Sunday, January 29, 2006

Learn and practice Qigong

An avalanche of medical research shows that the human body is capable of remarkable feats of self-healing, which can happen automatically when you cultivate your body's innate powers.

How do you do it? Chinese medicine makes use of four simple techniques...

  • Deep breathing
  • Gentle movement
  • Self-massage
  • Meditation.

Put these techniques to work for just 10 to 15 minutes a day, and you'll be more energetic and alert... and less vulnerable to illness and the negative effects of stress.

Although you can do these techniques as often as you like, it's better to combine all four briefly first thing each morning.

Deep Breathing

Americans have forgotten how to breathe. We typically take very shallow breaths. This pattern of breathing constricts blood vessels, contributing to high blood pressure. Shallow breathing also impairs immune function. It does so by slowing the circulation of antibodies and immune cells throughout the body.

By making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and deeply, you can counteract these physiological disturbances. Try the following exercise right now...

  • Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Allow the lower portions of your lungs to fill, then keep inhaling until your lungs are fully inflated.
  • Exhale slowly for 10 seconds. You can exhale silently and very slowly... or with an audible sigh of relief. Allow yourself to drift off into deep relaxation.

While even a single deep breath is beneficial, the accumulated effect of many such breaths is dramatic. Resolve to do two or three deep breathing sessions each day.

Do one session before getting out of bed in the morning, another just before you go to sleep at night.

Some people prefer to do deep breathing periodically throughout the day.

You might decide to take a deep breath each time the telephone rings... each time you stop at a red light... or each time you open the refrigerator. The point is to develop a habit of breathing deeply all day long.

Gentle Movement

Recent research confirms that easy, low-intensity exercise provides virtually all the disease-fighting benefits of vigorous exercise -- with far less risk of injury to both your muscles and joints. The "flowing technique" is very popular in China...

What to do: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and shoulders relaxed. Let your arms dangle at your sides. Bend your knees slightly... move your tailbone beneath your spine so as to "lengthen" your back... and lower your chin as if nodding "yes."

Rest briefly, begin to inhale slowly and turn your palms forward. Swing your arms forward and upward, slowly rising onto the balls of your feet as you do. Raise your hands (palms up) to shoulder height, keeping your elbows slightly bent.

Turn your palms downward. Slowly lower your arms and exhale. Return your heels to the floor. As your hands pass your legs, allow them to swing back slightly while gently lifting your toes.

Repeat 10 to 15 times, developing a gentle rhythm.


Self-Massage

What modern medical practitioners now call "therapeutic touch" has been a powerful healing tool in China for thousands of years...

  • Hand massage. Using your left thumb, apply gentle pressure to the palm of your right hand. Place your remaining fingers on the back of the right hand for support. Increase the pressure gradually until you're exerting about the same pressure needed to squeeze a new tennis ball.

Massage your hand all over, noting any areas of tenderness. Massage the fingers as well -- all the way out to the tips. Finally, grasp each finger of your right hand on either side of the nail. Pinch gently.

Switch hands, and repeat. To conclude, return to any tender spots on either hand and knead them gently for a few additional minutes.

  • "Energizing" the internal organs. Place your palms over the lower edge of your rib cage, near the sides of your body but still on the front. Rub your palms against your body in a circular motion, breathing easily and deeply as you do. Feel the warmth generated by your hands penetrating toward your organs.

Next, place one hand on your breastbone (sternum), the other on your navel. Rub in a circular motion with each hand.

Move both hands to your lower back, and repeat the process. The Chinese believe that sending warmth into the organs improves health and heals disease.


Meditation

Meditation reduces blood pressure, dilates blood vessels and stimulates the body's production of essential neurotransmitters and hormones.

One of the easiest and most powerful meditation techniques is mindfulness. Using this technique, you can free yourself of psychological and physical stress by focusing closely on a ingle bodily sensation.

Breath-awareness exercise: As you stand, sit or lie comfortably, focus all your concentration on the sensation of your breath as it passes through your nostrils. Your nostrils should feel cool as fresh air enters...and warm as you exhale.

You can do this mindfulness exercise for as briefly as a moment or as long as 20 minutes.

Notice that as long as you hold the focus on your breath, it's impossible to worry or think about stressful situations.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Helping Hands, Healing Hands

Helping Hands, Healing Hands
Virtually every culture other than those in the Western world embraces the concept of chi (also known as prana, qi and others) as an internal energy that has an important role in mental and physical well-being. Western medicine, of course, has been far removed from acknowledging chi, given that it isn't visible... and evidence of its presence and effectiveness is anecdotal. But now in what may be the beginning of a breakthrough on this stance, researchers at Duke University Medical Center and at seven other prominent medical centers around the country conducted a clinical trial to determine if employing internal energy forces and several other cultural norms, including prayer, might have a measurable effect in enhancing healing. The paper was recently published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet.

STUDY STRUCTURE
The study participants, 748 patients undergoing possibly life-threatening cardiac procedures, were put into one of four groups -- one received off-site prayer by congregations of various religions... one received MIT therapy (stands for soothing music, guided imagery and touch therapy -- more on that in a minute)... one group received both prayer and MIT... and one group received nothing. While neither patients nor staff knew who was in the prayer group, obviously the MIT patients knew that they were receiving the therapy because it was a bedside activity. The nurses administering MIT worked with the patients before the procedure to teach them abdominal breathing rather than shallow chest breathing, and they had them select from among three types of music (easy listening, soft country or classical) to listen to. They then chose from three selections of imagery that represented the most beautiful place they had been or could imagine. Finally, the specially trained nurses conducted a 20-minute session on touch therapy, which is a hands-on method for moving energy through the body to help patients relax and perhaps enhance healing.

I spoke with Mitchell W. Krucoff, MD, the lead author of the study, who says the study, results showed that patients having off-site prayer, bedside MIT or both prayer and MIT had comparable primary outcomes with regard to death, new signs of heart attack, rehospitalization and several other cardiac disease indicators. There was no difference between the control group versus MIT and prayer. But now it gets really interesting. Both groups of MIT patients, he says, did experience relief of preprocedural distress and at the secondary endpoint -- the second six months after procedure -- MIT patients were 65% less likely to die than those who did not receive it.

Dr. Krucoff stresses that in the statistical setting of multiple comparisons, these numbers are, he says, very interesting but also warrant cautious interpretation. Even so, he tells me that there are more analyses of long-term results to come. This study is just the beginning of further research to find whether such practices have a place for "promoting patient health in the modern medical setting."