Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Twisty Tuesdays - Pranayama (Breath)

One of the most challenging skills to acquire in yoga is mastering the breath, or pranayama. Your breath connects you to every body system you have, but most notably the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. How does this relate to wellness? The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls the fight or flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) controls your relaxed state.

Try to recall the last time you had a scare or where startled. Your heart jumped up into your throat, your pulse raced and your breathing changed. Perhaps you gasped. This is the SNS kicking in. It has a wonderful purpose: to keep you alive in an emergency. As such, turning on the SNS and turning off the PSNS changes what is going on in your body. The SNS raises your blood pressure, redirects blood from your digestive system to your brain, your pupils dilate, your breathing rate increases.

We are going to focus on the breathing rate in this Twisty Tuesday (I promise, there is yoga in here). Short shallow breathing triggers your SNS. It puts the PSNS on the back burner and takes over. Americans, and westerners in general, take short, shallow "chest breaths" all the time. We live in a constant state of "fight or flight." Our organ systems are put under tremendous stress in this environment. The digestive system gets less blood and slows, our blood pressure is constantly elevated and we get headaches.

How do you arrest the cycle? Deep belly breathing. The ancient yogi's knew this and developed Yogic Breathing or The Three Part Breath. Their lives were not without stress: no grocery stores, no clothing stores, if you wanted to eat or be clothed, you were responsible for doing something about satisfying that need. There was no Valium, but they were able to control their breath. So, they did.

The yogic breath is easy to learn and immediately shuts off the overdrive of the SNS. It is easiest learned laying down, but can be practiced sitting up, standing, driving, etc. Read this through a couple of times and then try it on your own! To teach your children, have them lay down and read them a story. I recommend a poetic or relaxing story: The Giving Tree 40th Anniversary Edition Book with CD or A Child's Book of Poems are good choices and non-arousing as are CD's aimed at relaxation for children.

  • Begin by getting comfortable: laying down, sitting reclined, standing.
  • Notice your breath. Notice the way the air feels moving in and out of your nose.
  • Close your eyes. Close your mouth. Place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper teeth.
  • Wiggle your fingers and toes just a bit to be sure they are relaxed.
  • Place your hands on your belly.
  • Begin your first inhale and concentrate on filling the belly with air. Physically inflate your belly: this forces you to breath using only your diaphragm, the way your children breath when they are sleeping.
  • Exhale fully and draw your navel into your spine.
  • Do this 3 times.
  • Place your hands on your ribs.
  • Inhale, filling the belly and continue to inhale causing your ribs to expand.
  • Exhale, first focusing on deflating the ribs, then pulling the navel into your spine.
  • Do this 3 times.
  • Place your hands on your upper chest, just under your collarbones.
  • Inhale, filling the belly, expanding the ribs and finally, stretching the sternum.
  • Exhale, releasing the sternum, deflating the ribs and pulling your navel into your spine.
  • Release your arms to your sides and continue to breath this way as long as you please!

Teaching children a breathing exercise like this is difficult. It is possible to have them put their hands on their tummies and feel the expansion and deflation of their bellies, but beyond that, it is more important to teach them to relax. Reading a quiet story or listening to a CD while they lay down are what I recommend. Both parents and children will benefit from this state of relaxation and when times get stressful, the Three Part Breath can be used to help diffuse the reflexes of the SNS and allow your PSNS to take over, leading to better health and overall wellness!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Safer Bubble Bath

from psychology today
With reports coming out all the time touting various additives in health and beauty products as dangerous to our bodies, how can you preserve simple pleasures like bubble baths for your children? You have to do a little research and play with some trial and error. Here are two bubble baths we have tried lately that seem to work great as far as high volume bubbles and long lasting bubbles. (Meaning you don't have to use as much of the stuff so it lasts longer!)

Aromasaurus Rex Aroma Therapy Bath, 20-Ounces (Pack of 2):
We are loving this paraben and pthalate free bubble bath powder right now! We have hard water where we live and the Aromasaurus bubbles up really nicely. The bath we have now has a lavendar "sleep" scent but they also have bath washes with light citrus scents, so you can avoid what becomes the annoying repetetive bubble gum scents and as parents, you can benefit from some light aromatherapy helping you keep and even keel with the kids! Another added plus: it has a dinosaur on the package. Our three year old boy digs dinos, so this bubble bath won him over pretty quickly!

Burt's Bees Baby Bee Bubble Bath, 12-Ounce Bottles (Pack of 2)
Whew! That's a mouthful, but this company does it again! Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate free as well as paraben and pthalate free baby products from Burt's work really well. They have an actual "baby" smell, not quite baby powder, but still a baby scent. It isn't overpowering and is nice and calming, not only for baby, but also for mom and dad! We need a little more of this in our bathtub to get the big bubbles, again, we have hard water. If you have mid-range or soft water, you won't have to use nearly as much!

You may find some other products you like, these are our favorites right now. They rated high for mommy in safety in ingredients, non-annoying smells and bubble production. The boy like the dinosaur picture on Aromasaurus and the girl liked the "baby bee." Happy Bubble Bathing!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is a Whole Grain - Part I

You hear it all the time, “5g of whole grains!,” “half of your grains should come from whole grain sources,” and on and on. Well, what is a whole grain? What makes one whole and another, well, not?

A whole grain is exactly what it sounds like: a grain completely intact. Grains that can be either whole or otherwise are wheat, rice, barley and oat. They are the most common. Well then, what is the “otherwise” state of a grain? White: polished or refined.

In order to have a full understanding of the differences between whole grains and white grains, we need to back up a little bit. Back to the title of the post: what is a whole grain?

Whole grains have four parts to their kernel: the germ, the endosperm, the bran and the husk. The germ has oils containing vitamins, minerals and protein. The endosperm is soft, white and contains a bit of protein and starches. The bran is the fiber laden portion of the kernel, also providing nutrients. The husk is also known as the chaff and in traditional wheat preparation, as the grains are tossed, the chaff blows away.

What happens to make a grain refined or polished? For wheat, the bran, husk, and germ are removed and the part left is the endosperm. Remember how we described it earlier? White, soft . . . does that make you think of anything? YES! White sandwich bread! So, after reading the above descriptions, you can ascertain the nutritional value of bread made with white flour as opposed to whole wheat flour is rather dismal. Right? Let’s move on . . .

Rice. What happened to rice? It grows white and fluffy, doesn’t it? No, in fact, it doesn’t. Rice is brown, black, red, dark brown . . . a veritable rainbow of colors. So, how does it become white? Polishing. Rice was never intended to be white, that is the endosperm again. The bran and germ are rubbed off, leaving a beautiful, fluffy, nutritionless grain (barely) of rice. The same thing is done to barley (called pearling, although it leaves much more of the bran intact) and oats are steamed, rolled and chopped.

What you are left with, as a consumer, is a shelf stable, easily transportable, easily baked product. No oil to go rancid, the “food” is easily digested, the taste is light and fluffy and the resulting “food” is useless to our bodies. Why? Check back . . . What is a Whole Grain: Part II, coming soon!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Twisty Tuesday - MEYOWWWW and MOOOOOOO

This Tuesday we are going to learn some more yoga you can do with your children! Durga-Go, or Cat and Cow Pose; it’s a great back releaser for you, helps to expand the lungs for better, deeper breathing, and kids like this one because of the recognizable animal names! You can even do this one if you are pregnant!

• To begin you should be on all fours, legs under hips, toes flat on the floor, arms under shoulders, fingers spread wide. Remember to keep your shoulders back: don’t wear them as earrings!
• Inhale, exhale, inhale and on your next exhale, tuck your pelvis, push with your arms, drop your head and round your back up towards the ceiling. This is Durga or cat..
• On an inhale, arch your back, imagine your sit bones reaching towards the sky, keep the shoulders rolled back, press your hands into the mat while pulling back and look up. Don’t compress the spine. Imagine your spine is lengthening out, out, out in both directions. You will feel this stretch all along the front body. This is Go or cow.
• Complete a few rotations of Durga-Go and continue into another posture, or keep going! This is a fabulous stretch to do first thing in the morning and a very easy, albeit brief practice. Durga-Go also helped me get to sleep during both of my pregnancies. The gentle rocking soothes the little one back to sleep and the breath matching with movement (vinyasa) helped calm my already overactive mommy brain.

In order to teach children this pose you have to get down on the floor with them. You can meow as you come into Cat (the one where your head is down) and then have them look up at the ceiling for Cow. Their backs will naturally arch as they look up. You may need to adjust their shoulders, but probably not.

The first time I taught my kids this asana(posture or pose), they kept mooing and dropping into child’s pose. While oddly appropriate, it wasn’t what I wanted them to do. I had to abandon the lesson/practice for that day and try again another time. Try to remember they are kids and toddlers are toddlers. There’s no point pushing everyone. They will get it eventually! Remember to relax and have fun. Soon your little ones will be asking to “do the yoga” and you will have mini-yogis keeping you in your practice!

Who Influences You?

Traditionally, children have been raised by not only their parents, but also their aunts, uncles, grandparents, and whoever else lived nearby. Parents had vast stores of information to tap for issues that would arise and techniques to deal with those issues. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, so this family centered advice system was indispensible. As a society, we don’t live in the same style family units as our grandparents and their families. So, where does the advice come from now?

There are those who will pick up the phone and call mom, grandma or a trusted friend, but many turn to books and magazines: not all together a bad idea. I don’t live at all close to my family (read thousands of miles away from) so I use books to gather information and ideas. Sometimes a magazine comes across my desk and I get fun activity ideas for the kids there.

The most recent issue of a parenting niche magazine came in the mail kind of randomly. I don’t subscribe to it, but it came to the house so I flipped through the issue. As usual, there were some great activity ideas, cute things children had said, articles about manners, organization, etc. What caught my eye were the ads.

There were fifteen advertisements in the magazine for highly processed, unhealthy foods all aimed at children. Touts of “Lower Sugar!,” “Natural Fruit Ingredients,” and “Unconditional Love.” There were also three pages of ads for infant formula and zero promoting breastfeeding!

Why did I notice this? Why did it bother me? In defense of the magazine, they did run articles on how to make really fun and cute veggie snacks for children and others teaching moms how to use portion control to keep dinners at an appropriate size . . . but those ads were large, bright colorful and in your face. There were only three ads promoting healthier snack options for children. With so many of our young people being diagnosed as obese, is it irresponsible for magazines to run these ads? I think so.

As books and magazines further replace the trusted advice of grandma and mom, they carry a heavier burden of responsibility. So do their readers. While article content becomes more geared towards healthier living and child raising, the advertisers keep making their ads prettier and brighter and trickier. It is up to us readers to sift through the muck and mire and filter out the bad. Processed foods are never as good for your children as whole, real foods.

Instead of processed foods, here are some great resources for developing your own nutrition plan for your children: (I reccomend Deceptively Delicious with a caviat: use butter instead of margarine. Butter is a whole food, margarine is 100% processed. Also, use natural extracts instead of "flavors" and plain yogurt. Great ideas for healthy snacks, though. Formal Review to come!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Farmers' Markets

from orlando-blogger.com

What is one of the best ways to begin incorporating yourself into a community? Farmers' Markets! Why? Well . . .

The people selling their products at a Farmers' Market are local: meaning they live within a specific radius of the market, usually 100 miles or less. The implications for this are, oddly enough, far reaching. The farmers, cattlemen, millers (yes, there are still millers) and other craftsmen live in your area. The food transportation requires fewer fossil fuels to get to you. The food is always fresh (usually picked that morning). The farms are smaller, so the costs of pesticides and herbicides render them unprofitable for the producers. Your dollars stay local: you literally shake the hand that feeds you!

The region you live in frequently dictates the items in your market. Most areas sell tomatoes in the summer, cucumbers, greens, etc. But more specialized items reveal the nature of the local ecosystems. Peppers, specialized greens, squashes, flowers all change with the different markets. There is also the opportunity to check out local, usually ethnic, foods. In one of the Houston, TX Farmers' Markets they were selling empanadas (which I had never tried before), in Fairbanks, AK there is jewelry made from mastodon tusks, in Clarksville, TN there is newly spun woolen yarn. Honey, grain fed meat, petting zoos and natural body care products are also popular. Spending time in your local farmers' market gives you access to a cross-section of the population connected to the land.

We are headed out to the Seasonal Farmers' Market this morning, after hitting our local year-round Farmers' Market (it's in a hard side building here in Alaska). The kids will come with me; every market I have been to is child friendly and most people are willing to offer samples to the kiddos . . . honey is a favorite!

So, go check out your local farmers' market this weekend! If you don't know where it is, check these websites:

Going to your local market? Here are some things to make it more enjoyable! A guidebook with many recipes and reusable bags for all your wares! NOTE: Many markets take cash or check only!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Twisty Tuesday: Yoga for you and your mini-yogis!

It's Tuesday, so why not have a "Twisty Tuesday?" Each tuesday I hope to have a blog post dealing with yoga: poses for you and for your little yogis and yoginis.

Yoga is a wonderful addition to any family wellness plan and yes, anyone can practice yoga. Anyone. There are many many styles and approaches to yoga, but these posts will focus on a fun, lighthearted approach and give you insight as to what resources are available to further your practice, change it up and get your kids involved.

Poses this time will include Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Forward Bend (Uttasana) and a mild back bend.

Mountain Pose is a foundation to a good, strong yoga practice. It is a standing pose and many yoga styles begin their practice from this pose.
  • Begin standing, with your feet hip width apart and parallel to each other. Spread your toes (think of those little crazy haired trolls) and lift your arches. This is your grounding.
  • Imagine your knee caps are lifting onto your thighs (don't lock your knees, lift the caps). This will support your lower back and protect your hamstrings from over-extending.
  • Imagine your tailbone pointing down into the ground. The idea is to avoid sticking it out like a duck, but to avoid tucking it under too far. Stand up straight.
  • Hunch your shoulders up to your ears and then roll them down. Imagine your shoulder blades sliding down your back. Let your arms "dangle" at your sides and leave your palms open. 
  • To keep your neck neutral, tip your chin down slightly. Lengthen your body along your spine while grounding your legs down through your feet. 
  • Ta Da! Tadasana! (Who knew standing up straight had so many directions!)
Forward Bend, or Uttasana, begins with Mountain Pose. You will first complete a mild back bend and then fold into forward bend.
  • From Mountain Pose, rotate your wrists so your palms face out. Keeping your arms straight, raise them up over your head as if you are trying to catch a large bubble. Keep your shoulder blades sliding down your back with your arms reaching uward. You can look straight ahead or up between your hands.
  • For the back bend, squeeze your buttocks and lift UP and back at the same time. You will want to avoid squishing your lower back, so the lifting up and back is important. This is a mild, slight backbend; don't bring your arms more than a few inches behind your hips. 
  • For the forward bend, keeping your back flat, start reaching up out to your sides with your hands (think of a swan dive). Keep your chin up and back flat. Hinge at the hips.
  • Continue to legnthen your spine as you bend at the hips. When you get to a point where you can't go any farther without rounding your back, either bend your knees or place your hands on your thighs, shins, ankles or on teh floor. 
  • Relax the neck and let gravity continue to release you into the pose. Remember to take deep breaths, 4 or 5 to start, as you are in the pose. 
  • To come out of the pose, raise your chin and stretch your arms out to your sides in a reverse-swan dive. Come up slowly, exhaling as you do. When your hands are stretching up to the ceiling, you are at the top of the pose. Bring your hands together and straight down in front of you.  
How do you teach this to little kids? Easy. Mountain Pose is "Stand up Straight!" The Back Bend is "Reach High to the Sky!" Forward Bend is presented as "Low to Your Toes!" (Their legs will almost invariably bend here, but that's ok. As they get older and watch you more, they will keep them straight. This isn't a competition, you want them to have fun!) They will get it and have a great time, too. You show them and they follow along. Remember, though, they will only do this for a few minutes or so. The won't need too much instruction because most young children have not corrupted their posture with poor habits, yet.

Have fun with your yogis and they will have fun with the yoga. Congrats! You've started them on a lifetime of wellness!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review: "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is well known in literary and journalistic circles for his gustatory works on paper. His 2008 work, In Defense of Food, is a quick read chock full of information your grandmother has always known, but modern science and sensationalist journalism has obscured. Mr. Pollan postulates all people should eschew a "Western Diet," in lieu of a more traditional diet.

He bases his book around seven simple words, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." The intial section of the book (it is divided into three parts) details the path our history has taken with regard to food: how we obtain it, how we eat it and how we decide what to eat. The second section examines the link between what we eat and what diseases plague westernized peoples. The third section gives general guidelines regarding the seven words, "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants."

Mr. Pollan explains with exceptional clarity some very complex biochemical concepts. His reasonings are based on extensive research from medical research, nutrition/food science and review of legislative changes throughout the last 150 years. Footnotes at the bottom of many pages expound on more complex concepts so as not to muddle the text and research articles are aptly referenced. He even gives the reader a source to obtain most of the referenced studies for themselves.

Initially his take on the modern profession of nutrition or dietetics was a bit off-putting, but late in the book (too late in my opinion) he ressurects the field and profession by noting the restrictions placed upon it by practicality. (IE, there are only so many ways to conduct research.) By the end of the book, which I read in three days time, I found myself re-evaluating what I believed to be an already super-healthy diet. In fact, I may need to expunge the word "diet" from my vocabulary altogether.

A book definietly worth your time, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto will revolutionize the way you look at food if not the way you eat and shop.

Other related items:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Shop From Home for Green Products and Educational Toys!

So there you are, shopping with either a time limit, children in tow or both! You have a list that includes safe products for your family (non-toxic, natural, organic) and a good gift for that birthday party coming up. You can’t find the cleaning items you wanted, the biodegradable garbage bags aren’t sold in your store and you still need a birthday gift, preferably without batteries and with developmental value.

Oh yeah, and your kids are screaming and your time is up.

In this post I would like to profile two companies/websites who aim to make all this easier: Shop To Earth and Discovery Toys.

First, Shop To Earth. Founded by Pat Welsh, Shop to Earth (STE) has grown from a small conglomerate of companies with green products to a huge retail outlet portal. Conventional and Environmentally Friendly Products are available from the same website with the emphasis being on the green.

STE offers a Green Mall where you can shop in hundreds of categories for thousands of products, placing them all in one shopping basket and paying one shipping fee (flat rate, I might add). Instead of running all over town to find what you need, wasting time and gas, it can all be delivered to your front door in environmentally friendly packaging!

No more hunting and pecking and to get you started, STE offers green product bundles. There is no obligation to shop and no minimums to purchase. It’s just easy. Check it out for yourself.

Second, Discovery Toys. Toys for children can be exhausting for the parents and ultimately boring for their children. Children learn through play so it is important their toys draw out their imagination, creativity and challenge their knowledge.

Discovery Toys specializes in developmentally appropriate toys for children ages birth through 10 years old. Each toy is labeled with the age range for the item and each toy is tested extensively for safety. Giving children toys appropriate for their age range and developmental stage gives them a challenge, stimulating learning, while enhancing their confidence.

Discovery Toys also partners with Autism Speaks! helping parents of children with Autism select toys appropriate for their child’s challenges. Speech therapists, reading teachers and homeschoolers all enjoy these products (as do children in all families).

If you are serious about improving the overall wellness of your family the logical steps to take are stocking your home with safe and healthy products and developing your children to their fullest potential with high quality educational toys! Save time, money and stress using these two sites and see improvements in all areas of your family’s wellness!

Shop To Earth’s Green Mall                                       Discovery Toys

(To receive a 10% discount on Discovery Toys, contact me through SimpleFamilyWellness@gmail.com)