Live Your Yoga on and Off the Mat This Holiday Season

By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle

This holiday season, live your yoga on and off the mat.  Let’s remember what “yoga” means. It is a Sanskrit word that means union. Yoga is the union of your body, mind, and spirit. Feeling the yoga “union” with your family, friends, and everyone around you can help to reduce stress around this busy time of year.

When we think of the holidays, we think of it as a time to enjoy our friends and gathering with family.  As enjoyable as the holidays are, getting ready for the holidays can be a stressful part of the year. Luckily, there are many things you can do to reduce stress and create a happy, memorable holiday season. Studies have shown that creating more positive causes in our lives along with laughter can help to decrease stress. This holiday season, seek out pleasurable experiences rich with laughter, and reduce the potentially harmful stress hormones you’re lugging around with you.

We should always choose nourishing choices for our soul as well as we do for our physical body. As you go into the holiday season, stimulate your relaxation response by deep breathing and meditation (see instructions below). Breathing, meditation, and yoga are all excellent ways to lower stress levels. By properly practicing these exercises, you can initiate your relaxation response, which can help to lower the heart rate and blood pressure and even decrease the adrenal hormones that tend to increase under stress. Another proven way to reduce stress is with laughter. Laughing holds a certain power, the ability to make us smile ear to ear with happiness.  It is one of the best antidotes for stress and bonds us with others. Laughter can diminish pain, boost energy levels, and increase our immune systems.

Celebrate this holiday season uniting with loved ones. Embrace the festive spirit, and take time to relax and nurture yourself and those around you. Remember, laughter is the best medicine, and taking time to relax is just as important as getting all the shopping done. It is essential to maintain a balance in everything we do.  Live your yoga on and off the mat! Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Ujjayi Breath: The “sounding breath” or “ocean breath”

1. Sitting with your spine straight, or lying down on your back (knees bent or straight), take a few deep breaths. Relax.
2. With a slow and steady breath through the nostrils, gently contract the back of your throat (the glottis), creating a soft and audible hissing sound. The sound is like a gentle “snore” in a deep, relaxed sleep. (To learn how to create this sound, practice whispering “ahhhhh” with your mouth open on both the exhalation and the inhalation. Or, open your mouth on the exhale and gently “ahhhh” as though you were blowing fog on a mirror–that’s the “rushing,” wave-like sound you are seeking to create with a closed mouth.)
3. Lengthen the breath as much as possible, and focus on the sound. Repeat for five to 10 minutes. As you advance in your practice, repeat ujjayi breathing for longer periods of time.

So Hum Meditation:

1.  Sit comfortably where you will not be disturbed, and softly close your eyes.
2.  For a few minutes, simply observe the inflow and outflow of your breath.
3.  Now, take a slow deep breath through the nose while thinking the word So.
4.  Exhale slowly through the nose while thinking the word HUM.
5.  Allow your breathing to flow easily, silently repeating, So… Hum… with each inflow and outflow of breath.
6.  Whenever your attention drifts to thoughts in your mind, sounds in your environment, or sensations in your body, gently return to your breath, silently repeating, So… Hum.
7.  Continue this process for 15 or 30 minutes, with an attitude of effortlessness and simplicity.
8.  When the time is up, sit with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes before resuming your daily activity.

Experiences during meditation will fall into four categories: (1) Repeating the mantra, (2) having thoughts, (3) falling asleep, or (4) experiencing pure awareness. Keep these guidelines in mind.

A. Repeat the mantra easily and effortlessly. It may change, become vague, or follow a certain rhythm. Just let it go and experience any changes innocently.
B. If you notice that your attention has drifted away from the mantra to thoughts, sensations in the body, or noise in the environment, gently bring your awareness back to the mantra.
C. If you fall asleep, it is OK. The body will naturally take the rest it needs. When you notice that you have been asleep, just return to the mantra. If your meditation time is up, spend a few minutes repeating the mantra before stopping and         coming out of meditation.
D. If you notice that there has been some time without thoughts or the mantra, yet you were aware, that is called “slipping into the gap,” or pure awareness. The experience of the mind settling down to a state of no activity but awareness is a transcendent experience of the peace within. As the experience grows, you will notice that this quiet witness begins to become part of your everyday awareness.

Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.” 



 Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.


Cantaloupe Recall Update, Grape Tomato Recall, Shoe and Gout, Turmeric


By Mary Jane Dittmar

The number of people diagnosed with Listeria monocytogenes as a result of eating cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado continues to grow, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of 11a.m. EDT on September 26, 2011, the CDC received reports that 72 persons from 18 states were infected with the four outbreak-associated strains of Listeria.

All illnesses started on or after July 31, 2011. The number of infected persons identified in each state follows: California (1), Colorado (15), Florida (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Kansas (5), Maryland (1), Missouri (1), Montana (1), Nebraska (6), New Mexico (10), North Dakota (1), Oklahoma (8), Texas (14), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), Wisconsin (2), and Wyoming (1).  Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Indiana were recently added as states to which the melons had been shipped. Thirteen deaths have been reported: 2 in Colorado, 1 in Kansas, 1 in Maryland, 1 in Missouri, 1 in Nebraska, 4 in New Mexico, 1 in Oklahoma, and 2 in Texas.

The CDC said it expects these numbers to rise, since it can take up to two months for Listeriosis to develop after encountering the bacteria. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, recommends that consumers throw out cantaloupes they may have at home unless they are certain that they did NOT come from Jensen Farms.

Listeria can cause fever, neck stiffness, confusion, and vomiting, according to the CDC. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk of developing serious symptoms. Listeria is especially dangerous during pregnancy and can infect the newborn or lead to premature delivery. Additional information is at

Organic Grape Tomato Recall

On September 28, Andrew Williamson Fresh Produce initiated a voluntary recall for one lot of organic grape tomatoes sold under the Limited Edition® and Fresh & Easy labels because of a possible health risk from Salmonella.

One clamshell of the organic grape tomatoes tested positive for Salmonella in a random sample collected and tested by the United States Department of Agriculture in Michigan. No illnesses were reported at the time this column was written.
The Salmonella organism can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses.

The organic grape tomatoes are sold in 10.5-ounce plastic containers containing UPC code #033383655925, located on the front of the package, below the barcode. The containers also have the words “LIMITED EDITION” and “Product of Mexico” on the label. They are also sold in seven-ounce plastic “clam shell” containers with Barcode #20025465, and marketed under the “Fresh & Easy” brand. They were distributed to 18 U.S. states–Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah–and two Canadian Provinces, British Columbia and Ontario). For additional information, e-mail

Poor Footwear and Gout Pain

There is a connection between poor footwear and gout, according to a study published today in Arthritis Care & Research, a peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). The study, led by Professor Keith Rome from AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand, revealed that patients with gout who made poor footwear choices relative to comfort, fit, support, and cost had more foot-related pain, impairment, and disability.

Gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by the crystallization of uric acid within the joints and other tissues, causes severe pain and swelling. It occurs most often in the feet (often the large toe).

Good footwear choices included walking shoes, athletic sneakers, or oxfords. Poor choices included sandals, flip-flops, slippers, or moccasins. Boots were considered an average choice. Characteristics of poor footwear included improper cushioning, lack of support, inadequate stability and motion control, and old shoes that had acquired patterns from excessive wear. “Footwear Characteristics and Factors Influencing Footwear Choice in Patients with Gout.” Professor Keith Rome, Mike Frecklington, Peter McNair, Peter Gow, Nicola Dalbeth. Arthritis Care and Research; Published Online: September 30, 2011 (DOI: 10.1002/acr.20582).

Spotlight on Tumeric

Turmeric, the root of the Curcuma longa plant, and curcumin, the yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, have been receiving much attention lately as a spice that has demonstrated therapeutic properties. Probably best known as a curry ingredient, turmeric has a bright yellow color and a flavor that some consider to resemble that of orange and ginger.

Turmeric is an excellent source of iron and manganese and a good source of vitamin B6, dietary fiber, and potassium.

The oil of this spice has been used for centuries as an antiinflammatory in Chinese and Indian medicine. Research has shown that curcumin, a phytonutrient and component of turmeric, is a powerful antioxidant. It has been shown to counteract chemicals that damage healthy body cells and membranes and cause inflammation. Curcumin has been shown to have some potential as a possible treatment for some diseases and for preventing some forms of cancer and inhibiting cancer cell growth and metastases.

Combining turmeric and cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, and turnips) was found to reduce tumor growth and the spread of cells in mice with well-established prostate cancer. Turmeric may be effective in inhibiting the mutagenicity of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (carcinogenic chemicals created by the burning of carbon-based fuels, including cigarette smoke) and in other harmful cell effects resulting from  radiation and amines and nitroso compounds found in processed foods and meat products. Curcumin may be able to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the body.  Additional information on turmeric and simple ways to incorporate it in your cooking are at

Information provided here is not to be construed as medical advice. It is presented so that you can make more informed decisions about your diet and health, hopefully by building on the information with additional research. 

Photos courtesy of

Mary Jane Dittmar is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.