Yes, Yoga 3x a Week Can Help Prevent Spinal Surgery

Yoga can prevent surgeryYoga may not alter the trajectory of family genetics in a lifetime, but it can prevent the need for spinal surgery.

Renowned orthopedic surgeon Gary Michelson, MD and founder of the Gary Michelson Medical Research Foundation (MMRF) says that, “In essence, being in good shape, having good core strength, and good flexibility is protective against many of the conditions that would have otherwise gone on to lead to spinal surgery. That having been said, there are those conditions which arise from structural defects in the spinal column that are probably not amenable to relief by exercise.”

But a person can “. . .fight heavy genetic issues with yoga and keep spinal surgery at bay,” says Vijay Vad MD, a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College.   He’s also the author of Back RX: A 15-Minute-a-Day Yoga- and Pilates-Based Program to End Low Back Pain (Penguin 2004) and PBS national television special “Stop Back Pain Now.”

For example, within a family, if a brother suffers from genetic spinal stenosis and chooses a complex surgery such as cervical laminoplasty to cure his symptoms like progressive numbness and immobility, it’s possible his sibling, who may suffer from the same condition, can prevent surgery by starting and maintaining a yoga practice early in life.

Loren Fishman, MD., Managing Partner of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, concurs that “Yes, sometimes, yoga can help with even congenital conditions. The best poses are gentle flexion of the entire spine, and if ability permits, extension of the lumbar spine with flexion of the cervical spine, such as Paschimottasana (Figure 8. p. 246) with head elevated.  These gently move the spinal canal within the canal and may help the cord find the path of least compression.  “When it comes to spinal stenosis, yoga can certainly relieve pain and improve function, though this is more studied in the lumbar than the cervical spine,” says Dr. Fishman.  It does not change the anatomical fact of stenosis, but it does significantly improve people’s ability to function highly with the condition they have, often avoiding surgery for considerable periods of time.

Dr. Vad’s study, “The Role of the Back Rx Exericse Program in Diskogenic Low Back Pain:  A Prospective Randomized Trial”  showed that when practiced regularly, yoga reduces back pain and symptoms, recurring back pain and the chance of surgery, as well as narcotics use.

But yoga can be a double-edged sword.  Dr. Vad emphasizes the need to begin yoga slowly and to not jump into it. “If you jump into it too quickly you can blow your discs,” he says.  “You have to ease into it. You have to start as a beginner or have a modified practice.”

When Dr. Fishman’s spinal patients complain that they simply “can’t” do yoga, he troubleshoots.  First, he asks, “Have you tried?”  If his patient had a negative experience with yoga, he’ll find out why.  In general, Dr. Fishman tries to show the array of yoga available, such as, who (instructor), what kind of yoga (Kundalini, Iyengar, Ashtanga), what kind of setup (class, private), and then find a match for the student (state of mind, body, and goals then and now).

Yoga is the ultimate mind body connection therapy, because of the breathing.  “It isn’t breath that helps the spine, it’s the breathing” says Dr. Fishman.  Certainly, breathing helps posture and self-awareness, because “There’s a feedback loop, and better breathing makes for better alignment, which enhances breathing, which improves alignment and so on.”   To build and maintain a healthy spine, it’s essential to learn the correct technique of  breathing or prana from an expert instructor like Kiki Flynn and combine  it with the physical postures.  Most critically, says Dr. Fishman, “The breathing process focuses one on the apparatus of breathing, and the ribs and spine are the heart of the torso.”

In fact, Dr. Fishman’s study “Yoga for Osteoporosis: A Pilot Study” showed that “Eighty percent of the people who did yoga for two years according to the protocol improved their bone mineral density, even though most were losing bone before the study.”  Yoga strengthened the bones of their hips, spines, and thighs.

Yoga prompts better alignment, better coordination, and moves the spinal cord and cauda equina in the spinal canal, enabling it to settle in the position of least resistance.  The better alignment puts less pressure by reducing twists and turns, however slight they may be, and the better coordination enables multiple levels of the spine to bend smoothly and share tensions, thus reducing tension on the cord itself.  And by putting people in touch with their bodies, that is, mindfulness, it prompts earlier awareness of just how far they can go with reaching, bending, twisting, lifting, and just about everything else.

It also provides better proprioception, how the body senses itself in space, and this perception of balance prevents fewer back injuries, hip fractures, and ankle sprains.  Doctors at the American College of Sports Medicine recommend the YogaForce A-Line Mat to help with proper body alignment and proprioception.

According to Dr. Vad, “Proper exercise that increases the back’s flexibility, strength, and endurance makes good balance and posture possible and can dramatically retard these natural aging processes and moderate their effects.”

He focuses on three goals to maintain a healthy spine.  The first is to gain flexibility.  Lifelong yogi’s, for example, frequently retain well-hydrated discs into advanced old age.  Like the rest of the body, the discs depend on the circulatory system to bring them oxygen, so yoga like walking hydrates the discs of the spine.  Exercising the back prevents the discs’ loss of water, keeping it flexible and resilient.  “I’ve seen seventy-five and eighty-year-old yogi’s whose spines look great,” says Dr. Vad.

Second is the strength to move.  Dr. Vad states that, “The stronger the core trunk muscles [from knee to midsection] the less pressure there will be on the spine’s intervertebral discs and facet joints and the more resistant a person will be to disc herniations, facet arthritis, and other back problems.”

And third, yoga builds endurance to withstand stress, that “Over time, the slow, steady, moderate stresses and focused breathing can build very healthy levels of endurance along with core strength.”

To prevent spinal surgery, Dr. Vad’s prescription is to do yoga three times a week using his DVD Back Rx and implement aerobic training and walking every other day.

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The Human Herpesviruses (HHV) that Lurks, Waits, and Replicates in You

2015 Virus familyThe virus lurks in the dorsal root ganglion like a terrorist waiting.  Blindsided and forgotten like chickenpox, when it surfaces, the shingles’ rash can look like an alien reptile has left its imprint on your skin and is sometimes referred to as “the devil’s grip.”  The varicella-zoster virus has shadowed the human race for thousands of years causing chickenpox and later in life shingles.  Although researchers are investigating the phenomenon of the herpes virus’s unique ability to replicate itself, as of yet, no known cure exists to oust it from the body, where it dwells in the ganglia and, along with other unwanted guests, in the liver.  The best solution, like dealing with a difficult mother-in-law, is to coexist.

Shingles has increased and is four times as common now as it was sixty years ago.  “It’s increased across all age groups,” says Dr. Barbara Yawn, Adjunct Professor at University of Minnesota in Family and Community Health.

Doctors still don’t know the reason for the increase.  “We’ve done studies, and we just don’t know,” Dr. Yawn says.  “The increase is not due to greater rates of immuno-suppression in the population, not due to lack of boostering, not due to introduction of the chickenpox or varicella vaccine, not due to more doctor’s visits, and not due to access to anti-viral meds.”

The viruses herpes-zoster (VZV) and herpes simplex (HSV), the one that causes cold sores, are neurotropic alpha viruses that live in clusters of nerve cells near the spine called the dorsal root ganglion;  the ganglia is the connection between the nerves coming out of the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.

There’s some indication VZV thrives on stress.  “I suppose some of it could be due to more widespread stress,” Dr. Yawn says.  “We know that there’s some increased risk of shingles in people who have had adverse life events.”

“The herpes zoster and the herpes simplex is a fascinating family of viruses,” says Dr. Yawn.  “They all act in a similar way that they stay dormant for years and don’t cause any symptoms but then can reactivate.”  The viruses hide in the nerve tissues, replicating, surviving, waiting, until the right time, when the immune system is weakened, to spring into action.

Viruses can also sleep in the liver.  Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, Chief of the Medical Virology Section in the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Dieseases, in Bethesda, Md.  says, “The latent VZV along the spine should be the same as VZV that’s sometimes detected in the liver as far as we know.  Hepatitis viruses (A,B,C) infect the liver, and other viruses less commonly infect the liver.  The vertebra of the spine can also be infected by bacteria including tuberculosis, and some fungi can occasionally infect the vertebra and cause abscesses.”

Another member of the family is the cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common virus most people don’t know they have, because it rarely causes symptoms.  Once CMV is in the body, like all herpes, it takes cover in the ganglia. According to the CDC, “Among every 100 adults in the United States, 50–80 are infected with CMV by the time they are 40 years old.”  Yet another relative is the Epstein-Barr virus, that causes infectious mononucleosis or mono as it’s known.  Dr. Cohen says that, “CMV can occasionally infect the spine,” too.

It’s essential to keep VZV  from reactivating.  “The only way is the shingles’ vaccine,” says Dr. Yawn. “But the vaccine hasn’t been studied in people younger than fifty and so does not have FDA approval.  Shingles and complications like postherpetic neuralgia are less common in people under fifty and many people would need to be vaccinated to prevent one case or one complication.”

How can we supercharge our immune system to fight off the enemy?  “There’s no magic potion,” says Dr. Yawn.  “Some people need to use immuno-suppressive medications for cancer, to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, or to treat some chronic diseases like moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.  But for people without these needs, avoiding stress, treating depression, having a healthy, well-balanced diet, activity, and maintaining a normal weight can help.”

Alternative options can strengthen the immune system, too.  Dr. Mary Claire H. Wise, Integrative Family Physician, recommends milk thistle supplements to support the liver and the metabolic detox pathways in the liver.  “When you’re not holding on to toxins, your immune system is able to function better,” says Dr. Wise.  “For herpes viruses, what I have found works best is L-lysine three grams daily, St. John’s Wart 450mg twice a day, and echinacea one gram three times a day to prevent a recurrence.”

Kiki Flynn, the popular YouTube Wellness Guru and Lifestyle Coach, recommends neem supplements, because neem is anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. Neem mitigates parasites, eczema, and viruses like shingles.  In India, neem trees grow up to fifty feet high, a symbol of health, wealth, and community well-being.  But, advises Kiki, “Check with your doctor and do not take if pregnant or nursing. Take according to label and do not exceed two weeks.”

To detox the liver, Kiki recommends her castor oil deep cleanse pack at Kiki Says.

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Consciousness, Cooperation, and Communication: Healing DID

Mental Health

It wasn’t until after Karin’s fourth suicide attempt that the mental illness she’d battled her whole life finally began to make sense.

Seated in a hospital conference room with a psychiatrist, the doctor asked her if she understood bipolar disorder, which she knew she had. She told him yes and that she understood why she took meds for it. Then he asked if she realized there was a name for the other symptoms she was experiencing. She told him no, that she thought it was all part of being bipolar. He explained to her that her memory lapses and the loss of time could be accounted for by another very complex disorder called Dissociative Identity Disorder and that she would need to work with her outpatient therapist to deal more deeply with it.

When Karin left the room, she felt relieved that there was a name for what she was experiencing but also scared to death. Not until many years later, after much therapy, did she begin to realize that she did have multiple personalities living inside of her and that it could be traced back to the abuse she endured as a child.

To this day, she’s still trying to map out who she is.

“I could take drive four hours from Virginia to Maryland and have no memory how I got from point A to point B,” she says.

But once the doctor asked about her symptoms, focusing on memory lapses and loss of time, she began to understand the mysterious gaps in her history.

“I was a kid who always daydreamed a lot and never really thought about the time I missed,” she says, now forty-one and in therapy to treat DID. “When he told me I was surprised and a little angry at myself for not putting the pieces of the puzzle together myself. I spent the next couple of days asking a lot of questions and trying to figure out how I was going to deal with this revelation.”

According to Sidran Institute, an organization dedicated to educating and helping people survive trauma, DID may affect one percent of the American population. That’s one in one hundred people, putting DID in the same category as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety as one of the four major mental health problems today.

According to J.B. Foote, M.D., a psychiatrist diagnosing DID for fifteen years, patients who suffer from DID have endured an average of seven years of psychiatric treatment, including multiple psychiatric hospitalizations, before being correctly diagnosed. And when they are given a diagnosis whether it’s bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia or depression, or combinations, it’s wrong. Many people with DID suffer added dangers of being prescribed wrong meds and enduring medical environments not conducive to health.

“I’d been hospitalized many times before,” says Karin. “The hospitals I had been to always told me I was just manic and having psychotic symptoms. I didn’t know any better so I just took the meds they gave me and once I felt safe again they released me.”

“There’s a widespread lack of education about this, combined with controversy and skepticism,” says Dr. Foote.

The numbers may be even higher as DID may affect five to twenty percent of people in psychiatric hospitals, many who have received other diagnoses. The incidence rates are even higher among sexual-abuse survivors, the majority women, and among individuals with chemical dependencies.

“Many people who have DID may function extremely well as mothers and wives, and even in high-level professions – so well so that no one around them may suspect their problem,” says Dr. Foote.

“It’s weird,” says Karin. “But to people who don’t know me, I look like a person who really has it together. I have worked hard over the years to hide my DID because I knew that few people understood it and I did not want to be ostracized.”

Veronica D. Abney, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker in the field for twenty-five years, agrees with Foote that DID is an illness not fully recognized.

DID is a disorder that develops in childhood between the ages of five and seven. Most people when they think of DID, known as multiple personality disorder until 1994 when the American Psychiatric Association’s manual changed the name to dissociative identity disorder, are reminded of the terrifying 1970’s novel Sybil that depicts the illness. The disorder begins with a horrific childhood history not diagnosed until adulthood. To develop DID, a person must have suffered severe, horrific child abuse whether physical, sexual, or emotional.

“DID develops in childhood” says Dr. Abney, “because a child doesn’t have a caretaker to soothe them. Kids have a limited repertoire of defense mechanisms. They “make believe” they’re different people.”

These “make believe” people become what is known as alters, insiders, or parts.

An adult coping and going through life carrying these experiences, these painful memories, may suddenly find “something” triggers the abuse. For example, a mother may first experience DID when she has a child the same age she was when she suffered such horrendous abuse.

Dissociative Disorder is the larger umbrella diagnosis that includes the full spectrum of dissociative illness. Complex and wide-ranging, the disorder itself can be gauged using the Dissociative Experiences Scale, a screening test made up of twenty-eight questions. DID is just one of many dissociative disorders ranging from depersonalization to post-traumatic stress disorder. But DID patients who have suffered horrific childhood abuse consistently score high on the test, and most are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as well.

Understanding the finer lines of the disorder in our popular culture can be tricky. Pop-star Beyonce is famous for her “alter ego,” Sasha Fierce, whom Beyonce claims is more fashionable, daring, crazy and impulsive than the “real” Beyonce, and so is Christina Aguilera’s, Xtina, who lets her push sexual boundaries on stage. Tila Tequila has claimed she has DID and her alter, Jane Cordovez, filmed herself on Ustream webcam with a shotgun in her mouth. And the Emmy Award winning Showtime series The United States of Tara  starring actress Toni Collette deals respectfully with Tara, a mother suffering from DID and trying to raise a family.  In Suicide Squad, the DC comic character known as Harley Quinn, best known as the former girlfriend of the Joker, suffers from multiple personalities.

All human beings experience some level of dissociation whether losing themselves in a good novel, film or daydreaming on the train. Everyone scores somewhere on the DES test. Everybody has parts and parts of themselves they don’t like, but being accountable for personal behavior is what matters.

So where do Beyonce and Christina fall on the dissociative scale?

“It’s a coping device, dealing with stress,” says Abney. “They are conscious of what they’re doing. Everyone dissociates to a certain degree. We all have moments of dissociation. The criteria for DID diagnosis is amnesia or ‘Is it Live or is it Memorex?’”

For DID patients, the question is, is reality filled with awareness and consciousness or is it altered?

It’s possible for DID to be cured through psychotherapy with the long-term goal to integrate the alters and parts. But the treatment experience can be extremely painful, as the patient must remember and accept traumatic memories. Healing can take many, many years. But it’s possible for the alters or parts to merge into a single whole personality and reclaim the awareness, identity, and history previously held by the individual parts according to Sidran.

“Most people think of Sybil when they think of DID,” Karin says. “But people who have DID can have normal lives and function very well.”

For more information, visit The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation

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YogaForce Celebrates Mother's Day with Jessica Biel for Skin Cancer Awareness Month

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