetables and herbs that you can find in your area. They’re going to be way, way more potent.

Are they going to make you more strong or more flexible? Not directly, but cleaning up free radicals in your body, adding to your nutrition, these things are all great.

Lauren asks:

Is it okay to practice gravity yoga poses every day?

Yes, Lauren, no problem at all. You just want to make sure that you’re not overdoing it. Overdoing it would be if you’re experiencing soreness all day long or if you’re limping around or this kind of thing. But yes, you can certainly stretch every day. Stretching, unlike strength training, is something you can do every day. It’s cumulative, and there isn’t the complexity that you get with resistance training.

Pawan asks:

Can you do the whole routine daily? Meaning, can I go through all the hamstring stretches, all the hip stretches, all of the shoulder stretches, etc? If I did 5 Sun Salutations A and then did 5 Sun Salutations B and then did the entire stretching routine, that would be a pretty good yoga practice in itself no?

Yes, that’s a great practice. We teach it in a class. It takes about 75 minutes and we call it gravity yoga, and you can certainly do everything in one go. Exactly what you said is a good way to do it, with some Sun Salutes to warm up and then get right into it.

To make the above routine even more complete, could I also introduce the Yoga Trapeze for inversions?

Yeah, if you did that you’re going to be feeling fantastic. That’s going to be probably the best day of your week.

Carol asks:

I’ve tried stretching my hamstrings before and have hurt some muscles that affected my knee occasionally. Is this stretch safe to do? Should there be warms ups before these stretches?

Carol, you should be able to do a hamstring stretch cold, meaning just drop into it. What I’m going to tell you right now is very, very important if you’ve had knee twinges before. Every time you forward bend, I want you to micro-bend your knees, which means don’t lock them out. Don’t let your knee ride into the hip joint. Bend your knee slightly. It will cause a little bit of muscular engagement, but it’s going to really help you to protect those knees, and then listen to your body. But no, you don’t need to warm up. You should be able to go straight into a hamstring stretch. Just don’t bounce around, don’t wiggle around, don’t pull or yank or anything like that.

Rachel asks:

I have been practicing Bikram yoga on and off for 11 years, so I really don’t have any other experience with any other types of yoga. What do you think? In your professional opinion, do you think Bikram is the best one to practice?

It really depends. If you love Bikram yoga, keep doing Bikram yoga. Don’t worry about it. People get so worried that this practice is imbalanced here, imbalanced there. Listen, if you love it and it’s working for you, keep doing it. A lot of people are moving away from Bikram yoga for a number of reasons. One is the longevity of it, people do find that it lacks upper body work, it lacks core work. There’s some truth to that for sure, but like I said, what’s working for you is what’s working for you. Don’t get obsessed. One of the best things you can do for your health is go for a walk, and yet people buy these super-complicated fitness programs, they hire these crazy trainers and it’s like, “Well, I would just go for a walk and do a couple push-ups.” That’s a really, really fantastic thing for your health.

The one thing I will say about Bikram yoga, is Bikram comes from a guy named Bikram Choudhury, who’s an Indian-born, Los Angeles resident, who’s just kind of a bad person. There’s all kinds of lawsuits and all kinds of horrible things around the Bikram yoga scene, and a lot of people are moving away from Bikram yoga, just because they don’t want anything to do with this man, and that is a pretty fair assessment.

For a number of years, my colleagues really defended him and said, “Hey, he just kind of behaves bad,” but he’s not a good person. I don’t want to get into it, but not the kind of person you want to be associated with, so a lot of people just look for other organizations, just because they don’t want to support an organization with that kind of person as the leader. A lot of stuff that you would really not like to be associated with.

In any case, if it’s working for you, keep doing it. If you’ve got a good teacher at your local studio, you trust your teacher, and trust me, there are thousands of really, really great people teaching Bikram yoga. Just unfortunately the man himself is not a person you’d like to meet in a dark room, but that is what it is.