Love the surprising benefits of cupping

Cupping Therapy

           As a Holistic Health Practitioner it is always useful to have a variety of techniques and therapies in your healing tool box. One of my favorite techniques I utilize is Cupping Therapy. There are many health benefits to the patient, not to mention that five minutes of cupping is equal to thirty minutes of deep tissue massage.

During a typical massage session a therapist will push into a muscle to alleviate tensions in the body. It helps to think of Cupping Therapy as the reverse of regular massage. Using suction, cupping provides a gentle pulling (rather than pushing) on the muscles for a more complete release of fascia, nerves and adhesions. It may seem new, strange or trendy, seeing as it is now under celebrity endorsement. The truth is that this technique has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Traditional Maya Medicine* (TMM) for thousands of years. It is used by both cultures to disperse wind out of the body, improve blood stagnation and promote vital Qi flow.

The first types of cupping tools were made of bamboo, clay or animal horns; followed by the use of glass, plastic, rubber, and silicone. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is common to place many stationary cups on the body along various meridian points on the patient. Often these cups will stay in place for 15-30 min. Due to Qi, blood and tissue stagnation toxins are often brought to the surface of the skin resulting in a temporary skin discoloration where the cup was placed. This temporary reddish discoloration is not a bruise and is only a sign there has been diminished oxygen and blood supply to the tissue.

Another method involves always moving or running the cups on the body. It is commonly used in Traditional Maya Medicine and is the one I prefer to use in my holistic practice. To run the cups, massage oil is first applied to the skin, allowing for the cup to glide over the muscles and release adhesions. Running the cups also greatly reduces any chances for skin discoloration.

I was first introduced to Cupping Therapy in 2008 when I took a seminar on the different styles and applications for clinical use. After this seminar, I began to use the plastic stationary cups and silicone cups that could be moved on the body using oil. Although these methods had many benefits, the style never completely resonated with me. I had all but set aside Cupping Therapy from my healing practice. Little did I know that two years later I would fall in love with Cupping Therapy on a trip to Mexico. I was studying Traditional Maya Medicine from a well-known Traditional Healer named Rita Navarette Perez from Mexico City. She taught me the art of fire cupping, or Ventosas as it is known in TMM. I also had the honor of experiencing a personal fire cupping session from Rita and was amazed at how great I felt in such a short time.

Fire cupping is very safe when done by a trained practitioner. Furthermore, the addition of heat has a soothing effect to the nervous system. Why is this technique so effective? The cups are vertical or round glasses, similar to a regular drinking glass. In order to create a heat vacuum, a flame is placed in the glass very rapidly (1 sec.) then taken out and the glass is immediately placed on the body. The result is a gentle warming heat and mild suction of the skin into the glass. Oil is also used to be able to run (move) the cups on the body – getting a wide area of contracted and congested tissue to soften quickly. Let me tell you, this feels amazing!

Just beneath the skin are layers of fascia or connective tissue that attach to every muscle in our body. Fascia is fibrous and sticky, helping to hold muscle tissue and organs in place. Overused muscles cause inflammation and a build-up lactic of acid to occur. When fascial tissue gets bound it creates adhesions and causes muscle soreness, joint restriction, nerve pain, and reduced blood flow and oxygen to the tissues. Cupping allows separation to occur by gently pulling on multiple fascial layers to free adhesions and nerves, thus restoring oxygen to the tissue. It produces a profound vasodilation reaction, drawing blood to areas of pain while promoting metabolism within the skin tissue for better functioning of sweat and sebaceous glands. It also flushes toxins and lymph, activates synovial fluid in joints, and has a calming effect on the nervous system.

Common conditions treated by Cupping Therapy include: sciatica, chronic headache and back pain, anxiety, fibromyalgia, poor circulation, nervous tension, respiratory infections and colds, arthritis, muscle and joint pain.

Here are some of the benefits of Cupping Therapy:

  • Loosens adhesions
  • Improves circulation and reduces inflammation
  • Expels congestion and stagnation
  • Promotes the free flow of Qi
  • Strengthens immune system by promoting lymphatic flow
  • Releases impaired nerves
  • Pulls toxins to the surface of the skin

The good news is that you don’t have to travel across the world to experience these great benefits. Along with Centered Spirit, a Traditional Maya Medicine practice, there are many acupuncturists in the local Kansas City area that utilize cupping in their treatments. It is exciting and healthy to add new forms of bodywork into your lifestyle enhancement program. I hope you get the chance this year to try…and maybe fall in love with Cupping Therapy.

By: Alex Jackson

Looking Beyond the Scar

Have you ever wondered what happens on the inside of a surgical scar?  I recall about 25 years ago my grandfather coming home from an abdominal surgery with staples and buttons attached to the outside of the incision…he looked like an alien to me!

Fortunately, the days of the Frankenstein looking scars are virtually gone due to medical advancements like dissolving stitches and surgical adhesives. Visible scar or not, however, a lot is still happening under the skin. Within a few hours of surgery there are adhesions being created by the body. Adhesions are our body’s natural way to heal and repair an injury or wound left from surgery.

They are fibrous bands that form abnormal connections extending from one tissue across another. While some adhesions do not cause problems, others can prevent muscle tissues and organs from moving freely. Organs can become twisted, obstructed or pulled from their normal position, creating pain and discomfort within our bodies.

Abdominal adhesions are a common complication of surgery and occur in a majority of people who have had abdominal or pelvic procedures. Interestingly enough, we may not notice any symptoms of adhesions or internal scar tissue for months or years after the initial surgery.  An unfortunate fact is that adhesions are unavoidable in surgery, and the main conventional medical treatment for adhesions is more surgery. What!  More surgery leads to more adhesions. “Where is the logic in this approach…someone please find me a treatment to relieve my discomfort,” you say.

I have the answer…Abdominal Integrative Therapy! This is a holistic and non-invasive technique I have perfected over the last decade. Deep abdominal breathwork is integrated with massage to break up abdominal adhesions and increase circulation to damaged and restricted tissue. As a holistic health practitioner dedicated to abdominal health, I have seen thousands of people with post-surgical abdominal adhesions ranging in severity from major to minor. All have received relief from Abdominal Integrative Therapy…I do mean all!

People routinely visit my office with more abdominal surgeries than I can count. Their colon, appendix, bladder, uterus or other organs and pathogenic tissues may have been repaired or removed.  They may have tightness, pulling or nerve discomfort near the incision scar. Sandra, a patient of mine that was referred by her OB/GYN had these exact symptoms. She was a 35 year old mother that had been suffering from debilitating nerve pain following the caesarean delivery of her child two years prior. Her only request was the ability to play actively with her children again. The adhesions on Sandra’s lower pelvis were stiffened and unpliable. This over contracted fascia resulted in her nerves being trapped, suffocated and starved of vital oxygen and circulation.  Abdominal Integrative Therapy proved to be the breakthrough for Sandra. She was elated that all of her scar tissue nerve pain was gone. Afterwards, she described the feeling that a virtual 24/7 tightened belt around her abdomen simply disappeared.

Treating abdominal or pelvic adhesions is only fully successful if the practitioner is also able to loosen any respiratory diaphragm restrictions. The diaphragm is our major muscle for breathing. The descending aorta passes through it, delivering blood supply to the abdomen and lower extremities. It is located at the base of the sternum and attaches to the lower rib cage. Deep abdominal breathing is necessary to aide in the separation of fibrous tissue and provides an internal massage to adhered organs, making it a key factor in reestablishing healthy tissue.

A study in Digestive Surgery [i] showed that more than 90% of patients develop adhesions following open abdominal surgery and 55–100% of women develop adhesions following pelvic surgery. Since there is usually a time lapse between surgery and symptoms, many get misdiagnosed. A woman can even develop fertility issues from pelvic adhesions that surround an ovary, fallopian tube or uterus. Common laparoscopic procedures used to treat endometriosis will often leave a women’s pelvis with unwanted scar tissue and adhesions.

Often we will not connect a surgery such as gall bladder removal, hysterectomy or hernia repair with digestive problems occurring months or years later. A small bowel obstruction is a significant consequence of post-surgical adhesions and can occur outside the area of the incision scar. Abdominal connective tissue has a spiderweb like structure that provides a specific residence for each organ. The characteristic of this web is such that when you pull one end all contents (organs) can be shifted. When post-surgical adhesions are involved, abdominal organs are more prone to kinking and twisting.

One possible complication can be a bowel obstruction caused when an adhesion pulls or kinks the small intestine and prevents the flow of content through the digestive tract.  I have seen progressive bowel adhesions that limit a person to a liquid only diet. You can imagine how the inability to eat solid food takes a heavy toll on one’s emotional state. The same process of deep abdominal breathwork with massage is applied for relieving any bowel obstructions and restoring the patient to a normal diet.

My advice is to get any and all scars massaged no matter how old or new. Remember to allow four to six weeks after surgery before getting treatment. It is always a good idea to consult with the therapist and or physician before getting any type of treatment. I have learned that people are always relieved when they finally understand where there discomfort originates and even more astonished with the results after receiving an Abdominal Integrative Therapy session. I invite you to look beyond the scar as I did with my grandfather. The healing connections that lie beneath the surface may provide the answer for which you have been searching.

[i] Liakakos, T; Thomakos, N; Fine, PM; Dervenis, C; Young, RL (2001). “Peritoneal adhesions: etiology, pathophysiology, and clinical significance.

Recent advances in prevention and management”. Digestive surgery

written by Alex Jackson

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Alex Jackson LMT, NCTMB is a Holistic Health Practitioner, specializing in Traditional Maya Medicine and Abdominal Integrative Therapies. He is the owner of Centered Spirit  centeredspirit.com.

 

The Prescription for Anti-Aging is Sweat

So…you walk into a doctor’s office and politely ask him to make you FEEL and LOOK younger. His first reply to your request is  — go and SWEAT! You are thinking this is either a joke or it had to be taken from the pages of Mad Magazine’s snappy answers to stupid questions. Quite the contrary, the anti-aging benefits of sweating is no joke; in fact sweating therapies have been used for centuries to purify the body.  Unfortunately, the majority of our modern western culture does not see it this way; we often see sweating as disgusting and dirty…even embarrassing.

We now live primarily in an air-conditioned country, where we have conditioned ourselves to stop perspiration even before it begins. Take for example walking outside in the city on a nice warm afternoon in the summer. You are dressed accordingly with shorts a tank top and sandals…what a blessing to feel the heat on your body. In fact, you welcome a little perspiration, especially after being on lockdown inside for months hoping to survive the Midwest winter. You decide to enter a nearby boutique, suddenly you are hit with an artic blast! Yes often it is upwards of 85 degrees outside but can be 30 degrees cooler inside an air-conditioned building. Our bodies and minds are creatures of habit and begin to see sweating as abnormal, which can have a direct adverse affect on our immune system.

Sweating actually has numerous health and beauty-related benefits. It is true that everyone would like to have radiant and young looking skin. In fact, spending on anti-aging products is expected to reach $291.9 billion by 2015 according to a Global Industry Analysts report. I can assure you that you can look younger without wasting money on unnecessary and unnatural products. But first we need to understand and demystify the relation between the body, the skin and sweat.

One myth is that sweat stinks. Sweat itself is essentially odorless. The source of any smell is the bacteria that cover our bodies. This bacteria breaks down as protein and lipids in the form of moisture in our apocrine glands found in our armpits. One thing to consider is the more we sweat, the more this bacteria is removed and what we have left is completely odorless. Sweating is not only important for maintaining proper body temperature but is also important for cleansing.  When we sweat our bodies release various toxins, and some of these toxins can only be eliminated through the skin (which by the way is your single largest organ). When those toxins exit our pores, healthy skin makes its entrance. Some other benefits of sweating include:

  • Kills viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 ºF
  • Cleans pores on the skin, which help to eliminate blackheads and acne
  • Expels toxins, which support the immune system and help prevent diseases related to toxic overload

I see many patients in my practice that along with their abdominal, digestive or reproductive issues have also developed abnormal places on the body where the skin is irritated. Of course, this would make anyone more anxious and alarmed if they saw their skin looking sickly. In fact that is just what it is happening, the skin is trying to tell them it is overloaded with toxins. This happens for a few reasons.

First, the liver is our major internal detoxification organ (emotion that is associated with it is anger or frustration). When we have congestion in our abdomen it blocks vital circulation and waste removal, thus the liver becomes overloaded and cannot perform its job efficiently (just another reason we also need to let go of our daily stress and frustrations). The liver then passes its excess toxins to the next available organ, the skin. Now pathologies begins to show up, as nature never intended to put such a heavy burden on either organ. In addition, is the need to induce a sweat through the use of a sauna; this restores the skin to its health, youth and vitality. Although my practice is primarily based on Maya Abdominal Therapy, I see the skin as a way to read the overall health of a patient and use Infrared Sauna Therapy in conjunction with many treatments.

For many cultures around the world the ritual of sauna therapy is seen as sacred and is used for curing many illnesses, revitalizing the body, relieving sore muscles and dispersing unneeded emotions.  Cultures such as, the Romans, Scandinavian, Germans, and Russians have traditional sauna therapies. Closer to us in the Americas we may be more familiar with the sweat lodge of Native Americans, but I would like to introduce you to another type of ancient sauna therapy used in Mexico, the Temazcal.  A Temazcal is a type of sweat lodge, which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. The word Temazcal comes from the Nahuatl word temāzcalli (“house of heat”) also from the Aztec words teme (to bathe) and calli (house). It is best described as a round igloo shape made of brick and covered in stucco. The size can vary but an average one would fit 8-10 people. Volcanic rocks are heated at one end and tea is placed on the rocks to create steam and induce the body to sweat. Medicinal plants like eucalyptus (for the respiratory system) are often placed on the floor on the Temazcal and the heat from the vapor releases the medicinal properties of the plants.

During the past four years I have had the privilege to learn and see firsthand the healing benefits of the temazcals while working with Rita Navarrete Perez of Mexico City and Toñita Gonzales of New Mexico. These are some of the best Temazcaleras (Master of the Temazcal) you will ever find and they work to regulate a comfortable warm temperature inside the Temazcal, but never using extreme heat to stress the body. Benefits of the Temazcal include:

  • Cleanses the respiratory system and sinuses; eliminates toxins
  • Excellent for rheumatism and relieves muscle and joint aches
  • Reduces emotional stress and calms the nervous system
  • Improves circulation and eliminates chronic fatigue
  • Skin purification and rejuvenation

o   Tip: place raw honey on your face after any sauna therapy. Honey is full of antioxidants, which are good for wrinkles and aging skin. It is antibacterial, which helps with acne treatments and prevention. It clarifies skin by opening up and unclogging pores. It’s also a great moisturizer that soothes irritation and blemishes, and it leaves a lovely afterglow.

I know everyone cannot make it to Mexico to experience a Temazcal firsthand, but I believe strongly in the medicinal properties of this traditional sauna therapy, that is why I plan to construct a Temazcal in Kansas City in the next year. Until then you can get many of the same benefits of a Temazcal with an Infrared Sauna, which I use every day at my practice for my patients. Having an Infrared Sauna in my practice has been invaluable…patients love it; they see their chronic health conditions heal faster. Who would have thought sweat could make you look and feel so good…I guess that doctor was right!

by Alex Jackson, LMT, NCTMB

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Awareness is Healing

The past 13 years I have dedicated my practice, Centered Spirit, to helping people achieve optimal health through their abdomen. I have discovered what the Taoist, Maya, Japanese and other cultures and philosophies have spoken of for centuries…harmony in our center, core, or hara is our vital life source and it’s health will have a direct effect all other parts of the body.

Every belly has a different story to tell; a hidden message which once unlocked will allow healing to take place. This message, a mantra of sorts, has been consistent and loud during the past year…or maybe I am just listening with a new clarity. The mantra is three words, “Awareness is Healing™.

A simple phrase, yet many people spend a lifetime searching for the meaning without ever realizing that this mantra can cure any illness.
All that is required to experience the healing power of awareness is to feel. Not to think with the mind but feel with the body. The fastest way to access feelings is through the abdomen.

Why there? Let’s examine a few functions of the internal abdominal organs: small intestine = absorption of nutrients (life experiences), liver/gall bladder = detoxify/storage (process or store feelings), colon = elimination (awareness or healing). If Awareness is Healing, how do we get stuck along the way? The problem is we spend most of our lives in a state of protection, unaware of why?

Unawareness of guarding from past relationships and hidden feelings does not permit healthy growth. This always starts with the first relationship we have, our parents. As a child we have basic needs: to be loved – unconditionally, to have shelter and security, and to be allowed to be ourselves – free of expectations and judgments. When these needs are not met, feelings occur: hurt, sadness, guilt, shame, anger, and abandonment – to name a few.

If these emotions are not truly felt or processed they are stored in the body and manifest into a physical illness or a pattern of behavior. Chronic tension in the upper abdomen just below the sternum can lead to depression, acid reflux, breathing difficulties, and loss of circulation in upper extremities. This area of the body is also known as the Solar Plexus or third chakra.

Energetically it represents how we are seen in the world…our ideal of life. It is the storage facility for all expectations. Manifesting in the lower abdomen are cysts, fibroids, constipation, colitis, and sexual dysfunction. The pelvic energy of the first and second chakra has to do with survival, security, and sexual expression.

Do any of these conditions sound familiar? Can you relate? Yes, you even may be thinking of whom or what made you depressed or angry – but have you ever allowed your body to feel the raw emotion? Which feeling was the catalyst or base to all future experiences and relationships? Was it the unattainable love, unachievable expectation, or sexual repression placed on you by a parent, sibling, lover, or friend?

Awareness is in the actual feeling. Once the body is allowed to feel the stored emotion, it is no longer needed, and healing occurs. Awareness is healing, and by accessing the true emotion that triggered certain life outcomes – good or bad, you will not repeat unhealthy patterns and free yourself from illness.

In Traditional Medicine, bodyworkers, and psychologists have always said that “our issues are in our tissues.” No one understood this better than psychologist Dr. Wilhelm Reich. A pioneer for research in somatic therapies, Dr. Reich believed talk therapy was a waste of time. According to Reich, talking to a patient is like asking a person that is drowning to describe the temperature of the water. To not drown is to let the person feel.

You see…we can sensor thoughts but not our feelings. Just as when we were children we did not believe it to be true that we would be burned or hurt by a hot pan, although we were told not to touch it. Awareness did not come until we actually felt the pain for ourselves in our body, ensuring we would learn and not repeat it.

This is why Dr. Reich disagreed with traditional Freudian psychology. During his sessions with patients, Reich always knew where the bottom of the ocean was, carefully guiding patients until they could feel it as well. Reich also understood the importance of the abdominal bodywork to unlock tension in the body. My mentor, Dr. Rosita Arvigo, was the first to expose me to the Reichian theory. Dr Arvigo, developer of the Techniques of Maya Abdominal Massage, said “this was the missing link to her treatments.” She shared with me that Reichian theory was invaluable to her practice and provided a complete healing. 

We have all chosen to be on this planet at this time, to live life through experiences and relationships. Most important of all is to feel, whether it is joy or pain as long as it stimulates our senses. We must remove guards that prevent awareness in our bodies and allow feelings to occur naturally; this opens us up to clarity. When we are clear and aware we make better decisions, with better outcomes. Instincts are not clouded and we can truly navigate through life as we should and become who we always wanted to be. Our mind will always try to protect us from life’s experiences. What good is a life that is censored or without feeling?

My life’s passion is to allow people to feel through touch, in hopes that everyone will live (feel) the life they wish. I love knowing that everyday, through abdominal massage, another person has begun to feel, to breathe, and to live again…continuing their growth as a human being. I know now that the message of the past year for me is not to be taken lightly.

The mantra holds a lifelong meaning that I will honorably pass on to others daily “Awareness is Healing™.”

by Alex Jackson, LMT, NCTMB

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