Children sing for joy. They yell if they get angry and wail if they get hurt. Yet, by the time we have reached adulthood, we have learned not to cry or groan: we don’t use our voice; we don’t use sound. Big mistake, say the growing band of researchers who believe sound healing is a simple, cheap and easy way to release stress, improve our moods and even heal ourselves.
‘It’s a great shame,’ says Suzi Lever who runs workshops on using your natural voice. ‘Because making sound can really change your mood. If you feel low and you make happy sounds, it will lift you without a doubt. Your breathing will automatically change and so will your physiological state. You will find you have a lot more energy, a lot more confidence and that you have a lot less stress.’
In fact there is a whole raft of self-healing you can do with the help of the burgeoning field of sound therapy. Simon Heather, of the College of Sound Healing, describes it as, ‘The therapeutic application of sound frequencies to the body/mind of a person with the intention of bringing them to a state of harmony and health.’
It may sound far-fetched but everything in life has its own frequency. Just try tapping different size and shapes of glass and you can hear the tone changes according to its size, shape and the thickness of the glass. The opera singer smashing the glass is simply pitching her voice at the exact frequency of the glass – then, as the volume increases, the resonance becomes too much.
Fortunately, as Simon Heather reassures, ‘Our bodies are more flexible than a glass! The cells of our body enjoy the vibration of sound.’ Tempted to poo-poo it? Think about ultrasound. ‘Music does affect us physically,’ says renowned sound researcher and therapist Jonathan Goldman. ‘A quick example is that our heart beat, respiration and brain waves all entrain, or synchronize with different rhythms. Slow music tends to slow down our heart rate respiration and brain waves. Fast music has the opposite effect, tending to speed us up.’
Goldman believes that every organ, every bone, every cell of the body has its own frequency and explains that making the right sounds can actively promote health. ‘Disease is simply part of our body vibrating out of tune,’ he says. ‘Every organ, bone, tissue and other part of the body has a healthy resonant frequency.’ He claims that, by creating sounds which are harmonious with the ‘correct’ frequency of the healthy organ, we could all learn how to heal ourselves, bringing our bodies back into balance.
It works by a form of ‘entrainment’, the healthy sound coaxing the unhealthy element of your body back to its rightful rhythm. Think about a line of grandfather clocks. Put them together and, to begin with, their pendulums will all be swinging at different rates. But come back after a few hours and the pendulums will all be swinging at the same speed.
Goldman also believes we need intention. ‘Frequency plus Intention equals Healing,’ he says in his book (an excellent introduction), Healing Sounds – the Power of Harmonics. Sound healers believe that, by delivering the right sound frequency, combined with a clear intention to heal, then healing will occur.
Sound influences mind as well as body. Sound engineer Robert Monroe found that he could change a person’s state of mind simply by introducing multi-layered patterns of sound frequencies. Research at The Monroe Institute found that sound waves from two slightly different frequencies (fed to the brain via headphones) cause the brain to respond by producing a third sound (the so-called binaural beat). The brain locks on and follows the signal and can be entrained into altered brain states usually difficult for most people to reach while awake. High alpha or even theta states can be used for creativity, increased focus and concentration as well as profound relaxation and inducing deep sleep or even lucid dreaming. It seems also to help ADD and ADHD.
Solfeggio frequencies work along similar lines. A form of hemispheric synchronisation (bringing both sides of the brain into ‘whole brain’ activity), these frequencies supposedly date back to ancient times. They were commonly used in Gregorian chants and other sacred songs. Each Solfeggio tone is comprised of a frequency required to balance energy – there are six main Solfeggio frequencies – ranging from 396Hz (Liberating Guilt and Fear) to 852Hz (Returning to Spiritual Order). 528 Hz is known as the ‘Love’ signal, bringing transformation and facilitating DNA repair. This is maybe the easiest introduction to sound healing of all – all you have to do is sit back and listen.
But there are myriad ways of using the healing power of sound. You can use your own voice (either alone, with others or trilling along to a CD); you can listen to sound (either from voices or instruments); you can feel sound in your body by lying on a sound bed or by feeling the vibrations of voices or instruments near you.
Ongoing research into sound therapy and healing is uncovering amazing benefits. ‘It has helped diabetes, emphysema, and eye problems,’ says Simon Heather. ‘It can help to reduce high blood pressure, reduce pain and speeded up the body’s healing. Music influences the limbic system of the brain through pitch and rhythm affecting our emotions, feelings and sensations. Listening to certain music calms the nervous system and improves metabolism.’
It can have incredible psychological effects too. Suzi Lever warns that, if you do try some DIY sound therapy, you might find some surprising side effects. ‘Often it starts to release long-standing blocks and tensions,’ she says. ‘If you have always spoken or sung from your throat it is probably a protection mechanism. Start singing from your heart or your abdomen and you might find something else coming up – old grief, hurt, anger….’
Jonathan Goldman is convinced that sound is the healing of the future. ‘We have within ourselves that most amazing and god given instrument for healing and transformation. That instrument is our voice. It is natural, cost effective and does not require batteries or electricity. And perhaps most important, once you get into using your voice for frequency shifting – for healing and transformation – you’ll find it will give you a lifetime of joy.’
So start singing in the shower – who knows where it could end?
DIY Sound therapy
• Humming is a good way of calming yourself. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or nervous just sit quietly and hum very gently.
• Exaggerated yawning is ideal if you’re feeling tired. We hold a lot of tension in our jaws and mouths and stretching the mouth releases tension. Give a good stretch as well to really wake up the whole body.
• If you’re feeling irritable and tense try an elongated, noisy sigh. Chris James, the Australian workshop leader recommends deep groaning as well to release any negative emotions.
• Take every opportunity to sing. Sing with the radio, while you’re doing the housework, while you’re in the bath or, even better, while you’re driving in your car.
• Try singing the different vowel sounds – uuuh, ooo, oooh, aaah, eeeeh, iiii: where do you feel them in your body? How do they make you feel?
• Try singing positive statements, repeating them with different tunes. If you’re feeling tense try singing ‘I’m calm, I’m calm’.
• Listen to different kinds of music and work out what effect they have on your moods. Try listening to some of the sacred chants available on CD or YouTube for deep relaxation and a profound sense of peace.
• Try chanting. Even very simple chants can have a pronounced effect on the mind and body. The mind becomes clearer and more relaxed. Omm is the simplest chant but also one of the most calming and centring.
• Play with singing bowls. You can buy a variety of ‘singing’ bowls that act like a sort of bell. Tibetan, Himalayan, suzu, rin bowls or gongs are all ancient forms of making healing sounds – they’ve believed to date back over 3,000 years. The sides and rim vibrate to make a series of harmonics. Crystal bowls, made of quartz crystal, can also be used – and experiment with tuning forks and bells.
How sound affects mood
Harmonics: Certain kinds of music are rich in harmonics. Gregorian chant, Indian classical music and a cappella singing all change our brain patters, making us feel more relaxed and connected.
Musical intervals: An interval is created when we play or sing two different notes one after another or at the same time. Some intervals are uplifting (the major third – C/E and the major fifth – C/G for example) while minor intervals can make us feel sad. Some intervals are discordant and can induce darker emotions.
Rhythm: Researchers found that listening to Pacabel’s Cannon (with a rhythm of 64 beats a minute) changes the brain wave pattern from Beta to Alpha…64 beats per minute is the rate of our resting heart beat. If you want to increase your heart rate, listen to hard driving rock music. If you want to lower it, take the pace right down.
Drumming: Repetitive drumming can take you into a trance like state. The regular beat of the drum entrains the heartbeat to its rhythm so you can gradually slow the drum to reduce the heart beat and breathing rate.
College of Sound Healing: http://www.collegeofsoundhealing.co.uk
Suzi Lever: http://www.suzilever.co.uk
Jonathan Goldman: http://www.healingsounds.com
The Monroe Institute: http://www.monroeinstitute.org
The very latest eating plan is simplicity itself. It requires no fiddly recipes, no special equipment and no complicated rules. You don’t need to combine anything, count anything or measure anything simply because there are no foods to combine, no calories to count and no ingredients to measure. This is the lean world of fasting which makes the most draconian diet look generous.
It involves ingesting nothing more than water for upwards of a day and it is gaining in popularity virtually by the minute. It’s certainly not a new concept – back in medieval times, fasting was a way of life and all over the world religions have espoused the spiritual benefits of purifying and castigating the body by withholding food. Nowadays, however, few think of fasting as a solely religious experience and it certainly isn’t regarded as punishment: fasters are simply looking for a healthier body, a brighter mind and clearer emotions.
Amidst healthy scepticism there is evidence backing periodic, sensible fasting. Research has been carried out since 1880 and since then medical journals have carried occasional reports on the use of fasting for the treatment of obesity, eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, bronchial asthma, depression and even schizophrenia, to name but a few.
Most people nowadays, however, use it as preventative medicine. As medical herbalist Kitty Campion, author of A Woman’s Herbal (Vermilion) says, “Not only does it help the body to maintain peak fitness by periodically unburdening itself of accumulated waste, but, if done properly, it nips minor health problems in the bud, decelerates the ageing process, stabilises body weight and helps the body to utilise nutrition far more effectively.”
She points out that the digestive system uses up to 30 per cent of the total energy produced by the body so, by putting the system into a state of rest, the body can concentrate on detoxification and healing. On a health level, she says, fasting can improve your immune function and allow your body a decent chance to
deal with its problems; on a beauty level, fasting can make your skin look fresher and more toned, your eyes brighter and your hair more lush.
Quite obviously, you also lose weight. Six hours after the last meal, the body starts to use glycogen (the carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles) as its energy source. But after twenty-four hours the body will adapt to obtaining its energy from stored fat. However, if you want to lose weight, fasting is not your best or safest bet.
As the British Medical Association point out, after twenty-four hours your body takes its energy, not just from stored fat but also from the breakdown of muscle. If you continue fasting over several days, your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy and, if you fast for too long, the ability to digest food may be impaired or lost entirely because the stomach gradually stops secreting digestive juices. Prolonged fasting also halts the production of sex hormones and your body loses its ability to fight infection. So fast for too long and fasting will be positively bad for you. However the BMA says that fasting for twenty-four hours is fine and can even be an effective means of weight control. After that, they advise you need medical supervision.
However Lyndel Costain of the British Dietetic Association is not happy about fasting in any form and is worried about the growing trend. “People say they’re fasting for religious or health reasons but I still suspect that weight loss is the bottom line,” she comments. “It’s simply not a useful way to lose weight because it very much increases the preoccupation and intensity about food without addressing what your body really needs.” She points out that, after about seven days, fatty acids can be released into the blood. They are converted into ketones which make the whole system acidic and can cause a “high”. “People say the extra energy and “high” is their body responding to fasting but in fact it’s just a switch to a different form of fuel.”
She is a adamant that fasting can cause more problems than it solves: “I simply wouldn’t recommend fasting,” she says. “We’re all capable of staying healthy on a mixed and healthy diet. Sure, sometimes we might feel a bit sluggish or bloated but our bodies are quite capable of digesting and absorbing all
kinds of foods.”
However naturopaths and other holistic health practitioners insist that, if carried out carefully and under
supervision, fasting is quite safe. Patrick Howard of the Purist Foundation which runs regular fasting weekends is adamant that, “No fasting is dangerous as long as you are supervised.” He recommends people start off with a one day fast and then progress to five or even seven day fasts for maximum benefits. The Foundation introduces people to fasting with a weekend explaining how fasting works and ncorporating a day-long fast which is carefully supervised.
The main difficulty, he insists, is not actually hunger but fear. “We have been brought up to think that
you have to eat to be strong and so if we think about stopping eating it terrifies us. However once you get into fasting mode it’s easier than you think.”
The first time I fasted, years ago, I was totally miserable. If it hadn’t been for the latest Jilly Cooper and an evening glued to trashy DVDs I wouldn’t have made it past teatime. As it was I went to bed at eight o’clock with hiking socks on my feet to keep warm, curled up in a ball and prayed for oblivion.
But by day two I was feeling better. My tongue felt furry, there was a strange taste to my mouth and however many times a day I showered I still seemed to smell unpleasant but the hunger pangs had gone and I felt much clearer and lighter. I found myself looking at my relationship with food and working out why and when I wanted to eat. I discovered I was using food as both comfort and, surprisingly, a cure for boredom so I started giving myself mini-treats or plunging myself into more involving activities and the hunger went.
By the third morning I wasn’t hungry at all and could easily have kept going. But I broke my fast gently with a glass of orange juice. Lunch was a light salad and I felt full after a small bowl. My energy levels had improved and my skin felt remarkably clear and soft. Now I regularly fast – usually for one day a week or fortnight and no longer have any side effects – other than feeling pretty good.
However I certainly accept that fasting is not for everyone. If in doubt, don’t do it. And it is distinctly not advised if you are pregnant or breast feeding, if you have any medical condition and particularly if you are diabetic or have any eating disorder. Always ask the advice of a qualified practitioner and don’t fast unsupervised for more than twenty-four hours. Remember, the new form of fasting is supposed to make you feel good – it’s not the modern equivalent of a hair shirt.
A simple series of exercises could help your brain function better, making you sharper, smarter – and far more confident. Brain Gym comprises very easy body movements which have been designed to coax the two hemispheres of the brain to work in synchronisation.
Apparently when our brains become balanced, our whole bodies respond, revitalising our natural healing mechanisms, restoring health and harmony. Brain Gym can do everything from speeding up your reading to boosting self-esteem. It can improve your eyesight and even increase your creativity. It gives you a cutting edge both in the office and in your personal life, improving communication skills, helping you make better decisions and even giving you a boost when you’re facing rejection or disappointment.
Brain Gym is the practical self-help side of Educational Kinesiology, a system which developed out of work with dyslexia and learning disabilities in children. Researcher Dr Paul Dennison found that very simple body movements could help to improve brain function. Kay McCarroll, whose dyslexia ruined her school days, now teaches and promotes the system in the UK. She says, “It changed my life, quite literally; I can’t put it strongly enough. At school I was always being told to “try harder” but I literally couldn’t work any harder. I was trying my level best. Educational Kinesiology changed everything. Now I have even written a book.”
However Kay stresses that Brain Gym is not just for children with learning difficulties; it can help everyone, Even those who think they have perfectly normal brain function will find the exercises will help them perform even better. Brain Gym can help everyone get more out of their brains – and more out of life.
USING BRAIN GYM: THE EXERCISES.
The following are examples of key Brain Gym exercises. They are all very simple and each only takes
a few minutes at most. The more you use them, the more your brain will respond. However there is one other important tip for improving your performance which doesn’t even require performing an exercise. “Drink masses of water,” says Kay McCarroll. Apparently water is essential for the development of the nerve network during learning. “So keep a bottle of water on your desk and sip it throughout the day.”
Place your hands on your abdomen.
Exhale through your mouth in short little puffs, as if you are keeping a feather in the air, until your lungs feel empty.
Now inhale deeply, filling yourself like a balloon beneath your hand. (By arching your back slightly you can take in even more air.)
Then slowly and fully exhale. Repeat this inhalation and exhalation, establishing a natural rhythm, during the course of three or more breaths.
** This improves the supply of oxygen to the entire body. It relaxes the central nervous system while
increasing your energy levels. It can help improve both reading and speaking abilities.
Rest one hand over your navel.
With the thumb and fingers of the other hand, feel for the two hollow areas under the collarbone, about one inch out from the centre of the chest. Rub these areas vigorously for 30 seconds to one minutes, as you look from left to right.
** This stimulates the carotid arteries which supply freshly oxygenated blood to the brain. They help re-establish directional messages from parts of the body to the brain, improving reading, writing, speaking and the ability to follow directions.
THE CALF PUMP:
Stand arm’s length away from a wall and place your hands shoulder-width apart against it.
Extend your left leg straight out behind you, so the ball of your foot is on the floor and your heel is off the floor. Your body is slanted at a 45 degree angle.
Exhale, leaning forward against the wall, while also bending your right knee and pressing your left heel against the floor. Inhale and raiseyourself back up, while relaxing and raising the left heel.
Repeat three or more times. Then alternate to the other leg and repeat.
** Improves concentration, attention, comprehension and allows you to join in activities more fully.
Start by sitting in a chair, resting your left ankle on top of your right knee.
Grasp your left ankle with your right hand and the ball of your right foot with your right hand.
As you inhale, place your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth, about one-quarter of an inch behind your front teeth. Relax your tongue as you exhale. Close your eyes and rest in this posture for four to eight complete breaths.
Now uncross your legs, placing your feet flat on the floor. Lightly steeple the fingertips of both hands
together, as if you were enclosing a ball.
Keep your eyes closed as you continue to lift your tongue on the inhalation and lower it on the exhalation, relaxing in this position during the course of four to eight complete breaths.
** This exercise connects the two hemispheres of the brain and strengthens the body’s electrical energy, particularly in stressful environments such as offices. Reported benefits are increased vitality and
Standing up, “march” in place, alternately touching each hand to the opposite knee.
Continue during the course of four to eight complete, relaxed breaths.
** This exercise is wonderful for improving reading, listening, writing and memory. It co-ordinates the whole brain.
Rest two fingers of one hand under your lower lip. Place the heel of the other hand on your
navel, with fingers pointing downwards.
Breathe deeply as you look at the floor. Moving only your eyes, look gradually from the floor to the ceiling, then down again. Repeat this for three or more breaths, as you entire body and eyes relax.
** This stimulates the brain and relieves mental fatigue. It also helps to enhance your ability to focus on near objects.
Sit on a chair in front of a table, resting your forehead between your hands on the table top. Exhale fully.
Now, while slowly lifting your head, inhale deeply, breathing into the base of your spine. Your torso and
shoulders should stay relaxed. As you exhale, tuck your chin down onto your chest and begin moving your head down toward the table, while lengthening the back of your neck. Rest your head on the table as you relax and
breathe deeply. Repeat three or more times.
** This keeps the back muscles toned and the spine supple, flexible and relaxed. It improves posture and concentration and is very useful for those who work at desks and computers.
THE ENERGY YAWN:
As you begin to yawn, lightly press the fingertips of each hand against any tight spots you feel where your cheeks cover your upper and lower molars.
Make a deep, relaxed, yawning sound while gently stroking away any tension.
Repeat three or more times.
** This relaxes the jaw, releasing tension and also stimulates and relaxes the eyes. It is said to even improve creativity, as there is a relationship between ease of jaw motion and ease of expression.
Stand with your legs a little less than one leg-length apart. Point your left foot straight ahead of you;
point your right foot towards the right.
Now bend your right knee as you exhale, keeping the left knee straight. Your body should face squarely
to the front. Do the movement over three or more complete breaths, then repeat facing the opposite direction. ** This increases comprehension, short-term memory, self-expression and organisational skills.
As you draw the 8, focus your eyes on your thumb, keeping your head upright, facing forward and moving only slightly. Start tracing your 8 by beginning at eye level. Move your arm up and over to the left, around and back to centre, then to the right.
Do three full 8s with one hand, then three with the other and finally three with both hands clasped together.
** This integrates both visual fields, improving balance and co-ordination. Many people report better vision after this exercise.
While breathing deeply, relax your shoulders and drop your head forward. Close your eyes while slowly
and easily rolling your head from side to side.
At any point of tension, relax your head while making small circles with your nose and breathing fully. Do three or more complete side to side motions.
** Improves breathing, relaxation of vocal cords (for more resonant speech). Helps all kinds of verbalising or thinking.
Above the centre of each eyebrow and halfway to the hairline, you will find a slight indentation. Lightly place
three fingers of each hand on each of these indentations.
Close your eyes and hold the points lightly, pulling the forehead slightly taut, during the course of six to ten slow complete breaths.
** These points diffuse the “fight or flight” reflex, releasing emotional stress. Touching these points allows a more rational response to stressful situations.
Sit on a padded surface (use a mat or towels) on the floor with your knees bent and your feet together in front of you.
Lean back, with your weight on your hands and hips. Rock yourself in small circles, or back and forth, as you focus on melting away tension in your hips and back of legs.
** This increases the flow of cerebrospinal fluid to the brain, thus improving the ability to focus, concentrate and comprehend.
Rest two fingers above your upper lip.
Place your other hand, pointing downward, on your lower back, with your fingertips touching the tailbone.
Breathe deeply as you look up at the ceiling. Gradually lower your gaze to the floor, then look up at the ceiling again. Repeat three or more times as your eyes and the rest of your body relax.
** Holding these points improves attention, focus, motivation and intuition for decision-making.
THINK OF AN X:
Close your eyes and visualise the letter X. Notice how your vision is like the X – your eyes co-ordinate to connect left, right, upper and lower visual fields around a point of focus.
Also notice the X-like symmetry and organisation within your own body, as each hip co-ordinates with each shoulder.
** The X reinforces whole-brain and whole-body co-ordination for ease of thought, communication and performance.
THE THINKING CAP:
With one hand at the top of each ear, gently “unroll” the curved parts of the outer edges of both ears at the same
time. Continue all the way to the bottom of the ears. Repeat three or more times.
** This helps you tune out distracting noises, it increases listening ability, short-term memory and abstract thinking skills.
THE SEVEN-MINUTE TUNE-UP.
This is a simple series of Brain Gym activities which should be performed every morning. By doing the
tune-up every day before work, you will “feel better and function better than you ever have before,” says Paul Dennison.
You can also use the tune-up anytime during the day when you need an energy boost – or whenever you need to feel at your absolute best. Use these exercises: Belly breathing; Brain buttons; Cook’s hook-ups; Positive points; Cross-crawl.
GIVE YOUR BRAIN A BOOST.
We all have times during the day when we need some extra help. Use the brain gym exercises
suggested below for those tricky times.
STAYING CALM: Earth buttons; Cook’s hook-ups; Positive points.
PROBLEM SOLVING: Cross-crawl; Balance buttons; Neck rolls; Positive points.
KEEPING POSITIVE: Positive points; Cook’s hook-ups, Balance buttons.
GOAL-SETTING: Brain buttons; Cross-crawl; Cook’s hook-ups.
PUBLIC SPEAKING: The energy yawn; the Thinking cap; Cross-crawl; Cook’s hook-ups;
BEING ASSERTIVE: Positive points; Cook’s hook-ups; Balance buttons.
BEFORE DRIVING: Balance buttons; Lazy 8s; Cook’s hook-ups; Positive points.
BOOSTING SELF-ESTEEM: Positive points; Cook’s hook-ups; Balance buttons.
TAKING RESPONSIBILITY: Positive points; Think of an X; Belly breathing.
DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT: Positive points; Cook’s hook-ups.
KEEPING A SENSE OF HUMOUR; The Rocker; Thinking cap; Energy yawn; Cook’s
COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY: Calf pump; Lazy 8s; Energy yawn.
KEEPING ENTHUSIASTIC: Cook’s hook-ups; Calf pump.
SPEED READING: Calf pump; Cross-crawl; Lazy 8s; Think of an X.
HANDLING REJECTION: Belly breathing; Neck rolls; Energy yawn; Positive points; Cook’s hook-ups.
Check out The Official Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym website:
The trouble with getting toned is it all takes so much time and effort. So when Madonna let slip that her uber-toned body was down to no-sweat sessions on a vibrating Power Plate, there was an unseemly dash as everybody tried to shake, rattle and roll their flab into submission. Celebrities such as Claudia Schiffer, Natalie Inbruglia, Kelly Osbourne, Sinitta, Victoria Beckham and even Jonathan Ross got wobbling.
Whole body vibration (WBV) technology is quite simple: a platform pivoted like a see-saw wobbles at various speeds. Your muscles automatically contract to keep you balanced, giving a toning workout. It sounds just too good to be true and I was sceptical. After all, Madonna has a toned body because she’s been working out for donkeys’ years, right?
Yet WBV has a surprising amount of research to back it up. Researchers at the University of Antwerp had seen WBV gaining popularity and decided to test out its use on overweight people. They discovered that those who used the vibration machines while following a well-balanced diet lost more weight and maintained that loss (while the groups which relied on diet-only and aerobic exercise plus diet tended to yo-yo). Most intriguing was that MPV was able to shift the notoriously intransigent (and health-threatening) fat around internal organs. ‘These are very encouraging results,’ said Dirk Vissers, the study’s leader. ‘It looks like these machines could be a useful addition to a weight control package.’
Pilates instructor Sinead Peak (who has worked with the Central School of Ballet) was impressed enough to include a MPV machine in her clients’ workouts. ‘The Reviber Plus exercises major and minor muscle groups,’ she says. ‘You can achieve a great workout in just ten minutes and you also feel a great sense of euphoria.’
It was time to test out the Reviber for myself. The machine looked innocuous enough as it sat squat and solid on my kitchen floor. It starts off with the merest wobble and you can control the speed via a remote worn around the neck. Because the vibration only makes serious inroads into the muscles up to the top of your abdomen, there are also resistance bands so you can get an upper body workout at the same time. It’s a strange sensation – but not unpleasant – though when I got up to level 8 (there are 15) I thought I was going to take off.
Apparently all it takes is ten minutes, three or four times a week. It’s still early days for me but others rave about it. ‘It’s fantastic for improving core stability, muscle toning and muscle strengthening,’ affirms sports scientist Marlene Amoo, formerly of Sports England. ‘It’s the one piece of home fitness equipment I’ve used that actually delivers these benefits and it’s also very good value for money.’
So, is this really the end of all the hard work? Sadly not. While the Reviber will certain help tone, it doesn’t provide a cardiovascular workout for heart and lungs. ‘It doesn’t mean people trying to lose weight can ditch aerobic exercise,’ says Dirk Vissers firmly. ‘They still need a healthy diet and aerobic exercise.’
I confess I’m even more enamoured of the Reviber’s small cousin, the Bodywave, which uses WBV to relax rather than reduce. You lie on the floor with your feet resting on top of the device. It then shimmies you like a fish, shaking out tension from the spine. Absolute heaven.
Reviber Plus (£246; Bodywave (£139): www.victoriahealth.com;
0800 3898 195
- A study reported in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research found that WBV helped improve bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
- Those who cannot stand can sit on a chair with their feet on the plate. It may help with muscle wastage and circulation, and could relieve lower back pain. .
- WBV improves balance and coordination and can help tighten up the pelvic floor.
- A study in the International Journal of Medical Sciences suggested it could be a way of improving glycemic control in non-insulin dependent diabetics.
- Anecdotal reports suggest it can improve mood and libido.
It looks remarkably like a cannonball with a handle and dates back to 18th century Russia. Meet the kettlebell. Used consistently over centuries by the Russian military, it’s now shrugged off its iron (literally) curtain image and has reinvented itself as the trendiest new fitness tool going.
Kettlebells chime well with the austere boot camp ethic that has sweated its way through the workout world. Tough, uncompromising and offering apparently miraculous results, it’s no wonder they are flying (well, being lugged off) the shelves.
Celebrities love them and it’s not just macho types like Sylvester Stallone and Matthew McConaughey but the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Penelope Cruz, Jennifer Aniston and Geri Halliwell. Top football clubs Chelsea and Liverpool factor them into their training and physiotherapists use them regularly in rehabilitation.
On the face of it, the kettlebell isn’t terribly impressive. So it’s a bit of cast iron. So what? What’s the difference between swinging a kettlebell around and hefting barbells or free weights?
‘Unlike a dumbbell or barbell, the kettlebell’s centre of mass is offset from the handle,’ explains trainer Jamie Lloyd. ‘This means the weight constantly pulls against your hand and requires not only strength and coordination when exercising with it but also the use of the other muscles through your arms, shoulders plus your core stabiliser muscles. You use around 600 muscles in a workout and exercise your cardio-vascular system too – it’s definitely a total body workout.’
Contrary to first impressions, you don’t have to be super strong to train with kettlebells. The bells (also known as poods) come in different sizes and weights, starting with a positively featherweight 4kg and going right up to a muscle crunching 48kg. Unlike standard weights, which are lifted carefully and slowly, kettlebells are flung around with seemingly gay abandon. You swing them, pump them and pass them from hand to hand. It’s a monster workout and some trainers reckon that an hour of kettlebells will shed a mammoth 1,500 calories (compared with around 300-400 for normal weightlifting or an aerobics class).
‘A kettlebell class will supercharge your fitness and melt your unwanted fat,’ enthuses Lloyd. ‘You’ll bust your belly fat, lose your love handles and feel fantastic, energised and strong. Keep it up for 30 days and you can drop a dress size and improve your confidence no end.’
Inevitably there are some risks involved with kettlebells, as there are with any free weights. But Lloyd insists these can be minimised by having proper instruction. ‘It’s always best to get some proper training when you start out – two or three one-to-one sessions or a workshop will get you off to the right start.’ Once you’ve learned good technique, however, he points out that the training can actually help prevent injuries. ‘Learning to move and lift properly carries over into daily life,’ he says. ‘Your risk of injuring yourself from bending over to pick up something, or playing sport reduces dramatically.’
However Ken Liu, personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist is cautious of over hyping the kettlebell. ‘Don’t get me wrong, I love kettlebells but they won’t replace barbells, bodyweight or a multitude of other forms of training,’ he warns. ‘They should only be part of your training regime.’
He is also sceptical of some of the more florid claims for kettlebells. ‘They won’t turn you into a superhuman. Bullets won’t bounce off you. Flying? Not unless you check your kettlebells in as hand luggage.’
Shame. Even so, if the heavy metal workout can shift my dead weight and give me Penelope Cruz’s body, that would be superhuman enough for me.
Five reasons to swing a kettlebell
1. Toned arms, legs and the handshake from hell.
2. Rock hard abs and trim taut buttocks.
3. Melt fat – you continue to burn calories even after your workout.
4. Core muscle work can help prevent back pain.
5. Their cool tough bootcamp image. Dumbells? Pah!
The music is thumping, an infectious Latin American beat. The sweat is pouring as the crowd, moving as one, shimmies and shakes, weaves and waves. It could be Havana but, in fact, it’s the Isle of Wight. This is Zumba®, the fitness dance craze that has taken the US by storm and is now poised to break over the UK in an unstoppable rip-tide of wild abandoned enthusiasm.
It all started simply enough in Colombia in the mid 90s when aerobics teacher Beto Perez forgot his usual music and had to improvise a routine around the music he had in his car – traditional Latin salsa and merengue. The class was a huge success and Perez realised he was onto something, merging aerobics with dance to a lilting Latin beat. He moved to the US and the Zumba bid for world domination began.
There are over 20,000 instructors teaching Zumba in thirty-five countries. 400 of them are in the UK and that number is set to explode. The principle behind Zumba is incredibly simple: get fit, have fun. That’s it. There are no complicated moves to learn and you don’t need the coordination of a standard aerobics class – or the partner you’d require for a traditional salsa class. Best of all, the music is so infectious that you barely even notice you’re exercising. ‘It’s like being at a party,’ says instructor Naomi Di Fabio. ‘It is easy-to-follow so people don’t have to think too much about what they’re doing and can just get into it. Then of course the music is great, and just makes you want to dance.’
A standard one hour class uses four basic rhythms based on simplified versions of salsa, merengue, cumbia and reggaeton (mixed up with a bit of mambo, flamenco, rumba and calypso). ‘It’s a cardio-based workout which also helps tone and sculpt the body,’ explains Yorkshire based instructor Nicola Swindle. ‘It’s a great way to lose weight, to increase strength and coordination, and to foster self-esteem and pure happiness! That is why so many people love it and get addicted to it.’
People certainly get incredibly enthusiastic, nigh-on evangelical, about Zumba. ‘Imagine a Mexican wave at a football match, well that’s nothing in comparison with the atmosphere at our hall each week,’ says 47-year old Diane West who goes to classes in West Yorkshire. ‘I see a group of tired, ordinary women come to life. Whether it’s the music or the moves, the change is undeniable. There’s a Jo Lo or Beyonce inside all these women – it’s total, powerful, mind-blowing energy.’
Nicola Swindle agrees that the workout exercises your endorphins as well as your muscles. ‘I focused on the health and fitness benefits of the class to begin with, explaining how it’s exercise in disguise,’ she says. ‘But now I’m beginning to think it’s Prozac in disguise as well.’
There’s a Zumba for nearly everyone, whether you’re seventeen (clad in clingy dance gear) or seventy (firmly in baggy t-shirt and bottoms). Zumba Gold classes are aimed specifically at older people (you can even do Zumba sitting in a chair) while a new Zumba Kids programme is being rolled out later in the year However much you might baulk at the idea of shaking your booty to a swinging Latin beat, it seems that, in the coming months, no-one in the UK is going to be immune from Zumba. In fact, don’t even try to resist: give in, get up and join the party.
Find your nearest instructor at www.zumba.com
Nicola Swindle runs classes in South and West Yorkshire. www.foxy-fitness.com
Naomi Di Fabio runs classes in Surrey and also runs training courses for instructors. http://www.zumbauk.com
It’s not just the young stars of the Harry Potter movies who’re plagued by zits – a huge number of more mature celebrities are cursed with problematic skin. Kate Moss, Cameron Diaz, Madonna, Uma Thurman, Billie Piper and Victoria Beckham (see pic, left) have all been spotted (sorry) with acne. It’s a common misconception that acne is only for adolescents: adult acne is increasing and a recent study in the US showed that 25 percent of women aged 30-40 years will suffer from the condition. And it’s not just a female issue – Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and John Cusack aren’t blemish-free either.
‘It’s a major psychological problem,’ says Tony Chu, professor of dermatology and medical director of the West London Dermatology Centre. ‘People feel they cannot plan their lives as they never know what they will look like. I have had women patients who have cancelled their weddings as the stress made their skin so much worse.’
So is stress the major cause of the spot epidemic? In a nutshell, yes, says Professor Chu. ‘Acne is caused by hormonal changes normally onset by puberty but it’s now seen in adults who lead more stressful lives.’
Pharmacist Shabir Daya agrees. ‘Stress is a key factor because it stimulates the production of male hormones. The major culprit is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which increases the production of sebum, clogging the pores.’
The standard prescription for persistent acne is an antibiotic to kill the bacteria and a vitamin A cream to unblock the pores. For tough cases, strong anti-acne medications such as Roaccutane are used which usually take 4-6 weeks to take effect and can clear around 50 percent of lesions. However they can produce serious side effects.
Professor Chu has pioneered the use of something quite different – the N-Lite (or Regenlite) laser. It was developed for general skin rejuvenation but one patient with severe acne found her lesions virtually disappeared after two weeks. A clinical study was set up at Hammersmith Hospital and the results were impressive. The N-Lite appears more effective than antibiotics; results are seen faster and there are no side effects. The laser uses yellow light which penetrates deeply into the skin, killing the bacteria present in acne. ‘It triggers the skin’s immune system to reduce inflammation and repair the damage caused by the acne bacteria,’ says Chu. ‘It stops the immunological reactions that cause the spots.’
The treatment costs £150 and should be repeated every one to three months (according to the severity of the acne). However it has to be said that not everyone benefits and reviews on acne support websites are mixed. ‘I had no improvement at all after six treatments,’ says one acne sufferer on website www.acne.org. ‘It was a huge disappointment.’
Another alternative to medication is phototherapy – in which the skin is exposed to either blue LED light alone or in combination with red light. The blue light has anti-bacterial properties while the red light acts as an anti-inflammatory. It seems most effective for mild to moderate acne (some reports suggest it can decrease lesions by around 60 percent) – but again results are mixed.
Scientists at the University of California in San Diego hope that, in the future, nanotechnology will offer a solution. They are working on coconut-oil ‘nano-bombs’ which will project antibacterial lauric acid straight into the offending bacteria. In the meantime, however, you could try the decidedly low-tech remedy of turmeric (a natural antiseptic) mixed with coconut oil (high in lauric acid) as a face mask.
It seems there is still no one definite one-size fits all cure for acne. But with increasing research and innovation, sufferers may find life could become smoother in the future.
West London Dermatology Centre: www.dermclinic.co.uk; 0208 7422204.
For clinics using N-Lite around the UK: www.chromogenex.com; 01554 755444
Spot solutions for acne
- Avoid harsh soaps and cleansers. The Yes to Tomatoes range (from £8.99; www.victoriahealth.com ) contains anti-inflammatory lycopene.
- Reduce stress – try meditation or autogenic therapy to keep stress hormones under control.
- Certain foods affect DHT production. Cut out saturated fats (red meat, butter etc) and up your intake of fresh fruit and veg (brassicas and berry fruits in particular), garlic and seeds.
- Skincare guru Jan Marini suffered acne herself and her Bioclear Cream (£48) may help clear acne lesions. www.janmarini.co.uk
- Make-up can exacerbate acne. Use high quality mineral foundation (Jane Iredale, Mineralogie and Priori Coffeeberry are all excellent) which will disguise spots but won’t irritate the skin.
- Need a quick fix? Skin Oasis (www.skin-oasis.co.uk) offers Emergency Spot Treatment (£50-70) in which a small amount of hydrocortisone is injected directly into the individual spot. It gets rid of the spot in 24 hours but it’s not a long-term cure.