Swar Yoga – Unification through breath

‘Swara’ in addition to being a ‘musical note’ in sanskrit, also means the continuous flow of air through one’s nostrils. Swar yoga allows us to be in tune with the lunar and planetary cycles, and change right or left hemisphere dominance through breath, whenever we want.  It helps us synchronise our inner rhythms with those of the cosmos.

It is a known fact that we don’t breathe through both nostrils at the same time, except for brief periods in the course of the day.  Breathing with the right, left or both the nostrils creates certain physical and emotional states. A task undertaken during the operation of one nostril is sometimes not suited for that state of body chemistry.

For example, when both nostrils work, we are in a good place to meditate and concentrate. When the right nostril is operating, we are in a rational and logical phase, because it communicates with the left side of the brain. It activates the thinking hemisphere of the brain. When we breathe with the left nostril, we are more tuned to the intuitive, emotional and visual side of our nature, i.e the feeling hemisphere of the brain.

One important aspect of swar yoga is that, it helps us to adapt our activites to the breath in dominance at that point of time, or change our breath to suit the activity we are doing. How do we do this?

In his book, ‘Dhanwantari’, Harish Johari says, breath can be changed from one nostril to the other by lying down on the side of the operating nostril with a pillow placed under the ribcage  The breath will change over in healthy people within 10 mins.

The cycle of breath is directly related to the moon. The right nostril operates at sunrise for three consecutive days, after full moon. After that, for the next three days, our left nostril operates at sunrise and this goes on till the new moon. After the new moon, the cycle changes and the left nostril operates for an hour at sunrise for three consecutive days followed by the right nostril for three days and so on.

When there is a disturbance in the natural cycle, the proper nostril does not open accordingly and body chemistry becomes disturbed. As a result, physical and psychological   disturbances occur. Knowledge of Swar yoga, helps us to quickly respond to the imbalance and avoid the consequences. We can change our breath by the method outlined above. Changing the breath at the first sign of any physical or mental disturbance, prevents worsening of symptoms and promotes well being.

It is said that indigestion can be cured by eating only when the right nostril is dominant. This is because when the right nostril operates, the body chemistry is acidic and heat is produced. This helps in digestion. When left nostril is working, the body chemistry is mostly alkaline. This nostril cools the system and hence, when our left nostril is operating, we should not eat, bathe or defecate. When we want to change an unwanted emotional state, we should breathe through the non active nostril.

There are sciences like chronobiology and chronopsychology, that are investigating the periodic phenomena in living organisms and their adaptation to solar and lunar related rhythms. Chronopsychology is the scientific study, of the way changes in our daily sleep-waking cycles, can adversely affect our ability to work well. Chronopsychologists found that during a 24 hour day, a person’s mental, physical and emotional aptitudes, that depend heavily on biological clocks, vary according to the time of the day. There is a ‘favourable’ time for most of these abilities.

Swar yoga says the same and even tells us what these best times are. Since these abilities depend on the hemispheres of your brain, and the predominance of the hemispheres depends on whether you are breathing with your right or left nostril, you can choose to breathe the right way, to get the best result. Organising your tasks according to your breath will make you more efficient.

Health benefits of fruits

 

fruitsWe are most often born with healthy minds and bodies, but as we grow older, our body invariably loses its natural capacity to renew and rejuvenate itself. The main reason for this is poor diet and lifestyle choices. We have become completely alienated from nature. The progress of science has led to man being better fed, but very poorly nourished. The food we eat is devoid of vital nutrients. Diet plays a very important role, in the maintenance of good health, in addition to prevention and treatment of various diseases.

Nature has given us a vast choice of natural and fresh food which helps us lead a healthy, energetic and disease free life. All that we need is available in nature. We just need to have the knowledge to use them effectively in order to gain the most from them. Fruits are the most natural food you can find, which can be eaten raw – that is, in its natural state. Fruits are an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and enzymes. They can be easily digested and have a cleansing effect on the blood and the digestive system. There are a lot more reasons why we should have a generous helping of fruits in our diet.

Why should we eat fruits?

Fruits are alkaline forming    

When the body is acidic, it is more susceptible to diseases, and can lead to acidosis. It has been known for a long time that fruit is one of the most alkaline forming foods that exist. Some fruits like oranges maybe acidic to taste,  but are alkaline forming after digestion. An alkaline diet is said to improve the K/Na ratio and may benefit bone health, reduce muscle wasting, as well as prevent diseases such as hypertension and strokes. Most fruits are alkaline forming, except a few like prunes, plums and cranberries.

High in Water Content

Fruits also have a high percentage of water, about 80%, and hence are very hydrating. Water is one of the most essential nutrients. It regulates body temperatures, eliminates toxins, carries nutrients and helps chemical reactions that occur in our cells. Water also lubricates and cushions our joints.

Source of natural sugar

The body needs natural sugar as a source of energy. The complex sugar from starchy food is broken down into simpler sugars by digestive enzymes. Fruits contain simple sugars which is used directly by the body, unlike refined sugar which is devoid of nutrients and fibre, and do not provide any minerals and vitamins. Fruit on the other hand is a nutrient-dense food, full of vitamins and minerals.

Medicinal Properties of fruits

Fruits help to clear the system of wastes and toxins and replenish the body’s sugar, vitamins and minerals. The fibre in the fruits acts as a laxative and aids the smooth passage of food in the digestive tract. Papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C and carotene, and a medium sized mango provides much of the vitamin A necessary for the body. The minerals in the fruits and dry fruits like raisins help to build strong bones. Fruits like custard apple supply enough calcium to meet our daily requirement.

Certain fruits are known to be beneficial in combating certain ailments. Apple, pomegranate, lemon and orange are said to be beneficial for the heart. Fruits like apple dates and mango are said to be good for the central nervous system. The nutrients in these fruits exert a tonic effect on the nerves. All berries are said to strengthen nerves and build blood. Watermelons cleanses the kidneys. Lemons are a good remedy for liver problems and indigestion. Thus, a generous helping of fruits taken everyday, may help prevent diseases and keeps one energized and healthy.

How should we eat Fruits?

Eat Seasonal Fruits

Food culture usually evolves to suit the needs of every region. Globalization has taken away the food culture that is suited to a region. When one chooses to eat local fruits, one is sure that they are fresh. Nowadays it is difficult to know what fruit is in season as all kinds of fruit are readily available. When we eat seasonal fruits, we know that the phytonutrients have developed to their full potential. Fruits are available in certain seasons for a reason. We need more of certain nutrients during certain seasons. Water melons and tropical fruits are available in the summer, and they should be eaten then as they are high in water content and potassium. They replenish the water and salts that have been lost through sweat. Citrus fruits are available in winter. According to ayurveda, in winter, the constitution is usually imbalanced, which results in a sluggish internal environment that leads to the breeding of many viruses. To avoid this we need to build up our immunity, and what better fruit than oranges to do this.

Eat a Large variety of raw fruits

Nutritionists advice eating a large variety of fruits, so as to get all round nutrition.  One should also eat one type of fruit at a time, and avoid mixing acid fruits with sweet ones. Choosing local variants and seasonal fruits will be more affordable and an assurance that one eats fresh fruit rather than packaged, processed or preserved stuff. Fruits are best eaten raw, as they lose much of their nutritional value when cooked.

When Should we Eat Fruits?

The best time to eat fruits is first thing in the morning after a glass of water. There are some nutritional claims that fruit should not be eaten along with other foods. This is because they believe that when fruits are eaten with other foods, they stay longer in the stomach and ferment the other digested foods, causing gas and indigestion. Another claim is that the body has trouble digesting the carbohydrates in fruit when in combination with other foods. Even though this is not supported by the science, natural hygienists believe that fruits don’t combine well with other foods. The reason is that fruit contains simple sugars that require no digestion, and hence don’t stay for a long time in the stomach, whereas foods rich in fat, protein and starch, stay in the stomach for a longer period of time because they take more time to digest. Therefore when you eat fruit after or along with a meal, the fruit sugar stays longer in the stomach and ferments. You need to leave a gap of at least 30 minutes between a meal and a fruit snack. Ideally, one should eat fruits an hour before the meal or two hours after, if they have diabetes or any other digestive problem like acidity.

The Science of Breath – 2

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It has been said that all organisms are but subsystems of the One. Our individual selves are only part of the universal self. Each organism contains all the elements present throughout the cosmos. That is why all the spiritual gurus tell us to know ourselves, in order to know and understand the cosmos.

We have been gifted with certain mechanisms that help us experience life in this world. The most important of these mechanisms are the two nostrils. You breathe from the moment you are born till the moment you die. Breath keeps a man in continuous contact with the energy in the world. It is an important part of staying healthy.

Under normal conditions, electrical activity in the brain, i.e brainwaves are concentrated more in one hemisphere than the other. What are brain waves? The brain is made of billions of brain cells called neurons, which use electricity to communicate with each other. These charges are measured in frequencies. There are 4 kinds of brainwaves, namely, Beta (13 – 40Hz), Alpha (7 – 13Hz), Theta (4 – 7Hz) and Delta  (0 – 4Hz). There is also a Gamma (>40Hz).

It is believed that at the alpha level, the brain waves of those of the right hemisphere and that of the left hemisphere are synchronised. When this happens, man is able to consciously tap the tremendous powers of knowledge hidden in the subconscious mind. So then it follows that, one should be able to cultivate a theta brain wave or to diminish the brain rhythm to alpha, when needed. How do we do this?

Research has shown that each hemisphere of the brain has certain forms of behaviour and that those forms of behaviour are present only when electrical activity centers in that hemisphere. When energy concentrates in the left hemisphere, one becomes more active, verbal, intelligent, extroverted and creative. It is also considered to be a channel of solar energy.

The right hemisphere is characterised by passivity, orientation to sights and sounds, emotional responses, introspection and is a channel of lunar energy. As a result of the movement of energy from one hemisphere of the brain to another, the nature of our responses also change. Perception, actions and even involuntary bodily responses vary according to the dominance of one hemisphere over the other.

The movement of energy from one hemisphere to the other occurs simultaneously with the change of breath from one nostril to the other. The nostrils, are connected with the neuromotor responses, and hence with the autonomic nervous system. These neuromotor responses influence the hemispheres and activity of the brain.

When we observe our breath, we notice that the breath does not come out through both nostrils in equal volume, except for very brief periods. Normally one breathes through one nostril at a time. Breath alternates between the two nostrils, according to a regular pattern. When there is airflow in the right nostril, left hemisphere of the brain dominates and viceversa. When both operate, both the hemispheres operate in unison. This happens only at certain times, for a short time. This usually happens when the transition from one nostril to the other takes place and also at dawn and dusk.

By simply changing the breath from one nostril to the other, we can change brain hemisphere dominance, thus altering chemical reaction taking place throughout the organism. Therefore control of the pattern of breath enables conscious control of body chemistry, such as pH of the blood leading to both short term and long term effects on physical and mental functioning. Most diseases are the product of body chemistry and thus can be prevented by controlling the breath.

Knowledge of the play of breath in the nostrils forms the basis of the ancient discipline of ‘Swar Yoga’ which means unification through breath, which is a topic for another day.

Health Benefits of Sprouts

alfaalfasproutsSprouting raw grains, seeds and legumes is considered one of the best ways to enhance the nutrients in the food that we eat. Sprouts are one of the most nutritious food. This is because, when food is sprouted, it improves its digestibility and nutritional qualities. All edible grains like wheat, barley, maize, wheat and rice, seeds like alfalfa, fenugreek, sesame, and legumes like mung, bengal gram, peas and beans can be sprouted.

The grain is considered a sprouted grain, during the brief period in its cycle when it has started to sprout, but has not developed into a plant. The outer layer, which is called the bran, splits open and the beginning of a young shoot becomes visible. Some of the starchy portion of the grain gets digested by the shoot. By sprouting whole grains, we increase their vitamin, mineral and fibre content, lower their glycemic index and increase bioavailability, which is the ability of the body to make use of nutrients like calcium.

Raw nuts and seeds already have a lot of nutrients in them. Sprouting them multiplies their nutrition. Soaking the seeds and rinsing them helps to remove the enzyme inhibitors. The seed begins to germinate and the nutrients in the seeds start to break down into simpler components. Proteins break down into amino acids and amides. The complex starches break down into simpler sugars. Fats and oils are converted into more simple fatty acids by the action of the enzyme, Lipase.

The vitamins, minerals, ascorbic acid and proteins increase substantially with corresponding decrease in calories and carbohydrates content. Due to this breaking down process, the food becomes easily digestible (often referred to as ‘pre-digested food’). This is because the food has already been acted upon by the enzymes.

Legumes like beans lose their gas producing quality. Oligosaccharides are considered responsible for gas formation. Oligosaccharides are large molecules which are not broken down or absorbed by the human body as other sugars are, as the human body does not produce the enzyme that breaks down oligosaccharides. When beans start sprouting, the oligosaccharides is reduced by 90 per cent. In the book ‘History of Soy Sprouts (100 CE To 2013): Extensively Annotated Bibliography’ … by William Shurtleff, there is a reference to soya beans where the ”concentration of oligosaccharides decreased with germination”. Thus sprouting is a simple way of removing most of the oligosaccharides, which cause flatulence or intestinal gas in humans from soya beans.

There are reports of many studies that have proven the phenomenal health benefits of sprouts. German researchers have found that the process of sprouting decreased gluten proteins and  increased folates. Longer germination process led to a substantial increase of total dietary fibre, with soluble fibre increasing three times and insoluble fibre decreasing by half. Korean researchers fed hypertensive rats for five weeks with raw buckwheat extract and germinated buckwheat extract and compared the results. They found that the rats that were fed the germinated buckwheat had lower systolic blood pressure. In Japan, a few men and women with type-2 diabetes were randomly asked to eat either white rice or sprouted brown rice three times a day. They reported that “blood concentrations of fasting blood glucose, fructosamine, serum total cholesterol and triacylglycerol were favorably improved on the sprouted brown rice diet but not on the white rice diet”

Korean researchers found that when buckwheat was sprouted for 48 hours, it developed anti-fatty liver activities that led to a significant reduction in fatty liver in mice after eight weeks. They found that sprouting the buckwheat, increased the concentration of rutin quercitin, which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Forty-one breast-feeding Japanese mothers were randomly divided into two groups, one eating white rice and the other sprouted brown rice, for two weeks.  When psychological and immune tests were done with both groups, the group who had consumed sprouted brown rice, was found to have decreased levels of depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue, and a significant increase in immune system function.

In a study in the ‘The Journal Sprouting of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, December 13, 2006;’ it was found that the folates in rye increased by 1.7- to 3.8-fold, depending on germination  temperature. In a study on the effects of different processes on rye, they came to the conclusion that thermal treatments – including extrusion, puffing, and toasting – leads to significant folate losses. But, when  rye was sprouted and then heat-processed, losses were minimized, showing that sprouting helps to retain nutrients during food processing.

For those of us who want to include raw food in the diet, this is a very healthy way to go about it. Sprouts can be included in salads, sandwiches and rolls to add that crunch to the food. It can also be eaten as it is, a tablespoon at a time.

Keeping the Brain Agile in Old Age

 

Ageing as we all know, is simply a process of growing old, where every part of the body is affected. The systems slow down and the risk of disease increases. Numerous changes occur. The most important reason for pre-mature ageing is associated with oxidative damage due to free radicals. Our body constantly reacts with oxygen as we breathe and our cells produce energy. As a result, highly reactive molecules are produced within our cells known as free radicals, which create oxidative stress. The effects on the body as it ages include loss of elasticity in the skin, blood vessels and tendons, as well as a progressive decline in organ and joint function.

Even though we can’t be young for ever, we can avoid some of the negative effects of ageing with a healthy lifestyle and some well chosen supplements.

What we can do is

Avoid smoking cigarettes
Avoid excessive alcohol
Protect ourselves from the sun. Ultraviolet rays makes skin age faster.
Build and maintain bone and muscle mass with weight bearing exercises, and walking.
Enhance our body’s own anti-oxidant defences. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables everyday.

How can we help our brain stay agile in old age?

A major change associated with old age, is of memory declining, and loss of brain cells. As we grow older the dendrites of nerve cells begin to die, which leaves less potential for synaptic connections, thus affecting our logic and memory. Stress is very bad for the brain. High amounts of cortisol get released when we get stressed, and this can seriously damage the neurons. It impairs cognition. As we age, it becomes harder to calm ourselves, when under pressure, and thus more susceptible to such damage.

There are somethings we can do to keep our brain active.

Keeping ourselves occupied by reading, solving puzzles, learning a new skill or language, taking up a new hobby, can keep our synapses working well.
Avoiding stressful situations that can poison the brain.
Taking time to relax.

How can supplements help?

Vitamin C and vitamin E are antioxidants that fight free radicals. They improve immune function and reduce the risk of age-related conditions like heart disease, some forms of cancer and possibly Alzheimers. Green tea and grapeseed extracts are other antioxidants that are very potent. Folic acid, a B vitamin, promotes healthy functioning of nerves. Vitamin B12 fosters healthy brain functioning. Older people lose the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food, and low B12 levels can cause nerve damage and dementia.

Two supplements that seem to boost mental clarity, and are natural brain builders  are Phosphatidylserine and Acetyl-L-carnitine.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an important chemical with many functions in the body. It plays an important part in the maintenance of cellular function, especially in the brain. The body makes phosphatidylserine, but gets most of what it needs from foods. PS is a building block of all brain cells. Without PS, our neurons could not send out neurotransmitters that relay messages throughout the brain. PS heals the brain and restores mental function. The sources of Phosphatidylserine are cow brains, organ meat (liver and kidneys) and plant sources like soy and white beans . The highest concentrations of phosphatidylserine occur in cow brains.

Phosphatidylserine supplements were once made from cow brains, but now are commonly manufactured from soy. This happened due to a concern that products made from animal sources might cause infections such as the mad cow disease. There is developing evidence that plant-derived phosphatidylserine improves memory in people with age-associated memory loss.

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) is an  amino acid. Acetyl-L-carnitine works from within the brain. It ensures the efficient functioning of the mitochondria. It prevents the toxic accumulation of fatty acids in the mitochondria. Many studies document the use of ALC to repair the degeneration of neuronal tissue that can trigger age-related deterioration of mental function. Even though L-carnitine is available from supplements as well as food, it is the L-carnitine from food sources that is better used and absorbed by the body. Meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products are the richest sources of L-carnitine, in that order.

Dr. Richard N. Firshein, in his book, ‘The Vitamin Prescription (for life) says that, “A ground breaking 1991 study by Dr. Thomas Crook showed that in 57 subjects with age related memory decline, whose average age was 64, PS was able to turn back the mental clock by roughly 12 years.” He also says that, “over 50 human trials, demonstrate that, when used as a dietary supplement in a wide range of doses, PS is incredibly effective at conserving stores of brain power”.

When we lay the foundations of good health in youth and middle age,  we are much more likely to maintain it in old age. A good lifestyle and healthy food will help delay the onset of old age related brain conditions.

Herbal remedies

The herb ginko biloba is said to improve age related conditions as dizziness, impotence and memory loss.

Coenzyme q-10- increases oxygen transport through the mitochondria of the cells. It appears to slow age-related dementia. Coenzyme Q is available from three basic types of foods:  fish, organ meats (liver, kidney and heart), the germs of whole grains and from oils like soybean, sesame, and rapeseed.

A recent swiss study found a connection between high levels of antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin C in the blood and better memory skills in older people. Beta-carotene can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale and mustard greens. Guavas, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, and broccoli are good sources of vitamin C.

Garlic is good herb for immunity and circulation. It has a number of health benefits. It helps reduce cholesterol and prevent cancer. Regular consumption of garlic is linked with increased cognitive health in old age

The herb Ginseng helps to protect against loss of sex drive or general debility.

The Bacopa monnieri (Brahmi) herb  has compounds that can repair damaged neurons, thus improving nerve impulse transmission.  It appears to work through proliferating dendrites in order to improve synaptic transmission, thus promoting neuron communication.