[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith a New Year comes the opportunity for new beginnings. While any random day of the year is a perfectly wonderful time to make positive changes, the coming of a New Year provides a stellar landmark for important resolutions and tends to offer a renewed sense of determination for living a healthier life.
I consider this time of year an opportunity to not only look back, but to look forward. As it pertains to my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, I make it an annual practice to review, renew and resolve. What practices have made me healthier? What has made an impact? What didn’t quite work for me? What aspects of my being should I continue or set aside? It is a chance to do away with what might be better left behind, carry the successes forward, and explore new options and ideas.
Throughout 2015 we discussed a variety of ways to enhance health through the use of complementary and alternative medicine. It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to provide you with this information, and I look forward to another year of providing a variety of healthy options and alternative choices for you to explore.
I have always believed that one of the many great things about complementary and alternative medicine is that there are so many different avenues to explore. In fact, I believe that exploration itself and traveling those avenues is, in and of itself, medicinal. It is a truly empowering act to take control of your own well-being, participate in your own care, and expand your mind and options.
In keeping with that thought, I would like to offer you a handful of ideas to peruse and perhaps explore in-depth in the New Year. As always, no matter what complementary or alternative avenues you choose to travel, be sure to consult your doctor and to seek out trained, licensed and certified practitioners.
Yoga: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that as of the 2012 National Health Survey, that 9.5 percent of U.S. adults (21 million) used yoga to enhance their health. This marks a significant increase in yoga use from 6.1 percent in 2007 and 5.1 percent in 2002.
Yoga is a wonderful practice for people living with HIV from a physical, emotional, and mental point of view. Not only does yoga help to strengthen the body by building muscle, but it increases energy and provides a focus on proper breathing. Yoga also reduces stress. In addition, yoga increases our self-awareness and puts us more in touch with our physical selves. All of the above are important aspects of managing our health and working towards greater well-being. We will explore yoga more in depth in the next column.
Meditation: There are many different types of meditation. Transcendental meditation is one. According to the Mayo Clinic website, transcendental meditation is a simple, natural technique of meditation. In transcendental meditation, you silently repeat a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound or phrase, in a specific way. This form of meditation allows your body to settle into a state of profound rest and relaxation and your mind to achieve a state of inner peace, without needing to use heavy concentration or effort.
Scientific research and studies relating to HIV-positive individuals from a variety of sources state that transcendental meditation has helped to improve emotional well-being and general health, increase vitality, reduce anxiety, anger and hostility and decrease HIV-related physical problems, perceived stress, and depressive symptoms.
Herbalism: When we think of using herbs for treating ailments we must look at things a little differently than we do in current, conventional medicine. Illness is not defined by a name or a set of signs and symptoms in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In fact, Traditional Chinese Medicine is at least 2,500 years-old and some of the health concerns we face today did not exist then. Instead, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, like many eastern thought practitioners, see the body as a network of energetic patterns, channels, or flows. When these energy systems move freely and the patterns of energy are balanced, it is looked upon as healthy and properly functioning.
Herbs are used to improve energy, strengthen the immune system, and to help manage the side effects of antiretroviral medications. The use of herbs help reduce upset stomach or diarrhea arising from the use of medications is common. An herbalist will typically create an individualized and personalized plan for each client based upon their specific energy patterns. Tinctures may be used, or perhaps loose, raw, or powdered herbs, to meet your particular needs.
Shiatsu: Shiatsu is a form of eastern body work or massage therapy. It is traditionally performed on a mat versus a conventional massage table. The work is done with the client clothed and wearing comfortable clothing that allows fluid movement.
There are different kinds of Shiatsu. Five Element Shiatsu, which was an area of study in my educational path, is the Japanese art of acupressure. Practitioners of this therapy use compression via palms and fingertips to manipulate specific pressure points and energetic meridians on the body in order to facilitate the flow of chi/qi, or vital energy. I have always likened this practice to acupuncture in a way, though without the use of needles.
Five Element Shiatsu is different from other forms of shiatsu in that it seeks to enhance the effectiveness of traditional shiatsu by incorporating aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Five Element Shiatsu, human health is achieved through balancing the five elemental manifestations: earth, fire, water, wood, and metal. Each of these elements correspond to different parts of the human anatomy.
Employing this approach, a shiatsu practitioner may be able to discern a variety of different ailments in a patient ranging from purely physical disorders to more subtle disturbances in a person’s health resulting from stress or traumatic events. Once the practitioner has assessed the likely source of a patient’s outward symptoms, a treatment program can be determined.
Shiatsu may be helpful in managing both HIV-related symptoms and side effects from medications, most notably, digestion-related. Shiatsu may also help in managing stress and depression, which are often a factor for people living with HIV.
I wish each of you a happy, healthy and productive new year.
After a lengthy career in the arts and LGBT activism, Robert Zukowski pursued his goal of a career in complementary and alternative healthcare. He is a New York State licensed Massage Therapist, a Certified Medical Massage Therapist and is certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. In addition to his hands-on work, he is a writer and lecturer in the field of therapeutic massage therapy.