Saturday, June 07, 2008

June 6, 2008

Take a Time Out

Many social commentators have noted that time, in our lives, is moving faster and faster. We're continually being asked to be more productive and to do more things at once. At the same time, our notion of planning is changing, so that instead of planning a few decades out, we plan only a few years out. All of this is just more evidence that the speed of our world is increasing.

But how has this affected our lives and our health? Take a moment to think about how you deal with time. Have you ever pushed an already lit elevator button because it's not moving fast enough? Are you continually urging your children to hurry up? Do you hate waiting for a computer download? This frantic pace in our sped-up world contributes to our stress. Think you're immune? Try an "old-fashioned" rotary phone and see how annoying it can be to take "so long" to dial. Most of us will find that we're just used to moving at a certain pace. Unfortunately, this pace is not always the best for us.

When you find yourself stressed and hurried, ask yourself if it's really necessary to rush-or is this just a bad habit you should break? If possible, do less and enjoy life more. Practice slowing down by letting others go first in a bank line, or on the highway. Use the extra time to breathe deeply and smile. You'll feel better-and so will the people around you.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Give me a break, no snacks, paid luggage,extra fares and now this..., whats next paid oxygen in cause on a crash?

India grounds 'fat' air hostesses

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Air hostess with Kingfisher Airlines (file photo)
Air India faces competitions from other airlines with younger flight crew

An Indian court has ruled that state-owned airline Air India has the right to prevent its air hostesses from flying for being overweight.

The Delhi high court was responding to a case filed by five air hostesses who had been grounded by the airline for being too fat to fly.

The air hostesses are expected to appeal against the decision.

The judges agreed with the airline's view that overweight crew present a safety and health hazard.

They also said that, in the highly competitive airline industry, an air hostess's physical condition and appearance played an important role in her overall personality.

Air India, whose air hostesses wear traditional Indian saris, is facing a stiff challenge from a number of private airlines with younger flight crew typically dressed in skirts or Western suits.

A few years ago, during a recruitment drive for new crew, the airline said that it would not consider applicants with acne or bad teeth.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

June 3, 2008

Listening In on Night Birds

Recording the unique calls of birds on nighttime legs of the spring migration will let researchers know where proposed wind power turbines should be placed. Steve Mirsky explains, with reporting by Adam Hinterthuer.

Listen to this podcast:

Download this podcast >

More 60-Second Science >

Subscribe to 60-Second Science: RSS | iTunes

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

You probably missed it because you were sleeping. But one of North America's great natural phenomena happened over the nights of mid spring. After sundown, the skies filled with millions of birds all traveling nighttime legs of their journey north. These overnight flyways were discovered during World War II, when Doppler radar was developed. Anxious military officials sounded false alarms over phantom air raids, but soon realized they were just watching flocks of songbirds.

There are calls that each species only makes during these night flights. This spring, Jeremy Ross from
Bowling GreenStateUniversity put microphones on top of buildings in Northern Ohio to record nighttime flybys. Birds use a chain of islands to hop from Ohio, across Lake Erie, to Canadian breeding grounds. Ross wants to know if proposed wind power farms might interfere. Using the volume of each call, Ross can calculate if birds are soaring safely above the blades of wind turbines. Something to consider with more wind power in the air.

—Steve Mirsky, with reporting by Adam Hinterthuer

Labels: , , , ,

LA Times on guerrilla gardeners

The LA Times reports on the guerrilla gardening movement, in which people make and maintain gardens on property that's not theirs.

Shown above, a photo by Gina Ferazzi of a batch of "seed bombs," used by guerrilla gardeners to quickly plant seeds on the sly.

Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.

Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening blogs and sites such as, where before-and-after photos of the latest "troop digs" inspire 45,000 visitors a month to make derelict soil bloom.

Link (via Ramshackle Solid)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Find a Farmer's Market to Track Down Fresh Food [Food]

market_scaled.jpgThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has a powerful search engine that finds farmer's markets, or greenmarkets, that are close enough to consider for a weekend trip. It tends to have a wider number of markets listed than regional search sites, and drills down by state, county, city, or even partial market names you might remember. You'll see when the markets are open, get web links when available, and can check to see if some stands will take credit cards. Worth a visit, and print-out, for planning this or future trips that cut down on your pre-packaged shopping.

The Roots of Vegetarianism

Modern yogis who struggle with the question of whether to eat meat can look to ancient wisdom for the answer.

By Jennifer Barrett

Ask any number of yogis to describe their diets and you'll likely get responses as varied as the styles they practice. Many traditionalists see yoga as being inextricably linked with the meatless path, citing numerous ancient Indian texts to prove their conviction. Others put less stock in centuries-old warnings like "the slaughter of animals obstructs the way to heaven" (from the Dharma Sutras) than in what their bodies have to say. If eating flesh begets health and energy, they argue, it must be the right choice for them--and their yoga.

Today's range of dietary habits might seem like a recent development, but delve back into the historical record and you'll find a long tradition of ethical wrangling with respect to animals. Indeed, the different stances yogis now take on vegetarianism reflect just the latest turn in a debate that started thousands of years ago.

The Past-Life Argument

The history of vegetarianism in India began in the Vedic period, an era that dawned sometime between 4000 and 1500 b.c.e., depending on whom you ask. Four sacred texts known as the Vedas were the bedrock of early Hindu spiritual thought. Among those texts' hymns and songs that described with reverence the wondrous power of the natural world, we find a nascent idea that sets the stage for vegetarianism in later centuries. "The concept of the transmigration of souls... first dimly appears in the Rig Veda," explains Colin Spencer in Vegetarianism: A History (Four Walls, Eight Windows, 2002). "In the totemistic culture of the pre-Indus civilization, there was already a sense of oneness with creation." A fervent belief in this idea, he contends, would give rise to vegetarianism later on.

In subsequent ancient texts, including the Upanishads, the idea of rebirth emerged as a central point. In these writings, according to Kerry Walters and Lisa Portmess, editors of Religious Vegetarianism (State University of New York Press, 2001), "gods take animal form, human beings have had past animal lives, [and] animals have had past human lives." All creatures harbored the Divine, so that rather than being fixed in time, life was fluid. (A cow alone, notes Spencer, held 330 million gods and goddesses. To kill one set you back 86 transmigrations of the soul.) Again, the idea that the meat on a dinner plate once lived in a different--and possibly human--form made it all the less palatable.

Dietary guidelines became explicit centuries later in the Laws of Manu, written between 200 b.c.e. and 100 c.e., say Walters and Portmess. In this text, we discover that the sage Manu doesn't find fault just with those who eat meat. "He who permits the slaughter of an animal," he wrote, "he who cuts it up, he who kills it, he who buys or sells meat, he who cooks it, he who serves it up, and he who eats it, must all be considered as the slayers of the animal."

The Bhagavad Gita, arguably the most influential text of the Hindu tradition (written sometime between the fourth and first centuries b.c.e.), added to the vegetarian argument with its practical dietary guidelines. It specifies that sattvic foods (milk, butter, fruit, vegetables, and grains) "promote vitality, health, pleasure, strength, and long life." Bitter, salty, and sour rajasic foods (including meat, fish, and alcohol) "cause pain, disease, and discomfort." At the bottom rung lies the tamasic category: "stale, overcooked, contaminated" and otherwise rotten or impure foods. These explanations have endured, becoming the guidelines by which many modern yogis eat.

Spiritual Contradiction

The case for vegetarianism mounted as centuries passed, while another practice--animal sacrifice--persisted alongside it. The same Vedas that extolled the virtues of the natural world also emphasized the need for animal sacrifice to the gods. The uneasy coexistence between India's emerging inclination toward vegetarianism and its history of animal sacrifice continued over hundreds of years, says Edwin Bryant, professor of Hinduism at Rutgers University. Oftentimes the conflict played out in the pages of the same text.

The sage Manu, for instance, condemned recreational meat eating, stating, "There is no greater sinner than that man who...seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of other beings." But orthodox followers of Vedic culture--including Manu--were "forced to allow the performance of animal sacrifice," Bryant notes. Ultimately, the discomfort that many in ancient India felt about animal sacrifice helped fuel the demise of the practice.

Some orthodox traditionalists, for instance, felt uncomfortable challenging the ancient texts on the issue out of respect for what they believed were the writings' divine origins. However, they did condemn everyday meat eating, adding a number of conditions to animal sacrifice so that "the practice accrued ghastly karmic results that far outweighed any benefits gained," explains Professor Bryant in A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion and Ethics, edited by Kimberly Patton and Paul Waldau (to be published in 2004).

Others simply deemed the ancient texts outdated, and went on to form groups such as the Jainas and the Buddhists. No longer bound by Vedic authority, Bryant says, they "could scorn the whole sacrificial culture and preach an unencumbered ahimsa," or doctrine of nonviolence. This concept of ahimsa, championed by Mahavira in the sixth century, has emerged at the core of the vegetarian argument in modern times.

Some later Indian sages strengthened the case for vegetarianism. Swami Vivekananda, writing a hundred years ago, pointed out the communality we have with other animals: "The amoeba and I are the same. The difference is only one of degree; and from the standpoint of the highest life, all differences vanish." Swami Prabhupada, scholar and founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, offered a more stark pronouncement: "If you want to eat animals, then [God] will give you... the body of a tiger in your next life so that you can eat flesh very freely."

In most cultures today, the rights of animals have at least prevailed over the ritual of sacrifice, if not meat eating. Scores of yogis live and eat with the understanding, as expressed by B.K.S. Iyengar, that a vegetarian diet is "a necessity" to the practice of yoga. But other, equally dedicated yogis find flesh a necessary fuel, without which their practice suffers. Those yoga enthusiasts still on the fence when it comes to the meat question should take heart, however. It seems that a thoughtful, deliberate, and at times even challenging consideration of vegetarianism is very much in the spirit of the Indian spiritual tradition.

Contributing Editor Jennifer Barrett is editor of The Herb Quarterly. She lives in Connecticut.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Positively Healing

Everything that happens in your mind is reflected in your body, says T.K.V. Desikachar. So, meditate on the good!

By Carol Krucoff

Wearing a khaki shirt and trousers, his eyes twinkling behind oversize glasses and a shy smile on his lips, T.K.V. Desikachar doesn’t fit the Western stereotype of a great yoga master. But that may be, he says, because “a lot of people are confused about yoga.”

Americans typically use the word “yoga” to mean “posture,” he notes, and mistakenly measure progress by the ability to perform complex poses. But “yoga is definitely not just posture,” Desikachar asserts, hiking up his pants to assume a dramatic Warrior Pose, then bursting into an infectious laugh. “A lot of people are doing postures, but are they happy? They can do a beautiful posture, but their life is a big headache.” Mastery of yoga is really measured, Desikachar says, by “how it influences our day-to-day living, how it enhances our relationships, how it promotes clarity and peace of mind.”

The son and senior student of one of the greatest yogis of the modern era, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Desikachar made these comments last year at “Meditation as Medicine,” a four-day workshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he taught with his son and student, Kausthub. A pioneer of modern therapeutic yoga, Desikachar is founder of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, a nonprofit healing center in Chennai, India, which offers yoga therapy to thousands of people from around the world each year. The therapy is based on his father’s fundamental belief that practices must be adapted to suit each person’s needs and abilities. “It is not that I must conform to the yoga practice,” Desikachar says, “but rather that yoga practice must be tailor-made for me.”

Yoga places special emphasis on the role of the mind in the healing process, explains Desikachar, who says, “A peaceful, stable mind is essential to well-being.” Ancient yogis developed numerous techniques, including meditation, to calm the mind and channel its power into physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Meditation acts the way medicine does, Desikachar says, by transforming the mind’s agitation to peace.

Posttraumatic Bliss

Desikachar’s teachings hold special significance for me, since my own yoga practice changed dramatically three years ago. During a marathon in Jamaica, I drank so much water that my blood sodium levels dropped dangerously low. I suffered seizures and an irregular heartbeat and was airlifted home to North Carolina, where I lay in a coma for four days. When I awoke in the neuro-intensive care unit, I wasn’t scared, angry, or upset. Instead, I experienced a sort of posttraumatic bliss syndrome. Grateful to be alive, I was surprisingly unconcerned about my physical condition—although I couldn’t walk unassisted and my doctors worried that I might have permanent kidney damage.

Too sick to read, watch TV, or do much else, I lay in my hospital bed and did yoga. But my practice looked nothing like my usual Ashtanga primary series. In fact, the only posture I attempted was Savasana (Corpse Pose). I also did breathing practices—particularly counting my breath and extending the exhalation. I silently chanted prayers, visualized healing light, and focused on progressively relaxing different parts of my body. In short, meditation formed the heart of my practice.

Over time I completely recovered, but my yoga practice changed forever. I’d previously focused primarily on postures. But if yoga is about asana, what happens when the body weakens? My near-death experience taught me something I’d known intellectually yet never truly understood: Yoga’s true power lies in its ability to harness the mind for healing and spiritual development. While I still enjoy asana, my practice now is less vigorous, and I spend more time in meditation.

Meditation holds four major benefits, says Desikachar. The first is arta, or a lessening of suffering. “We meditate so pain is reduced,” he says, noting that “pain is not necessarily physical but can be emotional.” Next is jnanam, transcendent knowledge. “You may get a flash, a moment of clarity or wisdom,” he says. “It’s like lightning. For one second everything is bright; then it goes away.” Although this momentary illumination fades, memory of the insight—and its impact—lingers. Meditation can also result in extraordinary powers, called artharta. For example, Krishnamacharya, who died in 1989 at age 100, was apparently able to stop his heartbeat and breath for several minutes with no adverse effects. Meditation’s final benefit is bhakta—realization of the highest truth. Through meditation, Desikachar says, you can discover your true nature.

But not everyone is ready for meditation. It’s especially difficult if your mind is very distracted. Yogic tradition describes five states of mind, beginning with ksipta, an agitated state in which you’re unable to think, listen, or keep quiet. (See Five States of Mind) “This mind is not fit for meditation at all,” Desikachar says. When your mind is very agitated, try asana and breathing practices designed to bring the body and mind into stillness. Not until it enters the fourth state, ekagra, is the mind ready to pay attention. Here, the mind is relaxed but not sleepy—a prerequisite for meditation.

Fill Your Mind!

Regular practice of asana and pranayama (breathing techniques) can help you quiet your mind and, if illness or sedentary habits have left you weakened, can also help you become healthy and strong enough to sit still and concentrate. Even if you’re a calm, healthy, fit person, postures and breathing practices can prepare your body and mind for a more willing, joyful embrace of meditation.

In Desikachar’s view, the idea that meditation requires emptying the mind is a common misperception; meditation, he says, actually involves filling the mind with an object of inquiry. “It is never possible for the mind to be empty,” Desikachar notes, “except in a deep state of sleep.” The intent is to “become one with the object of focus.” You can meditate on virtually anything: a natural object, such as the sun or moon, a flower, tree, or mountain—or on a person, sound, deity, even a color. Or focus on the body or the breath. Desikachar suggests choosing an object that is both appealing and healing: “The key is transforming the mind in a positive way, so healing happens. Because whatever happens in the mind, happens in the whole system.” But don’t confuse this word “mind” with “intellectual mind,” he cautions. It is the center of awareness he’s talking about—the heart.

The Good Life

You don’t have to spend an hour on your cushion for meditation to have a profound effect, says Desikachar, who asks busy people, “How much time do you have?” If someone has just five minutes, he suggests a brief meditation that includes one minute for preparation, two and a half for the meditation itself, and one more for tapering off. “Once you feel the value and see the benefits of meditation, you will make time to do more,” he says. Meditation needn’t be esoteric and difficult: “You must always adapt according to what people like and will do.”

During the workshop, he asked for volunteers and created a 10-minute “Mom” meditation for a man named John, who suffered from addiction problems that he linked to a difficult relationship with his father. After listening to John describe intense anger at his father and great love for his mother, Desikachar drew a circle representing John’s life, then designated a small “slice” as the frowning dad. The rest of the circle was filled with positive aspects, including a smiling mom. “Life is like this,” Desikachar said. “We tend to focus on the bad and ignore the good.” Whenever John began to feel negative thoughts about his father, Desikachar suggested that he substitute positive thoughts of his mother. Then he led John through a meditation that involved reciting the word “Mom,” visualizing his mother, offering her a flower, asking her to nurture him, and he had the group chant, “Let Mom take care of John.” Modern psychology calls this process of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones “cognitive reframing.” But, says Desikachar, this type of mental reprogramming is an ancient yogic technique, one that is described by the sage Patanjali in Yoga Sutra II.33 as prakti paksha bhavana. Rather than let disturbing thoughts whip your body and mind into tension and despair, you can choose to substitute positive thoughts that will bring peace and calm. John had expected Desikachar to probe his relationship with his father—as John had done repeatedly in traditional therapy. But he found the unexpected focus on all that was good in his life extremely therapeutic.

For me, the practice of prakti paksha bhavana has been profoundly healing. Whenever disturbing thoughts arise, I make a conscious shift to that most positive place in my recent past—my “rebirth day,” when I awoke from a coma with complete faith that I would be fine. Virtually any stress fades in the light of this most precious gift, having my life and health completely restored. Each morning I start fresh, with a meditation on gratitude. Throughout the day, I try to recapture this sense of peace and share it with others. And every night I say a prayer of thanks for the simple miracle of breath.

Carol Krucoff is a yoga teacher and journalist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the coauthor of Healing Moves: How to Cure, Relieve and Prevent Common Ailments with Exercise. See