Skip to content

Yoga may guard against heart disease, study finds

December 24, 2014

From BBC News.

Doing yoga may be a good way to protect against heart disease, particularly if you cannot do more vigorous exercise, research suggests.

A review in the Netherlands of 37 studies involving nearly 3,000 people found yoga was independently linked to a lowering of heart risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Yoga does not count towards the recommended physical activity that we should all do each week.

Experts say it may still be beneficial.

Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing.

There are lots of different types of yoga – tantric, Hatha and Ashtanga to name a few – but most are not strenuous enough to count towards the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity the government says we should get each week to give our heart and lungs a workout.

Yoga does count as a muscle strengthening exercise – something the same guidelines say we should do on two or more days a week, every week.


Prof Myriam Hunink, from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, set out to investigate what effect, if any, yoga might have on heart health.

Compared with no exercise, yoga had significant benefits – it was linked to a lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reports.

When pitched against other types of exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging, yoga was no better or worse based on the same measures of heart risk.

Prof Hunink said: “These results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and in my view worth pursuing as a risk improvement practice.”

It is not clear why yoga might be beneficial, but experts say it could be down to its calming effect. Stress has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The benefits could be due to working the muscles and breathing, which can bring more oxygen into the body, leading to lower blood pressure.

“A larger study is recommended though to assess the effects of yoga more fully.”

She said the benefits of yoga on emotional health were well-established.

How Exercise Changes Our DNA

December 22, 2014

By Gretchen Reynolds, Originally Published in The New York Times.

We all know that exercise can make us fitter and reduce our risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. But just how, from start to finish, a run or a bike ride might translate into a healthier life has remained baffling.

Now new research reports that the answer may lie, in part, in our DNA. Exercise, a new study finds, changes the shape and functioning of our genes, an important stop on the way to improved health and fitness.

The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. When genes are turned on, they express proteins that prompt physiological responses elsewhere in the body.

Scientists know that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise. But they hadn’t understood how those genes know how to respond to exercise.

Enter epigenetics, a process by which the operation of genes is changed, but not the DNA itself. Epigenetic changes occur on the outside of the gene, mainly through a process called methylation. In methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body.

Scientists know that methylation patterns change in response to lifestyle. Eating certain diets or being exposed to pollutants, for instance, can change methylation patterns on some of the genes in our DNA and affect what proteins those genes express. Depending on which genes are involved, it may also affect our health and risk for disease.

Far less has been known about exercise and methylation. A few small studies have found that a single bout of exercise leads to immediate changes in the methylation patterns of certain genes in muscle cells. But whether longer-term, regular physical training affects methylation, or how it does, has been unclear.

So for a study published this month in Epigenetics, scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, brought them to the lab for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months.

One of the obstacles in the past to precisely studying epigenetic changes has been that so many aspects of our lives affect our methylation patterns, making it difficult to isolate the effects of exercise from those of diet or other behaviors.

The Karolinska scientists overturned that obstacle by the simple expedient of having their volunteers bicycle using only one leg, leaving the other unexercised. In effect, each person became his or her own control group. Both legs would undergo methylation patterns influenced by his or her entire life; but only the pedaling leg would show changes related to exercise.

The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer.

Not surprisingly, the volunteers’ exercised leg was more powerful now than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements.

But the changes within the muscle cells’ DNA were more intriguing. Using sophisticated genomic analysis, the researchers determined that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns. Some showed more methyl groups; some fewer. But the changes were significant and not found in the unexercised leg.

Interestingly, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. And gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied.

Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become.

They were not changed in the unexercised leg.

The upshot is that scientists now better understand one more step in the complicated, multifaceted processes that make exercise so good for us.

Many mysteries still remain, though, said Malene Lindholm, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institute, who led the study. It’s unknown, for example, whether the genetic changes she and her colleagues observed would linger if someone quits exercising and how different amounts or different types of exercise might affect methylation patterns and gene expression. She and her colleagues hope to examine those questions in future studies.

But the message of this study is unambiguous. “Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money,” Ms. Lindholm said, “we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.”

Why Sitting is Killing Us Plus 8 Tips to Fight Back

December 8, 2014

It’s hard to believe that something as seemingly benign as watching a movie or driving to work could pose serious health consequences, but that’s the growing concern among some researchers who say our sedentary culture is shortening our lives.

“Sitting is the new smoking” is the catchphrase for this new anti-inactivity movement, and while it sounds extreme, Dr. James Levine, the physician, author and obesity expert credited with coining it, is not mincing words. In an interview with the L.A. Times [“interview with the L.A. Times” should link to:] earlier this year, Levine said:

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”

Sure, it’s generally understood by now that sitting around isn’t the route to glowing health, but for years, the advice for a healthy life was pretty much to eat well and exercise for 30 minutes several times a week. What new research is finding, however, is that banking workouts doesn’t negate our long stretches of inactivity the rest of the day. As Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told the New York Times in 2011 [“told the New York Times” should link to:], “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting.”

According to [link to, we sit about 7.7 hours a day — though some results suggest that number might be as high as 15 hours a day. That level of inactivity is linked to a higher risk for many types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and more — even among “active” individuals. When you combine our desk-chair-centric work culture with yet more seated activities throughout the day — driving, watching TV, playing video games, socializing at restaurants or bars — that time on our tushes adds up quickly.

So how do we combat all the inactivity built into our lives? Researchers suggest we can start by making changes that incorporate movement naturally throughout the day, as opposed to simply relegating activity to workouts. Start by using the Sitting Time Calculator from [link “sitting time calculator” to:] to determine the approximate number of hours you sit each day, then follow the tips below:

Get a standing or treadmill desk. If the pre-made desks available online are beyond your budget, just hack it; a simple Google search turns up lots of ideas for DIY standing desks.

Incorporate more movement into your work day. Stand when you take calls, walk to speak with a coworker instead of sending her an email, take a walk on your lunch break, opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, and park at a distance to allow for a longer walk to the office. If you can bike or walk to work, even better.

Challenge your co-workers to join you. Suggest having “standing” meetings, especially if the meeting will be brief anyway. If you need to meet one-on-one with a co-worker, brainstorm during a walk together rather than over the conference table.

Reconsider the coffee date. Socializing often involves sitting (at bars, restaurants, coffee shops, the movie theater), so get creative when going out on dates or meeting up with friends. Ask your friend or partner to join you for a hike, bike ride, or, depending on the season, a snowshoe or cross-country ski; or get that coffee to go and just take a walk together.

Set a movement timer. Make sure you’re standing up or moving around for every half hour of sitting. Set a reminder alert on your phone or computer.

Track your steps. It doesn’t matter if you use an old-fashioned pedometer, your iPhone’s step counter, or a high-tech fitness tracker — keeping a record of your movement throughout the day is a great way to stay accountable. Challenge a friend or family member to see who can get the most steps in one day.

Stand up or move around during TV commercials. Better yet, stretch or exercise while watching TV. If you’re watching a movie, pause halfway for a movement intermission. If you’re gaming, stand up between sessions and reloads, or just set that timer again for every 30 minutes.

Fight inactivity when you travel. Long trips can add up to a lot sitting. If you’re traveling by plane, train, or bus, use your time waiting in the airport or station to walk around rather than sit and read (there’s plenty of time to do that on the ride, anyway). When traveling by car, be sure to make plenty of pit stops — even if your car doesn’t need to gas up yet, your body still needs to stretch and move.

The bottom line when it comes to the dangers of sitting? Be mindful of how often you do it. Our computer-based lives likely won’t be changing anytime soon, but by simply getting up and moving more throughout the day, you’ll be taking a stand for your health.

Emily Bingham is a freelance contributor. [link Emily Bingham to

Army Crew Yoga

October 29, 2014

Thanks to our friends at Spirituality & Health.

Army Crew Yoga

By Jennie Kiesling

Training peaceful minds at West Point

Imagine a workout room containing about 20 tall, lean, short-haired, clean-shaven, 18-year-old men. Uniform gray shirts labeled with their surnames are carefully tucked into black shorts. You can hear them breathe deeply as they work in unison. Right now they are holding what looks to be a standard push-up position and, just when you expect their commander to demand, “Give me fifty!” she says quietly, “Exhale to Downward Facing Dog!”

This scene is not boot camp but yoga as practiced under my coaching by the Men’s Novice Crew at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Yoga purists may cringe at how “Army Crew Yoga” deviates from “real” yoga. Our sessions rarely last more than 20 to 30 minutes, and the Army Crew boathouse is rarely quiet or calm. Years of practice notwithstanding, I am not a trained instructor; worse, I often delegate to the cadets the responsibility of leading the poses. (Each cadet masters one pose to teach when I’m away.) The mats, which do double duty as stamina circuits, would be banished from any decent yoga studio. In order to avoid alienating my audience (and I have lost one rower who thought yoga heretical), I eschew the word “spiritual.” But I have learned over the years that the beauty of yoga transcends circumstances.

In first introducing yoga to West Point rowers a dozen years ago, I assured them that, by improving their flexibility, yoga would improve their rowing technique, reduce injuries, and teach them to maintain calm under stressful conditions. I denied any interest in chanting, meditation, incense, or the path of enlightenment, other than, of course, through the act of rowing. Over the years, I have become more honest. Since I do not emphasize poses specifically recommended for rowers over those I enjoy teaching, I now admit that Army Crew Yoga is not really about perfecting the rowing stroke. Rather it enhances self-knowledge (Where is that muscle and what can I make it do?) and relaxation under stress (“Hold that pose—and smile!”). As a superb visiting instructor told one class, life challenges us to make honorable choices, and every yoga pose is an opportunity to act with personal integrity. But Army Crew Yoga also provides the team with a chance to laugh at bad jokes and silly poses and to lament that no PE instructors are present to reward them for their handstands.

Like “real” yoga classes, however little time we have, Army Crew Yoga ends with Shavasana or Corpse Pose. And perhaps Shavasana is the secret reason why I want my cadet rowers to do yoga. West Point cadets live under continual stress as they strive to fulfill onerous academic, physical, and military requirements. Few things could be more beneficial to their health and sanity than being ordered to spend five minutes in complete relaxation. And it makes my day to hear them call to me from the dock after a long, tough row, “Coach, is there time for yoga?”

Spreading Yoga to Unlikely Groups

  1. Make it brief: 20 to 30 minutes is fine.
  2. Start with basic poses like Plank Pose.
  3. Make every person learn one pose well enough to teach it.
  4. Talk just enough to whet their interest.
  5. Mix it up. There is no “right” set or sequence of poses.
  6. Remember to breathe.
  7. Find something to laugh about.
  8. Finish with Shavasana.

5 Tips for Helping Your Immune System

October 27, 2014

Stress reduction is essential to boosting your immune system. Here’s the punch list:

  1. Dance
  2. Do your Yoga
  3. Increase your probiotic intake
  4. Get your beauty sleep
  5. Treat yourself to regular massages

Find the full article from the LA Times here.

Yoga helps shrink pain in joints

October 24, 2014

Read the full article from the Detroit Free Press here.

Experts say yoga, the breathing and meditation practice that dates to ancient India, and similar low-impact activities are the best antidote for pain and stiffness that can be the result of a lifetime’s worth of stress and grinding and gravity.

Estimates vary on how many Americans have joint pain, but it’s clear that it’s a growing problem as we live longer and, for many of us, live more actively both in work and play.

Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention found that 22.7% of U.S. adults — 52.5 million people — have arthritis, a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders. Among the most common is osteoarthritis, a painful degenerative disease caused by wear and tear on bones and joints.

About 22.7 million of Americans said arthritis limits their daily activities.

“If we lived on the moon, we wouldn’t have arthritis. But with weight, it’s like a mortar and pestle on our joints,” said David Gilboe, a longtime physical therapist based in St. Clair Shores and a board member of the Arthritis Foundation.

Low-impact activities like yoga, tai chi, and pilates are especially helpful in fighting that aging process, according to a growing body of research.

That’s because exercise doesn’t just control weight, which, in turn lowers the pounds-per-square-inch pressure on joints.

The oxygen-rich blood throughout the body in exercise also helps slow loss in bone and muscle and cartilage. It strengthens muscles, tendons and ligaments, which, in turn, helps keep joints properly aligned and at less risk for injury.

It also promotes range of motion, a particular problem for those with arthritis.

And specifically with low-impact activities, all this happens “with less offense to damaged joints,” Gilboe said.

Plus, deep, controlled breathing lowers blood pressure and minimizes the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, and promotes the release of feel-good endorphins, he added.

What is essential?

September 30, 2014

I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it. – Shug in the film The Color Purple

Friends, what is essential? What is true and deep and worthy? 

Lately I have been noticing purple and thinking of this quotation from The Color Purple.  I’m not sure about the “pisses God off” aspect, but I get what Shug means.

Today I made a mistake on an appointment.  I thought the meeting was an hour later than it was, and I missed an important call.  Immediately, the self recriminations began.

Then I began to reflect on what was really going on, why had I made this mistake? After all it was correctly written in my planner, I was looking forward to it, and I had seen it several times …

What it came down to is this: I am so busy being so busy that I did not make time for careful consideration.  In other words: slow down and LOOK, and look not just with the eyes. Slow down enough to create a day that emanates from the heart.

In the end, we were able to reschedule the appointment, but this was yet another expensive lesson in the danger of rushing, of overcrowding time, of busyness, of haste.

Today at yoga I plan to take this lesson to mat.  How will my practice change if bring this hard-won lesson to the asanas?  What if today I slow down in each posture to see what is really there, the essential in the movement and stillness? 

I have a feeling I will be closer to doing true yoga if I slow things down and notice, rather than aiming for achievement in the asanas.  Maybe if I chill out a little, it will allow an inner seeing/knowing to emerge, and I might get a glimpse of what is essential.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Entering Elul – Meeting the Beloved in Consciousness

August 26, 2014

By Rabbi Chava Bahle

Friends in two short days, the cycle of the Hebrew calendar will bring us back, once again, to the month of Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes the beginning of the new year, Rosh HaShana. I suppose if you do yoga that day, it’s called Rosh HaShanasana. 🙂

Bear with me. This will eventually be about yoga practice.

Rabbis love to create word play, and the letters of the name of Elul are often read as a series of five acrostics of holy verses that point us to the spiritual significance and inner work of the month.

1) “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs). Here we read about love, belonging, reciprocity, seeing the self in each other. The world would be completely transformed if we were able to look into each other’s faces and see that same Self residing within. Elul challenges us to see Mother Theresa’s teaching that, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Love and meeting the beloved in all its forms, seeing Self in each other.

2) Cities of Refuge (Exodus). In the bible, cities of refuge are places where people accused of crimes are protected from “frontier justice” and get a fair trial. Like our Buddhist cousins we might ask, “In what do I take refuge?” Many of you know I live by seven vows, which I revisit and revise annually at this time of year. These vows are my “refuge” – they include careful speech, having no enemies, eyes that see, ears that hear, a heart that understands, etc. Mine are based on the traditional language of Judaism, flavored with the idea of “taking refuge” from Buddhism. What are yours? Carefully considering the sacred “vows” that guide your actions.

3) Tzedakah – charitable giving (Scroll of Esther). As in Islam, this value of sharing resources is different than the notion of “charity” which comes from the Latin caritas, the type of that arises spontaneously in the heart or “caring”. In Judaism, tzedakah (in Islam, zakat) comes from the notion of justice – that is, there is great wealth disparity in our society, and we have a moral obligation to move resources to the people and places that are in need. Judaism and Islam also have ideals about giving from the heart – called g’milut chasidim, benevolent giving which we are expected to do as often as possible (“without limit”). Tzedakah has to do with society inequality. Supporting social justice.

4) T’shuvah (Deuteronomy) – taking stock of the places where we have veered from a path of goodness and making every attempt to return. This might mean the kind of “searching, fearless moral inventory” that is taught in recovery. In this past year, have a wronged anyone, and do I owe and apology? How might I make amends? Whom do I need to forgive? Also it can be read as “what questions is my life asking me, and what re the answers I am giving through my behavior?” Returning to center, forgiveness, reading life.

5) Hope (“redemption”, Exodus) – we live in a time when it is easy to lose hope: violence, racism, social inequality, war – all these things can make us doubt that the future can be any better. This month is a time to connect with hope for the future – for ourselves, our community, the world. Feed the part of your heart and brain that can know hope: read about groups doing great things and support them. Learn about heroes bravely working for peace. Don’t engage in social media arguments that go nowhere. Spoonfeed hope to your heart and soul.

So whether Elul is your tradition or not, as we move from summer to fall and its many forms of resumption, this is a great time to work with these themes: love, your guiding principles, social justice, returning to center and hope.

In the end, yoga is a spiritual system more than it is a form of exercise. Check out the awesome film Breath of the Gods for more on this. (It is available on Netflix.)

Every time we have the bald faced courage to step on a mat, we are calling up the deepest truths of our lives. YOGA IS AN ACT OF SPIRITUAL COURAGE where we meet all our inner allies and demons.

Begin your practice always, always, with love – for yourself, for the grace and good fortune to practice, for your teacher and her/his lineage. Take a moment to dedicate your practice to something of beauty: an ideal, a principle that guides you through your practice. Recognize that as you cultivate a little more inner peace and self-acceptance, true yoga demands that we take those qualities into our life away from the mat. And finally, have hope! Yoga requires deepest patience. One of my teachers reminds us that, after years of doing salabasana [locust pose], you may only be able to come up an inch higher! Hope means persistence and listen for hidden goodness, as Emily Dickenson wrote,

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”

Whether Elul is a holy month for you or not, never stop singing and let your yoga practice support you in finding your voice.

Finally let me add that each morning of this new month (except Saturday, our Sabbath) – to the great (not) delight of our neighbors – I sound the ram’s on the front porch. It is a wake up call, a shrill sound meant to awaken the sleeping soul and to rouse us to the compassion that is beyond “sides” and beyond “us and them”: the place of perfect love and equanimity that in many ways is the aim of yoga. Using pranayama breath to sound this most ancient of instruments, we awaken to that place in us that already in perfect harmony. The sound of the shofar is a rousing Namaste.

Kettlebells Have Your Back: A Neurosurgeon’s Personal and Professional Perspective

April 25, 2014
Find the original article here by Dr. Patrick Roth, M.D.
I am a 53-year-old neurosurgeon and girya aficionado.478770099Kettlebells are an ideal tool for treating back pain. They not only strengthen the back, but also enable improved posture, improved bending form, and patient confidence. If you are already an experienced kettlebell user, this is likely already evident, but if you are a patient with back pain, read on and open your mind to some extraordinary possibilities.

A personal history of back pain resulted in my professional transformation from a general interest in the brain and spine, to a holistic focus on the cause, treatment, and philosophy of back pain. I spent the first 20 years of my career cultivating techniques to pinpoint, and then surgically treat the often-elusive anatomical generator responsible for back pain. However, personal and professional experience led me to shift my focus towards enabling patients suffering with back pain to help themselves—independently—without their surgeon, therapist, chiropractor, medications, etc.

My journey began when I was a teenager. At the time, any of my athletic endeavors triggered back pain. I accepted this pain as a part of my life. In retrospect, it was a healthy reaction attributable to my innocent age. My acceptance of the pain allowed me to exercise my back—even while in pain. I used a Roman chair (hyperextension machine) that happened to be in my basement. After exercising, I would feel a measure of relief. However, most of my patients are not innocent teenagers and tend to regard their back pain with anxiety. They assume the pain is a result of an injury and something broken must be “fixed”.

Later in life I experienced my first herniated disc. After obtaining an MRI, I discovered that I not only had a herniated disc, but also had a chronic stress fracture with a laxity between my L5 and S1 bones. This latter fracture is called a spondylolisthesis.

My reaction to the MRI was eerily similar to the reaction that I tended to criticize in my patients. I was afraid because I thought something was broken. I ultimately managed to overcome my fears and embrace back strengthening again—but this time, with kettlebells.

As in my teen years, I was successful again with exercise. I began to study the muscles of the back (particularly the multifidus and gluteus muscles) in more detail to understand their potential role in both the cause of—and solution to—back pain. I began to encourage my more ambitious and open-minded patients to embrace the idea of back strengthening with kettlebells as a solution to their back pain—even while they were in pain. Almost always, patients who made the effort were rewarded with less pain. These patients learned how their posture and form could change with kettlebell training. Exercise changed their bodies, and their changed bodies changed their minds.

EXERCISE AND PAIN RELIEF: USING STRESS TO CREATE STRENGTH Back pain can be successfully treated by harnessing the synergy between the brain and the body—or in this case the brain and back—and by harnessing the equally extraordinary capacity of the body (and back) to adapt and change when properly stressed.

Kettlebell training is an excellent medium for using the body’s self-healing and self-changing capabilities. I have used it successfully, at first personally, then professionally with my patients. The typical back pain sufferer usually stares back at me incredulously when I suggest such an aggressive treatment for back pain!

To imagine how kettlebells can help back pain sufferers, it is helpful in to envision the body (and back) as antifragile. The term, borrowed from Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile, refers to entities which are not eroded or weakened by stress, but instead become stronger.

Our capacity to change as a result of stress is called phenotypic plasticity. Recent research has shown that much of what was once thought to be meaningless DNA in our genome is likely dedicated to individual cells’ capacity to adapt to environmental stressors. This adaptation occurs in the alteration and expression of proteins. When stress is applied to an organism—a cell, an organ, or the entire individual—the adaptation is cumulative and interdependent. The organism’s design changes to match the functional demand created by the stress. This biological matching of functional demand to structural design is called symmorphosis.

multifidus psoas
An example of symmorphosis in healthcare is the treatment of heart disease. The traditional approach to a minor heart event would focus on medication to protect against a future event. An alternative approach to the same heart event would be to make the coronary arteries bigger. How many of you would look to fundamentally change your heart by gradually training for and competing in marathons? How many of you would become a vegan in order to improve your vascular function? In other words, how many of you would use the body’s capacity to change itself (symmorphosis) as the primary treatment of a disease? Focusing on causing the cells, organs, and body to adapt to a stressor is quite different than the “quick fix” most of my patients crave or have come to expect.Similarly, in cases of back pain, the back can be changed by the appropriate use of kettlebells. Fundamentally altering the fabric of the back with kettlebells will result in decreased back pain, despite the many possible causes for that pain. The pain may be the result of a herniated disc or spondylolisthesis (which was the case with my situation). Back pain can also be the result of postural changes, muscle imbalances, disused muscles, muscle spasms, or scar tissue in muscles of the back. Kettlebell training is an excellent way of treating all of these etiologies for back pain because the back muscles can change. Back strengthening in this setting can also result in less pain by diminishing the motion between the spinal bones. Thus, the back can be held stiff while bending or getting up from a chair, preventing the sensation of pain.

Back pain always has a psychological component. Kettlebells utilize the psychological principles of embodied cognition. This concept suggests that our minds are inexorably bound to our bodies. For example, we all know that we smile because we are happy, but often forget that we are also happy because we smile. Likewise, learning to move our bodies with increased back strength, improved posture, and form will alter our perceptions of back pain. This is a biologic “bait and switch” of sorts. The patient’s improved mental state is also described by a psychological principle called self-efficacy—the patient’s belief that he or she is able to achieve the goal.


My belief in symmorphosis as an approach to back pain, and using kettlebells to treat the pain while strengthening the back, motivated me to write a book on the subject—The End of Back Pain. Obviously, no treatment is perfect and no treatment is universal for all back pain sufferers. However, we healthcare providers are currently doing a poor job of treating back pain. More and more money is being spent on disappointing results.


Earlier, I alluded to my patients’ incredulity when I suggest back strengthening as a treatment for back pain. This conceptual transition is often a difficult task for the patient. When I send patients to physical therapy, therapists often suggest that my measures are draconian. The therapists provide the more “sensible” advice: “let pain be your guide” in what exercises to perform. This resonates with most patients, as they have been indoctrinated with this idea for years. However, I believe that it is wrong. Therapists attempt to protect themselves from legal liability by advising their patients to be guided by the “sensible” warning sign of pain, but in doing so, they limit the patients’ potential gains. This “sensible” advice may in fact be detrimental advice!

As difficult as it is for me, as a physician, to convince my patients of the efficacy of kettlebells to diminish back pain, I’d imagine it’s even harder for kettlebell instructors to encourage their clients to strengthen their backs when they have back pain. If the client subsequently becomes a patient of a therapist or doctor, one can only imagine the ensuing conversation… “He did WHAT to you?”

The scientific rationale provided in my book, and my own experience of empirical success treating back pain with back strengthening, supports the use of kettlebells as an effectual treatment option for back pain sufferers. Ultimately, it is my hope that the onus and responsibility for treating back pain will be shifted from the healthcare providers to the back pain sufferers themselves. Kettlebell instructors are indispensible in this paradigm, as proper form, technique, variety, and safety are essential to success. The key to treating the patient with back pain is to find the “sweet spot”. An approach that is too aggressive could potentially result in a set-back, while too little effort might not yield results. Proper supervision by kettlebell instructors maximizes the potential for healing.

One of my favorite quotes is by Michelangelo, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short: but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark”. This is a perfect conceptual guideline for exercising with kettlebells as a treatment for back pain.

Clear the Clutter

March 27, 2014

Think it’s impossible to see how your brain works? Walk over to a closet or open a drawer in your home. What you see is what you’ve got. While a few of you may be looking at something that could grace the pages of a Martha Stewart publication, chances are most of you are looking at a jumble of products, clothes and knick-knacks that live together for reasons unknown to your rational mind. Coupons, letters, bills and a hand sanitizer shoved into your kitchen junk drawer? Don’t get embarrassed — get organized!

The following room-by-room checklist offers the perfect opportunity to cut through the clutter while staying light on the landfills and giving you peace of mind!

Get room-by-room help for the bathroom, the kitchen, the home office and the clothes closet using this step-by-step green home guide.

Helpful hints for getting started

  • Get a good night’s sleep before any major project and work at the time of day you feel at your physical peak. A tired mind makes tired decisions.
  • Eat a good meal before you start and have lots of water and healthy snacks available.
  • Create an environment that supports your best efforts; music and aromatherapy are a couple simple things that will soothe your soul during the process.
  • Be sure you have set aside a block of time commensurate with the size of the project. The ideal first pass is five hours.
  • Warn family members that you will need some private time, and do not let yourself be interrupted. Nothing is worse than coming back to a disastrous closet when you’ve used all your strength elsewhere.
  • If any aspect of getting organized is outside your comfort zone (for example, if you have a large collection of receipts that need to be sorted and you don’t know what to save for the IRS), hire a professional organizer or call upon an organized good friend or family member for guidance.

The bathroom

If we are indeed spiritual beings having an earthly experience, then it stands to reason that taking care of the body is a sacred task. Yet most of our bathrooms are often neglected and/or abused. Let’s see how we can transform this room to a place of peace.

1. Linen check

What’s the condition of your towels? If they’re faded, threadbare and holey, let them go. Take them to your local vet or animal hospital. They need your old sheets as well.

2. Let go of disappointments

We all invest in products from time to time that disappoint us. We feel too guilty to let them go, letting them live on indefinitely in our cupboards as space hogs. The solution? Host a “Product Swap Party” for your friends. With everyone’s hair and skin having such different needs, what disappointed you might be a great find for a friend.

3. Divest in packaging

Are there products you love so much that you purchase them in multiples? Very often the commercial wrapping that comes with these products takes up a lot of space. Recycle the plastic and cardboard.

4. Detangle your haircare

Take an honest look at your brushes, combs and rollers. Pull out any you might not be using. If they’re in good shape, remove all excess hair and soak them in a solution of water and baking soda before rinsing, air-drying and donating to a shelter. Exceptions are items with wooden handles, which will waterlog, those with boar bristles, which will curl, and those with rubber cushioning, which will split. For these, remove all excess hair and scrub clean with a good shampoo. Rinse under the faucet and let air dry.

5. Face the bacteria

Check the expiration date on your makeup. Separate out anything that is more than six months old, as bacteria likely resides there. Rinse and recycle all recyclable glass and plastic (making sure to check the number of the plastic, so that you don’t put anything on the curb that will ultimately not be recycled).

6. Sort your meds

Take a look at your medicine collection, identify what’s expired, then remove the label, and rinse and save the bottles for travel purposes.

Helpful hints for everyday upkeep:

  • Keep a sponge handy for quick wipes of the counter every time you exit.
  • The mirror gets water and toothpaste splashed at regular intervals. Keep a spray bottle of homemade cleaner and a soft cotton cloth under the sink. Spray and wipe at least once a day.
  • Make your own cleaner for the countertop and the mirror by mixing equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar has the added benefit of being both a disinfectant and a deodorizer. The smell dissipates the minute it dries.
  • Straight vinegar will clean your bathroom bowl.
  • When your counters need a good scrub, use baking soda! Add a little water and you’ll have a natural cleaning paste.
  • Remove and recycle the plastic wrap from around your soap. Soaps last longer when they’ve been dried out a bit.


Find the whole article from our friends at (including complete checklist) here!