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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.