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Massage Techniques – Part 2

There is a lot of misinformation and prejudice towards Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and oriental techniques in general. Since this is what I specialise in I decided to talk about few manipulative techniques that can be used together (or separately) to restore the natural energy balance and body wellness.

Hopefully this small contribution to the body of knowledge on the web will help setting the record straight about the true and proven benefits of TCM.

This is the second part, and if you missed the first one you can find it here.

CUPPING

Cupping therapy might be trendy and “new agey” now, but it is definetely not new. It goes back to ancient Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures, described first also in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1,550 B.C. This therapy consists in placing special cups, heated with fire using alcohol or herbs, on the skin for a few minutes to create suction. The cups can be made of glass, bamboo or silicone, and the session can be described as “wet” or “dry”.

During a dry session of cupping only suction is used, and the cups can be removed and replaced quickly or simply dragged along your skin. During the wet cupping instead a tiny cut on your skin is made and the suction of the cups is used to drag out a small quantity of blood. Your practitioner, your medical condition, and your preferences will help determine what method is used, but to be honest I have never seen wet cupping being used in a Western country.

At the base of cupping’s principles there is the belief that the suction facilitates the healing with the flow of blood and “qi” in the body. This may relieve local muscle tension, but generally improve relaxation, overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the scars. Cupping has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including migraines, anxiety, fertility, rheumatic disease, blood disorders, skin disorders etc.

Before you get concerned, I must say there aren’t many side effects associated with cupping. But the ones you may experience will typically occur during your treatment or immediately after. These includes feeling lightheaded or dizzy, sweating or nausea. If you will experience wet cupping there is an higher risk of infection, burning or bruising, although some red bruises left by the cups are perfectly normal and will disappear in maximum 3 to 4 days. Extra caution should be taken also for children, seniors, pregnant or menstruating women, but generally always check with your GP or pratictioner first.

GUA SHA

Gua sha is a natural, alternative therapy coming from ancient China that involves scraping your skin with a massage tool to improve your circulation. The name comes from the word “gua”, that means “scraping” and “sha”, which are the transitory therapeutic petechiae intentionally created by the pratictioner with the tool.

Usually before the session the pratictioner applies massage oil on the skin, then starts scraping it with short or long strikes and always towards one direction. Generally gua sha is performed on a person’s back, buttocks, neck, arms, and legs, but a gentle version of it is even used on the face.

This technique is intended to address stagnant energy, qi, in the body responsible for inflammation. Rubbing the skin’s surface is thought to help break up this energy, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. That is why it is usually used to relieve muscle and joint pain and relief musculoskeletal disorders. But gua sha can also boost the immune system healping treating a cold, fever, or problems with the lungs, and other benefits include helping women during menopause, insomnia, anxiety and fatigue.

But, does it have any side effect? As a natural healing remedy, I can say gua sha is safe. It should not be painful, but because it involves rubbing or scraping skin bruises can occur, although you should not bleed. Bruising usually disappears within a couple of days, but if you take blood thinners or had recent surgery you should not have the treatment done. As always, check with your GP and pratictioner.

Discover the properties of Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is also known as medicinal aloe, “lily of the desert” or “elephant’s gall” and it belongs to the family of succulent plants in the genus ‘Aloe’. Its origin is believed to be in Sudan and has been used for more than 6,000 years, being recognized by many civilizations including the Egyptians, Spanish, Persians, Greeks, Italians, Africans, Japanese, and Indians. It grows best in warm and dry climates and that is why it is densely found in those areas, but it can be easily grown both indoors and outdoors.

Aloe Vera plant is often a stemless or sometimes very short-stemmed juicy plant that grows around 60–100 cm in height and the offsets spread out wide. The leaves of this plant are thick and fleshy and the color varies from green to gray-green. Some varieties of this plant have white flecks on the upper and lower portions of the stem surfaces. The margin of the leaves is like saw-tooth and the flowers bloom during the summer. Each leaf is full of a slimy tissue that stores water, which makes the leaves thick.

This slimy, water-filled tissue is the “gel” we usually associate with Aloe Vera products, and it contains most of the bioactive compounds in the plant, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. This plant has also compounds such as mannans, polysaccharides, lectins, and anthraquinones that are extremely beneficial for human health. Let’s have a look at all the benefits of this amazing plant:

  • For skin care (wounds, sores, rashes, etc.)

The pure inner gel extracted from the Aloe leaf is the best natural remedy for skin abrasions and it also helps diminish the symptoms of aging skin conditions like wrinkles. Many skin care and personal care products, toiletries, and cosmetics include Aloe extracts. In fact, if you have its plant at home, simply tear a small part of the leaf, take the gel and apply it in the raw form on your face. The topical external use of this plant is the most commonly known and it has long been known as a treatment for sores, particularly burns, including sunburns. Some people prefer drinking its juice, which also enhances skin health, as the properties of the plant work internally. It also helps in curing stings, rashes, acne, and psoriasis.

  • For beauty (moisturizer, hair care, teeth care etc.)

Aloe Vera has proven to be an excellent option for promoting naturally hair growth and essential to retain voluminous and healthy hair. You can apply its gel to the entire scalp or use a shampoo, which stimultaing your scalp can improves blood circulation and keeps you away from stress and mental tiredness.

Dental and gum diseases can also be cured by Aloe Vera. You can try out this natural remedy at home: put some of its powder on your toothbrush, then brush normally. It will soothe your gums and cure any kind of infection or bruises.

  • For digestion

The adaptogenic properties of Aloe Vera are beneficial for a proper digestion. It ensures better nutrient absorption and also eliminates harmful elements through smooth excretion. Its compounds called polysaccharides have the ability to cure a host of digestive disorders and ulcers, which are one of the most prominent consequences of digestive problems. Many studies have proven that with its anti-inflamamtory qualities it improves issues like Crohn’s disease, peptic ulcers, and other digestive tract disorders, mainly driven by the inflammation of digestive organs.

  • For constipation

This time it is not the gel, but the latex, that provides the benefits. The latex is a sticky yellow residue found just under the skin of the leaf and the key compound responsible for this effect is called aloin, or barbaloin, which has well-established laxative and diuretic effects (however, some concerns have been raised about safety issues with frequent use).

  • For immunity

Aloe Vera gel, again, contains powerful antioxidants, which belong to a large family of substances known as polyphenols. These polyphenols, along with several other compounds in Aloe vera, can help inhibit the growth of certain bacteria that can cause infections in humans. Beverages made with aloe vera juice possess natural detoxifying properties that effectively cleanse the digestive system and the circulatory system. As the absorption level of nutrients accelerates, it results in better blood circulation and also improves health. Infact, when the blood is oxygen-rich, it automatically provides nutrients within the cells more proficiently. Zinc is also an important component in this fantastic plant and it’s essential to maintain a proper immune function.

  • For diabetes and general regulation of blood sugar

Some evidence in humans and animals suggested that Aloe Vera is able to alleviate the chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar level) and perturbed lipid (fat) profile that are common among people with diabetes and are major risk factors for cardiovascular complications.

  • For pain

The extract of Aloe Vera has shown to be an excellent stimulant of the uterus and intake of its juice is very beneficial during painful menstruation.

The anti-inflammatory properties of Aloe Vera help it to work efficiently on joints and muscle pains, caused by heavy physical acivity or diseases like gout or arthritis. Applying Aloe gel topically eases inflammation and swelling of the joints.

Aloe Vera Smoothie Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1-2 cups of coconut water
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • lemon, if you like it
  • 1 cup of fresh mango (or any other fruit you like!)
  • 1 fresh banana (or any other fruit again!)
  • a handful of fresh mint
  • 1 medium Aloe Vera leaf filletted (1/2 cups)

How to fillet an Aloe Vera leaf:

  1. First, cut off any white parts close to the root of the leaf.
  2. Then trim the prickly sides by slicing them off entirely using a paring knife. When doing so, try to take off as little as possible.
  3. With the convex side facing up, use a potato peeler to remove the skin from the leaf. Alternatively, you can slice off the top skin with the knife.
  4. Then, slide the knife under the gel to separate it from the leaf skin, making sure there is no leftover skin on the gel.
  5. Dice the gel into smaller pieces. Refrigerate and cover your leftover Aloe.
  6. Add straight into your blender or juicer with the rest of the ingredients.
  7. Enjoy!

Natural Skin Care and Cosmetics – Part 2

PART TWO

Before the days of synthetic chemicals people cared for their skin and hair with natural products. Herbs were the natural source of such products. Indeed, in many parts of the world people still use these traditional methods. Some people are forced to from economic necessity, while others find that natural methods are more effective, less damaging to the skin in the long term, and morally acceptable.

NATURALLY GOOD LOOKING EYES

Ancient Romans used to say that “the eyes are the mirror of your soul” and actually, it is true. Your eyes reflect the way you feel. When you are tired everyone can see it. When you are down you get rings around the eyes. Too much high living and not enough sleep and you start to get loose flesh under the eyes and the beginning of bags. Here there are some methods to avoid them or at least reduce their heaviness.

  • BORAGE
    Taken chopped in salad is an old treatment to strengthen the eyes.
  • CABBAGE WATER
    Kept from the day before, applied to the eyes first thing in the morning makes them feel refreshed.
  • CHAMOMILE INFUSION
    Cotton wool soaked with chamomile and laid over the eyes for half an hour soothes the eyes and helps enliven the skin around the eyes.
  • CUCUMBER
    Its function as such is still referred to in common parlance whenever we say ‘as cool as a cucumber’. A good wedge slice of cucumber laid over each eye is excellent for ‘rejuvenating’ tired and strained eyes.
  • EYEBRIGHT INFUSION
    Euphrasia herb used as eyewash is wonderful to clear the eyes and make the sclerae (whites) even whiter than usual.

NATURAL HAIR CARE

Having shining, soft, strong and healthy hair is the dream of every woman, and even of some men. Unfortunately sometimes it is not that easy and synthetic products, if not very expansive and specific, may destroy the natural beauty of our hair.

Female hormones do seem to have some effective reaction in helping hair growth and restoring natural brightness. These hormones, called “phyto-oestrogens”, are present in many natural products such as linseed oil, red clover and sage, which can be taken orally as capsules or used as a hair soak and rinse infusion. For taking care of your hair you can also use more tips below:

  • NETTLE TEA
    It does seem to help to clear dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis of the scalp. It should be used like soak and rinse infusion.
  • CHAMOMILLE TEA
    This makes a good light hair rinse.
  • RHUBARB ROOT TEA
    Used as a rinse will lighten light brown hair and make blonde hair shine.
  • SAGE AND ROSEMARY
    Infuse a handful of each and leave it to stand for three or four hours. It is said to be a wonderful hair tonic. It certainly does clear dandruff.
  • WILLOW AND MAIDENHAIR FERN
    Simmer a handful of each in 400mls of oil for one hour, then allow it to cool down before straining. Rub the oil into the scalp every night to stimulate hair growth.

Natural Skin Care and Cosmetics – Part 1

PART ONE

Before the days of synthetic chemicals people cared for their skin and hair with natural products. Herbs were the natural source of such products. Indeed, in many parts of the world people still use these traditional methods. Some people are forced to from economic necessity, while others find that natural methods are more effective, less damaging to the skin in the long term, and morally acceptable.

MOUTH AND TEETH CARE

In many poor parts of the world people do not brush their teeth, but living in industrialised countries we have the opportunity of buying toothpaste and mouthwashes. These are some herbs which can help you take care of your oral environment adding to those expansive productsa bit of nature:

  • SAGE
    The Bedouin chew sage leaves, which cleans the teeth very effectively. Sage infusion gargle is very good for freshening the mouth and easing pain from mouth problems and sore throats.
  • LIQUORICE ROOT
    This woody root macerates very well as one chews the yellow tissue. It cleans the teeth as you do so, permitting you to use the chewed root as a natural brush.
  • COMFREY MOUTHWASH
    This is superb for healing mouth ulcers and helping to soothe gum diseases.
  • TINCTURE OF MYRRH
    This is almost a specific for gum boils and other oral infections.

FOR SOFT LIPS

If you want to mantain your lips warm, soft and turgid also during the cold and windy winter, this oil lips recipe is for you! It has apparently been used in the East for many centuries. A handful of rose petals are placed in a jar. A small cup of Almond oil is poured over the petals, then the jar is sealed and put outside in the sun. Three days suffice in hot weather, but as long as two weeks in the winter of the British climate. At the end of that time the oil should be strained into a fresh jar. A smear of the oil should be used daily to maintain the turgor of the lips.

SKIN CARE

First advice: anti-perspirants are not natural at all. To block the skin pores to stop perspiration is the wrong thing to do, although it is understandable to try to avoid stincking in public! If you have need of alternating a natural de -odoriser to a synthetic one, then use lavender water in the armpits.

Even if it may sounds odd, bathing is the best way to take care of your skin, whatever is the condition which is affecting it. Try to avoid synthetic soaps, since these are quite caustic and remove the body’s natural oils. Instead use a loofah to gently remove the unwanted and desquamating outer layers of skin. A bath oil is worth adding to your bath, but do remember not to stay too long in a hot bath. This is not good for your skin, as is obvious from the wrinkling effect you get when you stay in too long.

If you want something specific to clean and look after your face’s skin, I can tell you some useful tips:

  • CHAMOMILLE FACIAL SAUNA
    This is an excellent natural way of getting rid of keratin plugs, those troublesome little blackheads. You make an infusion of chamomile flowers and pour into a bowl. Then as if taking an inhalation, put a towel over your head and allow the chamomile fumes to play over your face. Give yourself only a couple of minutes if it is uncomfortable.
  • ELDER BLOSSOM
    This makes a good old-fashioned lotion for bringing out the best in your complexion.
    Take a handful of elder flowers and heat very gently in buttermilk for half an hour. The flowers will go very soft. Leave to cool for three or four hours, then re-simmer and add a spoonful of honey. When this is cold apply to the face as a pack.
  • OATMEAL
    This is another excellent facial pack which works wonders with the complexion. Soak a handful of oatmeal in cream or a mixture of cream and water for six hours, together with a squeeze of lemon.