Posted by: Integra Massage | September 28, 2011

How herbs relieved my 86 year old mother’s arthritis

Filipendula_ulmaria (Meadowsweet)

Meadowsweet: common wayside weeds hold the answer to arthritis

My 86 year old mother came to stay recently.  She had warned me on the phone that her knee was bad and she she couldn’t walk far.  She is an amazing person, a retired pediatrician and lay preacher always full of interest and adventure. Well we had a lovely visit but yes that knee really limited her. It was painful, swollen and walking more than a few yards was giving her grief. To watch her creeping slowly up stairs was pitiful.I sent her home with a herbal tincture mixture to take three times a day for the next two weeks.  The herbs were:

Celery Seed
Nettle Leaf
Black Cohosh

These are all herbs with a tradition of use for treating arthritis and rheumatism through their anti inflammatory, cleansing, pain relieving and relaxing actions.

Two weeks later my mother called: “I am the last person to believe in miracle cures but I’ve been taking the tinctures and although my knee is still quite swollen and can be sore, the pain is much less.  I can walk much further, but most important, I can go up stairs normally.  I haven’t been able to do that for months. Thank you.”

That is a pretty amazing result in two weeks.  If we were to continue, and may be add an external liniment of Bladderwrack or Comfrey or something similar there will almost certainly be an even bigger improvement.

Rheumatic and arthritic aches and pain have been around as long a human kind.  A vast number of herbs consequently have a tradition of preventing and relieving these problems.  Some like Devil’s Claw and more recently Rosehip have become mass market consumer products.  However no herb is a cure all.  A herbalist will approach arthritis by looking at the whole person and as I did for my mother formulate a balanced combination of herbs that address the deeper causes as well as symptoms. Many of the most useful herbs such as nettle and meadowsweet are common wayside weeds.  Addressing diet, exercise and lifestyle would also be important.

Herbal approaches to arthritis are complemented by physical therapies such as massage which can relax connective tissue and muscles, open and realign compressed joints, improve circulation and reduce swelling.  Integra’s  Integrate Tissue Release therapy includes special techniques which can increase the lubrication of joints.  On a number of occasions I have been able to remove the need for surgery.
Posted by: Integra Massage | September 27, 2011

How to prevent winter colds and flu

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup - nature's immune booster

Beyond Echinacea: How to survive the winter part 1.The autumn equinox is passed, the trees are turning, the nights are drawing in.  Soon the Christmas tat will be in the shops….. Winter is coming.  The first colds are already doing the rounds.  Did you get struck down in last winter’s ‘flu epidemic?  I did.  In fact I lost nearly 2 month’s work.  For me this was a call to action, to go back to basics and put in practice the powerful herbal and healing lore I had learned during my time studying with Michael and Leslie Tierra and working in a respiratory clinic in Nan Jing years ago.The herb Echinacea has become almost a cliche when it comes to colds and ‘flus.  Scientific studies are ambiguous: some “prove” it works, some “prove” it doesn’t. Tradition and most hrebalists would agree that Echinacea is useful but not the one dimensional panacea it is sold as.  To me Echinacea is best as a general “detoxifier of the blood for infections in general and particularly inflamed and infected skin eruptions. There are better things for colds and ‘flus.

One of the problems with Echinacea is that the plant material has to be of the highest quality and preferably fresh.  I have serious doubts as to how active most commercial products are. I also believe that Echinacea is best used short term, for a few weeks at most as it may become less effective is taken continuously.

Some of commonest wayside weeds are great allies for cold and ‘flu prevention and treatment.  For boosting immunity throughout the winter, I recommend using Elderberry.  Traditionally Elderberry in the form of syrup or juice has been used as a winter fortifier since ancient times.  Studies in the twentieth century showed that it boosts the immune system and is effective against some strains of influenza.  It will also sooth coughs and help the body deal with fevers.

Beyond infections, Elderberries have been shown to act as powerful antioxidants preventing cellular damage, to improve the cardiovascular system, ease constipation and help the body cope with stress.  Truly a “superfood”.

You can buy Elderberry products in health food shops or on line.  Alternatively you can make your own syrup from dried or fresh berries (they are still on the trees for a few more weeks).  Clients who have a one to one herbal consultation with me have access to Elderberry extracts of the highest quality made by my supplier Rutland Biodynamic.

Alongside Elderberry I recommend Rosehip syrup.  Rosehips are one of the best natural sources of vitamin C combined with  powerful flavonoids and other phytochemicals that work synergistically.  Even when made into syrup or cordial, the available vitamin C in this wonderful herb is high.  Older folk will remember being given Rosehip syrup as children during the  war years. It is delicious by the way.

Of course you could just take a vitamin C supplement. However if you take Rosehip, you are ingesting the essence of a whole plant with a complex balance of highly bioavailable elements.  The amount of Vitamin C is lower than in a supplement but the overall action may be deeper and wider.  This makes more sense to me than bombarding your body with vast quantities of a single chemically refined substance.

And you can save money.  For the cost of a couple of bags of sugar and a couple of hours work, you can make your winter’s supply from wild rosehips.  Gather them now or better, wait until after the first frost. Here’s how to do it.

Another good way to ensure you are getting good quality natural vitamin C in your diet is to make fresh sprouts through the winter.  In the Far East bean sprouts are a traditional winter tonic.  I prefer alfalfa and broccoli sprouts.  They make delicious winter salads.  Here’s how to…

There is one supplement I do suggest you consider taking particularly if you spend most days indoors.  This is vitamin D, which among the many vital functions it is involved with, is a strong potentiser and balancer of the immune system.  We can get trace amounts of vitamin D from food, particularly fish and eggs, but our main source is from exposure of the skin to midday sunshine…. and that is one thing we don’t see much of in northern latitudes in the winter.

As often as you can get 15-30 minutes in the midday sun exposing parts of your skin. You can also buy lamps which emit the right from of UV light, but they tend to be expensive.  As a back up, take a vitamin D3 supplement delivering around 1500-4000 IU.

If you are very prone to low energy and frequent infections in winter consider also take a look at my article on three supplements that make a powerful difference to health for additional support (if you are taking Elderberry and Rosehip, you probably don’t need the pine bark extract referred to in that article.)  If you tend to get really run down in winter, I strongly suggest you have a proper herbal consultation with me.

Finally some common sense general advice to maintain your immune system:

  • Keep active,through the winter: Get outdoors and walk.
  • Maintain healthy sleep patterns
  • Eat good food
  • Deal effectively with stress
  • Be observant of good hygene in public places (virus are spread “hand to mouth” as well as in the air).

In part 2 next week.  I’ll talk about what to do if you do go down with a bug.

Posted by: Integra Massage | July 25, 2011

7 Foods that boost male fertility

Foodstuff containing zinc

Image via Wikipedia

1. Foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty acids

Sub fertile men have been found to be deficient in Omega 3 Fatty Acids.  It makes sense to boost these in your diet.  Good sources include oily fish like salmon, herring and mackerel which you can eat a couple of times a week and some nuts, particularly walnuts.  You can eat a good handful a day.  To be beneficial, nuts must be fresh and NOT roasted.  Omega 3 Fatty Acids also help to keep blood vessels healthy and help with blood flow the the penis and testicles.  You can also take a fish oil or krill oil supplement.

2. Foods rich in Vitamin C

A study has suggested that vitamin C helps to prevent sperm clumping together (aggultinisation).  Foods that are very rich in Vitamin C include cantaloupe and water melons, kiwi fruit, citrus fruit, mango, papaya, pineapple,.and all berries.  Vegetables include: broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, sweet peppers, other leafy greens and tomatoes. Eat a couple of portions of really fresh ripe fruit daily and a good heap of lightly cooked vegetables with your dinner.  If you want to take a supplement take a time release 1000 mg pill or two 500mg at intervals through the day.

3. Foods rich in other anti-oxidants

Vitamin C is an anti oxidant, a nutrient that protects cells from damage. Sperm are very susceptible to oxidative damage.  All highly coloured fruit and veg are rich in anti oxidants. Nuts and seeds (again fresh and unroasted) and avocados are rich in another anti oxidant: vitamin E.  A handful of nuts or seeds a day is good.  I also recommend that most men take a supplement of pine bark extract (Pycnogenol) or grape seed extract which contains a “super antioxidant I written about elsewhere.

4. Arginine rich foods

Sperm contain large amounts of the amino acid arginine. Studies have shown that arginine is important to sperm count and motility.  Arginine is also essential to health blood circulation and strong erections. Water melon, corn (corn on the cob, tinned sweet corn, pop corn, corn cakes etc), high protein foods: nuts and seeds, beans and pulses, dairy foods, chicken and beef, prawns and sea food.  Make sure any chicken or meat you eat is organic.  You can also supplement with arginine. Try a dose of 1500mg a day with a break every few months.

5. Zinc rich foods

Many studies have shown that zinc is essential to proper sperm production.  It is also an important ani oxidant present in semen in large quantities probably to protect the sperm.  Supplementing with zinc up to about 40mg is ok for short periods but care is needed longer term.  It is better to include lots of zinc rich foods particularly pumpkin seeds, oysters (the tinned sort are fine) if you cannot face them straight from the shell. sesame seeds, chocolate (but only cocoa rich varieties, at least 85%), Beef  lamb and liver, but again only organic.

6. Foods that boost testosterone

Testosterone, the essential male hormone is essential for healthly sperm and semen production.  Many of the foods I have mentioned already may enhance testosterone production, particularly those rich in Zinc, vitamin B6 and vitamin A. Animal studies have also suggested that ginger may help to build testosterone.  Generally a diet that is higher in protein and healthy fats and lower in carbohydrate is thought to enhance testosterone levels.

7. Foods to limit estrogen

A man’s body naturally contain a small amount of the female hormone estrogen.  However aging, environmental pollutants and lifestyle choices can increase estrogen levels to a point where they can adversely affect fertility.  As with testosterone a diet somewhat higher in protein and fats and lower in carbohydrate will help.  Members of the cabbage family, broccoli, kale, cauliflower etc contain nutrients which help to limit estrogen.  A bit more controversial are foods that contain weak estrogen like chemicals.  Some studies suggest these phyto-estrogens actually reduce the impact of estrogen on the body.  Other commentators are afraid that they add to the estrogen load.  I take the view that for a fully grown male, they have a potential estrogen limiting effect.  Soya products, flax seeds and sesame seeds are useful sources.

Foods to avoid

First the really bad news.  Alcohol and particularly beer, creates a toxic and highly estrogenic environment in the body.  So let me be be straight. If you want to be a dad severely curtain your drinking and cut out beer completely.  It is a sad irony that alcohol consumption has become associated with manliness when in fact its affect is the opposite.

Also avoid: all junk food, take aways, snack foods like crisps, biscuits and other baked goods and sweet sugar rich foods.

Final words

I’ve been working with male fertility issues for about ten years and have seen many successes (I’d guess around 80%).  Do please visit my website to learn how you could benefit from a herbal consultation with me.
Posted by: Integra Massage | June 11, 2011

Hara Massage

Hara Massage


Hara Massage is therapeutic massage which focuses on the abdomen, pelvis and their internal organs.  This article describes the nature, history and purpose of hara massage and gives information about the hara massage training programme run by Nick Hudis at Integra Massage.  The article will be of primary interest to massage therapists, bodyworkers, Shiatsu practitioners and acupuncturists seeking to learn advanced skills.  It will also be of interest to people looking for effective treatment for a range of health issues.

What is the Hara?

Hara is a Japanese word meaning “belly”. But its cultural connotations go far beyond a mere anatomical location.  Hara is our centre.  To have “hara” or to act with “hara” has the implication of strength, purpose, groundedness and presence.  All oriental arts from martial arts to calligraphy, from the tea ceremony to flower arranging lay great emphasis of being in the “hara”.

In Japanese medicine hara is central to health.  Most schools of healing in Japan believe that the hara is a mirror of a person’s overal constitution and state of health.  The hara influences every aspect of a person’s being.  The hara is our centre of gravity and its muscular walls are literally pivotal to good posture and strong graceful movement. The motility of the hara is critical to healthy diaphramatic breathing, The major blood including the Aorta and Vena Cava pass through the hara, The hara is obviously the seat of the digestive, reproductive and sexual organs.  At an emotional level, the hara is the location where much of our deepest emotional armouring is found.

Energetically, the hara is the site of the lower dan tien, the storage point of yuan qi and jing which in Taoist thought are the root energies of our being and the power cell of our entire system.  In Tantra, the lower three Chakras are all within the hara.

The History of Hara Massage

Hara massage has probably been practiced by most traditional cultures since ancient times.

In the East ,Japanese Ampuku  (literally: palapting the stomach) evolved into a sophisticated healing art originating with Shinsai Ota in the 17th Century. Ota treated  all diseases through the hara regardless of where they manifest in the body and focused on sensing and treating five hara signs: fullness, emptiness, pulsing, tension and lumps.  Ampuku is still practiced in Japan although skilled teachers and therapists are hard to find.

Chi Nei tsang  (internal organ chi massage) is a Taoist approach to hara massage introduced to the West by Master Mantak Chia. Chi Nei Tsang emphasises sensing and treating qi or energy imbalances in the hara, particularly the elimination of negative “winds”.  Karsai Nei Tsang is closely related to Chi Nei Tsang and focuses on clearing stagnant blood from the genital area.

Another style of hara massage is Mayan abdominal massage, which originates from  traditional South American Indian healing and  has been popularised by Rosita Arvigo.  Mayan abdominal massage is best known for helping with issues of the reproductive system, particularly malposition of the uterus.

The West has its own traditions of hara work.  John Harvey Kellogg MD included comprehensive and sophisticated treatments for the internal organs in his book The Art of Massage, published in 1895.  Sadly much of this knowledge was lost as massage fell from favour during the pharmacutical drug revolution of the twentieth century.

More recently Wurn Technique practiced at the Clear Passage Clinic in America has produced encouraging research evidence for the manual release of abdominal and pelvic adhesions in the treatment of a wide range of reproductive and urogenital problems.

The Osteopathic tradition also works with the hara.  Jean Pierre Barral’s Visceral Manipulation uses light touch and principles from cranial osteopathy to work directly with the internal organs.

Application of Hara Massage

Hara massage may be used therapeutically at three levels:

1) As part of a general restorative massage approach to maintain health and well being.  Hara massage techniques can be included in full body relaxation and therapeutic massage to deepen and expand the scope of the treatment.

2) As a specific treatment protocol for a wide range of health issues that relate to the abdomen and pelvis. Hara massage is  indicated in conditions described in oriental medicine as excess, that is involving, congestion, accumulation and adhesion.  It is also indicated for deficient conditions characterised by poor micro circulation, weakness prolapse and atrophy. Hara massage has been used with apparent good results in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Respiratory: asthma, paradoxical breathing, chronic bronchitis
  • Digestive: IBS, constipation, inflamatory bowel disorder, sluggish hepatic and bilary function, gastroptosis, gastritis. Indigestion, poor assimilation.
  • Gynaecological: period pain, irregular periods, endometriosis, vulva pain, blocked fallopian tubes, prolapsed or retroflexed uterus, infertility without known cause, female sexual dysfunction, post partum problems.
  • Urogenital: chronic prostatitis, male sexual dysfunction, irritable bladder syndrome, interstitial cystitis, prolapsed bladder, mild to moderate incontinence.
  • General: pelvic, perineal and genital pain.  Back pain related to psoas imbalances, post surgical and other scarring and adhesions.

3) As a deep, holistic energy treatment.  Treatments known in oriental medicine as root treatments focus on the patient’s  constitution and underlying energy imbalances.  Working at core of a person’s being, hara massage is a powerful root treatment which can unblock the flow of energy, particularly at an emotional level.

Hara massage has few absolute contraindications and can be adapted by a skilled practitioner to the specific needs and limitations of each client.

Hara Massage within Integrated Tissue Release

Hara massage is a cornerstone of Integrated Tissue Release (ITR) a recently evolved bodywork system developed by Nick Hudis after 20 years of experience or oriental and western bodywork.  ITR has been described as bringing together the power of Tuina, the presence of Zen Shiatsu and the flow of Lomi Lomi with the precision of neuro-muscular technique and fascial release and the sensitivity of cranial work.

ITR hara massage  integrates principles from oriental tradition and western practice. Its aim is to find and release areas of kori:  areas of tight, congested, immobile  or painful tissue within the hara.  In ITR philosophy these lesions are the result of the body becoming locked into a defensive adaptive response to trauma or stress at a structural, physiological or emotional level.  ITR seeks to release these areas of kori and guide the body towards a healing adaptive response.

ITR hara massage works with  releases at three levels:

Myofascial – through the direct release of adhesions and beneficial thixotropic change in the facial matrix.

Circulatory-physiological – through the enhancement of micro circulation and the stimulation of hormonal and metabolic processes.

Neuro-muscular – through the stimulation of points that mediate autonomic and higher neurological function.
These three levels correspond broadly with the Three Treasures of Oriental Medicine: Jing (physical substance) Qi: (life force) and Shen (conciousness).

Studying ITR Hara Massage

Nick Hudis teaches hara massage within the ITR apprenticeship programme and also as a stand alone certificate course for practicing therapists and acupuncturists.

The hara massage course is usually run over six days divided into three sections:

Section 1 (covering general hara techniques and principles and release of the breathing mechanism)
Preparatory warming and relaxation of the hara
Release of the abdominal wall
Diaphragm release
Chest release and activation of the breathing mechanism.

Section 2 (covering releases for the digestive organs)
Release of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine
Liver and gall bladder release
Organ lifting techniques

Section 3 (covering releases for the urogenital organs and circulatory system)
Releases for the uterus and ovaries
Releases for the bladder
Releases for the aorta, vena cava, illiac ateries and other vessels

There is also a fourth level covering genital and pelvic floor releases which may be taught on request.

Within these set patterns, practitioners learn the fundamental principle of ITR, the unity of diagnosis and treatment, discovering how to sense the presence of blocked, congested or immobilised tissue and apply appropriate pressure, angle, rhythm and mode of touch to initiate a release.

ITR hara massage techniques employ combinations of pressure, stretch, mobilisation and stroking in which typically the two hands work together to generate infinitely variable shades of touch.  As the practitioner’s skill develops, treatment flows in interwoven cycles of sensing, release and integration which respond spontaneously and intuitively to the “in the moment” state of the tissues.

ITR hara massage recognises that blockages felt physically within the tissues will often have a component of emotional holding or body armouring.  The treatment does not work only with the physical tissues, but guides the receiver’s awareness into parts of their body they have become cut off from. Sensing this dimension and dealing sensitively with emotional release, particularly where it relates to sexual trauma, is an important aspect of the practitioner’s learning.

ITR hara massage encourages practitioners to develop heightened palpatory skill, to be fully present in what they are doing and to work from a place where intuition and rational analysis are balanced.

From a practical point of view, ITR offers a practitioner a skill set that allows them to treat a wide variety of structural, respiratory, digestive, reproductive, urogenital, emotional and pychosexual issues.

Bodyworkers are often nervous working with the hara, because this area of the body is seldom covered in the depth it deserves on massage training programmes.  ITR hara massage opens the door to working powerfully and with full confidence with this vital aspect of their client’s.

Oriental medicine practitioners and  acupuncturists find that ITR hara massage as an oriental healing discipline, integrates naturally with their skill and knowledge base while allowing them to extend the scope of their work.

Case Study

M is a 33 year old woman of of quite heavy build.  Her symptoms started two years ago following a very long and difficult child birth. The main symptoms are: intense episodes of lumbar pain and lower abdominal pain worse at period time, frequent urination and a feeling of irritation in her bladder, genital numbness and loss of sexual sensation. She has previously had conventional treatment including physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture and sports massage with little improvement in her condition.

Assessment of her posture showed some lumbar lordosis with her chest drooped and shoulders rounded forward.  Palpation revealed considerable tightness but little pressure pain or tenderness in her lower back, buttocks and legs.  However a number of deeply sensitive points were found in her lower abdomen and groin. There were also areas of numbness. Her bladder was easily palpable even when empty and deeper pelvic examination revealed a number of hardened masses (previous ultrasound had ruled out fibroids etc).

My working hypothesis was that the protracted childbirth had resulted in considerable trauma to the pelvic tissues and organs, including displacement of the bladder.

The agreed treatment plan combined hara massage with an ITR technique called Body Wave.  ITR bodywave somewhat resembles Hawaiian Lomi Lomi in the use of long, smooth, continuous full body strokes.  Body Wave offers a deep but gentle and integrative approach to fascial release which combines well with hara massage.

The hara massage focused on contacting and releasing the sensitive points and hardened masses in the lower pelvis.  Specific techniques were also used to lift the bladder. Additionally I taught M some self massage techniques and a traditional Taoist exercise called the Jade Egg to strengthen her pelvic floor.

Treatment continued at roughly 2-4 week intervals over twelve months.  The urinary symptoms improved considerably during the first month.  The lumbar and pelvic pain was much slower to respond and had a number of set backs, but after about six months was in M’s estimation 75 percent improved.  Changes in M’s genital sensitivity were gradual but towards the end of the course of treatment she happily reported that she  numbness had gone and she was able to enjoy intimacy again.

The hara work brought up a lot of strong emotions surrounding her appearance, femininity and problems in her marriage.  Time was always set aside in the sessions for listening and talking through these issues.  M said that sessions helped her considerably with her body confidence.

After about twelve months, the focus shifted towards a pre-conception programme and she shortly afterwards became pregnant.  She received pregnancy massage throughout her pregnancy and gave birth without difficulty or recurrence of her previous issues. Time and resources have prevented her from returning for treatment but she has kept in touch and I understand she is happy and fulfilled and free from pain.

For more information about Integra Massage and dates and venues for hara massage training please get in touch via our website.

Posted by: Integra Massage | June 11, 2011

The Passive Back Release

The Passive Back Release Exercise

This exercise releases tension from your back and helps you spine lengthen by simply lying and resting in the position in which your spine will natural fall into proper alignment without effort.  Seems too good to be true but this exercise is a wonderful example of how “not doing” can be more beneficial than doing.  It is a fundamental part of the Alexander Technique and also incorporates principles from Tai Chi.

The passive back release is a great resting  and restoring position for your whole body.  Do it whenever your feel stressed or the body is sore and tight.  I recommend it to almost all my clients, particularly those with back pain, neck pain or shoulder pain.  If you do it 15 minutes a day for three months you will most likely see a radical improvement in your posture and physical well being.

First the video, followed by detailed instructions:


Remember the golden rules of therapeutic exercise:

1. Follow the instructions  and watch the video for the exercise carefully before you do the exercise.
2. move slowly and smoothly
3. pay attention to how your body feels and stay with your comfort zone. dapt the exercise to your limitations.

You will need:

  • A carpeted draft free space
  • A few paperback books to support you head
  • About 10-20 minutes in which you will not be disturbed by phones, children, pets etc.
  • Optionally a nice soothing play list on your ipod timed to the length of time you intend to stay in the exercise position.

Basic Instructions

1. Lie on your back.  Put enough paperback books under your head so your neck is straight with you head neither tiled back or bent forward.

2. Bend your knees about 90 degree, so your feet rest flat on the ground.  Your knees and feet are shoulder width apart.

3. Let you arms rest by your sides naturally straight and free from tension.

4. Stay in this position for 10-20 minutes while you allow your body to relax and become heavy. Breath naturally throughout and keep your awareness in what your body is feeling.

5. When you are ready to finish, role on to one side and then to a kneeling position before you stand up.  Notice how you feel.

Taking things a bit further:

1.   You can help release your back  further by slowly using your hands to draw each knee in turn up to your chest.

2. To further release your neck, use your hands to slowly and gently lift your head and then put it back down.

3.  If you want to help your shoulders release.  Slowly raise each arm in turn up towards to ceiling to the point where you feel your shoulder blade lift up.  then settle the shoulder back down and lower the arm.

If you have enjoyed or benefited from this exercise do let me know via comments and share it with any else who might benefit.

The passive back release is the main position used for Focused Active Relaxation and forms an integral part of my practice of massage in Newcastle and other clinics where I work.

Posted by: Integra Massage | May 29, 2011

Instant Relief From Back Pain

The Seated Spinal Decompression Exercise

This is an effective but very safe spine stretch that will ease out tight back muscles, decompress the vertebrae and discs and take pressure off trapped nerves. It uses the weight of the upper body controlled by the arms the gently elongate the spine. The exercise can be done by almost anyone even if you have acute back pain.  In fact for many people with acute back pain it is one of very few comfortable resting positions. Do not attempt this exercise if you have a suspected fractured vertebra or spinal chord injury.  You should wait after back surgery until the the surgical scar has healed (usually 4-6 weeks) before using this exercise.

The exercise has some of the same benefits as an inversion table, or inverted postures in yoga.  Contrary to the widespread view, inverted postures will not increase risks from stroke or high blood pressure.

Remember the three golden rules of therapeutic exercise:

1. Follow the instructions for the exercise carefully before you do the exercise.  Watch the video a few times as well.
2. move slowly and smoothly
3. pay attention to how your body feels and stay with your comfort zone. dapt the exercise to your limitations.


Starting position

Sit with your back straight.  Feel as if your spine is being gently lengthened by drawing your head up.  Be careful not to tilt your head and neck back.  Shoulders are relaxed. Hands rest on the knees. Feet are flat on the floor, lower legs vertical and knees shoulder width apart.  Relax and remember to breath.

Going down

1. Begin to slowly hinge forward from your hip joint supporting yourself with your forearms on your thighs.  As you do this try to keep your you back straight with the feeling of your spine lengthening all the time.  If it is comfortable for you continue going down until your chest is resting on your thighs.  Try to keep your back straight and do not drop your head down. Rest for a moment in this position.

(If it is uncomfortable for you to go down to the point where your chest in resting on your thighs. Stop at the limit of your comfort zone supporting yourself on your arms and rest for as long as you like in that position. Then go to the return movement, missing out part 2).

2. To deepen the stretch if this is comfortable for you, lower one arm so it is hanging down with the hand resting on the floor.  Then  lower the other arm.  The arms can continue to help to support your back if necessary. If it is comfortable for you, you can slowly drop your head as well.  Rest in this position as long as you like.

Going up

3.  Lift one arm and put it back on your thigh.  Then lift the other arm.  Your upper body is now resting on your arms.

4. Use your arms to slowly raise your upper body back to the starting position.  Push yourself up with your arms.  Do not pull yourself up with your back muscles.

For more information on Integra’s therapies please click here

Posted by: Integra Massage | May 28, 2011

From shark cages to rib cages: alternative treatment for asthma

The human rib cage (Source: Gray's Anatomy of ...

Image via Wikipedia

Whats the difference between a shark cage and a rib cage?

Well before I answer that question, just a reminder that this month is Asthma Awareness Month 2011.  So here are a few thoughts on alternative treatment for asthma.

Asthma is so common these days (around 10% of the population perhaps) that we almost take it for granted that people carry inhalers around with them. So often at a first consultation with a client will mention asthma as if it is incidental, just another facet of them like their height or hair colour.  Its easy to forget that asthma can be highly debilitating and distressing or even fatal.

Common as asthma is, medical science still struggles to understand its causes and mechanisms.  The problem is that the collection of signs and symptoms (inflammation and constriction of the air passages in the lungs) we call “asthma” are not one single disease, but the end state of a wide range of pathways of health imbalance, in which constitution, lifestyle, allergies, environmental toxins, and other seemingly unrelated diseases may all play a part.

Conventional treatment is focused on “managing” the condition through steriodal antiinflammatory drugs and bronchiodilators.  Such treatments seem to be fairly effective for about half of cases in keeping asthma under control but have side effects and lock a the patient into long term drug dependency.  They do nothing to improve the condition overall.

What does alternative medicine have to offer?

There are herbs such as Ephedra and Chinese Skullcap which have established use as anti-inflammatories and bronchiodilators. These herbs have a similar action in relieving symptoms to drugs but are milder and slower in action and usually free from unwanted side effects. Supplements such as pine bark/grapeseed extract and Black Seed oil also have a track record and some research evidence supporting their use to relieve the symptoms of asthma.

But a professional herbalist will want to go further than palliating symptoms.  A herbalist will view asthma as a break down in the ability of the body to balance and regulate itself and will seek to remedy the root causes of asthma by improving their client’s overall health and rebalancing dietary, lifestyle and emotional factors.  Tonic or adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola and medicinal mushrooms Reishi and Cordyceps appear to strengthen the body as a whole and increase its ability to adapt to stresses such as potential allergens or toxins.

Another alternative approach is exemplified by the work of the Russian asthma pioneer Butekyo. Butekyo believed that asthma was the body’s defensive response to hyperventilation.  Hyperventilation (rapid and shallow breathing) over oxygenates and lowers carbon dioxide levels in the blood and upsets blood PH levels with a wide range of harmful consequences. Butekyo believed that the bronchial constriction in asthma was the body’s desperate attempt to bring breathing back under control.  His treatment method involves retaining the patient’s breathing technique, with special exercises.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and several clinical trials suggesting that Butekyo method benefits asthma sufferers.  However there is doubt in the scientific community about his theory.  There is little evidence that Butekyo method improves the key medical markers, such as peak flow rate  for asthma despite the fact that many people find it helpful.  I think this is a key point.  If asthma sufferers can live fuller and more comfortable lives by using Butekyo or similar techniques, then the method is of value and it may be that the medical markers are not entirely appropriate.

Studies have shown that other breathing techniques such as Yoga and Tai Chi can also benefit asthma.  Many exercises within the Lian Gong system that I use with clients are also of potential benefit.  To me the great value of these approaches is that they give the asthma suffer control rather than trapping them in drug dependancy.

Butekyo’s theory may not be completely valid but it raises the interesting idea that asthma is a defensive response by the body to a stimulus that  poses a threat.  A potentially useful way to look at many types of symptoms, not as bad in themselves, but as the body’s emergency response to a harmful situation.  Pain is an obvious example of this.

I call this emergency response the “defensive adaptive response” and view it as a short term “knee jerk “reaction by the body trying to contain the threat.  When the defensive adaptive response is triggered inappropriately, is amplified to an extreme or becomes established as a chronic pattern, it can become a disease state with harmful long term consequences.

It would seem to me that the asthmatic defensive response could be triggered by a wide range factors on which over oxygenation is just one. Pollen and other allergens, pollutants may be others. Even temperature changes may provoke a reaction is lungs weakened and sensitised by a long term infection.   From my point of view Butekyo was looking in the right direction, but with too narrow a focus.

The tightening of the airways which characterises asthma is controlled by the autonomic or involuntary nervous system.  In some ways it is no different to any deep unconcious tension in the body.  I believe there is scope to approach asthma  by encouraging the body to release the constricting tension and retraining its response to the stimulus which triggers the constricting defensive response.

Breathing exercises such as Lian Gong and tai chi are essential here but it may surprise some readers to discover that massage and bodywork have a role to play.  I have been treating client’s with asthma for many years and have repeatedly seem significant improvements.

Acupressure and its western equivalent Neuromuscular Technique (NMT) work by identifying and stimulating points on the skin and in the muscles which trigger beneficial responses in the nervous system.  Typically this will involve the relaxation of local muscular tension or the retuning of the nervous system as a whole away from a defensive adaptive response towards a relaxed recuperative state.

Of course you can’t get in and massage the lungs directly but there are many places on the surface of the body which appear to have a reflex effect on the lungs themselves.  What I find with many clients with asthma is that they have a lot of tight hardened tissue around the middle and upper spine, the shoulder and and chest with many sore tender spots.  The rib cage itself feels inflexible and ridged. Typically too their breathing patterns are shallow and restricted with little movement in the diaphragm.

As I work with a combination of pressure techniques, stretches and mobilisations, breathing gradually deepens and the rib cage returns to its natural supple flexible state.  Clients’ subjective responses are often marked and immediate, expressing delight in being able to take the first really good deep breaths they have taken in years. The improvement in asthma symptoms tends to be slow and gradual.  In combination with with other holistic methods such as herbs and breathing exercises changes can be expected over six months to a year of regular treatment.

So this brings me back to my starting point.

A rib cage is a soft, supple, flexible basket which supports the lungs and gives them space to work properly.

A shark cage is a ridged hard box which defends divers from attacks by sharks.

So many people seem to have got shark cages instead of rib cages.  My job is to turn them back into rib cages.

Posted by: Integra Massage | May 23, 2011

Three supplements that make a powerful difference to health

Do you get panicked looking through the catalogues of nutritional supplement suppliers? It seems as if every supplement is going to be essential to your continued well being and that you will have to remortgage the house!

Many people take vitamin and mineral supplements, over half of adults in the USA according to a recent report. However I rarely recommend and even more rarely use vitamin and mineral supplements.  I have real doubts about their effectiveness, absorb-ability  and the untested effects of large doses over a long time.  I continue to believe that we do best getting our micronutrients from our food. I have listened to the people who say that in the modern age we cannot get enough vitamins and minerals from our diet, but I have also noted that this view is mainly expressed by people who have an interest in making or selling supplements. I believe that with a little effort and thought, we can eat a fully nutritious diet.

Interestingly, the composition of many vitamin and mineral supplements have changed over the years with more and more nutrients being added, more supporting phtyochemicals and compounds that are closer to natural ones.  In fact, supplements are gradually becoming more and more like … well….. food!  I think that says something.

But there are a very few supplements I do take on a daily basis because they make a very powerful difference to health. So here are the three supplements I would not want to live without.

1. An Adaptogenic Tonic

The term “adaptogen” was invented by the Russian scientist Israel Brekham to describe medicinal plants that have a generalised strengthening effect on the body’s systems.  Many adaptogens have been known since ancient times as tonics and rejunevators.  The first adaptogens to become popular in the west were Ginseng and its distant relative Elutherococus, (popularly but incorrectly known as Siberian Ginseng).  Since then scores of adaptogenic herbs have been “discovered” and from a scientific point of view they are among the most thoroughly researched plants.

My favourite adaptogen is Rhodiola Rosea or Golden Root.  This small plant with pretty yellow flowers grows across northern Eurasia in Siberia, Tibet, Scandinavia and even Wales. Traditional peoples in northern Asia used it to treat tiredness, depression and impotence.  It was the primary longevity herb of Tibet. Vikings used it to give stamina and endurance in battle.

Research on Rhodiola began in Russia in the 1960s and there is now an impressive body of laboratory and clinic evidence that Rhodiola may:

  • Increase energy, endurance and stamina
  • Help reduce stress and anxiety
  • Can decrease the recovery time needed after strenuous muscular workouts
  • Uplift mood
  • Promote mental clarity and mental performance
  • Prevent heart arrhythmia
  • Improve libido and sexual responses
  • Enhance fertility
  • Promote healthy sleep
  • Protect the body from cellular damage

My experience with Rhodiola is that within a few days of regular use, one is likely to be aware of an increased sense of physical and mental well being, greater stamina and capacity for work and exercise and a stronger libido. The herb is largely free from side effects except that some people may feel a mild stimulant effect which could affect sleep if it is taken in excessive doses or late in the day.

In conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, good diet and proper exercise regime, I consider the use of adaptogens like Rhodiola to be one of the keys to good health.

The ideal form to take Rhodiola would be the highest quality roots freshly tinctured, but for most people a capsulated standardised extract is the most reliable and convenient form.  Earthrise Foods sell a high quality Rhodiola extract that I often recommend to clients.  The usual dose in one to two capsules per day.  I recommend cycling Rhodiola with other adaptogens, taking for a month and then taking a break or switching to another herb.  Most often I alternate Rhodiola with the adaptogenic mushroom Cordyceps, another amazing healing plant that I blog about in the future.

2. Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins

Don’t even try to pronounce it! Most people simply say OPCs.  Grape Seed Extract, Pine Bark Extract and Pycnogenol are names that refer to OPC rich supplements.  (pycnogenol has been hijacked as a trademark in the USA but in Europe it is a generic term for pine bark extract.)

OPC’s are often referred to as “super antioxidants”.  Antioxidants are nutrients that protect the body from cellular damage and thereby are essential in the prevention of aging, cardiovascular problems, cancer and a host of other health issues.  Vitamins C, A and E, zinc and selenium are examples of important anti-oxidants used by the body.  OPCs are perhaps the powerful antioxidant available to us. Research suggests that OPCs protective function may be 50-100 times greater than vitamin E. Interestingly OPCs actually allow the body to recycle vitamin C and E, increasing their effectiveness.

Research suggests that OPCs have an extraordinarily wide range of benefits primarily relating to blood circulation and cardiovascular health.  They also appear to be beneficial in a number of serious chronic aliments including arthritis, migraine, endometriosis, diabetes, MS and macular degeneration. As one of few nutrients that can directly pass the blood-brain barrier they may have a significant effect on age related brain degeneration. Here is a representative list:

  • Lowers blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide production
  • Reduces the risks of blood clots by improving blood viscosity
  • Protects and strengthens blood vessels and capillaries and helps with varicose veins and oedema
  • Normalises cholesterol
  • Normalises blood sugar levels
  • May increase fat breakdown whilst decreasing fat storage
  • May improve lung function and help with asthma
  • Has a anti allergy effect
  • Reduces inflammatory diseases like psoriasis
  • May protect skin against sunburn and reduce risk of some cancers
  • Has an affinity with connective tissue and may slow the aging of skin and joints
  • Is a natural anti inflamatory that may ease arthritic pain
  • May reduce menstrual cramps
  • May reduce estrogen dominance and help with PMS, menopause etc
  • Improves sperm quality and function
  • alleviates erectile dysfunction
  • may benefit the prostate
  • Improves eye health

If you think that list reads like an encyclopedia of modern health issues, then you will be beginning to realise why I consider OPCs to be such a valuable supplement.

OPCs are usually free of harmful side effects but you will need to exercise caution  with their use if you are taking blood thining medication like Wafarin or Heparin. If you are using medication to control cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar, you will need to be careful because OPCs will increase the action of these drugs.  Regular use of OPCs could reduce or eliminate dependency on such drugs, but I strongly recommend that you monitor this in conjunction with your GP and qualified complementary health care providers.

OPCs are one supplement I recommend taking long term.  But please do not regard them as a replacement for regular intake of antioxidants in your diet.  OPCs will work best in conjunction with a diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and low in refined carbohydrates, transfats, alcohol and other sources of cellular damage.

I recommend a daily dose of 100-150mg of grape seed extract (not grapefruit seed extract!!!) or pycnogenol.  With serious health conditions double the dose for a month to flood your system with OPCs.  Make sure the product you buy is listed as containing 95% OPCs.  Again I recommend Earthrise Foods. (Please note that I have no connection with that company but I do like their products.)

3. Black Seed Oil

Black Seed (or Black Cumin Seed or Nigella Sativa) is a medicinal plant that grows in the Middle East and particularly Egypt.  It is in fact a member of the Buttercup family and unrelated to Cumin. The seeds are used medicinally and in cooking. (There is a Turkish restaurant in York that makes beautiful flat breads flavoured with Black Cumin Seeds).  However it is the oil that is most prized for its healing properties.

There is an Arabic saying that Black Seed cures everything but death.  May be, may be not, but it is a treasury of healing.

Firstly ,like oils derived from Evening Primrose, Borage (Starflower) and Black Current seed, Black Seed Oil is a potent source of the omega 6 essential fatty acid Gamma Linoleic Acid (GLA). This nutrient is important to for the regulation of the body’s inflammatory response.  GLA may be helpful to anyone with an inflammatory condition.  By reputation and in some cases research it may have a beneficial effect on: diabetic neuropathy, arthritis, allergies, breast cancer, eczema, high blood pressure, menopause, mastaglia, osteoporosis and PMS.

It also contains nigellone, which is a bronchial dilator, and beta-sitosterol, which help to prevent enlargement of the prostate and has anti tumour properties. There are a host of other nutrients in the oil which add to its effectiveness.

I first encountered Black Seed Oil as an extraordinarily effective remedy for allergies, particularly to pollen and pet hair, asthma and respiratory problems generally.  It is also a potent anti fungal when applied to the skin.  Traditional uses also encompass skin problems, chronic fatigue, diabetes, digestive problems, headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, joint pains, kidney stones, impotence and PMS.  In other words it is a bit of a cure all!

Black Seed Oil is widely available, but you need to sure of a good source.  Only cold pressed oil is worth using.  I have always obtained my oil from Iman Products .  The oil has a pungent spicy flavour which is not to everyone’s taste. You can get in capsules or stir it into some juice if you really need to diguise it.  Dose is two 5ml teaspoons a day.

Black Seed Oil is not a particularly rich source of another essential fatty acid: omega 3.  We can obtain Omega 3 from oily fish, flax seeds/oil, walnuts, good free range eggs and a few other sources.  If your diet is not rich in these food.  You would do well to take a supplement of fish oil, krill oil or flax seed oil as well.

If you have enjoyed this article or found it helpful please share it with your friends.  You can also visit my website  and follow me on twitter or become a Facebook fan.

Posted by: Integra Massage | May 10, 2011

The Health Benefits of Walking

People often seek my advice as to the best form of exercise for general health.  Knowing that I practice Tai Chi and work out with kettlebells, they assume I will suggest something along these lines.  But no, the advice I give most often is to get out in the open air and walk.

Walking in easy (we’ve been doing almost all our life, costs nothing is enjoyable to say the least and is remarkably good for you.

Good for your heart: Studies have shown that regular moderate walking cuts the risk of dying from heart disease and lowers blood pressure.

Good for your metabolism: Again research has shown that walking 30 minutes a day reduces your risk of diabetes regardless of your weight.

Good for your immune system.  Walking has been shown to reduce the risk of bowel cancer and improve breast cancer survival rates.

Good for longevity: Active people in their 50s and 60s are 35 percent less likely to die than sedentary people.

Good for your sex life:  Another study showed that a brisk 2 mile walk daily can reudce the risk of erectile dysfunction.

Good for your muscles bones and joints.  One study showed that 3 hours of brisk walking a day reduced the pain, debility and distress of back pain. Other studies have emphasised the benefits of gentle exercise for arthritis.

This list goes on and on…….

And walking is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable pastimes. You can walk alone and be lost in your thoughts, walk with friends and family, enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

There is a little wooded valley 10 minutes drive from where I live. I go there at least twice a week, my wife goes more often.  We have had the joy of the secession of spring flowers, bird song, the occasional sight of a Kingfisher, trout darting in the stream, the chance of a deer or otter.  We can walk an hour, may be two on winding paths that rise and fall, exercising our muscles, our lungs and heart, the movement encouraging blood circulation and massaging our body.  We return enlivened, at peace and with keen appetite.  Nothing would persuade me to give that up in favour of a gym or health club.

I have a client with chronic joint and back problems who took to walking for exercise and pleasure a few years ago.  She joined local walking groups and now does 25 mile challenges, moonlite all nighters, expeditions to the Scottish Highlands and is soon off to Kilimanjaro.

For another client a slowround of the local park has got her out of the house which had become a prison due to  arthritis.

And 25 years ago I overcame 6 months of debilitating chronic post viral fatigue, through a walking tour of my favourite hills in Wales.

I have a homeopath to thank for that.  Instead of giving me a remedy he simply said:  “you must walk”  How right he was.

Posted by: Integra Massage | April 6, 2011

Of Colds and’Flus and Peppermint tea

Peppermint tea

Image via Wikipedia


Yesterday I suggested to a member of my Twitter community who was going down with a ‘flu bug to drink Peppermint tea.  The standard medical advice in this situation is a couple of paracetamol and rest.  That will certainly give some relief of discomfort, but can we do more?

Certain herbs, notably Echinacea have been greatly hyped for their supposed ability to help us fight a cold or ‘flu.  Research evidence is divided on this topic, and while I think it is likely that enough really high quality Echinacea will help, my experience has been that the results are not dramatic.

Traditionally, in both folk medicine and the ancient traditions of Oriental and Ayurvedic medicine, sweating therapy was the treatment of choice for the initial stages of acute infections.  Hot baths, saunas or sweat lodges together with sweat inducing teas were used to raise body temperature and open the skin pores.  The idea is that by raising body temperature and increasing circulation, the body’s natural defences would be mobilised to fight of the invader.

This is of course why we get a temperature when we have a bug.  The raised temperature is the body adjusting itself to the optimum state for the immune system to function. We have all experienced the sequence of chills, where the body is trying to heat itself up followed by sweat and burning as it reaches it peak.  Often the body will go through several waves of temperature rises before it finally deals with the bug.

In many ways then the approach of supressing the raised temperature with paracetamol is working against the immune system.  Sweating on the other hand works with it.

To come back to Peppermint.  This is one of a wide range of herbs which have a diaphoretic or sweat inducing effect.  Other diaphoretic herbs include Ginger, Yarrow, Sage, Lemon Balm and Elderflowers and my Twitter friend would have done best with a mixture of several of them.

The procedure is simple.  At the first sign of a bug, drink a cup or two of herb tea and either retire under the duvet with a hot water bottle or into a hot bath until you break a sweat.  Then rest.  You can do this a couple of times a day.

Does it work?  Yes, quite a lot of the time if you catch the bug early enough.  I have several times stopped a cold dead in tracks by sweating.  At the least it will help the bug through more quickly and give as much symptomatic relief as paracetamol without being toxic to your liver.

Peppermint has other healing properties that help with colds and flu’s.  It is an anti-spasmodic, which means that it relives tension in the muscles and helps with ‘fluey body aches.  It is also a pain reliever which has a mild anesthetic effect on the mucous membranes.  It also has some effect of drying up mucus secretions and decongesting the nasal passages.

Peppermint’s other main field of action is on the digestive system.  Its carminative effect means that it relieves gas, bloating and intestinal spasm.  It relieves nausea but not as effectively as Ginger; and it stimulates the flow of bile which promotes good appetite and assimilation.  A few years back Peppermint oil was hyped as the cure for irritable bowel symdrome (even GPs recommend it).  While it is certainly not a “cure” for this complex and multi level disorder, many people find Peppermint oil capsules do ease digestive pain and spasm.  As a word of caution, always take the oil in capsules – never neat!

In Chinese medicine Peppermint’s close relative Bohe is considered to release stagnant energy from the chest and upper body.  It is used in combination with other herbs for headaches, premenstrual symptoms and tension and anxiety.

So, Peppermint is a wonderful and very useful herb.  As with all herbs, the effectiveness depends on the quality of the material.  Peppermint tea bags from the supermaket will probably have a rather muted effect.  A half opened packet stored for years at the back of the spice cupboard will be dead.  So buy in small quantities from a good herb dealer like Baldwins and use within 3 months.  Best of all grow your own.

To make Peppermint tea, infuse about 15g of dried herb or a handfull of fresh leaves in a half pint of water covered for 5-10 mins.  Do not boil.

With Colds and flu’s the best thing is not to get them in the first place…. but that will have to be the subject of another blog article.

For more information on herbs, please see my website



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