- Brit Hastings
Food Coach Dana James Talks Kundalini, Feminine Strength and Balance
Dana James is a passionate force with a dream for the modern woman to live in a world where she instinctively knows how to rebalance herself with food, nutrients, elixirs, mantras, movement and scents. With a lengthy string of certifications following her name, this food coach has a background in functional medicine and cognitive behavioral therapy; and she is a more-than-qualified leader, speaker and writer. She embodies what she teaches, sharing her own journey and works individually with each of her clients to help embolden them and guide them to a place of peace. As you may have heard, Dana will also be working with one lucky winner from our 4-part Renewal Series so make sure to SIGN UP by February 3rd to be entered to win this amazing opportunity – we truly cannot wait to reward one of you with this unique and transformative coaching package. In the meantime, let's meet Dana. We interviewed her recently to learn about the healing power of yoga in her own life, her balancing and grounding practices, how she embraces femininity and helps other women build self-worth.
YogaToday: In addition to founding your functional medicine nutrition practice, Food Coach NYC, you are a Columbia University educated, triple-certified nutritionist who also trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Can you tell us a little bit about your path and what inspired you to start your nutrition practice?
Dana James: I wanted a physiological understanding of how food worked in the body. I had been on some form of a diet or other since I was 12 years old; after 15 years of constantly seeking out the next best fad, I was quite literally, fed up. The trends weren’t giving me the lean body and clear mind that I sought, so I decided to go to school. I received my initial nutrition training in orthomolecular medicine at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, United Kingdom.
I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started a four-year nutrition program. When I began my studies, I thought that I would know it all from my constant consumption of magazine articles and diet books, but once I got into it, I realized that I knew nothing about how the body functioned. Once I understood how food alters hormones and neurochemistry, I had a road map for helping myself and others. My first clinical hours were at the Brain Bio Center in London, an outpatient facility for people with mental health disorders. It was here that I first witnessed how powerful nutrition was in moderating addiction and brain chemistry. My client cleared up her food-derived depression in three weeks!
I’ve added a powerful layer to my original training by introducing cognitive behavioral therapy. I noticed early in my practice that my clients were struggling because of patterns in the mind. A precursor to their behaviors was coming from entrenched thoughts. Whether we are aware or not, a thought always precedes the behavior. Once we become aware of childhood beliefs, then you can really start to restructure the old beliefs and patterns. After working with thousands of women, I started to notice patterns and realized that a complete solution needs to address both the tangible and intangible — food and feelings; science and spirituality; conscious thought and subconscious thought.
My clients are truly my babies; I think about them and put lots of time and energy into each one. If my knowledge isn’t enough, I seek and I dive deeper. I’ve always loved women and wanted to offer support where I see individuals holding themselves back. I began this work for myself, and the seeking has led me to help others where I once struggled.
YT: We know you have practiced Kundalini Yoga and you encourage your clients to practice certain Kriyas as well. What shifts have you observed from your personal Kundalini practice? What kinds of feedback do your clients report?
DJ: My personal Kundalini practice brought me clarity. When you have clarity you start to dissolve the fears and hypnotic beliefs that hold you back. I certainly use other healing modalities, but Kundalini is a core part of my routine.
Meditation alters our brains and where the activity is processed so that we start to respond less through the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the limbic system that modulates reactions important to survival, most notably, fear. Through meditation, you create more neural activity in the prefrontal cortex which elicits a more rational and less reactive response.
While there is very little research on Kundalini yoga, we have seen that it is powerful in helping veterans with PTSD where other modalities were not effective. Another study shows that there is great reduction in depression and anxiety amongst caretakers who practice Kundalini. While Kundalini has been known in the U.S. since the sixties through Yogi Bhajan (the Kundalini Master responsible for bringing the practice to the West), it is starting to become more popular because we are seeing how quickly the practices can shift our emotional state. If you are interested in Kundalini, Guru Jagat has just released new book that is an absolutely wonderful resource! Another reason that I like it is that if you have an active mind, the practice can target your focus. Movement, meditation, mantras and music — they take your full concentration. With my clients, I recommend Kundalini to help them process and release negative emotions that are coming up, including Kundalini for stress and anxiety, anger, frustration and sometimes hopelessness. The practice is also so wonderful in invoking compassion and forgiveness.
The most compelling case I have seen in regards to Kundalini was with a client who had experienced bullying and racism as a child. As the one “brown kid” in a white neighborhood, her life was threatened. She carried the belief that she was at fault, that she must have done something wrong. Together, we practiced the Kriya, “Fists of Anger” and within three minutes, she was able to see that this childhood trauma wasn’t her fault; she was able to forgive her childhood tormentors. This example shows how essential Kundalini practice is for our fear-based world today.
YT: When it comes to balance and feeling grounded, can you share some of your tips, tools and rituals you practice in your everyday life?
DJ: There are two key pieces to feeling balanced: the micro day-to-day practices and the macro assignment which involves bringing greater clarity to your life.
For daily grounding, I always start with water and some kind of tonic when I first wake up. Based on how I want to feel that day, I might choose rose water for femininity or a squeeze of lemon to stimulate detoxification or perhaps chlorophyll to alkalize. Then I take my probiotics and supplements. If I have time, I will do 10 minutes of rebounding, and then I go straight into a meditation, which could be anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour.
Food is very grounding which is why I never skip a meal (get healthy, yoga breakfast ideas here). If someone is experiencing anxiety, they should try to eat at regular intervals because their anxiety could be caused by low blood sugar. Color therapy can be helpful too. I like bold colors like reds, oranges and yellows for grounding energy. I will even wear red nail polish for this reason!
If I have jet lag or an emotional knot is surfacing, I work with energy healers. My other go-to’s are sound baths, dance, conversations with good girlfriends, massage, facials with essential oils and infrared saunas. I think it’s important to have a jewelry box of balancing options.
To feel balance on the macro level, you have to bring clarity into your life by becoming aware of childhood patterns and noticing how you see the world. Then comes the task of restructuring these beliefs. Meditation is the platform for raising consciousness and recognizing your old belief systems (start YT's 21-Day Meditation Series here).
YT: Can you talk a little bit about your process of being there for somebody else but still taking care of yourself and how you negotiate that?
DJ: First you must understand that without your strength, both emotionally and physically, it’s much harder to care for someone else. Sleep, eating and meditation are the foundation. You need to retreat and heal yourself before you give. Women often have the belief that they need to sacrifice and be there for others, so I always encourage my clients and friends to ground and nourish themselves first. If you have the belief that you are only worthy because of what you give to others, that will be a more challenging code to crack; you might need to go back and restructure those beliefs.
YT: Tell us a little more about the shift you experienced when you started appreciating yourself as a woman and embracing your femininity?
DJ: I grew up with a mother who encouraged my sisters and me to be strong and independent. When my mother read a draft of my book, Women, Self-Worth and Food (scheduled to publish Spring 2018), I finally came to learn why. It turns out that my mother actually has really low self-esteem. She raised my sisters and me to be strong and independent, because she was lacking in those qualities in herself.
While I grew up feeling strong and independent, I held the belief that to be valued, I needed to be the best, and I had to achieve for achieving’s sake. This was very much the cultural (and very masculine) imprint of the last 40 years - the downside to the post feminist movement. We swapped looks for achievement. A woman needs to realize that she doesn’t need to be there for everyone to be valued. Nor does she need to be the most beautiful women in the room or the most successful or intelligent.
The crux in owning my femininity and self-worth came for me in my late 30s: I had a successful nutrition practice, and I loved my life but I was single (and not wanting to be). I had to delve into why this was the case. I realized that while I may have been on my own, I was actually not alone at all; I had a wonderful community of women, and I was supported. I had been operating under a masculine belief that I needed to be strong and independent. What I began to realize [as I looked more deeply] is that I could take the armor off. I could be graceful, soft, playful and passionate. Soon after I opened up to this idea, my partner walked into my life.
This is how I help my clients — whether they have blocks with food, relationships, or are exhausting themselves over a false belief about their self worth. I want to support women in nurturing and reconnecting to their feminine grace.
YT: Thank you Dana! If people would like to connect with you, where can they find you?
YT: Thank you for sharing your personal practices with us Dana. We cannot wait to see what the next year holds for you and to get our hands on your book next Spring! Readers, remember to SIGN UP for the Renewal Series by February 3rd for an opportunity to win 3 private coaching sessions with Dana!