This chapter contains descriptions of simple exercises designed to increase the blood supply to the scalp. Noone denies that healthy hair requires a good, rich blood supply, and it is also true that the blood vessels in the miniaturised follicles on a balding head are fewer in number and less healthy than those in full-sized follicles producing healthy terminal hair. However, conventional medicine tends to ridicule the idea that increasing the blood supply to the scalp can produce new hair growth, pointing out that most vasodilatory drugs, applied topically, don't work (minoxidil is a vasodilatory drug that has some success, but the chances are that this is for other reasons).
This is not as surprising as it might seem when you consider that there are two factors involved in ensuring blood supply to each follicle - not only must the body decide to supply the scalp in general with blood, but each follicle must have plenty of blood vessels. The blood supply to each hair comes via tiny blood vessels in the papilla at the very base of the bulb from which new hair grows; when the bulb disintegrates, so do the blood vessels, and they are regrown with it at the beginning of each anagen phase - so that even if the blood supply to your hair is inadequate now, it retains the potential for improvement. The programme in this book is therefore designed to help improve blood supply to the growing hair in four ways.
The exercises may sound a little eccentric, and, unlike hair tonics, massages and so forth, are not the kind of thing you might expect to find in a book on hair loss. Nonetheless, I would urge anyone who wants to see new hair growth to include them in their personalised programme. A good blood supply to the scalp is essential for the follicle to be able to recover; without this, neither external treatments, changes in diet nor any supplements you decide to take can have their full effect. In particular, if you regularly suffer from cold hands and feet and/or chilblains, you should give the question of circulation special thought. Just as the body has an 'emergency mode' which it enters when you are stressed, which causes it to direct blood to the vital organs rather than to inessentials such as the scalp, so it reduces circulation to the extremities when it is cold, partly in order to conserve its resources for survival and partly to restrict the heat loss that occurs when warm blood passes close to the skin. If you suffer more than most people every winter from cold extremities, this suggests that your body overreacts to the cold, removing too much blood too soon from the extremities - and these, of course, include your scalp.
My own internal thermostat offers an excellent example of this overreaction: even when people around me are shivering, I can only tell it's cold at all because my feet are numb. (If you have similar problems with circulation to the extremities, you could try using the essential oils of black pepper or ginger, both of which are warming circulatory stimulants - but be wary of using these on your scalp if it is at all sensitive, as their warming qualities can cause irritation.) In any case, you should keep your head warm in winter, as cold slows down hair growth.
Many treatments for balding rely for their effect on increasing the blood supply to the scalp: even if tonics themselves do not stimulate the scalp, the act of rubbing them on twice daily will; in some cases, the rubbing without the tonic would probably work just as well. (I actually found one tonic on sale that claimed that 'daily massage with [the product] stimulates the circulation in your scalp to help normal healthy hair growth' - a claim which neatly avoids saying whether the product or only the massage does the stimulating!) Many of the treatments recommended in this book will also increase blood supply to the scalp - massage with essential oils known to stimulate circulation, for example, and a diet designed to improve the health of the circulatory system in general. Regular aerobic exercise also improves the circulation as a whole.
While such basic measures as diet and exercise help create the healthy body that is practically a precondition for healthy hair, special exercises are needed to guarantee that the blood reaches the scalp in sufficient quantities. They serve to override the body's inappropriate emergency measures, whether in response to stress or to cold, and help to cure the problems that have already arisen from a deficient supply. There are basically three types of special exercise: massage, stretching and, most importantly, inversion - in other words, turning upside down. There is a good reason for this rather bizarre suggestion: when you are upside down, the blood rushes to your scalp, and turning upside down every day (coupled with sensible hair care, relaxation and diet) has been shown to result in considerable regrowth of hair.
There are various ways to achieve the desired effect. By far the best and safestmethod is to purchase an inversion table - equipment that allows anyone, regardless of their state of physical fitness, to swing themselves over into an upside down position and control the angle of their body.
Invest in the safety of your spine!
See photos and reviews of inversion tables here.
While you're waiting for your inversion table to arrive (or saving up for one), there are other ways to make your head the lowest part of your body. If you have access to a sturdy climbing frame with a horizontal bar at a safe height from the ground, and feel equal to suspending yourself from it by your knees, this would be ideal - but you can also try headstands, shoulder stands, or simply lying on your back on the bed and letting your head hang back over the edge. Shoulder stands, by the way, are much easier than headstands, but they do still involve placing almost all the weight of the body on the neck and shoulders, so should not be attempted unless you are reasonably strong and supple and, above all, confident of keeping your balance.
Lying on your back on a padded but solid surface (such as a mat on the floor, not a bed), raise your knees and put your feet flat on the floor, then kick up so that your hips leave the ground. Use your hands to support your hips and, according to your level of suppleness and confidence in your sense of balance, work them as far as you can towards the top of your back so that your body and legs become more vertical, while your upper arms remain in contact with the floor. If you are a DIY enthusiast, or have access to a friendly one, you could make your own bar to suspend yourself from, or even, if you are very skilful, your own inverter. A particularly useful home-made contraption, which also has the advantage of being useable by people with no athletic skills whatever, is simply a body-length board, supported (securely!) at a slant, on which you can lie comfortably with your head at the bottom of the slope. Only for goodness sakes be sure it really is secure; buy professionally-designed and made equipment if in any doubt at all.
My own favourite method involves 'sitting backwards' on the sofa, lying on my back on the seat, with my legs resting on the chair back and the wall behind, and my head hanging over the edge; this method is quite comfortable and has the advantage of full support for the back, but is of course best suited to those with short backs and/or large sofas. You can probably use your own ingenuity to devise a method suitable for you. It is only necessary that it make your head the lowest part of your body (preferably raising your feet as well, if you can), be safe, and convenient enough for you to spend at least five minutes in this position every day. You can tell whether you chosen method is having the desired effect by checking (or getting a friend to check) that the scalp is turning red from the increased blood flow. The further you are from complete inversion, the longer you will need to spend to gain the same benefits.
Whatever method you use, you should always be very careful of your back and neck. They are amongst the most vulnerable parts of the body, and even very small falls and apparently minor strains can cause serious, sometimes permanently crippling, injury. You should use plenty of padding if trying head or shoulder stands, with someone on hand to support you if you are unsure of keeping your balance, and should not use any device which could fall over, or which you could easily fall off - it simply isn't worth the risk. An inversion table may cost a few hundred dollars; your spine is worth that much.
If in any doubt, consult your doctor as to which form of inversion would be safest for you (s/he will probably be sceptical about the benefits of the exercise, but ignore this and get the advice anyway!). If any exercise causes back pain, stop doing it; alternating different inversion exercises (e.g. shoulder stand, which forces the head forward, and hanging from the sofa, which sends it back) will help to reduce the strain on any vulnerable areas. Finally, always turn the right way up again slowly and gently.
While you are dangling upside down, it is a good time to pull silly faces - after all, you can hardly feel sillier than you already do. Alternatively, of course, you may choose to think of yourself as practising your inversion and facial exercises. Either way, stretching the facial muscles can improve the flexibility of the scalp and release facial tension. A simple, easy-to-remember pattern is as follows: 1)start with an expression of exaggerated surprise, pursing your mouth into an 'O' and raising your eyebrows as far as they will go. 2)Open your mouth as wide as you can, keeping your eyebrows raised. 3)Clench your eyes tight shut, lowering your eyebrows, and close your mouth to a wide grin. 4) Keeping your eyes shut and brows down, pucker your lips in an exaggerated kiss. Return to stage 1, and repeat the cycle a few times; to finish, consciously relax every muscle in your face.
Stress reduces the blood supply to the follicles in two ways: firstly, the stress response causes a reduction in the blood supply to the extremities; secondly, muscles in the face, jaw, neck and shoulders can be permanently tense without your noticing it (though you will notice the resultant tension headache!), thus constricting the scalp tissue and its blood vessels. (A third, less direct way is the link between stress and atherosclerosis.) This programme takes a 'belt and braces' approach to the problem - reducing stress, overriding the reduction in peripheral circulation through inversion, and the following exercises to relax the muscles of the head and neck. Do the whole routine once a day, and stretch your neck and shoulders whenever they are stiff or aching.
You can relax your neck and shoulders by stretching and massaging them (with or without essential oils), or, even better, getting someone else to massage your neck and shoulders for you while you relax completely - but make sure they do it gently! To massage your own neck and shoulders, use your right hand for your left shoulder and vice versa. Stroke firmly from the base of your neck down your shoulder to the bony part, slide up lightly to the base of the neck and repeat a few times. Then knead the fleshy part of the shoulder between the fingers and the palm and heel of the hand. Use both hands simultaneously for a fingertip massage of the neck, using gentle circular movements to rise from the base of the neck to the base of the skull. Follow the massage with stretches: rotate each shoulder backwards and forwards several times, stretch your whole back, and relax. Then turn your head as far as you can to left and right, and lean it forward, and onto each shoulder, as far as is comfortable. Do not roll your head violently backwards, as this puts too much strain on the neck. As with the inversion exercises, it is very important to be gentle when stretching your neck: if you have any reason to think that these exercises might not suit you, or if you find them painful, stop and consult your doctor.
© Copyright H.J.Barrett 2006