Michele C. Hollow

Freelance Writer/Editor/Author/Marketing Expert

Health 

Beating the Blues with Yoga

This centuries old practice uses movements to mend mind, spirit, and body.

By Michele C. Hollow for Women's Health

For years, Amy Weintraub, an award-winning television producer and writer, faced each day in a fog. “Sometimes I rose in the morning with what felt like a layer of cotton batting between my brain and my cranium,” she says. “Neither coffee nor exercise penetrated the thickening.”

She took pills, talked to psychiatrists, and berated herself for not getting better. In 1989, her spirits lifted and her life changed when she took her first yoga class at Kripalu Center in Massachusetts. Within a year of beginning a daily yoga practice, Weintraub was free of antidepressant medication. Yoga had such a strong impact on her life that Weintraub spends her days teaching yoga and traveling the globe giving lectures  on how yoga can be used to treat depression. She is the author of Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga, published by Broadway Books. She also has her own web site: www:yogafordepression.com.

She is quick to rattle off statistics. “According to the World Health Organization, depression affects about 121 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability among people from the ages of 15 to 44,” she notes. “The rise in suicide since WWII, tells us that despite our ever-expanding knowledge, we’ve lost our connection to who we are and often feel separated and alone. Yoga, including postures, breathing exercises and meditation is the science of positive mental health. Practice yoga regularly and it will strip away the obstacles. You will begin to recognize your wholeness. Practice yoga every day and it will change your life.”

Finding Security

For Weintraub, yoga was a safe place for her to experience her feelings. “For some people, the yoga mat is a safe container,” she says. “You can feel you emotions without getting stuck on them. Sometimes people who practice yoga may have a few tears on the mat. Often there is no story behind those tears. It’s just a simply letting go of what has been stored in the body.”

One reason that yoga benefits the mind and body is its connection to the breath. “So few people know how to breathe deeply,” says Karen Sothers, BS, Med, RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher), and Stress Mastery Specialist for the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in Southern California. “Shallow breathing tends to facilitate depression. Deep breathing helps to restore the body and relax chronic muscle tension. When muscles are tense it restricts the flow of blood. In yoga, when you are able to relax the prana (the Hindu word for life force, which translates to mean breath), you allow yourself to become calm.”

“Both yoga practitioners and medical doctors understand that there is a strong connection between stress and illness,” says Sothers. “Yoga relaxes the body through breathing exercises and yoga postures. Many of the postures open up the body through means of gentle stretching movements, which allows the breath to flow freely.”

Types of Depression

Speaking in general terms, there are two kinds of depression. “Some of us become numb,” says Weintraub. “Others become anxious or manic. Some postures allow us to calm down and others can energize us. A typical yoga session includes a bit of chanting to focus the mind, movement, meditation and relaxation, and breathing exercises. When you combine all of these practices, the body, mind, and spirit benefit.”

Weintraub isn’t advocating that people throw away their anti-depression medications. In her book Yoga for Depression, she states “We’re treating the symptoms when we take our Paxil or our Celexa, but we’re not addressing the root of our suffering; we do not meet our suffering at its source. Biomedicine treats symptoms. It treats the tumor, the virus, the infection, but it does not treat the whole person. In fact, some mental health professionals feel that medication can sometimes mask the core issues underlying the depression. Your own road to recovery from depression may be finding the balance of medication, talk therapy, and yoga that works for you.”

Types of Yoga

From hatha to Iyengar to everything in between, there are many different styles of yoga. Weintraub believes that all are beneficial. “Every form of yoga is a doorway in,” she says. “They all take you to a place for a happier mind.”

 

Cravings

From Big Macs to frozen yogurt, what causes these yearnings and should you give into them?

By Michele C. Hollow for Pregnancy Magazine

 Throughout Wendy Peters pregnancy, she craved poultry. As a strict vegetarian, this struck her as being quite odd. “I didn’t even like turkey,” she explains. “I became a vegetarian about ten years prior to becoming pregnant. I remember sitting down to lunch eagerly eyeing my husband’s chicken salad. It looked good, so I took a bite and gobbled it up. From then on, I added chicken and turkey to my diet.”

 Craving poultry isn’t a bad thing. In fact, according to Dr. Shari Lieberman, a clinical nutritionist and author of the book The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book (Avery/Penguin Putnam 2003), “this patient needed protein in her diet. She listened to her body. Eating a certain amount of protein is a good thing—especially when you are pregnant. It’s the other cravings that women have to watch out for. Some women crave fast food; others want salty chips and crackers. It’s okay to give into these cravings on occasion. The trick is not to over indulge.”

When Robin Jenson became pregnant she wanted to eat ice cream by the caseload. “I like ice cream, but I just wanted to consume mass quantities of it,” she says. “I liked most flavors—especially Phish Food from Ben & Jerry’s.”

Lieberman recommends substituting something that’s healthier such as low fat yogurt.

While some women crave foods, others have strong aversions to their favorites. “I remember being totally turned off to chocolate,” says Margaret Foley. “To me, chocolate is the best food in the universe. However, I just couldn’t eat it during all three of my trimesters.”

What Causes Cravings?

No studies have been done on why women have strong likes and dislikes toward certain foods during pregnancy. “It certainly appears to be hormonal,” says Lieberman. “We see some of the same cravings when women have PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) or menopause. When you are pregnant, your hormones fluctuate and these hormonal changes can increase cravings.”

Another theory behind cravings is the increase in blood supply. “When you become pregnant, your body manufactures a greater supply of blood,” says Dr. Maura Quinlan, assistant professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at University of Chicago Hospitals. “That means there is more blood throughout the body—including the tongue. That, along with hormones, can increase or decrease desires for certain foods.”

While there is no formal research on cravings, there are lots of old wives’ tales. “Some people believe that if you crave sweets, you will have a girl,” says Quinlan. “On the other hand, if you crave spicy or salty foods, then you will have a boy. These tales get started in families. A mom who craves sweets has a girl and then that story gets passed on down through the generations.”

Second or Third Pregnancies

Some patients have the same cravings during each pregnancy, while others crave different foods. “I ate grapes by the bag full when I had my three kids,” says Quinlan. “My children are summer babies and cold grapes were the perfect snack on a hot summer day.”

Sensible Diets

Doctors and nutritionists agree that it is okay to give into cravings once in a while—even eating steak or ice cream. “When you are pregnant you should eat about 300 extra calories,” says Dr. Gina Zuniga, Ob/Gyn at St. Barnabus Medical Center in New Jersey. “You can give into your cravings as long as you don’t over eat. Expect to gain a few pounds—just don’t over do it because it’s not healthy.”

“If you are confused, you can talk to your doctor about what foods you should and should not be eating. The only time I get truly concerned is when a patient has an odd craving.”

“One of the more bizarre cravings is eating clay from ground bricks,” says Zuniga. “Some women actually eat dirt and ground bricks. The medical term for this is pica. Often this is associated with an iron-deficient diet and pica is a serious medical problem.”

Pica is the Latin word for magpie, a bird with an indiscriminate appetite. Persons with this disorder crave non-foods such as dirt, clay, and laundry starch. “The problem with this disorder is that most women are ashamed of themselves and will not share this information with a doctor,” says Zuniga. “It is so important to maintain a healthy diet throughout a pregnancy.”

Eating for Two

The average woman gains between 25 and 35 pounds during pregnancy. If you are underweight you will be encouraged to gain a little more. Likewise, if you are overweight, your doctor will suggest that you gain a little less. “Eating for two is not a one-size fits all scenario,” says Quinlan. “Everything from your weight, height, and age are taken into consideration. Look to the food pyramid for the five basic food groups.”

The number of servings you need from each group depends on how many calories you need to maintain a healthy weight. It’s best to consult with your physician.

The five basic food groups include grains (bread, cereal, rice, and pasta), fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat. Pregnant women need more folic acid, calcium, and iron. “Limit use of sweets, fats, oils, and salty foods,” says Lieberman. “Don’t feel guilty when you occasionally give into cravings. And just use your common sense.”

Osteoporosis Rx

When women turn 50, their doctors often suggest preventative measures to delay and halt bone loss and fractures. Men are susceptible too.

By Michele C. Hollow for Health Monitor Network

As we age, our bones become less dense and can fracture more easily. “The medical terms are osteopenia (mild bone loss) and the more commonly known term osteoporosis (severe bone loss),” says Amir Qaseem, MD, Ph.D., of the American College of Physicians in Philadelphia. “Osteoporosis is especially common in women after menopause.”

Other factors that can cause osteoporosis include smoking, alcohol, not enough calcium and vitamin D in one’s diet, little or no exercise, low body weight, a family history of the disease, certain drugs such as corticosteroids, thyroid disease, and possibly too much caffeine. “The problem is that there are very few symptoms,” says Dr. Qaseem. “It is possible to have a slight bone fracture without knowing about it. The symptoms we look for include loss of height or back pain. Because there are not many symptoms, it is essential to be routinely screened for osteoporosis if you are over 65. Some doctors start screening their female patients earlier.”

Not for Women Only

Men should be screened too. “Osteoporosis is viewed as a disease that affects women, but men get it too,” says Dr. Qaseem. “It can result in morbidity in men too.” In a paper titled, Screening for Osteoporosis in Men: Recommendations from the American College of Physicians that appeared in the May 6, 2008 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Qaseem and his colleagues wrote that “six out of every 100 men have osteoporosis by age 65.”

The causes for men are the same as for women. “Men and women who have a history of osteoporosis in their families should get tested early,” says Dr. Qaseem. “Determining when you get tested and how often are between a patient and his or her doctor.”

Treatment

To determine if you have osteoporosis, your doctor will recommend a noninvasive test called DXA (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry), which is an open machine that uses an x-ray to measure soft tissue and bone density. “It’s painless,” says Dr. Qaseem.

Two approaches can be used to prevent bone fractures caused by osteoporosis. “The first is to promote preventative measures by prescribing vitamin D and calcium supplements,” says Dr. Qaseem. “Some drugs, such as bisphosphonates can be used to prevent osteoporosis, but physicians usually recommend vitamin D and calcium first. Bisphosphonates are a generic class of drugs that lower calcium levels in the blood and can slow down bone loss. General use of bisphosphonates is not always recommended because of side effects and the cost.”

Doctors also prescribe the over-the-counter osteoporosis drug Fosamax. Some side effects from bisphosphonates and Fosamax can include heartburn, nausea, and upset stomach.

Preventative Steps

Many doctors, according to Dr. Qaseem, go the non-drug therapy route when talking to their patients about osteoporosis. “The first steps are to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium,” says Dr. Qaseem. “I also tell my patients to quit smoking, cut down on alcohol, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.”

Many adults don’t make time for exercise. Dr. Qaseem even tells his older patients to start exercising by taking walks. “Start with something simple,” he says. “It can make a difference. And people who have a genetic tendency to develop the disease because their parents have it should eat a healthy diet, take vitamin D and calcium supplements, quit smoking, and start exercising. Start early to prevent the onset of osteoporosis.”

“The best course of action is to talk to your physician because everyone is different,” adds Dr. Qaseem.