Most movement and manipulation ' therapies involve being treated, or V1in Cal chi, taught, by a qualified practitioner. The exceptions to this are exercise, yoga and massage, which, providing you follow certain guidelines, you can practise by yourself at home.
It is now recognised that taking any form of exercise, particularly aerobic or weight-bearing exercise, can help to prevent a range of both minor and serious illnesses. The many specific benefits of regular, moderate exercise include an increase in joint suppleness, and an improvement in lung capacity, bone density, muscle tone, cardiovascular fitness and metabolic rate.
Exercise also stimulates the release of endorphins. These are the body's natural painkillers and they promote a feeling of well being. This hormonal release means that exercise can also help you to overcome emotional problems such as mild depression and nervous tension.
Regular aerobic exercise, such as cycling or swimming, is particularly important for the prevention of heart disease 20 minutes of exercise three times a week in which the pulse rate goes up to 120 beats per minute is recommended. Weight-bearing exercise, jogging or working out for instance, will strengthen bones and help to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis.
Before you begin exercising, it is very important to warm up correctly to prevent muscle injuries. You should seek medical advice before you exercise if you are overweight, very unfit or if you have a history of cardiovascular disease or other chronic illness.
The underlying purpose of the ancient Indian art of yoga is to reunite the individual self (jiva) with pure consciousness or the absolute (Brahman). There are five practices in yoga: relaxation; exercise (the yoga postures known as asanas); correct breathing (known as pranayama from prana, the Indian word for life force); a diet of wholesome foods; and mental self-discipline gained through meditation.
Some yoga positions, including the lotus position, can be traced back to 3000 BC and there are many different types of yoga that one can follow. The main type taught in the West is Hatha yoga, a particular form that concentrates on correct breathing and movements which can stretch and tone every muscle and joint in the body.
Practising yoga helps to maintain good health and it may strengthen the body's immune system. It is generally suitable for most people but if you suffer from any condition involving chronic pain it is sensible to consult your doctor before taking it up. Yoga may help to treat stiff, painful muscles, high blood pressure, asthma, stress and premenstrual syndrome. The majority of yoga teachers recommend practising yoga daily in a comfortable, quiet environment. Do not force your body into a position that you find difficult or painful. If you find a movement uncomfortable, stop.
THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE
Australian actor Frederick M. Alexander (1869-1955) developed this technique at the turn of the century after throat problems threatened his career. Using an arrangement of mirrors he noticed that he constricted his throat muscles in such a way as to limit his voice whilst performing, and that changing his posture not only caused his throat problems to disappear, but also improved his overall health and mental well-being.
Alexander postulated that although children are born with freedom of movement, the subsequent stresses and strains of life cause them to draw their bodies into defensive postures, thus constricting the muscles of the neck and upper torso.
An Alexander technique teacher will train individuals to use their body in a different way, correcting the bad posture that leads to backache and a stiff neck, easing joint strain and strengthening the support of the internal organs. Sessions last between 30 minutes and an hour and involve the teacher applying light manual pressure to make you aware of habitual problems of posture, for example, one hip higher than the other or a rounded spine. As sessions progress, the teacher will help you to stand, sit and crawl and gradually correct your posture.
You can apply what you have learnt to your everyday life from the very first lesson, but Alexander technique teachers advocate a thorough mastering of the technique.
More properly known as t'ai chi chuan, this ancient Chinese sequence of movements is based on the belief that all life and material in the Universe originated from a single source called tao. Chi, or the life force, permeates throughout tao and surrounds and flows through all human bodies in orderly patterns called meridians.
When the flow of chi through a meridian becomes blocked or out of balance, illness will result. Therefore, in order to maintain good health, chi must be allowed to flow freely. It is believed that t'ai chi originated in the 11th century when a man called Chang Senfeng developed a system of movements specifically to cultivate chi.
The movements of Cal chi are gentle and should flow effortlessly into each other. This will help an individual to concentrate on their physical, mental and spiritual state, promoting the smooth flow of chi. It is best to take lessons from a fully trained t'ai chi teacher at first, since the postures or `forms' of t'ai chi are complicated. A short form consists of 37 movements and will take between 5 or 10 minutes, while a longer form consists of 108 movements and takes about 30 minutes to perform.
T'ai chi is widely recommended for the relief of stress and anxiety, increased flexibility and toning muscles. It may also help to lower blood pressure.
According to osteopaths, many illnesses are caused by neuro-musculoskeletal problems which can be treated with physical manipulation. Developed by an American, Dr Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) in the late 19th century, osteopathy is based on his belief that when the body is correctly adjusted there is less strain on the musculoskeletal system. The result is that the body's other systems work more smoothly.
Through detailed questioning and feeling or palpating a patients body, an osteopath attempts to discover why a problem has occurred. The problem is then corrected by carefully manipulating the tissues, muscles and joints. A series of more forceful manipulation movements are employed, including a `high velocity thrust' which can cause the joints to click. The treatment is usually agreeable rather than painful. Osteopathy is now one of the most widely used complementary therapies, particularly for back pain, which makes up approximately half of all treatment.
Osteopathy is regularly used to treat cervical spondylosis, asthma, arthritis and sports injuries. It can also be helpful in providing general treatments to promote general good health and well-being. Manipulation is not recommended for those suffering from conditions such as osteoporosis.
Although generally accepted as safe, some cases of arterial damage have been reported as a result of excessive manipulation of the cervical vertebrae.
Developed by William Garner Sutherland, who trained with Andrew Taylor Still, this branch of osteopathy applies osteopathic theory to the cranium. Garner believed that the misaligned bones of the skull could be coaxed back into normal working relationships using very gentle manipulation.
Cranial osteopathy is usually used for spinal and head injuries, including those to the face, mouth and jaw. It is also used in babies and young children, whose cranial bones may have become misaligned at birth.
Osteopathy and chiropractic are broadly similar in that the chiropractor uses the hands to manipulate joints and vertebrae in order to restore the body to its optimum functioning level. Chiropractic was developed by an American, Dr Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), around the end of the 19th century after he cured a local janitor's deafness by manipulating his spine.
Because the spine protects such a large part of the nervous system, if vertebrae become stiff or nerves become pinched or trapped problems can occur almost anywhere in the body. The chiropractor's aim is to loosen up the stiffness in the spine and free the nerves, thereby removing the origin of physical disorders such as sciatica, slipped discs, arm and shoulder pain, lumbar pain, sports injuries and migraine.
The first consultation with a chiropractor involves not only obtaining a detailed medical history, but often taking x-rays to locate the problem areas in the spine. Treatment typically involves treating physical blockages in the spine that interfere with nerve function. Because these adjustments require precise movement, they should only be undertaken by a fully qualified chiropractor, and they should not be given if the patient is suffering from a condition such as osteoporosis, or has a spinal tumour, inflammation or a recent bone fracture.
All the civilisations of the ancient world used massage as a therapeutic remedy. Then, because of cultural taboos about the body and touching, massage fell out of favour in Europe until the 19th century, when a Swedish doctor, Per Hendrik Ling, developed the `Swedish Movement Treatments'. This is still practised today along with other types of massage, such as acupressure-based shiatsu the application of pressure and vibration to specific points.
There are sound physiological reasons why rubbing, kneading and stroking various parts of the body should improve health. Moving muscles and soft tissues stimulates the circulation of blood and lymph, thus removing waste products and toxins from the area being massaged and supplying oxygen to the tissues.
A trained masseuse will not only be expert in the various applications of effleurage (long, sweeping movements), petrissage (kneading, wringing or rolling movements) and tapotement (chopping movements with the side of the hand), but also will have some knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Before the massage, a patient will be questioned about overall mental and physical health. Lotions, creams or oils may be used in conjunction with massage strokes. Many massage therapists use essential oils diluted with a base oil during a massage. The oils are absorbed through the skin.
Massage has proved useful for stressrelated problems, arthritic conditions, muscular problems, back and neck pain and sports injuries. Massage should not be undertaken by people taking anticoagulant drugs as there is a risk of subcutaneous haemorrhage.
One of the most physical forms of body manipulation, Rolfing may be uncomfortable, even painful, both physically and emotionally for the patient. Devised by an American biological chemist, Dr Ida Rolf (1896-1976), this uses a combination of deep massage and manipulation to release pain and to loosen up the body.
Dr Rolf believed that the human body could be pushed out of alignment by the stresses of modern life. In order to remain operational, an individual would `fight' to keep the body in alignment which drains the body, leaving it open to illness.
To realign the body of a patient, a Rolfing practitioner may take photographs of a minimally clothed patient in order to detect any abnormal posture. The practitioner will then try to correct abnormalities by manipulating the patient's body using his or her knuckles, elbows, hands and fingers.
ZONE THERAPY AND REFLEXOLOGY
Zone therapy was first introduced in the West by American ear, nose and throat specialist William H. Fitzgerald in the early 20th century. He had discovered that pressure applied to certain parts of the nose caused numbness in areas of the face, and, as a result, mapped out other zones where this phenomenon occurred, coining the phrase 'zone therapy'. His studies were continued by Eunice Ingham who believed that all parts of the body could be treated by applying pressure to the feet.
In reflexology, the body is thought to be divided into ten vertical energy zones that run from the feet up through the body to the head and down through the arms to the hands. All the organs in a zone are connected by a flow of energy and the organs can be `accessed' by massaging specific areas on the hands and feet. Most reflexologists concentrate on the feet and claim to be able to diagnose a complaint by `reading' sensitive areas of the feet which are connected to the affected part of the body. These painful areas are then eased by the application of pressure.
A consultation with a reflexologist will begin with the therapist asking detailed questions about the person's general health and lifestyle, as well as an examination of the bare feet. Treatment involves firm pressure applied to specific areas of the feet (this should never be painful). The number of sessions will vary depending on the nature of the problem. Common disorders that have been found to respond well to treatment with reflexology are gastrointestinal problems, heartburn, diarrhoea and premenstrual syndrome.
Although there is no scientific evidence that the zones and energy lines used in reflexology actually exist, reflexology may be therapeutic in that it uses touch and massage, which both aid relaxation.
TRANSCUTANEOUS ELECTRICAL NERVE STIMULATION (TENS)
The use of electrotherapy to relieve pain is mentioned as far back as ancient Rome when doctors tried to relieve gout by placing a patient's foot on an electric eel.
Today, such electrical stimulation is most widely applied through a process called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, TENS, which makes use of small electrical impulses that are applied to the nerve endings just beneath the skin. These seem to provide an alternative stimulus to the brain, thus blocking messages of pain. TENS is also believed to stimulate the production of endorphins, the body's own painkillers.
TENS is often recommended for sufferers of long-term or severe pain but should not be used by anyone fitted with a pacemaker, as the electrical charge may interfere with the pacemaker's rhythm.
TENS machines are available in many doctors' surgeries and most physiotherapy clinics. You may also be able to purchase them from the manufacturer. Your doctor will advise you on how appropriate TENS is to your particular condition.