Whether you suffer from a chronic inability to fall or stay asleep, or you have occasional bouts of insomnia, the debilitating effects of sleeplessness can negatively impact every part of your life. As someone who has struggled with and conquered this dilemma, I’d like to share with you some of the tools and practices that have helped me on my journey to satisfactory sleep. Maybe you think you’ve tried everything, but I feel much of the info below is novel and unique, so hopefully it will provide some new options for you.
The first one is Chinese Cat’s Claw (Uncaria Rhyncophylla) a.k.a. Gambir Vine. This herb is actually used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat agitation and psychosis in the elderly, but it has very calming properties as well as some very beneficial side effects. Not to be confused with its Latin American cousin (often just called Cat’s Claw, latin name Uncaria Tomentosa) which has completely different effects, this herb works by inhibiting a neurotransmitter in the brain called NMDA to reduce excitement in the nervous system. This mechanism of action is actually the same as Nitrous Oxide, used to reduce pain and anxiety during surgery and dental procedures, albeit to a much lesser degree. This reduction in excitement in the brain (known as excitotoxicity) has been shown to protect the brain from damage that occurs by overstimulation. Additionally, the herb has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer and brain/memory boosting qualities that make it a useful supplement with beneficial side effects rather than negative ones. My personal experience with this herb is an immediate and substantial sensation of calm and tranquility, perfect for falling directly asleep after use. I would recommend half a dropper full of liquid extract to start—a little goes a long way and you can always add more if the first dose was not enough. While this herb is not addicting, it may lose potency over time as the body builds tolerance to its active ingredients. Because of this, it may be best utilized as infrequently as possible, however, no negative effects have been shown from prolonged use. For more information on Chinese Cat’s Claw, check out this article
Turmeric is a fantastic golden spice from the orient that is getting a lot of attention for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But is your Turmeric regimen doing more harm than good?
There are many ways to consume this excellent herb, but not all forms are created equal, and some have serious potential negative apsects to them. Here’s a quick summary of the dos and don’ts of this magical and delicious remedy, followed by an in depth explanation of everything you need to know about how to use this herb and a recipe.
- Buy extracts without knowing the extraction method
- Use Turmeric that is not certified organic
- Spend lots of money on an herb that can be obtained relatively cheap
- Take Turmeric with food (preferably Lecithin-rich fats)
- Use Black Pepper, Ginger, and Turmeric Essential Oil to increase absorption
- Buy in bulk, dried powder to save money and avoid spoilage
First of all, protect yourself from extracts that do not display their extraction method. Extractions of any herb require a solvent to obtain the "active ingredient(s)" from the plant material, and some solvents approved for use in the supplement industry are classified as neurotoxins by the EPA (such as Hexane—a petrochemical—and Acetone a.k.a. nail polish remover)! The FDA knowingly allows this to happen on the basis that much of the solvent is removed in processing (but not necessarily all—a small percentage is allowed to remain on the assumption that trace amounts are safe), but there is no actual oversight or regulation of this process. Some solvents are natural and harmless (such as water, organic glycerin, alcohol, or carbon dioxide), but you can only be guaranteed that these are used if the company claims so, or if the supplement is certified 100% organic, which prohibits the use of chemical solvents (beware of supplements that contain organic ingredients but are not 100% certified, which may still be extracted with chemicals—e.g. the label may read “made with Organic Turmeric” that is then extracted with Hexane—when in doubt look for the USDA Organic Seal).
This brings me to my second point. Buy organic. Period. Turmeric is a rhizome, which is technically a root-like stem. This means it will soak up any water-soluble pesticides like a sponge, where they will be waiting until it finds its way into your body. Which brings me to cost—just because it’s organic doesn’t mean you have to spend 15 bucks a pound on it at Whole Foods. First of all, get the powder. It’s cheaper and is actually more concentrated due to the water being dehydrated out. In addition to this it stores for much longer than the fresh roots, and the naturally high antioxidant content will support protection from spoilage—in fact the powder really won’t go bad even for years, but it will lose it’s antioxidant qualities over time so I’d recommend buying a pound of powder at a time—about a year's worth supply, depending on your use. A good recommended dose is 1.5 teaspoons maximum of powder daily—keep reading for why you don’t want to take more than that. Buy from an online bulk organic supplier like Mountain Rose Herbs (note: I’m in no way getting money from them to suggest their product, it’s just what I use and I’m sharing this knowledge with you for your benefit).
It’s important to know a couple things about how Turmeric absorbs in the body to maximize its effects. If you take Turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties, you are aiming to absorb a class of chemical constituents called Curcumin. It has a very low oral bioavailability, which means when you eat or drink Turmeric, very little Curcumin gets into the bloodstream (it does however exert its anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract, which can be great, but very little gets through to your muscles or joints). There are several ways to enhance the bioavailability of Curcumin.
First, take it with some form of fat, as Curcumin is fat-soluble and will absorb more readily through the digestive tract if it hitches a ride on some fats. The best choice is a type of fat called Lecithin, which is actually found to some extent in all living things, but is more highly concentrated in certain foods such as egg yolks, soybeans, and sunflower seeds. You can either pair your Turmeric with these whole foods, or you can purchase Lecithin that has been extracted (again watch out for non-organic Hexane extracted Lecithin—yup solvents are a problem across the food and supplement board! A full blog post on how to avoid chemical solvents is to come soon). Many Curcumin supplements add Lecithin (also known as Phospholipids) to their formulations and gouge the price, calling it “Phytosome—a more bioavailable form of Curcumin,” which is true, but you can get the same effect much more easily with less cost to your wallet, and likely in a more healthy way if you’re using whole foods, rather than their chemically extracted Phospholipids mixed with chemically extracted Curcumin. Lecithin is also a great supplement in its own right, as it is a rich source of Choline, a building block for cell membranes and neurotransmitters in the brain associated with memory. Again, check out Mountain Rose for Organic Lecithin—I love these guys! Another thing to consider is using a gentle amount of heat to encourage the binding of the Curcumin to the fat molecules, whatever the fat you choose. Another great option is Coconut oil, which does not have much Lecithin, but is a great source of easily metabolized fats.
Secondly some other herbs help to activate the absorbability of Curcumin. One is Black Pepper, which increases the absorption rate up to 2,000 times according to some studies! Because of this I always use it with my Turmeric. Always! Another is Turmeric’s close cousin Ginger, which not only increases the bioavailability of Curcumin, but is itself a source of this chemical constituent, albeit not as much as Turmeric. Lastly, whole Turmeric potentiates itself! It has been found that Turmeric Essential Oil (EO) portion of this herb helps to improve the absorbability of Curcumin in the gut. Keep in mind, the EO is steam distilled, so because Curcumin is fat-soluble and not water-soluble there is actually no Curcumin in the EO—which is a common misconception—but it does serve to potentiate the uptake of Curcumin found in the whole root. This is another benefit of using whole powdered root over extracted supplements, which only aim at extracting the Curcumin, leaving the precious EO behind. If you’re using whole powdered root already, throw in some EO to replace EOs lost in the drying process—only a few drops will be needed per serving. Also, if you are cooking your Turmeric in any way, the essential oil will evaporate away with heat, so this is another reason to add it back in. Eden Botanicals has a great affordable organic Turmeric EO (again I don’t get money or perks from these guys, just sharing my source).
One last consideration before I give you a quick Turmeric recipe utilizing all of these recommendations—avoid too much of a good thing! Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant—so powerful that if you take more than recommended it may have a pro-oxidant effect (meaning the exact opposite of antioxidant)! Additionally, a smaller dose has been shown to be as effective as a larger one, so there seems to be a plateau effect that negates the need for more. The Turmeric craze is strong right now and in our society we tend to think more of a good thing is better, but that’s not always the case. Be careful and mindful of any side effects you may experience, as they are documented (digestive upset / rash) yet usually mild and rare. Otherwise, enjoy the benefits and flavor of this medicinal spice from the orient!
Here’s an easy quick recipe to incorporate all the above recommendations into a daily routine:
3 Tablespoons Organic Turmeric Powder
3 Teaspoons Organic Black Pepper Powder
6 Cups Purified Water
3 Cups Organic Soy Milk (May Substitute Coconut Milk)
- Optional Additions -
1 Tablespoon Organic Liquid Soy Lecithin
1 Tablespoon Organic Ginger Powder, Juice or Freshly Grated Root
12 Drops Organic Turmeric Essential Oil (EO)
1 Tablespoon Organic Fair Trade Honey or Agave Nectar
- Mix all ingredients in a shaker bottle or blender
- Stir over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes (this step is optional, if doing so I highly recommend adding Turmeric EO after cooling)
- Refrigerate and take about 1½ Cups daily with breakfast
- Makes 6 servings
Cryptic incantations echoing through incense-tinged temples as crowds go into a trance—sounds like a cult right? Why would a logical person consider chanting in a language they don’t even understand? What if I told you that modern scientific research says it’s good for your brain, can get you high without drugs, and improve your relationships?
While chanting has been used in many religious and spiritual practices, it is actually a form of meditation that anyone can use, regardless of beliefs. Chanting is simply the repetition of a phrase—called "mantra"—to focus and calm the mind. Emerging scientific research on the benefits of chanting has shown surprising results.
According to clinical research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, chanting “can improve cognition and activate parts of the brain that are central to memory” in addition to reducing stress . Two groups of adults with mild cognitive impairment underwent 12 weeks of study in the experiment. One group conducted a well-established brain-training program for an hour and 15 minutes every day, while the other group did one hour of yoga per week and 12 minutes of chanting daily .
We were a bit surprised by the magnitude of the brain effects
— Dr. Helen Lavretsky, Study Co-Author
Both groups showed improvement in neural connectivity (brain function) and cognitive testing, but the chanting group “performed much better on a test of visuospatial memory” and “also had developed more communication between parts of the brain that control attention, suggesting a greater ability to focus and multitask” . Additionally, only the chanting group experienced improvement in their moods . Scientists believe that the benefits are mediated by “the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while making these sounds” stimulating acupuncture points on the upper palate related to beneficial biochemical transformation in the brain .
While you don’t have to be a talented singer, chanting is usually done in song, and when done in a group can foster a sense of deep connection and enjoyment, releasing feel-good chemicals like β-endorphin, Dopamine, and Serotonin, according to an article published by UC Berkley . According to the article, research shows that singing in a group can break down social barriers more quickly and forge meaningful bonds  which can be important in our increasingly digital social environment.
Whether you use chanting to calm the mind and induce focus—like many other forms of meditation—or for spiritual practice, you may enjoy positive side effects extending to your brain, body and even relationships!
 Journal of Alzheimers Disease. Lavretsky H., Khalsa DS, et al. 2016;52(2):673-84. Changes in Neural Connectivity and Memory Following a Yoga Intervention for Older Adults: A Pilot Study. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27060939
 New York Times. Yoga May Be Good for the Brain. Gretchen Reynolds. JUNE 1, 2016. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/yoga-may-be-good-for-the-brain/?smid=fb-share&_r=2
 Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation. Practice Kirtan Kriya Meditation. http://alzheimersprevention.org/research/kirtan-kriya-yoga-exercise/
 The New Science of Singing Together. Jacques Launay, Eiluned Pearce. December 4, 2015. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/science_of_singing
In my last post, “The Science Behind Sound Healing,” I explained how brainwaves readily synchronized with externally produced sound waves through a process called entrainment. Using this principle, we can induce brainwaves that correlate to desirable states of consciousness such as Alpha, Theta and Delta wavelengths, which have been regularly observed in practitioners of deep meditation such as Yoga Nidra and Vedanta .
Alpha, Theta, and Delta wavelengths (0.5 Hz - 12 Hz), are inaudible to the human ear, but can be perceived in the brain using a process called binaural hearing. When the brain is simultaneously exposed to two slightly different frequencies within a close range (for example 154 Hz and 150 Hz), a third frequency is perceived internally, expressing the difference between the two .
Binaural Hearing Example:
Externally Produced Audible Sound Frequencies
– 150 Hz
Internally Perceived Brain Frequency (Theta)
Ancient and traditional sound technologies such as gongs, chimes, and singing bowls were made to vibrate within a small range of frequencies, as if our ancestors were privy to the newly emerging sciences of binaural hearing and entrainment. For example, studies on the frequencies emitted by Tibetan Buddhist chimes called Ting-Sha’s show expression of wavelengths between 4 and 8 Hz, “the range of brain waves that occurs during meditation” notes Mitchell L. Gaynor M.D., Oncologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University .
Gongs and singing bowls are no different. If you listen closely to these traditional instruments, you will notice a throbbing or pulsation as they oscillate between fundamental and partial tones which have the uncanny ability to immediately clear the mind and induce a state of calm. It’s not surprising that traditional cultures utilized these instruments to initiate meditation, observes Dr. Gaynor—“they signify the start of practice, and they can actually help to induce the state of profound relaxation that often accompanies meditation” .
 Miller, Richard (February 10, 2010). Yoga Nidra (Pap/Com ed.). Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Incorporated. p. 104. ISBN 1591797586.
 Sharma Arvind: Sleep as a State of Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta; State University of New York Press, 2004
 Wahbeh, H., Calabrese, C., and Zwickey, H., Binaural beat technology in humans: a pilot study to assess psychologic and physiologic effects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2007, pp25-32.
 Becher, A. K., Höhne, M., Axmacher, N., Chaieb, L., Elger, C. E., and Fell, J., Intracranial electroencephalography power and phase synchronization changes during monaural and binaural beat stimulation. European Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2015, pp254-263.
 Gaynor, Mitchell L. (2002). The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice, and Music. Shambhala: Boston & London. pp 74-75. ISBN 978-1-57062-955-6.
You’ve felt it before. The immediate shift in chemistry when a certain song comes on. Music can melt away tension or elevate us into ecstasy in a matter of moments. But how does the magic work?
Brain signals are transmitted through frequencies, much like music through a radio. Studies show that these signals, or “brain waves,” correlate to particular states of consciousness such as focus, relaxation, meditation, and sleep . Generally speaking, slower brain waves are associated with more relaxed meditative states, while faster ones correlate to alert and active states.
Scientists are now discovering that brain waves can be modified by externally produced sound frequencies through a process called entrainment—when the frequency of one object synchronizes with the frequency of another . This means sound can be used to tune brainwaves to specific frequencies and achieve desired states of mind . Additionally, separate brain cells are often tuned to different frequencies resulting in chaotic and disharmonious thought patterns, but when subjected to one external frequency, such as the sound of a gong, they can synchronize to resonate in unity .
“As above, so below”
— Hermetic Axiom
Entrainment is actually a phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe and was first described by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in 1673 when he observed two pendulums operating at different tempos when placed in close proximity would spontaneously begin to pulse at the same rhythm . With effects extending beyond the brain, numerous studies have shown that other biological processes such as speech patterns, physical gestures and heart rate are influenced by auditory entrainment . For Example, slow wave sound vibrations have been shown to exert a tranquilizing effect with a reduction in blood flow rate when applied directly to the body of vibracoustic therapy patients .
The healing power of sound has long been known, if only intuitively, but the emerging principle of entrainment is a fascinating concept, the implications of which scientists are only just beginning to uncover.
“These properties of sound medicine—entrainment, harmony, and homeostasis—represent the rational and spiritual foundation for a new movement in the healing arts and sciences.” — Mitchell L. Gaynor M.D., Oncologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University
 Will, Berg E. Neuroscience Letters. 2007 Aug 31;424 (1):55-60. Epub 2007 Aug 6. Brain wave synchronization and entrainment to periodic acoustic stimuli. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17709189
 Niedermeyer E. and da Silva F.L., Electroencephalography: Basic Principles, Clinical Applications, and Related Fields. Lippincot Williams & Wilkins, 2004.
 Burkard, R., Don, M., and Eggermont, J. J., Auditory evoked potentials: Basic principles and clinical application. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007.
 Wang XJ (2010). "Neurophysiological and computational principles of cortical rhythms in cognition". Physiological Reviews 90 (3): 1195–1268. doi:10.1152/physrev.00035.2008. PMC 2923921. PMID 20664082. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20664082
 Matthews, Michael R. (2000). Time for science education: how teaching the history and philosophy of pendulum motion can contribute to science literacy. New York: Springer. pp. 124–126. ISBN 0-306-45880-2.
 Gaynor, Mitchell L. (2002). The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice, and Music. Shambhala: Boston & London. pp 69-71. ISBN 978-1-57062-955-6.
 Hooper, Jeff. (Nov 2 2001) An introduction to vibroacoustic therapy and an examination of its place in music therapy practice. British Journal of Music Therapy, Vol 15, pp 69-77