San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

An Ounce of Prevention: Health Alternatives

What if it s possible to prevent your injuries, rather than cure them? What if a healthy lifestyle and being in touch with your body s needs could help keep you out of the doctor s office or hospital?

This is the sort of stability promoted by alternative, holistic or preventive medicine basically, any type of healing process that doesn t fall within the realm of conventional medicine. Some more commonly known types are naturopathy, chiropractic, various types of massage, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, meditation, yoga, hypnosis and homeopathy.

Kasasana (, 2253-8322) in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Dent is the only center in Costa Rica certified by the National Training Institute (INA) to offer teacher-training classes in professional bodywork, according to instructor Alexander Loynaz. Students have the opportunity to learn several alternative medicine techniques, such as acupressure, relaxing massage, traditional Chinese medicine, Thai massage, shiatsu, nutrition, herbal treatment and iridology, the study of the iris of the eye for indications of bodily health and disease. Kasasana hopes to receive certification to offer teacher-training courses in yoga as well.

Loynaz, a 10-year veteran in offering alternative medicine treatments, says these methods are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing injuries and illness. He refers to alternative medicine as a preventive measure rather than a solution after the fact.

According to Loynaz, those who practice alternative medicine believe that people have an aura or light within that must be nourished for them to be happy and healthy. When a person is born, he or she glows with this aura; but, as hardships affect a person throughout life, the light diminishes and, with it, the ability to ward off pain and suffering.

This is where alternative medicine comes in to actually see the person for who they are and realize what it is they need to recover that light, Loynaz says.

For example, Loynaz says, stress-related illnesses such as ulcers may be prevented with regular relaxing massages or acupressure treatments that relieve negative emotions before they become overwhelming and harmful.

In some cases, sessions offered by Kasasana lean more toward counseling than direct contact. For example, if someone comes in with a rash he presumes is the result of an allergic reaction, the alternative medicine practitioner may try to figure out whether it s more of a psychological or emotional problem than a physical one.

Loynaz doesn t claim to have all the answers, or that alternative medicine is better than conventional medicine.

Alternative or holistic medicine can work before the need for medical attention, simultaneously or afterwards, Loynaz says. But it doesn t replace it.

Tapping It Out

A natural healing aid that can be used for a wide variety of emotional and physical problems is emotional freedom technique (EFT), a needle-free version of acupuncture that works by lightly tapping acupuncture points on the face and hands. This is done while the teacher asks the patient what s bothering him or her, and to rate the intensity of the emotion between one and 10.

Renowned EFT consultant Margot Diskin, from Ireland, was recently in Costa Rica giving EFT workshops at the Turya Yoga Studio in the western San José suburb of Escazú. Diskin has studied EFT for the past three and a half years and trained with the founder of the treatment, Gary Craig, in the United States.

Diskin calls EFT the most weird and wonderful thing she s come across in her 43 years of life.

She says the root of all problems, whether emotional or physical, are within the body and canned be tapped out. The patient has to be tuned into the problem for it to be able to escape, which is why she focuses on the emotion. Diskin says problems EFT can help cure include addictions, sadness, anxiety, phobias and small physical problems such as back pain.

The results are usually so strong that by the end of a session, the patient can laugh about what was bothering them before, she says.

Diskin claims to have a 100 percent success rate treating patients with claustrophobia. She tells them when they arrive that within the next 20 minutes she will put them in a dark cupboard without them minding, and they react with horror but 20 minutes later, they re doing it without a worry. EFT can also be used to get rid of addictions to unhealthy foods, Diskin says.

But it s more than that, she adds. We can also help people crave healthy foods, so that way we re not just solving problems, but also creating solutions.

Getting Hot in Here

The practice of yoga in its many branches has exploded throughout the world. One popular branch is Bikram yoga, developed 30 years ago by renowned hatha yoga master Bikram Choudhury after he suffered a terrible knee injury at the age of 20. Though doctors said he would never be able to walk again, after six months of yoga therapy he was fully recovered. Bikram yoga was created through his healing regime.

Classes consist of 26 postures and two breathing exercises done in a heated room up to 40 degrees Celsius with a humidity level between 60 and 70 percent, which, according to Bikram, is optimal for protection against colds, flu and other respiratory problems.

Proponents rave about the benefits of Bikram yoga and claim that, aside from expected results such as improved flexibility, strength and weight loss, it can help regulate blood pressure, alleviate pain, improve mobility of the spinal column, calm the nervous system and balance metabolism.

U.S. citizen Jimmy Walker Jr., who has been practicing yoga for about six years, opened BikramYogaCollege (, 2253-2806) in the eastern suburb of San Pedro three years ago. Before he decided to take a teacher-training course and move to Costa Rica to open his own studio, Walker was a dentist in the United States and Canada. He left that lifestyle for the harmonic one that is yoga, he says.

When I first started practicing, I could barely lean to the side because my back as so bad because of an accident I d had years earlier, Walker says. But as I worked at it, I gradually realized my back pain was controllable, and then it was occurring less and less, and now, in recent years, it s totally gone.

Walker attests that the benefits of yoga extend well beyond what most people expect, both physically and mentally. He says yoga can help relieve the pain of chronic injuries over time, and that as long as a person continues to practice yoga, the pain will not return.

Your muscles and connective tissues become more elastic and allow for greater flexibility, so there s less chance of an injury, Walker says. Also, the amount that you sweat eliminates all the bad toxins from your body.

Luis Umaña, the executive vice president of an independent banana export company in San José, is one of Walker s clients. He has been practicing Bikram yoga for the past couple of years and says it will always be a part of his life.

Though he has always been an outdoor sports enthusiast, competing in triathlons around the country, Umaña had never considered yoga until a friend took him to a class.

I was immensely surprised at the intensity of the process it incorporated all the parts of my body and every muscle, Umaña says.

It s ideal to combine with what I m doing. Umaña says yoga works on three important factors: flexibility, concentration and breathing.

It may not be an outdoor sport, but it cleanses you, he says.

Umaña believes Bikram yoga helps prevent colds and muscle injuries, in addition to improving quality of life in general.

I m convinced that Bikram yoga is similar to a medication for improving your physique and your mind, he says.


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