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Episode 68: What Madonna’s Yoga Instructor Can Teach Us About Gut Health

Episode 68: What Madonna’s Yoga Instructor Can Teach Us About Gut Health

Yoga typically brings to mind images of people twisted into different positions or sitting peacefully with crossed legs and closed eyes. But can regular people use yoga to improve their gut health with just a moment or two of practice each day? 

Eddie Stern says yes. Eddie is a NYC-based yoga teacher, author and lecturer whose clients have included Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mike D, Lou Reed, and many more. His passion for seeking out diversity in all aspects of his work and his approach of combining technology, scientific research, and collaboration to help further understanding, education, and access to yoga has put him on the globe map in terms of influence in the yogic community. 

On this episode, Eddie and Andrea discuss what yoga is (it’s not just poses!), the easiest entry point into yoga and how you might expect your gut to improve with a regular practice. 

They also discuss Eddie’s belief that long-term, life-changing practices start with teeny, incremental daily steps, and he introduces us to a way that nearly guarantees success in starting a yoga and mindfulness practice.  

To connect with Eddie, visit his website or head to yoga365.online

Questions? Ideas? Email us at themicrobiomereport@biohmhealth.com or reach out on Instagram @DreEats or @BIOHMHealth.

Approximate Timestamps: 

  • What is yoga? (2:19)
  • Easiest entry point into yoga (7:44)
  • Yoga and gut health (9:31)
  • Reducing inflammation levels (15:37)
  • Yoga365 (21:08)
  • Digestion improving postures (25:58)
  • Resonance breathing exercise (33:34)
  • The role of community in yoga (36:59)

Mentioned On This Show:

biohm gut quiz

Transcript: 

Andrea Wien: Hey y'all, here is my urgent plea again, before we get started with today's episode. If you didn't hit subscribe last time I made this plea, or you didn't listen to that episode, please, please, please, go and hit subscribe for us, leave us a rating and review. Again, it makes such a huge difference in the algorithm showing everyone this content; which we think is so valuable and so important. So if you found any value in this show, if you listen to any of the episodes, if you've shared them with your friends, we would love nothing more than if you could go and subscribe today. It really makes such a huge difference, and we thank you so much in advance.

Okay, let's get to today's show. I'm your host, Andrea Wien, you are listening to The Microbiome Report, powered by BIOHM Health. And today I'm talking to Eddie Stern. Eddie is a yoga teacher, author, and lecturer from New York City. He is also the yoga teacher for many of the stars that you know and love, including Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mike D, Lou Reed, and many more. But Eddie is also one of the most knowledgeable people I know about yoga philosophy, the backgrounds of yoga, and really how yoga comes together to create a whole lifestyle; not just the poses that you might think about when you think about yoga.

So on this episode, we get into exactly what yoga is; if we can even define it in one episode. Which is tough to do, as you'll hear. But also why yoga can help us increase our microbial diversity and function, how it can really benefit our gut health, and also what types of yoga are best suited to healing. Additionally, we talk a little bit about the yogic diet and the link between mindfulness and parasympathetic…that's the rest and digest state…of being, and how that relates to microbiome health.

This is an interesting episode and we hope you enjoy it.

Eddie, welcome to the show.

Eddie Stern: Thank you, Andrea.

Andrea Wien: So I want to start by just getting some terminology out of the way and making sure everyone is on the same page. So I want you to talk through: what is yoga? I think most people think about yoga and they only think about the physical act of doing different poses and exercise. So can you talk through exactly what yoga is?

Eddie Stern: Well, I don't know if I can talk through exactly what yoga is, but I can give you the best of my understanding. There are a lot of different traditions of yoga in India. And I follow the tradition of Patañjali, which is probably one of the more well-known yoga traditions, I guess you could say. Patañjali was a sage who lived somewhere in the area of 400 CE, and codified the teachings of yoga that were existing up until that point. So there're a lot of different teachings in the Upanishads and in various sources, but they were disparate. And he put them together in a form called Sutra, which is a particular type of literature in the Hindu tradition.

And Sutras are very short sentences, or aphorisms…they're not even always complete sentences…and they're filled with lots of meaning that are elaborated on in commentaries. And so, Patañjali is very concise when he says that, "Yoga is a practice, or process, of gradually eliminating or stilling all of the extraneous activities in the field of mind that make us identify with something which is other than our true nature; which is pure being or presence or witness."

So that's basically from a Patañjali perspective, what yoga is. It is the process and practice of eliminating all extraneous activities of the mind that are other than self, other than presence. And when that goal is accomplished, then you're said to be in a state of yoga which is existing as in your true nature, "As the self remains and the self alone," as it says in his text.

And when we are not established in the self, as the self alone, as awareness, then we identify with thoughts. And whatever is happening in the field of thoughts, that's what we identify with. And thoughts can mean emotions, and feelings, and memories, and sensations, and ideas, and identities, and narratives, and all sorts of changing things; which bring us through the various ups and downs of life. So our highs and our lows, and the joys and sadnesses, and the successes and the failures that we identify with and that we cling to.

And the way that this process of elimination of all the extraneous activities are accomplished are through a couple of different types of practices. One practice is called Kriya Yoga, which means you do three different things to begin to thin or attenuate all that stuff. And those three things are practices that involve the physical body, such as postures, and breathing practices, and restraints; like trying to be nonviolent and trying to tell the truth and stuff like this. And then the next is the study of the sacred texts, the repetition of mantras and self-examination. And then the final one is surrender to God, or just surrender, in general, to the unknown. So this is called Kriya Yoga, these are the actions in yoga that help to lead to an attenuation of activity in the field of the mind. And then the next, very popular, approach is called Ashtanga Yoga, which are the eight limbs of yoga that gradually lead you towards deeper and deeper states of absorption.

So from Patañjali perspective, yoga is very much a practice of the mind, but our mind is not this thing which is limited to brain function, or in our head, the mind is everywhere. The mind is a continuum with every part of our body. So by restraining the body, we also restrain the mind. By restraining the breath, we also restrain the mind. So it's not just by trying to restrain our thought in a thinking or logical or intellectual type of way, or through meditation do we control the mind, we also can access it through all of the different things that make up our being; which includes our body.

So yoga often becomes a very easy entry point for people, because they find that by doing something to steady and still and slow the body, it has that effect immediately on the mind as well. And then people think, "Oh, my mind and my body are now coming together at the same place," actually they always were in the same place, it's just we were so busy with other stuff that we forgot that they were a continuum. So yoga, in that sense, becomes a reminder, as well, of what we truly are and who we truly are. And you see the word memory and remembrance come up a lot in the yoga text. So in many ways, the yoga practices are practice of remembering who we truly are.

Andrea Wien: Now, is it accurate to say, then, for most people to remember that state of awareness…that our mind and our body are one…that starting with the physical practice is an easier entry point? Is that why it's more popular?

Eddie Stern: Yeah, for most people it's an easier entry point.

In the beginning of Yoga Sutra, one of the primary commentaries, it says that there are five states of mind. One is a completely distracted state. Another is a completely…you could say…obsessed state of mind. And the third is a semi-distracted state, where we can pay attention for a little while and then our mind wanders off, and then we notice it's wandered off and we pay attention again. This is the state of mind of most people. And for people with this state of mind, starting with asanas is a very good entry point because it helps us to train the faculty of attention; which is part of us. There are a lesser amount of people who already have extremely good focus or concentration, they can go more directly into deeper practices without having to do things like asanas.

But also, when you look at something…let's take TM meditation, this is an extremely popular meditation style or method. And when you meditate you also have to sit in a posture, you have to sit either on a chair or sit on the ground. So you are doing something with your body to restrain your body for a certain amount of time. So not all of the asanas need to be moving asanas, they don't all need to be headstands, or sun salutations, or forward bends, they can also simply be things like sitting down and not moving for 20 minutes; that's also doing a yoga asana.

Andrea Wien: Okay. And that's helpful.

So when we start to think about a healing journey, or just generally when we look at gut health or microbiome health, how does yoga start to infiltrate that? How do we start to be able to improve or come into more alignment with our gut health?

Eddie Stern: One of the suggestion of the yoga traditions is that we need to be careful about the foods that we eat, and that the foods we eat are going to contribute to our state of mind, and our state of mind is going to contribute to the strength of our ability to remember. There was a verse in one of the Upanishads that says, "[Foreign Language 00:09:52]," which means, "If your food is pure, then your mind is pure and clean. And if the mind is pure and clean, or filled with brightness, then your memory will be strong as well. And if your memory is strong, then you can move towards true knowledge."

So the yogi's had all sorts of different types of diets, depending on their tradition that you follow. And most of them involve foods that are really easy to digest. In Ayurvedic traditions they say, "It's not so much what you eat, but it's what you can digest." And even if you're eating foods that everyone says are the most healthiest of foods, if you can't digest them then they're not of much use to you, they can even be toxic for you. The yoga system is very concerned with health, starting in the digestive system.

Andrea Wien: No, it is helpful. And we actually had Divya Alter on to talk about Ayurveda, and some the ideas and principles of diet in terms of Ayurvedic lifestyle. So I think our listeners are familiar, at least with the concepts of that, and what you can digest is what you become, not just what you eat. And I think you make a good point, that you could be eating the healthiest of foods, someone could be eating broccoli and salads and all these things that are "healthy", but if they're having a hard time digesting them they can actually cause more problems.

So starting with where you are in your journey and being able to identify which foods…which are often things that are more well cooked, easier to digest. So we would be moving away from the things like meat, just naturally, because meat is much harder to digest than a well cooked vegetable, for example. And that also factors into what you mentioned in terms of the nonviolence, which I think is a big part of yoga, if I'm understanding it correctly?

Eddie Stern: Yeah, it's a foundational principle of yoga.

Andrea Wien: So when we think about the asanas and more of the exercise realm of things. So we know from the research that aerobic exercise, like yoga, can increase microbial diversity, but we don't really understand how. Do we know, from a yogic perspective, what yoga is doing internally to encourage the better functioning of our microbes?

Eddie Stern: Just to back up slightly, I don't think yoga qualifies as an aerobic practice because it doesn't really get your heart rate up high enough to be counted as aerobic. So for something to be aerobic, usually your heart rate needs to go above, say, 120 or 130 for a sustained amount of time. And that's really not happening with the yoga practices, unless you do extremely fast sun salutations for a long time; which most people are not doing.

So of the few things I do know, I know that our microbes are very easily influenced by the types of food that we're eating, the digestibility of them, the appropriateness of them for us. And that the state of the microbials in different places, for example, in the gut, do have a strong effect on our moods and emotions and state of mind and energy levels.

Some people have suggested that this has to do with the gut-brain communication access; which is the vagal nerve complex. And so the gut is communicating with the brain through the vagal nerve complex and through the vagal afferents. And if the condition of the microbes in the gut are happy and healthy and being fed and being provided with a hospitable environment, the communication that's sent up to the brain is going to reflect that. And if the environment is being made hostile, or unpleasant, then that will be communicated to the brain as well. The brain will process that information, send it back to the body, and the body will respond in the like manner.

So I, generally speaking, think of the yoga practices that we're doing as fine-tuning the ways that communication occurs through our entire physiological being and also into our energetic and mental being as well. Because we all have energy levels and we all have mental fluctuations and mental levels. In yoga, they consider all these to be sort of separate bodies that are interlapping and overlapping with each other. You do one thing to one body and it's going to effect the other in the same type of a way.

And the vagus nerve has drawn an increasing amount of attention over the past 10 to 20 years, through the work of Dr. Tracey and Dr. Porges. Dr. Porges, Stephen Porges, who has suggested something called the polyvagal theory; which is very popular with yoga people and with scientist in general. It answers a lot of questions about how certain practices that we're doing are creating these conditions of safety and communication inwardly that we can then transpose to outward relationship as well.

Nobody, from a scientific point of view, knows all of these exact mechanisms yet, but there are a lot of really good ideas about how these things may be occurring.

Andrea Wien: When I think on a larger scale, aside from just microbial health, when we look at yoga as a practice, we can start to really fine-tune and look at inflammation in the body as a whole. Can you speak to just what your experience is with inflammation levels in the body and how they can be reduced through this practice?

Eddie Stern: Well, we have different types of inflammation, right? We have chronic inflammation and we have acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is going to be a healing response where the body is addressing something that needs to be attended to, maybe it's a sprained ankle, or a cut, or an invading pathogen. So, for example, certain types of invading pathogens will be responded to with a fever, and this is going to be an acute type of inflammation. And then we have different types of chronic inflammations. A lot of these occur because of what we call stress, where there's too much environmental load, we cease being able to handle it and we respond by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, and these stress molecules, that then turn on particular parts of the sympathetic nervous system that lead us into a fight or flight response. And this is also called allostatic load.

So a lot of folks in the world these days have an overwhelming amount of environmental load coming towards them. These are emails, and bills, and loss of work, and pandemics, and being single parents, all these types of things that cause us to have a lot on our plate. And when this happens, we respond to it in a survival mode mechanism. And this is what's going to set off this reaction of the stress hormones.

So when the stress hormones stay in our system for too long, then it becomes what we call chronic inflammation, and that leads to a bunch of different types of problems. It can lead to digestive disorder, it can lead to sleep dysfunctions, it can lead to anxiety or depression, in extreme cases it can lead towards diabetes or certain types of cancers and, most prevalently, towards heart disease. Now, all of these are noncommunicable diseases and they're all associated with inflammation and with high levels of stress. So a lot of these things can be mediated or addressed with stress lowering practices.

So yoga and meditation happen to be two stress lowering practices, because what they're doing is…we begin to work with the vagus nerve, which is controlling inflammation in the body and also controlling heart rate variability…which is an indicator of our cardiovascular health…through slowing down the breathing and through slowing down our movement, and therefore slowing down the amount of activity that we have happening in the mind.

So, for example, the extension of your exhalation is going to slow down the sympathetic nervous system response and upregulate the parasympathetic response; which is more of a safety and restoration and repair type of a mode. So if you do that for a little while every day, your nervous system becomes attuned to slowing itself down, to decreasing inflammation, and to just sort of settling back into a repair mode and a restore mode.

Now, I think this is really one of the reasons why yoga is so popular around the world these days, because it directly accesses that part of our nervous system that allows us to consciously go into a repair and restore mode of being. And the mechanisms have been studied…not a lot, but increasingly there are more and more studies on how yoga is making these things happen. So if you look into the scientific research, there's some really interesting stuff going on with this.

Andrea Wien: If you've ever though about getting your gut tested and stopped yourself because it's either too expensive, too inconvenient, or you're not sure about its accuracy, listen up. BIOHM has recently launched GutTesting.com. This is a website where you can go and get gut results in under two minutes for free. Let me just repeat that. You can get a good sense of where your gut health is for free in two minutes.

Now, how is this possible? As you might know, BIOHM has a gut test where you can go, send in your stool sample, and get the contents of your microbiome back. They also ask a series of questions when you send in your stool sample. And what the brilliant minds on the data side have figured out, is that they can fairly accurately predict if someone is going to have gut imbalance, or gut dysbiosis, or be imbalanced based on how they answer these questions. So they've made these questions available to you, to be able to analyze your gut for free in under two minutes. Go to GutTesting.com, G-U-T-T-E-S-T-I-N-G.com. No strings attached, get your gut analyzed under two minutes for free. You're welcome.

Now, this is something I was going to bring up a little bit later, but you mentioned it now so I'll just jump right into it. So, you recently launched something called Yoga365. And I think someone listening to the beginning of this episode might think, "This is fine, but it sounds like a lot of work to change my whole practice and align my body with my mind. And how am I even going to start doing that? It just sounds incredibly overwhelming."

So I want you to talk a little bit about what you've started with Yoga365 and how it's really such a soft, easy entry point into starting to create and cultivate a daily practice.

Eddie Stern: Yeah. So one of the great things about all of these healing traditions, is that you can get a lot done by making very small changes. You don't need a complete overhaul of your life, all the time, to start moving things in the right direction. And one thing that I've been a big fan of for a long time is this idea of, if you have some bad habits that you know you need to get rid of but you struggle to, you can't move from them, then try adding in one positive thing. And if you can add in this positive thing and that becomes an anchor for you in your life, little by little the hold that the negative thing has over you might become weakened a little bit. And you can start to examine it and you can start to have some agency over it, so that you're not at the whim of whatever that negative habit is. So you add in something positive and you focus on that positive thing, and it can just be one little habit that you do during the day, and that can begin to change a whole lot.

So the idea behind the Yoga365 is that there're a lot of people who ... maybe they know they need to do something but they don't know where to start, or they don't have time for a 20 minute class or an hour long class, but they do have 1 minute that they can give to themselves every day. So what we're suggesting is, try this as your 1 minute. And everyday we give you a different thing to do, for an entire year. Which becomes a micro-habit or a micro-practice of just one thing you can do for a minute, and you try it maybe a couple of other times during the day if you have time or if you remember to. And that little habit is a habit of awareness. And more than the posture you do, or more than the breathing you do, it's building up the habit of, "I'm just going to pay attention to myself for a moment, and check in, and let my awareness be the thing which is important in this moment rather than everything else."

And so, what you can find sometimes…and usually more often than not…is that just with that 1 minute of awareness each day, after a few weeks, or a month, it starts to be this new thing for you, where your system is responding positively and begins looking forward to these moments of awareness and you start doing them more through the day. It becomes a habit for you, to start checking in with yourself.

And so that's the idea behind the app. It's super beginner level. We have a lot of folks doing it who already have yoga practices, who are just interested to see what happens over the course of the year. But for the most part it's geared towards people who need to do something but they don't have time. First responders, or health care workers, or people with a lot of stress, or very demanding jobs, or lots of kids to take care of, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Those are the people we're trying to reach, the ones who can't make it to a yoga class.

Andrea Wien: I've been poking around on the app a bit, and what I like is that each day you log in and it gives you that one video, like you're talking about. You have a quick 1 to 3 minute, 4 minute video that is just so simple that anyone can find that time to do it. And then if you want to go deeper, you have all these other resources. But really, if you log in, it's not overwhelming, you have your one video for the day, and then you can go to more of the inspiration section if you want to see more talks with you or different practices.

And you had this one quote which I think is so great, in the inspiration section, exactly what we're talking about, "Every morning we are born again, what we do today is what matters most." And I think this applies, really, to all areas of life, not just starting a practice like this. It's something I talk about with my clients as well. Just because yesterday maybe you had some foods that you didn't want to be eating ... especially around the holidays, a lot of people felt a lot of guilt around sugar and alcohol, and all these things. And instead of using that as an excuse, "Well, I already ruined this week, so I'll just continue to make bad choices," you can actually take some ownership of it and say, "Well, today is a new day and I'm going to start again with my goals." So I loved that and it really resonated when I read that quote in that section.

Eddie Stern: Thank you. I'm glad you like the app.

Andrea Wien: Yes, it's been great. It's been great to follow along.

Eddie Stern: Awesome.

Andrea Wien: So when we look at specific postures, specific asanas that could be helpful for digestion, can you give some of your favorite poses for people who might be struggling with something like constipation, or diarrhea, or just general wellness practices for digestive health, what are some of your favorite poses?

Eddie Stern: Okay. So I've never noticed that there are any postures which are helpful for either constipation or diarrhea. I know there are books that talk about constipation, and you do this pose, that pose, or the other. I've had periods of my life where I was constipated, no amount of yoga ever helped me. So I'm on the fence about that.

Andrea Wien: Okay.

Eddie Stern: But I'm not on the fence about overall health of the digestive system and yoga. That is, for sure, a real thing. So there're a lot of practices that you see in Hatha Yoga, like Nauli, and Uddiyana Kriya, and Ashwini Mudra, and all of these give great massages to the intestines and they also are strengthening for the internal and external anal sphincter and for the colon. These are all really good practices. And I definitely notice that when I am regular with the practices of Nauli, and Agnisara, and all these types of things, that the quality of my bowel movements are better because it helps with any sluggishness that might occur. But if you're severely constipated, I don't think those things are necessarily going to work. Either you need to change your diet, or take psyllium seeds, or drink more water, or figure out what's going on.

But for overall maintenance of general good health, those practices can be very good. And some people say that twisting postures are good for the digestive health, they are stimulating for the spleen and for the liver. There are poses which will apply pressure directly towards the stomach and the pancreas. So to keep them exercising, and moving, and to encourage blood circulation to move towards them is definitely going to be a good thing. I mean, we know from regular exercise that it gets your blood circulation going. And we also want to encourage healthy blood circulation towards all of our internal organs. And if we're sitting for long periods during the day, or we're really not active, the quality of the blood circulation might be mildly compromised, or some people massively compromised. So we got to move, we have to keep moving.

The things that are interesting about yoga postures is that you move in a lot of kind of strange ways, you're going to move in ways that you don't move in traditional Western type of calisthenics or aerobics. And the movements that they're doing seem to be targeted towards digestive health. For a lot of the twisting and a lot of the forward bending asanas, these are largely targeting the digestive organs.

Andrea Wien: Now, you mentioned the blood system. But also yoga helps to pump the lymph, which doesn't have its own pump. So it can be helpful in removing waste products that way as well, is that correct?

Eddie Stern: Well, it can be. But the thing about the lymph is that it's sort of like jumping movements which are going to keep the lymph moving. So if you're just doing static yoga asanas, it might not have such an effect on the lymph system. But if you're doing more active forms of yoga like in the Ashtanga Yoga, there is the jumping through and the jumping back and the jumping to the side. So those jumping systems help to pump the lymph. And trampoline, of course, is the most popular way of getting your lymph activated, or jump rope is a really good way of doing that as well. But static asanas doesn't really seem to be effecting the same mechanisms which encourages lymphatic draining.

Andrea Wien: Okay. Maybe-

Eddie Stern: From what I understand. From what I understand.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe we can link to some of these practices that you mentioned. If you could send over, we can get some videos or some links that people can dig a little bit deeper into these specific types of practice.

Eddie Stern: Absolutely. YouTube is filled with this stuff.

Andrea Wien: Great. We'll definitely link to all of that in the show notes at iohmealth.com/pages/podcast for this episode.

Now, just from an anecdotal perspective, have you noticed any gut changes of your own or of your students' gut health as they've begun to commit to a regular practice?

Eddie Stern: Yes. There are a lot of anecdotal stories from students, and from other people, about digestive health improving. Yesterday, in fact, my friend Robert Moses was telling me…he has a Pranayama course that he's teaching at Yale online. He starts off the classes with about 15 minutes, or so, of resonance breathing using the app that I made called The Breathing App. And resonance breathing is a paced guided breathing practice, which is very downregulating for the sympathetic nervous system, it's wonderful for heart rate variability. There's a lot of research being done about slow breathing practices and how good they are for cardiovascular health.

One of the things that the slow breathing practices also does, is it helps to balance the homeostatic functions of the body. And homeostasis is our body's ability to restore itself to balance. If there's something out of balance and we do something just to support homeostasis in general, homeostasis kind of knows what to repair somehow because the body is a field of intelligence. And if we support that intelligence, it can help put things in the right place.

There's been a lot of great feedback from the app. But his particular story was a woman who had a tremendous amount of food allergies. And she always had to be careful about what she ate. And there were more things she could not eat than things she could eat. And she told him just a few days ago, she decided to get serious about the resonance breathing. She did it every day for about 20 minutes for two months, and her food allergies have almost completely gone away and she can basically eat anything she wants to now. She made no other changes whatsoever, except for attending to her breath for 20 minutes, and things started to restore themselves.

Andrea Wien: Wow, that's amazing.

Eddie Stern: Yeah. So he told me that story yesterday and I think she told him that story last week on Friday, or something.

I had another student who had pancreatis, and after a few months of resonance breathing she went for her regular scans at the doctor. And without any other changes to her lifestyle, just adding that in, her pancreatis completely disappeared. And she's still fine to this day. And her doctors were amazed that she had actually been able to cure it like that, or at least put it into remission.

We've had other students who have gotten over all different types of neuralgias and body pains, and things like that, simply from this slow-paced breathing. So it's nothing like magic on my part at all. I have nothing to do with it, other than here's something to breathe along with. And then they do the practice and things change. So our nervous system in our body, given the opportunity, quite often can reset itself. And so this includes digestive health as well.

Yeah. So those are a couple of stories. I find them very encouraging.

Andrea Wien: Yeah, I do as well.

For someone who maybe is not familiar with Pranayama or resonance breathing, can you just describe, briefly, what that is?

Eddie Stern: Sure. As much as I can describe anything briefly, I will make…

Normally we breathe anywhere from 15 to 18 breaths per minute. Some people a little slower, maybe 12 to 14 breaths per minute. And the resonance breathing is when you slow your breath down to a cycle of 6 breaths per minute, which means you're inhaling for about six 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds. Sometimes you inhale for 6 and exhale for 6, and you're breathing at around 5 or 5.5 breaths per minute. But generally speaking, somewhere between 5.5 breaths per minute to 6 breaths per minute. So this is roughly a third of what we normally breathe.

Andrea Wien: Do you find, in your own life, that as you became more entrenched in the yoga tradition that your regular breathing naturally slowed down? Or is it still something that you have to think about?

Eddie Stern: I'm not too sure what my regular respiration rate is, but I think it's probably slowed down. Also, I do a lot of the resonance breathing practice so my nervous system attunes itself to slowing down as well. However, we weren't really designed to be breathing at that rate all through the day, we were designed to breathe at whatever rate we normally go to, say, anywhere from 12, or 14 to 18 breaths per minute. That is the rate that we breathe when we're active and alert during the day. When we go to sleep at night our breath will slow down a little bit slower than that. If nature had wanted us to always be breathing at 6 breaths per minute, that's how she would have designed us. But she didn't. So there's a reason for breathing faster at certain times as well.

But what happens with resonance breathing, is when you slow down to this 6 breaths per minute…or however many you decide it to be, 5.5, or 6, or 7…then your respiration and your heart rate variability and the signaling of the baroreceptors…these are nerves wrapped around our carotid arteries, and other places as well, that monitor blood pressure…they all come into the same synodial wave at the same time, they're all flowing in the same pattern. And normally these things, our respiration, our heart rate variability, and our blood pressure signaling, they're all kind of doing different things throughout the day. But when we bring them all into the same rhythm at the same time, it acts as kind of a reset for our stress mechanism and then things begin to shift. So that's basically what resonance breathing is.

Andrea Wien: Okay. That's helpful. Yeah. I've noticed, just as my practice has progressed, that I just breathe differently. Maybe it's not slower, but just more deeply. Where I think a lot of people are breathing…and I was certainly like this for a long time too…in the upper part of the chest, whereas now I feel, throughout the day, that my breathing has moved lower; so more into my lower lungs and diaphragm area. Is that something that you found as well?

Eddie Stern: Yeah, that's really cool that that's happening to you.

Andrea Wien: So one thing I think that gets overlooked a lot in this discussion and, certainly, through the past year, has been very difficult for people, is the role of community in healing. And the role of community in yoga specifically, is what I wanted to talk to you about. How critical is that piece of the puzzle?

Eddie Stern: Well, there's something in the Hindu tradition called Satsang, which means keeping the company of people who are interested in the same aspirations that you have towards truth, or towards knowledge or knowing. And those communities are really important. They encourage us, they support us, they're there for us when times are hard, they spur us to go forward when we need a little bit of a push. So community is really important. Some people can go at it alone, they're just naturally fine on their own. But we're social beings and we have evolved as social beings, and we need the right kind of people around us to keep us healthy and focused.

In the yoga text, it says that one thing that you can do to make sure you succeed in your yoga practices is avoid people who are going to discourage you from doing your practices. And a sure way of failing in your yoga practices is to spend time with people who will discourage you from doing your practices, or encourage you to go in directions that you know you shouldn't. So even in the yoga text, community is foundational.

Andrea Wien: What has been your tie to community through all of this quarantining? And how have you maintained those connections with people when yoga studios are closed down and people aren't gathering as often?

Eddie Stern: Well, in March, like every other yoga teacher in the world, I went onto Zoom; which is a platform I've actually been using for a long, and also is a platform I've enjoyed using for a long time. And I just shifted my classes onto Zoom. And I quite like it. I mean, I get to see folks from all around the world pretty much every day. And people feel that they're together for a short amount of time. And they have something to continue to inspire them to practice, which is to practice and show up with a group of people.

So overall, I think the yoga experience on Zoom has been very positive. I've noticed that a lot of the students who I used to teach in New York do not come to the Zoom classes, so I'm assuming that they're fine on their own, or they just don't like Zoom, or they don't feel like seeing me anymore, which is [crosstalk 00:39:26]-

Andrea Wien: I doubt it's that one.

Eddie Stern: And so, I'd say, 98% of the people in the classes are from different parts of the world. And that's cool.

And also one thing that…because we can have more people coming to class on Zoom than I can in a regular class, we've been able to make all the classes donation based. And in March it will be one year of teaching on Zoom completely by donations. And I've enjoyed that a lot because…well, number one, I've wanted to do that for a long time because that's how it was when I started doing yoga, the classes were really not very expensive or they were pay what you could, and that allowed for diversity in the classroom. So now we have people from Iran and Venezuela…and different countries where they can't actually send any currency to this country…being able to still come to class, because they can access Zoom, and practice in a live setting and not have the US dollar amount be an impediment to being able to practice. Even for a $10 yoga class, that's prohibitive for many people in the world.

So I've enjoyed the model. I'm really grateful to everyone who comes, and I'm really grateful that the donation model has lasted for so long. I really hope I can keep this going on indefinitely in that kind of a way, because it just keeps things a little bit more open. And the yoga world in America has been way, way too restrictive in regards to access and price, and also marketing. The way that yoga has been marketed in America is just absolutely abysmal and the antithesis of what the message of yoga has historically always been about.

So I've quite enjoyed this change. As much as I do not enjoy the pandemic and do not enjoy the suffering that people are experiencing, and the death, and the loss, and the pain, and the financial catastrophes, of course I don't enjoy any of that, but I do like the shift that has occurred in my ability to teach yoga. And honestly, it's renewed my love for teaching. The yoga world was starting to get me down a little bit. And now, with the pandemic, I've just been able to pull myself back from the things that were troubling me and focus just on teaching and being with people who want to practice, and doing it in a very kind of open, more of a ... I don't know, the ground seems more level in the Zoom classes, and I like that. So personally, yoga-wise, and only yoga-wise, this is a really good direction that I'm enjoying.

Andrea Wien: So if people want to join class and practice with you on Zoom, where would they find you?

Eddie Stern: My website is EddieStern.com.

Andrea Wien: We will link to that. And we'll also, of course, link to Yoga365 if people want to check that out as well.

Eddie, I really thank you so much for hopping on. I miss coming to class with you in New York, even though it was short-lived, the time that I was there. But it's been so great to catch up with you and I really appreciate all the insight and knowledge. So thank you so much for joining us.

Eddie Stern: Thanks for having me, Andrea.

Andrea Wien: Have a great day.

Eddie Stern: You too.

Andrea Wien: As always, thanks so much for listening. I am your host, Andrea Wien, and this has been an episode of the Microbiome Report, powered by BIOHM Health. Again, the show notes are at biohmhealth.com/pages/podcast. And if you didn't hit subscribe at the beginning of the show, go ahead, just hit that little button, right there. Perfect. We'll see you next time.

 

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