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Prescribing a Paradox

The United States spends more on health care than any country in the world, and yet for documented health, we don’t even make the top 10: a paradox, indeed. In fact, it’s a paradox which has politicians and healthcare workers relentlessly pushing to expand funding for drug research and health coverage—wait, what? Somebody is missing the big picture, here.

 

It is clear that our tremendous health spending is not correlating with increased health. The problem cannot be solved by increased use of pharmaceuticals and increased access to hospitals (and here I’m talking about Western, not infectious diseases. However, in the West, it is no longer infectious diseases which are killing us). The problem is much deeper than this, but it’s rare to come across somebody bothering to wonder what is causing all this disease in the first place. Rather than treating ailments once they have already taken hold of the population, wouldn’t it save a lot of time and money to prevent them from happening in the first place?

3315748907_5445d270cb_bOf course it would, but there are people with money and incredible influence who are benefitting from keeping our current healthcare paradigm centered on treatment. I’m talking about big-time health insurance and pharmaceutical companies who, these days, run the show. They have the money to buy out doctors in private practice to join their army, where they can dictate the nature and number of patients their doctors see. They are wining and dining these physicians to coax them into prescribing their new “products” to patients. Their influence is higher than this, though, permeating governmental policy and funding.

It’s a vicious cycle: increasingly sedentary lifestyles in the West and consumption of processed foods lead to an increase in the diagnoses of Western diseases. Thus, our reliance on these pharm and health insurance companies rises and their influence grows.  Soon every rambunctious toddler will be prescribed sedatives! Oh wait…

The point is, we are struggling to keep afloat in the costs we are incurring to maintain “health,” and for some of us, we’ve already drowned. If it sounds gloomy, fret not! The most important thing you can do is take charge of your own wellbeing. It’s not rocket science: physical exercise, eating fruits and veggies, and taking time to relax will benefit health. If you have the means, go see experts who will help you become the healthiest you can be, such as yoga teachers, personal trainers, dieticians, massage therapists, acupuncturists, psychologists. Taking charge of your health now will not only extend your life but the quality of it, as well.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, or you may be paying the price. –WB

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Food for Thought

There are a few things that get my goat, but what gets my biggest, fattest goat is the food industry in Western countries (including, but not limited to “first-world,” predominately white societies). The fact that I need call it an “industry” should more or less tell you the nature of the problem.

2398513475_c570cfb113_bEnter the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. These are the guys who make the rules about food production, and they publish the Food Pyramid and recommended caloric and nutritional intake. But there’s a small problem with the FDA making these rules: a majority of the members are tied to or are in charge of factory farms. Conflict of interest? I’d think so. Why else would our original food pyramid have grains at the bottom? Fortunately, a few doctors went poking around this claim and came out with a spectrum of disastrous outcomes on health with such a diet. In light of this, they’ve changed the pyramid a little (MyPyramid!), but the sneaky bastards are still playing at the grain game. I should correct myself: the government-subsidized food stuffs game.

Why grain? And what’s with all the corn, soy, and peanut in everything? At some point in the early 20th century, the government decided to subsidize these items, granting incentives to farmers who agreed to grow them. Naturally, farmers jumped on board—maximize profit? Sounds good. But now so many farms have been converted, these few items are being produced in excess. Luckily, we’ve found creative ways to use them. Try reading the ingredients on packaged food. I saw orange juice the other day proudly advertised as “gluten free.” I’m sorry, but what is gluten doing in juice in the first place?

8603655199_f571045505_oThe recent phenomenon of gluten intolerance need not come as a surprise. We consume gluten and other corn, soy, peanut, and meat additives in far excess of what we realize, particularly when even our juices have them! Of course our bodies would begin to reject them, and the reaction is compounded by the recent phenomenon of genetically modified crops. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have been scientifically altered from their natural forms in order to enhance production—thereby garnering even more reward from the government.

So let’s come back to the issue. It’s not that our government is full of idiots who can’t understand what a healthy diet looks like: the phenomenon is the government’s antiquated and ill-considered response to an expanding population (a population who demands meat!). More people equals more food, equals more land for food—that, and modifying the genes of seed strains to optimize nature. (Optimization—that should be the name of our generation: Generation Optimization.)

5723160949_079d365db7_bFactory farms dominate the show, so as a consumer, it becomes more expensive to buy organic (which is fucked up, considering they’re actually growing the real stuff). But if calling something “too expensive,” depends on your spending priorities. Everyone can do their part by buying foods labeled organic, or non-GMO (read: the FDA is also in charge of labels, so be careful not to trust products simply labeled “natural,” as this term isn’t regulated. Read carefully, friends.) If you do this, you are doing more than feeding your body what it’s designed to function on—you are joining a movement against fake food. You are standing up to our warped food industry and demanding them to produce the real stuff, please.

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The Ashtanga Yoga Kool-Aid: An Outsider in Mysore, India

As I write this, I am sitting on the cold tile floor of my wide-open, one-bedroom apartment in Mysore, India, where I have been living the past month for the purpose of studying at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute. I practice Ashtanga yoga every morning at sunrise, here and back home in Florida, and my yogic training is rooted firmly in the Ashtanga tradition. But despite my fondness for the practice, and my trust in its methods, I am disheartened with the current managers’ business scheme and with the community here as a whole.

Let me first say that the guy Sharath who is essentially CEO of today’s KPJAYI is making bank. Every single student that walks into his shala (which this month is around 500) brings in 30,000 rupees. That’s equivalent to about $450 per month, per student. If a yoga studio in the United States—where everything is about five times more expensive than India—charged this per month, everyone would think they were insane. A month unlimited pass at the studios where I’m from in St. Petersburg, Florida, is about $75 per month. Granted, it is not with this venerable guru, but six times the price?

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The actual process of achieving a coveted “certification” from KPJAYI is arbitrary, to say the least, but seven years of consecutive trips to India is considered a short amount of time to attain the title. And, despite the monstrous amount of cost this entails for the practitioner, the certification is only valid if a $2000 fee is paid. Per year.  It seems cost should not be the prohibiting factor that it is, for shouldn’t everyone be able to benefit if the goal is really to attain enlightenment? The Tibetan monks are claiming the same thing, but you don’t see them charging shit for their services.

I realize that the Ashtanga certification is taken very seriously because the creators want to preserve the tradition, trusted in the hands of only very experienced practitioners. They want to make sure those that bear the reputation of KPJAYI are of the highest training. What I am talking about is not the commitment, but the money involved—just what they do with it all that dough is a mystery to me (though it’s certainly not being used to buy toilet paper for the shala). I do know that Sharath lives in a mansion next door to his equally impressive shala.

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The scary thing is, nobody here sees it. KPJAYI has become an exclusive empire, where troops of gaunt yogis from across the globe eagerly shed the bills to take part in and behold this master. As I said, I love the Ashtanga practice, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the lineage and the knowledge it embodies. But I can’t bring myself to drink the damn yoga Kool-Aid. I’m content to learn from my teachers at home, whom I trust because they do shell out the money each year to make the sacred pilgrimage, although I admit the esteem I held my teacher prior to this trip has faded slightly since coming. She, too, is as member of the cult—a cult marketed exquisitely to Western audiences. In fact, I have encountered just a handful of actual Indians while here, in a crowd of around 500 white faces. I do not need to spend that money myself, on continual flights and shala fees to support who-knows-what. I do not need to join the cult and earn the sacred blessing from Sharath. I’d rather enjoy the fruits of the practice for my own benefit.

What exactly is going on behind the doors of that mansion? It’s a mystery to us mortals, but if you’re willing to shell out enough money, you might just find out.

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Who Gives a Shit About Global Warming?

The global warming debate irks me. It’s as if the number of degrees up or down or neither of Earth’s temperature affects whether someone chooses to throw their trash out the window or not. It irks me that, characteristic of America’s paralyzing bipartisanism, the issue should be as hotly debated as it is. The exact nature of the consequences doesn’t matter. What matters is that we confront the fact that pollution is bad and that we shouldn’t do it. Are we really going to wait for the sea level to wash away our coasts, or the ozone to disintegrate, or farmland to become infertile, or some other upheaval of life as we know it before we decide to cut down on consumption?

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I’m confident that in a small part of everybody’s mind, there is recognition that our lifestyle—with plastics cluttering the oceans, the population ever-expanding, the clearance of natural habitat, copious burning of coal—is going to have repercussions on not just the environment but on our health, as well. We know that pollution is bad for us, bad for the Earth. So if you say global warming isn’t “real,” does this mean you are endorsing pollution? I would certainly hope not.

Seriously, people, with or without the climate changing (but seriously, check the scientific literature), don’t freaking pollute. Just don’t do it. Don’t be so self-centered as to drive a hummer and eat steak every night and leave your A/C running all day (“but I like it!” they whined). These luxuries are not sustainable, and they will come to an end. The world was not intended for our disposal. Us lovers of the planet (that’s everyone) ask all the people of the world to please cut down on these things. People can and do survive on much less, so allow yourself to sacrifice some of the luxury for the sake of our race and the land we share.

It is said that awareness is the first step towards instigating change.

You’re welcome, World.