Updated: Nov 17
Hi there! It's beetee. An exciting welcoming scream from me to a few new readers of this newsletter. You know who you are, and you know I cherish you! Before we talk about the topics of the Body, Mind and Life this week, I would like to let you know about the new interview I had with my friend Mami Saito, founder of the podcast Less By Mami, where she talks about her own Japanese/Swedish take on living a simple but prosperous life. The 12-min chat was about using yoga as a stress management tool. Listen here!
This week's quick dive: Lower Back Pain, Purity in the Eight Limbs of Yoga and The 1950s McDonald's Bag.
Yoga & Lower Back Pain
Once in a while in the "Body" section of this newsletter, instead of dissecting a yoga pose, I'd like to talk about the relationship between yoga and some common body issues. Last time, we talked about the knee mystery. Today, let's see how we practice yoga while protecting our lower back.
Lower back pain is really one of the most common reasons why people start practicing yoga. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, it’s one of the top injuries/diseases that accounts for the highest amount of days missed from work worldwide.
I obviously don't have the space here to dive too deep into why lower back pain occurs. But when it comes to pain, it is very useful to remember two things: 1) the root cause is often far away in your body from the area of pain itself and 2) your body sometimes feels pain in the presence of mere threats (and not real issues) as your brain tries to keep you safe.
Whatever the cause is, yoga can offer a really good relief from lower back pain. I often dedicate an entire class to the lower back for private students who experience lumbar pain due to extended periods of time at a desk. This would include poses such as spinal twists, hip flexor stretches, glute stretches and lumbar stretches. We usually find answer in stretches, as the sensation of length is satisfying. However, it is also very important to remind ourselves to strengthen the posterior chain and core muscles. This is a much longer, more sustainable solution to lower back pain. In the next editions of the Yoga Quick Dive I will spend some time talking more in detail about these poses.
While yoga can help you with lower back pain, it can also create one that you did not have. Repetitive strain from too many forward folds, tight hamstrings, back extension pressure falling on the lower back, stiff and restricted hips, you name it. So be very careful and mindful of your practice. Don't skip the warm-up. Don't overstretch without strength. Listen to your body to decide your limits.
When you practice yoga, if you feel a lower back pain, I'd recommend to:
Stay away from those jumping forward/impactful actions.
Bend your knees slightly when you bend forward. Keep the back as neutral as possible.
In twisted spine positions, don't try to twist the lower back. Twist from the chest and the shoulders instead.
I can discuss the lower back pain for much longer! Drop me a note if this is what you're interested in. Practice safely, always.
Eight Limbs of Yoga: Saucha (Cleanliness)
We are now exploring the Second Limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga. If you have missed what the Eight Limbs of Yoga are essentially about, catch up here!
The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of the path to enlightenment, and they are often seen as ‘moral codes’, or ways of ‘right living’. They form the foundation of a yogi's conduct even before he or she starts practicing yoga postures (asanas, which is the Third Limb). While the Yamas focus on our behavior and thinking toward other beings and the world around us, the Niyamas address how we think and behave towards and within ourselves.
Saucha, the first Niyama, means Purity. The Yoga Sutras command that a yogi should maintain cleanliness of body, mind, spirit and surroundings, all helping to direct us towards a pure and positive life. The reasoning is that if we ourselves are ‘impure’ when we practice, then our efforts have to work through our ‘impurities’ before eventually the real enlightenment happens. This is the principle underlying yogic cleansing techniques, such as Neti (nasal cleansing) and Dhauti (digestive tract cleansing).
In our modern day life, think about Saucha as your morning shower, your tooth brushing after a meal, your clean home, your healthy diet, washing your feet before stepping on your yoga mat, wiping the mat after your practice, and last but not least, thinking pure and positive thoughts in your clean mind.
Why do the Yamas and Niyamas occur before Asanas in the Eight Limbs of Yoga? When we take on a physical yoga practice, we’re using, creating and directing powerful energy. If we turn up on our mats with a sense of aggression, self-denial, laziness or impurity, then we’re not likely to progress any further in our practice beyond just a forward fold or a back bend.
Read more about the First Limb of Yoga - Yama:
Tapas - Self-discipline
Santosha - Contentement
Saucha - Cleanliness
Ahimsa – Non-violence
Asteya – Non-stealing
Satya – Truthfulness
Brahmacharya - Moderation
Aparigraha - Non-possession
Anything above the Earth and below the Sun is Life. Hopefully something useful to you, or at least something that will bring a smile to your face. 😊
The 1950s McDonald's Bag
Speaking about cleanliness, I have long realised that people have very different approaches to what "clean" means. For instance, my mum and my dad's are strikingly opposites. To her, a clean home means there's no dust or dirt, even though things are lying around and look like they are disorganised (she claims she knows exactly where things are!). To him, on the other hand, a clean home must be super organised, even if a billion things fall out chaotically when you open a cupboard.
Well, some people just love to put things away, including myself and whoever lived in this 1959-built home in Illinois, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago.
In April this year, the current owners of this place decided to renovate this home and suddenly found a decades-old McDonald's bag behind a bathroom's wall. It was wrapped in a piece of cloth bunched up inside the wall. Somebody must have done that when they cleaned their bathroom, hah!
Inside the bag, they found two hamburger wrappers and some half-eaten, decades-old French fries, still crispy and brown. In fact, the logo on the bag was used in McDonald's production from 1955 to 1961, and one of the area's original McDonald's was built down the street from their home in 1959.
Speaking about diet cleanliness, I wonder what kind of preservatives McDonald's add in their food, to make the fries last 50 years. Some researchers and health professionals experimented McDonald's Happy Meals to sit out on a kitchen counter or bookshelf for as long as a few years, and witnessed no variable change to the food's appearance. They have azodicarbonamide in buns, calcium disodium EDTA in cheese and sodium acid pyrophosphate in fries to thank for.
Maybe we can't control everything in our life, but at least we can control what we put in our mouth.
Eat well, live well, be well.
Thanks for reading! But don't leave just yet!
Ask me TWO questions or leave me TWO comments below. I'd love to hear from you.
Until then, take a deep breath and keep your worries away!
Yoga Quick Dive is a series of bimonthly newsletters that should take no more than 5 minutes of your reading time. Let's deep dive quickly into 3 topics: Body, Mind and Life.