23-year-old hasn’t produced any trash in two years

This post by CHELSEA HUANG originally appeared on Aol.com.
At first glance, Lauren Singer seems like a typical 23-year-old post-graduate living in New York City. Clad in slouchy black slacks, black crop top and leather moto vest, Singer’s style is congruent with her stylish one-bedroom apartment in a South Williamsburg development.

But a closer look beyond the shabby-chic decor and fresh flora revealed something unexpected. A small mason jar filled with a few colorful wrappers and bits of plastic sat behind her atop the pristine, white kitchen counter.

“It’s been two years, and that’s my trash,” she said with a smile.

Singer has barely produced any garbage since she began subscribing to a zero-waste lifestyle two years ago, which meant eliminating anything that will end up in a landfill or can’t be composted from her day-to-day –- a process she’s documented in detail on her blog Trash is for Tossers.

As an environmental studies major at New York University, she felt like a “hypocrite” for promoting sustainability but having an apartment full of plastic packaging. She decided to remove plastic from her life altogether — a drastic choice many might find impossible.

“Quitting plastic wasn’t just reducing the amount I used. It actually meant eliminating a lot of the plastic that I was buying, so not buying things like toothpaste or deodorant packaging,” she said.

That meant finding alternatives to everyday items and making a lot of them herself. Her bathroom is now lined with mason jars of different sizes filled with various homemade products, and her refrigerator is filled with organic, perishable items. She also makes secondhand purchases to avoid any firsthand packaging.
Despite her unique lifestyle, Singer said she hasn’t really changed, even though stigmas might suggest otherwise. She’s just found alternative means to live her existing life.

“You don’t have to be a stereotype of anything to live a sustainable lifestyle. My style is the same. My taste is the same. I enjoy the same things. I just don’t make trash.”

Plus, it’s not a pricy way to live, despite what many people might think.

“It’s so funny how that narrative caught on that living sustainably is like a ‘rich white people thing.’ It’s not the case at all. I spend like $20 to $25 a week now on everything that I need from the farmer’s market,” Singer said.

Don’t expect Singer to get preachy, though.

“Being an environmental studies major you learn quickly that nobody likes being told what to do. I learned really fast to not tell people how to live because they’ll never change or learn from you,” she said.

Instead, Singer started her blog and a newly-launched YouTube channel to present her lifestyle in a way that’s really easy for people to understand, digest and “do on their own time.” But she’s also noticed her own day-to-day behavior spark a dialogue with friends and family.

“Even just by living my values, it’s making a difference and inspiring them to make changes. I have friends who started shopping bulk or going to farmers markets or carry mason jars around,” she said. “But I never asked them to do that.”

She also recalled a recent date in which she ordered a cocktail with “no straw and no napkin,” and her date followed suit.

Although she has already made an impact, the young professional quit her job as a sustainability manager for the New York City Department of Agriculture to “do something more.”

Singer left her position and launched The Simply Co. in October 2014, a sustainable home cleaning goods line inspired by the products she makes and uses in her own home with ingredients and quality she can control.

The idea sparked when friends and family started asking her for recommendations for safe and non-toxic cleaning products. After scouring store shelves and the Web, Singer couldn’t find one product that she felt comfortable recommending because most of them contained toxic, carcinogenic chemicals or were not low-trash.

“People deserve to know what’s in their products that they’re putting in their homes, that are touching their bodies, that are going on their clothes and into the water into the environment,” she said. “I wanted to provide people with the products I make for myself because I think chemicals should have no place in our homes.”

Singer has received a very positive response to her effort to provide clean, safe organic cleaning products for people who want it. Her Kickstarter campaign exceeded her $10,000 goal considerably, reaping $41,000.

The green entrepreneur now has 1,000 orders of natural three-ingredient laundry powder to fill, in addition to laundry balls, the reusable and sustainable equivalent to dryer sheets. Although the goal for any business is to sell units, Singer has a broader outlook.

“It’s not the typical business model, but I kind of wish that everyone would make their products, which is to say that I wish that my business model didn’t have to exist,” she said. “Ultimately, my goal is for people to realize that you don’t need toxic chemicals to clean your home.”

As Singer continues to spread the green message, she acknowledges that diving into a total zero-waste lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but small steps like bringing reusable cutlery to work and carrying a reusable bag can have a big impact.

“It is possible to not produce trash. It’s definitely possible to produce less trash. Living sustainably is so stigmatized in a negative way — but this is everybody’s earth.”

Check out Trash is for Tossers to learn more about your zero-waste options.


Humane Clown Posse

This post by Elianna Bar-El appeared in GOOD on 6/30/15

 On a recent visit to Wolfson Medical Center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, Israel, Yolana Zimmerman (pictured above) is met with audible sighs of relief.

Great! You’re here! We need you,” says a nurse.

Zimmerman is not a medical doctor. In fact, she casts quite a contrast to the typical image of a doctor with her pink leggings, cupcake apron, and eyelet bloomers—not to mention the underwear on her head and the stuffed monkey in her hands. Yolana “Yoyo” Zimmerman is part of a team of medical clowns called Dream Doctors. The pioneering organization started in 2002 with three medical clowns at one hospital and today facilitates the work of more than 110 clowns across 28 hospitals in a country increasingly recognized as the vanguard of medical clowning. After this past April’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, for instance, the Israeli government sent an envoy from Dream Doctors to Kathmandu to work with affected children. As you might expect, the medical community is taking notice of the tiny nation’s zany medical practitioners.

While the clown appears as an archetype throughout history, its societal function has varied. For the ancestors of the indigenous people of northern Australia, clowning was a way to assuage potential feuds among men. For the Tübatulabal people in the Sierra Nevada range of Southern California, clowns served the political role of announcing the need for a new chief. Among the Witoto people of southeastern Columbia and northern Peru, clowning was a strategy for drawing communal attention to individual grievances, Festivus-style. In the scheme of things, medical clowning is a relatively recent addition to this cultural history. Beginning in 1986 in New York City under the umbrella of a program called the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, the practice can now be found all over the world, perhaps most notably in Israel.

Yoyo directs her attention to a religious man sitting beside his daughter who is sleeping in a hospital bed. He is obviously reading from the Bible. ‘Is that a good book?’ Yoyo asks. ‘I think I’ve heard something about it. … Who wrote it again?’

The freedom under which Israeli medical clowns are able to operate is a rarity in the field and Dream Doctors’ premium on clowning education and training, as well as hands-on involvement with medical staffs, affords it a distinct advantage over forms elsewhere in the world. Its efforts have given way to a range of research, with medical clowning at the forefront of a number of breakthrough techniques and therapeutic approaches. In Israel, clowns aren’t cheerful diversions, but are seamlessly integrated into a broad range of medical practices.

Medical clowning has developed in Israel in a different way than anywhere else in the world,” says Professor Ati Citron, creator and director of University of Haifa’s Medical Clowning program. “Medical clowns were absorbed into the medical system as part of the staff. I’ve seen firsthand how clowns work in the United States. Even after 30 years, they [the clowns] are still not allowed to touch a patient. The fear of malpractice lawsuits dominates the whole system. The doctors are hardly aware that the clowns are even there. In Israel, there is a deep, significant difference, and that has paved the way for avant-garde practices.”

Anyone who has been hospitalized understands the loss of control experienced upon admission: Clothes become a hospital gown, trays of goop replace favorite foods, and the body is poked and prodded as if it were stripped of all humanity. The medical clown’s job is to recalibrate the situation as much as possible. Medical clowns in Israel typically work in 3-4 hour shifts 2-3 times a week. Shifts are an instant reboot that can affect a whole medical ward—nurses, doctors, patients, parents, and visitors included.

Case-in-point: Walking into an adjacent hospital room, without missing a beat, Yoyo directs her attention to a religious man sitting beside his daughter who is sleeping in a hospital bed. He is obviously reading from the Bible. “Is that a good book?” Yoyo asks. “I think I’ve heard something about it. … Who wrote it again?” The father looks up at her, grinning in surprise. In the same moment Yoyo doubles over with genuine laughter, igniting a cacophony of noises from a squeezable rooster in her apron. The rowdiness attracts a gang of kids roaming the normally quiet halls. Yoyo pretends to eat some bubble gum bubbles as we head to the neonatal intensive care unit, where she comforts new moms of preemies and aids doctors while they conduct emergency surgeries.

In Israel, medical clowns are involved in over 40 medical procedures, including accompanying patients to CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation. Clowns in Israel also work solo to initiate a more interactive, one-on-one relationship with patients. (Elsewhere they work in teams of two or in groups.) Dream Doctors, which works closely with Israel’s Ministry of Health and the University of Haifa (where students can get a bachelor’s degree in Medical Clowning), also hosts monthly workshops for the clowns where medical staff provide them with a range of medical knowledge and training on hygiene, vaccinations, before-and-after procedures for entering a room, role-playing, case studies, and more. The research it has conducted has chronicled the ways that clowning can mitigate stress and anxiety in pediatric patients, lessen the need for sedative agents in pediatric patients undergoing radionuclide scanning, and enhance the outcome for women undergoing in vitro fertilization.

Before a patient even sees a doctor at the Tene Center, medical clowns meet with the abused patient at least one hour before they have to take a forensic exam.

Michael Christensen, a.k.a. “the Godfather of hospital clowning” and founder of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, has had extensive experience working with Israeli medical clowns, both in hospitals and at international conferences. “Israeli medical clowns are totally and utterly inspirational,” Christensen tells me via email. “They have the deepest integration of clowning within the medical system [of] any … program I have ever visited—and that integration has pushed all of us as artists to strive for the same kind of unity, collegial respect, service and communication.”

Canada-based Bernie Warren, one of the world’s leading experts on clowning in health care, had a chance to work with Dream Doctors through a Toronto symposium that he co-chaired called “A Healthy Dose of Laughter.” According to Warren, “Israeli clowns have fantastic access and opportunities within the hospital, which require no boardroom meetings or having to get permission from higher ups. … Clowning organizations such as Le Rire Medecin in France, the Humour Foundation in Australia, and the Big Apple Circus in New York work more like theater companies that go to the hospital to perform. Israeli clowns have an entirely different approach.”

No one is more familiar with that approach than Shoshi Ofir, who works at the Tene Center at the Poriah Hospital in northern Israel. The clinic is the only one in the world to incorporate medical clowning as part of the treatment of sexually abused children and adolescents and have clowns work one-on-one with gynecologists, proctologists, and gastroenterologists to administer forensic exams. Organizations from abroad regularly visit the clinic. Last year, the Doctor Clown Association visited from Lyon, France, to shadow Ofir in hopes of applying specific approaches to its own work. “I saw how different the treatment approach is between an abused child and a clown in Israel,” explains French medical clown Blandine Thevenon Nicoli. “Not only are the clown and the doctor physically and mentally in sync, but their partnership is imperative in restoring some of the patient’s integrity.”

Before a patient even sees a doctor at the Tene Center, medical clowns meet with the abused patient at least one hour before they have to take a forensic exam, which will be used as core evidence in court documents. Patients are typically 10 years old and younger, and the procedure often re-traumatizes them. During their solo time together, Ofir thoughtfully works to connect with the patient and gain his or her trust. But pre-teens are extremely sensitive and perceptive: get one word wrong and Ofir will be blocked from gaining their respect. Ofir’s challenge, therefore, is to create a non-threatening environment whereupon the doctor is allowed to enter the room. Using a range of trigger codes, the doctor and Ofir work together throughout the forensic exam, with the clown remaining the patient’s unfaltering ally. If the patient is fearful, distressed, clenching his or her muscles, or uncomfortable in any way, the clown can stop the doctor from proceeding.

At Meir Medical Center in central Israel, medical clown Penny Hanuka works with pediatric patients suffering from idiopathic juvenile arthritis who must undergo corticosteroids injections into their joints. The procedure is as painful as it is stressful, especially since patients can anticipate the pain based on previous experiences. Medical clowns at Meir work with doctors using a method called “the mirror.” The doctor works on one leg while the clown works on the other leg, “mirroring” what the doctor is doing in a mock, playful, painless pantomime. Once the child is fully relaxed, the medical clown cues the doctor to start the injection. Dream Doctors’ research has shown that in these instances, not only do the children get through the procedure easier, but they also require less anesthesia. Last year, Hanuka took part in the Pediatric 2014 Rheumatology Symposium in Orlando, Florida, where she presented the research she has conducted through mirroring.

Christensen of Big Apple Circus says it’s techniques like these that make the Israeli program a global model. “I hope the rest of the world pays attention,” he says. “I want every program to be as deeply integrated as the Israelis are.” 

Photos by Ziv Sade

What is Yoga Therapy?


This article by  originally appeared on Huffington Post on 07/06/2015

While millions of people around the world today use yoga as a form of physical exercise and countless others use it for spiritual liberation, the number of people using yoga as a therapy is perhaps its greatest area of growth.

Physicians are more frequently encouraging patients to try yoga as an alternative to more invasive treatments that have inconsistent outcomes and potential deleterious side effects. A 2008 Harris study conducted by Yoga Journal found that over 14 million Americans had a doctor or therapist recommend yoga to them. 49.4% of the practitioners in the same study stated that they started practicing yoga to improve their own overall health and those studies were before yoga was really popular here in our culture.

Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, science, and art of adapting classical yoga techniques to contemporary situations in order to treat people’s physical, mental, and emotional ailments. The late master B.K.S. Iyengar said it best: “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.” Perhaps this is what distinguishes yoga as a therapy from other disciplines because it is adaptable to each individual, rather than the disease. In some cases its aim is to cure, in some cases it is to heal, and in some cases it is simply designed to bring ease amidst intense incurable health-related challenges.

Just like its method as a treatment, Yoga Therapy’s road to the West has been slow and steady. Formally, its practice stems back to yogis in the early 1900s that most people have never heard of such as Shri Yogendra of Mumbai, Swami Kuvalayananda of Lonavla, and Shri Rama Mohana Bramachari, who lived high in the Himalayan mountains near the border of Tibet. Bramachari was the teacher of Professor Tirumalai Krishnamacharya who is regarded as “The Father of Modern Yoga.”

Krishnamacharya therapeutically altered the classical asanas (poses) to better fit them to people’s bodies. In addition, he advocated the use of props which his sucessor, B.K.S. Iyengar went on to further develop; similarly, Krishnamacharya altered the 5000 year old Indian tradition of only offering yoga to Brahmin men by teaching his first female student, Indra Devi, and many other women thereafter.

Inspired by what he learned from his father, Krishnamacharya’s son T.K.V. Desikachar came to the West in the 1970s and motivated the first generation of Yoga Therapists in the United States including the co-author of the best-seller, “Yoga Anatomy,” Leslie Kaminoff, the founder of Viniyoga, Gary Kraftsow, and Dr. Larry Payne, who founded the first Yoga Therapy studio in Los Angeles in 1984 and whose Yoga Therapy Rx Program at Loyola Marymount University was the first Yoga Therapist training program offered at an accredited university.

Now the book “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine” details myriad ways that yoga is being used as a therapy by doctors, licensed healthcare professionals, scholars, researchers, and yoga therapists and practitioners.

The book features chapters written by some of the world’s leading experts in their fields including cardiologist Art Brownstein, M.D. who offers years of insight on why he presribes savasana for 20 minutes per day to cardiac patients; Richard Miller, Ph.D. shares the practices and results of his scientifically backed iRest system of Yoga Nidra that has been used by the military for stress and PTSD; Matthew Taylor, D.P.T. lends his reflections on how Yoga Therapy can be integrated into physical rehabilitation and physical therapy practices; Shanti Shanti Kaur Khalsa, Ph.D. explains the energetic psycho-emotional approach in the Kundalini tradition; Jnani Chapman, R.N. proposing ways in which Yoga Therapy can be applied in cancer treatment; sports scientist, LeRoy Perry, D.C., describes yogic practices that he has used with great success while training Olympic athletes and championship sports teams; and as author of the best-selling “Yoga for Depression and Anxiety” I was asked to write about Yoga Therapy’s expanding role in treating mood disorders.

Ultimately Yoga Therapy supports, enables, and empowers individuals to use ancient healing practices to complement Western modern medicine. Yoga Therapy can transform challenging health circumstances, change people’s perspectives, and positively influence wellness habits.

So whether you are suffering from back pain or heart disease or depression or anxiety, or going through cancer treatment and want to relax from some of the symptoms of chemotherapy, Yoga Therapy can help. Check out our new book “Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine” and see how you can use Yoga Therapy to help ameliorate physical pains as well as mental and emotional afflictions.

6 myths about buying ethical clothing

This post by Leah Wise originally appeared on Style Wise on May 4, 2015.

6 myths about ethical clothing

 Far and away the most common negative comment I get on ethical fashion articles I’ve written for other sites is some variation of:

“Good for you for having enough money to buy expensive clothes. Some of us can’t afford to buy a closet full of ethical clothing and it’s classist for you to even mention it. Have you no pity on poor people in your own country? And have you considered the fact that people in foreign countries will lose their jobs if we stop buying from sweatshops? Better to have a lousy job than no job at all.”

Some of them are considerably less harsh and some are too horrific to repeat here, but it’s clear to me that the biggest deterrence to acquiring an ethical wardrobe is money. So let me clarify a few things.

Firstly, I absolutely do care about the plight of the poor in my own country. It’s despicable that, despite our national wealth, more than 45 million people live below the poverty line. And we’ve got a few social safety nets, but we haven’t really figured out how to help people get a leg up long term, and it’s only getting worse. And it’s just a matter of fact that low cost, sweatshop-sourced clothing may be the best financial option for a lot of people. If you live paycheck to paycheck and have trouble putting clothes on your back and the backs of your children, please know that I not only feel for you, but I think you need to make the best choice for your family, even if that means making the ethics of your clothing choices less of a priority, or not a priority at all. You are welcome to this conversation, of course, but you may have other things to worry about.

But I also know for a fact that a lot of you can afford to consider your purchases. You’re the ones I’m talking to (and I get the sense that, by and large, you’re also the ones making the most excuses). Reality check: I manage a local thrift shop and my husband is a grad student. We aren’t exactly making it rain over here. But we do benefit a lot from the knowledge that, if something were to happen to us, our parents would be able to step in to support us. We have a social network that makes us feel secure and that helps us make long term financial decisions we couldn’t make if we were going it completely alone. We also don’t have children to support, so our income stretches a bit further.

I am aware of my relative privilege, but I suspect there are a lot of you in my position who don’t realize that it is possible to change your spending habits without breaking the bank. If you can overcome a few prevalent myths, you’ll be on your way to making better choices in no time.

Myth 1: It’s a given that I will buy at least a dozen new items every season.

For many of us, it would be a financial disaster to buy more than a handful of fair trade clothing items every 6 months. But, if you’ve already built a basic wardrobe, you don’t need to buy more than a couple new things a year. Magazines and 5 week trend cycles make us feel obligated to keep up with every new fad on the market, but it isn’t necessary or even fulfilling. You may have to buy less if you’re purchasing from more ethical brands, but that probably won’t hurt you in the long run. Plus, in my own experience, fair trade and domestically produced items from small brands hold up better than fast fashion items anyway, so you won’t need to replace your staples as often.

Myth 2: I can’t dress well with secondhand items.

My go-to advice for people considering their purchases for the first time is to start with thrift shopping. The sticker shock of fair trade and sustainable items will wear off eventually, but in the meantime, try secondhand on for size. A lot of people insist that they can’t get high quality items at thrift shops, but I suspect they don’t regularly visit them. The thrift market is booming and it’s surprisingly easy to find something you like that’s in great condition.

And yes, thrift shopping is a more ethical option, even if you’re buying conventional brands there. Why? Because you’re not contributing to demand for new items and you’re ensuring that things don’t end up in the landfill so quickly. Additionally, money spent at thrift shops supports local charities.

Myth 3: My specific circumstances (size, profession, location) prevent me from buying from ethical retailers.

I feel you on this one. The ethical market is still growing and it’s not always easy – or possible – to find things that fit well or suit your lifestyle. To you, I’d suggest a few options:

  1. Buy from online consignment stores like thredUP and Twice. You may be able to find a greater variety of sizes and styles from secondhand sites online.
  2.  Search ebay’s pre-owned section for brands you like.
  3. Buy well. If you can’t find ethical or secondhand options, try to buy things that will last. You’ll save money over time and you won’t contribute as heavily to demand for sweatshop goods. I do this with shoes, because it’s difficult to find well-made, comfortable shoes on the ethical market (though there are a growing number of companies filling the void).

Myth 4: It’s actually in the best interest of sweatshop laborers that we keep buying their goods. Otherwise, they’ll lose their jobs and it’ll be our fault!

This one is complicated, for sure. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s a great idea to just pull out of countries like Bangladesh or Cambodia, because it’s true that thousands of people are employed by garment factories there thanks to consumer demand for new goods in countries like the US. But I also think it’s too easy to immediately dismiss the whole ethical consumerism discussion by pretending that supporting sweatshop labor is actually moral.

We should continue to support global manufacturing, but try to find the companies that are better regulating their factories. Everlane, for instance, produces a lot of their tops in China, but they can tell you exactly what it looks like to work at one of their factories. In Cambodia, Tonle employees earn fair wages. If we support Tonle, they will grow and be able to employ more people, which means a garment worker can leave the sweatshop for a safer, better environment.

On a related note,

Myth 5: If wages go up, a lot of garment workers will lose their jobs.

Consider this. In manufacturing centers like Dhaka, Bangladesh, entire families work in the factory, even children. With a wage increase, families may be able to afford to let some members pursue other things, like childhood or education. Entire families wouldn’t necessarily have to work, so a few people losing their jobs may not be an issue at all.

This myth also presupposes that profit margins are already set as low as they can go when, in reality, higher-ups make a ton of money. Corporations have the wiggle room to provide better wages to workers and make improvements to facilities even without layoffs or significantly raising prices to consumers. They’d have to set up rigorous systems to ensure that wages are being passed down from contracted garment factory to the workers or set up their own factories, but there’s more money to work with than they like to let on.

Myth 6: The market can regulate itself.

No, it can’t. The market is constantly being manipulated by individuals only looking out for their best interests. Regulation is essential; that’s why we have a 40 hour work week and child labor laws in place in this country. The market is not some magical, mythical being that sorts things out for us. People call the shots and it’s on us to make the market work better for everyone. That being said, we can certainly help the market regulate itself toward better ethics by making smarter, healthier, more loving purchasing decisions.

This list isn’t meant to intimidate you or make you feel miserable. It’s meant to empower you! You have more options than you might think.

The Science of Breathing

This post by JESSICA LEVINE originally appeared in Yoga Journal on June 17, 2015.

Western research is now proving what 
yogis have known all along: Breathwork can deliver powerful mind and body benefits.

Your body breathes on autopilot—so why worry about how to inhale and exhale when you could be mastering an arm balance? For one thing, breath control, or pranayama, is the fourth of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. For another, scientific research is showing that mindful breathing—paying attention to your breath and learning how to manipulate it—is one of the most effective ways to lower everyday stress levels and improve a variety of health factors ranging from mood to metabolism. “Pranayama is at once a physical-health practice, mental-health practice, and meditation. It is not just breath training; it’s mind training that uses the breath as a vehicle,” says Roger Cole, PhD, an Iyengar Yoga teacher and physiology researcher in Del Mar, California. “Pranayama makes your entire life better.”

Despite the inherently automatic nature of breathing, most people have a lot to learn and improve upon when it comes to the most basic of our physiological functions. We tend to huff at a fairly quick clip most of the time—anywhere from 14 to 20 breaths per minute is the standard, which is about three times faster than the 5 or 6 breaths per minute proven to help you feel your best, says Patricia Gerbarg, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath.

“There is a very direct relationship between breath rate, mood state, and autonomic nervous system state,” says Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies yoga and meditation. The autonomic nervous system governs the body’s sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-restore) responses, dialing functions like heart rate, respiration, and digestion up or down as necessary in response to potential threats. Evolutionarily, this worked as a survival mechanism, but today’s nonstop barrage of smartphone pings, emails, and news updates also trips the body’s alarms—and often.

“We’ve long known that breath changes in response to emotion: When people get panicky and anxious, their breath becomes shallow and rapid,” says Khalsa. “But we now know from a number of really good studies that actively changing the breath rate can actually change autonomic function and mood state.”

Here’s how researchers think it works: With each breath, millions of sensory receptors in the respiratory system send signals via the vagus nerve to the brainstem. Fast breathing pings the brain at a higher rate, triggering it to activate the sympathetic nervous system, turning up stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, sweat production, and anxiety. On the other hand, slowing your breathing induces the parasympathetic response, dialing down all of the above as it turns up relaxation, calm, and mental clarity.

Ready to tap into the power of pranayama? We’ll teach you the ins and outs of O2 and CO2, so you can improve daily breathing both on and off the mat.

The Air Cycle

Follow along to see what happens during one long, deep inhalation and exhalation.

On an Inhale

As you breathe in, the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle that primarily powers the breath) contracts, lowering and flattening. This increases the volume of the thorax (chest cavity enclosed by the rib cage), which not only makes room for the air coming into the lungs but also changes the atmospheric pressure inside the lungs, pulling air in. That air travels through your nostrils and into your nasal cavities, down through your pharynx (throat) and larynx (voice box), and into your trachea (windpipe). Next, it gets routed through the bronchi (passageways leading to the lungs) and bronchioles (passageways less than 1 millimeter in diameter) and into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the air reaches the alveoli (small air sacs), which serve as the marketplace for gas exchange: Oxygen (O2, the food your cells need to produce energy) is traded for carbon dioxide (CO2, the waste produced by energy production in cells) into and out of the bloodstream.

Simultaneously, as you inhale, your 
heart rate speeds up, thanks to a message sent by stretch receptors within the alveoli 
to the brainstem (controls heart rate) and the vagus nerve (commands autonomic function), increasing blood flow through arteries (tubes that carry blood away from the heart) to the lungs so more blood can be oxygenated.

From the alveoli, O2 molecules move 
into capillaries (thin-walled blood vessels) 
and attach to red blood cells, which start making their way through the pulmonary veins 
(vessels that carry oxygenated blood to the heart) to the left atrium, or chamber, of the heart. Next, blood moves into the heart’s left ventricle, which then contracts (beats). The contraction pumps oxygen-rich blood through every single cell in the body via the network of arteries and capillaries.

On an Exhale

Inside cells, mitochondria (the energy-production centers) use oxygen to burn sugars, fats, and proteins for energy, and CO2 is a byproduct of this process. CO2 is biochemical waste—you don’t need it—so your body starts the process of shuttling it out. CO2 travels through cell walls into the capillaries and then veins that carry CO2-rich blood to the right atrium and right ventricle of the heart. Next, the right ventricle contracts, pushing the CO2-rich blood out of the heart through the pulmonic valve into the pulmonary artery and back toward the lungs. As the blood enters the alveoli, the CO2 leaves the bloodstream and passes into the lungs. The diaphragm relaxes, decreasing the volume of and pressure in the thorax, and initiating an exhalation. Meanwhile, the heart rate slows, decreasing blood flow to the lungs and discouraging gas exchange while the lungs are still full of CO2-heavy air. The pressure change in the lungs forces the air and CO2 waste back up and out of the lungs into the trachea, through the larynx, pharynx, and nasal cavities, to be exhaled through the nostrils. Ahhh …

A Driving Force

“Getting rid of carbon dioxide, not bringing in oxygen, is the main stimulus that drives us to breathe under most 
circumstances,” Cole says. In other words, your body’s drive to boot what 
it doesn’t need is greater than its drive to acquire what it does. This is because too much CO2 makes the blood more acidic, which can impair the function of all of your body’s cells. Your brainstem 
is finely tuned to maintain the pH of the blood, so when the pH skews more acidic, it triggers the stress response 
and sends an urgent message to the 
diaphragm to initiate a breath to bring 
in more O2 and rebalance the blood.

10 Tips for Perfect Posture

Here are ten tips to get you standing up straight and taking up space…

1. Stretch your Chest

Your tight chest muscles are pulling your shoulders inward. The curve in your spine follows, and next thing you know you’re practically in a ball. As stated by Paul Ingraham, former massage therapist and editor of Science-Based Medicine, the pectoral major is a very large and strong muscle. If you keep them tight, they will overpower the antagonist back muscles, which are responsible for pulling them back in place, and cause a hunching posture.

Although not many people think to stretch out their chest, it’s easy! Find a door way, stand in the middle and put both arms on the frame at a 90-degree angle. Step gradually forward through the door way until you feel the stretch. Hold for 1-minute. You’ll feel your chest open up almost immediately.

2. Strengthen Your Core

There are countless stabilizer muscles in your core that are meant to keep you in an upright position. But if you never use them, they’ll weaken and forget to do their job. A couple of crunches at the gym won’t do the trick. Yoga expert and founder, Julie Gudmestad, from the Portland, Oregon-based Gudmestad Yoga says “ I could relate dozens of cases with people whose sometimes chronic, severe back pain was greatly improved or even eliminated by strengthening the support system of the core”.

Weak muscles in this area are directly linked to back pain. Dr. Martin, an instructor of orthopedic surgery at Dartmouth Medical School, notes that people with back pain spend an average of 3,000-dollars more on health care than those without. This is not taking into account costs of missed work days or diminished productivity, not to mention the mental and physical toll that comes with living with chronic pain. Spend some time on your core to avoid all of this.

3. Do Yoga

A big part of correcting your posture is becoming aware of it. If you think about your posture enough, it will just become second hand nature to stand properly. Yoga is a practice that draws a lot of attention to proper posture. Reminding yourself through the day is hard, but your yoga instructor will definitely bring your attention back to your posture.

Yoga instructors call to attention small details of postures that help us correct. Often there are wall mirrors that can let us see what an upright position should look like. It is common to be encouraged to stay in a posture and breathe, and this promotes the habit of staying open and straight. More importantly, yoga teaches us to be in tune with what our body is telling us. If we become good at listening to our bodies, we will be able to tell when we’re slipping and slouching.

4. Use a Posture Strap

Despite the best of intentions, it’s almost impossible to keep reminding yourself about your posture throughout a busy day. We can’t rely on our minds to think about something that’s supposed to be second nature. Luckily, we don’t have to. Get started with a posture strap, and turn good posture into a habit.

Kathryn Budig, a yoga teacher and a writer for the Yoga Journal, speaks about the anti-slouch yoga strap trick. It involves using a cloth yoga band to create a sling for your shoulders, coaxing them into proper position. Place the cloth at the base of your shoulder blades, create an X on your back and let the straps come around the front like overalls.

5. Let Go of Stress

When we feel the effects of poor posture, such as a strained back or a kinked neck, we often think it happened incidentally. It was that bike we lifted out of the car, or we pushed ourselves too hard when we last did bench press. The truth is, the injuries are born from the stress of our everyday lives.

Sadie Nardini, the renowned yoga “rock star”, empowerment speaker, and Healthy Hedonism lifestyle leader has been an yoga and anatomy expert for over 20 years. Nardini says the best way to cope with physical misalignment in your posture is to focus on emotional alignment in your life. For example, if you feel anxious around your boss, that anxiety can cause tension in your shoulders, “Which then start radiating because they are connected to your back-body line, and cause a tight neck, tight low back, tight hamstrings,” she says.

6. Change Your Texting Habits

Many of us are examples of the inevitable smartphone slump. When we look down at our phones, we shrug our shoulders upwards and curve our back into a hunching position. Experts at Surgical Technology International say that texting can add up to 50-pounds on your spine. That’s a heavy load to carry around when we use our smartphones constantly.

It’s unrealistic to try to abandon technology to give our spines a break. But we can change our texting posture. Holding the phone up towards your face with a neutral spine will take away the stress of the hunch back posture. According to Surgical Technology International, every 15-degree raise of the phone alleviates a considerable amount of pounds of stress off the spine.

7. Arrange Your Work Space

Most of us spend a large majority of our day at work. Set yourself up for posture success while you’re there. It’s much more tempting to slouch while you’re sitting down. National Institutes of Health research indicates that we sit for an average of 7.7-hours of our day! If at all possible, ditch the chair for a while. Stand as you work, or make a point to take a lap around the office every hour, to avoid the seated slouch.

When you are sitting, arrange the space around you to promote good posture. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) makes suggestions as to how to go about this. First, choose a chair that can be adjusted for height and tilt the lower back support to match your natural spinal curve. The work surface should be about 1- or 2-inches above your thighs. The keyboard should rest in-between your body, and the computer screen should be far enough from your face that you can keep a level gaze, but not too far that you’re leaning into it.

8. Sit Properly Behind The Wheel

A national in-car study conducted by Arbitron revealed the average American spends more than 15-hours a week in the car. If you spend those 15-hours slouching, your body will be screaming at you down the road.

Chris Adams, a human factors engineer, industrial designer, and ergonomics expert, offers some tips for proper behind the wheel posture. Make sure your legs are not scrunched up and you can reach the pedals with your thigh relaxed. The steering wheel should be set so that it rotates naturally with the up and down movements of your arms, and doesn’t require chest muscles to move. Line up your mirrors so that you can see without straining. Using your rear view mirror as a reference—if you’ve slouched lower you’ll notice you can’t see through it anymore!

9. Avoid Sleep Slouching

Even with a proper work environment and a perfectly adjusted driving posture, sleeping in a poor posture can destroy all your progress. After all, we spend a huge amount of time sleeping! Sleeping postures are very challenging to change—we all have a favorite, and when we crawl into bed we just want to be comfortable. But try to be aware of what shape you take before you fall asleep.

Doctors at Physio Works recommend sleeping in a posture that maintains the natural curve in your lower spine. The best posture for this is lying on your back with a pillow under your knees. If this is uncomfortable, lying on a side with knees slightly bent works also. Be conscious of how your head hits the pillow before you fall asleep. Your neck shouldn’t be too tucked or craned upwards.

10. Check In

If you can remember, try to do a mental posture check when you can. Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon, gives us some things to focus on. He says, “Your spine is at its happiest when your ears fall on the same plane as your shoulders, and your shoulder blades are retracted.” Think to yourself—ears over shoulders…shoulders back…naval in…stand up tall.

At first when you’re trying to kick the slouching habit, leave yourself notes on the mirror or by the fridge to remind you to think tall. Have a friend work on this with you and ask them to tap you on the back when they notice you slipping. Use visual references if you’re sitting down-some mark on the wall that you should see straight ahead if you’re sitting up properly. After a while you won’t have to think about it so much.

9 Houseplants That Clean The Air And Are Basically Impossible To Kill

This post originally appeared in Simple Organic Life on Feb 15, 2015

Pop quiz: which is more polluted, indoor air or outdoor air? 10 times out of 10, indoor air in your house, office or apartment is going to be worse than the air outside. Indoor air pollution has been ranked among the top 5 greatest risks to public health by the EPA, and stagnant indoor air allows pollutants to build up and stick to the things inside of your home.

The things in our homes emit some nasty toxic chemicals like formaldehyde for example. You can also be impacted by pollutants like pollen, bacteria, mold, and various outdoor contaminants that find their way inside.

Fortunately, houseplants can help us solve some of these air quality issues. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, these houseplants are basically impossible to kill. Let’s check them out!

1. Garden Mum

This plant was found by NASA to be a real air-purifying beast. It removes ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene from your home’s air. It’s popular and inexpensive, plus they can be planted outside too.

2. Spider Plant

Spider plants are incredibly easy to grow, so if you’re a beginner, this is a great one to start with. It lights bright, indirect light and sends out shoots with flowers on them that will eventually grow into baby spider plants that you can propagate yourself. Before too long, you’ll have more spider plants than you’ll know what to do with.

3. Dracaena

There are over 40 kinds of dracaena plants, which makes it easy to find the right one for you. They remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene from the air. They are toxic to cats and dogs though, so if you have pets, you might want to think twice about this one.

4. Ficus

Ficus trees are a favorite of mine as they are able to grow quite large depending on the type of pot you have them in. They typically stand between 2 and 10 feet tall and have some serious air cleaning abilities. You can also keep it outside in the spring and summer. The ficus removes benzene, trichloroethylene and formaldehyde from indoor air.

5. Peace Lily

Not only does the peace lily send up beautiful flowers, but they’re impossible to kill and have great air cleaning abilities. They flower through most of the summer and prefer shady spots with moist but not soggy soil. It removes ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

6. Boston fern.

This plant likes cool locations with high humidity and indirect light. Bathrooms are a perfect spot for these little friends. They remove pollutants like xylene and formaldehyde from indoor air.

7. Snake Plant/Mother-in-law’s Tongue.

I see this one all over the place in offices and restaurants – and for good reason. They’re pretty much impossible to kill. They need water only occasionally and prefer drier conditions. They don’t need much direct sunlight either. They remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene from indoor air.

8. Bamboo Palm

Bamboo palms are most effective at filtering formaldehyde. They thrive in full sun and bright light. They grow as high as 12 foot too, making them an incredible presence indoors. They remove benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

9. Aloe Vera

Aloe is a multi-use plant for sure. It has health benefits when consumed in smaller amounts, helps relieve burns, and cleans your indoor air as well. It removes formaldehyde effectively from indoor air.

Women Who Undergo Assault Resistance Training Less Likely to be Attacked: Study

This post originally appeared in ActiveBeat on June 12, 2015.

A new Canadian study shows that women who receive just 12 hours of training on resisting sexual assault are far less likely to be attacked than women who don’t undergo such training.

The study, which involved just under 900 Canadian university students, was carried out to determine the effectiveness of the Enhanced Assess Acknowledge Act Sexual Assault Resistance Program, or EAAA. Some of the participants took part in the training, while a control group simply read brochures.

A year later, research showed that those who participated in the EAAA training had experienced roughly half as many completed rapes (5.2-percent compared to 9.8-percent) and 63 per cent fewer attempted rapes (3.4-percent compared to 9.3-percent) when balanced against the control group.

The study was carried out by Charlene Senn, a women’s studies professor and sexual assault expert based at the University of Windsor. She says the study, which was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows there’s huge value in training focused on resisting sexual assault. “What this means in practical terms is that enrolling 22 women in the EAAA resistance program would prevent one additional rape from occurring,” Senn said.

Sarah Oszter, a 24-year-old University of Windsor student who took part in the EAAA training, says it teaches women valuable lessons. “The greatest thing that I took away was the self-defence training,” noted Oszter, who learned how to get a person off of her in the event of an assault.

Perhaps most importantly, Oszter says she learned how to spot and act in a dangerous situation. “I think somebody should always step in if somebody looks like they’re in danger,” she said.

This Nifty Infographic Is a Great Introduction to Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Therapy

This post by ROBERT MONTENEGRO originally appeared on BigThink on June 11, 2015.

It’s startling to think about how we’ve got a spaceship millions of miles away ready to rendezvous with Pluto, yet here on Earth there are major aspects of our own anatomy that we’re almost completely ignorant about. We’ve climbed Everest, sent men to the moon, and invented the Internet — but we still don’t know how our brains work. The positive outlook is that many health, science, and research specialists believe we’re on the precipice of some major neuroscientific breakthroughs.

One example of a recent discovery with major implications is our further understanding of neuroplasticity. Simply put, we used to think our brain was what it was — unchangeable, unalterable. We were stuck with what nature gave us. In actuality, our brains are like plastic. We can alter neurochemistry to change beliefs, thoughts processes, emotions, etc. You are the architect of your brain. You also have the power to act against dangerous impulses such as addiction. The therapeutic possibilities here are endless.

Below, broken up into two parts, is a terrific infographic detailing the essence of what we know about neuroplasticity and how it works. It was created by the folks at Alta Mira, a San Francisco-area rehabilitation and recovery center.

Part One

Part Two

Verdi, Beethoven and Puccini could help beat heart disease 

This post b originally appeared in the Telegraph on June 9, 2015.

Doctors could prescribe music to beat heart disease, after research found recordings by Verdi, Beethoven and Puccini can lower the blood pressure.

A study by Oxford University suggests that compositions which match the rhythm of the body could be used to control the heart.

Research presented to the the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) conference in Manchester found that listening to music with a repeated 10-second rhythm coincided with a fall in blood pressure, reducing the heart rate.

Such recordings include Va Pensiero by Italian composer Giusuppe Verdi, Nessun Dorma by Giacomo Puccini and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony adagio.

The same impact was felt by listening to Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria in Latin – but the rhythm was altered by translations which changed the pace, researchers said.

By contrast, rock and pop music and other classical music had little impact – or was even found to increase blood pressure.

The musical preferences of participants made little difference, researchers said.

Calming music was more likely to calm listeners regardless of whether they preferred faster tunes.

Cardiologists examined a number of studies over two decades which explored the impact of different types of music on blood pressure and heart rate.

They then tested theories, involving six different types of music, on a small group of students.

Slow classical music, which followed the 10-second rhythm had the greatest impact, reducing blood pressure.

Faster classical music, including an excerpt from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, had no effect on the heart and blood pressure.

And a recording by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers was found to increase the heart rate.

Experts said this suggests that music therapy to calm individuals could be relatively simple as it would not need to be tailored to the individual.

Author Professor Peter Sleight, a cardiologist from the University of Oxford, said: “Music is already being used commercially as a calming therapy but this has happened independent of controlled studies into its effectiveness.

“Our research has provided improved understanding as to how music, particularly certain rhythms, can affect your heart and blood vessels.

“But further robust studies are needed, which could reduce scepticism of the real therapeutic role of music,” he said.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that stress can play a role in cardiovascular disease so the calming effect of music may have some potential as a therapy.

“However, as Professor Sleight points out, more robust evidence is needed before we see cardiologists prescribing a dose of Taylor Swift or 30 minutes of Vivaldi a day,” he said.

Previous research has suggested that music could improve the recovery of patients suffering from heart disease.

A 2013 study by the University of Nis, in Serbia, divided patients with cardiac disease into three groups. Some were enrolled in exercise classes, some took the same classes and listened to music of their choice for half an hour a day, and some only listened to music, and did not take the exercise.

The research found those who listened to music as well as exercising had the best improvements in heart function, improving their exercise capacity by 39 per cent.