Ear infections most often begin in the eustachian tube, a slender tube that runs from the middle ear to the throat. This tube maintains air pressure and drains fluid from the ear, but it also offers an easy route for a throat infection to move into the ear. A middle ear infection is called otitis media, which means inflammation of the middle ear. Otitis media can cause fever and swollen lymph glands under the ear. Some ear infections also produce coughing and a runny nose. Serious, chronic infections can result in impaired hearing.
An ear infection is often a baby’s first significant illness, although it’s usually not easy to recognize until the child becomes irritable from the discomfort, develops a high fever, or begins tugging at his or her ear. Because the eustachian tube is shorter in children, bacteria have a shorter route to travel. Ear infections are one of the most common childhood diseases—about one-third of all pediatrician visits by children younger than six years old are for ear infections. Swelling can compound the problem by inhibiting drainage. If chronic infections persist, small draining tubes may be inserted into a child’s ears.
Herbal ear treatments
Several infused herbal ear oils are available. Mullein flower (Verbascum spp.) and garlic (Allium sativum) oils reduce inflammation, stop pain, and kill infection. St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) or calendula (Calendula officinalis) oils help further decrease inflammation. To use herbal ear oils, place a couple of drops into the ear. Treat both ears, even if only one seems infected, to protect the well ear from infection. Be careful not to transfer the infection by touching the dropper to an infected ear.
Natural remedies are often very effective in treating ear infections. However, if the infection does not improve by the next day or so, consider a more orthodox approach.
When ear drops are not appropriate due to serious ear problems (if the eardrum is perforated or something is lodged inside the ear, for example) you can still safely use a homemade oil rub or poultice externally (see “External ear remedies” at left). These treatments are also useful along with eardrops when a persistent infection calls for double treatment.
The food connection
Researchers at Georgetown University found that most children with chronic ear infections also had food allergies. The earaches usually cleared up when offending foods were eliminated from the diet. If the children started eating those foods again, their ear problems flared up. The first step is to experiment by not feeding your child foods likely to cause allergic reactions, such as milk, soy, and wheat products. If you’re a nursing mom whose baby suffers from ear infections, try changing your diet. La Leche League, an international breastfeeding-support organization, recommends that nursing mothers avoid chocolate, hot spices, peanuts, sugar, and foods high in sulfur, such as vegetables in the cabbage family.
I recommend an herbal tea blend that decreases allergic reactions, inflammation, and indigestion, and improves immunity. This is a good tea for anyone who gets ear infections, or for nursing mothers with babies who get them. Make a blend of equal parts of chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita), marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), echinacea root (Echinacea spp.), and peppermint leaf (Mentha ¥piperita) or gingerroot (Zingiber officinale). To make 2 cups of tea, bring 2 cups of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and add 2 teaspoons of the herbal blend. Steep for about 20 minutes, then strain. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day.
Easy-to-grow medicinal herbs
If you have room in your yard or on your porch to grow plants, you can supply your kitchen with herbs good for cooking and for nurturing your body. The following herbs are easy to grow and have a variety of culinary as well as medicinal uses.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a tender perennial that prefers full sun or partial shade, and light, well-drained soil. It is propagated as a cutting. In addition to adding to foods for flavoring, an infused oil of the leaves can be used for massage to relieve aches and pains. The leaves can also be used in a tea as a digestive stimulant and to increase circulation and calm nervousness.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a flavorful annual that cannot withstand cold. It needs well-drained soil, a great deal of moisture, and full sun or partial shade. Plant it from seed when danger of frost is past. Harvest the leaves and dry, freeze, or store them in oil in the refrigerator to be used in cooking fish, pasta, egg dishes, salads, and vegetables. The leaves, made into a tea, are good for easing the discomfort of flatulence and nausea.
Peppermint (Mentha ¥piperita) and spearmint (M. spicata) are hardy perennials that will return year after year. Peppermint is best for teas; spearmint is used most often in cooking. Mints prefer moist soil and shade but can tolerate limited amounts of sun. They are propagated through cuttings or division and can be harvested at any time. Spearmint leaves also can be used to flavor foods such as jellies or fruit dishes, and peppermint leaves can be made into a tea for settling an upset stomach.
Garlic (Allium sativum) is a perennial that prefers full sun and a fertile loam. It’s planted from a clove and harvested as a bulb. Garlic may be added to many foods for flavor and helps boost the immune system. Used regularly, garlic can lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce the clotting activity of blood platelets, and prevent some vascular changes common to the elderly.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a hardy shrub planted from cuttings or seeds that thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. The leaves are used to flavor pork and fowl as well as potato, cheese, and vegetable dishes. Sage leaves soothe insect bites and stings and can be made into a lotion for fighting acne. In tea form, sage leaves provide relief from indigestion, sore throats, and coughs.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a perennial planted from seed that requires full sun and well-drained soil. Fennel leaves can be used to flavor stews, fish dishes, salad dressings, and breads. When chewed, the seeds act as a breath freshener, and when made into a tea, they calm flatulence and indigestion. To make a tea, boil 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes, strain, and drink. A simple fennel-seed poultice (made of soaked seeds) can help soothe irritated eyes.
Studies show herb’s effectiveness
Cindy L. A. Jones, Ph.D.
Many people, clinicians and patients alike, have accepted St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) as an effective treatment for mild depression. Two recent large studies may convince the remaining skeptics. The studies found that St. John’s wort is as effective as the widely used antidepressant drug imipramine for treating both mild and moderate depression. These trials were double-blind and suggest that St. John’s wort should be used as a first-line treatment for these types of depression.
In the first study, a German team published research in the British Medical Journal last December showing that hypericum extract was more effective than a placebo and as effective as imipramine for treating moderate depression. In this trial, 251 patients diagnosed with moderate depression were randomly assigned to receive 1,050 mg of hypericum extract daily (standardized to 0.2 to 0.3 percent hypericin), 100 mg of imipramine daily, or a placebo treatment. Patients taking hypericum began to show benefits in as early as two weeks. At six weeks, 74 percent of the hypericum patients showed improvements, 71 percent of the imipramine patients improved, and 50 percent in the placebo group improved.
The second study, also conducted by a German research group and published in the British Medical Journal, is the largest controlled study to date testing hypericum for depression. The 324 participants in this trial had been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression and were randomly assigned to receive either 500 mg of hypericum extract (standardized to 0.2 percent hypericin) or 150 mg of imipramine daily. After six weeks of treatment, both groups (43 percent of the hypericum patients and 40 percent of the imipramine patients) experienced more than a 50 percent decrease in their symptoms. The biggest difference, however, was that only 39 percent of the hypericum patients experienced side effects, whereas 63 percent of imipramine patients did. Again, dry mouth was the most common side effect.
These studies are encouraging for patients with mild to moderate forms of depression who typically do not seek treatment because the side effects of treatment may outweigh the benefits. The results show that hypericum extracts are not only effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, but are also safe. 8
Philipp, M., et al. “Hypericum extract versus imipramine or placebo in patients with moderate depression: randomised multicentre study of treatment for eight weeks.” British Medical Journal 1999, 319:1534–1538.
Woelk, H. “Comparison of St. John’s wort and imipramine for treating depression: randomised controlled trial.” British Medical Journal 2000, 321: 536–539.
Name: Amanda McQuade Crawford
Hometown: Ojai, California
Occupation: MNIMH (Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists); Dip. Phyto. (Diploma in Phytotherapy); member of the American Herbalists Guild; consultant medical herbalist; author of Herbal Remedies for Women (Prima, 1997) and The Herbal Menopause Book (The Crossing, 1996).
Education: Bachelor’s degree in medieval history from Vassar College; four-year residential diploma in herbal medicine from the College of Phytotherapy in England; state certification for nutrition consulting; currently enrolled in Ph.D. program for herbal medicine at Exeter University in England.
How did you first become interested in herbal medicine?
I was always interested in natural healing whether it was herbs, exercise, or nutrition. I grew up in a family that was sensitive to avoiding over-the-counter medications whenever possible. When I was getting my first undergraduate diploma at Vassar, I apprenticed with folk healers and herbalists in my free time. In addition, I took every class I could find relating to botany, field identification, foraging, and wilderness survival.
Once I graduated from college, I moved to the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community in the highlands of Scotland that’s dedicated to learning about how to live in harmony with nature. At Findhorn, I took courses in natural healing and organic growing techniques, and I apprenticed with the herbal apothecary. When he left, I acted as the herbalist for the community. I left Findhorn after just one year, because I knew I needed more education. My previous four years of self-study were inadequate to meet their needs. For example, if someone came to me with frequent colds and flu, I’d give them herbs, but when they kept coming back, it became clear to me I was not getting to the root of their problems. I did not have enough knowledge to make the distinction between illness and wellness. So I moved to London and enrolled at the College of Phytotherapy.
What would you say to someone considering herbal medicine?
Disbelieve most of what you read. Find a practitioner with whom you have a good rapport as opposed to someone who just has initials after his or her name. There are many training programs that are mediocre. A credential isn’t as important as someone’s actual experience. So interview them as if you’re hiring them for a very important job—which you are, if you’re asking them for holistic help.
What do you see happening with the interaction of Western
medicine and alternative therapies?
Both have already been transformed and we have not seen the end of it yet. Standard-practice medicine is being humanized, and natural healing is becoming grounded in good science without losing its spirit, which is the essence of natural health.
What is your daily routine of alternative therapies?
I never take anything for an extended period of time—I take things as needed, not as part of a daily routine. I believe in food, exercise, and common sense rather than something in a bottle. I eat organically in tune with the seasons and in tune with the demands of my schedule. I love to run, garden, and hike. The thought of wearing pink spandex in a gym sounds like hell to me. I love the outdoors; that’s probably why I chose to live in southern California.
What is your most memorable experience throughout your
When I traveled to China about fifteen years ago to learn more about the interaction between Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Western medicine, I carried all of my own herbs and other healing methods with me. I became ill and decided not to use any of them. Instead I turned to a TCM doctor in a very rural location. He spoke no English, and I spoke very poor Chinese. He understood me, though, and I experienced the power of tradition rooted in experience as opposed to the halls of academia. His remedy tasted vile but worked in just three cups of tea. I had the same experience when I traveled to the Amazon to study with a medicine man. The immediacy and earthiness of working with plants are the hallmarks of a good practice. 8
The lowdown on indoor cycling classes
As you make your way to your favorite treadmill or stair-stepping machine, you notice them—a group of cyclists and an instructor tucked away in a dimly lit room. Clad in colorful racing jerseys, their chiseled physiques pedal in unison for what appears to be forty-five minutes of sheer agony. It must be a class specifically designed for elite athletes training for gigs such as the Tour de France or the Olympics, right? Guess again.
Indoor cycling classes, commonly called “Spinning,” which is a trademarked name specific to a certain type of instructor certification and line of stationary bikes, are ideal for almost everyone. That’s right—most age groups and almost all ability levels, not just the hard-core cyclists that tend to stand out in your health club. Instead of heading for the same old treadmill, Stairmaster, or aerobics class, why not give it a try?
What’s the appeal?
Indoor cycling classes have gained popularity throughout the years because they offer an intense workout capable of burning lots of calories, increasing endurance, and building muscle tone in the lower body. And because pedaling a bike is a nonimpact activity, indoor cycling classes have become sought-after alternatives to the manic choreography of traditional aerobics and step classes.
Today there are a number of companies that offer indoor cycling equipment and certifications. Spinning, the original form of indoor cycling, was created by Jonathan Goldberg (Johnny G) in the 1980s and comprises roughly 80 percent of all indoor cycling classes worldwide. Spinning is offered in some 4,000 health clubs in more than eighty countries.
A class for all levels
Any indoor cycling class can be adapted to any fitness level. In fact, it is not uncommon to have a first-timer seated next to an elite cyclist—and both can leave class having had an excellent workout. Each bike comes equipped with an adjustable knob. As the instructor describes the terrain of the course, each participant turns that knob accordingly. On a Spinning bike, for example, you turn the knob clockwise for more resistance (thus increasing difficulty) or counterclockwise for less (decreasing difficulty). You are in command of your own knob, so the intensity of your ride is up to you.
Don’t push yourself
According to a 1997 study by the American Council on Exercise, researchers found that indoor cycling can sometimes be too intense for beginners. The study looked at participants of various fitness levels and noted that heart rates varied between 75 and 96 percent of maximum heart rates—with the majority of time spent at the higher end of the spectrum. In addition, researchers also used the Borg Perceived Rate of Exertion Scale (in lieu of heart-rate monitors, participants rate their perceived exertion on a scale from 6 to 20). Most participants rated themselves around an 18 or 19. Both heart-rate data and Borg rates indicated that intensity levels were too high for those just starting to exercise or those not medically cleared for a workout program.
So if you’re new to indoor cycling, you should already be in relatively good physical condition or have the good sense and discipline to go at your own pace.
A good instructor is key
Instructors should be specifically trained to teach indoor cycling classes so that they’re able not only to convey pointers about perfect form on the bike but can share a certain amount of cycling knowledge. Because these classes are designed to mimic outdoor rides, they should be mental experiences as well as physical ones. It’s up to your instructor to explain exactly what the terrain looks like during your journey so you’ll know how much to adjust the resistance knob.
Before beginning the ride, instructors typically ask who is new to indoor cycling and then offer those participants alternatives to high-intensity portions throughout the class. Remember that you are in control of your bike. If you feel that you’re working too hard, simply decrease the resistance.
Arrive a few minutes before the class starts so that you have ample time to ask questions and get properly set up on your bike. Most indoor cycling bikes can be adjusted in a variety of ways, and a bike that fits will not only be more comfortable during class, it will also prevent possible injury. 8
Kelli Rosen is the managing editor of The Herb Companion and is a certified Spinning instructor.
The Chopra Center Herbal Handbook: Forty Natural Prescriptions for Perfect Health
Deepak Chopra, M.D. and David Simon, M.D.
For Deepak devotees as well as those interested in Ayurveda, this book is a good addition to a well-rounded herbal library. After writing a brief history of herbal medicine, Chopra and David Simon, founder and medical director, respectively, of the Chopra Center for Well-Being in La Jolla, California, discuss how to use herbs in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle to create the highest level of well-being. These lifestyle recommendations include healthy and conscious eating, eliminating toxins, and honoring nature’s rhythms. An interesting sidebar in this section is the “Ideal Daily Routine,” consisting of several steps, including awakening around sunrise, meditating, taking a walk after lunch, eating a light dinner no later than 7 p.m., and being in bed by 10:30 p.m.
The Ayurvedic body types—vata, pitta, and kapha—are well described. Sections on herbs for specific conditions, such as herbs for digestion and detoxification, women’s health, and to enhance immunity give helpful suggestions in a concise format.
The main part of the book is “The Forty Herbs of the Chopra Center Herbal Formulary,” which describes in detail the most important herbs used at the Chopra Center. For each herb, a line drawing, the familiar, Latin, and Sanskrit names, and a review of scientific research are given. This is the most helpful and in-depth section of the book, and responsible safety precautions are listed here as well. The forty herbs include aloe, licorice, ginger, and valerian.
At the end of the book, an extensive, twenty-nine-page scientific reference list is provided.
Three Rivers Press, paperback, 260 pages, $14.95.
Available at bookstores, www.amazon.com, and www.barnesandnoble.com.
New panel focuses on awareness, legislation
As more people seek alternative medical approaches, many practitioners and some policymakers see a need for integrating them with conventional medicine and addressing issues relevant to both fields. In an effort to serve this need, Andrew Weil, M.D., founded the National Integrative Medicine Council (NIMC) in September 2000. The goal of the NIMC is to affect legislation, public policy, and medical education, and by boosting public awareness.
Located in Tucson, Arizona, the NIMC has about 1,000 members from all over the world. The organization will bring together physicians, research scientists and academics, medical schools, allied health practitioners, alternative practitioners, students, senior citizens, and consumers to define the scope of integrative medicine and discuss concerns about the field as it evolves.
“We would like to be the umbrella organization that brings together all these groups, so when we go to Capitol Hill we have a powerful constituency,” says Matt Russell, the NIMC’s executive director. Although legislators seem aware of the demand for alternative medicine, “there has not been an organized effort to take the passion for integrative medicine and drive the debate for policy change,” says Russell.
The NIMC provides its members “with the strategic direction necessary to advocate for the authenticity, credibility, and long-term viability of integrative medicine,” says Bill Benda, M.D., NIMC’s director of medical and public affairs. One way this will be accomplished is by providing resources to members on the NIMC’s website, such as “calls to action,” or ways to make opinions known to Congress. The NIMC will also provide guidance on how members can educate communities and other policymakers, such as publishing opinion pieces in community papers.
The organization plans to work closely with national and state organizations to promote integrative medicine, to educate the public, and to influence public policy.
“Part of our mission is to work within the field of academic medicine,” says Russell. “We would like to work with Congress to explore ways to fund models for medical schools that show an openness to the integrated medicine approach.” The NIMC will seek funding under Title 7 of the Public Health Services Act to run a small demonstration project that will show how federal money can be used to support development of integrative medicine education.
The NIMC members, in their efforts to educate the public, will be aware that there are many definitions of alternative medicine. The organization would like to conduct research to gauge awareness about integrative medicine. Based on that research, it will develop public education campaigns.
In time, the NIMC and its members may address issues of concern in specific modalities, such as standards for herbal supplements and contraindications for taking certain herbal medicines, says Russell.
The NIMC is funded for its first year by a five-person board of directors, but plans to add dues-paying members and private contributions from the industry, the medical community, academia, nonprofit organizations, and consumers.
Contact the NIMC at 5151 East Broadway Ste. 1095, Tucson, AZ 85711; (520) 571-1110; www.nimc.org.
Getting rid of age spots
Hyperpigmentation is a skin condition that results in dark spots or patches on the skin’s surface. Hyperpigmentation can take the form of a pregnancy mask, freckles, uneven patches of skin, or darker skin. Age spots (or liver marks) are another form of hyperpigmentation, typically found on the tops of the hands in individuals older than fifty.
Although there are many ways of treating this disorder, the oldest method of correcting hyperpigmentation is the use of hydroquinone products. Prescription-strength, 4 percent hydroquinone, contained in a carrier cream or salve, can lighten age spots in as little as four weeks. Other remedies are also available, from professional-strength peels offered at salons and spas to herbal remedies—check with your dermatologist.
If you want to lighten your hyperpigmented spots in a completely gentle and natural fashion, it’s simple to whip up the following potion in your kitchen. This mixture is also good for sun- damaged, dry, or unevenly colored skin patches. Use two times per week.
2 tablespoons ground oatmeal
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fresh pineapple, lemon, or strawberry juice
In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients with a spoon until the mixture forms a paste. Apply to the hands or affected area. Allow the mixture to sit on the skin for 10 minutes each session. Rinse thoroughly and apply a moisturizer.
Picking power-packed produce
Do you know that you can improve your appearance, slow the aging process, and prevent degenerative diseases simply by eating lots of high- potency produce? A high consumption of vegetables and fruits has been associated with maintenance of a healthy body composition, a reduced rate of aging, and resistance to degenerative diseases. However, recent national surveys indicate that nine out of every ten Americans fail to consume the minimum recommendation of five to nine daily produce servings.
Although consuming any kind of produce is apparently better than consuming none, scientists have discovered that some vegetables and fruits pack more punch when it comes to preventing aging and degenerative diseases.
The power of antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that absorb or counteract free radicals, the unstable molecules or atoms that can oxidize and damage parts of the body, causing them to malfunction or deform. Scientists now believe that oxidation is a cause of common degenerative diseases and aging.
Anti-aging scientist Steven Austad, Ph.D., author of Why We Age (John Wiley & Sons, 1999), explains, “When iron is oxidized, we generally call the end result rust. When bronze is oxidized, we call the green film produced a patina. When we are oxidized, we call it aging.” Free-radical damage is thought to cause or contribute to aging of the skin, arthritis, glaucoma, mental decline, and cancer. Fortunately, it is possible to greatly limit the aging process by eating antioxidant-rich foods.
The ORAC test
Scientists have recently developed the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) test, which measures the antioxidant powers of produce. Using the ORAC evaluation, scientists have shown that eating whole foods having a high ORAC value will raise the antioxidant levels of human blood, inhibit age-related decline of learning ability and memory in middle-aged rats, and prevent free-radical damage to capillaries. When the capillaries are healthy, all organs and tissues receive better nourishment, which in turn staves off aging.
Scientists have shown that the ORAC values of whole vegetables and fruits far exceed the sum of the ORAC values of the known vitamin or mineral antioxidants (carotenes, vitamin C, vitamin E, and others) in foods—indicating that whole foods have an antioxidant value superior to supplements. For example, one Tufts University study showed that a dose of strawberry or spinach extract produces an antioxidant response equivalent to 1,250 mg of vitamin C.
A single vegetable or fruit contains around 150 beneficial compounds called flavonoids, many of them antioxidants. A diet containing a wide variety of produce can contain thousands of flavonoids and other health-promoting, anti-aging compounds not found in pills. So it’s impossible to obtain from pills the benefits that one can obtain from a diet rich in high-potency produce.
The ORAC champs
Do you eat enough high-potency produce? Check your diet against this list of the top twenty champions of the ORAC competition, based on a fresh 100-g (3.5-oz.) serving; the higher the index, the more potent the produce. Note that blueberries, with an ORAC index of 22, have the highest rating yet recorded.
According to surveys, Americans typically consume liberal amounts of potatoes, tomatoes, and orange juice, none of which made this top-twenty list. It’s interesting that except for garlic, the winners almost all are marked by vibrant colors—blue, purple, dark green, and red. If you want maximum anti-aging benefits, replace your pale produce with the power-packed ORAC champs.
Imagine for a moment the harmonious and timeless sound of Gregorian chants or Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. Or an entire chorus of church bells—a sound similar to that produced by a metal Tibetan singing bowl. Using sounds and tones in healing crosses cultural lines and time lines—in Greek mythology, Asclepius, the son of Apollo, was known as the guardian of music and medicine.
“Every culture on earth has used sound in healing,” says Mitchell Gaynor, medical director and director of oncology at the Cornell Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine and author of Sounds of Healing (Broadway, 1999). “Now we have the physiological and biochemical explanation for that usage.”
Sound literally affects the entire person, Gaynor says. Studies have shown sound therapy to help people recover more quickly after surgery and to be beneficial for children with learning and emotional problems such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) and autism. Premature infants sung to in the nursery gain weight and therefore leave the hospital faster than those not sung to.
Using sound to heal
Gaynor uses sound and music as a healing modality in his practice, combined with conventional medicine to treat both serious diseases and to maintain wellness. Gaynor prescribes Tibetan metal bowls, quartz bowls, gongs, chanting, and yogic breathing with meditation, herbs, and supplements right alongside conventional cancer treatments to his patients. One of those sound therapies, Tibetan bowls, are made of at least five different metals that vibrate at varying frequencies. That vibration, says Gaynor, moves through the body.
“The body is 70 percent water, an excellent conductor for sound and vibration,” he says. “There’s no part of your being that sound doesn’t affect.”
When using sound therapy and meditation, Gaynor’s patients respond more personally to their disease and have more realizations about what’s going on in their bodies, he says. Gaynor notes that listening to chants also increases patients’ immunoglobulin levels.
Joseph Arezzo, professor in neuroscience and neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, says that music’s ability to stimulate the senses may allow music to strongly interact with brain regions and help people recover from some forms of brain injury. Music strongly drives the auditory cortex of the brain, and some kinds of music may activate emotional parts of the brain outside of the auditory cortex.
“There is experimental evidence that musical patterns perceived as harmonic activate the auditory cortex in a manner different from the same sound energy presented in a discordant fashion,” says Arezzo. “I am very cautious about the claims of music therapy, but I think there are enough scientific facts about the unique properties of music for activating brain function that there is a possibility of some therapeutic value.”
For maintaining wellness, Gaynor says people need to learn ways to restore harmony in their lives. Disharmony, caused by stress, hopelessness, frustration, and many other factors, can wear down the immune system. Gaynor suggests the simple act of breathing to restore energy, or chi, which enters through the breath.
“Voice is an audible breath,” says Gaynor. “As a physician, I can say I’ve never found anything more healing than a person’s own voice.” Gaynor suggests using the voice by chanting to maintain harmony and wellness. “When we’re stressed and our immune system starts to degrade, the hormone cortisol increases, and our blood pressure and heart rate rise. This all starts with shallow breathing,” he says.
A German study focusing on stress found that when patients listened to music, their cortisol levels dropped.
“Ten milligrams of Valium is much like listening to classical music,” says Gaynor. Certain sounds induce profound relaxation, and a combination of sound, vibration, and voice result in the greatest relaxation. He also recommends that parents expose their children to classical music and other harmonious sounds rather than TV and video games, which may be contributing to an ADD epidemic in the United States, he says.
Yoga, yoga everywhere
Considering the surge in popularity yoga has experienced in recent years, chances are it’s offered at your health club. But did you know that not all types of yoga are the same? And that depending on your fitness goals, one type may be better suited to your needs than another? We’ve compiled a list of some specific yoga types you’re most likely to run into at the gym. If you’re not sure which type is being taught at your facility, ask the instructor or fitness professional before beginning the class so you’ll know what to expect.
This type focuses on:
Breathing techniques and physical postures as one aspect in the path to spiritual realization; the approach is considered one branch of the overall picture of spirituality. Hatha yoga incorporates meditation, chanting, and diet into the practice.
Sign up for this class if:
You’re searching for a gentle approach to yoga and are more interested in spirituality than a hardcore workout. Hatha is a good choice for those just starting a yoga practice as well as those recovering from illness.
This type focuses on:
The performance of a series of twenty-six asanas (postures) to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the proper order. Bikram classes are hot— literally; instructors crank up the thermostat to 85°F or higher to keep bodies warm.
Sign up for this class if:
You want a rigorous workout and love to sweat. Bikram classes are not appropriate for beginners.
This type focuses on:
Coordination of breath and movement where the breath leads and the movement follows. Power yoga is based on ashtanga; it’s physically demanding—you actually jump from one posture to the next in order to build strength, flexibility, and stamina. Ashtanga is the most intensive form of hatha yoga.
Sign up for this class if:
You’re looking for a rigorous cardio and strength workout.
This type focuses on:
Precise alignment of postures and great attention to detail. Iyengar emphasizes balance between strength and flexibility. Expect to incorporate many props (belts, blocks, and chairs) into your practice. Iyengar is probably the most widely practiced form of hatha yoga in the West.
Sign up for this class if:
You’re searching for a strength workout and would like to improve your posture and alignment; Iyengar is also wonderful for those recovering from injuries or suffering from chronic pain.