Friday, December 23, 2011

Interview #2: Ellen Livingston

Ellen Livingston

Ann Arbor, Michigan

Ellen Livingston has been practicing yoga for 25 years. Following a ski accident, Ellen developed a series of health problems that inspired her to look at changing her diet. After many years of experimentation, Ellen discovered that a low fat, raw vegan diet allowed her to heal the majority of her health issues and have the energy to follow her passions. She currently teaches three yoga classes a week; two at her home studio (a 30' yurt!!) and one at A2 Yoga Works in downtown Ann Arbor. 

1.       How long have you been practicing yoga? Did yoga lead you to raw food, raw food to yoga, or did they coincide?
I’ve discovered yoga more than 25 years ago and practiced on and off until about 8 years ago when my practice became more steady and consistent. I discovered a raw food diet about 10 years ago. I can’t say that yoga led to that discovery though – just an all-consuming desire to become totally healthy and get rid of some debilitating symptoms.

1.        What sort of symptoms?
In my late teens I ripped apart the inside of my left knee in a skiing accident. I had subsequent structural issues - chronic back problems, TMJ, and migraine headaches that were muscular in origin. On top of this (because of it?) I became clinically depressed and anxious, and suffered with severe and prolonged insomnia. All of these conditions were medicated, but did not really go away. In fact, more developed. I was diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), chronic reflux, and an impaired gall bladder. Though the problems seemed to begin after the knee injury, it seems that they were related to other kinds of stress as well, such as the emotional stress of leaving home for college, and tense family relationships. Of course I now realize that many of the issues also had nutritional/food components.

2.       Which style of yoga do you prefer? What styles do you practice? Do you practice every day?
I generally practice and teach a “Slow-Flow Vinyasa” style of yoga. Sometimes physically intense, sometimes more gentle. I practice several times each week, usually not every day. I also love to walk, jog, rebound, bike, climb, swim, lift weights, and other general recreation, especially outdoors! I do practice “off the mat” yoga every day, as I strive to live consciously and in the present moment.

3.        On your website you mention that the style of yoga you teach is influenced by T. Krishnamacharya's vinyasa krama yoga. Will you please explain a little more what differentiates this “slow-flow vinyasa” from other vinyasa styles, such as Ashtanga or power yoga?
Ashtanga follows a set routine for each session. Iyengar is oriented around using props and adjustments to attain perfect alignment. The yoga I teach is slow but flowing, following breath, and using intuition to know what pose to do next. I encourage students to feel their yoga from within, feel into the poses, focus on "lines of energy" that they send out from within. I don't give a lot of outer adjustments.

4.       Are you currently teaching? Where?
I currently teach 3 yoga classes a week, 2 in my home studio ( a 30’ yurt!), and one in a popular downtown studio.

5.       How long have you been a raw foodist? What did your transition look like? What type of raw do you follow now (high fat, low fat, etc).
I’ve been a raw foodist for 10 years this winter. My transition to total raw literally happened overnight, following a loooooonnnnnggggg search for the best diet. The results were great, so I didn’t look back. It took me about 1.5 years to find the fruit-based low fat 80/10/10 raw diet, which I have thrived on now for about 8.5 years.

6.        Wow! At that time there weren’t many 80/10/10ers, in fact, I don’t think Douglas Graham had even written his book, the “80/10/10 Diet”. How did you find 80/10/10?
I found out the Doug and Roz were speaking for a Hallelujah Acres group in Ohio, just 3 hours from my home. I went to meet them and then went back the next day for a 6 hour coaching session with Roz.

7.       What other diets did you try?
Vegetarian, vegan, McDougall diet (this helped initially, getting the fat out of my diet, but then I plateaued on it), elimination diet (just brown rice, squash and sunflower seeds) this temporarily relieved my nursing baby's restlessness, but left me looking gray and losing too much weight; Nourishing Traditions diet - with lots of fermented grains and other fermented foods - I don't remember any improvements on this one.
Basically no matter what I did I still had most of my symptoms, or they subsided then came back.
When I found LFRV I ended the IBS and reflux for good, and healed an inflammed esophagus. I slept much better and became much happier. No more migraines. Yoga healed the back problems, mostly. My gallstones/gallbladder did not heal and I had it removed 1.5 years ago.

8.       How has a raw food diet affected your practice? Any benefits? Downsides?
Many benefits – more energy, clearer intention, positive mood, greater discipline, more flexibility, and it seems easier to build muscle tone. I can’t think of any downsides!

9.       What is your take on salt? Do you include it in your diet?
I do not include salt in my diet, as I view it as a toxin and a dehydrator. I get my natural organic sodium from vegetables.

10.   Many yogis follow an Ayurvedic diet. What is your take on the Ayurvedic diet? Is a raw food diet compatible? What do you think of the doshas?
I think there is some sense and merit to the doshas, and I have great respect for the ancient wisdom.  However, I have not seen a clear correlation between doshas and a need for certain foods or need to avoid others. I believe the low fat raw vegan diet is appropriate for ALL human beings, regardless of dosha or any other differences we may have.  Certainly there are slight adjustments and refinements within this universal diet that can accommodate our differences (such as denser vs. lighter fruits, and warmer vs. cooler foods, etc.).
Ellen teaches weekly classes in her new studio, a 30' yurt!

11.   Do you find any particular fruit, vegetable, or combination affects your practice, either positively or negatively?
I practice yoga on an empty stomach. In general, I prefer the way I feel physically, for yoga or any other pursuit, when I eat mostly juicy sweet fruits.
12.   Do you include any other types of exercise in your daily routine, such as jogging, hiking, or dancing? How do these activities affect your practice?
Yes! Walking, hiking, biking, swimming, bouncing, dancing; sometimes climbing when I have access to a climbing gym. These activities help round out my fitness, and keep me in good shape for my yoga practice.
13.   You live in Michigan, right? How does the cold weather affect your practice? Do you need to adjust your diet to deal with plummeting temperatures?
Well, in the winter the yurt is COLD except when we pay to heat it on class days. So sometimes it's hard right now to find an attractive personal practice space. It will work better in my new home where I will be in a few weeks! I eat more bananas and dates in the winter, and avoid watermelons. Otherwise it's not much different.

On vacation with family
14.   Lastly, let’s play the Island Game, just for fun: You are trapped on an island for the rest of your life. It’s a magical island that grows only 5 types of fruit, but the fruit is always in season and always of top quality. What fruits grow on your island?
1. Mangoes
2.  Figs
3. Peaches
4. Melons
5. Sapotes. Mmmmmmmm

Thanks for taking the time to complete this interview Ellen!

For more information on Ellen Livingston, go to her website at
To take a class with Ellen or for information about her upcoming retreat in Costa Rica, you can email her at :; or call 734-222-3634

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