The other day, a NOURISH member who is a regular yoga student and massage client, stopped me, unsolicited, to tell me how important NOURISH is to him. That it is a place of health and healing that his body desperately needed and a place that continues to serve his body, mind, and spirit. He expressed his gratitude for us being here and for the hard work and dedication that Jocelyn and I give to NOURISH and our community. Needless to say, I was honored and inspired by his kind words and heartfelt appreciation.
Today, on NOURISH’s 7th anniversary, I’d like to take a moment and express our appreciation for the beautiful community that has grown in, around, and up from all that NOURISH has been, is, and is becoming. On March 5th, 2009, Jocelyn and I signed a lease in Wayne Shaffer’s office. On April 4th, 2009, NOURISH opened its doors for yoga classes, nutrition consultations, massage, and wellness product sales. I don’t know how familiar you are with construction timelines and commercial build-out, but less than 4 weeks to build walls, do electrical, paint and floors, is nearly unheard of. We owe great gratitude to our general contractor, Mel Dion of Cardinal Construction and her crew, and Tom Hartje painting for getting things done, not just quickly, but cleanly, and well.
During that time and for many months after we opened we were aided by the advice and counsel of Gil Spencer, Mike Moore, Denise Ryan, and Laurie Fried. They provided, each in their own way, voices of calm in a storm of uncertainty. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road and it was important to have friends like these to be able to talk to.
Those of you who come to NOURISH know what a stellar job our reception team does. While that role has been transformed over the years by the many bright and friendly people who have assumed it, we are indebted to Katie Beden for the role she played as the very first NOURISH receptionist.
Long before hiring receptionists, forming a board of advisors, hiring contractors, or signing leases, we told 2 people about our plans to create a more integrated center of wellness where we encouraged people to make long term commitments to themselves, their health, and their wellness. We were and continue to be grateful for the support of yoga teachers Kate Robbins and Roxanne Gingery. While Kate no longer teaches at NOURISH, she was instrumental in helping initially get the program going. Roxanne is NOURISH’s longest standing employee. She was there with us from the beginning and continues to be here helping to NOURISH Santa Cruz with her enthusiasm and seemingly unending care.
While there were many needs that were met to get NOURISH up and running from people in these formal roles, there were many who helped NOURISH less formally. Like the day we rented the Uhaul and moved all of the props and some furniture from Om Room to NOURISH. Those of you who pitched in that day were just as crucial in making NOURISH happen.
Finally, many of you became NOURISH Members well before the last nail was hammered, the paint was dry, the props were placed, the people were hired, or the doors were open. It was your faith in us that propelled us forward during those challenging moments. Without your commitment, emotional and financial, we never could have gotten NOURISH off the ground, never would have been able to reach the tens of thousands we have, never would have made it here, to seven years, still going strong, still serving our community, still being honored and inspired by you.
My father has high blood pressure. His parents had high blood pressure. My mother has high blood pressure. Her parents had high blood pressure. So, it came as no surprise when in a 2010 annual check-up I had blood pressure readings of as high as 140/95. Instead of immediately prescribing medication, mostly because I had no other major risk factors, my doctor suggested that I purchase a home blood pressure monitor and take my blood pressure in a particular way and on a regular basis. I bought an Omron electric sphygmomanometer at Target for under $60 and began measuring my blood pressure, taking 3 readings at a time, 3 times per day, morning, afternoon, and evening. The 3 readings at a time, 3 times per day, are a much more accurate picture of actual blood pressure, as any one reading might be abnormally high or low. I’m certain statisticians can agree that larger sample sizes often lead to more accurate results. I recorded the readings in a spreadsheet that allowed me to calculate average and see time of day and longitudinal patterns.
While I am certain that the doctor’s recommendation was more aimed at gathering data, it turned out to be a prescription for awareness. Simply taking my blood pressure regularly made me more aware of this phenomenon that was always present inside me, which in my case lead to some more mindful choices. I was already a runner, yoga practitioner, and vegan. I’ve been running since I was a teenager, doing yoga since college, and eating vegan since 1995, all studied interventions for blood pressure reduction. But just doing these things in general was not enough to impede the encroaching family induced high blood pressure. What more could I do lifestyle wise?
First, I scheduled a consult with a registered dietitian. She had me do another data collection/awareness exercise, a 72 hour food diary with extremely precise descriptions of each food and each meal. I measured amounts, listed brands, and counted everything I ate and drank for that 72 hour period. While she did give me some very specific ways to change the way that I eat, which I will enumerate, the exercise itself, taking 72 hours to mindfully observe (without judging or changing anything in that 72 hour period) everything I was eating and drinking, had a profound effect on my awareness of what I was specifically consuming.
After my diet diary was complete I had my consult with the dietitian. She suggested, based on the data I had collected, that, even though I was already eating a plant based diet, I was consuming too much sodium, a known culprit in elevating blood pressure. As a result during my next several grocery shopping trips I made note of the sodium levels in some of the foods I had been consuming. While I did do some elimination of a few processed items, I mostly just shifted from one brand to another, or the low-sodium version of a product. I know that many people would rather “just take a pill” than give up some of their “favorite foods.” Although I would have eventually acquiesced to taking medication if lifestyle interventions proved inadequate, I was determined not to end up on prescription blood pressure medication. I wanted to see if simply changing my choices could impact my physiology.
What I also learned from the diet changing process is that taste and food favorites are not fixed. Once I had reduced sodium levels for a couple of months, I no longer noticed the missing salt. In other words, my taste buds and brain had adapted to the new circumstance. Foods that I once found delicious (like certain frozen enchiladas and pizzas) now tasted too salty and foods that I had found bland now tasted just right. I am certain that some of you will attribute this to some kind of placebo effect, that I wanted the bland food to taste good, so it did. I don’t think so. I think my taste buds and brain chemistry changed. Even dishes that I have never eaten will now taste too salty to me while not salty enough to some of my friends. This cannot be explained by placebo alone.
Still, others, in defense of their own lifestyle choices will critique mine. They will exclaim that I am missing out, that I am deprived, that I don’t know what I am missing. In my place, they would make a different choice. They would risk the higher blood pressure for the convenience meal, or the social comfort of sharing in those foods with friends and family. That is their choice to make. While it is not my choice, I accept that others will make it. This exposition is not for them. It is for those of you who understand and connect with my desire to be in control of my own life, my own body, and who have the desire to do the same, but lack the tools and support to do so.
As I took more control over food choices, I also made changes to my running routine. The biggest and most profound change I made was to create and stick to an exercise schedule, no matter what. I did increase the intensity and duration of my runs, but not by much and not anything close to extreme. I run 2 times per week, between 2 and 4 miles each time. What has proved most effective is not how far or intensely I run, but simply that I show up for the routine regardless of circumstances. For example, if I am injured, or just run down, I do not “take a day off”. Instead, if it is my scheduled time to run, I go to the same place that I usually run and either walk for the same amount of time I would have run, or if I am so sick that I cannot or should not spend that much time exerting myself, then I show up at the usual place, at the usual time, and just stand and breathe in the fresh air for a few minutes. I have found that it is keeping the schedule that has been most effective in supporting not only my lowered blood pressure, but also my sense of wellbeing.
I also began scheduling consistent, but not necessarily frequent, acupuncture and massage, once per month each. Once a month I go to the acupuncturist to help keep my blood pressure in check. I have found that acupuncture can be a very powerful tool for affecting the nervous system. Similarly, I began scheduling 1 massage per month, with an emphasis on relaxation and blood pressure reduction (rather than deep tissue muscle release for example). During these sessions I begin with visualizing the release of tension from my body and end up very often (almost always) drifting off into a very restful sleep. Like with running, I have found that, as much as the acupuncture and massage practices are specifically helpful, it is the routine of keeping these appointments that has bolstered a consistent path of self care.
Like the changes I made to my running routine, I made similar changes to my practice of yoga. While I have had a practice for some time, there was a period when it was more haphazard and less consistent. Once I got the blood pressure warning, I started scheduling a more regular yoga practice. I have said for a long time that 80% of the benefit of doing yoga comes from just doing yoga, and that you can adjust the intensity and duration to tweak the other 20% of the benefit if you want. Philosophers, sages, thinkers and people of good common sense have had it right: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” So, I set a routine to do a little bit of yoga 5 days per week. The standard I started with was set around my family responsibilities. At that time I needed to start prepping breakfast and lunches at 7:30 a.m. So I decided that my practice would start at whatever time it could and always end at 7:30. Some mornings I would get up and start practicing by 6:30, but most morning I would start around 7:05. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to start until 7:26 and I would contemplate just scrapping it altogether, but then I realized that the routine mattered more than the duration. So I would practice for 3 or 4 minutes and then end at 7:30. Other times when I did end up scrapping the practice altogether for the day, I would be more irritable, moody, stressed, and inevitably my blood pressure readings would be elevated. In other words, even just 3 or 4 minutes made a dramatic impact in lowering my blood pressure! Don’t get me wrong, I am not starting a new fad “3 Minute Yoga!” There are times when a longer practice really helps and makes a bigger difference. I’m simply suggesting that an all or nothing attitude is ultimately destructive.
Having said that, I did make some changes to the type of postures I practice in order to positively impact my blood pressure. For example, I started prioritizing the inclusion of more inverted postures: headstand 1, headstand 2, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulder stand. People with excessively high blood pressure above 145/95 should avoid fully inverted postures. When one first goes upside down, cerebral blood pressure is increased. This increases the risk of stroke for those who already have extremely high blood pressure. However, after a few moments upside down, the body readjusts to the new circumstance and blood pressure lowers. This lowering effect is magnified as inverted postures are practiced longitudinally (over time). While there is a complex physiology as to why this happens, including baroreceptors and the autonomic nervous system, the main point is that by practicing inverted postures I was retraining my body to lower its own blood pressure. I also included some specific forward bends to have a similar blood pressure positive effect.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, I made adjustments to my practices of breathing (pranayama) and meditation, like including them. While in the past sitting in meditation was an afterthought, I began front-loading a sitting practice before moving through yoga postures (asana). Meditation can be just an important a tool as physical exercise when reducing blood pressure. Sometimes I would sit with my sphygmomanometer (blood pressure monitor) going and experiment with different ways of breathing to observe which breathing practices best lowered my blood pressure. Longer inhalation as compared to exhalation increased my blood pressure and longer exhalation as compared to inhalation decreased my blood pressure. As a result of these self experiments, I started engaging a breathing pattern of elongating the exhalation with relationship to the inhalation. I also experimented with different meditation foci. While many topics of meditation/contemplation had a positive effect on lowering my blood pressure, some that seemed to lower it most and most consistently are thinking of my loved ones and how I love them, broadening my view of nature and the natural world, and whatever makes me smile.
I suspect that comedy is like aerobic exercise or practicing inversions. In the short term it elevates blood pressure, because you are laughing and the breath is shortened, but in the long term it lowers blood pressure. I have just some scant evidence from my own blood pressure readings, but would love to see a study on this. Perhaps I could even participate!
Today, as I write this, my blood pressure reading is 113/74. It is my hope that my personal example of change and self determination will be of support and inspiration to those of you who are engaged in similar struggles. You can make change, big change, and it can be made without tremendous shifts in your life. Laugh. Meditate. Breathe. Do some yoga (any yoga). Get outside. Think about what you are eating before, during, and after you eat it. Make commitments. Be consistent. Be dedicated. Be mindfully aware.
Most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists only get paid when they work and even then only when you (the students/clients) show up. In other words, most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists do not have access to paid time off. Most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists have come to accept this system, a system that is not only economically disadvantageous to teachers of yoga and massage therapists, but also disruptive to consistent care, and morally indefensible.
There have been several articles written about the untenable economics of being a yoga teacher. You can read one of them here. While this is an important related issue, it is not the only pressing issue for the professional yoga world. The idea that yoga teachers must save a portion of the already little pay they receive in order to plan for unforeseen illness and injury, family emergencies, vacation time, and even holiday closures that nearly everyone else in the economic system takes for granted is shameful and irrational (based on the already paltry pay that most yoga teachers make).
Most often students have little to no knowledge that their yoga teachers are being burdened with low wages and lack of paid time off. Nor are students aware that this burden is a direct result of policies at their yoga studio or gym. Certainly, students are not directly to blame for this system and once they find out many will be likely to be concerned for the welfare of their teachers. However, yoga students, whether they are aware of it or not, indirectly support this system with their dollars.
In some cases, students find out this information and are either personally offended, but take no action to help create change, or even come up with cleverly cynical rationalizations like “Well, you get to do yoga for a living, so…you know.” I urge all yoga students to ask both their teachers and their studio managers/owners if this is the way teachers are being treated. If they find out that, yes in fact this is what is going on, then I encourage you to demand a change to yoga teacher pay that includes paid time off for illness, vacation, and holidays. I encourage you to follow up and make sure that changes are made, and if changes are not forthcoming to take your business to a studio that is responsive to the concerns of its members and the needs of its teachers.
This issue is so important to us that when we started NOURISH in 2009, we included paid time off for yoga teachers and massage therapists in our model. Teachers and therapists at NOURISH earn 4 or more weeks per year of paid sick and vacation time. One of the reasons we are able to do this is because NOURISH yoga teachers and massage therapists get paid their salary whether or not and regardless of how many of you (students/clients) show up. So the logistics of how much to pay for days off are straightforward.
Furthermore, when NOURISH chooses to close for a national holiday or any other reason, our yoga teachers and massage therapists get paid for their regular work, without losing any accrued sick or vacation days. For those of you who have always received your regular salary on Christmas, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and for others even more, this might be a bit of a privilege shock. Most, if not nearly all, yoga teachers and massage therapists do not get paid on those holidays, unless of course they work on those holidays which most people enjoy as a much needed break. So again, I challenge you to ask your teachers, massage therapists, and yoga studio/gym managers/owners, “What happens on holidays?” And if warranted, demand a change that is fair to the yoga teachers and massage therapists whose job it is to take care of you.
As a wellness center owner, a yoga teacher, and person of good will who believes in fairness and economic justice, I implore all gyms, yoga studios, spas, and wellness centers to reexamine your employment practices with regard to paid time off for yoga teachers and massage therapists. You’ll find that when you provide paid time off, your employees are healthier, happier, and more productive for the short and long term. But more importantly, you’ll find that we’re all in this together and that taking care of the people that take care of others will strengthen your moral bottom line.
(Originally Published July 2014)
No alcohol after 7:30 p.m.:
This rule does not challenge people to limit their overall alcohol intake over the course of the day nor during the course of the week, alcohol intake increases the risks of several major diseases such as hepatitis, breast cancer, and prostate cancer just to name a few, most people begin drinking well before 7:30 p.m. (particularly on weekends) which may lead to higher than usual alcohol intake prior to 7:30 p.m. for those attempting to comply with the challenge
No more than 1 serving or bread or pasta per day:
There is nothing nutritionally notable about bread or pasta that is not also true of other foods high in refined carbohydrates such as cheesecake, french fries, ice cream, soda, commercial energy drinks, and many breakfast cereals; given the increasing incidence of diabetes in this country and the preponderance of highly refined carbohydrates in our marketplace, we must immediately extend the conversation way beyond bread and pasta to empower people to control their blood sugar
7,000 steps or 30 minutes of exercise daily:
This recommendation is acceptable but should make exercise more appealing to busy adults by adding a clause that states all at once or in short bursts of activity per day (You get the same cardiovascular benefit from three 10 minute sessions of exercise as you do from one 30 minute session)
The Most Important Things for People To Do If You Want to Transform Your Health:
- Individualize your goals and healthcare
- Stay well hydrated via pure water.
- Make plants the majority of your plate every time you eat.
- Be mentored along the way to clear up nutrition confusion and address longstanding habits.
8:45-10:00 a.m. All Levels with Honora B.
12:30-1:15 p.m. Beginning with Victor D.
1:30-3:00 p.m. Self-Guided Personal Practice
4:15-5:15 p.m. Core Strength with Roxanne G.
5:45-7:00 p.m. Beginning with Victor D.
4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. with Tomek
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. with Jocelyn
7:45-8:30 a.m. All Levels Roxanne G.
8:45-10:00 a.m. All Levels Roxanne G.
12:30-1:15 p.m. All Levels Victor D.
1:30-3:00 p.m. Self-Guided Personal Practice
4:15-5:00 p.m. Beginner Honora B.
5:30-7:15 p.m. Intermediate Victor D.
4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. with Amy
7:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. with Jocelyn
7:30 p.m. -9:00 p.m. Yoga Teaching Skills Development With Victor D.
8:45 -10:00 a.m. All Levels Honora B.
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. Beginning Sara K.
1:30-3:00 p.m. Self-Guided Personal Practice
4:15 – 5:15 p.m. Core Strength Roxanne G.
5:45- 7:00 p.m. Beginning Zoe W.
7:30 – 8:45 p.m. All Levels Victor D.
Inara from 4:30-8:30 p.m.