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Sunday, January 29, 2012

16: Scared About Skin Cancer

Greg and I are at the age (our later fifties) when every new spot and stain on the skin must be examined with careful suspicion. Everyone is frightened of skin cancer, and so we should be. A few years ago, Greg had a couple of things show up on his back—it seemed they just appeared overnight, but I’m sure they didn’t. One was the size of my thumbnail; the other, the size of my baby fingernail. Having a very dark brown, somewhat mottled look, they were slightly irregular around the edges but generally round.

When we inquired of a doctor, he just shrugged and said “Those are keratoses; they’re harmless. He’ll get a lot more of those as he gets older. Just keep an eye on them.” They got a little bigger, slowly, over time, and although the doctor had said “harmless,” when my fingers inadvertently touched them when I’d wrap my arms around my husband’s big, strong back, something in me would recoil uneasily.

Around this time I got into supplementing with iodine. As it began to sooth and strengthen my nervous system, I continued to read article after article about its efficacy in other areas. I saw that it could be used to heal pre-cancerous lesions—and even possibly cancer itself.

Fortunately, at this point, we were not dealing with cancer. But my reading had indicated that keratosis is a pre-cancerous condition. So I took my eye-dropper bottle of Lugol’s Solution and began dribbling iodine onto these ugly spots before bedtime every night. The skin seemed impervious. I’d let it sit on there for a few minutes; then I’d blot it lightly for the sake of our white sheets.

The weeks went by. It was probably a full two months before I was convinced that anything was happening, but suddenly I found that the surfaces of the spots were becoming rough and sponge-like. In fact, now when I touched a drop to the areas, it was immediately sucked up—I could almost hear them going “slurp.” They got spongier, puffing up above the skin around them, getting more and more scary-looking, until finally Greg, squinting sideways at them in the mirror one night, said rather nervously, “Maybe we’re feeding them!”

I replied, “I think you’d better go to the doctor.”

But before he could get around to doing that, another week or two went by, and in that time the sponge became scabby and just kind of crumbled off, leaving wonderful, smooth, normal skin in its place. Almost two years have passed and it’s still looking great.

My confidence has continued to build regarding iodine and skin lesions. I recently used Lugol’s on a host of little skin tags, twice a day. It took a while—maybe a month or two, but they eventually dried up and fell off. I continue to treat abnormalities here and there on myself. Normal skin will stain pale orange, but trouble spots soak up the iodine, highlighting their damage. Some superficial brown patches have crusted up easily and brushed off in a matter of a week or so. There are assorted others that have been extremely stubborn and are not budging yet. But I’ve come across something today while writing this article, and this is for “fairly small” cancerous lesions: “they must be painted with the solution 10-20-30 times twice a day for five days and then once for another ten days ...” It’s time to up the ante.

It has been discovered that people who take sufficient iodine—enough that all systems of the body are satisfied—have a high amount of iodine in their skin. It has not been known what its purpose there is. I find myself wondering though: if iodine applied directly will kill cancer, perhaps sufficient supplementation will prevent it. I, for one, sure wouldn’t be without my Lugol’s.


15: More About Breathing

Here are a few more brief thoughts on breathing. This article will not be going in the newspaper, because except for those for whom breathing exercises hold particular interest, you'll be saying, "Enough already." In addition to sharing a few finer points, I want to attach a comment that came to me via email, and really, it's much more than a comment.

I stated in both previous breathing articles that the exhale should be through the mouth, through pursed lips, to create a little back-pressure and allow more time for oxygen to absorb in the lungs. However, I have wondered about this as I have practiced it: sometimes it makes me feel more light-headed, which is one of the very things I'm trying to alleviate; also, I don't find it as restful as quietly exhaling through my nose.

But it seems to have been a good place to start: it's much easier to make the exhale last to the full count when controlling it through the lips in that way. Now that I've established a bit of a sense of the rhythm of deep breathing, I can more easily control the exhale through my nose. Interesting that the attached comment says the following: "This will be the hard part – controlling the breath while you breathe out. But this is where the real benefit is."

This reader had talked to me by phone and mentioned that "in yoga, the breathing is always through the nose." Her statement caused me to think more about the way I had been exhaling. Then she talked about a different breathing exercise, which was, she said, rather complicated but very beneficial. She said it involved breathing through one nostril at a time and holding the other nostril shut with the fingers of the opposite hand.

"Hey," I said to her, "I came across something about that in my online research. I think it said that it strengthens integration between the left and right brains."

"That's right," she said, but then she went on to say that she couldn't remember very much about it and would have to look it up. And she obviously did, because several days later I received a very concise and detailed explanation of how to do this. As I feel it would be of interest and benefit to some of my readers, I have posted it below as a comment. Thank you, "Anonymous," for going to this trouble!

Here is another portion of a comment, this one from a friend named Karen. "My past yoga instructors and other 'breathing experts!' have recommended that you push out your belly on the in-breath and draw the belly back in on the out-breath. This breathing helps for those wake-up-can't-get-back-to sleep times too." Karen is an RHN who writes a very good blog, decorated beautifully with relevant photos ( Someday I'm going to get around to trying her recipe for power bars.

There's one other thing that I've written about and subsequently wondered about: if humming is good for producing (15 times!) more of the beneficial compound nitric oxide (previous post), how can I incorporate this into my breathing exercises? Well, you sure can't if you're exhaling through your mouth. So exhale through your nose and hum. (I like to hum a slowly descending chromatic scale, but that's just me!)And then the question begs: If the nitric oxide is produced as you hum on the exhale, aren't you losing all that nitric oxide? My husband was just asking me this question in a phone call a few minutes ago, saying to me, "It's almost impossible to hum while you inhale. Try it!" he said, and then I heard these strange noises in the receiver.

"I've thought about that, hon," I said, after I got him quieted down. "When you finish humming and exhaling, your nasal cavities are full of that good gas, and as soon as you begin your next inhalation, it goes right to your lungs."

He thought maybe the nitric oxide would be all around your head after the exhale, and that way you could breathe it in again. "But," he said, "you'd have to stay out of the wind."

I told him maybe he should just stick his head inside a paper bag. He told me he thought God never intended breathing to be this complicated.

And this is the reason why I thought I shouldn't publish this article in the newspaper.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

14: Benefits of Breathing

When I began to realize last summer that I had some things to learn in the breathing department, our oldest son, Ben, shared a story with me. What he said made me think that poor breathing habits may be one of the unfortunate things he has inherited from me! He told of how when he began his first contract as a pianist/keyboardist with Celebrity Cruises, there was a piece where the final movement was a real challenge for him and he was pretty nervous about it. The first time he performed it, he got to the end and suddenly found he was on the verge of blacking out and keeling over. He realized then that he’d held his breath for about the last 44 bars of the piece.

If a singer or a wind instrumentalist is nervous, he or she is not going to have this problem: they are forced, by the very nature of their instrument, to breathe properly. Not so with a pianist, and not so with many of us in our current culture. If we are doing heavy physical work (and very few of us do anymore), we breathe reasonably well. Our body absolutely demands it. But if we are working at a desk, or anything else where physical exertion is limited, we can fall into bad habits like shallow breathing and mouth-breathing. These put our body into stress mode, whether or not there is a nasty boss hanging over our shoulder or a bad-tempered customer facing off with us.

Last article, I wrote about how deep breathing can turn off over-active adrenal glands and terminate an anxiety attack mid-way. What is it about breathing deeply that is so powerful? The first thing it does, obviously, is correct your oxygen deficiency so that your adrenals understand that there really isn’t a crisis. But it does much more than that. It also releases feel-good endorphins into the system; relaxes sore, tense muscles; improves circulation; and helps clear the lymph system, improving immunity.

Once again: Inhale through the nostrils, counting to 4; hold for 4; exhale through pursed lips for 6 (the back-pressure allows more oxygen to be absorbed in the lungs). Pause if you don’t need a breath right away. Repeat 20 times; work up to 4 times daily.

Dedicated breathing exercise helps to balance neurotransmitters. These are the various chemicals that carry messages among our ten billion brain cells. What’s really interesting is that the emotions we experience are determined by what kind of transmitter carries the thought. So one can see it’s pretty important to give these little guys every opportunity to keep their balance.

According to, after our mid-twenties most of us start losing lung capacity, upwards of 10% each decade. Breathing exercises will maintain or improve breathing function along with your overall well-being. Also, “the respiratory system should be responsible for eliminating 70% of your metabolic waste. The remainder should be eliminated through defecation 3%, urination 8%, and perspiration 19%. So, if you think that going to the bathroom every day is important, or that working up a good sweat now and then is healthy, think again about the value of full, free, optimal breathing!”

Inhaling through the nostrils allows the proper mixing of the air with an amazing gas produced in the nasal sinuses, called nitric oxide (NO). It is a potent vasodilator (blood vessel dilator) and a natural bronchodilator (hello, asthma sufferers!). It effects maximum oxygenation in the lungs and hence in every cell of the body. (Bear in mind that cancer is anaerobic; that is, it can only grow in the absence of oxygen.)

Mouth-breathing lacks these qualities and produces a sort of continual tension that is very stressful and depleting to the body.

Want to increase your nitric oxide production? Hum a little tune! Seriously, researchers in Sweden had a hypothesis that “the oscillating airflow produced by humming would speed up the exchange of air between the sinuses and the nasal cavity and increase nasal nitric oxide output.” They found that “humming increased the nitric oxide levels by 15-fold compared with quiet exhalation.” ( Humming can also greatly relieve sinus problems, and it doesn’t cost a cent!

Last summer Ben was given the opportunity to play in the musical Wicked at the Jubilee, challenging him to a whole new level. The gig coincided with a personal health crisis and he’d been researching some of his issues, including the whole breathing thing. As a result, he was very deliberate about maintaining his breathing throughout. He was able to perform without anxiety or excess adrenaline—and felt fine at the end.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

13: Just Breathe

One day back in the spring when I was battling with general anxiety, a couple of months before my adrenals pooped out, I remember saying to my husband, “I need to put on some classical music a couple of times a day, lie down on the floor, and do some deep breathing.” I really believed that this would help me, but I didn’t do it—not even once.

So it seemed ironic that, once I went to see a naturopath, he told me that one of the important things in the recovery of my adrenals was going to be the practice of deep breathing. “Take a few minutes, 3 or 4 times a day,” he said, “and do 15 or 20 rounds.” Too bad I hadn’t taken my own advice a few months earlier; I might have avoided this burnout. The naturopath continued: “It will seem kind of useless, like it’s not really going to make any difference, but it’s one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself.” The more I will practice this, the more effective it becomes, I’m told, and it will teach my body to breathe healthily, unconsciously.

I’ve come to realize that when any kind of tension, fear, or excitement comes upon me, my tendency is to revert to shallow breathing—or even hold my breath. I never knew this before. The naturopath explained that when my breathing gets shallow, my oxygen level drops and my adrenal glands receive a message that there is a crisis and so they kick into action. Deep breathing reverses that message. How empowering, to know that I can actually take physical control over a response in my body (the release of adrenaline and cortisol and the ensuing anxiety). I always thought it was completely involuntary and beyond my reach.

Now when I’m at the computer and I get too intense, either because of a deadline or because of the excitement and focus of what I’m doing, and then anxiety starts to kick in—or when I’m getting ready to go somewhere and I’m running late (as I nearly always am) and I suddenly realize that my breathing is shallow, the adrenaline is coursing through my veins, and my head feels light—I make myself start breathing deeply. Inhale through the nostrils while counting to 4; hold for 4; exhale through pursed lips for 6; pause if I don’t need a breath right away. And it is the most marvellous thing: the anxiety immediately begins to abate.

In September, I began the work of abridging my book Made in Heaven. After working with this book for 8 years, I thought I knew it well. But now I was surprised by all the references to the state of my breathing in this chronicle—I had never noticed before what a recurring theme it has been with me. Over and over I came across phrases like the following:

“ ‘Hi,’ I said, trying to breathe normally.” “I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.” “His words made my heart pound in my chest so that I could hardly breathe.” “I made myself breathe, slowly and evenly.” “ ‘Well, Nancy,’ it began, and my breath caught in my throat ....” “I had run upstairs to check the mail slot, holding my breath ....” “ ‘I should just hold my breath and not even think until you show up.’ ” “Then suddenly, such a rush of excitement and anticipation, I could hardly breathe.” “ ‘Nancy …’ he said, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe ....”

So this underscored for me that breathing normally has been a challenge most of my life and that I have a need to establish healthier habits. Although I’ve been faithful since my adrenal crash to do my “crisis management” exercises, I have been unable to discipline myself to establish “preventative maintenance”—the daily routine that the doctor recommended.

A couple of weeks ago I had a chat with a friend who has the same kind of difficulties and wants to try this too. So we hit on the idea of texting one another to help us keep on track. Each time one of us “breathes,” we text the other, who then has the obligation to fit in a session ASAP. It’s working well for us. We’re breathing up to 4 times a day.