Thursday, August 14, 2008

Water, Sugar or Electrolytes? What You Should Drink During Practice.

I had a wonderful class today with Johannes. One of the things I enjoy most about practising at Bikram Fitzroy is the diversity of teachers. With such varied styles there is certainly no chance to switch off from an engaging practice - no matter how long your day has already been, you’re somehow forced to gladly participate to your utmost. I once heard a fellow student comment that 'it doesn't matter how you feel before the class, you're always glad you went once it's over', and I think this really sums up one of the things I most love about Bikram.

As far as variety goes, difference in teaching styles is just the beginning. Now I know I shouldn’t be looking around the room (eyes on self!), but I just can’t help but notice that it’s not just plain old H2O being carried into the room with many students. Apart from a naughtily wandering mind, the bottle we bring with us to class is really our only crutch. Our only (if ever so brief) escape once the sweat starts dripping. So I guess it’s no wonder we all have our own particular ways of individualising and perhaps getting more out of that liquid lifeline.

But personal preference aside, what should we be drinking in class? Well, water is definitely a good place to start. Certainly preferable to sports drinks, which generally contain plenty of sugar and artificial colourings, not to mention a litany of synthetic chemicals. In case you’re wondering, this is a sure way to dehydrate your body, as your liver will be working overtime to flush out those toxins by taking water out of your muscles. The only reason you should ever consume these or any other sweetened drinks in class would be if you are becoming extremely faint and the teacher gives you one.

So is water alone sufficient to help you get the most out of your practice? If it’s plain old tap water, then no, I’d have to say it’s not. This may come as a surprise to many readers, but the truth is that (although it may be highly purified), our tap water does not contain adequate minerals to replace that lost through sweat.

When you sweat, you lose vast amounts of water and sodium (salt), but also a host of other minerals and trace elements including chlorine or chloride, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, nickel, chromium, and manganese. Many of these are absolutely vital to our health. For example, chromium assists in reducing sugar cravings and stabilising blood sugar levels. It is absolutely essential to replace these lost elements. Particularly when you imagine how many of those vital nutrients are contained in the 3 or more litres you may lose during a particularly busy class!

It’s crucial to ensure that you replace not just the lost fluid, but the health and energy-giving nutrients that are found in that fluid.

There are several ways to do this:

1. Use organic sea salt in your water. You can purchase this at any health food store. Ensure it is organic, or it may have been subject to bleaching. Pure organic sea salt contains over 80 minerals and nutrients. Did you know that we are supposed to get nearly 85% of our minerals from our drinking water? Unfortunately, the purification of water not only kills of bacteria, but also destroys these vital nutrients. By adding sea salt to your water (around 1-2 pinches per 500ml), you are re-mineralising (otherwise known as re-energising) that water and basically turning it back into the life-giving substance it should be. I actually like to add this much sea salt to all my drinking water, with a little extra thrown in for Bikram.

2. Take Electrolytes during or after class. Electrolytes are available in most Bikram studios for purchase. The generally have a pleasant citrus-y taste, and perform a similar job to that of sea salt. If you’re practising 4 or more times per week, I’d recommend both approaches.

3. I’ve heard some talk of people adding lemon, a little vinegar, and some maple syrup to their water. Lemon and vinegar can certainly both aid in digestion, so if this is an area of concern for you, it’s not a bad way to help finish off the natural process that some postures begin for you. Maple syrup is a little more questionable. Even if it is natural and organic, it is still a form of processed sugar, and as much as it might taste nice and give you a small energy boost with each sip, the fact is that each time you ingest sugar your body begins to flush existing water from the body. Can’t escape your physiology on this one I’m afraid! If you struggle with energy throughout class, it is worth looking at what you’ve consumed in the lead up. In my next post I’ll be discussing what best to eat before class. You can also ensure optimal energy by making sure you are well hydrated before class. If you wait till you get into the room to drink up, you’ve left it too late.

Do you have your own tips or habits for getting more out of your water during class? I’d love to hear your comments, ideas and feedback. Please get involved in the comments section below!

Food for Yoga. Food for Life.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Girls Listen Up: How to Feel Normal and Maintain your Practise at That Time of Month

Now this one’s for the girls, but don’t you men wander away just yet – what I’m about to tell you could save you having to listen to your partner moan about how huge, uncomfortable, and out-of-action she is at that time of month. Just be careful how you go about passing on my suggestions!

Now, I know I’m not the only woman out there who puffs up when I get my period. Let alone a week beforehand! I know it because every new client who comes to see me tells me all about it!

I mean, really, we do have it a bit tough. Mood swings I can handle (even if everyone around me can’t handle me), but it’s just so frustrating to feel like all the hard work, sweaty clothes, early-morning or late-night practise, not to mention a general attempt at healthy living was paying off; and then BAM! It’s like flipping a switch for some women! Overnight you seem to gain not just one but several spare tyres, your emotions spiral out of control, and your energy slumps as you contemplate working your way through the entire confectionary aisle. Many women consider this an optimal time to take a break from life. To cross Bikram out of their diary, pause their gym memberships, and say good-bye to healthy home cooked meals.

Over the years, as I’ve come to understand more about how hormones affect us at that time, and after trying and testing just about anything, I've found some semblance of an answer.

So here’s what works. Seriously. Remember - you could continue to moan and whinge and consume chocolate like a one-woman army, or you could just try the following tricks, and feel (at least) semi-human during this tormenting time.

Flatten your Bloated Tum By Avoiding Processed Carbohydrate

Regular readers will know that I don’t encourage you to eat processed carbs as part of your regular diet. By processed carbs, I mean white breads, pasta, rice and even white potatos. Cakes, biscuits, chocolates, crisps and soft drinks also fall into this category. Around that time of month (a week before, and during), it’s particularly important to replace these foods with fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. This is because processed carbs contribute to out-of-whack hormones, and may cause an additional output of estrogen – one of whose jobs is to make your body think it’s pregnant! Which equals: bigger. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Curb Cravings and Up Your Exercise Desire with Quality Protein and Fat

During times of stress or hormonal change, you’ll often notice sweet cravings. In many cases, this is because your body is not getting the building blocks it needs to run your system, balance your hormones, and keep your digestive system going. In the lead-up to your next period, try increasing your intake of quality fats and proteins. Include avocado, extra virgin olive oil, organic meats such as lamb, beef and chicken thighs, and even supplement with some Omega 3 capsules. The idea is not to eat extra food (in quantity), it’s more about changing the percentages of your carbs to protein/fat slightly in favour of more protein/fats. I guarantee this works – I haven’t had a single client for whom it hasn’t!

Flush out the fluid with sea salt

I plan to write soon on the benefits of adding sea salt to your water during practise. In my opinion, it's almost a must. In the meantime, think about this: many people believe salt consumption will make them retain fluid. Whilst this is true, lack of salt can also cause you to puff up! If you’re cautious about salt consumption, this could be you! I’m not talking about bleached white table salt – go for the grey chunky sea salt crystals. You’ll find them in any health food or organic store. Add a few pinches to your water and meals and watch your body deflate. On Bikram days, go for a little extra to replace what’s lost when you sweat.

De-bloat your Belly with Gentle Exercise

Please, please, please – don’t be one of those girls who shies off Yoga - or indeed any exercise - for a week when you’ve got your period! Honestly – you’re not that fragile. While it’s true that high-impact exercise, record setting lifts in the gym, or Bikram in the front row without a handy bottle of water may not be a great idea at this time, gentle exercise is a great idea. Bikram is one of the best things you can do for your body at this time. It will lift your energy, get your digestive system moving, and can also mean at least 90 minutes in the day when you won’t be sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and giving in to sweet temptation.

What are your tricks for keeping your body on track and sticking with your practise during your period? Get involved in the Bikram Fitzroy community by leaving a comment below.