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Magnesium and Ashtanga Yoga
by Vivien Ryder
Magnesium’s fundamental role in our bodies is to produce energy. It is also essential in the functioning of over 300 enzymes in the body. Indeed, magnesium seems to play a major role in the prevention and treatment of a vast array of common ailments including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, depression and most stress-related conditions.
Given this massively important role in the body as energy producer and given that most of us succumb to one or more of the conditions above in our lifetime it is interesting to know that the majority of us are deficient in this mineral. Why is this so?
Silent epidemic and the Industrial Revolution
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution came a revolution in our eating habits. It became possible to grow and prepare far more foods in a far shorter time. Machines were developed that could ‘refine’ foods and process them into all kinds of convenient packages. This made foods more palatable and easier to eat in far larger quantities than is natural. This matched the faster pace of living that being in an industrial world brought with it.
Probably a more important source of magnesium, the soil, has been lost through the use of chemicals to grow food on a massive scale. Such a form of farming leaches magnesium and other vital minerals from the soil and this mineral balance is difficult to restore.
As a result magnesium, being the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium, has become massively deficient in people’s diets. From an intake of 500mg/day our intake has dropped to a paltry 200mg/day. The cost to our health has been dire. Suggesting that we are living longer and healthier lives as we are now being told by the ‘experts’, is bordering on the ridiculous.
The Ashtanga connection
Ashtanga beautifully illustrates the vital need for magnesium. We work abundantly with the second (sacral) chakra during our practise, this being known as the centre of prana (energy). (Magnesium bonds with ATP inside our cells to produce energy packets – the source of all our energy.)
It works both ways. We can draw on this energy when we feel lethargic at the start of a practise. How often have you noticed how energised you become after a practise? Conversely, by getting an optimum level of magnesium we can, more efficiently, replenish our energy stores and in so-doing nurture our sacral chakra.
Feeling run down or just lacking in energy is usually the first indicator that our health is a little below par. Most of us, at some time, feel run down and we put this down to stress at work, a poor night’s sleep or some chronic, underlying health niggle. When we make Ashtanga yoga a part of our lives something magical happens and all aspects of our life are affected. So many people give up this yoga form early on and this is a shame. Injuries, the illnesses mentioned earlier, low energy and lack of commitment get in the way. We accept such conditions as normal. They are not. This is not how our bodies are meant to be.
Magnesium can, for many hold the key to reducing the incidence of those injuries and illnesses, improving energy levels and positively affecting our state of mind.
It is interesting that cramp, a common symptom of magnesium deficiency , is quite common among Ashtanga people, for example in the toes during Purvottanasana. We laugh it off as a minor inconvenience but the realisation that we may well be deficient in magnesium can help us to listen to our bodies. By doing so we can help ourselves at all levels. It is surely easier to achieve the ultimate in our yoga practise with a smoothly running body. It cannot be over-emphasised how important magnesium is in this regard.
Magnesium and calcium relationship
Tiny electrical currents are responsible for all movement in the body and calcium is the conductor for such currents. Magnesium controls the level of calcium that can enter the cells of the body.
We are all told about the importance of calcium due to its large requirements by the body. We have all heard the ‘drink milk for strong bones and teeth’ mantra. Yes, calcium is vitally important but without an optimum level of magnesium, calcium can be highly dangerous.
Magnesium stops calcium going where it shouldn’t go. It stops calcium from getting into places where magnesium should be doing the job. If calcium intake is too high, it can clog arteries, stiffen bones and can hinder the production of that all important substance required for energy production – ATP.
Magnesium is like the bouncer on the door controlling how much calcium can enter the cell. Limited amounts of calcium are allowed in to do their job and then the magnesium ‘bouncers’ chuck them out again in order to maintain equilibrium. When there aren’t enough magnesium ‘bouncers’ on the door there is mayhem, be it in the form of heart disease, arthritis or depression...the list of possible consequences is endless.
Let’s join forces
We are often urged to acknowledge the ‘spiritual’ side of Ashtanga rather than seeing it as a form of gymnastics. However, there is more than the purely spiritual at play here. We are housed within our physical bodies for a reason and this fact should not be ignored. There is that bit in the middle that is crucial in joining our body with our spirit – the quality of the fuel we put into our bodies.
Ashtanga, due to its physicality, highlights the importance of having sufficient life force and this should encourage us to eat well in order to perform well. Indeed, this form of yoga could be seen as a vital link between the nourishment our body needs and the fitness of not just our muscles and bodily organs but as a kind of bridge to that higher place. After all, at what point does the physical production of energy (by the bonding of magnesium with ATP) become prana? There are no known boundaries so maybe we should stop separating the physical from the spiritual as we tend to do, and start acknowledging and respecting our physical bodies as a vital link in our understanding of what it is to be our true selves.
Magnesium, with its vital link to life force production and hence the sacral chakra, symbolises the importance of nutrition to spiritual health beautifully. Indeed, the massive loss of magnesium from our lives fittingly symbolises our depletion in life force as a race.
Magnesium should ideally be taken in foods in their naturally occurring state. Whole grains, vegetables and nuts are high in magnesium. However, due to magnesium deficiency and a lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut many people have trouble absorbing certain nutrients, even when taken as a supplement. It is not only food that is now deficient in magnesium. Our drinking water is appallingly low in minerals and often contains undesirable chemicals that can block absorption of magnesium. Ideally we should always drink water that is high in magnesium. This is, for most of us, not possible. The most viable alternative is to improve our drinking water with a pH booster solution, available from many stockists online. Additionally, magnesium oil can be similarly obtained in the form of a spray that we can apply abundantly to our skin, where it is absorbed without the risk of toxicity. An ideal time to apply the spray is after a yoga workout, replenishing magnesium lost through sweating.
And just remember, it doesn’t matter why we do yoga. It matters that we do yoga.
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About the Author
Vivien Ryder has an Honours Degree in Health Studies, is currently studying to be a Nutritionist and writes articles for magazines. She has lived Macrobiotically on and off for the past fifteen years and has recently returned to this way of life with the birth of her son. She also has an eight-year-old daughter, is married and lives in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, UK.