Yoga Me Well Blog

DIY Health

If you’re honest about it, how often have you handed yourself over to health professionals to ‘fix’ you? Have you been able to ask: “How did I contribute to my ill-health? What warning signs did I ignore? Am I avoiding making changes that could help?”

I blamed work forever for my chronic ill health. It wasn’t until I accepted that I chose every thought, emotion and action that contributed to it that my healing process began.

We have a problem. Australia’s ageing population is catapulting toward us and our healthcare system is unable to sustain it given society’s bandaid approach to healthcare and the rising costs. We need to take charge of our health through preventative measures  self-awareness of contributing factors, supportive nutrition, lifestyle changes  if we’re to turn things around.

The holistic approaches that are integral to complementary and alternative health systems are part of the solution. Thankfully, there are signs of a break-through as clinics offering “Integrative Medicine” (IM) sprout in the suburbs. Alongside GPs, clinic practitioners might include a naturopath, nutritionist, acupuncturist, masseur and osteopath; yet to edge their way in are more alternative practitioners, such as homeopaths, herbalists and kinesiologists.

Professor Kerryn Phelps, president of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA) says cancer patients and “thinking consumers” are forcing change.

“. . . Over 80 per cent of cancer patients are using complementary therapies, most often without the knowledge of their doctors, and that consumer-driven push has really encouraged cancer specialists to look at what they’re doing,” she says, citing hospitals such as St Vincent’s in Sydney and Sir Charles Gairdner in Perth as Australia’s early adopters of IM.

Melbourne’s Austin Health is on the starting block, currently fund-raising for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre, which “is likely to include” meditation, relaxation, art and music therapy, massage and aromatherapy.

Says Professor Phelps: “We’re a long way behind the US . . . somewhat behind the UK and a long way behind countries like Germany which have been integrating conventional and herbal medicine for centuries. We’re really just at the beginning of the curve.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Social Trends 2008 report confirms it: just 3.8 per cent of the population (748,000 people) had consulted one of seven selected complementary health therapists in 2004-05. By contrast, the European Information Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (EICCAM) reckons 40 per cent of EU citizens have a clear preference for, and are regular users of CAM, while the 2007 US National Health Survey found 38 per cent of Americans were CAM-friendly.

We’re so much more than our physical bodies; it’s time to adventure deeper into the layers of being that profoundly influence health.

Who’s Who in ‘Voodoo’

Energy practitioners are here to stay and like the yogi pioneers to Western culture before them, news of their life-shaping expertise is destined for your grapevine.

The list of modalities is ever-increasing  Alexander and Bowen technique; craniosacral therapy; reiki; kinesiology; reflexology; thought-field therapy; pranic healing; somato-emotional release therapy  and the number of private educators training practitioners is growing. As in western medicine, there are good and bad operators, so nothing new there.

I’ve had enough treatments to know it’s worth exploring for me, with my responses ranging from energy upheavals that feel worse (lethargy, aches, disorientation) before they feel better (back problems resolved, a weight lifted, clarity, shifts in unhelpful, long-held attitudes and wellbeing).

Our physical bodies are, ultimately, just energy on the sub-atomic level, but we each also have a unique electromagnetic blueprint that influences our health, which has been researched and measured by many including medical intuitive Caroline Myss in her work with Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Dr Norman Shealy, and bioenergy pioneer Dr Valerie Hunt, a scientist and Professor Emeritus of Physiological Science at the University of California, in her work with Nasa.

Energy work is not only for the CAM-initiated, says Jeanette Young, president of the Energetic Healing Association.

“We do find people who have been to a lot of other medical practitioners and haven’t found an answer but have pain in their bodies that the medical system can’t diagnose . . . and that’s because it’s in the energy field . . . when we come to an understanding of the subtle energies via the meridian and chakra systems, we can start to read the story that the body has for us,” says Young.

How do you begin to navigate the ocean of possibilities?

My rule of thumb has always been word-of-mouth. Young agrees, and advises you to go with your gut.

“Obviously there will be a bit of nervousness when doing something new, but the key factor to a positive shift in your energy is a sense of trust and safety in the practitioner. When in doubt, don’t.”

Top 5 Health & Wellbeing Reads

Here you go: five fabulously accessible, enlightened perspectives on self-aware approaches to health and wellbeing:

  1. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Dr Christiane Northrup
  2. The Creation of Health, Caroline Myss and Dr Norman Shealy
  3. Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind Body Medicine, by Deepak Chopra
  4. The Breakthrough Experience, Dr John Demartini
  5. You Can Heal your Life, Louise L. Hay

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.

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Hair Today, Toxic Tomorrow

Australian women can’t be too fussed about the long-term consequences of dying their hair or our hair colouring industry would be less bouncy  the retail market for salon and DIY dyes is a staggering $1.056 billion according to industry market researcher, IBIS World.

Whether you dye your mop for fashion or to cover crinkle-cut greys, at some point you have to question whether all those chemicals are good for you.

We know that skin is porous and that what it absorbs swims directly into the bloodstream (eg: Nicotine patches). I can’t imagine that our bodies have evolved fast enough to safely process the flood of chemicals that now bombard it through polluted air, `sanitised’ water and overprocessed foods.

According to research into hair dye and various cancers (breast, Annals of Epidemiology 1992; leukemia and brain, American Journal of Epidemiology, January 2004, November 2006 ; bladder, University of Southern California 2001), hair dyes are high on the “potential risk factor” for causing cancer, and studies recommend further investigation, particularly of darker permanent hair dyes.

In 2006, the European Union (EU) added 22 chemicals to a list of 50 hair dye chemicals now banned overseas after being linked to the University of Southern California study that identified high risk groups susceptible to bladder cancer. Dyes used for 15 years or more tripled a person’s risk factor, and darker dyes, because they use more chemicals, further increased the risk.

Among the primary nasties are peroxide, resorcinol, ammonia and paraphenylene-diamine (PPD).

Even if you down-grade to semi-permanent colours, they’re still likely to contain one or more of these chemicals in small amounts in order to activate the colour. Safe alternatives are around, such as henna and vegetable-based rinses, but they’re short-term and don’t hide a full grey mop well.

Ultimately the safest colour is your own, but when, if ever, will a prosperous beautification industry celebrate your innate features as good enough?

The Inconvenient Truth

In Australia, the assessment of hair dye chemicals and the labelling of dye products provide safety-on-paper. Sure, they’re tested on animals (cringe) for weeks, sometimes months, but not years.

Take the colour, Basic Orange 31. In 2006, Australia’s National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNACS), which assesses the public and occupational health and safety risks of such chemicals, did a report on Basic Orange 31.

Animals were “sacrificed” due to severe ocular irritation” and guinea pigs injected with the stuff apparently experienced “a normal development of the local symptoms” which included severe inflammation, swelling and rotting skin. Basic Orange 31 also caused orange colouration in the urine and faeces of animals tested, so we know it penetrates physiology well beyond hair follicles.

And while the report found there was “no significant public health concern” regarding its use in small doses, Basic Orange 31 still needed to be classified as a “hazardous substance”. The NICNACS recommended labelling was pretty standard for permanent hair dye: “may cause sensitisation by skin contact” [which means regular use may create abnormal sensitivity to a range of chemicals]; “risk of serious damage to the eyes”; “avoid contact with skin and eyes”.

I’d like to know how you avoid skin contact when applying hair dye.

I asked my friend Adrian (name changed), a hair colourist for 24 years, about his experience with hair dye. His homeopath ran tests that found he had the same level of heavy metals in his system as a chemotherapy patient.

For a check list of offending chemicals, go to the European Union website for the latest updates.

Go Grey, I Dare You

I started greying (and dyeing monthly) in my early 20s. By mid 30s, I’d buy the “ammonia free” hair dyes and nestle into the safety of denial over the lung-locking fumes, constant itching and chronic dandruff that long-term use of colour 5N seemed to cause. I got jack of it, shaved my head, went overseas and returned grey. Friends were polite, but relieved, when I hit the bottle again.

Last year, during a long bout of brain fog, I contemplated the myriad possible reasons behind my flagging cognition. Niggling insistently was: “hair dye, monthly, 20 years”. So I grew a ‘GT’ stripe for 4 months, covered it with groovy headbands then adopted a short cut with silver highlights. Over the next 7 months, I allowed myself to go grey.

You don’t see too many 44-year-old women sporting their “natural colour” as my sensitive stylist,Brian, calls it.

Upon sighting my new do, my partner’s workmate quipped: “That shouldn’t be allowed.”

I went grey before I realised that Lady Gaga, Kelly Osbourne, Pixie Geldof and Ruby Rose were also at it. What were they after, I wondered, wisdom in a bottle? Could their generation look at mine and celebrate camaraderie-in-colour, or would they cringe at that thought?

To go grey when Nature dictates, first, stock up on conviction. Second, if you’re in transition, consider light strategic streaking until the grey predominates. If you’re well advanced, take all that money you spent on dye and invest it in a six-weekly, kick-arse hair cut with a great stylist who doesn’t shrink from your progressive approach to ageing beautifully.

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.

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Lingo Phobia

“Let’s begin in Tadasana. Inhale. Exhale, move into uttanasana . . . Place your legs wide, turn the right foot out, moving into utthita parsvakonasana. Sally, not trikonasana. Ian? We’ll do parivrtta parsvakonasana later. Right now, it’s utthita parsvakonasana. Remember? No, like this.”

Sanskrit was the sacred language of Hindu gods, so why are local yoga teachers delivering it to the world’s least receptive audience? For most Aussies, primary-school Mandarin and even `easier’ Latin faves like French broke the brain belt. Yet here we are, a nation of eager yoga students, straining to understand a zombie language barely uttered in India. (About 50,000 of the 1.1 billion population speak Sanskrit fluently). Even Catholics gave up on the Latin mass…

And yet, I love Sanskrit, the way those cascading consonants limber my lips, and it can be wonderfully soothing to chant foreign words, gliding along a soundscape instead of intellectualising its content.

As in all things yoga, there is a profound point to Sanskrit. Its spoken or sung vibration has therapeutic effects on the mind and body, whether you understand it or not. That “Om” tattooed on your “buttock”? You’re better off “omming” it, than wearing it, because its three-part chant delivers a vibrational connection to universal consciousness.

I did, however, spend eight years at an Iyengar school feeling like the slackest twice-weekly yoga student on Earth for not understanding the consonants that tumbled like dry pebbles from my teacher’s mouth. “Do what?” I’d desperately cast sideways for someone already in the pose. It was a big ask, I thought, to absorb kilometre-long foreign words in a one-hour yoga class as we swept from one asana to the next. I felt stupid, alienated.

I still do at times, because Sanskrit wasn’t a major part of my teacher training. There is earnest discussion among the teaching community about the use of Sanskrit for instruction in classes, and we’re divided over the issue.

While we can all appreciate the rousing vibration of a choir in full anthem, it’s only a select few who honour Italian Opera, and they’re given a program to understand the story, which isn’t the norm in an your average yoga class. “Here’s your Sanskrit sheet, now place your shoes to the side.”

You’ll find plenty of teachers who say “Mountain Pose”, “Extended Side Angle Pose” and “This is Really Good for Alleviating Stress Pose” to save the facial anguish that betrays Sanskrit-challenged students. And plenty more who make up lively mnemonics for poses: “Peeling Pelvis”, “Upface Puppy” or “Flopping Fish on the Pier”.

If you want to hook into the mystery of Sanskrit, check out the Sanskrit for the postures you do at Yoga Journal.com, ask your teacher for a word sheet, or to consider using English translations. And if it’s all a bit beyond you, relax in the knowledge that you’re in the student majority.

Yoga Speak

It must sound weird the way yoga teachers desert street-side English for arcane forms of expression like “breath into your belly” and “linger in your heartspace”.

You’re thinking: “Okaaay. How exactly do I do that?” Then the seemingly impossible
metaphoric task arrives: “Imagine you’re a jellyfish, and as you expand and contract, the cells of your body pulse to receive life force and expel toxins”. (fab photo by Erwin Kodiat).

Teachers strive to make the practice meaningful for you and hope like hell you’ve got the Discovery Channel’s `corps de ballet’ jellyfish in your head, not some mashed-up, beached gelatine. They have some fairly nebulous concepts to get across as they guide your yoga practice toward a spiritual experience, and beautiful, evocative language is the key.

“Breath into your armpits”. You already know your aluminium-free deodorant doesn’t cut it. This instruction is about visualising the loosening of your muscles. Picture your breath, say, as a wave gathering momentum through your body and into the muscles of your armpit region, where it swells and, on the out breath, dissolves the tightness gained from hunching over a computer all day. It’s a far more useful direction, for some, than “stretch your pecs”; particularly if you don’t know what, or where, your pecs are.

“Fill your heartspace with light”. . . sure, the left chest cavity is filled with blood, soft tissue and bulky organ but, energetically (and we are just a collection of atoms), the heartspace is the seat of love, and light is the highest, most pure vibration we can see . Why not fill your heartspace with light, instead of less choice vibrations like car horns, text messages, or aching emotion?

Every lingo has its place. Imagine translating media footy-speak from “Juddy dug the ball out of the pack” to “Chris pulled the football away from his competitors”…

The language of yoga, be it bizarre, analogous, metaphoric and figurative, is about getting you to view your mind and body as something far more than just a physical presence. It’s about heightening your awareness on every level in order to peel back the layers to reveal your innate spiritual centre.

Lisa Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a hatha yoga teacher, relaxation instructor and freelance writer/editor who specialises in holistic wellbeing.

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