See Susan Gwaltney’s Meditation blog from the Rancho la Puerta web site!
|The Secret Weapon for a Healthy, Happy Trip (and Gut!)|
|Feel Your Best While Having the Best Time|
Welcome to the home of Southern Africa Yoga safaris
We do hope you manage to find something of interest for you.
Please feel free to mail us with any requests as we are able to tailor-make a package for any group of 4 or more.
We offer Yoga Holidays, Retreats, Workshops and Teachers Training (up to 500 hours) courses in and around South Africa.
We ask too little of our bodies
Get moving! Or risk being “convenienced” to death.
For primitive man, constant motion from dawn until dusk was a way of life. Survival depended upon the ability to hunt, gather together as a clan, and to move with the seasons from one watering hole to the next. No debate raged over how much to rest, sleep, or not “wear your self out.” For every generation preceding the last two or three, existence has involved much more necessary movement than now—whether it meant mowing the lawn, bailing hay, walking across the country behind a Conestoga wagon, bringing in wood to heat the house, or scrubbing clothes in the basement and then carrying them out to hang on the backyard clothesline.
Modern life asks far too little of the body. The Industrial Revolution, with its factories, freight trains, and the automobile itself, brought about a slow but insidious decline in movement. Radio, television, and then cell phones and the Internet all lined up to hasten that slow decline into an all-out free-fall.
Babies and toddlers are as energetic as puppies, yet the primary goal of preschool seems to be teaching children to sit still so that they’ll be dutiful, focused students later on. Training for a seven-hour school day begins early. It takes a lot of work to retrain the body—wired as it is for movement—into inactivity. And unless we do something to reverse this, the scope in which we move will become smaller still as the years add up. As we age, there are no young children to run after, and many of us hire someone to cut the grass and shovel the snow. An entire day’s work can be accomplished by moving only the fingers over a computer keyboard.
We get … not lazy, but “convenienced” to death.
It will take discipline and effort to bring movement back into your life. We’veknown for decades how important movementis to health, yet some of us still think of ourselvesas exceptions to the rule. Hardly a day goes by without a startling new statistic confirming that exercise is the cure we’veall been waiting for. Personal experience has taught me that this one choice confers countless benefits, but I shall also cite some of the most recent studies in my attempt to persuade you. At my age I particularly enjoy using science as an opportunity to crow, “I told you so!”
One example comes from a January, 2010, article in The Wall Street Journal, summarizing data on the projected benefits of regular moderate exercise: diabetes would drop 50 percent; high blood pressure 40 percent; stroke 27 percent; recurrent breast cancer 50 percent; colon cancer60 percent; the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease 40 percent. And exercise can decrease depression as effectively as Prozac or behavioral therapy.
Art Kramer, a researcher whose studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign concluded that exercise improves memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and multitasking, says, “A year of regular exercise can give a 70-year-old the brain connectivity of a 30-year-old.” Now that’s a goal worth working for!
And the part I like the most? The cells of those who enjoy moderate exercise five times per week showed slower rates of aging compared to people of similar ages who were not as active. “Just 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week,” asserts the May, 2010, issue of Consumer Reports on Health, “can help you lose weight, sleep better, ease hip and joint pain, have better sex, boost your mood, strengthen bones, prevent falls, ward off cancer, improve cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.” In other words, exercise does everything except turn the color of your hair dark again!
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Enough said about exercise? I admit that the word exercise is a lot like the word diet—loaded with prejudice and expectations of failure. This is what I do: Every time I hear the word exercise I replace it with the word oxygen. Oxygen is the key, enabling physical stamina, mental alertness, healthy cell composition, and a strong immune system. Oh, not to mention life itself. Depending on variables like altitude and temperature, you can live for several weeks without food and for days without water, but you can’t live three minutes without oxygen. Most Americans are oxygen-deprived and become increasingly so as they age; studies abound on the connection between oxygen deprivation and dementia.
This is non-negotiable. Walk, cycle, swim, garden, play ball, lift weights or take tai chi, Pilates or aerobics classes—it makes little difference which you choose. Seek the exercise to which you are least allergic. Make it a habit, a reflex, something you do daily without question. Set your alarm clock thirty minutes earlier if you must. A half-hour spent exercising does far more for you than the last half-hour spent sleeping. And if, like me, daily movement doesn’t come easy to you, sign up for a gym class or make a pact with a friend to go walking regularly.
What matters is that you get at least one hour of movement daily, which includes a half hour of accelerated exercise no less than three times a week. I don’t have the guts to look at myself in the mirror when I’m washing my face and brushing my teeth before bed if I have failed to find one hour out of twenty-four to devote to movement. The investment of that hour is so small and the returns are so great.
Regular activity sends the message to my body that I’m still capable of doing what I did at 60 at age 92. Age is reflected in lifestyle. In fact, if you were to give me a running list of all of your physical activities for one week—and the speed at which you do them—I could probably guess your age.
Walking speed alone is an excellent predictor of longevity. “To find out how long you’ll live, find out how fast you walk,” was the lead in a January, 2011, article in Consumer Reports on Health. Try it: The next time you’re walking down a busy street, notice how many people pass you by. If almost everyone is walking at a faster pace, it’s time to step it up. I did this recently, and now make a concerted effort to keep up with the crowd. And I can.
In fact, the next time I’m walking down a sidewalk, I’m going to pass more than my fair share, and I hope you will too!
This is Your Brain on Yoga
We all know that yoga does wonders for the mind. Even novices of asana, pranayama, and meditation report feeling increased mental stability and clarity during and after practice. Now, thanks to sophisticated brain imaging technologies, neuroscience is proving what teachers and practitioners have known for ages—that yoga and meditation can literally change your brain. But what exactly is going on up there? Take a peek inside—a basic understanding of brain anatomy and function can serve as a handy road map for your inner journey.
The frontal lobe is the hub of higher cognitive functions—including planning, discriminating, abstract thinking, personality, and behavior. The Bihar School refers to the breathing practice of kapalabhati as “frontal brain purification,” due to the rejuvenating effects it has on this area of the brain.
Known as the seat of conscious functioning, the cerebrum is the largest part of your brain. It’s divided into right and left hemispheres. On the physical level, the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right. On the level of the subtle body, ida nadi (the lunar energy channel) is connected to the right half of the brain, and pingala nadi (the solar energy channel) is connected to the left side of the brain.
The pituitary gland is related to the sixth, or ajna, chakra. Ajna literally means “command center.”
The anterior part of the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex, is the most evolved part of the brain and is responsible for positive capacities like concentration, happiness, creativity, and rational thinking. Studies using EEG have shown that meditation strengthens communication between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain.
Roughly the size of a pea, the pituitary gland is the endocrine system’s master gland, producing and releasing hormones that control growth, metabolism, and the function of other hormones. On a more subtle level, the pituitary gland is related to the sixth, or ajna, chakra. Ajna literally means “command center.”
Neurotransmitters serve as the brain’s chemical messengers, relaying information between nerve cells. Neurological disorders are often the result of a neurotransmitter snafu—for instance, low levels of a neuro-transmitter known as GABA are linked to depression and anxiety. Recent studies show an association between regular asana practice and increased GABA levels.
The brain stem, which connects the brain and the spinal cord, plays a crucial role in digestion, heart rate, and diaphragmatic breathing. Neurons found in the brain stem send a nerve impulse to the diaphragm, which causes it to contract, thereby initiating inhalation.
A 2010 study found that subjects who meditated 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala—which is linked to fear and anxiety.
The cerebellum controls balance, muscle coordination, reflexes, and movement. Asana would be impossible without it.
The limbic system is comprised of structures related to memory and emotion, such as the hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, and hypothalamus. A 2010 study found that subjects who meditated 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala—which is linked to fear and anxiety—and an increase of gray matter in the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in memory formation.
As the primary visual processing center of the brain, the occipital lobe helps you follow along visually in yoga class. And you can thank the temporal lobe for your ability to process verbal asana cues—it’s responsible for auditory perception.
The parietal lobe is associated with limb movement, understanding speech, and sensing pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in April 2011, brain scans of this region demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can dramatically reduce sensitivity to pain—even more so than morphine.
I just got back from 5 weeks in South Africa, where, by the way, the spa and beauty industry are thriving. In Johannesburg/ Sandton, there is an emergence of Thai massage spas, with traditional masseurs, who deliver traditional Thai massage. Fantastic! The salons are located in either shopping malls and/or stand alone properties, but all celebrate the tradition of washing of the feet, slippers, Thai pajamas and a tea ritual afterwards. I had (2) 90-minutes massages that were absolutely 5 star.
While visiting the Drakensburg mountains, the Midlands Meander, and even to Kruger National Park, spas were located or at least accessible in all locations. I celebrated my during during this trip and was treated to a lovely massage at the famous Oyster Box, located in Durban. The spa is gorgeous, with a full banquet in the relax area, steam room, pools and therapists who are well trained in Oyster Box brand. Meaning, as routine they asked the “right” questions about the service, they share the meaning of the ritual (or their spa brand concept) and ended with a promotion of retail.
During all of this travel and spa treatments, a historical passing occurred, that of the beloved Nelson Mandela. I found out about his passing while in Washington, DC the night before my departure to South Africa. Basically my flight the next day was one of the first flights out… packed with Secret Service Agents, security and press. I was concerned about what the Johannesburg airport would look like during this time, but I landed in a quiet and somber place.
It was a very quiet time the entire week I spent in Johannesburg, glued to the news and watching events of Mandel’s funeral services. Even visiting Mandela Square in Sandton, felt quiet and orderly. Piles of flowers were left on the square and a queue of mourners/tourists/locals waited peacefully to have their picture taken in front of his statue, me too. Grocery stores were empty, streets vacant, traffic sparse.
I was unaware that we would pass the “capture place” of Nelson Mandela my drive through the Midlands. I guess I did not fully do my homework, and was surprised at the number of people who roamed through the rustic museum and grounds (pictures attached).
As a spa consultant, I am always interested in our industry, no matter where I go in the US or abroad, I find myself at a spa or wellness/new age center trying out new services and observing new concepts. But as circumstances unfolded last month, my trip (even though it was during Christmas and New Years) developed into a different type of participation and celebration~ it was a participation in celebrating a global figure, a man who gave South Africa and its people a chance for peace. And then the country, if even for just a week, became very quiet.
This week is extra special at Rancho la Puerta, as it is the celebration of Dia De Muertos. Yesterday afternoon a team of students from The University of Tijuana, lead by Jose Flores, Ph.D. decorated the dining hall with an altar in memory of Professor Szekely, (the founder) and his son Alex. All of their favorite foods, wine, sports and hobbies… even a trusted dog, decorated the altar. Tonight is a huge fiesta with the Ranch guests and Fiesta Band! Viva Dia de Muertos.