Addicts May Find Relief in Qi Gong

Addiction comes in many forms, from cigarettes to alcohol to food. And those suffering may find remedy in a surprising form: qi gong.

Qi gong (pronounced "CHEE-gung") is an ancient technique that incorporates soft movements and breathing techniques. It's considered a cousin of tai chi, a more well-known Chinese practice that helps the mind relieve stress. 

For a study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers examined how qi gong affects cocaine cravings. The 101 participants, all of whom were recovering from cocaine dependencies, were split into two groups. The first group received a form of qi gong by a trained professional while the other had "sham" treatment – a placebo or fake qi gong – by an actor. Following two weeks of treatments, videos and other materials were shown to the subject to stimulate their cravings. 

The results: The individuals who had qi gong demonstrated reductions in cravings, stress and depression. 

David Smelson, PsyD, vice chair of clinical research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, shared his opinion on the findings. 

"We found an effect that's positive. What we don't know, for example, is how long that effect will last and, more importantly, whether the effect of reducing cravings actually results in people being sober for more time," Smelson said in press release.

Cravings in the Brain
Previous research indicates that drug cravings can be traced back to a "craving center" in the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, a small pea-shaped area in the frontal lobe of the brain. The anterior cingulate cortex is often responsible for long-term cravings that remain with addicts long after they've shed their habits. This region becomes activated when addicts have brain scans following cue exposure to drugs. It is here that the brain stores memories of feelings of excitement and pleasure associated with the substance.

"Our interpretation is that [the healers in our study] were reducing the blockage of energy in the amygdala and frontal lobes, or the craving areas of the brain," Smelson told the source. 

While qi gong proved to be a potential solution for this study, Smelson cautioned that further research is necessary to corroborate the findings. 

To take the research one step further, investigators might hone in on another part of the brain, the orbital frontal cortex, that determines whether people act on those cravings. Better understanding the temptation mixed with a follow through of drug addicts may help researchers take strides in treatment development in the future.

Tips for Stress-Free Holidays

The holidays are meant to be a joyful part of year when we get to spend time with family, friends and loved ones. But with so much work to be done before the festivities arrive, holiday stress has some people dreading the get-togethers instead of welcoming them. If you find yourself grappling with anxiousness around this time of year, here are some ways to shed the stress and simply enjoy:

1. Sleep
One of the biggest things that people overlook this time of year is getting a good night's rest. The building block for looking and feeling your best, sleep is essential in your holiday schedule. It helps keep a strong immune system so you don't get sick during this people-packed season. Ditch your electronics by 9 p.m. and get to bed by 10 p.m. every night. Try to seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. For those who find their cell phones a distraction or temptation, recharge it in a different room. 

2. Drink plenty of water
Most people in the U.S. don't drink enough water throughout the day. As you find yourself running around crossing things off the checklist, make sure you stay hydrated. Water helps your body to flush toxins and stay healthy. The rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily – for example, a 140-pound person should consume about 70 ounces, or around 9 cups, of water each day. Crank this number up on days when you exercise.

3. Practice yoga
Participate in calming activities such as yoga. Never tried yoga before? No problem, there are plenty of great Dahn Yoga classes for beginners. Research shows yoga helps reduce stress levels and boost circulation. By focusing on your breathing and getting the blood flowing, the mind-body technique has the power to lower blood pressure and slow heart rate. It also increases flexibility and helps protect you against injury. See, it pays to hit the mat!

4. Meditate
The beauty of meditation is that you can do it anywhere you go. Whether you're stuck in line at the grocery store, finishing last-minute work at the office or pondering what's next at home, you might want to try a little micro-meditation. To practice this technique, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Then bring attention to your senses – listen to the stirring of the wind outside, taste the mint flavor of your gum and feel the warmth of a nearby object. This can be an efficient way to reboot your system – just leave your phone out of the equation. If you have more time, spend 15 to 20 minutes a day meditating in a quiet environment.

5. Schedule "Me" Time
Carve some "me" time in your schedule. Whether you enjoy taking a hot bath, reading a book or chatting with your family, taking a break from hustle and bustle can leave you with some holiday cheer when it matters most. Find your cool-down mechanism and stick to it this holiday season.

What tricks do you do to ease stress during the holidays?

Managing Stress Hormones

With our jam-packed schedules and demanding work responsibilities, it can be hard to slow down. But too much work can send stress levels surging, and many people do not understand that cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone, can throw the body out of whack.

Cortisol increases glucose in the bloodstream and interferes with the immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic. The hormone has even been linked to weight gain. However, it's not just small, normal amounts of stress such as when we're nervous about giving a work presentation – the deleterious effects emerge with chronic anxiety. 

Body Science
When you encounter a stressful situation, your hypothalamus, a small region at the base of your brain, fires off an alarm system. In turn, this system spurs your adrenal glands, located above your kidneys, to release a swath of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. While essential in flight-or-fight scenarios, cortisol halts functions unnecessary for these dire straits. It suppresses the digestive system, curbs the growth process and changes the immune system responses. When the stress system is continually activated, your body becomes at risk for a number of health problems. 

That's where meditation and yoga enter the picture: These mind-body techniques help slice out anxiety from the framework. Dr. Sara Gottfried, a Harvard Medical School graduate who runs her own integrative-medicine practice in Berkeley, California, told Experience Life magazine that anxiety is a public enemy, but meditation and yoga have proven quite effective for her and her patients. 

"You have to find ways of hitting your stress-reset button – and that's a very individualized prescription," Gottfried explained to the source. "What works for me may not work for you. I do yoga, I meditate every morning, but each of us has to seek out our own solutions."

She recommends experimenting with different treatments. Whether you start meditation, yoga poses, a new exercise regimen or acupuncture healing treatments, it's important to take note of the result you get from doing a small amount of it. 

"If you are trying out meditation or yoga, for example, start with five to 10 minutes, then ask: 'Am I getting at least a partial response here? And if so, would a larger dose generate a better response?' Then adjust accordingly." Gottfied went on to say, "There's something about the objective observation of one's own experience that is hugely valuable when it comes to resetting your hormones." 

Balance Cortisol
Both men and women live with cortisol hormonal problems. Depending on how long you've lived with the lingering stress, it generally takes a minimum of four weeks for your body to level out cortisol levels. Hyper-producing coristol for either gender means you're going to make fewer sex hormones. For males, managing cortisol allows the body to create more testosterone, and for women, it means more estrogen.

No matter what stage of life you're in, it's never too late to try Dahn Yoga or other mind-body techniques. Constant pressures from today's society keep that stress switch on, but you don't have to let stress control your life. 

World Acupuncture Awareness Week

Have you been curious about acupuncture but never tried it? During World Acupuncture Week, from Nov. 16-22, and beyond, you can learn about the array of benefits that this ancient Chinese practice offers. 

Acupuncture has the potential to reduce pain, mitigate arthritis, soothe indigestion, dull headaches and many more benefits. It has been gaining momentum in mainstream Western culture, too. Even Harvard Medical School said, "Acupuncture is worth a try for chronic pain."

What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture involves inserting hair-thin metal needles superficially through the skin at certain points on the body to relieve pain or bodily function. This is thought to correct imbalances in the flow of energy in the body, called qi (pronounced "chee"). Scientifically speaking, acupuncture is believed to ease pain by affecting neurotransmitters, the immune system and the hormone levels. 

Without a doubt, the main reason people visit an acupuncture clinic is to try to lower the amount of pain they have. While the effectiveness of acupuncture has been widely debated, scientific literature suggests its benefits are real. 

What Science Says
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, patients reported that acupuncture lowered chronic pain by 15 percent compared to sham (fake acupuncture) and no acupuncture. Their symptoms lessened for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain.

The researchers concluded, "Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option."

A separate study from Brazilian researchers showed the acupuncture therapy alleviated heartburn and indigestion in pregnant women. While one group of pregnant women was given a combination of acupuncture and medications, another group received classes on dietary changes and medications if needed. The results highlighted that 75 percent of the women in the acupuncture had a decline in heartburn intensity and antacid use, whereas only 44 percent of women in other group had the same effects. 

What's more, a review of more than 20 studies involving acupuncture therapy, migraines and tension headaches suggested that regular acupuncture therapy was effective at preventing migraines and tension headaches from becoming a problem. 

Plus, unlike most modern medications, there are hardly any reported side effects with acupuncture. 

Growing Alternative Medicine
About 3 million American adults receive acupuncture every year, according to JAMA. Harvard recommends that for people who are just beginning this healing treatment, plan on weekly treatment until they start to see a benefit, then lengthen the time until the next visit is needed. A full assessment from you local practitioner followed by a course of treatment over weeks may be what you need to get you on the road to recovery. 

Even if you've missed the week-long celebrations, you can partake in acupuncture. Search for a trusted, certified provider at the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or by calling the organization at 904-598-1005.

Have you ever tried acupuncture? Did you see any benefits?

Does Meditation Work?

Many people may be curious and even skeptical about meditation at first. "Does it work?" "Is meditation worth it?" – these are common questions, and the majority of people who try the ancient practice tend to think it has the power to boost brain potential – even doctors say so. 

Focus is the Name of the Game
Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and author of "Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy," told Time that meditation can bolster a range of mental tasks, from quieting the mind during stressful times to learning how to establish a divider between one's thoughts and bad habits.

First off, it's important to understand that meditation is an umbrella term for a lot of different types of mental activities. Some of the popular kinds include mindfulness, Zezen, qi gong and guided visualization. 

"There are thousands of different types of meditation," Newberg explained to the source. 

But despite their slight differences, the common denominator is focusing your attention, a habit that's becoming harder and harder to achieve in the world of digital distraction. 

"That focusing could be on a word or object or physical motion," Newberg told Time. "But regardless, the type of focusing involved in meditation activates the brain's frontal lobe, which is involved in concentration, planning, speech and other executive functions like problem solving."

Just like lifting dumbbells can build arm strength, working out with meditation has the ability to strengthen the mind, especially against stress. Studies have shown that meditating can reduce the flow of stress-related hormones, in turn softening emotional responses. As Time columnist Markham Heid eloquently put it, meditation benefits the brain's ability to "carry life's emotional cargo."

Whether you're going through a breakup or under pressure at work, sitting down for 15 minutes a day to practice the ancient technique could prove to be fruitful. 

Emotional Power
Newberg also points out that there's some evidence that meditation helps build one's self-identity by helping you feel more connected to others and less isolated within yourself. 

As counterintuitive as it may sound, meditation can help your brain get out of its own way. Mindfulness is one style that's been gaining lots of traction lately, mainly because it can be practiced anywhere. It's mobile meditation! The idea behind is this: By paying extreme attention to your sensory inputs right now – how the room smells, the sound of the wind blowing outside the window, the mint taste of your chewing gum – you can enjoy the richness of every moment. 

To try it out for yourself, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Feel the inhalation run from your nose all of the way down to the diaphragm. Then exhale slowly. If your mind wanders, bring it back – but don't harass yourself from straying off task. Tangents are natural, and the more you practice mindful meditation, the less frequent these digressions will become. 

How is Dahn Yoga Different From Other Forms of Yoga?

This is a common question that arises among yoga beginners. While there are dozens of different types of yoga, Dahn Yoga focuses on changing your energy. 

Originated in Korea, Dahn Yoga integrates Korean Taoist philosophy and the holistic principles of the Korean Oriental medicine tradition. Energy is the central pillar of the ancient practice, as energy is the source of everything, and practitioners can develop a deeper understanding of their body and mind through the ancient technique.

Being healthy doesn't just revolve around physical fitness – it also stresses a healthy mind and spirit. The understanding of life energy, or qi, is essential to this concept of health. 

Many people spend countless hours at work with their minds idling. Dahn Yoga is meant to awaken and revitalize the mind, sharpening focus to develop the individual's create potential. By learning how to feel energy, you can quiet your mind, become better at focusing and awaken the dormant part of your brain. 

Unlike some intense styles of yoga, Dahn Yoga is suitable for people of all ages and physical abilities. It welcomes everyone from athletes to individuals with limited physical abilities, and yoga beginners to veteran yogis. Its soothing motions and incorporation of breathing exercises work to clear up the blocked pathways in the body and mind. 

There are five steps of awakening your brain:

Step 1: Sensitizing
This step underscores physical health, enhanced focus and awareness.

Step 2: Versatilizing
Start cross-training parts of the brain to enhance creativity, establishing a more resilient mindset. 

Step 3: Refreshing
Maintain a positive outlook. Attitude percolates through all spheres of life, from relationships to personal success, so keeping a buoyant perspective on things can make a world of difference. Many people don't realize that happiness is something you have to work at, but with Dahn Yoga, the goal is always within reach. 

Step 4: Integrating
As you become more familiar with the practice, you might start applying the energy principles in your every day life. Living with core values is a cornerstone of Step 4. 

Step 5: Mastering
It is at this final stage that you can realize the power of your choice. It's time to take authorship of one's life.

What Harvard Medical School Says About Tai Chi

In a time when Western medicine is the go-to treatment for nearly every illness, Harvard Medical School has a lot of enlightening things to say about tai chi, a holistic practice that has been used for thousands of years. 

"Tai chi is often described as 'meditation in motion,' but it might well be called 'medication in motion,'" said the school's website. 

This low-impact, slow-motion exercise, which originated in China as a martial art, offers value in treating and even preventing a number of health problems, including pain, stiffness, sleep disorders and shingles. 

In a three-month study, people with osteoarthritis reported reduced less joint pain and stiffness than when they started, compared to patients in a control group. What's more, tai chi can enhance sleep. Oregon researchers found that tai chi participants had improved sleep quality and length. The benefits have been compared to those gained through sleep-inducing drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy, according to WebMD. 

"A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for tai chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age," Peter Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center, said on the school's website. 

A Breakdown of Tai Chi
Typically, a tai chi class includes three parts. 

First, students will start with warm-ups and easy motions, such as shoulder circles. In this movement, one turns the head from side to side or back and forth to loosen the muscles and joints while focusing on breath.

The second part revolves around instruction and practice of tai chi forms. For tai chi for beginners, forms mean a set of movements. Short forms may include a dozen movements while long forms could include hundreds. Depending on the class, different styles require smaller or larger movements. In the beginning, slower movement are usually recommended.

Lastly, qi gong, which translates into "energy work," consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing combined with movement. 

A great thing about tai chi is that even if you aren't in top shape or the best health you can practice it. With balance improvements, arthritis exercises and enhanced flexibility, tai chi benefits the elderly as well as young beginners. There's a reason this ancient practice is still around today – find out what it can do for you!

Researchers to Test Qi Gong in Aging Process among Traumatized Women

For the average person working 9 to 5, qi gong exercises have shown to relieve stress. But for women who suffer from chronic pyschological stress after a traumatizing experience, it may be extremely challenging to suppress the thoughts and emotions lingering from the event. 

Recently, researchers have been designing a study to test qi gong's effects on women suffering from traumatizing flash backs, such as those from abuse. 

In general, these women and others suffering from post-traumatic stress have shorter telomeres, which are DNA sequence present in the cell division process associated with aging. Each time a cell divides, some of the telomere is lost, and when the telomere becomes too short, the chromosome reaches a critical length and can no longer replicate. In essence, this means that a cell becomes "old" and dies.

Beyond individuals actually aging over the years, specific mentally disturbing instances can shorten telomeres. The exact biological mechanisms responsible for this are not fully understood, and researchers are aiming to reveal them in this new study. 

Slowing Down the Aging Process
For the study, researchers will recruit 240 Chinese women ages 18 and older who have been abused within the last three years. The study protocol is published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and is expected to produce monumental results

Researchers are hopeful that the study will unveil new information on telomerase activity and chronic psychological stress in women. The concept of health-promoting behaviors, the authors wrote, could slow down cellular aging, or in other words, the aging process.

The women will receive either a qi gong intervention or a wait-list control condition. The first group is set to have qi gong training sessions twice a week for six weeks, with a one-hour follow-up group qi gong exercise session once a week for four months. They will also practice the ancient technique for 30 minutes once a day for 5.5 months. 

The wait-list control group will receive qi gong training after the intervention group completes the program. 

Investigators are expecting that traumatized women who practice qi gong will have higher levels of telomerase activity and perceived coping as well as lower levels of cytokines, stress and depressive symptoms. 

The World Health Organization estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide have been physically or sexually abused by their intimate partners at some time in their lives. It's time to figure out new methods to not only alleviate these symptoms, but prevent them. 

Imagery Mind-Body Technique

MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he visualized the whole Super Bowl before he even stepped foot on the field, where he would go on to lead the Green Bay Packers to victory in 2010. 

Tapping into the mind's eye is a powerful technique used by not just athletes, but everyone from CEOs to doctors to those recovering from an injury. 

People looking for a new mind-body technique may want to try imagery exercises, which uses creative exercises to picture scenarios that relax and heal. They can practiced on your own or with a facilitator guiding you, which is called guided imagery. 

Similar to Dahn Yoga exercises that can provide stretching, soothing and healing treatments, imagery is a mind-body therapy that's been shown to lower stress. 

A common relaxation practice is to visualize yourself in your "happy" place that puts your mind and body at ease. This may be at the beach with the waves washing calmly on shore, in a hammock feeling the warm breeze brush against your skin or at home in the couch listening to your favorite album. The trick is to incorporate all your senses. Although it's called imagery, conjure the sense of smell, taste, feel and hearing too. This will help transport you to another place, and temporarily relieve sensations of stress and tension. 

Another example is to imagine an orange in great detail – the smell, the shape, the texture of the peel. Then continue to imagine that you take a bite of the orange and feel the juice squirt into your mouth. Many people salivate while doing this – which underlines how your body can respond to what you are imagining.

Studies have indicated that the use of guided imagery noticeably improve stress levels, anxiety management and post-operative healing. It can also help lower blood pressure and other problems related to stress. It may be applied to reaching goals such as quitting smoking or losing weight.

The foundation to self-healing is methodically communicating the desired messages or behavioral changes to your subconscious mind in its language: imagery. Have you ever noticed that watching a powerful movie or gripping dream can seem to produce the same effect on your body as if it were happening in real life? The subconscious reacts to this feeling and can work wonders.

Just like Rodgers, you can tap into the power of visualization in the imagery mind-body therapy. 

Qi Gong May Improve Tactile Problems for Kids With Autism

Some children with autism experience sensory challenges. The most common problem revolves around the sense of touch. What that means is that these children don't register pain normally or they register gentle touches in an unpleasant way.

"Touch is the master sense," Dr. Louisa Silva, who has a medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master's degree in public health from the Medical College of Wisconsin, explained to The Oregonian. "It's the one to coordinate the brain and the body and to give the brain and the child a sense of where they are physically in time and space. … When touch is abnormal, the other senses don't work together."

Silva believes that qi gong may be able to help children with autism. Qi gong, an ancient technique pronounced "CHEE-gung" could lessen this type of sensory challenge for youngsters with autism. Silva has co-authored 12 studies have been published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork.

With qi gong, children have learned to overcome their reluctance for this sense. One child in Silva's studies, for instance, used to shriek when someone would try to touch his chest. However, after several qi gong massage sessions, the same child learned how to lay quietly during the same touch. There is even a qi gong video that tracks this progression.

The treatment could also help parents who naturally reach, touch and play with their children. Sensory difficulties can get in the way of that. But qi gong might just be able to straighten out the problem. 

Qi gong is like a cousin of tai chai. Incorporating soft movements and tactile sensation, the practice has proven beneficial for people old and young.

Tips for your healthier, happier and more peaceful life