BODY: The Physician Within

Intermittent fasting has received increased press in recent years as a revolutionary eating schedule with amazing health benefits. While I am typically all over trying new lifestyle techniques, initially I wanted to avoid fasting because it seemed like a gateway habit for a resurgence of unhealthy eating patterns and an over-dependence on rigidity in an eating schedule. Saying that, I have been following a 16-8 eating schedule for almost a year now and admittedly I can see certain health benefits associated with intermittent fasting such as better digestion, more restful sleep, less bloating and admittedly, some weight-loss.

The concept of fasting is neither new nor revolutionary; ancient Greeks believed that medical treatment could be observed from nature and saw that humans, much like other animals, actively avoid eating while sick. During a fasting period you abstain from food or drink (or both) for health, ritualistic, religious or ethical purposes.

Paracelsus, a renowned healer, wrote over 500 years ago that, “fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within.” Fasting is now recognized worldwide as a conduit for detoxification which allows and aids the removal of toxins in the body (thought to be responsible for illness and other conditions). By tapping into this innate power, we allow the body to heal itself. (1)

Fasting as a spiritual process is practiced by followers of: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Jainism and Hinduism. While the fasting length and intensity varies, the common belief among the religions is that it is beneficial for cleansing and purification.

Although widely practiced by different religions and for health purposes, fasts have also been used to express social and political views. Gandhi famously fasted in prison to atone for the violence of his followers against the British rule in India. Fasting has been used worldwide to protest everything from war, social injustices and civil rights violations. (2)

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify what food you can eat and instead focuses on when you can eat them; for this reason it is less of a diet and more of an eating pattern. The most popular IF schedule is a 16-hour fast with a daily eating window of eight hours, such as 1-9PM. Others practice the 5-2 method: fasting for 24 hours (or consuming 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week) but eating normally the other five days.

A common mistake in the beginning of starting an IF program is the tendency to indulge in more calories than normal during your eating window. As long as you eat within your window and eat normally, you should notice positive changes. It’s also quite easy to eat less calories than before, so your body will kick up its natural fat-burning; short-term fasting has been shown to help your metabolism increase by 3-14%. In the beginning of my 16-8 schedule I followed a 7PM-11AM fasting period; by doing this I noticed that when I got up in the morning I actually wasn’t physically hungry and I had been eating right away solely out of habit. The fasting window let me get in touch with my hunger cues and only eat when my body was expressing its need for food. After one or two weeks of sticking to my schedule I noticed that aside from some hunger pains before I went to slept, it was a fairly painless process.

While you’re in the fasting period, your body is undergoing a myriad of processes in order to make the most of this time. The Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is raised as much as 5x during this window which will have benefits for fat loss and muscle gain. Insulin levels also drop dramatically which makes stored body fat more accessible to burn away. Even your genes are affected and some studies show that they will undergo changes to help protect against disease and foster cellular repair. Studies are still being done on the full range of benefits, but it has been shown to help inflammation, heart health and increase protection against cancerous cells.

I would definitely recommend trying intermittent fasting if you are looking for something new to help you break through a plateau. Personally I use the BodyFast app to manage my fasting windows and I find it’s a great help. It took me a month or two to get into an easy rhythm and manage my nutrient intake within the fasting window and to stop having mild binges when I broke my fast. I definitely think that IF can be dangerous and a trigger for those who are suffering/recovering from an eating disorder so it is worth discussing IF with a doctor before beginning a program.

As always, just like with any major diet or lifestyle change, the IF schedule needs to be used in moderation; fasting times are made to be extended/shortened; give your body days off to go out for a late dinner or have an early breakfast. Play around with the concept of fasting and see what works best for your body on your own schedule.

Citations:
1. Hicks, C. “Why fasting is now back in fashion.” Telegraph, 13 Apr. 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/11524808/The-history-of-fasting.html
2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Fasting.” Britannica, 20 Jul. 1998. https://www.britannica.com/topic/fasting
3. Gunnars, Kris. “Intermittent Fasting 101 – The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.” Healthline Media, 25 Jul. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide.

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BODY: Know Your Flow

It wasn’t until I started having problems tracking and managing my menstrual cycle that I realized I’d completely forgotten all of my sixth grade sex ed course and was forced to turn to Google for answers. After a few years of dealing with my period, I had reached a certain level of status quo and let it run its own course. A year and a half later, I can see the benefits of staying in tune with my body and monitoring changes in my cycle to help understand my body’s overall health.

Going back to the basics, having your period is not the only part of the menstrual cycle; in reality, the period is the first phase of the cycle, which stretches from the first day of one period and ends when the next period begins. Your body is going through a multitude of changes during this cycle and it’s important to know what’s going on inside your body because the effects are not limited to your uterus.

There are two cycles occurring at once; one in the ovaries and one in the uterus. The brain, ovaries and uterus work together and communicate via hormones to keep the cycle going on a steady schedule.

Typically a cycle lasts between 24 and 38 days, but it varies from person to person and sometimes from one cycle to another. Period length and intensity can also change as you age, especially when you factor in influences such as hormonal birth control. Between the stage of menarche (when the period starts during puberty) and menopause (when your periods permanently stop) you will often notice changes in your entire body.

As I mentioned, the menstrual cycle doesn’t just cause some bleeding and then quietly exit stage left; over the course of the cycle it is common for women to notice changes in their hair, skin, sleeping habits, mental health, moods and digestion. Your body is literally preparing to get pregnant ad nauseam, whether you like it or not, so it benefits you to track where you are in your cycle and how likely you are to conceive at any given time.

Certain birth control methods that put a hormonal influx into your body prevent some or all of the steps from happening in the uterus and ovaries. Non-hormonal ones, like the copper IUD (which I have and highly recommend) do not affect your hormonal levels but act as a physical barrier in your uterus, preventing anything from growing without affecting your body’s natural rhythm. Your birth control choice (or lack thereof) is yours and yours alone, but it’s always god to check in with your OBGYN and make sure you understand the implications.

Here is what to expect during the phases of your menstrual cycle:

Menstruation: This is where you get your period and where the uterine lining (endometrium) is being shed. Your levels of estrogen and progesterone are low at this point and your period can last up to 8 days but most women will have periods for 5 to 6 days.

Follicular phase: Within the ovarian cycle, this phase marks the time between the first day of the period and your ovulation. Your estrogen levels are on the rise as an egg is preparing to be released. The pituitary gland (a small area at the base of the brain which makes hormones) produces a hormone called the Follicle Stimulating Hormone. The FSH lets the ovaries know it is time to prepare an egg for ovulation (when it gets released from the ovary). Throughout the menstrual cycle, there are multiple follicles (fluid filled sacs containing eggs) in each ovary at different stages of development. Halfway through the follicular phase (as the period is ending) one follicle in only one of the ovaries is the largest of all the follicles – usually about 1cm long. This becomes the dominant follicle and it is the one that gets prepared to be released at ovulation. The dominant follicle produces estrogen as it grows, which peaks just before ovulation occurs. For most people the follicular phase lasts 10-22 days, but this can vary from cycle-to-cycle.

Proliferative phase: Within the uterine cycle, after the period, the uterine lining is built back up. While the ovaries are busy working on the egg-sac follicles, the uterus is reacting to the estrogen produced by the follicles and starts to rebuild the lining that was shed during the last period. The endometrium is at its thinnest during the period, then builds up to being at its thickest during ovulation; it does this in order to have ample support to implant and grow a potential fertilized egg.

Ovulation: During this phase, the egg releases from one of your ovaries into a fallopian tube around mid-cycle. Your estrogen will peak slightly beforehand and drop shortly after; studies have shown that women show facial markers as to when they are most fertile; faces appear more feminine, more symmetrical and take on a reddish “healthy” glow. The dominant follicle will reach about 2-3cm in length. When estrogen levels are high enough, they signal the brain causing an increase in luteinizing hormone (this hormone regulates the ovaries in women and testes in men). This spike is what causes ovulation – the release of the egg from the ovary and will occur 13-15 days before the start of the next period.

Luteal phase: In the ovarian cycle, this is between ovulation and before the start of menstruation, where the body prepares for the possibility of pregnancy. After ovulation occurs, the follicle that contained the egg transforms into a corpus luteum and begins to produce progesterone as well as estrogen. The hormonal changes of the luteal phase are often associated with common premenstrual symptoms such as mood changes, breast tenderness and swelling, acne, headaches and bloating. If the egg is fertilized, progesterone from the corpus luteum supports the pregnancy. If it goes unfertilized, the corpus luteum will start to break down 9 or 11 days after ovulation. The result is a drop in progesterone and estrogen, which causes the menstruation. It is common for the luteal phase to last between 9 and 16 days.

Secretory phase: In the uterine cycle, the uterine lining produces the chemicals necessary to support an early pregnancy should it occur; if the egg isn’t fertilized, it will break down and shed. Rising levels of progesterone cause the endometrium to stop thickening and start preparing for the attachment of an egg. The endometrium secrets chemical messengers, most importantly PGF2a and PGE2, which cause the uterine muscle to contract and “cramp” which in turn spurns on the menstruation. The amount of prostaglandins rise after ovulation and peak during menstruation. If a pregnancy occurs, the cramps will be halted to avoid interfering with the early pregnancy; if fertilization doesn’t occur, the hormone levels drop which causes cramps and the tissues of the endometrium to break down (1).

At this point, menstruation begins and the whole cycle starts again. In the last year I have used the Flo app to track my symptoms and as such I can tell where I am in my cycle down to the day by paying attention to my body’s signals. For example, I can always feel my ovulation as a slight twinge on my left or right side, but typically it is more prominent on my left. As well, I know that 2-3 days before ovulation I can expect to be restless and anxious over the course of the night, so it gives me fair warning to adjust my lifestyle habits stay away from caffeine and meditate for stress relief. Small changes over the course of your cycle and help relieve some of the more annoying side effects.

The body is going through so many changes during each cycle and many of the side effects that may seem cause for concern are actually commonplace; light fatigue, bloating, changes in your bathroom habits (either too much or not enough), and discharge are all fairly commonplace. Complications during the cycle can arise, especially with the rise of women with poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), fibroids and endometritis. It is not normal to have debilitating pain or severe cramping from your periods as an adult, so if you feel as though your body is out of whack it is always best to check in with a gynecologist to ensure everything is functioning as normal. (2)

The better we understand our bodies, the happier and healthier we can live our lives.

Citations:
1. Ray, Laurie. “The Menstrual Cycle: More than Just Your Period.” The Menstrual Cycle: Phases of Your Cycle, Clue, 12 Dec. 2018, https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/the-menstrual-cycle-more-than-just-the-period.
2. Darrisaw, Michelle. “5 Weird Things That Happen During Your Period That Are Totally Normal.” Essence, Essence, 25 June 2018, http://www.essence.com/lifestyle/weird-things-happen-body-during-menstruation/.

SOL: No Siesta, No Fiesta

I’ve always been a huge fan of sleep, mainly because I feel I am always one night away from comatose-like exhaustion. I loved living in Barcelona because siestas (aka “cultured naps”) were the norm and the entire city would grind to a halt in the afternoon in order to honor this tradition. It was glorious! In researching burn-out and general life fatigue I’ve found a lot of interesting facts about the role quality sleep plays in ensuring the proper functioning of our entire body.

Before I dive into getting a good night’s sleep, it’s important to touch on our circadian rhythms and how they affect our well-being. Every day we go through physical, mental and behavioral changes in response to how dark or light our environment is; for example, a light-related circadian rhythm is the most common, where we sleep at night and are awake during the day. Our inner circadian rhythm is important because it ties heavily into our biological clocks; an internal timing device made up of proteins that interact with cells throughout our body and can be found in almost every tissue and organ. The functioning of our biological clock produces our circadian rhythm and helps to regulate the timing of our system.

The biggest influence of circadian rhythm is the amount of light we are exposed to and when we get the exposure. Daylight turns on and off genes that speed up, slow down or reset our biological clocks. The circadian rhythm affects our sleep-wake cycles, hormonal release, body temperature, eating habits and digestion. When our systems are irregular and out of whack, we are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, diabetes, obesity and depression.

Our body’s master clock is a group of around 20,000 nerve cells that join together to form a suprachiasmatic nucleus, also referred to as SCN (science sucks, but stay with me here). SCN is located in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus and receives direct input from the eyes. The hypothalamus is located near the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and is responsible for maintaining our nervous system, hormonal releases, temperature regulation and appetite. The SCN controls the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone. When we are exposed to lower amounts of light the brain releases more melatonin, which in turn creates the feeling of drowsiness. This is one of the reasons we need exposure to adequate daylight during waking hours as it allows our SCN to regulate our sleep–awake schedule. Researches are still studying the effects of shift-work and light from our screens to see how they alter our body’s rhythms.

Have you ever taken a long flight across different time zones? Or my personal favourite, a red-eye flight with a layover or two sprinkled in-between? The resulting feeling of jet-lag is due to the travel disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm. Even if you are landing in a European time zone your body is chugging along on a North American schedule, sending your system into utter catastrophe. It is completely normal for your system to take a few days to reset itself.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage of “quality over quantity” before, but it applies to sleep as well. Eight hours of light or interrupted sleep doesn’t allow you to reap the same benefits of 6 hours of deep, REM & light sleep.

Not all sleep is equal, but each type of sleep serves a purpose. If your body is able to cycle through all four stages at night, you are more likely to wake up refreshed rather than fatigued and cranky. Scientists have grouped sleep into four stages: NON-REM stages 1, 2 & 3 and REM sleep. If you use a sleep tracker or FitBit, you’ll notice you have moments of wakefulness throughout the night which is completely normal. If your sleep tracker logs you as “awake” it simply means your brain wave activity is higher and your muscles are active. We wake up numerous times throughout the night but most are so minor we don’t remember it the next day.

Stage 1 is a light stage of sleep where you are easily disturbed. Muscles begin to relax and the brain starts to slow down; this stage is where most people experience “twitches” or hypnic jerks and often where you find yourself drifting in and out of sleep. Most sleep trackers don’t include this stage of sleep or it is counted as being awake.

Stage 2 is where scientists start to classify it as Non-REM sleep. On FitBit and sleep trackers, this is likely identified as your “Light Sleep Stage.” You’re less likely to be woken up by environmental factors; your body temperature begins to drop and your heart rate will slow down. Your brain waves continue to slow and are marked with sleep spindles (sudden bursts of brain activity) and sleep structures called K complexes; both are thought to protect the brain from awakening.

Stage 3 is known as deep Non-REM sleep. On Fitbit or sleep trackers it will likely be logged as simply, “deep sleep.” This is where most of the restorative properties of sleep occur; if you spend less time in this stage, you will likely be less physically, mentally and emotionally rested. Good quality deep sleep will also help with your memory and learning skills. This is likely the stage where you are “sleeping like a rock” and difficult to awaken; sleep abnormalities such as sleep walking, night terrors, and sleep talking are also the most likely to occur. In this stage the human growth hormone is released and works to restore your body after the stressors of the day. It is also when your immune system works to restore itself; another reason why you are more prone to illness when tired and stressed. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done on this stage of sleep, but many believe this is when the brain reboots and refreshes itself to prepare for another day of learning.

The fourth stage of sleep, REM, meaning rapid eye movement, is well-known as being the dreaming stage. The eyes will move from side to side and brain waves are more active than Stage 2 and 3. Breathing in this stage can become more rapid and even irregular, limb muscles become paralyzed (which may be to prevent you from acting out your dreams) and heart rate increases; sexual disturbances are also likely to occur in this stage of sleep. When you wake in the middle of an REM period you can feel groggy or fatigued; this is called sleep inertia and can last several minutes to several hours. REM has been shown to be important for memory and mood management.

Sleep cycles vary depending on the person, but typically you enter a new sleep cycle every 90-120 minutes, so over the course of a night you’ll go through four or five cycles. Often the cycles will go from light to deep sleep, then revert back to light, before ending in REM and starting the cycle all over again.
The bulk of your sleep will be in Stage 2, or light sleep, and will account for 40-60% of your total sleep on any given night. Stage 3, or deep sleep, lasts for about 5-15% of total sleep time for adults; for children and teens this stage is longer. REM can crop up at any time in the sleep cycle but on average you will find that it kicks in after 90 minutes of sleep.

The average adult should be sleeping 7-9 hours a night, but in many Western societies sleep is seen as a sign of weakness and people will brag about how little sleep they need to perform. Pulling an all-nighter to complete a task is actually more likely to negatively affect the quality of your performance. What happens after neglecting quality sleep is that we start to decline and go into sleep deprivation. While it isn’t an officially recognized sleep disorder, it occurs when we consistently sleep too little to feel rested. While it seems innocent enough, if it is a chronic issue it can have implications on our health, happiness and productivity. Some studies report that 20% of Americans are sleep-deprived and as such are more prone to accidents, diseases and missed work. The most affected groups are shift workers, healthcare workers and truck drivers. While it sounds like an easy problem to fix, if it goes untreated it can cause lasting health complications, such as Type 2 diabetes, raised stress hormones, higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, inflammation, anxiety, memory problems and weight gain.

Even if it isn’t a common occurrence, moderate sleep deprivation causes physical impairment that mirrors the effects of intoxication. After 17 to 19 hours without sleep (i.e. all-nighters, long shift work, probably accountants in NYC) the performance of several test subjects was the same as those with a BAC of 0.05 percent; for most people, this means the same as one alcoholic drink per hour. Using this logic, if you are 24 hours without sleep, you should not be behind the wheel of a car.

When you are chronically exhausted, you may be more likely to experience “microsleep” which is not as cute as it sounds. These short bursts of sleep often occur without the person being aware they are happening and are responsible for road accidents and on-job errors. I used to read on the train into work (part of my two-hour commute to my job in Toronto) and I would wake up because my neck would snap forward and jolt me awake. Does this sound familiar? It is, in fact, a period of unintended sleep due to exhaustion. If you get up pre-dawn, your body is programmed to be asleep and will be more likely to try and revert to this state, unbeknownst to you.

A 2011 study on sleep deprived rats showed that when exhausted they were more likely to lose competence during tasks involving complex motor skills; for humans, it may explain why we consistently misplace our phone or are more forgetful when we are tired. The best way to prevent instances of microsleep is to practice good sleep hygiene.

Much like a rigorous workout schedule, our sleep schedule and habits need to be monitored to ensure they encourage a high-quality night of sleep. Good sleep hygiene encompasses all the things we can do from the moment we wake up until we go to bed that will foster better sleep. There are small changes you can make, even if you work a shift schedule that consistently disrupts your circadian rhythm, to try and ensure you go through all the necessary sleep cycles.

The video below has some great tips for sleep hacking your way to a better night’s sleep, but a few highlights are:

• Getting direct sunlight exposure once you wake up to reset your body clock. All it takes is 20-30 minutes of being outside in the sun to help you fall asleep that evening.
• Turn on a “night-time light” on your phone/tablets and disconnect an hour and a half before you plan on falling asleep. The stimulation from being online can negatively impact the quality of sleep.
• Move your body first thing in the morning. Cortisol (your stress hormone) is meant to peak in the morning but an irregular sleep schedule can throw it off. By doing a five minute HIIT workout upon waking up you trigger the production of cortisol and let your body know you are starting the day.
• Spend less time in bed when you aren’t sleeping. Lounging in bed excessively lets your body know you can be in bed while not sleeping – not what you’re trying to accomplish!
• Be conscious of your diet during the day but especially in the four hours before sleep; avoid stimulants such as coffee, nicotine and alcohol as all of them will disrupt sleep pattern. Try not to indulge in a heavy meal consisting of spices, high-fat, citrus or carbonation as they are likely to trigger indigestion and disrupt sleep.
• I was told at a young age to always invest in the three things that come between you and the Earth: good shoes, good tires and a good mattress. Your sleep environment should be welcoming and comfortable; the best condition for sleep is in a dark room with a cool temperature and no noise. It sounds sterile, but investing in a white noise machine, a quality mattress and black-out curtains will change your life.

If you don’t use a sleep tracker, some easy ways to tell if your sleep is being disrupted is to monitor how you feel over the course of the day. If you wake up throughout the night (in most instances you won’t remember waking up during the night in the morning) you are more likely to experience daytime sleepiness and a persisting feeling of fatigue. If it takes you a long time to fall asleep, establishing a bed-time routine to wind-down (such as drinking tea, reading a book, or light stretching) will help your body and mind relax.

Do you have any other tips or tricks you swear by for a good night’s sleep? Let me know!

BODY: Ameliorate

It is inevitable that every time a New Year rolls around we get sucked into the marketing vortex of “New Year, New Me” and all the health supplements, workout clothes and gym memberships that are sold as the complete package of health.

I guess, “New Year, Same Lazy Piece of Shit” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Saying that, while it is noble to implement health goals at the start of each year, more often than not we set ourselves up for disaster. More than half of people who set New Year’s goals backslide within the first month, sometimes giving up on themselves altogether. While roadblocks occur in the pursuit of any dream, I think it is crucial to stay focused on the bigger picture.

Personally, I think setting highly specific goals, while initially effective, can become the bane of your existence, especially for weight loss. Focusing steadfastly on a “goal weight” will make you more likely to cut calories (or entire food groups) and resort to over-exercising and under-eating. Less emphasis should be placed on the number and more on the quality of your health and the way your body feels. Aches, pains, inflammation and rashes are all signs that your body is off-balance and through a healthy diet and exercise you can often alleviate or even eliminate these symptoms.

As I get older and more in tune with my body, I start to realize how sensitive my system is and the importance of good nutrition. While in my early party days I was able to indulge in all manner of vices (i.e. booze, party candy, and post-party Cora’s trips) without feeling too much damage the next day. Now… A few drinks and the next morning I can feel my body running at a sluggish pace. As such, I’m looking to significantly cut down, and by all means eliminate, my alcoholic intake over the next few years. As my Brit preaches ad nauseam, “Every extra drink robs you of happiness the next day.” I’ll cheers to that.

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Happy New Years Eve = Not So Happy Morning

Looking forward to the rest of 2016, I’m taking note of how I feel more self-aware of my body than in previous years. As such, my goals for this year are to give my body the nutrients and self-care it needs, while also setting and reaching the new goals I want to put into place. One huge drawback to working in Canada during the winter is that I find it is typically too cold to run outside, however I’ve substituted my long running route in Spain for a membership to IAM Yoga and Wynn Fitness, both of which are located quite close to my office. Having a pre- or post-office workout gives a bit of a jump start to each day.

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Exercise Gives You Endorphins = Endorphins Make You Happy

I’ve swapped my carb-heavy Spanish breakfast of olive-oil on thick whole wheat bread for a super-charged “Green Smoothie” (complete with spinach, flax, mango, banana, dates and a splash of chlorophyll) to start my day. My lunch is now more than half pure vegetables, as is my dinner. As a perpetual vegetarian and sometimes vegan, I have the tendency to lean towards carbo-loading every meal. By planning my meals at least a day in advance (and including some fresh fruit for snacks) I eliminate the risk of becoming hangry or splurging on something sweet.

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Lean, Mean… Green?

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Cold Pressery in Mississauga, ON. Easily One Of The Best Places For Vegan Food!

In the next few months I will have to adjust yet again to living in a new country (!!!!) and being 100% accountable for my budget and lifestyle choices. I think getting accustomed to a regime where I incorporate healthy eating, consistent workouts and a full-time job will make the transition a bit easier. I hope to run my first half-marathon by the end of the year, and what better place to accomplish that feat than Europe?

Good luck & good workout.

AS

 

BODY: Review of BeHot Yoga Toronto

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Location: 43 Colborne St, Toronto, ON
Website: http://www.behotyogatoronto.com

One of the perks about living in the GTA is that there’s no shortage of yoga enthusiasts. Much like the ever-present Starbucks, throw a rock (or a yoga mat) in downtown Toronto and it’s more than likely you will hit a studio.

I started doing yoga in my early teens and after a bit of research into different practices I decided to branch into Bikram Yoga. Non-heated yoga has never held much appeal to me and there’s a masochistic pleasure derived from watching rivulets of sweat pour down your body. To each their own, though – any yoga style is an excellent way to ensure athletic longevity as you age.

Bikram Yoga, created by mega-douche Bikram Choudhury, is a practice that incorporates a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences for a total of 90 minutes in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees. It’s sweltering and often painful, but it does yield results.

Bikram Yoga, not to be confused with “hot yoga” is essentially trade-marked and therefore incredibly costly to practice. As it is I was lucky enough to find BeHot Bikram in downtown Toronto with an offer to new students for $49 for 30 days of unlimited yoga. Considering a drop-in class costs $25 all you have to do is go to TWO classes in one month to get your money’s worth.

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This studio is right in the downtown core and is approximately a five minute walk from King Subway Station. The studio has been running for 10 years and the owner Paul McQuillan has not only literally written the book on yoga (seriously, check it out HERE) but he has also created a welcoming atmosphere for yogis of any skill level to practice in. During my month of classes I was instructed by several different teachers and by McQuillan himself; all of whom were knowledgeable, encouraging, and some were even able to make me laugh while I was contorted and praying for the sweet release of death.

While the benefits of Bikram are a source of heated debate, I did notice that I shed a bit of weight (which may be contributed to expelling a gallon of sweat at each class), my flexibility and posture improved, and my mood was better. The list of potential benefits will vary from each practitioner but the detoxifying benefits are a guarantee.

For first-timers, be forewarned that the heat will get intense. Drink a litre of water in the hours leading up to your class, hydrate during the practice and make sure you have water afterwards! Avoid eating a heavy meal beforehand and dress prepared to sweat. Lots of the die-hard yogi’s will be rocking speedos and not much else so don’t feel embarrassed about shedding layers – you’ll sweat through everything anyway.

BeHot rents out mats and towels, and sells water for a nominal fee; they also offer small lockers to store your valuables during class. The changing room gets busy quickly so getting there early is in your best interest. The doors to the studio are unlocked half an hour before each class starts.

I encourage anyone in Toronto who is looking for a change in their fitness routine to take advantage of this offer!

“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science – science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
// Amit Ray

SOL: Shall We Dance?

I started taking dance classes when I was 8 years old. I was a precocious child from an early age, so instead of pirouettes and pas de bourrées I hit the floor and started out with hip-hop, then later branched out to street-style dancing, belly dancing and even break-dancing. Throughout my adolescence it remained an after-school hobby that boosted confidence and kept me in touch with my body.

Unfortunately, throughout my early 20’s my integrity fell by the wayside and I became more focused on shallow endeavors rather than actually improving myself as a person. As a result until this October it had been roughly five years since I had attempted choreography or entered a studio.

As part of my resolution to enjoy my life outside of work, when I returned from France I purchased a Groupon for 16 dance classes at O.I.P Dance Centre in Toronto for a steal of $18. The studio is located at 190 Richmond St E, a happy 1KM walk from my office. The first class I went to was taught by the owner himself and it was amazing. I figured I’d aim low and take a beginner class so as to spare my ego and I am so glad that I did. While the teacher was incredibly skilled at pacing the moves, I still found myself hauling ass across the floor and scrambling to remember what came next. The teacher was yelling “Muscle memory! Dance FULL OUT!” and I was on the verge of dislocating my shoulder as I attempted to nail each move. I was not even close to being the best in the class, but I had a lot of fun.

The thing I love about dance is that I find more so than any other activity I do (running, intervals, weights, yoga) it pulls me very much out of the typical fog I operate under and plunks me into the NOW. Akin to monk-level meditation, for one hour my mind was filled with nothing except counts of eight and the occasional muttered curse as I learned the choreography. The teacher insisted that the class was not meant as a workout, it was strictly a dance class, but I still left with a sheen of sweat on my skin and a smile on my face.

I recommend O.I.P dance studio and the pursuit of anything that makes you smile – but dance is a great place to start.

Health benefits from dance include:

  • improved condition of your heart and lungs
  • increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
  • increased aerobic fitness
  • improved muscle tone and strength
  • weight management
  • stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • better coordination, agility and flexibility
  • improved balance and spatial awareness
  • increased physical confidence
  • improved mental functioning
  • improved general and psychological wellbeing
  • greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • better social skills.

Health Benefits info from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

BODY: Overnight Oats

If you’re like me, your wake-up routine on a Monday morning involves crawling out of bed and onto the floor with the enthusiasm and charisma of a wet mop. As it is, I have never and likely will never be a morning person but I can make my life a little easier and save time in the process!

I am a firm believer in brown-bagging meals whenever possible, not only because it saves money but also because making your own food always trumps take-out. My current fave for a ready-to-grab meal is overnight oats – they’re fast, easy, nutritious and delicious.

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I use a mason jar as my container, but any Tupperware will work just fine. I use equal parts oats (Quaker’s Quick Oats will do the trick) Oikos 0% Greek yogurt and Silk unsweetened almond milk. I also mix in one or two tablespoons of chia seeds and flax seeds and add a drizzle of maple syrup before I leave it to “soak” overnight. Right before eating it I add a sliced banana and a scoop of my homemade pumpkin granola for some texture! You’ll find the oats will absorb the liquid from the almond milk and the protein from the yogurt will keep you full through the afternoon.

The toppings you can add to these oats are positively endless and it’s at your discretion to season with fruit, nuts and sweeteners as you please!

My homemade pumpkin granola!

Fall Inspired Pumpkin & Pecan Granola!

My granola was inspired by a recipe on Minimalist Baker, which you can read HERE.

Keeping a healthy diet on a busy schedule isn’t hard as long as you are able to prep your meals.

BODY: The Truth Behind the Gluten-Free Movement

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I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since someone came up to me about a year ago at the grocery store where I was working and asked me, “What aisle is your gluten-free popcorn in?”

It’s time to shed a bit of light on the “gluten-free” diet fad. Before the last few years, the only people who were following a strict gluten-free diet fell into two categories; those suffering from Celiac disease, and those with a wheat allergy.

Celiac disease is a digestive ailment which causes the small intestine to halt the absorption of nutrients from food when gluten is ingested; as a result people who suffer from this infliction cannot properly digest the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Not only is gluten found in foods but it is often added to medicine, vitamins, supplements and beauty products. Approximately 1 in 133 people suffers from celiac disease – not exactly enough to justify the 450 million dollar gluten-free market that exists in North America today.

When a person who suffers celiac disease ingests gluten, the intestine essentially shuts down and refuses to absorb nutrients from food. As a result, malnourishment, anemia and osteoporosis are often possible with sufferers of this disease. There are also those who suffer from wheat allergy, which causes an anti-body response and sparks rashes, hives and sometimes anaphylaxis.

The current trend is sparking a sub-group of people who avoid gluten and can be categorized as people suffering from “non-celiac gluten sensitivity.” Unfortunately I feel the rise in declaring yourself gluten-free has been sparked from a lot of hype from celebrities and not a lot of fact – enter my Popcorn Princess anecdote.

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While I will not discredit those who are sensitive to gluten, most nutritionists will agree that even those who find themselves uncomfortable after eating certain wheat products can typically ingest one serving of gluten per day and feel fine. Most foods do not contain gluten: any food made from a grain (i.e. all forms of corn and rice), most dairy products as well as beans and legumes.

The only places you will find gluten lurking is in wheat products; cakes, cereals, pasta, couscous, bread, barley, malt, rye and beer. Any processed food may contain a wheat by-product or have come in contact with one while being manufactured. The simplest way to avoid any digestion upsets is to follow an unprocessed vegetarian diet… Although I may be biased.

Is gluten actually crap? In moderation, no. While many find themselves losing weight when adopting a gluten free diet it is most likely because they have cut out a heavy-carb food group (bread and pasta, for example) and have failed to substitute it with a healthy, gluten-free alternative. In this case, you may be losing weight, but you are ultimately depriving your body of the carbohydrates it needs to function. By the same token, any postive changes you see in regards to your health after cutting out gluten-laden products may be due to eliminating crappy foods that just so happen to contain gluten, i.e. anything heavily processed and laden with chemicals, fat, excess carbohydrates and not much else.

Over-eating anything will cause symptoms – instead of cutting out your baguette sandwich immediately, instead try reducing your gluten intake and see how you feel. If nothing else, do your research. Paying extra for gluten-free foods that are naturally gluten-free is ridiculous! Above all, my favourite health mantra is this – everything in moderation.

Namaste,

AS

 

For more information please visit:

http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/

http://healthydebate.ca/2014/07/topic/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity

BODY: Chlorophyll

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It’s time to talk about my nutrition supplement du jour.

Since completing my über hippie soul-searching Euro-trip I’ve begun to focus on an all-natural lifestyle approach. As a result, I have started supplementing my diet with liquid chlorophyll.

Before I discovered the numerous health benefits it bestows upon humans, my only knowledge of chlorophyll was my rudimentary Grade 12 Bio class – chlorophyll is food for plants. As it turns out, we can reap numerous health benefits from ingesting chlorophyll on a daily basis!

The construction of chlorophyll is almost identical to the molecule hemoglobin, which our bodies need to build and transport red blood cells; as a result it helps transport oxygen throughout the body. The only difference between hemoglobin and chlorophyll boils down to the centre atom; within hemoglobin the centre atom is iron while in liquid chlorophyll the center atom is magnesium. Magnesium is excellent for the body as it helps deliver oxygen to cells, tissues, bones, nerves and muscles. Not only that – nearly the entire body (cardiovascular system, digestive system, nervous system, brain, muscles, kidneys, liver, hormone-secreting glands) requires magnesium for metabolic function!

Due to its structure chlorophyll is an excellent antioxidant aid. With high levels of Vitamin A, C and E chlorophyll has been shown to lower inflammation within the body while removing excess toxins and waste. Its ability to bind to heavy metals such as mercury gives it a strong healing power.

Digestive problems? Adding a tablespoon of chlorophyll to water, juice or a smoothie two times per day can help promote a healthy digestive tract. As a result, it also helps combat bad breath stemming from an unhealthy bloodstream or colon.

Personally I prefer liquid chlorophyll because I am guaranteed 150mg per serving and it’s easy to add to smoothies on a busy day. However, there are loads of foods you can add to your daily diet to start improving your health such as: asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage, celery, collard greens, green beans, green peas, kale, leeks, green olives, parsley, romaine lettuce, sea vegetables, spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens.*

Since incorporating more greens into my diet I’ve noticed my energy levels improving in the morning – an impressive feat considering I have substituted a green smoothie instead of coffee!

If you aren’t ready to commit to liquid chlorophyll (it costs $26 for 1L of liquid, which lasts about a month) then start adding fresh or steamed greens to your meals!

When in doubt, GO GREEN.

Namaste,

AS

 

 

*Read more at http://naturalrevolution.org/untapping-the-secrets-of-chlorophyll/#Mi70ACi8W8GuDpKc.99

 

BODY: Workout Review

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I mentioned in an earlier post that since I’ve been at my second placement I’ve been doing a lot of running. I initially started up with an easy 5KM per day, but I’ve slowly increased to a 8KM to 10KM loop. I like running; I’ve always enjoyed it and the numerous health benefits it bestows upon me.

That said, cardio is not enough.

I like workout videos because they’re easy to pop in at home without having to trek to an expensive gym or aerobics studio. I’ve been purchasing workout videos for years (because I prefer having the physical DVD, most are easily downloadable these days) and some are worth the money while others are downright cheesy or impossible to follow.

I brought along a few workout videos with me on this trip, one of which being Jillian Michaels “Banish Fat Boost Metabolism.” I noticed that after a few weeks of solely running, I wasn’t getting the muscle mass or toned look that I wanted. I popped this DVD in on a whim – and instantly regretted it.

The first time I did this workout my chalet was approximately 30 degrees. Jillian’s circuit training absolutely murdered me; I was dripping with sweat and swearing like a sailor by the second circuit. This woman means business.

The workout is 45 minutes long, plus a warm-up and cool-down and consists of seven circuits. Every muscle on your body will be targeted throughout the workout and there are variations for every move depending on your physical ability. The first few days after starting this workout I noticed my legs were tighter, my abs more defined, and my upper body ached as muscles were being formed. I felt amazing!

I’ve also noticed that since supplementing my fitness regime with strength exercises, my cardio has improved drastically. My legs and hips are stronger during my running route and I am able to run longer, faster and better.

I highly recommend trying this workout!

Namaste,
AS