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Gluten-free: Cultural or dietary choice?

October 30, 2014

The New Yorker in its next issue dives deep into the tasty dough of the gluten-free movement. It’s rightly skeptical (and that coming from someone who avoids wheat, and who knows when I do eat it that it is a luxury). A few highlights:

While there are no scientific data to demonstrate that millions of people have become allergic or intolerant to gluten (or to other wheat proteins), there is convincing and repeated evidence that dietary self-diagnoses are almost always wrong, particularly when the diagnosis extends to most of society. We still feel more comfortable relying on anecdotes and intuition than on statistics or data. Since the nineteen-sixties, for example, monosodium glutamate, or MSG, has been vilified. Even now, it is common to see Chinese restaurants advertise their food as “MSG-free.” The symptoms that MSG is purported to cause—headaches and palpitations are among the most frequently cited—were initially described as “Chinese-restaurant syndrome” in a letter published, in 1968, inThe New England Journal of Medicine. The Internet is filled with sites that name the “hidden” sources of MSG. Yet, after decades of study, there is no evidence that MSG causes those symptoms or any others. This should surprise no one, since there are no chemical differences between the naturally occurring glutamate ions in our bodies and those present in the MSG we eat. Nor is MSG simply an additive: there is MSG in tomatoes, Parmesan, potatoes, mushrooms, and many other foods.

[snip]

Peter H. R. Green, the director of the celiac-disease center at the Columbia University medical school and one of the nation’s most prominent celiac doctors, says that the opposition to gluten has followed a similar pattern, and that it is harming at least as many people as it is helping. “This is a largely self-diagnosed disease,’’ Green said, when I visited his office, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “In the absence of celiac disease, physicians don’t usually tell people they are sensitive to gluten. This is becoming one of the most difficult problems that I face in my daily practice.”

He went on, “I recently saw a retired executive of an international company. He got a life coach to help him, and one of the pieces of advice the coach gave him was to get on a gluten-free diet. A life coach is prescribing a gluten-free diet. So do podiatrists, chiropractors, even psychiatrists.’’ He stopped, stood up, shook his head as if he were about to say something he shouldn’t, then shrugged and sat down again. “A friend of mine told me his wife was seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety and depression. And one of the first things the psychiatrist did was to put her on a gluten-free diet. This is getting out of hand. We are seeing more and more cases of orthorexia nervosa”—people who progressively withdraw different foods in what they perceive as an attempt to improve their health. “First, they come off gluten. Then corn. Then soy. Then tomatoes. Then milk. After a while, they don’t have anything left to eat—and they proselytize about it. Worse is what parents are doing to their children. It’s cruel and unusual treatment to put a child on a gluten-free diet without its being indicated medically. Parental perception of a child’s feeling better on a gluten-free diet is even weaker than self-perception.”

As with all things, the key if one is going to make a change to one’s diet is to substitute in healthy things, not junk. I know plenty of vegetarians who aren’t healthy because what they eat — chips, Dorritos, cake and frozen vegetarian dishes — are crap. Same goes for replacing gluten. The New Yorker touches on that:

The diet can also be unhealthy. “Often, gluten-free versions of traditional wheat-based foods are actually junk food,’’ Green said. That becomes clear after a cursory glance at the labels of many gluten-free products. Ingredients like rice starch, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch are often used as replacements for white flour. But they are highly refined carbohydrates, and release at least as much sugar into the bloodstream as the foods that people have forsaken. “Our patients have jumped on this bandwagon and largely left the medical community wondering what the hell is going on,’’ Green said.

It’s a lengthy piece, but worth a read.

UPDATE:

Here’s Bobbie’s response to the article:

What frustrates me about articles like this is that they always lean in the direction of conventional wisdom (often in subtle and insulting ways) without spending any time actually deciphering if that wisdom is true. I mean, we used to hear from medical science that cigarettes were good for us. If you count native Americans, human beings also smoked for thousands of years. Did medical wisdom and historical use that make it true that cigarettes were good for us? The real problem is nobody really wants to admit it’s a problem, because to do so would lead to a major shift in human behavior. Americans seem predisposed to shifting behavior quickly if something new works. Which is why most of us don’t smoke, but most of the rest of the world still does.

It’s certainly true that mass wheat production saved human life. But that doesn’t make it healthy. And it’s also true that wheat is practical and portable food. But we have to process it to make that true, remove what’s good about it from it, and put it back later. I mean, hello, Michael Pollan, years ago, said that.

And there’s the complete dismissal of people like us. Half a dozen life-long health problems evaporated for me when I quit, and I lost weight. So I’m one of the “millions of people with vague gastric distress” who “found something to blame.” Fuck you, you smug ass hole. It wasn’t vague, and I didn’t find something to blame. I found a solution. Go eat your fucking bagel and stay out of my diet.

There.

Posted by Steve

A bunch of kooky vintage yoga pictures

October 30, 2014

I suppose this post is literally a #TBT.

Click on this here link to get a couple of dozen of “vintage” — anywhere from the ’30s to the ’70s or so, with one notable 1993 shot — photos of people, mostly Westerners, doing various forms of yoga.

Maybe I mean various forms of “yoga.”

A few really notable things:

  • Why is this on weather.com?
  • There are many great yoga names. Laszlo Szabo may be the best.
  • Actor Anthony Quinn was pretty cool.
  • I enjoy the one caption’s important detail: “knitted pant suit.”

Here’s a little from the write-up that goes along with the photos:

Yoga, an Indian art, has been around since at least 15th century, possibly as early as the 10th. It’s an ancient practice meant to inspire a connection between mind, body and nature.

Modern yoga, as we know it today, gained popularity about 150 years, slowly trickling down from Indian spiritual leaders to a small population of curious yogis to finally, the masses, David Gordon White, a scholar of yoga and religious studies, writes in Yoga, Brief History of an Idea.

Anyway, a decent little walk down history-lane.

Posted by Steve

LA, Boulder: Here’s your chants to explore India’s sacred music

October 29, 2014

Oh, yeah, I went there.

Two upcoming events — one in Boulder, the other here in LA — feature Naren Schreiner of Sangita Yoga, who has performed kirtan and Indian sacred music at the past couple Ashtanga Yoga Confluences.

Up first is Boulder, at Richard Freeman’s Yoga Workshop. One is a workshop on chants, the other a more “traditional” performance of bhajans. Both are happening the weekend of Nov. 8-9; day one is $30, day two is $20:

In ancient India, chanting formed a path of Yoga — union of soul and Spirit. This simple and profound discipline is an important part of spiritual life.

In this workshop you will learn about the sacred foundations of chanting and music, how to use your voice yogically, and how to pronounce and chant simple Sanskrit slokas.

A month later, Naren will roll up from Encinitas to LA, at the Yoga Works “Center for Yoga,” where both Tim Miller and Pattabhi Jois have taught:

Discover how India’s tradition of sacred music is an integral part of yoga and spiritual living. Naren will introduce India’s tradition of sacred music in the context of yoga practice and the spiritual lifestyle. This interactive and experiential class will include live and recorded music demonstrations as well as guided practice intended for all levels—no musical experience is required.

In this workshop you will learn:

• An overview of the art and science of India’s sacred music.
• The effects of music and sound on your body, mind, and spirit.
• The function of your voice as a sacred instrument of speech, mantra and chanting.
• Practical instruction in correct pronunciation of Sanskrit and Hindi.
• Daily practices to help you bring sacred music into your own life.

All levels welcome. No musical experience required.

Cost is $30. Registration is at the link above.

Posted by Steve

New documentary on Ashtanga up for a download

October 28, 2014

A new, 60-minute documentary on Ashtanga, appropriately titled “Breathing Ashtanga Yoga”, is now available for download to your very own computer.

Link is here, and it includes a five-minute preview. Here’s the quick description:

Enter into the world of yoga and find out about a practice that has become famous worldwide: its history, tradition, series, benefits… how useful and necessary this practice can be for our hectic lifestyles in this modern world. Be inspired by the life-changing experiences described by students as well as authorized and certified teachers.

The cost is $9.99. The director, Josu Ozkarita, is from Spain, so there are Spanish subtitles (or English subtitles when there is a Spanish voice over).

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial inches on; opponents charge students ‘forced’ to participate

October 27, 2014

At some point soon, we should be reaching yet another “are we done yet, nope” moment in the years-long battle about the Encinitas school district running a yoga program.

On Friday, the lawyers for the opponents sent out news that the Appellate briefing was complete, meaning a three-judge panel now has all the info it needs to render a decision about whether the yoga program is legal.

It feels a bit like a ho-hum moment, but then today I saw that one of the groups that added their voices to the case — via a friends-of-the-court brief, the Pacific Justice Institute, is saying this:

The Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) is forcing children to participate in yoga classes. The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is fighting back.

The PJI filed a brief this week in support of a case that seeks to bar the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) from pushing students into this unbiblical activity. The class, which is funded by an outside organization, teaches Ashtanga yoga which promotes the Yogic belief system of eight limbs–or eight goals which bring unity with God.

[snip]

“By all means, Pacific Justice Institute is here to protect the religious rights of individuals and families,” said Brad Dacus, President of PJI. “This school district has essentially adopted a state religion and is forcing it upon our young children by requiring this class to be taken. These actions violate the fundamental right of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs, and they disregard the Constitution that this nation was founded upon.”

Judging by the focus of that, as the National Center for Law & Policy’s release (it is the law firm fighting the program on behalf of two Christian parents), opponents have focused on the Surya Namaskaras as a main point of argument. From the NCLP release:

The trial court in Sedlock v. Baird stunned many in 2013 when, despite finding that yoga, including Ashtanga yoga, is “religious,” and that EUSD’s current yoga poses are “identical” to those taught by Ashtanga yoga, including the Surya Namaskara A/B, down the Hindu Solar god Surya, the court nonetheless ruled that EUSD did not violate the religious freedom provisions of the U.S. or California Constitutions. The decision lacks internal consistency because the court found that (1) yoga is religious, (2) EUSD is teaching yoga that includes religious practices, and yet (3) EUSD’s yoga program does not violate the Establishment clause’s prohibitions restricting the state from promoting religion or religious practices.

“No court in the past 50 years has permitted public school officials at school sponsored events to lead impressionable young students to actively participate in devotional religious exercises or practices like Ashtanga yoga’s Surya Namaskara,” declared NCLP president Dean Broyles. “Public schools may certainly objectively teach about religion because religion is historically and culturally important. And students are free to express their personal religious beliefs and practices at school. But the state itself is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or promote religion or religious practices at school sponsored events, as is now occurring in EUSD P.E. classrooms. Courts are especially sensitive to the coercive pressures involved when the state, because education is compulsory, leads young impressionable children with tender consciences through group liturgical/ritual religious exercises or activities—this prohibition would certainly include bowing to the sun god.”

Just to note: I say we’re heading to another “are we done yet” moment because this feels like it invariably will keep heading up the courts.

Posted by Steve

Substituting ‘rock music for chanting in the safety zone’ of yoga

October 27, 2014

Yoga for men is a thing, if you hadn’t realized it by now. (We’ve posted a few times about it.) There’s Broga (we first mentioned it almost three years ago). Yoga for Jocks. And one that maybe is OK: Detox Retox. First you do yoga, by coincidence at a craft brewery. And then you taste some of that craft.

Almost invariably, the chanting is cut and rock music is in.

It’s all outlined in a story from this week at the Los Angeles Times. And I highlight it for a few bits of information it offers:

  • Lululemon plans dedicated men’s stores by 2016, which will open up a whole new opportunity for the company to say or do something offensive — if one can offend men. Maybe some sort of Girlie Man Shorts or ‘Lil Girl Tops?
  • Prana — which I happen to prefer to Lulu — also has expanded its men’s line. And next fall, Alo will relaunch a men’s line.
  • Broga expects to have 500 trained teachers by the end of the year. I wonder what that training involves. (They cost $395, according to the Broga website, and are specifically designed for guy’s needs…)

You also can read about burrito-designed yoga bags, the Yoga Joes that I avoided until now and much, much more. A little taste:

“Men are more interested in the flexibility and mobility benefits of yoga than ever before; it helps them in life and sports performance — better strides in running sports, better golf swings,” said Keith Irace, regional director of group fitness for Equinox fitness clubs. “There is also a desirable aesthetic benefit that’s attractive to men. A male yoga body is lean and defined.

“Men make up easily one-third of all [intermediate and advanced] yoga classes at Equinox, and the percentage is higher in some locations, like West Hollywood,” Irace said. “The high-male-attendance classes also happen to be male-instructed.”

But the chain has no plans to add classes that target guys.

“That would be gender-ist!” jokes West Coast Equinox spokeswoman Chelsea Hagler.

So it’s the flip side to this old nugget from Deepak Chopra.

Posted by Steve

Reminder: Richard Freeman’s Essentials registration is today

October 26, 2014

To be precise, it starts at noon Mountain time, so 2 p.m. Eastern and 11 a.m. Pacific. (I think I got that right.) They say it is first come, first served.

And a reminder of what we’re talking about:

This 5-day intensive will help to fill in some of these gaps. In the morning sessions we will ground our study with an in depth exploration of the internal patterns of breath and alignment found in the Primary Series of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system. In the afternoons there will be an introduction to Sanskrit chanting, an introduction to the internal pleasures of pranayama and a comprehensive overview of the foundational philosophies which form the context for yoga practice. We will read and discuss the Kena and the Katha Upanishads, selections from the Yoga Sutras and then learn to appreciate the plurality of approaches to yoga through an introduction to the Bhagavad Gita.

It runs Jan. 26 to 30. Link to registration (and the info above) is right here.

Cost is $600, due when you register.

Posted by Steve