The Pleasures and Perils of Competitive Spirit: Doing all the Right Things for all the Wrong Reasons

Competition is negative when we wish to defeat others, to bring them down in order to lift ourselves up. ~ Dalai Lama

For as long as I remember, I’ve been troubled by competition.  Even as a small child, I felt bad when someone lost, because I believed that it made him/her feel bad.  I also felt guilt for winning.  Yet, even while I have and do experience these conflicted feelings, I did grow up in a culture that places a high priority on competition, individuality, and winning.  And ultimately, at the bottom of things, I am a competitive person.  This has exhibited itself in a variety of ways in  my life, to both my benefit and my detriment.

In one example of the benefit of the competitive spirit, I always wanted to get the best grades in any class that I took.  This drove me to work hard and I excelled because of that.  I don’t know if I would have gotten my PhD without that drive.  In an example of the drawbacks of competitive spirit, 20 years later, I still give myself grief over the fact that my first labor and delivery didn’t go the way I wanted – I didn’t do it perfectly.  And, I won’t even get into the relationship between competition, body image, and e.d.

While there are many things that could be discussed regarding this, this is a yoga/veganism blog.  So, today I consider how the competitive spirit impacts these things for me, and I believe for others, in both positive and negative ways.

I’m a vegan.  I’m working on being a raw foodist.  Being competitive, I want to be the *best* at both of these things.  For me, this has meant an increased commitment to researching options for vegan items, both food and non food, and figuring out ways to adapt my life that I think are ultimately good for me and for others.  But, it also means that I sometimes get cranky when other people say they are vegans or vegetarians but (from my standards) “really” aren’t (i.e. “I’m a vegetarian; I only eat fish and chicken”).  And there are times when I can be a little superior about my diet.  I know that I’m not alone here.  My first foray into raw foodism included reading several books and visiting online forums regarding a raw food diet.  What I saw was a little appalling.  While some good information and support was provided, in many venues there seemed to be more fighting over whose version of raw foodism was the best version, who had the best guru, and whose plan was the most healthy.  Hell, people even fight over who picked the best juicer (and then we get into the juicer or blender debate… don’t get me started).

In yoga, my competitive nature almost prevented me from starting in the first place (“I won’t be really good at it, so why try?”) and, as I noted in my last blog, it still sometimes causes me to steal opportunities from myself because I don’t want to fail and be the loser.  I also find that there are times when I pay too much attention to where I am, relative to other students in the class, instead of just being in the pose and with the breath.  Again, I have seen evidence that others also experience this, when I’ve gotten into the middle of arguments about what type of yoga practice is best, whether props should or shouldn’t be used, etc.  It’s sort of ironic, really.  But, while I generally think that competition should not be a part of yoga, it also pushes me to play my edges, keep improving, not let my practice stagnate at one level.

What’s the moral of the story?  I really think that competition is probably not needed or particularly appropriate in yoga or in raw foodism.  But, sometimes it can be the driving force to get you to do what is right behaviorally, even if it isn’t for the best of reasons.  Then again, I could be wrong… but I doubt it,  because you know that my blog is better than yours ; )

Ruminations (Rheuminations?) on Chronic Pain, Yoga, and Raw Foodism

The last week has been more than a little challenging physically, and it has me thinking about the ways in which chronic pain, being a yogi, and attempting a raw food diet interact.  As with most thing (oh, that middle path), there are challenges and benefits to yoga and raw foodism for individuals with chronic pain.  In this post, I consider my own experiences and link to some research and information about these connections.

Being an individual with a chronic pain condition makes yoga more of a challenge, in some ways, but also provides immense opportunities for benefit.  When I do yoga on  a regular basis, I find that my pain levels are lower.  I believe this is due to multiple factors.  First, having stretched and warmed my body regularly, it seems like I am not fighting with my muscles along with other things (i.e. my hamstrings tend to get ridiculously tight in an effort to manage the surrounding joint issues).  Second, when we exercise in ways that release endorphins, it causes a reduction in pain.  Finally, yoga makes me feel more peaceful, overall.  When I’m peaceful, I am better able to just notice pain instead of becoming totally enmeshed in it.  That makes it much easier to cope with.  Though I do see these benefits for my pain level, and research supports them, I do find that sometimes it is hard to maintain my practice in the face of chronic pain.  For me, morning and late day are the worst times for pain.  Coincidentally, they are also the times I am most likely to be able to attend a yoga class or practice at home.  This means that sometimes I don’t go, because I hurt and I simply cannot make it.  Pain also prevents me from going as deeply into poses as I want.  I have previously admitted that I do have a competitive nature, even though I understand that I should not in yoga, and feeling that I’m “doing it poorly” can be enough to suck away some of my joy in the practice if I’m not careful.  Finally, when I am already in pain, I can’t always tell where my edge is.  If I’m not hurting much, I know exactly when to stop moving into a pose because of the level of discomfort.  But, in a flare, as this week, everything hurts and every position hurts.  So, it’s difficult to tell when it’s “too much” pain and I have sometimes overextended and then paid for it later.

The raw food diet, for me, similarly presents opportunities and challenges in relation to chronic pain issues.  I started this eating plan with the hopes that it would make a large difference in my inflammatory response and thus would significantly improve my health.  That has not yet happened (though my digestion is certainly better), but I’m still hoping that it will.  So, I’m “planning” on that benefit.  A second positive of the raw food diet for pain is that some foods are believed to reduce pain/inflammation (like leafy greens, pineapple, some spices) while others are thought to encourage it (like artificial sweeteners, nitrates).  While these benefits are not to be dismissed, I have also found it a challenge to manage pain and raw foodism.  When I’m having a difficult time, I have found that it has an impact on my metabolism, blood sugar, energy level, etc.  And, I tend to not want to eat large quantities.  With cooked food, it is relatively easy to increase or maintain adequate intake even when eating a lower quantity.  With raw food, I have found this more difficult.  Consequently, I am not only experiencing the weakness of the medical issue, but also feeling weak simply because I haven’t taken in sufficient calories to support my body.  I continue to hope that, as I become more accustomed to eating raw, this will decrease.

So, what is the upshot for me?  I know that I will continue to do yoga, and I think that I will continue with a high raw diet.  But, while doing so, I think I need to pay better attention to the pain that my body is experiencing, and not overwhelm the body with the plans of the mind, nor expect that a pain free life is the ultimate goal.  I think that both yoga and a mindful raw diet might help me do this, if I practice.  As B.K.S. Iyengar has said: Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.

For more reading about these issues, see:

http://www.aolhealth.com/condition-center/chronic-pain/foods-inflammation

http://pain.about.com/od/exercisehealthylifestyl/a/pain_and_diet.htm

http://nutrition.about.com/od/dietsformedicaldisorders/a/antiinflamfood.htm

http://www.yogasite.com/chronicpain.htm

http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/2551

http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/2561

http://www.telegram.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070514/NEWS/705140355/1012 Continue reading

Vitamin B12 Deficiency in the Vegan/Raw Diet

There are many vitamins and minerals that we hear about in the media, from medical professionals, and from our parents/family growing up.  We mostly understand that we require some calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, and iron.  We understand that we need protein (though there are very interesting debates about how much).  However, many of us have no clue about the B vitamins.  Vitamin B12 can be a particular issue for those on a vegan diet who do not consume fortified food/drink (like soymilk).  Thus, raw vegans may be more inclined to a B12 deficiency.

Why is this important? B12 is a vitamin that the body requires (like folic acid) to make red blood cells.  I’m sure that I don’t need to explain that red blood cells are pretty important to our oxygenation and thus our overall health and wellness.

In a typical Westernized diet, people generally absorb sufficient quantities of B12 by eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.  Those who consume a vegan diet, or those who eat a very limited variety of foods (which can be more common in older adults), may find it very difficult to consume adequate B12.  Additionally, some medical conditions (including Crohn’s disease) and medications (including popular stomach acid reducers) may make it hard for the body to absorb enough B12 through diet.

Often, people are unaware that they have a B12 deficiency unless/until it becomes severe.  Symptoms can include fatigue, bleeding gums, weight loss, dizziness.  Persistent B12 deficiency can even lead to nerve damage and the associated physical and mental symptoms.

If you suspect that you have a B12 problem, your physician can test for anemia and B12 levels.  However, even if you don’t think testing is needed, it’s probably a good idea to think about how much B12 you are consuming and whether you need to supplement your dietary levels.  For those on a vegan, but not raw, diet, soy milk and other processed vegan foods may be fortified with B12.  For individuals on a raw diet, B12 (or full spectrum B) vitamins are readily available in most pharmacies, GNC stores, or online.

If you would like more information about the role of B12 in the body and supplementation, check out:

American Family Physician article on B12 deficiency

The Vegetarian Society B12 information sheet