Yogi diet: Do I have to start Second Series?

Bobbie and I pretty often get told some version of the following: “It’s great you both practice together.”

You probably can list off the reasons this is true (meaning why it’s “great” not why we hear this a lot): similar sleep schedules; appreciation for the rigors of what the other person is doing; the ability to include Ashtanga into vacations; we’re able to go to workshops together and both can travel down to see Tim Miller.

A final thing is that we share the same healthy habits, especially when it comes to food. Bobbie just detailed this last week, and we’ve kept a running log of our mostly raw diet.

Well now we’ve hit a snag. And while it may not be as big an issue as a household where one person is an austere Ashtangi and the other is knocking back pizza and hamburgers every week (or one in which one Ashtangi has to also help prepare food for a family of non-yogis, especially kids), it’s a new twist to our co-yoga journey.

As Bobbie just wrote: “First Series is about purifying and cleansing. Second is about strength.”

I’m perhaps eternally going to be on First. Bobbie’s now doing all of Second. Her diet’s suddenly all about strengthening foods while mine’s still cleansing.

Dinner isn’t as easy anymore.

So what to do?

Well, we could start preparing separate meals, with perhaps some overlap (the bulk of purifying raw vegetables and unprocessed foods). Or maybe we make it simpler by just adding something strengthening into Bobbie’ meals.

I’ll admit to throwing a bit of a protest at that idea. Why does she get the extra, satisfying dish? Just because she’s busting out Karandavasana?

It’s when I start to protest that the far more simple solution pops to mind: Start Second, stupid.

Of course, there are at least two major problems with this:

  1. I still struggle with Primary poses.
  2. I haven’t been given any of Second. (Sort of plays off the first, right?)

The issue then becomes one of tradition. Do I fudge things to accommodate other factors? Circumstances have relegated me to practicing at home (now for the foreseeable future). Do I pull together all the threads into a design of my liking that says, “The universe is telling you its time to at least dabble.”

After all, there is not uniform agreement on when someone should advance. Yes, we all know the major and typical sign posts: Marichy D, Supta Kurmasana, etc. But there are teachers who talk about more internal signs — the quality of the breath, the focus of the mind — and their guidelines might …

Well, just because I like the sounds of their teaching, doesn’t mean I should flit to it like a butterfly.

Perhaps the answer is to modify First, ever so slightly, to enhance the strengthening poses that exist there. Longer Utkatasanas, Virabhadrasanas, crow poses. Concentrate on the pull backs and jump throughs. Work on that 100-breath headstand.

And then sneak bites of Bobbie’s strengthening foods when she isn’t looking.

Posted by Steve

Rolfing good; wheat very, very, very bad

Last Friday was a rough, toxin-filled day. Just generally miserable, in a feeling-under-the-weather-but-not-bad-enough-not-to-go-to-work/school way.

And Saturday ended up worse. But for an entirely different reason.

As I noted earlier, Friday was tough because of the after-effects of a fairly intense Rolfing session. The toxins were making their way out of my body, and I was feeling worse for the wear.

A few commenters on that post asked for a bit of a follow-up, and while I’m trying to keep that ongoing tale rooted in my sessions, there does seem to be something to report.

Some progress, as Tim Miller might say.

I’m not expecting any immediate miracles, but I do hope the Rolfing will bring me a bit more flexibility. I know it’s a process, and there’s a certain wholisticness to it, so I’m not going to get overly enthusiastic about anything that happens nor overly depressed if things don’t seem to be happening.

That lengthy disclaimer aside, I do think my hamstrings are a bit looser, and I think my shoulders may be, too. (That’s harder to judge.) But it is how the hamstring looseness manifested itself over the weekend that struck me as peculiar or, perhaps a better word, particular.

As I’ve mentioned in Rolfing posts, a problem I have is too much outward rotation in my legs; I tend to stand on the outside of my feet. I’m working on this (and I think the gait, etc. is adapting). A habit I need to break is crossing my big toes over the ones next to them.

If you think about it, I only could do that if I’m really anchored on the outside of my feet and my heels. Otherwise, I’d fall over.

So, I was testing the old hamstrings out on Sunday (ah, the yoga ego!), and things were better. We’re getting close to the holy grail of touching the toes. (Then we move on to the crystal skull of lying flat on the legs. And, yes, that’s an Indiana Jones reference to go along with the Star Trek one from earlier.)

“Uncross your toes,” Bobbie said. (By the way, if you haven’t seen it, elephant journal has a tweaked version of her “wonders of sun salutes” post up.)

I did, forcing myself to activate the insides of my legs, the muscles I don’t use nearly enough.

And, according to Bobbie, I got a few inches lower. All just by changing my orientation and the way I was standing. By using a better balance of muscles.

That strikes me as a pretty good indication that the direction the Rolfing is going is the right one. We’ll see.

One thing I don’t need to see again is the reason why Saturday was even worse than Friday. I know why.


We’ve posted about our no hybrid (i.e. almost all the wheat you get) wheat diet, which is paired with our mainly raw diet. Well, on Saturday, I went out to lunch with my parents and the mom of one of my all-time best friends (dating back to kindergarten, which is getting painfully close to four decades ago). We ended up at an Italian place, and while I did get soup and salad, the soup had pasta in it and I made the mistake of having a few pieces of bread. (How could I not?)

Boy, big mistake. I should have remembered what Bobbie wrote:

  • The kind of glucose that results from eating modern wheat causes an extreme spike in sugar–the highest in the food kingdom, so to speak. So, you eat your bowl of whole grain cereal, and an hour and a half later, you’re “hungry” again. You’re not, actually. The spike is gone, and you crave another spike. So you eat a nut butter sandwich. Then, an hour and a half later, you’re hungry again–etc.
  • Accompanying the spike is an endorphin response. It seems to be stronger in some individuals than others–stronger in Steve than in me, for instance. So, you feel the need for, I’m sorry to say, a wheat fix.

About four hours later, I was feeling all shaky as my blood sugar cratered. And I was hungry, when I shouldn’t have been. I felt a bit strung out. I felt lousy, way lousier than after the Rolfing.

All because of a little wheat. And so (hold on, gotta climb up on my high horse), I’m telling you people: Cut out the non-heritage wheat. Try it for just a week, even. See how you feel. You really might be surprised.

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: Eating raw means you can eat after 6 p.m.

Lots of things have changed in the Countdown household since we both took up Ashtanga.

Via organic-health.us

There are the obvious ones: We get up way earlier and go to bed way sooner. Our diet — not entirely because of the practice, but certainly helped along — has gone raw and hybrid-wheat-free. We’re planning the Yatra to India.

There are the not-so obvious ones: Practicing the yama and niyamas; studying Sanskrit and the Yoga Sutras; investigating Darshan and Bhatki.

One thing has not changed though: When we eat dinner.

It seems that the early dinner — to make way for the following morning’s practice — is always among the top things Ashtangis talk about when listing off the changes the practice has caused.

“You’ll want to eat no later than about 5 p.m.,” I have read. “Dinners out with friends are a thing of the past.”

Well, not for us.

I chalk the fact that we still have dinner at 8 p.m., even close to 9 p.m., and then are on the mat by 6:15 a.m. the next morning to the raw diet. The food just isn’t that hard to digest. Eating raw, it is difficult to get too full, to feel that stuffed feeling one gets.

And even if you do eat a bunch, your body — once it has adjusted to all the raw food — burns right through what you eat. It’s very quick and efficient energy.

Now, I know that a raw diet isn’t sattvic and goes against Ayurvedic principles. But I also know that Ayurveda didn’t have to deal with genetically modified foods, processed foods or hybridized wheat. It is a whole different garden these days.

What I can tell you is this: By 6 a.m. the next morning, just nine hours or so later, our raw dinners are gone. We often hit the mat just as we start to feel hungry, in fact.

For any number of reasons, beginning but not ending with work, it would be impossible to push our dinner time much before 7 p.m. It isn’t a problem.

Food for thought for anyone?

Posted by Steve

Yogi Diet: I can get some satisfaction

OK, to continue my “confession” theme, here’s one: We ate a wee bit of wheat last night.

Via wikipedia

It wasn’t much: a pita bread and a half. It came along with the vegetarian dinners from the local Middle Eastern place, which is next to the pharmacy, and I needed to stop there. (Those playing along may also realize this meal wasn’t raw.)

I should point out here: I think we were ripped off, a little. There should have been another half a pita.

But that emphasizes the point: It didn’t matter. The food we got — which we didn’t even finish — was more than enough. Back before cutting wheat out, I doubt that would have satisfied us, given how hungry we were.

Confession No. 2: I’m sure by “us,” I mean me. I would have hoovered whatever Bobbie didn’t finish (or was too slow to finish).

We’ve noted in the past that once we cut wheat out of our diet — hybridized wheat, not specifically gluten — we dropped weight and fat. There are the scientific reason for this, but also perhaps another simpler one:

I think we cut our calorie intake in the process. And I think last night’s dinner was evidence of that, if not proof. We got full on less food.

So, perhaps this is another benefit you can add to cutting wheat out of your diet? I’m thinking we need to test this on pizza, to be sure.

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: You spend less on food than most people — think that’s good?

A few bits of learning we’ve encountered on our yogi diet journey:

Americans spend less on food than any other country. Here’s a chart from a Mother Jones article earlier this year:

Via Mother Jones

Now, it obviously helps that on that chart the average household spending in America is the highest; but still, on average we spend just 6% on food?

The other thing is that government subsidies are a central reason why some foods cost so little compared to others. Ever wonder why the hamburger at a fast food restaurant costs a buck while a salad (and a pretty lame one at that) might be $3.29? Subsidies.

Monday, I came across a story from NPR that breaks down how American spending in grocery stores has changed during the past 30 years. The nutgraf:

We now spend a much bigger share of our grocery money on processed foods, which includes things like frozen dinners, canned soups and snacks. We spend much less on meat, largely because meat is much cheaper than it was 30 years ago.

(Note: See the link on “subsidies” for why meat is cheaper.)

The NPR story also has its own fancy charts, such as this one:

What should jump out at you there is the rise in processed foods and sweets. Those are the types of foods we are now avoiding (and by extension, are encouraging you to avoid).

The problem is, the foods we should be eating cost more. Admit it, you’ve walked into a Whole Foods or similar “healthy” store and walked out wondering how your bill topped $100.

Well, our message today is: That’s OK. It means your spending on food is probably more in line with the rest of the world’s.

After all, do you really want to be eating cheap food? That’s certainly not ahimsa toward yourself, is it?

Posted by Steve

Where do you suppose cows get their protein?

A quick dive off into one of our side topics: diet.

No, don’t worry. We haven’t given up giving up wheat.  No, don’t fret. We are still overwhelmingly raw.

Via onegreenplanet.org

What I want to touch on is the oft-heard bugaboo for vegetarians (and raw foodists, unless you’re daring enough to eat beef carpaccio regularly): How do you get enough protein?

The answer Bobbie always gives is: “Where do you suppose cows get their protein?”

Right — plants.

I just came upon a nice, tight article on this subject by endurance athlete Rich Roll. Here’s a taste:

Proteins consist of twenty different amino acids, eleven of which can be synthesized naturally by our bodies. The remaining nine – what we call essential amino acids – must be ingested from the foods we eat. So technically, our bodies require certain amino acids, not protein per se. But these nine essential amino acids are hardly the exclusive domain of the animal kingdom.  In fact, they’re originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Admittedly, plant-based proteins are absorbed differently than animal proteins. And not all plant-based proteins are “complete”, containing all nine essential amino acids – two arguments all too often raised to negate the advisability of shunning aminal products. But in truth, a well-rounded whole food plant-based diet that includes a colorful rotation of foods like sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and legumes will satisfy the demanding protein needs of even the hardest training athlete.

Roll cites a number of athletes like himself who are vegan or vegetarian. But what really caught my eye — and the reason to pass this on — is the endurance part of his training regiment:

Provided your diet is made up of different combinations of the aforementioned foods, I can absolutely guarantee that you will never suffer a protein deficiency – it’s impossible.  Despite the incredibly heavy tax I impose on my body, training at times upwards of 25 hours per week for ultra-endurance events, this type of regimen has fueled me for years without any issues with respect to building lean muscle mass and properly recovering between workouts.  In fact, I can honestly say that at age 45, I am fitter than I have ever been, even when I was competing as a swimmer at a world-class level at Stanford in the late 1980’s.

Without sliding too much into a discussion of how “good for you” Ashtanga is, physically — studies sometimes imply yoga raises heart rates, others that it doesn’t, and I think we all know there’s a difference between a Yin Yoga class and a Mysore one — I tend to give it credit for “physical benefits” largely because of the amount of time we spend on our mat, in relative states of motion.

We may not jack our heart rates up as high as someone doing interval training, but does that training last 75 or 90 minutes? It is easy for an Ashtangi to put in seven to nine hours of practice a week.

Just by default, I think, that’s good for you. When I was training for a marathon, and running upwards of 35 or so miles a week, that still might have been six hours at most.

Ashtanga is, in some sense, an endurance sport. So Roll touting the worth of a plant-based diet translates easily to us, with our Niyamas.

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: So how’s that no-wheat thing going?

Hey, thanks for asking! It’s going great!

Wheat, via the Guardian

I’ll admit up front I fell a tiny bit off the wagon last weekend; we had a little bread, cheese and some tapanade for dinner last Friday. But otherwise, there’s been no wheat — not even while I was in Vegas.

That’s not bad since it was Oct. 4 that I officially started this little experiment.

So, what conclusions am I drawing? (Again, thanks for asking!) These:

  • I don’t feel particularly different or better. It’s not like there’s been an energy boost or I’m sleeping better or my mind is clearer.
  • My appetite has, however, changed pretty dramatically. I’m definitely less hungry, and there are fewer highs and lows — meaning I don’t suddenly crater into a ravenous maw. And that really was what we were trying to determine, so on that front the idea that wheat spikes your blood sugar and stimulates your appetite beyond where it should be seems proven — at least in me.
  • I suspect, as a result of the calmed appetite, I’m consuming several hundred calories less than I was. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve lost a ton of weight, though. Maybe a few pounds, but that is coming off of an August and September when I did lose in the neighborhood of 10 pounds, for whatever reason.
  • It does seem — to go all self-in-the-mirror on you — that fat is burning off, and I assume being replaced by something akin to muscle. (That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.)
  • I maybe, maybe, felt like my appetite reverted a bit after eating the bread on Friday. But it was Monday when I felt like I wanted more food, and that seems like a long delay. So I’m not sure the two are related.

This all is pretty well in line with how I was feeling about two weeks into this test. (My worry then about feeling less flexible has subsided; the hamstrings seem looser again.) And my conclusion then — that I’ll put wheat/bread on the “something to consume every now and then, and savor it” list — holds up.

Probably the most important conclusion, though, is this: I’m not really missing bread very much. Normally, on a day with a Led Primary class under my belt, I would have gone and grabbed a sandwich for lunch. But I’m OK with a salad, as long as maybe there is something a little “carbie” to it — beans, hummus, something like that.

And if I can reach this place, then, I absolutely promise you, so can you.

Posted by Steve