Another Year, Another SYTAR

The event hasn’t begun and already I’m sitting in a circle. And if you know me at all, you know how I loathe sitting in circles. I’m attending SYTAR – the Symposium of Yoga Therapy and Research. It’s an annual four-day event that brings inquiring minds, old friends, and new acquaintances together in order to share the latest research and advances in yoga therapy. There are practice sessions in the morning, plenary speakers mid-day and a great variety of special interest meetings in the afternoon. As usual, the halls of our hotel are lined with vendors promoting a variety of yoga therapy programs, opportunities to study Ayurveda, essential oils and various tools of the trade. A highlight is bumping into Rebecca Deano. We shared a room at my very first SYTAR. And it’s always nice to catch up with Jason Scholder,  comedian and the man behind my favorite yoga prop,  the great Three-Minute Egg. Bay Area yogis are always plentiful. I can usually count on seeing the co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging Baxter Bell, yoga for cancer specialist Lorien Neargarder and American Viniyoga’s Gary Kraftstow.

My very first SYTAR conference, the one where I shared a room with Rebecca, was at Asilomar in 2009. That was the year I fell under the spell of BK Bose and soon after began formal yoga therapy studies at his Niroga Institute. A decade passed and then, last June, I flew across the country, to Reston, Virginia. This year I flew an hour south, to Newport Beach. The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) are the organization responsible for SYTAR. I’ve been a member for fifteen years (give or take) and in that time I’ve seen them transform. Since Asilomar they’ve grown into their name. A few years ago they initiated a rigorous credentialing criteria for certified yoga therapists who hope to add the letters ‘C-IAYT’ behind their name. Their high standards raised the bar for us all. In the next few years the organization hopes to have in place a qualifying exam for new graduates of IAYT-certified yoga therapy schools. This is exciting news. As yoga therapy moves from the fringe toward a routine wellness protocol for our physical and mental health it’s critical that IAYT continues to refine and codify what it means to be a yoga therapist.


What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Have you ever thought about something, or maybe saw something totally outside the realm of normal and then, for whatever the reason, it’s everywhere? Sort of like when Uno won the Westminster Dog Show and then suddenly we were running into beagles around every corner. 

That happened to me three times this past week. Three times in the span of five days this question appeared: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’. I first saw the question in an article I was reading online. Then I heard the same question posed to an audience during a TED talk. Finally, the question shows up in the tome my book club is reading,  David Brooks’ The Second Mountain.

It could be that I’m riding the edge of a wave and by the end of next week we won’t be able to turn around without bumping into posters, bumperstickers and tee shirts imploring us to contemplate the answer. Or maybe the universe is directing the question to me and me alone – a little bit like the freeway sign who talks to Steve Martin’s weather man in the movie L.A. Story.

Either way, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to contemplate. What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid?

Maybe you’re already doing it. Maybe not. Does it matter?

I’m all for living fearlessly but the suggestion that we’re holding ourselves back from full self-actualization because we’re afraid is annoying. Why? Because it feeds the idea of individuation during a time in our history when, more than anything, we need to connect. The question encourages us to be selfish during a time in our history when we should be selfless.

Yes, sometimes fear keeps us from walking a certain path but is that always bad? I’ve often thought about getting a tattoo. With a great sigh of relief I happily confess that fear has kept me from the artist’s needle. The saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ is not one I choose to embrace. The intention of these ideas, on the surface, do not encourage community building. Instead, they lean us toward a narcissistic variant of introspection.


Phase II: I Forgot to Flush

As a child I could count on one thing. When my mom put a plate of food in front of me at dinner time, next to the plate I’d find a calcium tablet, a vitamin A capsule and a One-a-Day. Ive been an on-again/off-again supplement taker ever since. Ever the optimist, I always hope my diet provides all the nutrition I need, making supplementation unnecessary. Ever the realist, I know there are times when my diet fails me…or maybe I fail my diet. Either way, there are times when I feel I need a little help. Sometimes I’ll add a good vitamin/mineral supplement to my morning routine, sometimes I throw in a cal/mag (calcium and magnesium) for good measure. Sometimes I do nothing and hope for the best.

Since beginning Phase I of NaturalStart’s Detox, Flush and Reboot I’ve been taking a combination of supplements all designed to prepare my body for Phase II. These include a great B complex, Omega oils and an assortment of herbs all chosen for their purported ability to support my immune system and the health of my liver. And, as reported, I feel great. Even last week, when I burned through the latest virus making the rounds, my body handled it better than dear Ben’s, who languished in bed for two days.

But I stopped taking some of the supplements because I realized that I’m not ready for Phase II – the liver flush.  Phase I did for me more than I thought it would – or could. I’ll share some of my positive results in a later post.

In the meantime, what about this ‘flush’? I attempted to find the origins of this traditional remedy. While their are dozens of different recipes none of the websites I looked at could offer a precise history. My guess is that it began as a simple and far easier folk remedy: two teaspoons of olive oil in the morning with a little lemon juice – basically a simple vinegarette – for the health of the liver (those folks in the Mediterranean know what they’re doing). That slowly morphed into week-long prep involving juice fasting, epsom salts and enough vinegarette to dress a very, very large salad.

At NaturalStart the flush is preceded by a thorough exam by naturopath Dr. Diane Fong. This exam includes Applied Kinesiology, or ‘muscle testing’, which proponents believe can help practitioners determine allergies and weaknesses in our bodies’ systems. 

The flush is recommended as a method of removing toxins and stones from the liver and the gallbladder. The process is extreme and has it’s naysayers. That being said, the individuals I’ve spoken to who have completed the process report great results. For two of them, taking a quarterly liver flush keeps their eczema under control.

When I was invited to participate in Detox, Flush and Reboot I said ‘yes’ because i was curious. I wanted my opinion on formerly ‘fringe’ practices that are becoming more and more mainstream to be based on experience rather than hearsay. But, for now, at least, I’m pushing the ‘pause’ button. I’ll be honest – there’s a part of me that really, really, REALLY doesn’t want to drink a half cup of olive oil. Despite the positive results I’ve witnessed in others I still question whether or not it’s healthy for me. Besides – all the other parts of me are building the good habits set in motion by the start of the program.

That’s what a ‘detox’ is supposed to do, isn’t it? Embarking on a journey like this automatically makes you mindful if the choices you make. It highlights your ‘bad’ habits while forging positive ones.

Everything I hoped for – increased vitality, clearer skin and less bloating – have happened. All I need to do now is to stop thinking about the changes I’ve made as part of a finite program. These changes – I hope – are changes I’ve made for life.


Pressing Pause: The Joy of Hot Water and Lemon Water

Let’s just say I’m holding steady. My schedule won’t allow me to ease into phase two for another week, which is fine by me.

Each day I’m surprised. I’m surprised by how easy I’ve found this process. I’m surprised by how well I feel. I’m surprised by how my response to day-to-day stress seems to have shifted toward something resembling calm. Ever the skeptical inquirer, however, I continue to question.

How could a few shifts in my diet, coupled with a supplement regime, produce results in just a few weeks? Besides, didn’t I cheat once or twice (or thrice)?

The point of the practice, I suppose, is to create the conditions by which I am consistently mindful of what I am putting into my body. That means being mindful not only when I’m making good choices but being mindful even when my choices are less than helpful. It also means cultivating good habits – like beginning the day with a mug of hot water and lemon juice.

But mornings can be hectic in my household and the simple act of boiling the kettle, pouring hot water into a mug and then adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice squeezing the lemon into it can fall down the list of priorities when there are showers to take, a litter box to clean and emails to answer.

My solution is to set myself up for a good morning the night before. Before bed I fill my forty ounce Mira thermos with hot water, the juice from one whole lemon and – as suggested by NaturalStart’s Detox, Flush and Reboot program – a little pinch of cayenne pepper. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of grated fresh ginger, too. In the morning my hot lemon water is ready for me. I drink a large glass when I wake and sip the rest throughput the day.

But why? Why is this is healthy habit? An internet search will offer a list of reasons, some more dubious than others. I found a balanced explanation on Wellness Mama but I’ll be honest- I don’t really need a list of benefits that may or may not be true. I can report that I’ve noticed an improvement in my skin tone. It’s possible the dark circles under my eyes aren’t so obvious. But mostly it just feels good to begin my day with a glass of lemon water. I don’t really need any other reason to keep this healthy habit.


Day XIII, Week II, Phase I: I Feel Good

I feel good. And it’s not a lingering sugar high from the emotional ice cream binge I enjoyed a few days ago. I just feel – good.

Two weeks in and the tweaks I’ve made to my wellness routine are beginning to pay dividends.

It’s safe to say my routine needed some major tweaking. I’d begun to lose my way and was beginning to feel too much like a hamster running on an out-of-control wheel.  

My optimal diet is not too far removed from the suggested diet plan from NaturalStart Medicine’s Detox, Flush, Reboot program: fresh, organic, locally sourced vegetables and fruit, whole grains, avoiding (with the goal of eliminating) sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy and gluten. Chicken and fish for omnivores. I’m not restricting my calories because my primary reason for being part of this program is not weight loss. Because I’m making healthier choices, however, I won’t complain if I drop a few pounds.

When did I stop making healthy choices? When did convenience become my default mode? Over the past few months I’ve found myself unable to gain traction at work. I blame my Bullet Journal. Any organizational tool that allows me to create a list of projects that I want to complete within a specific period of time dooms me to failure. I simply can’t keep up with the expectations I create for myself. Preoccupied with keeping pace with my to-do list I began to rely too much on avocado toast, frozen veggie burritos, and Friday night pizza for sustenance. I began to self-medicate with a glass (or two) of wine on most evenings. Pulling myself out of bed at 5:30 AM and immediately sitting behind a screen was still not enough to keep pace with the demands I placed on my life.

A ‘detox’ only works if we follow the guidelines. And, of course, that’s why they can be a very effective way to modify unhealthy behaviors.

And that’s why I feel good. To the best of my ability I’ve made thoughtful, considered choices about what to put in my body. It shouldn’t surprise me and yet it does – fourteen days in and healthy, nutritionally dense foods have returned to me the vitality I thought I’d lost.

I’m starting Week III on Monday. If I stick to my schedule I’ll be moving into Phase II of the program –  the ‘flush’ phase. But I’ve not decided yet if that’s what I want to do. I may hang out in Phase I for one more week. I’d like a full week with no wistful cravings for pizza. I’d like a week where I don’t automatically stuff my emotions with ice cream.

Plus, I think it’s important to be psychologically prepared for the flush and I’m not quite certain I’m there yet… 


Day VIII, Week II, Phase I: Oops, I Did it Again

I’m an emotional eater. Always have been. What does that mean? It means when something comes along to jangle my equilibrium – a quiet disagreement, a perceived slight, difficulties at work or even just the voice in my head chipping away at my self-esteem – I eat.

And believe me, I’m not stuffing my face with kale salad. Nope. Remember, sugar is my nemesis.

I reach for ice cream.

I knew there was a half eaten pint of Talenti gelato in our freezer and with a little foresight I would have either finished it or thrown it away before the start of this reboot journey. But I didn’t. You can figure out the rest of the story.

“I’ll just have a spoonful,” I said to myself. Three spoonfuls later I said, “Just one more.” Thankfully, Ben was home and pried the carton from my cold, curled fingers before I could inflict any more self-harm. He and I both knew a few spoonfuls of creamy chocolate goodness wouldn’t derail the progress of my detox/flush/reboot journey. The guilt scheduled to arrive the moment that last spoonful hit my gullet would be my undoing.

What do we do when our best intentions take a back seat to our reflexive instincts?

One of the gifts that a yoga practice offers is self-regulation. Yoga teaches us to have a measured response – the ability to dial down the strong reactions we might have to external events. In other words, instead of reaching for the ice cream I might have reached for the meditation cushion.

But sometimes self-regulation defaults to stress-induced tantrum and before I know it I’m a sticky chocolate mess. When that happens – it’s time to practice forgiveness. When forgiveness opens my heart I remind myself that one of the gifts of this program is the opportunity to look at the small choices we all make each day. Approaching each choice with presence and mindfulness and – sometimes – a little bit of forgiveness is an act of healing.


Day VII, Phase I, Week I: Friday Pizza Night

There’s a Friday night tradition at our house. Friday night is Pizza and Beer Night. There’s nothing better than a medium sized Half-Vegetarian/Half-Mushroom lover from the Palo Alto Pizza Company washed down with with a bottle (or two) of a nice IPA.

As you might imagine, this past Friday was a challenge.

I pulled out bowls of leftovers from the fridge. On my counter sat a sad collection of black beans, roasted sweet potato and mustard greens. Even the chickpea crepes looked uninviting. It was Pizza Night and my taste buds were not prepared to water for anything less.

Ben (who’s been riding shotgun on this detox/flush/reboot adventure) and I looked at our options. We could “cheat” and have the pizza and beer. We could cobble together a meal from our leftovers. Or we could find a compromise.

We found a compromise. We ordered a cheese-free vegetarian with a gluten free crust (it’s dangerous when the best traditional pizza in town is right across the street). Believe or not, it was good. I’m as surprised as you. Somehow it managed to hit all the right pizza notes. I didn’t even miss the beer – at least not that much.  

There are, however, better ways to get a gluten-free vegan pizza. One of my favorites is making my own pizza dough with Bob’s Red Mill mix. I add a basic tomato paste, sliced veggies and Miyoko’s Vegan mozzarella. It takes time but is worth the wait.

But as I move into Week II even dreams of gluten free pizza will have to be put on hold as I think more about portion control and keeping a sparkling clean diet. That means more fresh, raw veggies, organic grains, nuts and seeds. It’s a mindfulness practice that has me considering where my food is sourced, how it’s prepared and the nutrient density of each morsel. I want the biggest nutritional bang for my buck that I can get.

When we think about it, any program that asks us to adjust our diet and lifestyle is a mindfulness practice. 

Seven days in and I’m feeling good. The most difficult part (besides the thought of a pizza-less Friday) are the supplements. But more on that later.