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

Vegan shoes – WTF?

Crocs Beach

Looks nice with a pencil skirt? Noooo

I’m sure it’s me, because I haven’t heard anyone else complaining about it recently, but what is the problem with shoe manufacturers that they don’t want to branch out into non-animal materials.  Sure, there are a few companies that do, but they tend to be the granola clunky shoes (like earth shoes) or beach shoes (like crocs and flip flops).  Once you start adding other needs to the shoe shopping, the choices become fewer and fewer.  Currently, I’m trying to find dress shoes with a little bit of a heel for work, vegan, size 8, without a pointy toe.  HAHAHAHA.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly stores that specialize in vegan footwear, but the selection is limited and the prices are high.  And, importantly, they are all mail order or online unless you happen to be very lucky and be near one (it seems that being in NYC or on the west coast helps out there).  While I’m willing to buy almost anything online, from tea to pajamas, I have a hard time with dress shoes.  I’ve been bitten one too many times shelling out the cash for a pair of dress shoes that arrives and is uncomfortable or just unwearable (and then I don’t return for a variety of reasons that would require a whole separate post to sort out).

So, off to the stores I go, where the sales clerks in the shoe section will inevitably look at me as if I have sprouted a second head when I ask if they have any vegan dress shoes.  After a few seconds of silence, I’ll explain that I mean non-leather and with no leather trim or other animal derived parts.  There will be more silence and then they will lead me to the one pair of extremely shiny patent leather Mary Janes that they have in the store and say “I think this is the only thing we would have.”  And, I’ll leave despondent.  It’s enough to make me really want to go shopping.   And, enough to make me wonder, what is our obsession with cloaking our feet in the skin of another mammal.  I mean, think about it.  Eeeew.  Whose bright idea was that?  And, maybe it made sense at some point, but so did smoking our meat, not having a refrigerator, and making heat with a fire.  Times change and we evolve.  Maybe it’s time to stop walking in dead cow.

Anyway, if you don’t mind shopping online for shoes, I suggest the following shops for your vegan/vegetarian shoe shopping pleasure!

MooShoes – http://www.mooshoes.com/

Pangea – The Vegan Store – http://www.veganstore.com/

Alternative Outfitters – http://www.alternativeoutfitters.com/

Vegan Chic – http://www.veganchic.com/

Regazzi Vegan – http://ragazzivegan.com/index.php

Yours in bare feet,

LBA