Massage & Yoga

Improving overall health, vitality, and lifestyle through the integration of Massage Therapy and the practice of Yoga


Monday, December 28, 2009

Peppermint and The Candy Cane

Peppermint Candy Canes

With the onset of the Holidays, one can see decorations popping up everywhere. A common sight among the many lights and ornaments is the candy cane. These peppermint treats have a history that dates back nearly 400 years. Many urban legends surround the significance of the candy cane. The most popular tells of the candy maker in Indiana who created the J-shaped treat to symbolize the first letter of Jesus. He claimed the red and white stripes were to signify the scourging of Jesus at the pillar. This is truly urban legend because candy canes have been around since long before the state of Indiana. Originally all white in color, candy canes didn't take on the barber pole red stripes until the early 20th century. The crooked shape is said to have been adopted to symbolize the staff of a shepherd and to make them easier to hang on trees during Christmas time. Another legend tells of the Bishop of Cologne in 1670 who handed them out to children to keep them quiet in church. No matter whether fact or fiction, the candy cane has become part of our tradition. The reason behind its peppermint flavor however, may have more significance than mere legend.
Peppermint is a hybrid of the spearmint plant which was originally used in ancient times as a relief for stomach and digestive disorders. A sprig of spearmint was often consumed following meals to insure proper digestion. Ancient sailors used it to combat sea sickness. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all revered this plant and used it for a number of reasons including hangovers, a preservative for milk, and a cure for hiccups. At some point in the past, two varieties of spearmint were bred together to yield a stronger tasting mint and thus "pepper" mint was born. Commonly, the natural oil from the plant is extracted before it is used. Since ancient times much has been written about the uses of peppermint oil. Physicians and herbalist have touted the benefits of peppermint oil for centuries claiming cures for colds, headache, gout, venereal disease and colic. The one thing that seems to be commonly agreed upon though is its ability to soothe the muscles of the digestive tract.
By the late 19th century, the Eclectic physicians who predate today's modern naturopaths, began using a distilled form of peppermint known as menthol. Menthol contains germicidal properties as well as strong anesthetic uses. They would often apply it externally to cuts, burns, stings, hives, and toothaches. The Eclectics also used menthol as an inhalant and chest rub to relieve cold symptoms, asthma, allergies, and morning sickness. Today's herbalists and naturopaths recommend peppermint externally for itching and inflammation as well as internally for digestive disorders, morning sickness, menstrual cramps, colds, cough, headache, heartburn and fever. As with any treatment, please use your best judgment and consult your healthcare provider prior to starting any therapy.
So there it is. The peppermint candy cane really does have more to offer than a mere holiday confection or decoration. They not only look attractive on your tree but they help settle your stomach after those big holiday meals. As for the urban legends surrounding its origin, that is best left to your own interpretation. Have a blessed and joyous Holiday Season!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cinammon Packs a Punch

For anyone who bakes, you know that cinnamon is a common ingredient used to add a warm, spicy flavor. What you may not know is that cinnamon possesses some remarkable properties that ancient Chinese and Indian healers discovered as early as 2700 B.C. Over the centuries, cinnamon has been used to treat a variety of illnesses and ailments including stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, uterine cramps, infant colic, and flatulence. Originally grown in southern Asia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), early travelers first brought cinnamon to Egypt, where its preservative power was used in their embalming recipe. The phenols in cinnamon inhibit the growth of bacteria responsible for decay. Later the Romans found it useful as a spice, a perfume, and a treatment for indigestion. Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century A.D., that 350 grams of cinnamon was worth over five kilograms of silver. As an aside, Emperor Nero; after murdering his wife, ordered that a year's supply of cinnamon be burned as a sign of remorse. You can see that cinnamon was a prized possession among the ancient cultures.

In more recent times, it was discovered to be a powerful antiseptic which explains why it is found in toothpaste and dental floss. It has also been found to kill a number of disease causing bacteria including those that cause urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections. Its antiseptic power has also been tested on minor cuts and scrapes. Perhaps the best known benefit of cinnamon is its ability to aid in the digestion of high fat treats such as cakes, cookies, and ice cream. Put in more medical terms, it boosts the release of an enzyme called trypsin in the digestive tract, which breaks down fats. More recent studies have shown that cinnamon enhances the ability of insulin to metabolize glucose, helping to control blood sugar levels. Despite the fact that these studies have not yet been tested on humans, many diabetics are adding a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to their daily diet, proclaiming favorable results. By aiding the effectiveness of their insulin, diabetics can help prevent the onset of coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Lastly, a study by Alan Hirsch, M.D. at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago found cinnamon scored high as an aphrodisiac for males. Your results may vary.

Try this soothing Cinnamon infusion recipe:
3 sticks Cinnamon
6 Cloves
Small peice of dry Ginger (not powder)
1 ball of Nutmeg
2 tbsp Anise

Boil a teapot of water and add ingredients. Simmer for 10 minutes. Before serving, add some Pine Nuts and Walnuts and a dash of Brown Sugar to taste. This will make your house smell wonderful and inviting as well as providing you with a relaxing and warming drink.

One word of warning about the use of cinnamon is that it should not be confused with cinnamon oil. The oil extract from cinnamon bark and twigs is quite potent and can cause irritation and redness when applied to the skin. Do not ingest the oil either because it can cause nausea, vomiting, and possibly kidney damage. Stick to using cinnamon powder in culinary doses. If you are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor about safe amounts to use.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bees: Nature’s Miracle Workers

Did you ever stop to think about the origin of the saying "Busy as a Bee"? Well the reputation is well deserved because these little creatures are some of the hardest workers in the world. Without their diligent efforts our lives on this planet would be profoundly different. In spite of that, you still may not be reaping all the benefits from them that you could.

Most of us are aware of the important roll that bees play in the pollination of plants. As they move from one flower to the next, their bodies become covered in pollen and thereby transport the essential ingredient necessary for plants to mature and bear fruit. Without the bees, crops would fail and the effect on our food supply would be drastic. In recent years a global crisis has emerged within the bee population. Colonies of bees are disappearing at an alarming rate due to pesticide use, loss of habitable areas, and illness. The consequences of this have yet to be taken seriously but you can rest assured that the cost of everything associated with bees will continue to rise in the future.

In addition to pollination, bees are busy manufacturing some of the most nutritious and beneficial foods known to man inside their hives. The most obvious of these is Honey. Since reading the children's stories of Winnie the Pooh and his love of honey, I too, have acquired a fondness for its sweet golden goodness. It can be used as a natural sugar substitute in just about any dish or recipe. It comes in a variety of flavors due to the subtle tastes imparted from the local pollen where the bee colonies live. It can be stored for years and years without refrigeration because bacteria and microorganisms cannot grow in honey. Honey is also extremely high in protein (35%) as well as being rich in vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. It also contains a host of minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Lastly, it contains valuable amino acids and it is high in antioxidants. As a result of all this, honey is a great source of energy.

Research has shown that eating honey also promotes a number of health benefits. It relieves both constipation and diarrhea. It promotes healing and prevents infections due to its strong anti-bacterial properties. People with stomach ulcers noted a significant decrease in symptoms following daily doses of honey. It is also known to be a relief for persons with respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and asthma. Pretty remarkable stuff for such a little creature don't you think? But wait, there is much more to the story.

Also found in the beehive is a milk-like secretion produced in the glands of nurse bees call Royal Jelly. This wonderful substance is what turns an ordinary bee into a Queen. It is extremely rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, silicon, enzymes, hormones, the eight essential amino acids. Because it is a natural antibiotic, it strengthens our immune system, promotes cell longevity and mental alertness, alleviates insomnia, stress, and fatigue; and improves the health of our hair and skin. Perhaps the most important benefit of taking royal jelly though is its ability to revitalize our endocrine system. These are the glands that secrete the hormones to regulate our body activities such as growth, metabolism, reproduction, and fluid balance. Royal jelly has been used to combat bronchial asthma, liver and kidney disease, inflammation of the pancreas, gall bladder disorders, stomach ulcers, migraines, and skin diseases. Royal jelly is available from local health food markets in capsules, powdered form and mixed into honey. It can be taken by itself or mixed into a soothing cup of tea. However you choose to take it, the benefits will be profound.

Another mysterious substance produced by bees is called Propolis. It is a resin like substance that the bees collect from the bark and buds of trees to use in building their hives. It is rich in antioxidants and protects the bees from infections. Recent laboratory tests have shown that it is effective in combating cancer cells. It also stimulates our thymus gland which increases our resistance to infection by producing T-cells. This miraculous substance is sold in capsules, lozenges, and tablets and is often touted as a remedy for colds, cough, pneumonia, acne and ulcers. With a combination of anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties, it has been used to effectively to manage arthritis and as a topical tincture for warts and lesions.

The last amazing product that bees make is called Bee Pollen. This superfood is popular with athletes for its instant energy. It contains B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, beneficial fatty acids, enzymes, amino acids, carotenoids, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and is composed of about 15% protein. It works well for those recovering from illness and for those suffering with respiratory and intestinal conditions. It has also been found to relieve menstrual and prostate problems. Just a couple of teaspoons a day will delay the onset of aging and increase your mental capacity. It is hard to believe that all these benefits come from the same small insect. I hope you will think about the importance of these "miracle workers" the next time you see them working hard pollinating your gardens. They are truly one of nature's wonders!

**Caution - Do not give honey to infants under 1 year of age because is contains spores of the botulism bacteria. These spores could develop into botulism toxin and become poisonous in an infant's undeveloped digestive system.

The Artist Within You

While touring the magnificent art galleries of this past spring, I was struck by an intriguing thought. Captured within these beautiful treasures was a combination of ingredients that transcended the image on the canvas or the figure made from the stone. Not only did the artists capture the essence of their subjects, but they also infused a minute sample of their surroundings as well. Perhaps a drop of sweat rolling off the brow, a bit of dirt kicked up from the floor, a crust of bread from a half eaten sandwich might have been somehow incorporated into the finish work of art. In other words, these masterpieces contain the "dirt" of a certain age if you will.

This can be taken both literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, the paint used by an artist must certainly contain a small amount of dirt from the surroundings where it was mixed and applied. When the paint dried, that dirt became permanently bound to the canvas and thus it became an integral part of the image and soul of the painting itself. Figuratively speaking, dirt also plays a role in the portrayal of the subject matter the artist was attempting to capture. Whether it was a portrait of an important person of the time, a re-creation of a significant event in history, or a beautiful landscape, the artist forever linked the painting to a certain time in history. It became a permanent record with all the back story, intrigue, and "dirt", if you will, associated with the person, place, or time. The connection between the artist and his or her surroundings is inseparable. A masterpiece begins with inspiration which stirs ones creativity which then becomes "art".

You may be wondering how this pertains to you and your well-being? We have all felt inspired by something at one time or another in our lives. However, what each of us chooses to do with that inspiration is what really matters most. Don't simply acknowledge it and let it pass. Force your own inspirations into creativity. Whether you choose to paint on canvas, hammer a chisel into stone, push a needle through fabric, or plant flowers in a garden, you are fulfilling an artistic desire. Run with it! Good health is a balance of both mental and physical exercise. All too often we sacrifice the mental aspects of our health in favor of the physical. Take time to feed the right side of your brain once in awhile. The next time you are inspired; don't let obligations and deadlines overcome you. Step back for a moment and give yourself the chance to create. Take the initiative and capture your surrounding, put a little "dirt" into your own masterpiece.

Open your mind.


Where Am I Today?

Yoga seems to be popping up everywhere these days. There is a good reason for this popularity. It works! If you are needing a way to cope with the tensions of day to day living in the modern world, then read on and discover what the "old world" practice of yoga can do to help you meet the challenges of a hectic lifestyle.

As part of a regular yoga practice, it is customary to "check in" with yourself before you start each session. So the first thing I do when I get on my mat is to ask myself, "Where am I today?" A quick mental checklist of emotional and physical well-being lets me begin my practice knowing where my mind and body are in relation to one another. As you begin to warm the body in the first few poses, take notice of what areas are tense. The stressors of daily living can manifest themselves in areas that we ignore most of the time. The purpose of each pose in yoga is to open these areas of tension and allow a free flow of energy to radiate throughout the body. You may find that you are able to do some poses better than others. Be proud of yourself for these accomplishments, but focus your efforts on the more difficult poses in order to reap the most benefit from your practice. The challenging poses build heat in the body which is a form of energy. The concentration of energy in these areas will start to unwind your tension and stress, leaving you relaxed and open.

Once you have opened the flow of energy in the body, you will feel a sense of calm and the mind is able to focus. You have achieved the ultimate goal of yoga which is to prepare the body for meditation. When you practice yoga poses without meditation you are missing the icing on the cake! The healing benefits of sitting in stillness can be profound. If you have never practiced meditation, then you owe it to yourself to seek out a qualified meditation instructor. Meditation will allow you to carry the positive benefits of yoga with you into daily life. You will be better able to cope with stress. Your overall outlook on life will improve and ultimately, you will find you are able to keep tension and stress at a distance which improves productivity and longevity.

Remember that yoga is not a one time fix. That is why it is called a yoga “practice”. The greatest yogis have devoted a lifetime, yet they still “practice” daily. Yoga is not something you master. Just because you see someone who can perform a particular pose better than you doesn’t mean that you are not as “good” at yoga as they are. On the contrary, your yoga is only for “you”. Where you are today is exactly where you are supposed to be! So be proud of yourself for your own sake and take yoga with you each and every day.


Take A Walk For Health

The summer months are a great time to increase your outdoor activities. One of the easiest ways to benefit from Mother Nature is by taking walks. An evening stroll has been a tradition in European cities and towns for centuries. It is a common sight to see families or a group of friends out walking together around the local plaza.

Do they know something that we don't? Perhaps?

There is no better form of low impact aerobic exercise than walking. When performed on a regular basis it has countless health benefits. A 30 minute walk 4 to 5 times a week has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, lower total cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress and symptoms of depression. It can also help to stabilize blood sugar levels, improve immunity to illness, and maintain healthy bones and muscles. When used in combination with a balanced diet, walking is an effect way to control weight gain as well. A brisk walk can burn nearly 500 calories per hour depending on your metabolism. Daily walking also helps to speed your metabolism, furthering the benefits of weigh control. Walking boosts your energy levels, giving you a "lift" for up to 2 hours following the exercise. With all these physical and psychological factors going for it how can you resist? Get out this week and spend some time with friends and family in the great outdoors taking a nice long walk. You will be amazed at how good it will make you feel!

As a reminder, before exploring the numerous benefits that walking has to offer, remember to apply a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to the areas of skin that may be exposed to the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays. Yes, even evening sun has the strength to do damage to your skin. Once you are protected from the sun, it's time to put on a pair of comfortable shoes and go for a walk. Right?

Stretching Gives You Vitality

Many times when clients come to me with sore necks or sore backs or other aching muscles, I will ask them if they have performed any stretches for the discomfort. Generally the reply is "no". For this reason, I always apply a few simple stretches to the body during my massage routine to give the muscles spindles a chance to reset. Stretching is a wonderful way to fight your daily aches and pains and if done properly and regularly, it can prevent those aches and pains from happening in the first place. Maintaining your flexibility is your first defense against the forces of aging. All too often as we age we become more sedentary in our lifestyle and we begin to lose our flexibility and muscularity. We start to drag our bodies around using our muscles only when we absolutely have to for a given task. I am here to tell you that a few simple stretches done daily and two 30 minute aerobic workouts per week will stave off the effects of aging for years to come. Listen to this, "you are never too old to stretch"! Even if you are not one who exercises regularly, you can still reap the benefits of stretching. It is a natural thing that each of our bodies need to keep our muscles supple and working properly. Think about yawning. This is the bodies built in stretch mechanism. It is trying to relax itself by telling your muscles to stretch. Think about how good you feel after a nice deep yawn. Now apply that to your whole body and imagine how good you could feel. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and any place and it doesn't require any equipment or great knowledge of the human body to perform. Since the subject has been well documented in books, on TV and on the internet, I won't go into the hundreds of different stretches you can do for all the muscles in your body, but I will give you a few simple suggestions on how to properly stretch without imposing injury to yourself. First, maintain an even controlled breath while stretching, you don't want to hold your breath. Next, move into the stretch slowly and gently. Don't bounce or force the body to go farther than it should normally. You should feel tension in the muscles being stretched but not pain. If it is painful then you are stretching too far and possibly doing harm. Hold the stretches for about 30 seconds each and maintain your breathing. With practice, you will be able to feel the muscles release as you hold the stretch. That's it. It's that simple. Give yourself a break to stretch those muscles everyday and you will be amazed at the vitality and flexibility you will gain.