The Science of Yoga

November 7, 2011

If you haven’t opened up to the benefits of asana followed by meditation to start your day, you probably have a good reason! Keep in mind, though, that “I don’t have enough time” is not a good reason. I mean reasons like, “that’s not for me”, or “I am not interested in joining a cult”, or “I don’t believe in God”. If those sound like your reasons, you’re in luck! Spoken in general American terminology, Yoga is actually called Flexibility Training, followed by Mental Therapy. Maybe you are in top physical condition and don’t need any kind of flexibility training, and maybe your mental health is in a state of perfection; therefore, maybe you don’t need Yoga.

The science of Yoga from the perspective of Yoga goes far beyond what we here in the West require as proof to feel logical understanding, trust, and security to become involved. Our “required proof” lies in the realm of exercise science, stuff we can make sense of on a practical level way before the profound concepts beyond and including humanity are accepted, less understood. Because I am aware of this resistance and general incomprehensibility in our culture, I will begin to describe yoga in terms of exercise science and explain the aspect of meditation as a mental health maintenance protocol.

I’d like to start with the word Posture. To most people, yoga means putting yourself in different poses, or moving through a series of poses. We all have an idea of what poor posture is, and definitively poor posture and repetitive movements (even sitting at a computer on a daily basis like I’m doing now to type this is repetitive stress) create dysfunction within the body. The body treats this as an injury, initiating a repair process. Adhesions form and can become permanent structural changes in soft tissue along lines of stress with an inelastic collagen matrix. Here’s where it gets scary: muscle fibers can be prevented from moving properly because these stress-induced inelastic remodeled soft tissues act as roadblocks in the neuromuscular system. This is the worst case scenario of why good posture is so important, and every physical yoga posture is one that has been scientifically designed in the yoga world, just as in the exercise science world flexibility training restores the normal extensibility of the entire soft tissue complex and every stretching technique is one that has been scientifically designed in the sports medicine world.

Next time, we’ll match and compare yoga postures with stretching techniques. It is important to note that yoga is not a stretching technique, but within the similarities the common denominator is the human body. By explaining the benefits of stretching techniques, we will explain in a “modern” way the positive effects of yoga in its smallest sense, or the physical benefits of a regular practice.

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Vegetarianism can be argued infinitely on many points, but one point cannot be argued: it is a personal choice based on compassion for all of life, sympathy for animals that are our food, psychology, allergies and physical ailments, and religion (or a personal belief system). Once this personal choice is made based on any or all of the above reasons, it is up to the individual to be hyper-aware in order to sustain life for oneself of what does and does not enter the body, and in some cases, what is near and around the body. With a lifestyle of extreme restrictions, can one be and stay healthy, and continue to enjoy life just as well or better than someone who has not made the decision to stop eating meat? Everywhere I dig for the answer, it seems to always be a resounding “Yes!”.

Man can survive living on a totally vegetarian diet because humans can adapt to their environment. Furthermore, in modern society he(or she) can do a lot better than that. Before the last century, there were no such things as vitamin supplements like B12, and food was more difficult to come by in the varied abundance that is available to us now in large supermarkets. To see just how possible this is, we can look to those who exemplify great strength and health while staying on a strictly VEGAN diet.

There is a lot of stress put on proteins in the diet and whether or not you can eat enough of it being a vegetarian or vegan. Although this is correct reasoning, I’d like to take some of that stress off the subject. Our bodies are made up mostly of water, and we need to hydrate sufficiently to ensure health and vitality, with all bodily processes functioning at their potential. This nobody would argue. Second to water in terms of body composition is protein which makes up everything from our genes themselves to our hair, so it makes sense to make sure you get enough of it in your diet.

The approximate RDA of protein is only 54 grams for men and 47 grams for men. If you are a vegan bodybuilder, you’d laugh at those figures, and rightly so because people whose goals are muscular hypertrophy require that much more protein just to do what they want to do above and beyond just being alive and healthy. A typical protein sports drink these days contains 25-50 grams of protein alone for building muscle, so it’s important not to confuse these two concepts and pit them against each other.

Proteins also come in two forms in our foods, which are called complete and incomplete. All animal protein sources are complete proteins, and rightly so because you would be consuming the end of the protein chain when it has been created into the final product, with regard to creating the animal’s body just like our bodies use proteins to synthesize our muscles, glands, and organs. There are plenty of vegetarian complete proteins as well, and although they may not contain as much protein as some animal sources, they are sources nonetheless.

On this list are nutritional yeast, quinoa sprouts, amaranth sprouts, buckwheat sprouts, chia seeds, soy, hemp hearts, ramon nuts, tocotrienols(rice bran polishings), edible seaweeds, wheatgrass juice, leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and lettuce, green sprouts, algae like chlorella and spirulina, marine phytoplankton, tempeh or natto(fermented soy), olives, acai berries, goji berries, white turkish mulberries, golden inca berries, and avocado. Sources that don’t fall into typical food categories are bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis, cauliflower, some mushrooms like shiitake, and pine tree pollen.

Aside from all of these complete proteins, we have available to us a wide array of incomplete protein foods that when eaten together in the right combinations, the body will synthesize complete proteins from the amino acids present. Examples of typical healthy complete protein combinations are hummus on pita bread, nut butter on whole grain bread, beans on pasta, toast, or corn, rice and beans, peas, or lentils, split pea soup with whole grain or seeded crackers or bread, tortillas with refried beans, and veggie burgers on bread. To be absolutely certain that you are getting enough protein, eat legumes(beans, lentils, peas, peanuts) in combination with seeds, nuts, or grains.

With this foundation, it is easy to build muscle and strength, even on a vegan diet. What’s important is knowing how active you are. Understand that the endorsed RDA for protein are .5 to .8g/lb, from the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine. This translates to 90-144g of protein daily for a 180 lb. athlete. Eat within this range while on the exercise program or lifestyle of your choosing and adjust to what feels right for you.

It is important to spot false and confusing statistics, like those comparing vague percentages of protein content against daily caloric intake percentages just to make a simple point that doesn’t need convoluted reasoning or convincing. Also keep in mind that for decades there have been vegetarian bodybuilders like Bill Pearl who have competed and won titles against meat eaters, but only through the use of anabolic steroids. Incidentally, the meat-eating bodybuilders were also on steroids, to be fair. It’s pretty easy to spot the natural vegan bodybuilders just by their normal muscular hypertrophy. Bodybuilding is an art form that is comprised of building muscle and tailoring the diet to create the proper display case for those muscular gains that lasts for only the small window during a competition, and too often this extreme subculture is mistaken for the norm in terms of what strength, health, and muscularity is. It is not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be used to define everyone in terms of health, as it is often not a level playing field.

Whether your diet is vegetarian or not, it is important to be honest with yourself about your health. Question your body fat percentage, your waistline, your joint health, your energy levels, and the health of your skin, eyes, and teeth. Do you have fat clothes that you reserve for being out of shape, or do you have to buy fat clothes? Do you look your age or younger, or do you look 10-15 years older than you are? Do you have stress? Are you a generally unpleasant person at home or in the workplace? When was the last time you had blood work done? Do you have restful sleep, or sleep enough? It is easy in a morally conscious work ethic society to beat yourself up into an early grave lined with self-imposed guilt while spending the last years or months of your life wondering what went wrong. What’s more important is representing your choices inspirationally¬†and being a model for others for longer happier life, and vegetarianism is no exception.