Findings from the 2017 Annual Food and Nutrition Symposium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - Part 1

Holli Lapes RD, LD/N

In July 2017, we attended the Annual Food and Nutrition Symposium (FANS), which is put forth by the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (FAND) and provides science-based, cutting-edge educational sessions presented by recognized experts in nutrition. We heard from more than 30 national and international speakers providing over 20 hours of continuing education. The continuing education units (CEUs) are a requirement for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN or RD) for national registration and state licensure.

What is the Difference between an RD and a Nutritionist/Health Coach?

A nutritionist or health coach is an unregulated term that can refer to anyone! Sometimes, a
nutritionist or dietitian is used as an abbreviation, or short hand, for a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). If it’s unclear, just ask the health professional to clarify their credentials. An RDN has completed at least a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from an accredited university plus an 8-month internship in the field, passed a state registration exam and are typically licensed by the Department of Health in their state, designated by LD/N.

Session Highlight: Dietary Patterns that can Prevent and Control Diabetes by Osama Hamdy, M.D., Ph.D.

When it comes to diabetes management, how do we know something isn’t right? Well to start, there are currently 47 diabetes medications on the market. Also of interest to note for those with a family history of diabetes, is the closed loop cycle of diabetes and obesity. First, a person with a family history of diabetes gains some weight. Second, there is an increase in the need for glucose to feed the additional tissue they have acquired. Then, more insulin is produced from the pancreas. Third, insulin resistance sets in – the cells are not responding to the insulin, and more insulin is secreted, which leads to cellular exhaustion and the development of type 2 diabetes. The cycle now starts over because the person gains more weight from the excess insulin!

Dr. Hamdy’s presentation revolved around the history of diabetes. He explained that diabetes was once defined as a carbohydrate intolerance disease. He quotes Louis Newburgh in 1936 in that “the discovery of insulin was a setback to the advancement of nutrition”. Have we actually regressed? Yes. In 1942, the diabetes diet recommendation was to include more protein in the diet. If you saw the 2014 documentary “Fed Up”, you may recall the film’s exposure of the McGovern report of 1977 emphasizing that the public should eat more carbohydrates and should cut back on fat. This report was in part based on skewed research from cardiologist Ancel Keys who preached that fat causes heart disease.


Further, the food pyramid of 1980 illustrated that the base of one’s diet should consist of carbohydrates, reflecting the McGovern report. Then, people with diabetes liberalized their carbohydrate intake to 55%–60% of their daily diet.

Dr. Hamdy reminds us that diabetes is in fact an insulin resistance disease and not a carb intolerance disease. Now, the Joslin Diabetes Center recommends a maximum of 40%–45% carbohydrate intake, in which the carbs are of low glycemic index. Also, to always include protein with the carbs to prevent blood sugar spikes. Dr. Hamdy recommends protein intake to be 1.0–1.5 g/kg versus the standard 0.8 g/kg of body weight.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our coverage from the Annual Food and Nutrition Symposium!

About the author: Holli Lapes RD, LD/N is a Blogger & Social Media Content Specialist at Life Extension. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist residing in the South Florida area. Holli believes that quality dietary supplements are an essential tool that have a variety of applications from maintaining good health to managing chronic disease. 

Do Companion Animals Help Us Live Longer?


Few bonds are greater than those between people and their pets.

And while animals can serve as a vector of potentially serious pathogens, recent research points to many disease-protective effects associated with growing up around animals or having companion animals as an adult.

Aside from the obvious benefits conferred by service dogs and therapy animals, how can animals benefit our health?

Pets and Heart Health

A study prompted by the recent American Heart Association statement that “There are scant data on pet ownership and survival in people without established cardiovascular disease (CVD),” led an investigation by Georgia Southern University researchers of 3,964 men and women aged 50 and older without major medical conditions who were followed for up to 18 years.1 They found that having a pet was associated among women with a 31% lower risk of cardiovascular death and a 46% lower risk of death from stroke compared to not having a pet. After adjusting for physical activity, cat companionship was associated with a 38% decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality and a 78% lower risk of dying from stroke, while dogs were associated with an 18% lower risk of cardiovascular disease death and a 24% lower risk of stroke mortality. The authors suggest that “The protection pets confer may not be from physical activities, but possibly due to personality of the pet owners or stress-relieving effects of animal companionship.”

In a Chinese population, dog ownership was associated with a greater protective effect against coronary artery disease than cat ownership, according to a survey conducted among 561 individuals who underwent coronary arteriography.2 Having a pet was associated with half the risk of coronary artery disease compared to the risk experienced by those who did not have a pet. Subjects who had cats had a 26% lower risk of coronary artery disease and having a dog was associated with a 58% lower risk after adjustment for a number of factors, including physical activity levels. Increased duration of pet ownership and time spent playing with pets were associated with decreases in coronary artery disease risk. In their discussion of the findings, the authors note that some studies have suggested that hormonal changes, including decreased cortisol and an increase in oxytocin, could underlie the heart-protective effect of animal companionship.

In a study that involved 369 participants in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (which enrolled heart attack patients with asymptomatic ventricular arrhythmias), 1% of dog owners died within a one-year period compared to 7% of nonowners.3 And in 240 married couples, pet owners had lower heart rate and blood pressure during periods of rest and smaller increases in these factors during physical or mental stress in comparison to those without pets.4 The lowest reactivity and quickest recovery was observed to occur during conditions in which the pet was present.

Pets and Allergies

The high hygienic standards of Western countries are associated with decreased exposure to microorganisms. A healthy immune system develops during childhood environmental exposure in response to a variety of challenges. While some people have allergies that prevent them from adopting a dog or a cat, the presence of pets in the home during childhood might actually help prevent allergies. According to a recent review, “The immune tolerance of many modern city dwellers is insufficiently developed, predisposing the skin and mucous membranes to allergic inflammation. There is no need in infancy to avoid animals, and animal contacts in early childhood rather protect from the development of allergies.”5

Pet Companionship, Brain Health, and Longevity 

Interestingly, in an investigation that included 1,846 Norwegians, those who grew up with cats in their households had a 44% lower adjusted risk of developing the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis (MS) compared to those who did not have a cat.6

Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is one of the most common causes of mortality among epileptics with uncontrolled, long-standing disease. In a study of 1,092 epilepsy patients among whom 1% experienced SUDEP, none of the SUDEP patients had pets in their homes at the time of death, while 61% of those who did not experience SUDEP were pet owners.7 The authors remark that companion animals can buffer reactivity against stress and diminish stress perception, which may reduce seizure frequency and arrhythmias associated with SUDEP.

Lastly, novel medical therapies for companion animals that are more rapidly available than those that must submit to the approval process for human use could further progress against disease and aging. “Companion animals may provide an optimal intermediate between laboratory models and humans,” M. Kaeberlein writes in an article titled, “The Biology of Aging: Citizen Scientists and Their Pets as a Bridge Between Research on Model Organisms and Human Subjects.” “By improving healthy longevity in companion animals, important insights will be gained regarding human aging while improving the quality of life for people and their pets.”8

“Cross-sectional studies indicate correlations between pet ownership and numerous aspects of positive health outcomes, including improvements on cardiovascular measures and decreases in loneliness,” writes R. L. Matchock in a review published in 2015. “Quasi-experimental studies and better controlled experimental studies corroborate these associations and suggest that owning and/or interacting with a pet may be causally related to some positive health outcomes.”

“The value of pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy (AAT), as a nonpharmacological treatment modality, augmentation to traditional treatment, and healthy preventive behavior (in the case of pet ownership), is starting to be realized,” he concludes.9

While animal companionship may improve humans’ health, humans, in turn, are responsible for their companion animals’ health. Good diets, comprehensive nutritional supplements, veterinary care, environmental enrichment and contact with humans and/or other animals are all essential to companion animal well-being.

References

  1. Ogechi I et al. High Blood Press Cardiovasc Prev. 2016 Sep;23(3):245-53.
  2. Xie ZY et al. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017 Mar;96(13):e6466.
  3. Friedmann E et al. Am J Cardiol. 1995 Dec 15;76(17):1213-7.
  4. Allen K et al. Psychosom Med. 2002 Sep-Oct;64(5):727-39.
  5. Haahtela T. Duodecim. 2016;132(13-14):1253-8.
  6. Gustavsen MW et al. BMC Neurol. 2014 Oct 3;14:196.
  7. Terra VC et al. Seizure. 2012 Oct;21(8):649-51.
  8. Kaeberlein M. Vet Pathol. 2016 Mar;53(2):291-8.
  9. Matchock R. L. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Sep;28(5):386-92.

Can Nutrition Be a Factor in Bipolar Disorder? - LE Blog


Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a psychiatric disorder characterized byepisodes of energy and elation lasting a week or more followed by a period of depression. Treatment is based on medications that include the mineral lithium, which has been a lifesaver for many patients. Little is known concerning the benefit of alternative therapies. Nevertheless, in a survey of 435 patients, 50% reported the use of herbs or vitamins.

Vitamins B and C

A report published in 1978 documented a positive effect for pyridoxine (vitamin B6) in a study that included 17 patients with bipolar disorder.2 The vitamin is a cofactor in enzymatic reactions that result in the synthesis of neurotransmitters that can be insufficient in depressive states.

An early double-blind trial found a benefit for patients in both manic and depressed states following a single dose of 3 grams vitamin C in comparison with a placebo.3

Having a lower plasma level of the B vitamin folate has been associated with increased affective morbidity in bipolar patients treated long-term with lithium compared with those whose folate levels were higher.4 Other research found significantly lower red blood cell folate levels averaging 193 nanomoles per liter (nmol/l) in patients with mania in comparison with 896 nmol/l in a matched control group.5 In a case-control study, 88 patients in the acute phase of mania treated with sodium valproate experienced improvement in mania severity with the addition of folic acid over the course of a three week study in comparison with those who received sodium valproate and a placebo.6

The authors of a study involving bipolar disorder patients and their first-degree relatives suggest that low folate and vitamin B12 and high homocysteine levels could be a risk factor for developing the disease.7 It was the conclusion of a recent review that folate augmentation could be effective for bipolar treatment and that biologically active forms of folate that do not require biochemical conversion could be beneficial for mood stabilizer-associated folate deficiency.8


Omega-3 and CoQ10

A pilot study of men and women with bipolar depression resulted in 67% of participants treated with 12 grams inositol per day experiencing a 50% or more decrease in Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) scores, compared to 33% of those who received a placebo.9 However, other research suggests that restricting dietary inositol is helpful for some bipolar patients.10 In a randomized, double-blind 12-week trial involving children with bipolar spectrum disorder who were given omega 3 fatty acids, inositol, or a combination of the two, those who received omega 3 fatty acids plus inositol experienced the greatest decrease in mania and depression symptoms.11 A review of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in psychiatric disease observed that 4 out of 6 randomized trials of the omega 3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in patients with depression and bipolar disorder had favorable outcomes.12

Treatment with up to 800 mg coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) over a period of 4 weeks was associated with a reduction in MADRS scores in a trial involving older men and women with bipolar disorder.13 The researchers noted a significant decline in symptoms of lassitude, inability to feel, sadness, and difficulty concentrating in CoQ10-treated patients. “A neuroprogressive hypothesis of bipolar disorder has developed that implicates the neurobiological mechanisms of inflammation, glutamatergic excitotoxity, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the pathophysiology of neuronal damage and cognitive impairment in bipolar disorder with advancing age,” writes Brent P. Forester, MD, MSc, and colleagues. “Previous treatment studies that included aging cohorts of individuals with bipolar depression were not designed to address these underlying neurobiological mechanisms. CoQ10 has both anti-oxidant and mitochondrial enhancing effects, providing a neurobiological rationale for adjunctive use of CoQ10 in clinical studies of bipolar depression.”

Interestingly, results from over 250 publications have concluded that people with bipolar disorder are more frequently born in winter and spring when women are likeliest to have the lowest plasma vitamin D levels in comparison with summer and fall.14 When tested in bipolar children exhibiting symptoms of mania, brain neurochemistry and mood improved after 8 weeks of vitamin D3 supplementation.15

Amino Acids, Minerals, and More

A study of 11 adults receiving drug treatment for bipolar disorder who were given a vitamin and chelated mineral supplement resulted in a benefit on all measures for those who completed the 6-month trial.16 Symptom reduction ranged from 55% to 66% and the need for psychotropic medications was reduced by more than half. In a review of clinical trials that evaluated the effects of nutraceuticals combined with pharmacotherapies in the treatment of bipolar mania and bipolar depression, positive effects were observed for L-tryptophan, branched chain amino acids, folic acid, magnesium and a chelated mineral formula in bipolar mania; and in bipolar depression, the amino acid N-acetylcysteine as well as a vitamin and chelated mineral formula had strong effects, while mainly positive evidence was found for omega-3 fatty acids.17

A study that compared blood samples from 55 bipolar disorder patients to samples collected from 55 age- and sex-matched healthy volunteers found significantly higher levels of malondialdehyde (a marker of oxidative stress) and lower levels of the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc among the bipolar group.18

In an article titled, “Bipolar disorder and cell membrane dysfunction. Progress toward integrative management,” published inAlternative Medicine Review, P. M. Kidd writes, “Controlled, double-blind trials show multinutrient combinations of vitamins, minerals, orthomolecules, herbals, and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA to be effective monotherapy. The molecular action of lithium and valproate converge with nutrients on the level of the cell membrane and its molecular signal transduction systems. This emergent, unified rationale presages effective integrative management of bipolar disorder.”19

Future research may provide more information concerning the potential of the above-mentioned nutrients to improve the well-being of bipolar disease patients treated with standard therapies. It is recommended to consult with a physician if you or a loved one is considering the addition of nutritional supplements to a treatment regimen.

References

  1. Kilbourne AM et al. Psychopharmacol Bull. 2007;40(3):104-15.
  2. Bukreev V. Zh Nevropatol Psikhiatr Im S S Korsakova. 1978;78(3):402-8.
  3. Naylor GJ et al. Psychol Med. 1981 May;11(2):249-56.
  4. Coppen A et al. Br J Psychiatry. 1982 Jul;141:87-9.
  5. Hasanah CI et al. J Affect Disord. 1997 Nov;46(2):95-9.
  6. Behzadi AH et al. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2009 Dec;120(6):441-5.
  7. Ozbek Z et al. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Jul 1;32(5):1331-7.
  8. Baek JH et al. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2013 Nov;47(11):1013-8.
  9. Chengappa KN et al. Bipolar Disord. 2000 Mar;2(1):47-55.
  10. Shaldubina A et al. Bipolar Disord. 2006 Apr;8(2):152-9.
  11. Wozniak J et al. J Clin Psychiatry. 2015 Nov;76(11):1548-55.
  12. Muskiet FA et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2006 Nov;17(11):717-27.
  13. Forester BP et al. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2015 Jun;35(3):338-40.
  14. Ashkanian M et al. Ugeskr Laeger. 2010 Apr 26;172(17):1296-300.
  15. Sikoglu EM et al. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2015 Jun;25(5):415-24.
  16. Kaplan BJ et al. J Clin Psychiatry. 2001 Dec;62(12):936-44.
  17. Sarris J et al. Bipolar Disord. 2011 Aug-Sep;13(5-6):454-65.
  18. Chowdhury MI et al. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2017 Jan;39:162-168.
  19. Kidd PM. Altern Med Rev. 2004 Jun;9(2):107-35.


6 Health Benefits of Siberian Ginseng - LE Blog

“Siberian ginseng” (Eleutherococcus senticosus or Acanthopanax senticosus) belongs to the same family (Araliaceae) of the more commonly known Panax ginseng. However, it is not considered to be a true “ginseng.” Both are used in traditional Chinese Medicine. It is now illegal in the United States to refer to Eleutherococcus senticosus as ginseng.

“Comparison of Eleutherococcus with the more familiar Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer (Araliaceae), 'true ginseng' has underscored that they differ considerably chemically and pharmacologically and cannot be justifiably considered as mutually interchangeable,” write M. Davydov and A. D. Krikorian in a review published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. “Accordingly, we recommend that the designation 'Siberian ginseng' be dropped and be replaced with 'Eleutherococcus'.” 1


Eleutherococcus is considered to be an adaptogen, which supports health and corrects dysfunction without eliciting unwanted effects. In addition to its traditional adaptogenic usage, its components have shown a number of other effects.1

Effects on Immune and Heart Health

Eleutherococcus has shown an immunostimulatory action.2 This effect has been found in healthy individuals as well as cancer patients, and could be useful as an adjunctive therapy for patients undergoing cancer treatment. However, other research findings suggest that “this herbal preparation possesses immunomodulatory potency, rather than just being immunosuppressive or stimulating.”3

An Eleutherococcus compound abbreviated as SR has been shown to decrease the production of interleukin-6, interleukin-1 beta, cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), and other markers of inflammation in human joint tissue.4 The authors suggest that SR modulates the inflammatory process in arthritis via the suppression of the expression of various genes.

Eleutherococcus may have cardiovascular benefits. Rats subjected to middle cerebral artery occlusion that received a water extract of the herb had a 36.6% reduction in infarct volume in comparison with control animals and a decrease in the expression of COX-2 in the affected region.5 In a randomized trial involving 40 postmenopausal women, those who received Eleutherococcus experienced decreases in serum low density lipoprotein (LDL) and LDL to high density lipoprotein (HDL) ratio.6 Protein carbonyl levels and lymphocyte DNA damage also decreased among those who received the herb for 6 months. An analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials that compared the effects of Eleutherococcus with a placebo or no additional treatment among subjects with acute ischemic stroke found that treatment with the herb was associated with an increase in the number of participants whose neurologic impairment improved.7


Diabetes, Brain Health, and Fertility

In a trial that included 47 type 2 diabetics with early changes to the kidneys, 8 weeks of treatment with Eleutherococcus was associated with a decrease in urinary albumin excretion as well as plasma and urinary renal endothelin, indicating a protective effect.8 In diabetic mice that received an extract of Eleutherococcus for 3 days, plasma glucose levels following sucrose loading was reduced in comparison with a control group, suggesting that the herb could be a useful ingredient in functional foods to help improve postprandial glucose elevations.9 The researchers also uncovered an ability for the extract to inhibit intestinal activity of alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. A study involving diabetic rats found that a polysaccharide from Eleutherococcus root was more effective at reducing symptoms of diabetes and reversing kidney and liver damage when combined with the diabetes drug metformin than metformin alone.10

In research involving human neuroblastoma cells, the herb was shown to protect against ethanol induced programmed cell death.11 In a study involving healthy humans, Eleutherococcus improved short term memory and visual perception, with effects that were dependent upon time of day.12 Another investigation by the researchers found an increase in aural memory and a reduction in anxiety in association with Eleutherococcus extract that was also dependent upon whether it was morning or evening, as well as upon the individual chronotype of each participant.13 And in a study involving 20 participants aged 65 years and older who received Eleutherococcus or a placebo daily for 8 weeks, Eleutherococcus supplementation resulted in higher social functioning scores at 4 weeks.14

Among men with reduced sperm motility, varying concentrations of Eleutherococcus improved motility in comparison with a control group.15 The finding suggests a benefit for couples that have difficulty conceiving. This effect was validated in another study that found an increase in human sperm motility in association with the in vitro exposure to Eleutherococcus, in comparison with the effects elicited by caffeine or theophylline.16

A Chinese study found an antiproliferative effect for extracts of the herb in several types of tumor cells, and a reduction in the rate of tumor growth and increased survival when administered in a mouse model.17 A fractionated glycoprotein derived from Eleutherococcus has been shown to inhibit tumor metastasis.18 In a study involving lung cancer patients, several immune factors increased in those who received an injection of an extract of the herb, which suggests that the extract “can be used as an assistant drug to regulate the function of cellular immunity in the patients with lung cancer.”19

Eleutherococcus and Exercise Endurance

One of Eleutherococcus’best known uses is in sports. A 20-day trial of Eleutherococcus in high-class athletes reduced the increase in blood coagulation and blood coagulation factor activity that can occur as a result of intensive training.20 A comparison between Echinacea and a preparation that contained active Eleutherococcus senticosus components resulted in improvement in total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and oxygen use among those who received Eleutherococcus, indicating a fitness benefit.21 And in 13 healthy subjects between the ages of 50 and 57 years, Eleutherococcus increased oxygen uptake and spared muscle glycogen during endurance exercise.22

An 8-week randomized, crossover trial published in 2010 compared the effects of Eleutherococcus to a placebo in physically trained male college students.23 “This is the first well-conducted study that shows that 8-week senticosus supplementation enhances endurance capacity, elevates cardiovascular functions and alters the metabolism for sparing glycogen in recreationally trained males,” researchers J. Kuo and colleagues announced.

Eleutherococcus, whilesharing some benefits with Panax ginseng, has effects of its own that are only beginning to be fully explored. For those who wish to share the benefits that athletes have known or who just want to stay healthy and balanced, this herb may be worth considering as a regular part of one’s regimen.

References

  1. Davydov M et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Oct;72(3):345-93.
  2. Wagner H et al. Arzneimittelforschung. 1985;35(7):1069-75.
  3. Schmolz MW et al. Phytother Res. 2001 May;15(3):268-70.
  4. Yamazaki T et al. Toxicol In Vitro. 2007 Dec;21(8):1530-7.
  5. Bu Y et al. Phytother Res. 2005 Feb;19(2):167-9.
  6. Lee YJ et al. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2008 Oct 10;375(1):44-8.
  7. Li W et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Jul 8;(3):CD007032.
  8. Ni HX et al. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2001 Feb;21(2):105-7.
  9. Watanabe K et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Oct 28;132(1):193-9.
  10. Fu J et al. Int J Biol Macromol. 2012 Apr 1;50(3):619-23.
  11. Jang MH et al. Am J Chin Med. 2003;31(3):379-88.
  12. Arushanian EB et al. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2003 Sep-Oct;66(5):10-3.
  13. Arushanian EB et al. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 2009 May-Jun;72(3):10-2.
  14. Cicero AF et al. Arch Gerontol Geriatr Suppl. 2004;(9):69-73.
  15. Chen Z et al. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2007 Jan;13(1):21-3.
  16. Wu W et al. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2009 Mar;15(3):278-81.
  17. Shan BE et al. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2004 Jan;24(1):55-8.
  18. Ha ES et al. Arch Pharm Res. 2004 Feb;27(2):217-24.
  19. Huang DB et al. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2005 Apr;30(8):621-4.
  20. Azizov AP. Eksp Klin Farmakol. 1997 Sep-Oct;60(5):58-60.
  21. Szołomicki J et al. Phytother Res. 2000 Feb;14(1):30-5.
  22. Wu Y et al. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 1998 Nov 30;27(6):421-4.
  23. Kuo J et al. Chin J Physiol. 2010 Apr 30;53(2):105-11.

8 Stages of Yoga for Health and Well Being

Vritika Jhunjhunwala

"Yoga" means union that brings an incoherent and scattered mind to a reflective state for communion of the human soul with divinity. It ensures optimal condition of every aspect of life, be it body, mind, energy or soul. Let's explore in brief the eight stages of Yoga that promise not only health, but answers to all imaginable existential predicaments of the human mind. Yoga is not only for India, it belongs to the world!

1. Yama is the first stage that purifies the mind with great vows of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence and non-covetousness. This is essential to avoid doubt and restlessness of the mind before progressing to further demanding levels of practice.

2. Niyama are rules for purity, contentment, austerity, study of the scriptures and surrender to a higher power. These virtues calm the disturbed mind, make one cheerful and enhance mental power to discipline the senses.

3. Asanas are achieving perfection in posture and flexibility of the human body through performing certain poses and postures and pushing the limitations of the body each time. Asanas bring health, beauty, strength, firmness, lightness, clarity of speech and expression, calmness of nerves and a happy disposition.

4. Pranayama is conscious regulation of breath through different exercises that bring the mind and senses under control. Yogis believe that the breath is the key to our thoughts and they worked endlessly on different techniques of inhalation and exhalation to achieve perfect steadiness of the wavering mind.

5. Pratyahara is the subtle technique of disciplining our thoughts as yogis fully understood the dangers of an untamed and uncultured mind. Since the mind affects the quality of our lives, this practice quiets the senses and draws them inward in order to find a space of inner peace and tranquility.

6. Dharana is concentration on a single point, or total attention on what one is doing, the mind remaining unmoved and unruffled. It stimulates inner awareness to integrate ever-flowing intelligence and release all tensions.

7. When Dharana continues for a long time, it becomes Dhyana or meditation, the seventh stage of Yoga. This is an indescribable state that has to be experienced to be understood.

8. When meditation is maintained without interruption, it merges into Samadhi where the practitioner loses consciousness of his body, breath, mind and ego. He lives in infinite peace and not only is he enlightened, but he illumines all those who come to him in search of truth.

It's quite apparent that Yoga is not just twisting the body into funny shapes or even meditating to calm the mind, it is the conclusive science of exploration of one's true nature and the end goal is not just Samadhi, but liberation. In this state, there is no fear, doubt or confusion, but pure happiness and contentment. Our purpose is to know ourselves, our true selves and immerse into the ocean of eternal love that flows, without exception, in every beating heart.

You are not a drop in the ocean; you are the entire ocean in a drop - Rumi

References:

  1. The Indian Equator: Mark Twain's India Revisited, 2013, 111-25
  2. Light on Pranayama, 1981, 16-18
  3. The Essential Rumi, 1961
  4. Light on Yoga, 1966, 67-80
About the Author:

Vritika lives in India where she immersed herself in authentic principles of Yoga and meditation through intense study, reference reading and oral teaching. Having learnt and taught the benefits of meditation in modern life, she aims to bring peace and well being to people in innumerable ways demonstrated by Yogic wisdom. Her personal blog, https://mindfulnesswithin.wordpress.com/ is a culmination of her passion and efforts to promote the ancient science of Yoga in its purest form and highlights her love for Indian culture. Vritika also loves writing, photography, reading and is pursuing classical music.

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