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Is Bikram Yoga Worth the Sweat?

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Bikram Yoga is becoming a popular practice of hot yoga. Unlike traditional yoga, hot yoga is practiced in a heated environment at temperatures of approximately 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). While Bikram Yoga has several benefits on the mind and body, it also increases the risk of injuries. The decision to practice it should not be taken lightly and not without prior understanding of how the human body functions.

Benefits of Bikram Yoga include reduced stress and improved discipline. The increasing difficulty of postures helps increase focus, mental concentration and self-awareness. The heated environment loosens up the body’s muscles. Therefore one can stretch his or her muscles beyond their usual limits, increasing flexibility.

The biggest risks of high temperatures are dehydration and heat stroke. Warning signs include dizziness and nausea and they shouldn’t be ignored. That is the brain saying there is something unusual going on and should be addressed soon. Since one can stretch his or her muscles beyond their usual limits, there is a chance of pulling one’s muscle from over-stretching. At high temperatures, the body may unknowingly push its biological limits without a compensatory response signal to the brain telling the body to stop.

One of the biggest benefits of Bikram Yoga cited by practitioners is the removal of toxins from the body although I am skeptical of this claim. Human perspiration is mostly water with minuscule amounts of salts, minerals and urea. While it is true toxins can diffuse from the blood vessels to the sweat glands, the liver and kidneys are the organs most responsible for removing those wastes, not the skin. The amounts of these toxins released with sweat can be considered negligible. In fact prolonged exposure to high temperatures may impair liver and kidney functioning since our bodies have evolved to function optimally at natural temperatures. The sweat that ends up on the floor is precious water one needs to stay hydrated, not a puddle of poison.

Although it is safe to practice Bikram Yoga if the proper precautions are taken, one should consult a physician first especially if there are any histories of illnesses or conditions as this activity is not suitable for everyone. Keep in mind the mental benefits of Bikram Yoga stated earlier can be as easily attained in traditional yoga without the risk (and potential discomfort) of high temperatures. As such I would recommend starting out with traditional yoga first to become familiar with its practices then transition to Bikram Yoga if one wishes to do so.

Categories: Life

On Eating, Weight Loss and Lifestyle Changes

December 18, 2012 2 comments

I dislike the term dieting because that implies a temporary solution to a problem that took years to develop. Instead I prefer to think of it as eating healthy and making lifestyle changes. For example, I brush my teeth at least twice a day and have never gotten cavities. However this does not mean I should stop brushing my teeth completely until I get cavities then start again. Similarly if you plan to make changes to your diet, do so because it is healthy and be ready to commit to it for the rest of your life. Don’t stop once you hit your target weight since chances are, you will gain it all back when you go back to your old routine.

All of the lifestyle changes I mention below are based on my personal experiences and own set point theory. I believe a person’s weight range is determined by several factors: diet, sleep, physical activity, the environment etc… ie one’s lifestyle. Therefore if you change your diet or level of physical activity, you will change that set point and your body’s weight will shift towards that point.

One of the biggest ways to prevent weight fluctuations is to have a regular eating and sleeping schedule. It’s not a big deal whether you eat three or six meals a day as long as your daily routine is constant. The key is time management. As a student, I plan the day so I eat breakfast in the morning right after I wake up, make lunch before leaving for school that I eat around noon, have a light snack in the afternoon then eat dinner in the evening before I go to sleep. As a result, my body is accustomed to eating at specific times and I don’t feel hungry or get food cravings at random times during the day.

Remove any emotional attachment you may have to eating. Many people monitor their eating habits by keeping a log of what, when and how much they eat. Even though that is a good thing thing, what people should focus on first, and most fail to do, is to note down why they eat during every meal. When you critically analyze why you eat, you will realize there are plenty of other alternatives for you to choose from if you find yourself eating more often than you’d like. Do you eat as a reward when you accomplish something significant? Go out in public instead. Do you eat to deal with stress or boredom? Instead go exercise, sing or have sex etc…

Be proactive. By this I mean you control the food you eat, don’t let the food control you. There are many little things you can do to limit your calories and a good way to start is by reducing the seasoning on your food. Eat smaller portions and from a smaller bowl. I stop eating when I finish all the food on my plate so I control how much I eat by choosing how much food I put on my plate in the first place. By that time I don’t feel hungry anymore so I don’t get seconds even though I still have room for more food. Also it helps to eat slower because it takes time for the stomach to send signals to the brain telling the body it is not hungry anymore. Go grocery shopping (when you’re not hungry) with a list of items and stick to it so you don’t end up buying anything you didn’t intend to get when you left the house. If you follow that rule, you should plan to have limited or no junk food. Therefore when you’re at home and get hungry, you’ll be forced to find something healthy to eat.

I don’t think it’s necessary to get 30 mins of physical activity every single day to be healthy. However you can increase your activity level in many little ways. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Secondly walk more (those who go to UBC won’t have that problem). I frequently took five minute walks during my study breaks to get some exercise and to move to a different library since I can’t sit and study in the same spot for long periods of time. When you take public transit, get off one or two stops earlier and walk the rest of the way home. Try joining a sports team (emphasis on team here). When you’re on a team, you’re expected to show up to games.

It’s important to change the frame of reference. The goal should be to make healthy choices. Weight loss then becomes a byproduct of that goal. Set SMART goals and work gradually towards a healthier lifestyle (FYI the goal-setting post I wrote at the beginning of the year is the least viewed entry on my blog). Eat less junk food is too vague and not a strong goal. Reduce ice cream consumption to once every two weeks for the next three months is much better.

Categories: Life

How to Save Money in College

December 4, 2012 Leave a comment

I decided to write this after reading HackCollege’s article. It’s not going to cover how to make a budget or how to manage one’s finances, but simply go over the little things I do that helped me save money during my time at UBC.

1. Work. I spent my summer growing a lot of green plants in a lab while my associates were working with tobacco hehe.

Ok but seriously, apply for work-study jobs. Many are first-come first-serve or if they fit your schedule.

2. Don’t drink coffee. From my understanding, people drink coffee usually for the energy boost. I have a regular sleeping schedule. As such, I wake up feeling fine since my body is accustomed to being awake and asleep at specific times during the day. It also helps that I eat at regular intervals throughout the day and that food gives me more than enough energy to go through a day without passing out.

3. Borrow textbooks from the library and continually renew them. Previous editions of a textbook are just as good and usually there are many copies of those in the library NOT on reserve. After all the fact that RNA Polymerase initiates transcription when it binds to the promoter in DNA is the same regardless of whether I read that in the 1st, 5th or 9th edition of a textbook.

4. Stay healthy. I don’t know the exact cost of being sick (in terms of money, time, energy, etc…), but I imagine it can get expensive. Remember those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness. Although this is an incomplete oversimplification, all it takes to be healthy is a balanced diet (you don’t even need to eat organic) and sufficient exercise and sleep. I plan to blog about time management (and possibly health) in the near future…

5. Have a cheap cell phone plan. I have a prepaid plan ($0.25/min and $5/month for 250 outgoing texts) so it totals about $100-150 per year. I see my friends on a regular basis that I don’t need to constantly call/text them. Whatever I have to say to them can wait until I get home (and use skype) or when I see my friends in person. It’s amazing that I have friends who don’t complain if we go through a single day without communicating with one another.

6. Don’t be a brand whore. Enough said.

7. Meet lots of people. Of course the quality of your friendships is important, but you don’t have to be BFFs with everyone you meet. The more people you know, the higher the chance that someone will come to you and say hey I know you’re looking for this item and it’s on sale at Store X right now so you should check it out! I don’t go through Groupon, SocialShopper etc… since I’m not interested in most of the deals. Usually I just check my Facebook newsfeed since I have friends who share the popular discounts/promotions.

8. Don’t eat out. Restaurants are expensive and it adds up if you eat out even only once a week. The cheaper and healthier (see #4) option is to buy ingredients from a supermarket and make a meal that will last you several days. The ability to cook is a sexy skill in anybody. Also your body (and wallet) will thank you for making the effort to wake up one hour earlier to eat breakfast and pack a lunch for school.

9. Register for only the minimum number of courses you need for your degree. UBC clearly states the required courses you need on its website so there should be no reason why one can’t plan ahead and take the right courses. I’ve listened to several students complain that some courses couldn’t be used for credits or they didn’t count their credits correctly and I noticed that the problem could have been avoided if they had set aside thirty minutes to see an adviser (they really are helpful) to double check the requirements and resolve any ambiguities. Don’t know what course to take? Again, meet lots of people (see #7).

10. Take good care of your things so you don’t have to spend money fixing or replacing them. That’s why I never do back-to-school shopping trips. There are lots of things that look new and still function perfectly well, but have actually been around even before I was born. For example, the lamp in my house used the same lightbulb for over 20 years!

Categories: Bulletin, Life, Personal, UBC