Cultivating Contemplation

Contemplative practices are those that quiet the mind and generate a state of reflection that holds a world of knowledge. These practices range from meditation, yoga, writing to walking, dance, and others. (Visit http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree for more on contemplative practices.)

I find wintertime to be the perfect time to cultivate the contemplative practices that bring me inner peace. In my late teens, I found Tae Kwon Do. This martial arts practice taught me what can be accomplished with determination and a disciplined body and mind. Over the many years of training, it gave me confidence and a sense of joy for learning and growing physically and emotionally. It shaped me in so many ways. As I have aged, I have cultivated other contemplative practices like meditation, tai chi walks in the forest, and storytelling to nurture the spiritual part of my life.

For me, the keys to any contemplative practice are consistency and self-compassion. I’ll be honest, there are days when it is hard for me to sit still or go for a walk. There are high-stress moments and deadlines to meet – they seem more deserving of my attention. I don’t eat as well, I don’t sleep as well, and I feel out of sorts. Ultimately the groundedness I feel when I stay in tune to these practices and prioritize them, outweighs the alternatives. The more I make space for meditation or a walk in the woods, the greater the distance between a trigger or stressor and my response; I feel a greater sense of calm and awareness. 

What will you do during these darker, colder months that will allow you to emerge into the warmth of spring a more centered person? Perhaps you’ve been saying you want to write daily but have not made the time for it. Maybe you promise yourself that you will wake up 20 minutes earlier for some quiet, alone time but the snooze button is just too easy to hit in the morning.

I encourage you to try and stay consistent with whatever contemplative practice you enjoy. I leave you with these words from Stephen Covey, “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.

chia tea ld

Chaga Chai:
A grounding and warming herbal beverage

Chaga mushroom has a rich, coffee-like taste and helps support the immune system. 

Ingredients

  • 8 oz water
  • 4 oz milk or non dairy milk of choice
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of black tea (optional)
  • 1 tbsp chaga powder
  • 4 cardamom pods smashed with side of a knife
  • 2 in. section of a cinnamon stick
  • 1-2, 1/4 ” slices of fresh ginger
  • Pinch of fennel seed, about 10 seeds
  • 5-6 black peppercorns
  • Honey or maple syrup to taste

Instructions:

  1. Add water, milk, spices and chaga powder to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Add tea. Steep tea about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Strain into a cup and stir in honey to taste.

*Other herbs like dandelion or burdock can also be added to this drink

contemplative tree

The Tree of Contemplative Practices

Understanding the Tree

On the Tree of Contemplative Practices, the roots symbolize the two intentions that are the foundation of all contemplative practices. The roots of the tree encompass and transcend differences in the religious traditions from which many of the practices originated, and allow room for the inclusion of new practices that are being created in secular contexts.

The branches represent different groupings of practices. For example, Stillness Practices focus on quieting the mind and body in order to develop calmness and focus. Generative Practices may come in many different forms but share the common intent of generating thoughts and feelings, such as thoughts of devotion and compassion, rather than calming and quieting the mind. (Please note that such classifications are not definitive, and many practices could be included in more than one category.)

A New Year of Nourishment

January 1st marks Detox D-Day for many who practice the heroic or the scientific traditions of medicine. We all know what this looks like: a holiday season full of fatty richness and unhampered excess followed by a January resolute with green smoothies, lemon water cleanses, and partially used gym memberships. But in the Wise Woman Tradition, the new year marks a new season of nourishment.

We don’t cure or cleanse; instead, we enrapture and enrich. Instead of living the ‘out with the bad’ philosophy, we think ‘in with the good’, feeding our bodies and souls and treating them with kindness, compassion, and love. We don’t resolve to persistently scrub our colons and clear our livers, because our guts and our filtration systems are already doing that for us, 24 hours a day, and far better than we could ever do it with all the diets in the world. We don’t detox, because we aren’t dirty.

You’re Not Dirty, and You Don’t Need Cleaning

There is an overarching ethic – which gets its time in the spotlight at this time of the year – that we human bodies are walking dirtbags from years past and in order to start fresh, we must get clean first. But have we forgotten that our bodies are already doing this for us, cleaning, filtering, and ‘detoxing’ in our waking life and our sleep so that we can continue living each day as a fresh, whole, human beings? Each hour of each day, the body produces brand new cells and turns the old ones into waste products. Every minute, 1,450 milliliters of blood circulate through the liver after having been ‘cleaned’. Every 11 months, we have a completely new body made up of those brand new cells. We are renewed, replenished, re-nourished. And we didn’t even have to ‘detox’.

In the heroic tradition, which encompasses much of the alternative health world, pain is gain. Detoxing is purifying. The body is polluted, toxic, and sick, and only by hard work and careful cleansing can we get it clean again. We are filthy and must be controlled by regular detox rituals. Healing is the removal of everything bad from the body, and the addition of nothing.

In the scientific tradition of medicine, which represents much of western medicine as we know it, bodies are machines and herbs can be standardized into drugs, which fix machines. Health and sickness are always at opposite ends of the spectrum, and sickness is never a gift, never an opportunity, only a state that demands to fix. Healing the body through drugs and medicines helps the ‘machine’ to get back to a normal state of healthy function.

In the Wise Woman tradition, the world’s oldest system of healing and the one still practiced by the majority of indigenous cultures in the world today, good health is vibrancy, change, flexibility, and possibility. Health is an integrated both/and situation, rather than a black-and-white either/or dichotomy. Wholeness is ever-changing, unique, abnormal, and doesn’t involve eliminating the bad so much as including and honoring the whole. Nourishment is as simple and innocent as a steaming bowl of soup, as grounded as the powerful earth, as all-encompassing as the universal garden of healing, and as beautiful and perfect as you.

Resolve to Love Your Body for Its Pre-Existing Perfection

Trusting the body to provide you with your own optimum level of in-house cleanliness is part of trusting the body to do its job perfectly, provided that we offer it enough nourishment in terms of food, medicine, and emotional and physical engagement. It is like trusting the body to breathe, pump, and circulate the appropriate substances for those precious few hours of sleep you get each night.

This new year, consider resolving to love your body in its own perfect wisdom, rather than trying to scour every corner of it for bacteria and muck. The energy that you desire to put into detoxing is so valuable, but it would be so much better used in carefully choosing and preparing the foods that nourish your body, rather than trying to clear out any unwanted, invisible toxicity.

Those bacteria that we loathe are the same ones that grow the garden of our gut flora, those microbes that we want to purge are the same things that build up our immunity to viruses, and there is a good chance those toxins that we perceive are long gone, having being evacuated by our body’s own miraculous built-in detoxification system. Loving and nourishing yourself is a commitment to self-acceptance and self-awareness. Trust that your daily nourishing habits, like drinking nourishing herbal infusions, consuming nutrient-dense food, and using herbal medicine when appropriate, are enough.

How Can You Nourish this New Year?

Deep nourishment, soul-level, bone-level nourishment, comes from myriad different places. In the food world, we may grasp it from savory, warming winter broths and stews. We may suss it out of roasted root vegetables and lacto-fermented vegetables that are brimming with probiotics and the makings of good gut flora. And we definitely derive it from our daily nourishing herbal infusions, using the dense nutritional load of nettles, oat straw, linden, comfrey, and red clover to get our everyday doses of fully absorbable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

In the emotional world, we find nourishment from rewarding relationships, personal time spent with the spiritual self, and the wonderful hibernation period that the only winter allows for. Nourishment is all around us, nestled in the tree buds sleeping silently until spring, tucked under the first layer of snow in the chickweed that still blooms white beneath the January ice. This year is new, this year is nourishment, and this year, you can choose to nourish yourself in your personal perfection and in your own perfectly messy, perfectly clean soul and body.

HERBAL MEDICINE BOOKS WORTH THE INVESTMENT

Books are an invaluable resource for the home herbalist, and growing your home library over time is always a great idea. Having at least three herbal books or resources available is absolutely necessary when studying plants and creating a materia medica. Still, there are so many fantastic books available – where should you begin? Here are 6 herbal medicine books that we think are worth the investment!

 Herbal Medicine Books Worth The Investment

The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green

This book has step-by-step instructions for making any kind of herbal preparation you could possibly think of. It also explains why you should do certain things, not just how which is handy to know if you find yourself faced with the need to improvise. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook extremely detail-oriented, but still very readable – Green is authoritative while still being lighthearted. A prime example of this is the chapter on herb jellos, an unexpected and surprisingly useful way to prepare herbs for kids – and one that he stumbled on quite by accident! The book also contains a brief overview of 30 plants that he and the other co-directors of the California School for Herbal Studies developed for use as part of the school’s curriculum.

Herbal-Medicine-Handbook

 

Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffman

This textbook is not for the faint of heart, but it provides an incredible amount of information on the most medical side of herbalism. This tome is a great resource if you are interested in learning the chemistry behind herbalism, as it explains the different types of chemical compounds and goes into great detail for pharmacology, toxicity, and safety issues, formulation, and chapters for treatment approach by body systems. An extensive materia medica with herbal profiles is included at the end. It’s a fascinating and extensive look at the scientific side of herbalism.

Medical-Herbalism

 

The Earthwise Herbal, Volumes 1 and 2 by Matthew Wood

One of the most thorough resources on herbal materia medica available anywhere, The Earthwise Herbal details the historical use of many herbs and includes Wood’s personal experiences in working with the herbs in his clinical practice. Volume One focuses on Old World, European plants while Volume Two discusses the New World plants of North America. Wood has focused on western herbalism and a more folk-style approach, but his books are an excellent resource for herbalists of any tradition. These references are valuable both for beginners and experienced herbalists alike, as they provide valuable insight and lesser-known perspectives on many well-loved herbs.

Earthwise-Herbal-Volume-1

 

The Herbal Kitchen by Kami McBride

No herbal home should be without this delightful book, which provides simple and creative ways to use herbs in the kitchen. Detailed profiles of many common cooking herbs and spices explain how these often overlooked plants are useful for health.  Delicious and unique recipes include cooking oils, seasoning salts and sprinkles, herbal honey, cordials, and vinegar. The Herbal Kitchen is full of creative ways to use recipes in everyday cooking- nothing about this book is complicated, but the recipes are delightful and not to be missed.

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The Herbalist’s Way by Nancy and Michael Phillips

One of the best volumes for folk herbalists searching for their path, the informal but detailed exploration of the art of herbalism in The Herbalist’s Way leaves you with the sense that you’ve spent the afternoon across from a wise elder, chatting as you both enjoyed tea. In fact, the author’s highlight conversations with many herbalists throughout the book, so by the end of the book you have learned from the experiences of many others.  This book explores how to become a herbalist and why – from an overview of the many possibilities of finding your niche, legal aspects, and more.

The-Herbalists-Way

 

Healing with the Herbs of Life by Leslie Tierra

Tierra has a background in Traditional Chinese Medicine, so that’s the focus of Healing with the Herbs of Life. This book is more detailed and yet easier to understand that some courses on the subject, so it is absolutely worth the investment if you are interested in learning about this style of herbalism. The book is divided into three sections covering the fundamentals of herbalism, a TCM perspective on disease and the process of healing, and a section on regaining and maintaining health. The fundamentals of herbalism section include a detailed material medica and appendices at the end of the book contain a convenient reference for weights and measures, along with a listing of TCM formulas. This book is good for beginners as a learning tool, or for advanced students as a reference.

Healing-with-the-Herbs-of-Life-6-Must-Have-Herbal-Books

 

If you’re already an herbal bookworm here are more all for your reading pleasure.

 Herbal Medicine Books Worth The Investment

THE TOP HERBS FOR YOUR MICROBIOME

Herbs have been perennial companions, and some of the earliest evidence comes from starchy herbs (like Dioscorea, a genus that includes yams and found on kitchen vessels from 30,000 years ago) that straddled the line between medicine and food. The microbiomes of our ancestors, if modern hunter-gatherer populations like the Tanzanian Hadza are any indication, varied seasonally and responded, in part, to the availability of these roots and tubers. They were, and still are, rich in digestible carbohydrates as well as prebiotic starch. While we can’t digest this starch directly, it is an important source of nutrition for the microbial ecology. These days, prebiotic starches are still just as vital, and we rely on a few key plants that provide an abundant, varied source to support a thriving microbiome. With all of them, start slowly at first to see how your digestive system reacts, and take them around mealtime – they are very food-like.

Slippery Elm. This is the inner bark of Ulmus rubra and is so named because of the rich, slimy mucilage it produces when mixed with water. This mucilage is slippery to the touch, soothing, and loaded with prebiotic starch. We can’t break down these chains of rhamnopyranose and galacturonic acid, but they support a healthy mucous layer in the GI tract and serve as food for beneficial bacteria, too. You can mix the powder into tea, brewed at a relatively low temperature (180F), or to cooked grains like oatmeal after they’re off the heat. Its mild flavor makes it a favorite way to get your prebiotic fiber. Use between two teaspoons and two tablespoons a day.

Codonopsis--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeCodonopsis. The root of this beautiful vine is often steam-treated and tastes a little smoky as a result. Its rich complement of starches and prebiotic fiber have made it famous in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where the herb is considered a “spleen qi tonic”, able to support good digestion and assimilation. Its starch includes inulin-like fructans that seem able to support healthy microbial populations in the GI tract. If you want to go beyond just soothing, Codonopsis is a good choice based on its extensive traditional use and indications. One to three teaspoons a day of the powder approximates the doses used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and in liquid tincture form, we often suggest 60-90 drops two or three times a day.

With a touch more bitter flavor, roots from the _Asteraceae_ like dandelion and burdock also provide a good amount of prebiotic starches, though lean more towards shorter-chain compounds like inulin, a fructooligosaccharide (FOS). These are still good food for our microbial flora, but the added touch of bitterness also supports healthy secretions across the gut – a fantastic combination for digestive health.

Top 6 Herbs for your Microbiome--DandelionsDandelion(Taraxacum). The classic digestive tonic also includes a good amount of inulin and other prebiotic starches, especially if harvested in the fall. This clues us into one of the reasons plants make these molecules to begin with: they are long-term energy storage, often concentrated in the roots so that in spring the plant has reserves it can use for new green growth. But for us, fall-harvested dandelion roots can be coarsely chopped and roasted over low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until a nutty aroma develops. These roasted roots make a valuable tea, brewed with one tablespoon per cup, or added to French press or drip coffee-makers. Dandelion root is an especially good companion to your probiotic supplement or fermented foods.

Burdock--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeBurdock(Arctium). You can eat these big roots just as you would a carrot: stir-fried, grated into a salad, or simmered into soup, burdock brings a delicious, mildly bitter and earthy flavor to your dishes. It’s also great pickled or brined. But for the microbiome, you’d be hard pressed to find a richer source of inulin and prebiotic starch. Traditionally, herbalists relied on burdock to support healthy skin, and part of the reason lies in this herb’s ability to build a healthy microbiome and provide gentle, bitters-based detoxification, too. While a tincture, taken in doses of 1/2 teaspoon two or three times a day, has good bitter tonic qualities, you’ll want the whole root in food-like doses to maximize the benefit to gut flora. One large root (eight inches long or so) is a good daily amount. The equivalent dose of powder is high: three or even four tablespoons per day is not unreasonable. But even in smaller quantities (one or two teaspoons), burdock root can be mixed with grains or infused into tea and helps give flora the food it needs.

Finally, sometimes even well-established migrations can get off course. Plants in the Berberidaceae, a botanical family rich in deeply-yellow pigments often concentrated in the roots, provide us with a tonic action traditionally used to support great digestion. The Eclectic physicians of the 19th century held up herbs like goldenseal or barberry as restorative tonics, often used as “alternatives” for healthy skin and good liver function as well as gut health. These herbs are quite bitter, too, due in large part to the same alkaloid that brings the yellow color: berberine (and some derivative molecules). These days, we know that berberine supports a normal, healthy balance of organisms in the microbiome, and also that it can help keep the connections that link cells, connective tissue, and fascia of the intestines strong and healthy. This is a good combination that addresses both the “field” (cells and mucosa) and the “herds” (bacterial populations).

Goldenseal--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeGoldenseal(Hydrastis). This classic tonic is often the starting point for microbiome-support protocols in my herbal clinic. It comes from shady spots on the Eastern seaboard, all the way to Ohio and down south through Appalachia. Because of its popularity over the years, it is considered an at-risk botanical and should be used sparingly, and for short periods of time. It’s a good thing then that its dose (about 1/4 teaspoon two or three times a day) is so low, and that you often take it for two weeks or less. If you want to try goldenseal root, beware its strong bitter flavor, and mix the powder with a little water. Or consider the tincture, still quite useful despite its low starch content, at doses of 15-45 drops.

Oregon Grape Root--Top 6 Herbs For Your MicrobiomeOregon Grape Root(Mahonia). The west-coast plant from the forest understory is often touted as an alternative to the at-risk goldenseal. But it’s an excellent herb in its own right, bringing a good balance to the microbiome and also supporting great liver function and bile production. It is quite bitter, like all its berberine-rich cousins, making a tincture the easiest way to experience its benefits. Try 60-90 drops, in a little water, twice daily before meals. As a bitter tonic, you’ll see relief from the common, mild symptoms of digestive upset. But as a berberine source, Oregon grape root is hard at work for a great microbiome, too.

The strongly bitter herbs of the Berberidaceae can be a powerful way to begin your journey of microbial support. After experiencing them for a week or two, it’s time to start thinking about some of those rich sources of prebiotic starch, either alongside grains, in tea, or mixed with smoothies or juice. Think about simple additions like burdock root, roasted dandelion root tea, or Codonopsis powder. You don’t need too much, but the regular presence of prebiotics alongside natural ferment as part of your daily routine brings a familiar context back to the teeming ecology that lives inside our bellies. They’ll thank you for it – and you will appreciate the results!

Plants Containing the Planetary Metals

This listing of plants containing significant quantities of the alchemical planetary metals has been taken from the Phytochemical Database – USDA – ARS – NGRL at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/

Plants Containing LEAD

1. Nyssa sylvatica MARSHALL – Black Gum (Leaf) 0.2-182 ppm

2. Symphoricarpos orbiculatus MOENCH. – Buckbrush (Stem) 2-176 ppm

3. Juniperus virginiana L. – Red Cedar (Shoot) 0.7-132 ppm

4. Nyssa sylvatica MARSHALL – Black Gum (Stem) 0.1-132 ppm

5. Prunus serotina EHRH. – Black Cherry (Stem) 0.2-108 ppm

6. Carya glabra (MILLER) SWEET – Pignut Hickory (Shoot) 2-103 ppm

7. Rhus copallina L. – Dwarf Sumac (Stem) 0.2-92 ppm

8. Fucus vesiculosus L. – Bladderwrack (Plant) 91 ppm

9. Diospyros virginiana L. – American Persimmon (Stem) 0.2-81 ppm

10. Quercus alba L. – White Oak (Stem) 0.2-76 ppm

11. Prunus serotina EHRH. – Black Cherry (Leaf) 0.3-67 ppm

12. Rhus copallina L. – Dwarf Sumac (Leaf) 0.2-67 ppm

13. Malus Domestica BORKH. – Apple (Fruit) 0.002-64 ppm

14. Pinus echinata MILLER – Shortleaf Pine (Shoot) 1.7-63 ppm

15. Lycopersicon esculentum MILLER – Tomato (Fruit) 0.003-60 ppm

16. Quercus stellata WANGENH. – Post Oak (Stem) 0.7-59 ppm

17. Liquidambar styraciflua L. – American Styrax (Stem) 0.2-57 ppm

18. Carya ovata (MILL.) K. KOCH – Shagbark Hickory (Shoot) 0.7-46 ppm

19. Sassafras albidum (NUTT.) NEES – Sassafras (Stem) 0.1-37 ppm

20. Diospyros virginiana L. – American Persimmon (Leaf) 0.5-35 ppm

21. Sassafras albidum (NUTT.) NEES – Sassafras (Leaf) 1-34 ppm

22. Quercus velutina Lam. – Black Oak (Stem) 1.5-31 ppm

23. Asparagus Officinalis L. – Asparagus (Shoot) 1.5-30 ppm

24. Liquidambar styraciflua L. – American Styrax (Leaf) 0.4-25 ppm

25. Quercus phellos L. – Willow Oak (Stem) 0.4-21 ppm

26. Rhus glabra L. – Smooth Sumac (Stem) 0.4-20 ppm

27. Hypericum perforatum L. – Common St. Johnswort (Leaf) 6-18 ppm

28. Quercus rubra L. – Northern Red Oak (Stem) 1.4-17 ppm

29. Zea mays L. – Corn (Seed) 0-14 ppm

30. Hypericum perforatum L. – Common St. Johnswort (Plant) 2-12 ppm

31. Prunus domestica L. – Plum (Fruit) 0.02-11.9 ppm

32. Phaseolus vulgaris L. – Blackbean (Fruit) 0.01-10.5 ppm

33. Cinnamomum sieboldii – Japanese Cinnamon (Root Bark) 9 ppm

34. Vitis vinifera L. – Grape (Fruit) 0.02-9 ppm

35. Vigna unguiculata (L.) WALP. – Cowpea (Seed) 0.4-8.4 ppm

36. Cinnamomum sieboldii – Japanese Cinnamon (Bark) 8 ppm

37. Citrus paradisi MacFAD. – Grapefruit (Fruit) 0.02-7.7 ppm

38. Lactuca sativa L. – Lettuce (Leaf) 0.02-6 ppm

39. Urtica dioica L. – European Nettle (Leaf) 1-6 ppm

40. Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata L. – Cabbage (Leaf) 0.002-5.8 ppm


Plants Containing TIN

1. Schisandra Chinensis (TURCZ.) BAILL. – Chinese Magnoliavine (Fruit) 940 ppm

2. Elytrigia repens (L.) NEVSKI – Couchgrass (Plant) 67 ppm

3. Juniperus communis L. – Common Juniper (Fruit) 63 ppm

4. Silybum marianum (L.) GAERTN. – Milk Thistle (Plant) 42 ppm

5. Gentiana lutea L. – Yellow Gentian (Root) 40 ppm

6. Cypripedium pubescens WILLD. – Ladyslipper (Root) 33 ppm

7. Rhodymenia palmata – Dulse (Plant) 33 ppm

8. Althaea Officinalis L. – Marshmallow (Root) 29 ppm

9. Valeriana officinalis L. – Valerian (Root) 28 ppm

10. Chondrus crispus (L.) STACKH. – Irish Moss (Plant) 27 ppm

11. Urtica dioica L. – European Nettle (Leaf) 27 ppm

12. Achillea millefolium L. – Yarrow (Plant) 26 ppm

13. Berberis vulgaris L. – Barberry (Root) 26 ppm

14. Cnicus benedictus L. – Blessed Thistle (Plant) 25 ppm

15. Trifolium pratense L. – Red Clover (Flower) 25 ppm

16. Fucus vesiculosus L. – Bladderwrack (Plant) 24 ppm

17. Glycyrrhiza glabra L. – Licorice (Root) 24 ppm

18. Harpagophytum procumbens DC. – Devil’s Claw (Root) 24 ppm

19. Mentha pulegium L. – European Pennyroyal (Plant) 24 ppm

20. Rumex Crispus L. – Curly Dock (Root) 24 ppm

21. Cucurbita pepo L. – Pumpkin (Seed) 23 ppm

22. Humulus lupulus L. – Hops (Fruit) 22 ppm

23. Myrica cerifera L. – Bayberry (Bark) 22 ppm

24. Rosa canina L. – Rose (Fruit) 22 ppm

25. Arctium lappa L. – Gobo (Root) 21 ppm

26. Caulophyllum thalictroides (L.) MICHX. – Blue Cohosh (Root) 21 ppm

27. Chrysanthemum parthenium (L.) BERNH. – Feverfew (Plant) 21 ppm

28. Plantago psyllium L. – Psyllium (Seed) 21 ppm

29. Ruscus aculeatus L. – Butcher’s Broom (Root) 21 ppm

30. Dioscorea sp. – Wild Yam (Root) 19 ppm

31. Smilax spp – Sarsaparilla (Root) 18 ppm

32. Viburnum opulus L. – Crampbark (Bark) 18 ppm

33. Viscum album L. – European Mistletoe (Leaf) 18 ppm

34. Echinacea spp – Coneflower (Root) 17 ppm

35. Thymus vulgaris L. – Common Thyme (Leaf) 17 ppm

36. Panax ginseng C. MEYER – Chinese Ginseng (Root) 16 ppm

37. Ulmus rubra MUHLENB. – Slippery Elm (Bark) 16 ppm

38. Stevia rebaudiana (BERT.) HEMSL. – Ca-A-E (Leaf) 15 ppm

39. Equisetum arvense L. – Field Horsetail (Plant) 14 ppm

40. Larrea tridentata (SESSE & MOC. ex DC.) COV. – Chaparral (Plant) 14 ppm

41. Crataegus oxycantha L. – Hawthorn (Fruit) 13 ppm

42. Polygonum multiflorum THUNB. – Chinese Cornbind (Root) 13 ppm

43. Taraxacum officinale WIGG. – Dandelion (Root) 13 ppm

44. Zingiber officinale ROSCOE – Ginger (Rhizome) 13 ppm

45. Centella Asiatica (L.) URBAN – Gotu Kola (Leaf) 12 ppm

46. Hordeum vulgare L. – Barley (Stem) 12 ppm

47. Juglans nigra L. – Black Walnut (Fruit) 12 ppm

48. Salix alba L. – White Willow (Bark) 12 ppm

49. Verbascum thapsus L. – Mullein (Leaf) 12 ppm

50. Vitis vinifera L. – Grape (Stem) 12 ppm

51. Agathosma betulina (BERGIUS) PILL. – Buchu (Leaf) 11 ppm

52. Aloe vera (L.) BURM. f. – Bitter Aloes (Leaf) 11 ppm

53. Barosma betulina (BERG.) BARTL. & WENDL. f. – Buchu (Leaf) 11 ppm

54. Ephedra sinica STAPF – Ma Huang (Plant) 11 ppm

55. Foeniculum vulgare MILLER – Fennel (Fruit) 11 ppm

56. Hydrangea arborescens L. – Smooth Hydrangea (Root) 11 ppm

57. Mentha x Piperita L. – Peppermint (Leaf) 11 ppm

58. Nepeta cataria L. – Catnip (Plant) 11 ppm

59. Turnera diffusa WILLD. – Damiana (Leaf) 11 ppm

60. Carthamus tinctorius L. – Safflower (Flower) 10 ppm

61. Chamaemelum Nobile (L.) ALL. – Garden Chamomile (Flower) 10 ppm

62. Hibiscus sabdariffa L. – Roselle (Flower) 10 ppm

63. Prunus persica (L.) BATSCH – Peach (Bark) 9.4 ppm

64. Hydrastis Canadensis L. – Goldenseal (Root) 9.3 ppm

65. Euphrasia Officinalis L. – Eyebright (Plant) 8 ppm

66. Salvia officinalis L. – Sage (Leaf) 8 ppm

67. Yucca baccata TORR. – Spanish Bayonet (Root) 8 ppm

68. Cymbopogon citratus (DC. ex NEES) STAPF – West Indian Lemongrass (Plant) 7.1 ppm

69. Lobelia inflata L. – Indian Tobacco (Leaf) 7 ppm

70. Symphytum officinale L. – Comfrey (Root) 6.7 ppm

71. Allium sativum L. – Garlic (Bulb) 6 ppm

72. Avena sativa L. – Oats (Plant) 6 ppm

73. Rhamnus purshianus DC. – Cascara Sagrada (Bark) 5.1 ppm

74. Capsicum annuum L. – Bell Pepper (Fruit) 5 ppm

75. Angelica Sinensis (OLIV.) DIELS – Dang Gui (Root) 4 ppm

76. Trigonella foenum-graecum L. – Fenugreek (Seed) 4 ppm

77. Tabebuia heptaphylla (VELL.) TOLEDO – Pau D’Arco (Bark) 3.7 ppm

78. Bertholletia excelsa HUMB. & BONPL. – Brazilnut (Seed) 3.5 ppm

79. Citrus paradisi MacFAD. – Grapefruit (Fruit) 0.66-3.3 ppm

80. Carya ovata (MILL.) K. KOCH – Shagbark Hickory (Seed) 3.2 ppm

81. Daucus carota L. – Carrot (Root) 0-3 ppm

82. Beta vulgaris L. – Beet (Root) 0.8-2.8 ppm

83. Corylus avellana L. – English Filbert (Seed) 2.7 ppm

84. Symphoricarpos orbiculatus MOENCH. – Buckbush (Stem) 0.5-2.6 ppm

85. Quercus alba L. – White Oak (Bark) 2.2 ppm

86. Carya illinoensis (WANGENH.) K. KOCH – Pecan (Seed) 1.8 ppm

87. Zea mays L. – Corn (Seed) 1-1.8 ppm

88. Juglans nigra L. – Black Walnut (Seed) 1.7 ppm

89. Cocos nucifera L. – Coconut (Seed) 1.5 ppm

90. Scutellaria lateriflora L. – Maddog Skullcap (Plant) 1.2 ppm

Biological Activities of TIN:

Antiacne ; Bactericide ; Pesticide ; Taenicide MAR;


Plants Containing IRON

1. Taraxacum officinale WIGG. – Dandelion (Leaf) 500-5,000 ppm

2. Echinacea spp – Coneflower (Root) 700-4,800 ppm

3. Symphoricarpos orbiculatus MOENCH. – Buckbush (Stem) 19-4,400 ppm

4. Valerianella locusta (L.) LATERRADE – Corn Salad (Plant) 3,519-4,143 ppm

5. Artemisia vulgaris L. – Mugwort (Plant) 1,200-3,900 ppm

6. Boehmeria nivea (L.) GAUDICH. – Ramie (Plant) 1,500-3,500 ppm

7. Physalis ixocarpa BROT. – Tomatillo (Fruit) 14-2,974 ppm

8. Harpagophytum procumbens DC. – Devil’s Claw (Root) 2,900 ppm

9. Asiasarum heterotropoides MAEK. – Asian Wild Ginger (Root) 450-2,800 ppm

10. Asiasarum sieboldii (MIQ.) MAEK. – Siebold’s Wild Ginger (Root) 450-2,800 ppm

11. Stellaria media (L.) VILLARS – Chickweed (Plant) 2,530 ppm

12. Verbascum thapsus L. – Mullein (Leaf) 2,360 ppm

13. Mentha pulegium L. – European Pennyroyal (Plant) 2,310 ppm

14. Carthamus tinctorius L. – Safflower (Flower) 81-2,200 ppm

15. Petasites japonicus (SIEBOLD & ZUCC.) MAXIM. – Butterbur (Plant) 2,000-2,100 ppm

16. Amaranthus spinosus L. – Spiny pigweed (Leaf) 22-1,965 ppm

17. Polystichum polyblepharum (ROEM.) PRESL – Chinese Polystichum (Plant) 500-1,900 ppm

18. Trifolium pratense L. – Red Clover (Shoot) 10-1,850 ppm

19. Nyssa sylvatica MARSHALL – Black Gum (Leaf) 8-1,820 ppm

20. Angelica dahurica BENTH & HOOK. – Bai Zhi (Root) 1,800 ppm

21. Schizonepeta tenuifolia BRIQ. – Ching-Chieh (Plant) 1,700 ppm

22. Caulophyllum thalictroides (L.) MICHX. – Blue Cohosh (Root) 1,640ppm

23. Ruscus aculeatus L. – Butcher’s Broom (Root) 1,640 ppm

24. Diospyros virginiana L. – American Persimmon (Stem) 3-1,620 ppm

25. Amaranthus sp. – Pigweed (Leaf) 23-1,527 ppm

26. Thymus vulgaris L. – Common Thyme (Plant) 1,075-1,508 ppm

27. Camellia sinensis (L.) KUNTZE – Tea (Leaf) 189-1,500 ppm

28. Manihot esculenta CRANTZ – Cassava (Leaf) 28-1,500 ppm

29. Arctium lappa L. – Gobo (Root) 8-1,470 ppm

30. Prunus serotina EHRH. – Black Cherry (Leaf) 20-1,440 ppm

31. Berberis vulgaris L. – Barberry (Root) 1,410 ppm

32. Anemarrhena asphodeloides BUNGE – Chih-Mu (Rhizome) 90-1,400 ppm

33. Peucedanum decursivum (MIQ.) MAX. – Qian Hu (Plant) 780-1,400 ppm

34. Nepeta cataria L. – Catnip (Plant) 1,380 ppm

35. Chamissoa altissima (JACQ.) HBK – Guanique (Leaf) 137-1,370 ppm

36. Cynanchum atratum BUNGE – Bai-Wei (Root) 1,350 ppm

37. Juniperus virginiana L. – Red Cedar (Shoot) 11-1,320 ppm

38. Polygonum cuspidatum SIEBOLD & ZUCC. – Japanese Knotweed (Plant) 360-1,300 ppm

39. Senna occidentalis (L.) H. IRWIN & BARNEBY – Coffee Senna (Seed) 1,300 ppm

40. Equisetum arvense L. – Field Horsetail (Plant) 698-1,230 ppm

Biological Activities of IRON

Antiakathisic M29; Antianemic M29; Anticheilitic DAS; Antimenorrhagic

100mg/day/wmn/orl PAM;


Plants Containing GOLD

None

Biological Activities of GOLD:

Antiarthritic ; Antiulcer MAR; Nephrotoxic ;


Plants Containing COPPER

1. Prunus serotina EHRH. – Black Cherry (Stem) 1.3-378 ppm

2. Liquidambar styraciflua L. – American Styrax (Stem) 0.6-360 ppm

3. Nyssa sylvatica MARSHALL – Black Gum (Leaf) 1.25-182 ppm

4. Liquidambar styraciflua L. – American Styrax (Leaf) 2.8-164 ppm

5. Symphoricarpos orbiculatus MOENCH. – Buckbush (Stem) 3.8-132 ppm

6. Diospyros virginiana L. – American Persimmon (Stem) 0.2-108 ppm

7. Sassafras albidum (NUTT.) NEES – Sassafras (Leaf) 1.6-102 ppm

8. Lycopersicon esculentum MILLER – Tomato (Fruit) 0.4-100 ppm

9. Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata L. – Cabbage (Leaf) 0.3-87 ppm

10. Corylus avellana L. – English Filbert (Seed) 13-82 ppm

11. Sassafras albidum (NUTT.) NEES – Sassafras (Stem) 0.2-56 ppm

12. Sesamum indicum L. – Sesame (Plant) 14-56 ppm

13. Carya glabra (MILLER) SWEET – Pignut Hickory (Shoot) 0.9-55 ppm

14. Brassica oleracea L. var. botrytis L. – Broccoli (Leaf) 0.68-52 ppm

15. Carya ovata (MILL.) K. KOCH – Shagbark Hickory (Shoot) 1.25-45 ppm

16. Phaseolus vulgaris L. – Blackbean (Fruit) 0.62-45 ppm

17. Brassica oleracea L. – Collards (Leaf) 2-43 ppm

18. Cucumis sativus L. – Cucumber (Fruit) 0.3-42 ppm

19. Quercus stellata WANGENH. – Post Oak (Stem) 1.2-42 ppm

20. Anacardium occidentale L. – Cashew (Seed) 22-37 ppm

21. Rosa canina L. – Rose (Fruit) 1.8-36 ppm

22. Eupatorium odoratum L. – Jack na bush (Leaf) 35 ppm

23. Rhizophora mangle L. – Red Mangrove (Leaf) 35 ppm

24. Prunus domestica L. – Plum (Fruit) 0.33-34 ppm

25. Cocos nucifera L. – Coconut (Seed) 3.2-33 ppm

26. Pistacia vera L. – Pistachio (Seed) 11-33 ppm

27. Psophocarpus tetragonolobus (L.) DC. – Asparagus Pea (Seed) 28-33 ppm

28. Senna obtusifolia (L.) H.IRWIN & BARNEBY – Sicklepod (Seed) 9-32 ppm

29. Nyssa sylvatica MARSHALL – Black Gum (Stem) 0.3-31 ppm

30. Quercus velutina LAM. – Black Oak (Stem) 1.5-31 ppm

31. Cucurbita maxima DUCH. – Pumpkin (Leaf) 4.2-30 ppm

32. Helianthus tuberosus L. – Jerusalem Artichoke (Plant) 8-30 ppm

33. Momordica charantia L. – Bitter Melon (Fruit) 30 ppm

34. Prunus persica (L.) BATSCH – Peach (Fruit) 0.3-30 ppm

35. Rhus copallina L. – Dwarf Sumac (Stem) 1.8-30 ppm

36. Rumex acetosa L. – Garden Sorrel (Leaf) 3-30 ppm

37. Arctium lappa L. – Gobo (Root) 29 ppm

38. Lactuca sativa L. – Lettuce (Leaf) 0.36-29 ppm

39. Prunus serotina EHRH. – Black Cherry (Leaf) 0.8-29 ppm

40. Quercus phellos L. – Willow Oak (Stem) 1-29 ppm

Biological Activities of COPPER

Antiarthritic DAS; Antidiabetic 2-4 mg/day WER; Antiinflammatory WER; Antinociceptive WER; Contraceptive MAR; Hypocholesterolemic DAS; Schizophrenigenic DAS;


Plants Containing MERCURY

1. Cinnamomum aromaticum NEES – Cassia (Plant) 60 ppm

2. Fucus vesiculosus L. – Bladderwrack (Plant) 40 ppm

3. Rhodymenia palmata – Dulse (Plant) 26 ppm

4. Lycium chinense MILL. – Wolfberry (Fruit) 8 ppm

5. Chondrus crispus (L.) STACKH. – Irish Moss (Plant) 7 ppm

6. Juncus effusus L. – Rush (Pith) 1.41 ppm

7. Arctium lappa L. – Gobo (Root) 1.27 ppm

Biological Activities of MERCURY

Nephrotoxic PAM;


Plants Containing SILVER

1. Lycopersicon esculentum MILLER – Tomato (Fruit) 0-1.4 ppm

2. Quercus rubra L. – Northern Red Oak (Stem) 0-1.32 ppm

Biological Activities of SILVER

Astringent ; Bactericide MAR; Pesticide

Herbal Chemistry

Herbs are used for healing the human body, they are considered to be holistic agents, and they are used on a physical and biochemistry level. Many pharmacologists try to find out the constituents of herbs, place them according to their chemical groups and have done numerous researches and have found herbs to be very complex in their characteristics. Herbs contain a huge variety of chemicals like water, inorganic salt, sugars, carbohydrates, proteins that are highly complex, and alkaloids.

witches alchemy

Plant Acids:

An example of weak organic acids is generally found among plants, lemon is the perfect example of citric acid. Organic acids can be split into those based on a carbon chain, and those, which contain a carbon ring in their configuration, but what both have in common is the -COOH group. Chain acids are also known as aliphatic acids, which can range from formic acid (the simplest one, found in the stings of the nettles) to the more complex chain acids like valeric acid and citric acid. Valeric acid is being used in sedatives in allopathic medicine.

The ring acids are known as the aromatic acids, they form a crucial pharmacological group. The most uncomplicated aromatic acid is benzoic acid, which is found in foods like cranberries, resins, and balsams, like Peru balsams, gum benzoin, and tolu. These acids are used in antiseptic lotions and ointments and they are also used for antipyretic and diuretic actions. One can cure a chronic bronchial problem just by inhaling these acids.

Alcohols:

Alcohols are found in a variety of forms in the plant kingdom, they are mostly a component of volatile oils or sterols, for example, geraniol in attar of rose and the menthol in peppermint oil. Waxes too are also a common form of alcohol. Mixtures of alcohols and fatty acids are generally found on leaves and other parts of the plants. Carnauba wax is acquired from the palm Copernicia cerifera.

Volatile Oils:

Volatile oils are a combination of simple molecules like isoprene or isopentane, which can mix in various ways to produce terpenes. It is a basic mix of 5 carbon molecules, sometimes with slight differences here and there. All this combines to make the volatile oils.

Volatile oils are mostly found in aromatic plants, herbs like peppermint and thyme are the perfect example of volatile oils. The combination of the oils and the smell can be in variations, even if they belong to the same types of the plant, basically, it all depends on the concentration of the oils. When these oils are extracted from the plants, the aromatic oils are produced, which are used for many therapeutic treatments, and the major part of the production is used to manufacture perfumes.

There is a wide range of aromatic oils and they each have specific qualities, though most of these oils have some common characteristics, which are worth learning about.

Most aromatic oils are antiseptics; oils like eucalyptus oil, garlic oil, and thyme oil fall under this category. These oils are absorbed with ease inside the body and they are effective for both internally and externally on the whole body system. When they are consumed internally or applied externally they land up finally in the urinary system, lungs, bronchial, sweat glands, saliva, tears or vaginal fluids. They can even occur in breast milk and during pregnancy can go to the placenta inside the fetus. Apart from having antiseptic functions, it can also encourage the creation of white blood cells, therefore increasing the immune system of the body.

Volatile oils have the quality of arousing the tissues they come in touch with, some oils like the mustard oils irritate the skin slightly, while oils like menthol and camphor leave a numb feeling. Both these oils help in digestion arousing the lining of the colon which gives reflex reaction thus increasing the gastric juices to flow, which also makes the person feel hungry. People, who suffer from acute pain, can benefit from these oils by calming the peristalsis in the lower part of the intestines.

Volatile oils are also beneficial for the central nervous system. Oils like for example chamomile oil, are known to calm and sedate, while peppermint oil helps in stimulation, both these oils have the quality so easing out any tension in the body system thus reducing conditions like depression or tension. When there is an external application of aromatic oils on the body, the aroma is easily transferred through the nose to the brain, triggering an instant reaction.

Herbs, which contain volatile oils, have to be retained by storing them carefully in sealed bottles or containers, as volatile oils can evaporate with ease.

Carbohydrates:

There is a huge variety of carbohydrates in the plant kingdom, they are found in foods like sugar: fructose and glucose, they are also found in starches, which is the storage of the main energy and they can also be in the form of cellulose which is much more complex or elaborate, which helps in supporting the structure of the plants.

Large cellulose known as polysaccharides combines with other chemicals and produce molecules known as pectins, which are generally found in fruits like apples or even in seaweeds like algin, agar or even carragum, which are found in Irish moss. They are very effective and have the power to cure and are used in producing gels, which are further used in medicines and foods.

Gums and mucilage are carbohydrates, which are complex in nature and are retained in soothing and healing herbs like coltsfoot, plantain, and marshmallow. Once applied it relaxes the lining of the gut, arousing a reflex reaction that goes to the spinal nerves to areas like the lungs and the urinary tract. The mucilage not only reduces irritation, it even reduces inflammation of the alimentary canal, it also decreases the sensitivity of the gastric acids, can cure diarrhea and reduce peristalsis, it also cures the respiratory system, lessens coughing and tension, and increases the secretion of watery mucus.

Phenolic Compounds:

Phenol is a bulging block of many components of plants. The compounds of phenol could be simple in structure or could be a composite of a variety of basic molecule. One of the simplest phenolic compounds is salicylic acid, which is generally found in the combination of sugar, it forms glycoside found in willow, cramp bark, meadowsweet, and wintergreen. It functions as an antiseptic, painkiller and has anti-inflammatory functions too. It is utilized in most allopathic medicines like aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid is the main component of this medicine.

Eugenol oil is found in cloves and it functions like a painkiller, even thymol from thyme oil also cures pains, and both oils contain salicylic acid. Bearberry acts like an antiseptic on the urinary system of the body because it contains phenol hydroquinone.

Tannins:

Tannins in herbs have the quality to function as astringents. They act on proteins and other chemicals to protect the layer of the skin and the mucous membrane. It can even bind the tissue of the gut, decrease diarrhea and also stop any internal bleeding. They are also used for an external application like the treatment of burns, healing wounds and reducing inflammation. Tannins can cure eye infections like conjunctivitis or even infection in the mouth, vagina, cervix or rectum.

Coumarins:

The evoking smell of hay is due to the coumarin chemicals. The grass is not the only plant, which contains this aromatic component of coumarins; sweet woodruff also contains these chemicals. Coumarins do not have much effect on the human body but one of its components known, as dicoumarol is a strong anti-clotting agent. Coumarins have been used extensively in allopathic medicine. Small doses of warfarin are used as an anti-clotting drug to cure conditions like thrombosis and as a rat poison, large doses are used.

Anthraquinones:

Anthraquinones are found in plants, which are supposed to be effective laxatives and they are also natural dyes. They are generally glycosides and are found in plants like rhubarb, yellow dock, senna, aloe, and buckthorn. Anthraquinones stimulates the colon after eight to twelve hours of ingestion and they also stimulate the peristalsis of the intestine, all this can be achieved if the natural bile is present. If the colon is over stimulated, then colic pain could occur. Anthraquinones are usually combined with carminative herbs to cure this type of condition.

Flavones and Flavonoid Glycosides:

Flavones and flavonoid glycosides are chemical groups commonly found in most plant components. They can actively act as anti-spasmodic, diuretic, circulatory and cardiac stimulants. Some like rutin, hesperidin, and bioflavonoid vitamin P can aid the circulatory system and decrease blood pressure too. Buckwheat is an herb, which can be used effectively for such health problems. Bioflavonoids help in absorption of vitamin C. Milk thistle is another herb, which has a strong presence of flavonoid and can cure an ailing liver.

Saponins:

Saponins have drawn the attention of majority pharmaceutical chemists in the world. They are utilized in the synthesis of cortisone, which is an anti-inflammatory drug, and they are also widely used in the synthesis of sex hormones. Saponins are found in herbs, which do not essentially act in a similar way, the body can use them as raw products to build the necessary chemicals. Natural saponins and synthesized drugs are quite similar, like cortisone and diosgenin, which is found in wild yam.

Goldenrod, chickweed, figwort, and wild yam all contain saponins, which are used to produce anti-inflammatory drugs. Saponins are very good at stimulating the upper digestive tract and herbs like primrose, mullein, violet, and daisy is rich in saponins.

Cardiac glycosides:

Cardiac glycosides were discovered in 1785 in foxglove. A lot of investigations have taken place over this chemical component. They have a lot of similarities to saponins and are used in medicine to give support to heart problems.

Cardiac glycosides are made of a mixture of sugar and steroidal aglycone. The center of activity is charted out by the characteristics of aglycone. In the combination, sugar determines the bioavailability of aglycone, which is quite active.

Cardiac glycosides are found in most flowering plants. Lily of the valley, squill, foxglove and Strophanthus family are the best resources of cardiac glycosides. In therapeutic treatment, cardiac glycosides are very effective in increasing the force and power heartbeats, and at the same time keeping the level of the oxygen intact for the heart muscles. They can help the heart to function in a steady manner without straining the organ.

Bitter principles:

Bitter principles stand for a group of chemicals that have an extremely bitter taste. They are diverse in structure and the bitterest ones are iridoids, terpenes, and other groups.

Bitter principles are known to be very effective in most therapeutic treatments. Through the taste bud, they arouse the secretion of the digestive juices and also help the liver to be more active, helping in hepatic elimination.

Sedatives like hops and valerian, cough remedies such as white horehound, anti-inflammatory herbs bogbean and devil’s claw, and the vulnerary marigold have all the properties of bitterness.

Alkaloids:

Alkaloids are the most powerful group of plant constituents that act effectively on the human body and mind. Under the category of alkaloids, you will find hallucinogen mescaline and the very poisonous brucine. These alkaloids can work on the liver, lungs, nerves and the digestive system of the body. You will find alkaloids in most of the herbs. Alkaloids inside the plants do not really have any specific function, apart from storing excessive nitrogen. Alkaloids as a group are very different in their structure and they have separated into 13 groups accordingly. Their structure is dominated by nitrogen and they have a distinguished physiological activity.

To encourage weight loss there is a supplement known as chitosan, which is basically a fat blocker. Chitosan is derived from chitin which is found in exoskeletons of shrimps and crabs, it is quite similar to plant fiber and cannot be digested easily. If chitosan is consumed orally it behaves like a big sponge absorbing the fat of the body up to four to six times than the body usually does while passing the digestive system. It helps flush out all the excess fat of the body which could have been metabolized and settled inside the body. It is like you can eat as much as you want if you are consuming chitosan.

The disadvantage of chitosan is that it does not cure chronic overeating at all. It should only be consumed for two weeks at a time to just get a weight loss diet started. Chitosan can be very good at absorbing fat, but at the same time it can be quite harmful in the sense that it can rob the body of essential vitamins like E, A, D and K. If chitosan is consumed, diet supplements like vitamins and essential fatty acids should also be included in the diet too. According to studies, chitosan is considered quite safe for any weight loss program. A test was conducted on two mice, one was administered chitosan while the other was not, the mice which had consumed chitosan and other supplement diets had few precancerous lesions than the one who did not have chitosan at all. It can also lower total blood cholesterol level in the body and raise the level of HDL, known as good cholesterol, which in turn protects the body against any heart disease. Chitosan is a versatile supplement, it is a good antacid and helps prevent tooth decay.

Yoga: What is yoga? How does it work?

Yoga is a mind and body practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy. Various styles of yoga combine physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.

In 5,000 years of yoga history, the term “yoga” has gone through a renaissance in current culture, exchanging the loincloth for a leotard and leggings.

Yoga has become popular as a form of physical exercise based upon asanas (physical poses) to promote improved control of mind and body and to enhance well-being.

Here are some key points about yoga.

  • The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning “to yoke or join together.” Some people take this to mean a union of mind and body.
  • A 2008 market study in Yoga Journal reports that some 16 million people in the US practice yoga and spend $5.7 billion a year on equipment.
  • Hatha yoga is the type of yoga most frequently practiced in Western culture. Ha means “sun” and tha means “moon.”
  • There are many styles of yoga. A person’s fitness level and desired practice outcome determines the type of yoga class to which they are best suited.
  • According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were more than 7,369 yoga-related injuries treated in doctors’ offices, clinics, and emergency rooms in 2010.
  • Common yoga injuries include repetitive strain to and overstretching of the neck, shoulders, spine, legs, and knees.
  • The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) believes the rewards of basic yoga outweigh the potential physical risks.
  • Yoga is defined as having eight branches or limbs: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyhara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.
  • Practicing yoga has many potential health benefits including relieving low back pain, assisting with stress management and increasing balance and flexibility.
  • There is some evidence to suggest that pregnant women taking yoga classes are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labor.

History of yoga

There is no written record of the inventor of yoga. Yogis (yoga practitioners) practiced yoga long before any written account of it came into existence. Yogis over the millennia passed down the discipline to their students, and many different schools of yoga developed as the practice widened in global reach and popularity.62

woman balancing on her bottom
The postures that are now practiced in yoga classes were not originally a dominant component of yoga traditions in India. Fitness was not traditionally a chief aim of the practice.

Sanskrit, the Indo-European language of the Vedas, India’s ancient religious texts, gave birth to both the literature and the technique of yoga.1

The “Yoga Sutra,” a 2,000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy by the Indian sage Patanjali is a type of guidebook that gives guidance on how to gain mastery over the mind and emotions and advice on spiritual growth, providing the framework upon which all yoga practiced today is based. The Yoga Sutra is the earliest written record of yoga and one of the oldest texts in existence.

The Sanskrit word “yoga” has several translations and can be interpreted in many ways. Many translations point toward translations of “to yoke,” “join,” or “concentrate” – essentially a means to unite or a method of discipline. A male who practices this discipline is called a yogi or yogin and a female practitioner is called a yogini.

The postures that are now an integral part of health and fitness in many centers around the world were not originally a dominant component of yoga traditions in India. Fitness was not a chief aim of practice; focus was placed on other practices like pranayama (expansion of the vital energy by means of breath), dharana (focus, or placement of the mental faculty), and nada (sound).2

Yoga began to gain popularity in the West at the end of the 19th century, with an explosion of interest in postural yoga in the 1920s and 1930s, first in India and later in the West.

Philosophy of yoga

Yoga, in ancient times, was often referred to in terms of a tree with roots, trunk, branches, blossoms and fruits. Each branch of yoga has unique characteristics and represents a specific approach to life. The six branches are:

  1. Hatha yoga – physical and mental branch – involves asana and pranayama practice – preparing the body and mind
  2. Raja yoga – meditation and strict adherence to the “eight limbs of yoga”
  3. Karma yoga – path of service to consciously create a future free from negativity and selfishness caused by our actions
  4. Bhakti yoga – path of devotion – a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance
  5. Jnana yoga – wisdom, the path of the scholar and intellect through study
  6. Tantra yoga – pathway of ritual, ceremony or consummation of a relationship.

The ‘eight limbs of yoga’

Raja yoga is traditionally referred to as ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga, because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend. The eight limbs of ashtanga yoga are:4

  1. Yama – ethical standards and sense of integrity. The five yamas are: ahimsa (nonviolence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non-covetousness)
  2. Niyama – self-discipline and spiritual observances, meditation practices, contemplative walks. The five niyamas are: saucha (cleanliness), samtosa (contentment), tapas (heat, spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of sacred scriptures and of one’s self) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to God)
  3. Asana – integration of mind and body through physical activity
  4. Pranayama- regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
  5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses of perception, the external world and outside stimuli
  6. Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of mind
  7. Dhyana – meditation or contemplation – an uninterrupted flow of concentration
  8. Samadhi – the quiet state of blissful awareness.

Chakras

The word chakra means “spinning wheel.” According to the yogic view, chakras are a convergence of energy, thoughts, feelings, and the physical body. They determine how we experience reality from our emotional reactions, our desires or aversions, our level of confidence or fear, and even the manifestation of physical symptoms.

When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it is said to trigger physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest in symptoms such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion. The theory is to use asanas to free energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra.

There are seven major chakras, each with their own associations:

  1. Sahasrara: the “thousand petaled” or “crown chakra” represents the state of pure consciousness. This chakra is located at the crown of the head and signified by the color white or violet. Sahasrara involves matters of inner wisdom and death of the body.
  2. Ajna: the “command” or “third-eye chakra” represents a meeting point between two important energetic streams in the body. Ajna corresponds to the colors violet, indigo or deep blue, though it is traditionally described as white. This chakra is associated by practitioners with the pituitary gland, growth and development.
  3. Vishuddha: the “especially pure” or “throat chakra” is symbolized by the color red or blue. This chakra is associated by practitioners with the home of speech and hearing, and the endocrine glands that control metabolism.
  4. Anahata: the “unstruck” or “heart chakra” is related to the colors green or pink. Key issues involving Anahata involve complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, equilibrium, rejection and well-being.
  5. Manipura: the “jewel city” or “navel chakra” is symbolized by the color yellow. This chakra is associated by practitioners with the digestive system, along with personal power, fear, anxiety, opinion formation and introversion.

6. Svadhishthana: “one’s own base” or “pelvic chakra” is said by practitioners to represent the home of the reproductive organs, the genitourinary system and the adrenals.

7. Muladhara: the “root support” or “root chakra” is located at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. It is said to hold our instinctual urges around food, sleep, sex, and survival. It is also the realm of our avoidance and fears.

Types of yoga

Modern forms of yoga have evolved into exercise focusing on strength, flexibility, and breathing to boost physical and mental well-being. There are many styles of yoga, and no style is more authentic or superior to another; the key is to choose a class appropriate for your fitness level.

Types and styles of yoga may include

  • Ashtanga yoga: based on ancient yoga teachings but popularized in the 1970s, each of the six established sequences of postures rapidly link every movement to breath.
  • Bikram yoga: held in artificially heated rooms at temperatures of nearly 105 degrees and 40% humidity, Bikram is a series of 26 poses and sequence of two breathing exercises.
  • Hatha yoga: a generic term for any type of yoga that teaches physical postures. When a class is labeled as “hatha,” it is usually a gentle introduction to the basic yoga postures.
  • Iyengar yoga: focused on finding the proper alignment in each pose and using props such as blocks, blankets, straps, chairs and bolsters to do so.
  • Jivamukti yoga: meaning, “liberation while living,” jivamukti yoga emerged in 1984, incorporating spiritual teachings and vinyasa style practice. Each class has a theme, which is explored through yoga scripture, chanting, meditation, asana, pranayama, and music, and can be physically intense.
  • Kripalu yoga: teaches practitioners to get to know, accept and learn from the body. In a Kripalu class, each student learns to find their own level of practice on a given day by looking inward. The classes usually begin with breathing exercises and gentle stretches, followed by a series of individual poses and final relaxation.
    • Kundalini yoga: the Sanskrit word kundalini means coiled, like a snake. Kundalini yoga is a system of meditation directed toward the release of kundalini energy. A class typically begins with chanting and ends with singing, and in between features asana, pranayama, and meditation designed to create a specific outcome.
    • Power yoga: an active and athletic style of yoga adapted from the traditional ashtanga system in the late 1980s.
    • Sivananda: a system based on a five-point philosophy that holds that proper breathing, relaxation, diet, exercise, and positive thinking work together to form a healthy yogic lifestyle. Typically uses the same 12 basic asanas, bookended by sun salutations and savasana poses.
    • Viniyoga: intended to be adaptable to any person, regardless of physical ability, viniyoga teachers are required to be highly trained and tend to be experts on anatomy and yoga therapy.
    • Yin: a quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga. Yin yoga enables the release of tension in key joints: ankles, knees, hips, the whole back, neck, and shoulders. Yin poses are passive, meaning the muscles should be relaxed while gravity does the work.
    • Prenatal yoga: yoga postures carefully adapted for people who are pregnant. Prenatal yoga is tailored to help people in all stages of pregnancy and can support people in getting back into shape after pregnancy.
    • Restorative yoga: a relaxing method of yoga, spending a class in four or five simple poses using props like blankets and bolsters to sink into deep relaxation without exerting any effort in holding the pose.

Health benefits of yoga

Scientific trials of varying quality have been published on the health benefits and medical uses of yoga. Studies suggest that yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity and enhance strength, flexibility and balance. Yoga practice has also shown benefit in specific medical conditions, and we will look at this evidence and current scientific research below.

Scientists and medical doctors pursuing yoga-related research focus on its potential benefits as a technique for relieving stress and coping with chronic conditions or disabilities, as well as investigating its potential to help prevent, heal, or alleviate specific conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, diabetes, and symptoms of menopause.

1) Anxiety and depression

Mind-body medical interventions are commonly used to cope with depression, and yoga is one of the most commonly used mind-body interventions. Systematic studies and meta-analyses have been carried out in order to assess the effectiveness of yoga for depression.

man and woman in a yoga pose
Yoga may be a promising way to reduce music performance anxiety and perhaps even prevent it in the future.

In one 9-week course of yoga, veterans were seen to experience significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.Mental health functioning scores were also improved, but pain intensity and physical health functionality did not show improvements.

Elevated levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) are commonly seen in depression, and yoga has demonstrated an ability to relieve hypercortisolemia and reduce other parameters of stress. A study into the effects of yoga on cortisol and depression found that yoga might act at the level of the hypothalamus to create an ‘anti-stress’ effect by reducing cortisol levels, thereby helping to bring about relief in depression.

A systematic review and meta-analysis investigating yoga for depression examined 12 randomized controlled trials, including 619 participants. The researchers concluded that despite the methodological drawbacks of the included studies, yoga could be considered an ancillary treatment option for patients with depressive disorders and individuals with elevated levels of depression.

2) Arthritis

A systematic review of 9 studies regarding yoga as a complementary approach for osteoarthritis found positive changes in psychological or physiological outcomes related to arthritis.

The studies varied in length and not all of the studies used randomized controlled design; many had small sample sizes, different outcomes, and used non-standardized yoga interventions. Despite these limitations, the reviewers concluded that yoga appears to be a promising modality for arthritis.

3) Asthma

In a study comparing people with asthma When comparing asthmatics in a yoga group and in a non-yoga control group with those in a control group, those in the yoga group had a significant improvement in a number of parameters suggesting improvements in symptoms of asthmas.

These parameters included an improvement in levels of the proportion of hemoglobin and the antioxidant superoxide, and a significant decrease was found in total leukocyte count (TLC) and differential leukocytes count in comparison to control group.15

The yoga group had more significant improvements in biochemical variables than the control group. Results show that yoga can be practiced as adjuvant therapy with standard inhalation therapy for a better outcome of asthma.

However, a systematic review assessing the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment for asthma, concluded that there is insufficient quality evidence to support the belief that yoga alleviates asthma and that further, more rigorous trials are warranted.

4) Balance and falls

Falls amongst older people are a global health concern. Whilst falling is not a typical feature of aging, older people are more likely to fall and falls are a leading cause of death and disability.

older people practicing yoga
Yoga has been shown to help improve balance and prevent falls in older adults.

Yoga and tai chi have shown potential to improve balance and prevent falls in older adults. They also have the potential to improve pain and quality of life.

In a 14-week program comparing yoga and tai-chi to usual care, yoga was associated with a slight decrease in the incidence of falls and a reduction in average pain scores in older adults. Although these changes were not statistically significant, the results showed positive changes to balance, pain and quality of life and a high level of interest through attendance amongst older participants.

The results support offering tai chi and yoga to older people who are frail and dependent with physical and cognitive limitations.

Another study observing body balance and postural control in young adults determined that a 5-month hatha yoga training program could improve postural control significantly in healthy adults.

5) Bipolar disorder

In a study of the benefits and risk of yoga in individuals with bipolar disorder, the participants reported positive emotional effects, particularly reduced anxiety, positive cognitive effects (e.g., acceptance, focus, or “a break from my thoughts”), or positive physical effects (e.g., weight loss, increased energy). Some respondents considered yoga to be significantly life changing. The most common negative effect of yoga was physical injury or pain.

Five respondents gave examples of specific instances where yoga practice increased their agitation or manic symptoms, while another five respondents gave examples of times that yoga increased depression or lethargy.

6) Breast cancer cognitive problems

Survivors of cancer often report cognitive problems, and people undergoing cancer treatment often experience decreases in physical activity. Although physical activity benefits cognitive function in non-cancer populations, evidence linking physical activity to cognitive function in survivors of cancer is limited.

A study comparing a group with and without yoga intervention found that those who practiced yoga more frequently reported significantly fewer cognitive problems at a 3-month follow-up compared to those who practiced less frequently.

These findings suggest that yoga can effectively reduce cognitive problems in survivors of breast cancer and prompt further research on mind-body and physical activity interventions for improving cancer-related cognitive problems.

7) Breast cancer disability

Secondary arm lymphedema continues to affect at least 20% of women after treatment for breast cancer, along with pain and restricted range of motion requiring lifelong professional treatment and self-management.

A pilot trial was designed to investigate the effect of yoga on women with stage one breast cancer-related lymphedema. The 8-week yoga intervention reduced tissue induration of the affected upper arm and improved quality of life scores. Arm volume of lymphedema and extra-cellular fluid did not increase during the yoga intervention, but these benefits dissipated after the women stopped doing yoga, at which point arm volume of lymphedema increased.

Additional research of a longer duration and with higher levels of lymphedema and larger numbers is warranted before definitive conclusions can be made.

8) Cancer-related fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most frequently reported, distressing side effects reported by survivors of cancer and often has significant long-term consequences. Research indicates that yoga can produce invigorating effects on physical and mental energy, and thereby may improve levels of fatigue.

woman bending forward into yoga floor pose
Studies have suggested that yoga interventions may be beneficial for reducing cancer-related fatigue in women with breast cancer.

An 8-week yoga exercise program assessed whether yoga can decrease anxiety, depression and fatigue in patients with breast cancer. Fatigue was effectively reduced in the study but the intervention was not associated with a reduction in depression or anxiety.

The authors of the study conclude that oncology nurses should strengthen their clinical health education and apply yoga to reduce the fatigue experienced by patients with breast cancer who undergo adjuvant chemotherapy.

Another 12-week study found that restorative iyengar yoga was associated with reduced inflammation-related gene expression in breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue. These findings suggest that a targeted yoga program may have beneficial effects on inflammatory activity in this patient population, with potential relevance for behavioral and physical health.

A systematic review of yoga interventions on fatigue in patients with cancer and survivors of cancer suggests that yoga interventions may be beneficial for reducing cancer-related fatigue in women with breast cancer; however, conclusions should be interpreted with caution as studies demonstrated varying levels of bias and inconsistent methodology.

9) Cardiovascular disease

A sedentary lifestyle and stress are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Since yoga involves exercise and is thought to help in stress reduction, it may be an effective strategy in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Across 11 identified trials with 800 participants, researchers found that the limited evidence in this field comes from small, short-term, low-quality studies. There is some evidence that yoga has favorable effects on diastolic blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, while the effects on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were uncertain. These results should be considered as exploratory and interpreted with caution.

A further meta-analysis revealed evidence for clinically important effects of yoga on most biological cardiovascular disease risk factors. Despite methodological drawbacks of the included studies, yoga can be considered as an ancillary intervention for the general population and patients with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

10) Chronic neck pain

Assessment of the effects of a 9-week yoga intervention on chronic nonspecific neck pain found that neck-related disabilities were improved for at least 12 months after intervention completion. Sustained yoga practice was deemed the most important predictor of long-term effectiveness.

11) Chronic heart failure

A meta-analysis of the effects of yoga in patients with chronic heart failure suggested that yoga compared with control had a positive impact on peak Vo2 (oxygen uptake, an indicator of exercise capacity) and health-related quality of life.44

Yoga could be considered for inclusion in cardiac rehabilitation programs. Larger randomized controlled trials are required to further investigate the effects of yoga in patients with chronic heart failure.

A randomized controlled trial indicated that the addition of yoga therapy to standard medical therapy for heart failure patients has a markedly better effect on cardiac function and reduced myocardial stress measured using N terminal pro B-type natriuretic peptide in patients with stable heart failure.

12) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Currently, several studies have assessed the effect of yoga training on the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Five randomized controlled trials involving 233 patients suggested yoga training has a positive effect on improving lung function and exercise capacity and could be used as an adjunct pulmonary rehabilitation program in COPD patients.

However, further studies are needed to substantiate these preliminary findings and to investigate the long-term effects of yoga training.

13) Flexibility

Research looking at the effects of selected asanas in iyengar yoga over 6 weeks showed a significant increase in flexibility. Specifically, the results of this research indicate that 6 weeks of single session yoga training may be effective in increasing flexibility in the hamstring and erector spinae (the muscles extending the vertebral column).

14) Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

A case report assessed the effects of yoga on gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The researchers indicate regular and proper use of yoga along with over-the-counter or prescribed proton pump inhibitors (PPI) can control the severe symptoms of GERD and can avoid or delay the need for invasive procedures.

The case report showed that with the regular practice of kapalbhati and agnisar kriya along with PPI, patients with hiatalhernia had improvement in severe symptoms of GERD which were initially refractory (unresponsive) to PPI alone.

15) Hypertension

Effective stress management is a key part of managing blood pressure, and a number of systematic reviews have assessed the available evidence for yoga as a therapeutic tool for managing prehypertension and hypertension (elevated blood pressure). Researchers have found that yoga may be an effective adjunct treatment for hypertension, although further evidence is needed.

These reviews found that although yoga is associated with decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, its effects are minimal compared with exercise. The studies reviewed varied greatly in duration, methodology, and in the type of yoga practiced, and the researchers called for future research that focuses on high quality clinical trials along with studies on the mechanisms of action of different yoga practices.

The antihypertensive effects of yoga appear to be greater in people with cardiovascular disease, although people with normal blood pressure may also benefit.

16) Low back pain

Several studies suggest yoga may be effective for chronic low back pain and have shown that yoga intervention in populations with chronic low back pain may be more effective than usual care for reducing both pain and medication use.

young woman in yoga pose
Studies have indicated that 6 weeks of uninterrupted medical yoga therapy is a cost-effective early intervention for non-specific low back pain.

A randomized controlled study investigating medical yoga, exercise therapy and self-care advice concluded that 6 weeks of uninterrupted medical yoga therapy is a cost-effective early intervention for non-specific low back pain, when patients adhere to treatment recommendations.

In another study, researchers investigated the effects of yoga on pain, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and serotonin in premenopausal women with chronic low back pain. BDNF and serotonin are considered mediators of nociceptive pain (i.e. pain felt due to tissue irritation or injury).19

Participants practiced yoga three times a week for 12 weeks and at the end of the study had a decrease in pain as measured on a Visual Analog Scale (VAS). The VAS score increased in the control group who did not practice yoga. Back flexibility also improved in the yoga group, while serum BDNF increased and serum serotonin and depression scores remained the same in the yoga group.

The control group had a decrease in BDNF and serotonin levels as well as an increase in depression scores. The researchers propose that brain-derived neurotrophic factor may be one of the key factors mediating beneficial effects of yoga on chronic low back pain.

A similar trial monitored changes in pain intensity and health-related quality of life in nonspecific low back pain in those participating in iyengar yoga or general exercise. The results suggest iyengar yoga provides better improvement in pain reduction and quality of life compared to general exercise.

Virtual reality-based yoga programs such as Wii Fit Yoga have been shown to have positive effects on physical improvements in middle-aged female patients with low back pain. This program can be employed as a therapeutic medium for prevention and cure of low back pain.21

A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials regarding the use of yoga for chronic low back pain offers further confirmation that yoga may be an efficacious adjunctive treatment for chronic low back pain. However, the researchers were careful to note that a number of methodological concerns need to be addressed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn regarding yoga’s specific treatment effects or advantages over traditional exercise programs.

17) Menopause

In a community-based interventional study, the quality of life in menopausal women was greatly improved after an 18-week course of yoga practice. The researchers concluded that yoga is an effective complementary health approach for those suffering menopausal symptoms.

18) Mental health

Physical activity has a positive effect on mental health and well-being. The aim of one study was to compare the effects of hatha yoga and resistance exercises on mental health and well-being in sedentary adults.

Hatha yoga improved fatigue, self-esteem, and quality of life, whilst resistance exercise training improved body image. Hatha yoga and resistance exercise decreased depression symptoms at a similar level.

Hatha yoga and resistance exercise may affect different aspects of mental health and well-being.

19) Metabolic syndrome

An explorative study investigated metabolic responses to mental stress and yoga practices in yoga practitioners, non-yoga practitioners and individuals with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of factors that increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke).

The results of the study support the findings of previous randomized trials that suggest regular yoga practice may mitigate against the effects of metabolic syndrome.

In a more recent study, 44% of the 84 patients with metabolic syndrome (MetS) who undertook a year-long yoga practice no longer met the diagnostic threshold for MetS. In the group practicing hatha yoga three times a week, 67% had a decreased number of MetS components after the year of yoga. However, some 15% of the patients had an increased number of MetS components.

The only factor that reached statistical significance was a decrease in the prevalence of central obesity; at the start of the study, 90.5% of those in the yoga group had central obesity, dropping to just 64.3% at the end of the intervention. The yoga group also demonstrated a trend towards a decrease in systolic blood pressure, and a decrease in resting heart rate.

20) Migraine

A comprehensive study examining the effect of yoga on migraine showed significant clinical improvement in frequency and intensity of migraines in those taking part in yoga therapy. The researchers concluded that yoga therapy could be effectively incorporated as an adjuvant therapy in migraine patients.

Another study investigated the preventive effects of a three-month yoga intervention on endothelial function in patients with migraine. The study found that yoga exercises, as a complementary treatment beside pharmacological treatments, could be an effective way to improve vascular functions in migraineurs.

21) Mother and baby

Mother and baby yoga is becoming more and more popular as postpartum mothers discover the benefits of being able to “work out,” bond with their baby and relax, all in one session.

mother and baby yoga
Postnatal yoga or mother and baby yoga can help rebuild the weakened pelvic floor, strengthen the abdominal muscles and even alleviate back and neck pain while bonding with baby.

According to The Practicing Midwife, postnatal yoga can enhance feelings of calmness and a sense of well-being, helping mothers to improve and stabilize their emotional health and to bond with their baby. Additionally, yoga may help to strengthen the weakened pelvic floor and abdominal muscles and may even alleviate back and neck pain. For babies, yoga can aid digestion and alleviate colic, help to strengthen growing limbs, improve sleep patterns, and enhance their ability to interact with their mother and other people.

22) Oxidative stress

Hypertension, especially in the elderly, is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular mortality and morbidity. Oxidative stress has been implicated as one of the underlying causes of hypertension.

A study found yoga to be an effective means to reduce oxidative stress and to improve antioxidant defense in elderly hypertensive individuals.

In another, small study, researchers found that regular yoga practice could decrease oxidative stress and improve antioxidant levels, in addition to significantly increasing certain aspects of immune function and stress.

Young, healthy university students volunteered for the study and were assigned either to a control group (13) who did no yoga, or a yoga group (12) who practiced yoga with an instructor for 90 minutes once a week for 12 weeks, with daily home-based practice for the duration.

At the end of the 12-week study, the yoga group had significant decreases in markers for oxidative stress such as blood levels of nitric oxide, F2-isoprostane, and lipid peroxide. Antioxidant levels and activity, including total glutathione (GSH), activities of GSH-peroxidase, and GSH-s-transferase were remarkably increased after yoga practice compared with the control group.

The researchers also noted that the yoga group had a significant increase in immune-related cytokines, such as interleukin-12 and interferon-gamma, suggesting immune benefits of yoga. The students practicing yoga also had significant reductions in levels of adrenalin and increased levels of serotonin compared with the control group, suggesting enhanced stress management.

23) Posttraumatic stress

More than a third of the approximately 10 million women with histories of interpersonal violence in the US developposttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A study exploring the efficacy of yoga to increase affect tolerance and to decrease PTSD symptomatology found yoga significantly reduced symptoms of PTSD and improved the functioning of traumatized individuals.

In a small pilot study, researchers assessed the potential benefits of a yoga program as an adjunctive therapy for improving PTSD symptoms in veterans with military-related PTSD. Twelve veterans took part in a 6 week yoga intervention held twice a week, and the researchers observed a significant improvement in PTSD hyperarousal symptoms and overall sleep quality as well as daytime dysfunction related to sleep.

The intervention was not associated with significant improvements in total PTSD, anger, or quality of life, but the researcher concluded that yoga may be an effective adjunctive therapy for some symptoms of PTSD in veterans.

24) Pregnancy

Yoga is used for a variety of immunological, neuromuscular, psychological, and pain conditions. Recent studies indicate that it may be effective in improving pregnancy, labor, and birth outcomes.

The breathing and meditation techniques can help enhance health and relaxation for those who are pregnant, and support mental focus to aid childbirth. Some postures are chosen specifically to help encourage an optimal fetal position.

In a survey ascertaining the opinions, practices and knowledge about exercise, including yoga, during pregnancy:

woman taking part in pregnancy yoga
Yoga may help improve stress levels, quality of life, and labor parameters such as comfort, pain, and duration in pregnant women.
  • 86% of women responded that exercise during pregnancy is beneficial
  • 83% felt it was beneficial to start prior to pregnancy
  • 62% considered walking to be the most beneficial form of exercise
  • 64% of respondents were currently exercising during pregnancy
  • 51% exercised 2-3 times a week
  • 65% considered yoga to be beneficial
  • 40% had attempted yoga before pregnancy.

Another study tested the efficacy of yoga as an intervention for reducing maternal anxiety during pregnancy.

A single session of yoga reduced both subjective and physiological measures of state anxiety and the reduction in anxiety persisted at the final session of the intervention. Antenatal yoga seems to be useful for reducing women’s anxieties toward childbirth and preventing increases in depressive symptomatology.

Yoga group participants show fewer postpartum but not antepartum depressive symptoms than control group participants. Findings indicate that prenatal hatha yoga may improve current mood and may be effective in reducing postpartum depressive symptoms.53

A systematic review of yoga in pregnancy showed that studies indicate that yoga may produce improvements in stress levels, quality of life, aspects of interpersonal relations, autonomic nervous system functioning, and labor parameters such as comfort, pain, and duration. However, they conclude that more randomized controlled trials are needed to provide more information regarding the utility of yoga interventions for pregnancy.

25) Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a common disorder that can cause serious sleep disturbance and have a significant adverse effect on quality of life.

In one study, women aged 32-66 years with restless legs syndrome completed 16 yoga classes over an 8-week period. At the end of the study, participants demonstrated striking reductions in symptoms of restless legs syndrome and decreased symptom severity. Symptoms were reduced to minimal/mild in all but one woman and no participant reported severe symptoms by week 8. Participants also showed significant improvements in sleep, perceived stress, and mood.

26) Sleep

The aging process is associated with physiological changes that affect sleep. In older adults, undiagnosed and untreatedinsomnia may cause impaired daily function and reduced quality of life. Insomnia is also a risk factor for accidents and falls that are the main cause of accidental deaths in older adults.

Compared with controls, the yoga group reported significant subjective improvements in a range of measures, including:

  • Overall sleep quality
  • Sleep efficiency
  • Sleep latency and duration
  • Self-assessed sleep quality
  • Fatigue
  • General well-being
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Tension
  • Anger
  • Vitality
  • Function in physical, emotional, and social roles.

Another study found that an 8-week yoga intervention in 20 people with chronic insomnia led to statistically significant improvements in sleep efficiency, total sleep time, total wake time, sleep onset latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), and wake time after sleep onset.

27) Stress management

Several studies have looked at yoga as a model for stress management. In a study observing the effects of 10 weeks of classroom-based yoga on cortisol and behavior in second and third-grade students, cortisol decreased significantly and students’ behavior improved. The results suggest that school-based yoga may be advantageous for stress management and behavior.

children practicing yoga
Studies suggest that school-based yoga may assist with stress management and the behavior of children.

One study found that yoga may help children and young people cope with stress and, as a result, could contribute positively to balance in life, well-being, and mental health.

Another study evaluated the influence of hatha yoga practice on levels of distress in women about to begin a course of in vitro fertilization (IVF). Of the 143 female participants, 45 attended hatha yoga and 75 did not. Data suggest that psychological support and practice of hatha yoga before IVF is associated with distress reduction.

28) Urinary incontinence

Yoga has been shown to reduce inflammation and may help improve symptoms of urge urinary incontinence. More research is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of yoga to reduce urge urinary incontinence symptom burden and improve quality of life.

29) Weight management

A comparative controlled trial compared the effects of yoga and walking for weight management in overweight and obese adults.

Both groups showed a significant decrease in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, hip circumference, lean mass, body water and total cholesterol. The yoga group increased serum leptin and decreased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The walking group decreased serum adiponectin and triglycerides.

Both yoga and walking improved anthropometric variables and serum lipid profile in overweight and obese persons.

The prevalence of yoga research in western health care is increasing. The marked increase in volume indicates the need for more systematic analysis of the literature in terms of quality and results.

Yoga ‘boosts cognitive ability of sedentary seniors’

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois found that practicing hatha yoga three times a week for 8 weeks boosted the everyday cognitive ability of sedentary seniors.

Yoga may improve symptoms of arthritis

A new study suggests that for people with two of the most common forms of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – yoga may improve symptoms.

Yoga: downward dog increases eye pressure, risks for glaucoma patients

A new study in the journal PLOS One suggests certain poses increase eye pressure and present risks for individuals withglaucoma.

Yoga may ease symptoms for atrial fibrillation patients

People with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation may find that yoga helps them enjoy a better quality of life and reduce their blood pressure and heart rate. This was the main finding of a study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascularthat compares patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation who practiced yoga with patients who did not.

Risks and side effects of yoga

Yoga is low-impact and safe for healthy people when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor.

Injury due to yoga is an infrequent barrier to continued practice, and severe injury due to yoga is rare.

Anyone who is pregnant or who has an ongoing medical condition, such as high blood pressure, glaucoma or sciatica, should talk to their health care practitioner prior to practicing yoga as they may need to modify or avoid some yoga poses.

Beginners should avoid extreme practices such as headstand, lotus position and forceful breathing.

Individuals with medical preconditions should work with their physician and yoga teacher to appropriately adapt postures; patients with glaucoma or a history or high risk of retinal detachment should avoid inversions, and patients with compromised bone should avoid forceful yoga practices.

Do not use yoga to replace conventional medical care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about pain or any other medical condition. If you have a medical condition, talk to your health care provider before start.

Animal-Assisted Therapy: Is It Undervalued As An Alternative Treatment?

“A pet is an island of sanity in what appears to be an insane world. Friendship retains its traditional values and securities in one’s relationship with one’s pet. Whether a dog, cat, bird, fish, turtle, or what have you, one can rely upon the fact that one’s pet will always remain a faithful, intimate, non-competitive friend, regardless of the good or ill fortune life brings us.”

If you are an animal lover, you will fully relate to this quote from American child psychologist Dr. Boris Levinson. And it seems the majority of us are. As of 2012, 62% of American households included at least one pet.

There is no doubt that humans have a strong bond with animals, and it is this bond that led to the introduction of animal-assisted therapy (AAT), or pet therapy – the idea that animals can help humans cope with or recover from certain medical conditions.

In fact, it was Dr. Levinson who first came up with the idea of AAT in the 1960s, after finding that he was better able to reach a withdrawn 9-year-old boy every time his dog – called Jingles – was in the room with him. With Jingles present – who Dr. Levinson deemed his “co-therapist” – he found he was able to gain the trust of the boy, something that past therapists had failed to do.

In 1961, Dr. Levinson presented the idea of AAT to the American Psychological Association (APA). At the time, the theory was met with cynicism. But a survey conducted by Dr. Levinson 10 years later found that of 319 psychologists, 16% used companion animals in their therapy sessions, indicating that people were warming to the idea of AAT.

Today, AAT is more popular than ever. A 2011 report from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Health Center for Health Statistics revealed that almost 60% of hospice care providers that provide complementary and alternative therapies offer pet therapy to patients.

What is AAT?

AAT is an intervention that uses animal interaction to aid recovery from health problems or to help people cope with certain medical conditions.

The therapy is believed to have an array of benefits, including personal and social development, increased self-esteem, improved mental health, better social skills and increased empathy and nurturing skills.

Dog and young girl
AAT is believed to assist personal and social development, increase self-esteem, improve mental health, boost social skills and increase empathy and nurturing skills.

Patients with chronic heart failure, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia are just some groups who benefit from AAT.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study from Ohio State University, which found that equine therapy – AAT involving interaction with horses – improved symptoms for patients withAlzheimer’s disease.

Study co-author Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, associate professor of social work at Ohio State, said of the findings:

“We wanted to test whether people with dementia could have positive interactions with horses, and we found that they can – absolutely. The experience immediately lifted their mood, and we saw a connection to fewer incidents of negative behavior.”

Individuals with physical disabilities may also benefit from AAT. Equine therapy, which can also involve horse riding, has been shown to improve patients’ strength, flexibility and balance.

AAT is not just limited to interaction with cats, dogs and horses; it can include everything from hedgehogs, rabbits and skunks, to snakes and even spiders. Critterish Allsorts – an AAT practice based in the UK – use a tarantula called Fluffy as a therapy for individuals with autism.

In the past, concerns have been raised regarding the safety and sanitation of AAT, particularly if such therapy is conducted in hospitals. However, rules are put in place to ensure animals are well trained, clean and vaccinated. To date, the CDC have received no reports of infection through AAT.

How does AAT work?

In general, the benefits of AAT stem from the interaction with animals. Some forms of AAT, such as equine therapy, involve caring for animals on a regular basis. For example, equine therapy may require individuals to feed, groom and bathe horses once or twice a week.

Speaking of how equine therapy helps Alzheimer’s patients, Dabelko-Schoeny told Medical News Today:

“The exposure to the animals may result in higher levels of engagement and fewer problematic behaviors, which may make caring for the person with the disease easier.

In addition, AAT ‘opens the world up’ for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. It is not uncommon for persons with dementia to have their world shrink down to just addressing basic human needs, and having relationships with animals can provide them with stimulation and something to think about and talk about with others.”

Other forms of AAT may include an animal being brought to a care facility for patient interaction. For example, Pet Partners– a non-profit organization in the US that provides AAT – has a volunteer who brings a cat to a rehabilitation center to work with an occupational therapist and a child who has problems with movement. The occupational therapist asks the child to handle the cat’s collar, or open a tin of treats and feed the cat – activities that help improve the child’s motor skills.

Should there be more focus on the use of AAT?

“Animal-assisted activities can provide much needed motivation, education or recreation to enhance a person’s quality of life,” Mary Craig, CEO of the Pet Partners board and a veterinarian, told Medical News Today.

Should there be more focus on the use of AAT?

But Craig notes an important point:

“It’s easy for our volunteers involved in animal assisted activities to see and understand the benefits to animal-assisted activities. But the magic that happens in these interactions is difficult to quantify and ‘prove.’ The benefits realized are often unique to the individuals involved in the personal exchanges.”

Because of this, many experts in the AAT field believe the therapy is undervalued and that there should be more research conducted to expose its benefits.

“There is a growing body of research, but much of it is still qualitative, not quantitative,” Chris Patella, of Animal Assisted Therapy Services – a US organization that specializes in equine and canine therapy – told us.

“We need hard numeric data to convince insurance companies and legislatures that AAT should be covered like any other medical intervention.”

In addition, Patella said he believed that doctors should be recommending AAT as an alternative treatment for patients with both physical and mental health conditions.

“However,” he added, “doctors are rooted in Western medicine that promotes medication. They, too, are looking for the solid research that proves AAT is a viable intervention. Research is the key.”

Could AAT replace drug treatment?

This brings us to the question of whether AAT could replace or reduce the use of drug treatment for certain health conditions.

A 2009 study from Loyola University in Chicago, IL, found that adults who used AAT – in the form of canine therapy – while recovering from total joint-replacement surgery required 50% less pain medication.

Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, is one health professional who feels very strongly about the health benefits of pets, to the extent that he notes the name of a patient’s pet when he takes their medical history.

“A pet is a medication without side effects that has so many benefits,” he says. “I can’t always explain it myself, but for years now I’ve seen how instances of having a pet is like an effective drug. It really does help people.”

To find out more about animal assisted therapy, please visit Pet Partners, Animal Assisted Therapy Services or Critterish Allsorts if in the UK.