Monday, November 26, 2012

Sweat and detoxification - a yoga mythbuster!

If you have been doing yoga for a while, you have probably at some point heard that one of the benefits of yoga (especially "hot" yoga) is that sweating detoxifies the body.

Now, I am not a biologist by any definition, but something in this has never quite rung true for me. Yes, we have all had our experiences with some of the more noxious secretions of the sweat glands, both on the mat and off, but is that really "detoxifying"?  Well, I decided to do a little yoga mythbusting and find out!  I apologise for not sourcing all the information below, but I am fairly sure that I have got the science right.

Myth No. 1: Sweat removes toxins from the body

Actually, it turns out that the main function of the sweat glands is to regulate body temperature. They do this by secreting what is basically water plus salt and electrolytes.

Science seems to contradict itself on whether or not sweat actually removes toxic elements from the body. Some studies seem to show that it is an important pathway for excreting certain trace metals like zinc and copper. Others suggest that the amounts of toxic substances such as heavy metals found in sweat are so small as to be irrelevant - less than 1%. The 99% are eliminated the good old fashioned way, via the digestive system.

The verdict? I guess this myth is not confirmed but not busted. Sweating may release some amount of toxins from your body, but not really enough to get excited about. But let's look at the second part of this myth.

Myth No. 2: Sweating more = greater detoxification

If sweat is an efficient way of detoxifying, then we would assume that the more we sweat, the more toxins our body releases.  However, here is where the myth has got its biology upside down and backwards. The body has a highly effective system for detoxification: the liver and the kidneys, which filter toxins from our blood.  These organs rely on a high level of hydration in order to function properly - if the body becomes too dehydrated, they can't function.  In extreme circumstances, sweating too much can actually reduce detoxification if the body becomes dehydrated and the water you lose is not replenished.

So I think it's safe to say that this myth is: BUSTED!  While you could argue that sweating a lot in yoga makes you drink more, which helps the liver and kidneys to detoxify the body, you don't actually need to sweat in order to drink more water. So, still BUSTED!

So what's the bottom line for detoxification?

Well, since the liver and kidneys are the critical organs for detoxification, the best things we can do to support the body's detoxification and increase our elimination of toxins are:

- Drink lots of water
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Get enough sleep
- Stay healthy!

I would say that yoga, whether it makes you sweat or not, definitely supports all of the above.  So Myth No. 3: Yoga Detoxifies the Body is... CONFIRMED!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Yoga for Back Pain / Vinyasa Yoga with Wrist Injuries

Today I am most lucky to have not one, but two guest posts up on some of my favourite yoga blogs.

Please check out the blog of the fabulous Nadine Fawell for another detailed, photo-illustrated sequence of therapeutic yoga stretches for low back pain.

And then, head on over to Nobel's ever-philosophical Ashtanga yoga blog, Yoga in the Dragon's Den, for a post on how I maintained a vinyasa practice with a wrist injury.

Enjoy, comment, share, and keep the yoga blogsphere buzzing!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Adjustments, assists, and when/how to say no

Grimmly posted an interesting reflection on adjustments and assists the other day, asking questions like: "what's the difference?" "are assists necessary?" "are assists too intimate?" He had some interesting thoughts and got some great comments, so I encourage you to head on over and check it out.

I pretty much agree with Grimmly in terms of the difference between adjustments and assists, although I don't think there is a clear line and I probably don't apply the differentiation as rigorously as maybe I should. In my view, adjustments are when a teacher either says something or touches/moves your body in a way that helps you find the right alignment in a pose or refine an element of your engagement in a pose. They can be verbal or physical and can range from cuing subtle processes to plain old physical modifications. Adjustments might sometimes be necessary, say if a person is at risk of injury, or other times may just be a way for a teacher to pass on an insight.

Assists, the way I see them, are when a teacher physically helps you to get deeper into a pose. They may not involve direct touch - for example one great assist is to loop a towel around someone's thighs when they are in downward facing dog and pull back. But there are many assists that involve a high degree of physical contact between the instructor and the student, on areas of the body that might otherwise be reserved for intimate touch: thighs, back, belly.

Generally good assists are possible when the student and the teacher have already established a high level of trust and familiarity. In addition the teacher's touch has to be professional and respectful. In yoga teacher training, as with other hands-on disciplines, we are taught how to touch people in a professional way: with the palms of the hands and not the fingertips; firmly and decisively, not brushing or lingering; asking permission before touching an intimate area of the body. Nonetheless, bad assists do happen, and happen rather a lot I'm afraid - I personally know several very experienced practitioners who have been injured during a bad assist. Thankfully I never have been, although I have been privy to an uninvited view of a male teacher's, errrr, "family jewels" in one memorable assist. Whether intended or not, there are the endless possibilities for sexual energy to come into play when it comes to the act of touching or being touched.

At the end of the day, we are all individuals and everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to being touched. Both teachers and students will have to figure theirs out the hard way: by trial and error. That said, I think it's important for all practitioners of yoga to know that you have the right to refuse an assist, and you don't need to justify or explain this. Period.

So, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of being assisted or with assists that you are getting from a teacher, what can you do?
  • If you have an injury, past or present, be sure your teacher knows about it. In a perfect world, teachers would get to spend time getting to know each individual student. But in the real world, you need to take responsibility for your own safety and comfort in a class by arriving early and letting the teacher know.
  • If you are in the course of getting an assist and it feels wrong, vocalise it straight away. Don't be embarrassed to use your voice in a yoga class! Say "a bit gentler please" or "that's enough thanks" or, if worst comes to worst, "stop, please". If your teacher is any kind of good teacher, they will stop what they're doing immediately. Afterwards, you can talk about it together.
  • If you don't want to receive assists during the class or if you are uncomfortable with the assists you have been getting, talk to your teacher about it and ask them to respect your comfort level.  Chances are your teacher will welcome your feedback and be happy to work within your comfort zone, but they might not know what this is unless you tell them.
Ok, now on to a trickier subject: What if you feel like a teacher has been touching you in an inappropriate way?

There are going to be many different ways to deal with this depending on the situation. But I think one rule applies no matter what, and that is this: don't keep silent.
  • If you can, address it straight away with your teacher by talking to him or her in private outside of class. There is always a possibility that it was an honest misunderstanding. In this best of worlds, you might simply ask if you can give them some feedback and say "I wasn't comfortable with how you touched me in that pose," and that would be that.
  • If you don't feel comfortable explaining (but assuming you want to continue with this teacher), you can simply ask them to stop giving you assists and to give you verbal instructions only. You DON'T have to justify your request - it's your body and you are in charge of who touches it.
  • If you don't feel comfortable talking directly to your teacher, or you want some moral support,  talk to another teacher, student or a friend, and that person can help you communicate with your teacher.
  • If you suspect a deeper problem, you may want to reach out to fellow students to see if anyone else is feeling the same way. Chances are that if the teacher is abusing their position, you are not the only one to have noticed it.
  • Finally, if you have asked the teacher to stop and they disrespect your request, or if you believe that some serious abuse is going on, then it might be time to talk to the studio.
Does anyone have any experiences to share or tips to add?