The beneficial effect on health of the applied techniques is demonstrated by evidence-based scientific studies. Here are some examples:
The beneficial effect of breathing exercises on the health is very complex. Breathing control is part of many other techniques including qi gong, taichi, yoga, freediving, cold baths (e.g. Wim Hof method) and others.
Breathing exercises have an impact on the stabilization of the postural musculoskeletal system, enhance oxygenation/perfusion of the inner organs and especially contribute to harmonization of the vegetative nervous system (VNS).
The Vegetative Nervous System (also called autonomic nervous system (ANS)) controls body’s involuntary functions and influences activity of internal organs. VNS has 2 components: SNS and PNS (sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system):
- The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) supports action, mode of the “fight and flight” and is active in situations of stress and anxiety
- The Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) is prevalent in states of repose, digestion, sleep or sex and is important for restoration and relaxation
The Vagus nerve makes part of the PNS and interconnects inner organs with the brain. It also contributes in the immune function and anti-inflammatory activity in the body. Beside others, vagal nerve is stimulated by movements of the diaphragm during deep breathing.
Vagus nerve theory within breathing techniques:
Breathing techniques stimulate baroreceptors within the vasculature, which influence the heart rate variability (HRV). Heart rate variability is relatied to well-functioning adaptability of the circulatory system to external stimuli and corresponds with better general health condition.
- Some studies presented that slow deep breathing 0,1 Hz (= 6/min) lowers trigger threshold for the HRV reflex causing slower heart rate, lower SNS and higher PNS activity (Sympathetic/Parasympathetic nervous system)
- Vagal nerve stimulation has an effect on the central autonomous network (prefrontal cortex, limbic system) which leads to decreased emotional over-reactivity, significant antidepressant and anxiolytic effect, and enhanced cognitive control and attentivity.
- Regular breathing exercises lead to structural modulation of the Central Nervous System (CNS) structures including the prefrontal cortex and limbic area, which are responsible for the emotional balance.
Breathing exercises also provide a direct inhibitory effect on the stress-hormone cortisol levels, which further impacts regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (responsible e.g., for metabolism and immunomodulation). This explains better immune condition in practitioners of breathing exercises.
Further examples of the benefits of breathing techniques on a diversity of health disorders:
- GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease): improvement through strengthening of the diaphragmatic muscles/ lower esophageal sphincter
- Asthma and COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease): improving of the pulmonary functions (strengthening of the muscles, better elasticity of the lung tissue), bronchodilation (probably due to enhanced CO2 blood levels in slow breathing), better physical fitness and subjective perception of the symptoms.
- Airways, sinusitis: “humming breathing” technique enhances nitrous oxide (NO) release from the paranasal cavities up to 15-fold compared to steady state, resulting in improved sinus ostial patency.
- Cardiovascular functions: general correction of chronic hypertension and other risk factors for a heart disease. Controlled slow deep diaphragmatic breathing (4-6/min) causes a significant decrease in HR (heart rate) and systolic blood pressure – mostly because of vagal modulation of the sympathetic activity.
- Internal organs: slow deep diaphragmatic breathing with activation of the abdominal muscles significantly improves perfusion, oxygenation and lymphatic drainage of internal organs, which is an important preventive factor of chronic disease and inflammation.
- Low back pain: significant releasing effect (strengthening of the deep stabilization system)
- Anxiety and depression: due to pronounced regulation of the stress axis, regular breathing exercises are reported to cause significant improvement of the stress-hormone related psychiatric disorders.
- Cognitive functions and attentivity: improvement due to parasympathetic predominance and better brain perfusion in the context of brain vessels vasodilation caused by higher CO2 levels. During breath holding pauses, EEG theta brain activity (responsible for alertness, attention, cognition, e.g.) is also increased.
One of the commonly practiced breathing exercises is ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma Pranayama in Sanskrit) originates in the Ayurvedic medicinal tradition.
During this exercise practitioner plugs one nostril using the other one for inhalation and/or exhalation. There are diverse forms of this technique: exclusive right nostril breathing, left nostril breathing or alternate breathing (left inhaling, right exhaling and vice versa).
Patency of each nostril also alternates during the day unconsciously because of transient congestion of the intranasal erectile tissue. It means, airflow is stronger in one nostril than in the other one and this condition changes periodically. It has been observed that nasal cycle correlates with the activity of the autonomic nervous system, physical activity, position of the body and with health condition of the individuals.
Other studies demonstrated that each nostril is related to its contra-lateral brain hemisphere as well as to one part of the autonomic nervous system.
These papers point out that using exclusive right nostril breathing stimulates left-brain functions such as verbal abilities, whereas left nostril breathing corresponds to the right-brain abilities, including spatial and emotional memory.
Exclusive right nostril breathing is probably more prone to the sympathetic activity (increased metabolism, oxygen consumption and blood pressure), whereas alternate nostril breathing demonstrated the parasympathetic effect (relaxation, stillness, decreased blood pressure) more significantly compared to the exclusive left nostril breathing.
These findings present an interesting view of a sophisticated interconnection of the regulatory mechanisms in human’s organism. It supports our knowledge that breathing exercises present an effective instrument to establish balance of the autonomic nervous system, to reduce stress, stimulate immune system and endorse general restorative mechanisms of the body.
PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND SPIRITUAL
Yoga is a system of physical, mental, and spiritual practices originating in ancient India about 3000 years ago with the aim to create union between body, mind, and spirit and to establish physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Yoga practice has 3 principal components:
– Asanas (physical exercises for strength and flexibility)
– Meditation (contemplative exercise)
– Pranayama (breathing exercises)
All of these components improve breathing patterns, thus contribute in overall benefits of the conscious breathing as mentioned above.
There is an extensive number of different evidence-based studies referring to the beneficial effects of yoga on health and these benefits are largely multifactorial.
Yoga exercise causes targeted perfusion and oxygenation of different organs and joints, enhances physical fitness, flexibility, self-perception, concentration and awareness and diminishes emotional reactivity, psychiatric disturbances or neuro-immuno-hormonal imbalance.
Here are some examples of the impact of yoga on different diseases:
- Depression: diminution of depressive symptoms in mild and moderate non-hospitalized depression, which is due to different mechanisms, such as: non-judgmental and observational awareness, acceptance of one’s limitations, enhanced self-esteem, alertness and calmness (parasympathetic activity).
- Overcoming chronic disease: significantly better outcome in yoga practitioners in the context of enhanced discipline, focused mind, calmness, stronger feeling of control about the ongoing illness, all of which lead to optimism and a positive outcome
- Pregnant women regularly exercising yoga from the 26th to 37th gestation week have demonstrated better birth outcomes compared to the non-practicing ones: decreased number of preterm labor, caesarian section or episiotomy, along with a better Apgar score in newborn
- Diabetes 2: better outcome and favorable control of blood pressure (BP), obesity, depression and anxiety, all of which frequently occur with the diabetes disease.
Mechanism: yoga exercise influences the (HPA) hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenergic axis and stimulates the vagal nerves, leading to better metabolic balance and decreased stress and anxiety. As the impact of yoga is multifactorial, it is presumed that also better self-discipline, better awareness and tolerance of stress contribute in the improvement within metabolic disorders.
- Cardiac system: positive effect on cardiac dysrhythmias due to the regulation/ harmonization of the autonomous nervous system (increased vagal tone, decreased sympathetic activity), control of atrial fibrillation (AF) and of high blood pressure (BP)
Qi Gong practice
Qi Gong is a system of coordinated body-posture, movement, breathing and contemplation exercises with the purpose to cultivate and balance the “qi” (translated as „life energy“). The approach comes from the ancient Chinese culture and traditional Chinese medicine dated back to 3-4000 years ago.
The positive effects of Qi Gong on health are very similar to those ones of yoga and breathing exercises.
Likewise, Qi Gong harmonizes the autonomous nervous system e.g., through coordinated diaphragmatic breathing and vagal nerve stimulating movements. It also mitigates stress and inflammation affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Regular Qi Gong practice has demonstrated a significant anti-depression and anxiolytic effect, better quality of life in cancer patients, a better physical condition and reduced incidence of stress and inflammation.
EMOTIONS ARE REFLECTED IN THE BODY POSTURE
Movement techniques in general
Emotions are reflected in the body posture.
When immersing in depressed thoughts we appear more with a hunched back than with an upright and open chest – rather corresponding to our happy thoughts.
Body language makes an inseparable part of the social-emotional interactions.
When in a happy mood, try to hunch your chest and droop your mouth corners. It is not easy, as similarly, it isn’t easy to open your chest and smile in a depressed mood either.
Negative thoughts cause negative emotions which lead to negative mood (hours) => negative behaviour (days) => negative character (months) => negative personality (years)
This is how the emotions transcript in the body’s constitution.
However, we always have an option to change our mindset. Moreover, we can help it from the other end of the “chain”: focusing on the body posture.
Changing our body posture can trigger different thoughts => which lead to different emotions => different mood => different behaviour => different character => different personality.
From time immemorial, across all the diverse cultures of the world, dance hasn’t been just an element of social culture, rather it has been an archetypal healing instrument.
In recent times, dance has once again become an innovative intervention strategy for patients with comorbidities or underlying pathologies as well as for those in good health. It generates significant changes in the physical, mental, and social skills of the individual.
Dance interventions significantly improve body composition, blood biomarkers and musculoskeletal function. (Cited)
Undertaking structured dance of any genre is more effective than other types of structured exercise for improving a range of health outcome measures. (Cited)
Possible mechanisms: increased physical fitness, strengthening and awareness of the postural system, alignment with the melody and rhythm (artistic component releasing the “pleasure” neurotransmitters), perception of the social interaction (reinforcement of the axis of positive emotions)
quieting the mind
Contemplative practices develop capacity for quieting the mind and achieving an inner calm, leading to greater empathy, compassion and communication skills, improved attention, reduced stress and enhanced creativity. This results in improved health and quality of life (QoL).
Common forms include meditation, mindfulness, Tai Chi/Qigong, Yoga and prayer.
By creating a state of greater harmony within one’s body, contemplative practices can mitigate maladaptive biological (e.g. elevated blood pressure) and behavioral (e.g. substance abuse) responses, and lower the risk of some medical conditions (e.g. depression).
Contemplative practices have been particularly useful in the treatment of posttraumatic
stress disorder, in cardiovascular risk reduction, reducing health care provider burnout by increasing self-compassion, and possibly increasing longevity.
Mechanistically, contemplative practices have been noted to mediate health outcomes at a cellular level through its effects on gene expression. (Cited)
It is hypothesized that the effects of meditation are mediated by the endocrine system, including the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, the hypothalamic–pituitary–thyroid axis, and the renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system. (Cited)
Mindfulness meditation — practiced widely for the reduction of stress and promotion of health — exerts beneficial effects on physical and mental health, and cognitive performance. Recent neuroimaging studies have begun to uncover the brain areas and networks that mediate these positive effects. (Cited)
Example of a contemplative practice
Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta)
Loving-Kindness Meditation (Metta in Tibetan) is a contemplative method, which induces warm-heartedness, tolerance and kindness towards oneself and other living beings.
It consists of expressing wishes of happiness, peace, health and well-being. These wishes are directed first towards self and then extended to other people, from beloved ones to someone that might be perceived with negative emotions.
Example of the script of Metta meditation:
- May I be happy
- May I be peaceful
- May I be well
- May I live with ease
- May I find deep joy
- May I be free of pain
- May I be free from harm
- May I be free of suffering
- May I feel safe
Extended to => “May YOU be happy …. “ => “May HE/SHE/THEY be happy …”
Many studies investigated the behavioral and neurophysiological changes induced by this practice.
In sum, Metta meditation results in better stress reliance, enhanced tolerability and prosocial behavior, decreased anxiety and depression and decreased levels of stress-induced proinflammatory mediators.
E.g., in one study, 53 of 106 medical doctors have undergone training in Loving-Kindness-Meditation (LKM) during 8 weeks. Quality of mindfulness, empathy and communication skills were tested in both groups (LKM intervention and control group) before and after testing. The results displayed that group trained in LKM proved significantly increased empathy and communication skills towards patients compared to the control group and to the pre-test condition.
The states of loving-kindness have functional correlates in several brain structures, including e.g., amygdala, anterior insula, mesolimbic dopamine system, nucleus accumbens or some areas of the prefrontal and parietal cortex.
Loving-Kindness Meditation induces increased theta wave activity on EEG, which corelates with the states of relaxed wakefulness, memory formation and navigation. It also affects the autonomous nervous system resulting in slowed heart rate and is related to higher levels of hormone oxytocin, which is archetypally responsible for care-giving and nurturing of the offspring.
The peaceful, positive-minded and altruistic condition attained by this simple contemplative exercise of Metta meditation can positively affect spiritual, mental and physical well-being of the individuals.
STATE BEYOND ABSENCE OF DISEASE
Positive health describes a state beyond the mere absence of disease. Positive health can be operationalized by a combination of excellent status on biological, subjective, and functional measures. We can test the hypothesis that positive health predicts increased longevity (correcting for quality of life), decreased health costs, better mental health in aging, and better prognosis when illness strikes. The field of positive health has direct parallels to the field of positive psychology, parallels that suggest that a focus on health rather than illness will be cost saving and life-saving. (Cited)
Positive psychology is a rigorous academic field that encompasses character strengths, positive relationships, positive experiences, and positive institutions. It is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living – and maintains that what is good in life is as genuine as what is bad.
Virtues are core aspects of human excellence that allow us to survive and thrive. Researchers found six core virtues to be ubiquitous across cultures.
Positive psychology ‘s 6 virtues
- Wisdom and Knowledge – Strengths of wisdom and knowledge are cognitive strengths related to the acquisition and use of information. Strengths comprised in this virtue are creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, and perspective.
- Humanity – Strengths of humanity involve caring interpersonal relationships with others, particularly in one-to-one relationships. Strengths comprised in this virtue are love, kindness, and social intelligence.
- Justice – Strengths of justice refer to the optimal relationship between the individual and the group or community, rather than the more one-to-one relationships in the humanity virtue. Strengths comprised in this virtue are teamwork, fairness, and leadership.
- Courage – Strengths of courage involve applying will and fortitude in overcoming internal or external resistance to accomplish goals. Strengths comprised in this virtue are bravery, perseverance, integrity, and enthusiasm.
- Temperance – Strengths of temperance protect us from excess. Strengths comprised in this virtue are forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-control.
- Transcendence – Strengths of transcendence allow people to rise above their troubles and find meaning in the larger universe. Strengths of transcendence are appreciation of beauty and excellence, purpose, gratitude, optimism, and humor. (Cited)
This is why activities of the Mehana Institute are complementary and embrace also art and beauty, hardening and resilience, and teamwork and creativity.
One of the examples of positive psychology:
Sheldon Cohen, William J Doyle, Ronald B Turner, Cuneyt M Alper, David P Skoner
Objective: It has been hypothesized that people who typically report experiencing negative emotions are at greater risk for disease and those who typically report positive emotions are at less risk. We tested these hypotheses for host resistance to the common cold.
Methods: Three hundred thirty-four healthy volunteers aged 18 to 54 years were assessed for their tendency to experience positive emotions such as happy, pleased, and relaxed; and for negative emotions such as anxious, hostile, and depressed. Subsequently, they were given nasal drops containing one of two rhinoviruses and monitored in quarantine for the development of a common cold (illness in the presence of verified infection).
Results: For both viruses, increased positive emotional style (PES) was associated (in a dose-response manner) with lower risk of developing a cold. This relationship was maintained after controlling for prechallenge virus-specific antibody, virus-type, age, sex, education, race, body mass, and season (adjusted relative risk comparing lowest-to-highest tertile = 2.9). Negative emotional style (NES) was not associated with colds and the association of positive style and colds was independent of negative style. Although PES was associated with lower levels of endocrine hormones and better health practices, these differences could not account for different risks for illness. In separate analyses, NES was associated with reporting more unfounded (independent of objective markers of disease) symptoms, and PES with reporting fewer.
Conclusions: The tendency to experience positive emotions was associated with greater resistance to objectively verifiable colds. PES was also associated with reporting fewer unfounded symptoms and NES with reporting more.
WIDE VARIETY OF HEALTH BENEFITS
Cold Water Swimming
Cold water swimming describes swimming outdoors (lake, river, sea, swimming pool, etc.) mainly during the winter period or in the colder regions.
Several studies have suggested that cold water swimming has a wide variety of health benefits, including positive changes in hematological and endocrine function, fewer upper respiratory tract infections, amelioration of mood disorders and improved general well-being.
E.g., one study reported a 40% decrease in the upper respiratory infectious diseases in winter swimmers compared to a control group.
Considering the cardiovascular risk factors, a positive impact on lipid profile and on the blood pressure has been described.
Cold water swimming also contributes to treatment of depressive mood disorders, probably due to enhanced levels of norepinephrine and endorphin.
Huttunen et al. demonstrated that tension, fatigue, memory and negative mood in the swimmers significantly decreased with the duration of the swimming period. Also, all swimmers who suffered from rheumatism, fibromyalgia, or asthma, reported that winter swimming had relieved pains.
Winter swimming may increase body tolerance to stressors and achieve body hardening. When practiced by individuals who are in good general health adopting a regular, graded and adaptive mode, winter swimming seems to confer cardiovascular, and other health benefits. On the other hand, unaccustomed individuals are at risk of death either from the initial neurogenic cold-shock response, or from progressive decrease of swimming efficiency or from hypothermia. (Cited)
Kneipp hydrotherapy is a complementary non-pharmacological and non-invasive approach and is mainly known for its form of alternate cold and warm, upper or lower limbs water affusions. It has an active effect on the vessels causing alternative vasoconstriction and vasodilation. Modulation of adrenergic hormones production has also been demonstrated in association with this therapeutic method.
Immunologically, hydrotherapy increases serum concentrations of the immunomodulators. The use of alternate cold and warm back affusions has been found to have positive effects on the immunoregulation.
Serial cold and warm water stimulation hydrotherapy for osteoarthritis of the hip or knee joint showed improvement of restricted joint mobility, along with significant pain reduction and increase in quality of life over a period of up to three months.
Kneipp hydrotherapy applied over 6 weeks to the upper extremities in children aged 3-6 years reduced incidence of the lower respiratory tract infections.
heart activity harmonizing effect
Music is an inseparable part of human’s cultures all over the world.
E.g., classical music (mainly from the baroque and classical epoch) is known to have an anti-anxious, relaxing, pain-relieving and heart activity harmonizing effect. Music therapy is used for psychical mood disorders, autism, chronic pain, epilepsy and diverse stress-related pathological conditions. Playing vocal and orchestral classical music in the ICU has resulted in a decrease in cortisol levels. Music therapy is used also in the neurological disorders.
One study reports about 18 children treated for epilepsy, exposed daily to 8 minutes listening of the Mozart Concerto for 2 pianos D major (K.448) before sleep.
During this time, remarkable decrease in the epileptogenic activity (EEG) has been observed: 1st month by 53%, 2nd month by 64% and 6th month by 72%.
Another study tested EEG in 68 children – before and after listening to the Mozart’s K.448 (Concerto for 2 pianos D major) and K.545 (Sonata for piano C major). This resulted in decrease in the epileptiform activity by 33% (K.558) and 38% (K.545) respectively.
There are several hypotheses trying to explain the “Mozart effect”, such as benefits of the repeated melody line or unpredictable rhythm changes. It is assumed that the frequency of the tones, melody line and rhythm affect the autonomous nervous system as well as the limbic system, thereby leading to the overall restorative and relaxing conditions.
In other studies, some particular frequencies have been investigated, including the “Love frequency” of 528 Hz (C4), the “Healing frequency” of 432 Hz (A4) or the actual tunning frequency 440 Hz (A4).
Studies report diverse positive effects such as increased cell viability, increased serotonin/endorphins release, positive cognitive development, serenity and enhanced creativity.
In the context of yoga, meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques), beneficial effect of OM chanting has been inspected. The relaxing, anti-anxiety and restorative effects are explained by possible vagal nerve stimulation through the intracranial vibrations as well as harmonization of the limbic system. OM chanting might have similar benefits to humming breathing technique, which is reported to enhance the nitrous oxide (NO) release 15-fold compared to steady state, resulting in favorable effect on sinus ostial patency.
Harmonization of the energy channels
Acupressure is an ancient healing technique originating in China approximately 4000 years ago.
It is based on the philosophy of the traditional Chinese medicine that a life-force or energy (known as Qi /”Chi”) is constantly flowing through the body along channels (Meridians). It is believed that when these channels become blocked or there’s an imbalance, fatigue or illness may occur in corresponding organs.
Acupressure consists of pressing specific points in an attempt to help the free flow of energy in the channel(s). Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but the person uses their fingers instead of needles to work the point.
One can consider the relationship between acupoints, marma points (used within ayurvedic medicine) and the reflex- and trigger-points known in modern physiotherapy.
Acupressure can also be applied as a self-treatment complementary technique and is mostly used to manage acute pain, headache, lower back pain, nausea, insomnia, constipation and anxiety.
In 1950, neurosurgeon Dr.Paul Nogier laid the foundations of the Auricular Acupressure hypothesizing that specific parts of the body correspond to specific points of the ear.
Mechanisms of acupressure are multifactorial. The relaxing effect, similar to the effect of simple human touch, is based upon the neuro-humoral stimulation of the hypothalamic – pituitary – adrenocortical axis. Acupressure induces a neuro-humoral response which ultimately causes the release of endorphins in the central nervous system and modulates cortisol levels resulting in relaxation and sensation of well-being.
The analgesic effect is explained by the Melzack-Wall Gate Theory, which states that the impulse of touch is transferred to the CNS four times faster as the pain stimulus, thereby drowning out the perception of pain.
Acupressure also acts locally, enhancing the blood flow and resolving the tissue adhesion in area of application.
Furthermore, if applied in the exact points regarding the organ meridians, acupressure is supposed to cause a specific symptom focused effect such as e.g., anti-nausea, anti-constipation or the release of lower back pain.
The healing power of nature
Since time immemorial, plants have been used for healing and herbal medicine has made up part of every medicinal tradition all over the world. However, with the boom of the pharmaceutical industry in the last century, benefits of herbal medicine have been eclipsed with the new beliefs in the efficacy of synthetic products.
Although modern drugs are mostly derived from substances originating from plants, their dosage is more precise and controllable compared to herbal remedies.
This was the main argument to support the development of synthetic medications, as the determination of the effective dosage together with the elimination of undesired effects was regarded as more achievable.
Mechanisms underlying treatment with herbal medicine are complex and go beyond the mere understanding of chemical composition of the plant. Plants are living organisms subordinated to the same rules of Life on Earth as human beings. Like all living organisms, plants use deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) as their genetic material and emanate electrochemical potentials, which can contribute to their interactions with other living forms.
Over the course of history, humanity has tended to change. Nowadays, the values, beliefs and priorities of mankind has been subject to transformation. Many people are tending more to nature and natural products and are reluctant to use synthetic ones. This current trend can also be observed in medicine.
It seems therefore, there is still an unexplored field of the healing interaction between plants and humans, which invites more precise scientific investigation. It is very possible that the benefit of herbal medicine will be reappraised in coming times.
Representatives of the herbal medicine
Lavender is a beautiful, fragrant plant from the Lamiacae family, with flowers in the shades of blue and violet. It is native to the Mediterranean area, nowadays spread across the world, mainly in the Euro-Asian and African continent. The name comes from the Latin “lavare” = to wash, a reference to its former use for washing clothes.
It includes more than 30 species; however, the various lavenders share similar ethnobotanical properties and major chemical constituents.
Lavender is well known for its pleasant scent, and its fragrant essential oils are used in perfumes and cosmetics. The buds are also used as spices for culinary purposes, while the lavender honey is also highly valued. Moreover, it is recognised as an important component in herbalism and natural medicine.
Lavender contains linalool, tannins, camphor, terpenes, coumarin and other chemical substances, which contribute to its diverse curative properties.
Lavender is mostly known as an antioxidant, anti-spasmodic, pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, wound-healing, anxiolytic and relaxing agent.
Numerous medical studies investigate the above-mentioned effects and recommend the use of this plant as complementary medicine with minimal side effects.
Lavender is mostly administered as aromatherapy in a vaporiser, or through a face mask, where several drops of lavender essential oil are added to the oxygen in hospitalised patients. It can also be ingested as a pure herbal tea, or even in the form of oral capsules containing lavender essential oil.
Lavender has been medically tested with regard to its anxiolytic and stress-relieving effects, and in treatment of sleeping disorders. For example, oral ingestion of the lavender oil preparation (Silexan, 80 mg) proved the same anxiolytic effect as the synthetic medication Lorazepam (0,5 mg). As for the anti-anxiety effects, lavender aromatherapy administered in the intensive care units resulted in significant decrease of the surgery related stress, and the demand for painkillers in patients, with a positive effect on mood.
The mechanisms of action are multiple. It is understood that lavender oil acts through two principal pathways. One of them is via the olfactory (smelling) system having a direct impact on the pituitary gland, where the release of corticotrophin results in lowering of the cortisol (stress-hormone) levels, while the other entails diffusion through the blood which subsequently alters neurotransmission in the brain, especially in higher concentrations.
However, in one experiment on mice, the olfactory pathway was blocked by induction of anosmia (blocked smell) with the zinc derivates. Lavender was administered by aromatherapy and if concentrated above 2,5%, subjects proved the same decrease in anxiety as the smelling ones. It suggests another pathway of action – diffusion in the blood and alteration of neurotransmission in the central nervous system.
Lavender inhalation also relieves pain. One study followed over 1600 woman during childbirth, where half of the women were provided with lavender inhalation while the other half was not. Comparing their experience of pain during labour on a numeric scale from 0 to 10, the average pain score of women inhaling lavender was 5.4, while the average of the control group was 7,2. Another study demonstrated decrease in migraine headache by 3,6 points in lavender-tested group compared to 1,6 points in the control group. The addition of lavender to a massage oil during an acupressure procedure resulted in higher pain relieve, especially in the lumbar and neck area.
Furthermore, lavender has important effects on wound-healing, especially in burns. Direct application of diluted oil in the wound leads to faster healing. Lavender oil also noticeably inhibits growth of the methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), bacterial infectious agent which significantly interferes with wound healing.
In obstetrics, lavender essential oil sitz baths caused important pain relief and proved better wound healing after episiotomy.
Lavender aromatherapy has an important effect on insomnia (sleep disorders). During the 15-minutes lasting inhalation, the electric brain signals (EEG) of patients showed increase in alpha and theta activity, which correspond to the processes of relaxation and memory formation, respectively.
Lavender essential oil might occasionally cause undesired side effects as e.g., skin irritation or an allergic reaction. Also, constipation and headache have been reported.
Lavender is a beautiful, undemanding plant, rich in health beneficial properties, thus affecting positively psychological and physical well-being, used either as an essential oil in aromatherapy (several drops in a vaporiser), or in preparation of ointments, massage oils, and other local applications (1-5% dilution in a carrying oil). It is always recommended to test the skin reaction before application.
Lavender buds can be employed as a condiment for desserts as well in salty dishes, or as a pure herbal infusion (one entire spike per litter of boiling water).
Do you like to learn more about medicinal herbs? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and you will get an overview of one medicinal herb every month. Moreover, you will enjoy our “Topic of the month”, some interesting information from complementary medicine, inspiration for reflection and action and one Mehana teaching video every 2 months.
The healing power of nature
Forest Medicine (Shinrin Yoku)
Shinrin yoku (derived from the Japanese shinrin’yoku = “forest bathing“), sometimes referred to as nature therapy or forest therapy, is a salutary method, which consists of spending time in nature with awareness in order to relieve stress, reestablish inner harmony and improve mental and physical health. Various physiological benefits have been proven by numerous studies, e.g., improved immunity function, balanced cardiovascular system, better sleep and decrease in depression and anxiety.
In the 16th century, the famous Swiss physician and philosopher Paracelsus wrote: „The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.“
The term shinrin-yoku was defined in 1982 by the head of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, Tomohide Akiyama, to encourage more visitors to forests.
Nowadays, shinrin yoku makes up an inseparable part of the non-invasive and non-pharmacological medicinal approach, mainly in Japan.
Health benefits of forest therapy are above all demonstrated by the immune system and are attributed to volatile substances emanated from the trees. Phytoncides (e.g., alfa-pinene or limonene) are wood essential oils and besides their antibacterial properties, they help regulate the autonomic nervous system.
In one study, twelve subjects were tested before and after a three-day sojourn in a forest. The outcome showed that activity and number of the NK cells (NK – “natural killer”) increased by more than 50% after the forest-bathing. NK cells present a powerful immunity tool eliminating virus-infected- and tumor-cells. Therefore, increase in their number and activity is associated with an important immunity reinforcement.
Another study observed 12 subjects undertaking sessions in 24 different Japanese forests. Activity of the subjects’ physiological functions and stress-hormone levels were compared to that measured after interrelated sessions in the city environment. Results associated with the time that subjects spent in the forest environs displayed remarkable decreases in adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol levels, as well as in the blood pressure and heart rate. This refers to a shift from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic activity of the autonomic nervous system meaning the establishment of the relaxing state.
It is not surprising that forest environments provide salutary effects also on mental health. In 500 subjects, a one day sojourn in nature led to increased emotions of friendliness and wellbeing and decreased negative emotions including hostility and depression, compared to control evaluations.
Although health benefits of the forest are mostly attributed to chemical substances produced by trees, there is probably much more beyond this simple hypothesis.
Plants are living organisms subject to the same rules of Life on Earth as human beings. Like all living organisms, plants use deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) as their genetic material and they emanate electrochemical potentials which can contribute to their interactions with other living forms.
Whatever the mechanism of the healing effect of nature is, it is highly advisable to benefit from its presence, especially in times of weak immunity or during stressful life-periods.
GET INSPIRED, LEARN MORE
If interested in the topics of non-pharmacological interventions and complementary medicine, you would surely enjoy some of the following titles:
- Joe Dispenza: You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter
- David R. Hawkins: Healing and Recovery
- James Nestor: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
- Gregory Ninot: Non-Pharmacological Interventions: An Essential Answer to Current Demographic, Health, and Environmental Transitions
- Martin Seligman: Authentic Happiness
- Mimi Kuo-Deemer: Xiu Yang: The Ancient Chinese Art of Self-Cultivation for a Healthier, Happier, More Balanced Life
- Thomas R.Verny: The Embodied Mind: Understanding the Mysteries of Cellular Memory, Consciousness, and Our Bodies