The Alkaline Way is a synthesis of ways to stimulate the body’s natural healing responses. Particularly recommended are ways that keep you moving that include breathing, with a priority given to core strength and stimulating muscle repair and resilience. Unhealthy thoughts and afflictive emotions place a burden on our body’s chemical balance. It is encouraging to know that mental and emotional habits can be learned or relearned in ways that promote health rather than impair it. Learned optimism is both possible and effective.
Inertia, tension, and stress drain and deplete our bodies. We recommend a series of stress-reducing lifestyle practices that are known to steady the mind and fuel positive, peaceful energy.
Low-Impact Exercise to Renew Joints and Muscles
Any system that brings together movement and conscious breathing is recommended, whether you opt to do walking, yoga, or Pilates. We also encourage gentle stretching exercises and cardio or weight-bearing activities, since the heart is a muscle that benefits from exercise.
Check with your health care provider before you begin. Create your program around a movement system such as walking, hatha yoga, tai chi chuan, Alexander, Feldenkrais, Pilates, or the Trager method. Which one you choose is a matter of personal preference. You certainly don’t need to do all of them—but an eclectic mix is often more sustainable and effective.
All these practices incorporate rhythmic breathing so seamlessly, so intrinsically that there is no need for separate breath practice. The goal is to be more mindful of how we can use breath—to support energy or as a relaxation tool, as a source of inspiration, or as a tool for healing. All these aspects of breath are essential to evoke the healing response. Breath can become a refuge that keeps us centered and nonattached, once sufficient practice is accomplished.
Walking is a perfect exercise whether you are drawn to brisk walking or simply ambling, preferably in a place of beauty and serenity. Those who use walking for exercise often report that it increases circulation and oxygen levels. Walking can also be linked to deep relaxation or meditation, further activating the body’s healing capacities.
Starting with Walking
• Begin slowly and build up. One approach is to walk for five minutes on the first day, and then add just one minute a day.
• Build walking into your life. Park your car, and walk or park a few blocks away (you may have to anyway!) and walk. Take the stairs at work or anywhere you happen to be.
• Link walking to something you enjoy doing. Bird watchers walk, shoppers walk, lovers walk.
• Track your progress. If your doctor says you must walk, get a pedometer so you’ll know how far you’re walking and you can celebrate your goals as you reach them.
• Walk with a friend. Enjoy!
60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, by Menasha Ridge Press, 2008–2011. Editions on great hikes near Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, and other metro areas.
Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 2009.
The Complete Walker IV, by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins, Knopf, 2002.
The Complete Guide to Walking (New and Revised), by Mark Fenton, Lyons Press, 2008.
The Spirited Walker, by Carolyn Scott Kortge, HarperOne, 1998.
Walking for Fitness, by Nina Barough, Dorling Kindersley, 2004.
Hatha and Prana Yoga
Yoga is a series of practices involving mindfulness and stretching that developed in India millennia ago. Today, yoga is everywhere. Hatha and prana yoga are two of eight forms of yoga. They involve holding specific positions, moving rhythmically, breathing linked to movement, and a learned sense of ease that supports mindfulness, physical grace, stamina, and good health.
Yoga has come to be synonymous with stretching; however, yoga is far more than just stretching. The postures are meant to be done as a form of moving meditation, bringing harmony to mind while toning the body. Yoga practices also yield better circulation, stronger core body strength, and better function of the internal organs.
The Shoulder Stand, for example, is thought to stimulate the thyroid gland through gentle pressure of the chin on the throat area. The forward and the backward bend (the Fish) is designed to stretch, align, and strengthen the spinal column and surrounding muscles. A thorough session of yoga can leave one with the sense of relaxation comparable to a good massage and with improved endurance.
Starting with Yoga
Hatha yoga helps people of any age get and stay in shape, developing balance, coordination, and a sense of centeredness. Yoga can be done with simply the guidance of a well-written book, as long as care is taken not to move too fast, stretch too far, or force the body. To deepen your practice, find a practitioner you respect and with whom you feel comfortable. A live class can deepen your practice, but be wary of any teacher whose philosophy is “No gain without pain.” The idea is to grow into the postures and become more flexible day by day.
30 Essential Yoga Poses, by Judith Lasater, Rodmell Press, 2003.
Ashtanga Yoga, 2nd edition: The Practice Manual, by David Swensen, Ashtanga Yoga Productions, 2007.
Meditations from the Mat, by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison, Anchor, 2002.
Power Yoga: The Total Strength and Flexibility Workout, by Beryl Bender Birch, Touchstone, 1995.
Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, by B.K.S. Iyengar, Dorling Kindersley, 2008.
The Yoga Bible, by Christina Brown, Walking Stick Press, 2003.
Yoga Sequencing, by Mark Stephens, North Atlantic Books, 2012.
The yoga guide from Living Arts is available in health food stores or at www. gaiam.com.
Shambhala Sun, 1345 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO, 80302-4886, (877) 786-1950, www.shambhalasun.com.
Yoga International, 630 Main Street, Suite 300, Honesdale, PA, 18431, (800) 253-6243, ext. 4, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.yimag.org.
Yoga Journal, 2054 University Avenue, Suite 600, Berkeley, CA, 94704, (800) 600-YOGA, www.yogajournal.com.
Tai chi and qigong (pronounced chee-GUNG) encompass many of the traditions of mind-body fitness from the ancient Chinese culture. The scientific consensus is that tai chi can have a positive effect on inner healing, by enhancing oxygen delivery, immune function, detoxification, and brain chemistry.
These practices involve graceful movements in a sequence of forms that take on a hypnotic quality. The primary focus is on the breath, to deepen and relax the breathing. Meditation is also an essential aspect of the practice, relaxing and clearing the mind of details or worries. These fitness practices have been carefully refined over several thousand years and can be done in literally thousands of ways. By most estimates, there are currently between 3,000 and 5,000 variations of tai chi and qigong.
Starting with Tai Chi
If you find this practice intriguing, you’ll want to get a book or a video, or both. Having a mentor or practice partner is highly recommended. Simple qigong sequences can be learned and practiced wherever you are. Tai chi is frequently offered by hospitals, senior programs, and health centers as a part of their mind-body programming. In a growing number of communities it is possible to link up with a practice group either in the park or at the local recreation center.
Scientific research on Qigong: www.nqa.org/research-updates
The Alexander technique is a process that emphasizes realigning posture to decompress the spine. The practice supports deep relaxed breathing, elegant posture, and a sense of well-being. These techniques were developed by Mathias Alexander, who found that by adjusting the position of his head and back, he was able to heal himself of chronic pain. Since that time, millions of people with a wide variety of diagnoses have used this method to improve or resolve musculoskeletal conditions.
Starting with the Alexander Technique
To begin working with this self-care method, look for classes at your community recreation center, local hospital, or through your health plan.
The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique at www.AlexanderTechnique.com
The Feldenkrais Method is for anyone who wants to reconnect with their natural ability to move with awareness and grace. Health challenges can be caused or aggravated by dysfunctional habits of posture or movement, described as neuromuscular patterns. The goal of Feldenkrais is to address these old patterns by learning to use the body in ways that resolve pain and improve function. This method can be experienced through group instruction (which looks a little like a yoga class) or individual lessons (which look a little like a bodywork session).
Starting with Feldenkrais
Awareness Through Movement is a Feldenkrais program of group classes that explore new ways of moving with increased sensitivity and efficiency. Functional Integration involves one-on-one work with a practitioner who models ease of motion and helps the student experience new, more effective patterns of movement.
The Feldenkrais Guild of North America: www.Feldenkrais.com
Body Control, developed by Joseph Pilates, is one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise in the world. Pilates exercise involves physical conditioning to increase flexibility, strength, and endurance. The practice emphasizes good alignment of the spine and pelvis, conscious breathing, the development of core strength, and improving coordination. Today this technique is used by everyone from dancers in the New York City Ballet to football players with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Starting with the Pilates Method
The basic Body Control program can be done at home without special equipment. Stretching exercises, however, involve the use of specialized equipment that can be purchased or accessed through formal classes and trainers.
The Complete Book of Pilates for Men, by Daniel Lyon, Regan Books, 2005.
Pilates, by Rael Isacowitz, Human Kinetics Publisher, 2006.
Pilates Anatomy, by Rael Isacowitz and Karen Clippinger, Human Kinetics Publisher, 2011.
The Pilates Body, by Brooke Siler, Three Rivers Press, 2000.
A Pilates Primer: The Millennium Edition, by Joseph Pilates and Judd Robbins, 2000; reprint of original work from 1934 and 1945.
The Trager Approach
This system was developed by Milton Trager, a physician searching for tools to achieve better results with his patients. The practice of Trager emphasizes the joy of natural movement and can facilitate increased awareness, deep relaxation, and a greater sense of aliveness. At this level, the goal is to reconnect with the rhythms of movement—integrating easy, playful movement into our patterns of everyday life.
Starting with Trager
Information on this practice is available through Trager International, which is currently composed of 12 national Trager associations representing more than 20 countries. Their website provides a list of training resources worldwide.
About Trager Movement Education: Moving into agelessness, parts 1–4, by Roger Tolle, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02mkVr6iPK4.
Web: United States Trager Association: www.TragerUS.org
The serene, floating sensation of a trampoline is known to relax the body and mind. This unique experience elicits a sense of youthfulness and fun that is not always present with other forms of exercise. Rebounding involves aerobic movements providing exercise that reduces body fat and firms legs, thighs, abdomen, arms, and hips. The trampoline is also a pleasant antidote to ease stress and reduce tension.
Starting with Trampoline
Rebounder trampolines can be purchased at your local sporting goods store. To exercise using a rebounder trampoline, start slowly and work up to at least 15 minutes twice a day.
Breath Work: A Refuge from Stress
The healing traditions of every ancient culture have included some form of breath practice, reflecting the profound effect of the simple act of learning to breathe actively. In essence, deep breathing has the capacity to set healing in motion and to reduce the toll of distress on your body and psyche.
There are literally hundreds of methods of breath practice. The approach we most encourage is to use breath work in conjunction with a practice such as walking, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, Feldenkrais, Alexander, or Trager.
We are not just a product of what we eat and drink. We are also made up of what we think and do. Our mind, body, and spirit are an interconnected system and cannot be treated independently of one another. Your efforts to improve your life could meet with significant resistance unless you take the same steps to ensure mental and emotional health as well as physical well-being.
In essence, mindfulness involves quieting and then focusing or directing the mind. This can create a mental space that has been described as “absence of a problem.” The practice of nonattachment or witnessing helps us observe life without being overwhelmed by the challenge or situation at hand. Since most of us can only focus on one thing at a time, if we are meditating, we’re also less likely to be worrying. Shifting into a state of pure awareness can provide a personal retreat, a place of peace, and a refuge that allows inner reconciliation.
To learn active meditation, the following are a few basics:
1. At a consistent time, select a particular place where you can sit comfortably with your back straight. You can meditate anywhere, as the inclination or need arises—on the subway, in an airport, or in an emergency room—once you become skilled at centering your mind.
2. For your daily practice, choose someplace that allows you to focus on an uplifting or sublime setting. That could mean creating a meditation corner inside your home, finding a place in the neighborhood such as a church or Zen center, or meditating in nature.
3. Select the form of practice you wish to explore. Mindfulness in the Western traditions includes many forms of personal prayer, positive thinking, and learned optimism. Meditation in the classic Eastern traditions often involves sitting with legs crossed, encouraging the mind to settle into quietude. Another option is sitting in a comfortable chair with good back support and your feet flat on the floor, or sitting on a cushion or low bench. One can also meditate lying on the floor or in bed.
With practice and repetition, you will experience an increased ability to witness your thoughts, rather than “plugging in” or reacting to habitual patterns. Your experience of nonattachment will support your ability to be present in ways that promote acceptance, discernment, and altruism.
Creating Your Lifetime Practice
It’s important to find a practice that suits your personality and style. One can focus on the breath, on sound, visual symbols, devotional phrases, or on the experience of pure consciousness, merging with Source. As the sage says, there are many roads. It does not matter how we make the journey.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you design your practice.
• Is your mind restless? Passive meditation can be useful. This can involve counting from 10 to one—over the course of 10 slow deep breaths—and then beginning again. Say each number softly in your mind with your inhaled breath. This practice makes it quite obvious when one loses track. The primary focus is on the moment between the numbers.
• Are you visual? You may want to arrange and decorate your meditation area. Your practice could involve concentration on a visual symbol, a sacred image, or a candle flame.
• Do you learn by listening? You may wish to simply sit and listen to the sounds around you without judgment or attachment, just listening moment to moment, breath to breath, experiencing what you hear as pure sound. Or you may find that you are attracted to the sound of Tibetan bells or certain forms of chanting or mantra (sacred phrases repeated in rhythm with your breathing).
• Are you full of heart? Your practice may be more devotional and could involve a prayer or a phrase (mantra) and a path of service.
• Are you active? You may find you are most comfortable using a form of moving meditation such as the traditional Christian labyrinth walk, Confucian tai chi, or hatha and prana yoga. These are all approaches that help to integrate mind and body. A quiet and wiser mind emerges when active mindfulness practices are sustained.
Choose, practice, and you will be rewarded. Go by the results. If there is more suffering or lack of fulfillment in your life, the deficit may reflect the need for a shift in perspective, understanding, or emotional life. We can never know all the answers. Simply begin. Intuitively select a practice, and follow it. Once you become intimately familiar with that form, personalize it and make it your own.
You will find that if you devote 20 minutes, twice a day, to your practice, and participate in intensive retreats when possible, the results will speak for themselves. It can easily take six months or a year before you are consciously aware of the benefit. Ultimately, for many people, mindfulness practice is as important to health as eating, exercise, and breathing.
Active Meditation: The Western Tradition, by Robert Leichtman, Ariel Press, 1975 (and anything else by Dr. Leichtman).
Holy Science, by Yukteswar, Self Realization Fellowship, 1990.
Mindfulness Meditation, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Audio CD, 2010.
Stress Reduction Tapes, P.O. Box 547, Lexington, MA 02470, or online at mindfulnesstapes.com.
Stress Relief: Light Therapy
Photobiology is the study of the interactions of light with living organisms. During the day, certain brain rhythms are maintained by fluctuations of light intensity and spectrum. Recent research links mood changes to seasonal fluxes and rhythmic biological cycles that occur each day. A number of other studies suggest that seasonal depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD) may be reduced by exposure to appropriate lighting sources.
Dichro-color lamps employ internal filters to produce a specific color by selectively transmitting only the desired wavelengths of light, with virtually no heat absorption. Standard colored lights do not use this principle and so do not have the same health benefits.
Sit four to six feet from the face of a green light for 20 minutes, twice a day. Ideally, this is done in the morning and early evening. A socket-clamp light holder can facilitate positioning of the lamp.
During this time, other activities such as deep breathing, relaxation, guided imagery, range of motion exercises, or certain reading can be performed simultaneously. Deep brain structures and chemical pathways can be health-adapted by this action.
You need not look directly at the light. If indicated by clinical experience, amber/yellow or blue dichromatics can be arranged to shine on the back, chest, abdomen, or any other specific area of the body in need. The same position and time conditions apply.
NOTE: You can stay under the green light as much as you’d like. However, limit your use of the amber or blue light to at most 20 minutes and less if you are photoresponsive.
Several dichro-color lights can be used simultaneously. It is best if these are the sole source of illumination in the room. This program is based on the early work of Edwin Babbitt, Dinsah Jadhiali, Faber Birren, Bhanté Dharmawara, and more recent studies by Norm Rosenthal and Al Lewy.
The Scientific 7-Minute Workout: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/#postComment
Kick it Up with Cardio: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/kick-up-with-cardio-exercise