Yoga lowers risk factors for heart disease

To add to the growing body of evidence that yoga works wonders for one's overall health, a new review found that the ancient Chinese practice could be more beneficial to our cardiovascular system than scientists once believed. 

The review of 37 clinical trials showed that people randomly assigned to take yoga class had reduced heart disease risk factors, exhibiting improvements in their blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. More specifically, yoga practitioners saw higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol and reduced low-density lipoprotein, bad cholesterol. 

Lead researcher Paula Chu, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University's Health Policy Program in Boston, even compared yoga to aerobic exercises.

"We believe there is promising evidence on the effect of yoga on improving cardiovascular risk factors," Chu told Health Day. "This finding suggests that [people] who are physically limited in some way do not have to 'pound the pavement' in order to improve their cardiovascular risk profile."

Triple-Pronged Approach
There are three main aspects in yoga: gentle movements and postures, meditation and breathing techniques. Researchers speculate that the movements and yoga poses may stimulate the muscles to process blood sugar, qualifying as a light form of aerobic fitness, depending on how strenuous the yoga is.

Yet the breathing and meditation parts seem to take center stage in terms of health benefits, as they shut off the stress responders that are constantly on throughout the day. The key, though, is that yoga changes the way your body reacts to stress, not just while you're on the mat, but potentially throughout the entire day. In addition, the soothing sequences of breathing techniques improve respiratory function and heart rate while boosting circulation.

By doing all of this, you can kick?-start metabolism and lower inflammation. Calming the body and mind just got easier.

The researchers point out that you shouldn't replace medication or daily fitness with yoga, rather, it should be used as a quality supplement. 

What's more, there are many variations of yoga. Those who are just starting the practice may want to opt for a less aggressive, easy tutorial lesson first. 

"Of course," Chu told Health Day, "not all types of yoga are suitable for every population. Individuals may want to consult their doctor before embarking on an exercise plan, or talk to a professional about the right style of yoga for them."

Have you noticed a change in your health or stress levels since you started practicing yoga?

Calming the Noise: Ways to Find Quiet Places

Like your heart and lungs, your ears are always on. Even when you're sleeping, your auditory system is evaluating noises at a level below the cortex, deciding whether the sound information is worthy enough to wake you up. During the day or night, rousing sounds can – even for a split second – cause your blood pressure to spike, your heart rate to increase and stress hormones to be released. 

Too much noise can undermine your health. As you may know, sound is measured in decibels (dB). A 2012 Yale University study showed that patients in an intensive-care unit who were exposed to sounds in excess of 83 dB suffered reduced immune function and even delirium from sleep deprivation.

A separate study that followed 3.6 million people near Heathrow airport outside London found that people who lived with the highest levels of airplane noise had a 10 to 29 percent greater risk of hospital admissions, in addition to death from heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease. 

One of the biggest complaints among cubicle workers is hearing other employees around them. Too much background noise can reduce performance in cognitively demanding tasks.

Cutting Down Noise
So, to combat the rising tidal wave of noise, let's take a look at sound-resistant methods. 

1. The simplest remedy is to put in a pair of earplugs. Put them in while riding a subway or watching fireworks. Use earplugs with caution in public places because they could increase the risk for accidents. In addition, pricier noise-canceling earplugs are designed specifically for going to concerts.

2. Lower entertainment volumes. Turn down your TV, radio, fans and music players to appropriate volumes.

3. Learn where the quiet spots are in your workplace. Whether they're, bathrooms, break rooms or supply closets, you can take "noise breaks" there. If you don't have these options. consider wearing earplugs for short periods of time.

4. Meditate. When outside noise levels start to surge, the buzzing inside our heads seems to grow with them. Take a few minutes to focus on your breathing, concentrating on inhaling and exhaling from your diaphragm. This can boost concentration. While finding a quiet place is important, it's also very useful to be able to cultivate your own soothing internal space.

5. Sound-proof your bedroom. When it's bedtime, do everything in your power to ensure a quiet night's rest. Carpeting, drapes and noise-canceling headphones can help deaden outside clamor.  

How Much is Too Much?
To put sound volumes in perspective, here are some common things we hear, according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • Bustling leaves: 20 dB
  • Whisper in a library: 30 dB
  • Coffee shop: 70 dB
  • School cafeteria: 85 dB
  • Kitchen blender: 90 dB
  • Snow blower: 106 dB
  • Rock 'n' roll concert: 110 dB
  • Ambulance siren: 120 dB
  • Jet airplane taking off: 140 dB

Apps for Measuring Decibels
If you're curious how many decibels you're being exposed to, there are some useful apps. For example, dB Volume Meter, an app created for the iPhone, measures audio volume in the environment around you. TooLoud, also built for the iPhone, examines the noise levels and warns you if you should wear earplugs. An app called deciBel is another sound level meter application for the Android market. 

Self-Acupressure Could Help Constipation

Although an embarrassing topic for many, constipation affects a range of people. In fact, about 19 percent of people in North America suffer from constipation, and if you have it, you're not alone. 

New research from the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine highlighted how acupressure can help mitigate this frustrating condition. In the trial, 72 percent of participants that self-administered perineal acupressure had improvement in their bowel movements. Acupressure is a form of touch therapy in which finger pressure is used to stimulate the same body parts as those in acupuncture. 

"Constipation is very common and can have debilitating symptoms," said Dr. Ryan Abbott, the study's principal investigator and a visiting assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "But patients can perform this simple intervention themselves to treat their own constipation and improve their quality of life. It can also help to limit health care costs and excessive medication use."

About 72 percent of participants said this healing treatment helped them have an easier time when they went to the toilet. Another 82 percent said they would continue using the technique. The results were published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

While the study provided evidence that the self-acupressure could work on its own, researchers pointed out that this is a great example of the complementary effects of Western and Eastern medicine. The findings suggest that this technique may serve as the first-line intervention together with conventional treatment. In other words, it combines the best of both worlds. 

The digestive condition is more common among women, people older than 60 and those who are not physically active. 

"As a non-invasive, non-pharmacological treatment intervention for constipation, perineal self-acupressure likely carries a lower risk for side effects and complications than commonly used medications such as stool softeners, fiber supplements, stimulants, laxatives and lubricants," the researchers wrote. "In addition, perineal self-acupressure may help to control treatment costs because it only requires a brief, initial period of training. Furthermore, not all patients respond favorably to existing treatment options, and perineal self-acupressure may represent an effective alternative to conventional treatment options."

Breast Cancer Survivor Does Tai Chi to Fight Insomnia and Inflammation

Linda Tucker, a two-time breast cancer survivor, used to spend nights tossing and turning in bed. She couldn't sleep, no matter what she did. 

"I absolutely did not sleep, my eyes would not stay asleep, my body just would not relax and I found myself awake until six in the morning," Tucker said in a press release. 

As a survivor, Tucker was not alone. Many patients have sleepless nights after breast cancer treatment. Not only does insomnia affect the hours in bed, it makes it hard to concentrate and finish tasks during the day. Scientists explain that sleep disturbance throws off the body's immune functions and can lead to inflammation, which places breast cancer patients at a higher risk for cancer recurrence. To combat these problems, Tucker turned to tai chi, despite her skepticism. She took part in a tai chi study at the University of California, Los Angeles.

After a five-year clinical trial, the UCLA researchers found that tai chi can reduced inflammation in people who have had breast cancer, thus reducing the recurrence risk of cancer. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute

Dr. Michael Irwin, lead researcher and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, analyzed blood samples from 90 participants between 30 to 85 years old, before and after they started the tai chi routine. For many, including Tucker, the results were shocking.

"When people practice tai chi, there is a decrease in the stress hormones produced by the sympathetic nervous system," said Irwin, who is also a UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member.

Tai Chi: Healing Treatment
Through its gentle, flowing movements and focus on breathing, tai chi has benefits as a healing treatment. Although the Chinese martial art was originally developed for self-defense, it has evolved into a graceful, pain-free form of exercise. Tai chi is often described as "meditation in motion," promoting serenity and a sense of well-being.

"I said to myself, this has to be a joke, this is not going to work or do anything," Tucker said in the news release. "But after two sessions the insomnia started going away. I just felt a sense of peacefulness."

Besides calming stress, the ancient Chinese technique lowered inflammation.

"We saw that tai chi reversed cellular inflammation, by producing a down-regulation of the genes that lead to inflammation," said Dr. Irwin. "Tai chi is a movement meditation, and we have found that similar anti-inflammatory effects occur when people practice other forms of meditation."

Irwin said that he hopes the exercise will gain traction as a form of healing, especially in lower-income families who may not have immediate access to breast cancer treatment. 

Have you tried tai chi before? Did it enhance the quality of your sleep?  

Tai Chi Can Help Alleviate Medical Conditions

Tai chi is a great way to tone the body and train the mind, and although the Chinese technique most often captures headlines for its mind-calming abilities, the healing treatment can play a big role in alleviating physical ailments as well.

For people who may not know, tai chi is a low-impact, gradual-motion exercise that involves a series of movements and breathing techniques. In this way, it mirrors meditation and allows practitioners to focus on their bodily sensations. Tai chi has been considered a cousin of qi gong, which is another holistic, mind-body practice that focuses on breathing techniques and easy movements. 

Yet unlike other forms of exercise, tai chi keeps muscles relaxed rather than tensed, with the joints not fully extended or bent and the connective tissue not stretched. The practice can be easily adapted for people of all ages, from professional athletes to individuals recovering from surgery. 

In fact, Harvard Medical School describes the practice as "medication in motion." Combined with standard treatment, tai chi can be helpful for a variety of medical conditions. Check out specific tai chi benefits below: 

Heart Disease
In a study at National Taiwan University, researchers found that a year of tai chi significantly increased exercise capacity and lowered blood pressure. High blood pressure, brought on by an unhealthy diet, limited exercise and stress is a leading trigger of heart attack. With tai chi's incorporation of both stress-relieving movements and physical motions, it can spur any practitioner into action and a healthier lifestyle to help reduce the risk of cardiac complications.

What's more, the study showed that patients who practiced tai chi had improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. Meanwhile, the research, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi. 

Arthritis limits the activities of 21 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But despite what many people assume, staying inactive is not the answer. It's quite the contrary: A sedentary lifestyle may only worsen one's arthritis by promoting prolonged joint stiffness. Tai chi, however, has been looked upon as a great outlet to get individuals with arthritis back on their feet again. 

A study from Tufts University indicated that an hour of tai chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved physical functioning as well as mood more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. When done in gradual amounts, the soft, easy motions of tai chi can help relieve joint inflammation. 

Breast Cancer
Tai chi even has potential to boost the quality of life and the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For instance, a University of Rochester study published in Medicine and Sport Science discovered that women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of tai chi reported better quality of life, aerobic capacity, muscular strength and flexibility than those who did not practice tai chi. 

The Biology Behind Acupuncture’s Stress-Relieving Abilities

By now, most of us realize that acupuncture relieves stress. But do you know how the ancient practice does this? A new study delves into the biological mechanisms behind acupuncture's stress-alleviating abilities. 

The research published in the Journal of Endocrinology examined the hormones secreted in the blood stream of rats. The scientists discovered that stress hormones were lower in rats who received electronic acupuncture. 

"Many practitioners of acupuncture have observed that this ancient practice can reduce stress in their patients, but there is a lack of biological proof of how or why this happens. We're starting to understand what's going on at the molecular level that helps explain acupuncture's benefit," study researcher Dr. Ladan Eshkevari, an associate professor of nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies, said in a statement.

Electronic Acupuncture
In the study, Eshkevari and colleagues administered a series of electronic acupuncture tests on the animals. The rats were divided into four groups; the first was a control group with no added stress and no acupuncture, the second group was designed to be stressed for an hour each day but didn't receive acupuncture; the third was designed to feel stressed for an hour each day but received sham acupuncture by their tails; the last group was put into a stressful environment and received genuine acupuncture treatment. 

The spot below the knee, called the "zusanli" point, was targeted with a needle. Notably, this area is the same in rats and humans, and it is believed that stimulating the point can reduce anxiety. 

It is known that the body secretes an assortment of hormones into the bloodstream as a reaction to stress, which the researchers measured in the rats. They also monitored the blood hormone levels secreted by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland. Eshkevari evaluated a peptide involved in creatures' fight-or-fight responses, called NPY, which is released by the sympathetic nervous system in rodents and humans. When a creature confronts one of these situations, blood flow consists to all parts of the body except the heart, lungs and brains – the organs most need to react to danger. Chronic stress, however, can lead to elevated blood pressure and cardiac disease. 

"We found that electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway," Eshkevari said in a press release. 

Unlike the stress and acupuncture group, the rats that received the sham electronic acupuncture had elevated levels of hormones similar to that of the stress-only animals. 

A growing body of evidence highlights acupuncture's protective effect against stress response. In day-to-day life, athletes, CEOs, teachers and many others have been known to use the healing treatment for its calming benefits. 

Though needles and calming anxiety don't usually go hand in hand, acupuncture has shown time and again to reduce stress, and science is starting to explain why.  

Teachers Take Advantage of Group Acupuncture

As school kicks into gear, teachers are bringing lesson plans to life in the classroom. But between taming students, correcting exams, polishing last-minute materials and nurturing the leaders of tomorrow, teaching can be rather stressful, leaving educators with a need to repair frayed ends after the final bell rings. 

That and other pressures were why teachers in British Columbia took to the acupuncture clinic in early September. A health clinic in Vernon offered free group acupuncture for stress reduction.

"This same simple protocol was originally developed to treat addictions and mental illnesses and has become widely used for trauma recovery and stress relief," registered acupuncturist Ashley Piderman with Vero Health told Venon Morning Star. 

Piderman administered community-style acupuncture to provide compassionate treatment in a group setting. This model of acupuncture allowed everyone treated to experience relief from stress and trauma together. 

The treatment involved five needles in the ears. Patients were seated in a quiet circle. The treatment lasted 20 to 45 minutes and then the needles were removed. Patients were encouraged to wear comfortable clothing and tie or pin long hair back so the ears were exposed. The more cozy one is, the easier it should be for him or her to get in the zone. 

Stress Relief
One of the gleaming acupuncture benefits, stress relief is something that many teachers could use. The ancient practice lowers stress hormones, helping to dial down anxiety response levels and returning them to normal. In fact, studies have shown electronic acupuncture blocks the chronic elevations of certain hormones in the body to alleviate that burdensome, heavy feeling of stress.

Plus, anxiety over the long run can actually cause brain shrinkage, dulling the mind in the classroom. In a setting where teaching professionals have to create a lot of impromptu solutions and handle situations as they surface, a stress-inhibited mind is not something they'd enjoy seeing on the curriculum plan for the day. 

Beyond calming nerves, acupuncture in this group setting is also believed to strengthen bonds between the teachers. When the entire group feels calm, the goal is for hope and resiliency to become solidified as a collective unit. 

"Because it can easily be adapted for field use, this is the model used by Acupuncturists Without Borders for disaster relief field clinics, veterans' clinics and many community acupuncture clinics," Piderman told the source. "The treatment is safe, effective and elegantly simple."

Different Energy Healing Methods

The basic principle behind energy healing treatments is that healers can detect and channel a universal energy and manipulate it within another person. As with all alternative medicine, there is a lot of skepticism about energy healing, but there are also plenty of people who attest to its effectiveness. 

Here are three energy-based alternative healing practices

Reiki is a self-healing and meditation technique that fights stress-related conditions. During the treatment, a practitioner places his palms lightly on or over various parts of the body in an effort to redistribute energy.

Gianantonio Corna, a third-generation energy healer and the owner of Reiki Vitae in SoHo, told New York Daily News that Reiki can be compared to a GPS for you body, going around the different energy channels to detect where the qi that is not flowing smoothly, and communicates with that spot to to sort out the qi "traffic jam." He recommends at least three sessions to really feel its effects on both emotional and physical levels. 

Tapping involves gentle self-taps on various acupressure points in the body such as the collarbone and under the eye. These taps are meant to send a signal to the brain giving the green light to calm down. It's also known as Emotional Freedom Technique. 

"When we feel stressed, it's not a sensation we just experience in our head – we feel it in our entire body," Jessica Ortner, a tapping expert and author, told the source. 

Ortner said that by stimulating these acupressure points while concentrating on eliminating stessors, tapping communicates to the body that its' safe to relax. 

Reflexology stimulates specific pressure points on the hands, feet, face and ears to affect certain organs, glands and other parts of the body. Each reflexology pressure point is said to align with a different body part. While a massage uses big, broad strokes, reflexology utilizes just the fingers and thumbs to press on reflex pressure points. 

Many people think reflexology just pertains to the feet, but it can help with all different body parts. The reason reflexologists work on the feet is that they're the most neglected and the farthest from the heart, and they contain almost 15,000 nerves. 

By working on the feet, reflexologists are"balancing energy flow, calming the nervous system, improving circulation, and assisting the body to eliminate toxins while helping a variety of health conditions," Laura Norman, a certified reflexologist and author who also teaches classes on the subject in South Florida, told the source.

How Acupressure Complements Ice Therapy in Pregnant Women

Throughout pregnancy, a mother experiences new sensations of touch, from feeling the baby kick to getting a sore back from walking. To combat these problems, pregnant women can opt for a touch-related treatment called acupressure. 

Acupressure, also known as Shiatsu, is a form of therapy with Japanese origins that's based on the same principles as acupuncture, in which pressure is applied to certain points on the body. However, instead of using needles like in acupuncture, acupressure utilizes the hands. This healing treatment has been used for centuries to address everything from everyday aches to labor pains. 

In fact, for a 2012 study, researchers from Behavioral Sciences Research Center, Nursing Faculty Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences compared ice massage and acupressure techniques to reduce labor pain. The study involved 90 pregnant women ages 22 to 33 from different hospitals around the city. The participants assessed their pain intensity using a visual analogue scale before the intervention as well as 30 minutes and one hour after it.

Researchers found that both methods were effective, concluding that repeating these techniques during the first stage of labor could not only prove useful, but cost-effective and non-invasive in reducing the intensity of labor pain.  

Acupressure practitioners use their fingers, elbows, palms or feet to apply pressure to acupoints on the body's meridians. Sometimes, acupressure involves stretching or acupressure massage. Since childbirth is arguably one of the most painful experiences women undergo, researchers have long sought to apply acupressure's benefits to the labor process. 

In another study, which was published by the National Institutes of Health, icing techniques were used on expected mothers. As no coincidence, the target placement for the ice massage was the acupressure energy meridian point of the large intestine 4 (LI4), which is located on the medial midpoint of the first metacarpal within 3 to 4 millimeters of the web of skin between the thumb and forefinger.

There are hundreds of acupressure points on the body. Like rivers, one's qi, or life force, is said to flow through these meridians, and by massaging them, acupressure professionals can manipulate the flow of energy. Often times when one feels pain or discomfort, qi is disrupted somewhere. In the phases of pregnancy, a woman will experience many different discomforts that acupressure might help soothe. 

Acupuncture for Veterans

For acupuncturist David LoPriore, acupuncture is a way of saying thank you. 

In what he calls Community Acupuncture for Veterans (CAV), LoPriore offers community-style acupuncture for U.S. active duty military and veterans at a community center in East Lyme, Connecticut.

For 72-year-old Ken McCarthy, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, it was his third visit to see LoPriore.

"I have a lot of back pain, and a lot of other things, and it does help me," McCarthy told The Day. He added that it helps him cope. He also enjoys the opportunity to talk with other veterans. 

Clients are treated in the group setting, in a seated position. Very thin needles are placed in the outer ears at specific points that have been part of healing treatments effective at providing relief for thousands of years. 

Despite the dozens of attendees, each client receives about 10 minutes of individual attention and then relaxes for about 40 minutes until it's time to remove the needles.

LoPriore said that some of these veterans have seen serious combat, which, after all these years, still creates a huge buildup of stress. Once Vito Fatone, a veteran, told him about his role in the D-Day invasion at Omaha and the Battle of the Bulge. 

"That's why we are doing this for guys like you, Vito," LoPriore replied. "We want to thank you for what you did for us."

Some belong to a group that attends funerals for World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans. McCarthy has been to around 900 funerals. 

These acupuncture treatments, which are an ancient Chinese treatment, work to alleviate stress and pain, both mental and physical. One could only imagine the mass amounts of anxiety that those in the army witness and take home with them after duty. Vietnam Army veteran Philip Maniscalco, who's on his fifth session, told The Day that the "shadow" of combat never leaves.

At LoPriore's latest session, everyone said it was painless, and most said they saw results. Maniscalco said that his overall well-being has improved.

"This treatment really helps to optimize all their physical, mental and emotional systems," LoPriore, who donates about 15 hours a week to running CAV, explained to the source. "There's no pain, and it's a protocol that really works because I add specific points for individualized systems."