Why choose alternative or complimentary medicine over conventional or allopathic medicine? For many years such a consideration was a normal part of daily life. Kids were born at home with a midwife in attendance, one that frequently understood how to use herbs with her patients. Naturopathic cures were the norm and chemical based, modern allopathic medicine was only beginning to emerge. When you consider that there was a time when being bled or administered mercury was the norm, it has to be said that we have come a long way in healthcare. However in some ways we have gone backwards in our ability to effect cures. For the last hundred years, modern allopathic medicine has waged and in some areas continues to do so, a war against natural based cures. Chemical and pharmaceutical based treatments have been the norm, especially since the 1930s. However so many of these medicines have dramatic and even life threatening side affects. It is no surprise that people are turning to centuries old herbal and lifestyle based cures, as well as natural medicine practitioners as an alternative, intending to find or restore health.
In addition to healthy diet and the use of herbs, many alternative modalities can assist us in achieving improved health. From my own experience the following have been and continue to be very helpful.
Yoga: As a long time practitioner, teacher and teacher trainer of yoga, I have seen yoga powerfully enhance my health as well as that of my students and their students. Yoga uses time tested technologies to bring you stress relief, stamina, relaxation, flexibility, rejuvenation and a sense of stability. Classes use specific postures with alignment guidance, designed to bring strength and flexibility to your physical body. Another aspect of yoga is the learning of breathing patterns or Pranayama, which enhance lung function and contribute to a general sense of well-being. A good Yoga class will also focus on meditation as a way to calm the mind and relieve stress.
Massage: Massage induces a deep state of relaxation, stimulates the immune system, provides relief from pain syndromes and improves the circulation of blood and lymph. There are many styles of massage with Swedish being one of the most well known in the US. Swedish massage focuses on relaxing the body by relaxing tension in the muscles. Deep tissue, myofascial and Rolfing seek to unwind deep tension patterns in the body that contribute to poor posture and eventually pain. Some massage therapists study further in the use of therapeutic oils which when absorbed through the skin offer beneficial properties from reducing blood pressure to soothing skin disorders. In addition to the benefits of the accompanying massage, aromatherapy induces deep states of relaxation by stimulating the limbic system of the brain. Another form of massage is Thai massage. This 3000 year old South East Asian therapeutic art form, synthesizes rhythmic compression with exquisite stretching. With elegantly sequenced movement and breath, it brings increased vitality, profound rest and relaxation. The practitioner uses the hands, forearms, knees, elbows, feet and fingers in compression strokes, blended with delightful stretches and breathing. Thai bodywork helps recipients achieve or regain balance in their energy flow. It works on the muscles, ligaments, joints and connective tissue and improves the function of all body systems.
Herbal Medicine; Often known as Herbology, uses different herbs in their various parts for their therapeutic or medicinal properties. Herbs contain a variety of chemical constituents that have differing effects on the body. Herbalists use the leaves, flowers, stems, berries, and roots of plants to prevent, relieve, and treat illness. Though modern medicine often considers herb usage one of folklore, the reality is that many allopathic medicines are actually directly derived from botanicals. Despite many allopathic beliefs, herbal medicine has a long and respected history. Modern science in its apparent wisdom, has isolated the medicinal properties of a large number of herbs, often isolating one component out of many and developing a drug by synthetically replicating that one component. Nature in its true wisdom, however, puts all components together to work gently without provoking side effects. There are many different herbs for the same condition, so working with a trained herbalist is advisable to achieve good results. This being said it is also good to educate yourself enough to have a list of what common herbs to use for certain common conditions. For example, one of my favorites to knock out a cold or flu, is the use of fresh raw garlic. Mash 3-5 cloves with an avocado and spread on whole wheat or spelt bread. Eat this a couple of times a day until you kick the cold or flu. It has never failed me.
Nutrition: Good nutrition helps with the prevention and treatment of illnesses, because a well-nourished body works optimally and rarely gets sick. Optimal nutrition focuses strongly on balance and we all know, the older we get, the more we understand the importance of balance in our lives, and our diet is no exception. Most modern ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are dramatically improved when one adopts a healthy diet. I recommend seeking out a holistic nutritionist if you need help with this area of your health, although certain basics can greatly improve your overall health with regards to diet. Some simple tips are the following; eat greens and some salad every day using fresh, raw and colorful vegetables. Eliminate processed foods from your diet, consuming only whole grains. Try to get more of your protein from vegetable sources such as lentils, beans, nuts etc.. Avoid “low fat" foods which customarily use chemical additives to replace the fat. Instead focus on good fats, such as extra virgin coconut oil to cook with, organically raised butter or ghee and extra virgin olive oil for dressings. Consider adding oil after you cook. It keeps its beneficial properties in this way. Reduce or eliminate soy from your diet. It is not the health food it is touted to be. Grow your own organically or bio-dynamically or try to eat more organic foods.
Acupuncture; This ancient health enhancing practice involves the stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with very thin, solid, metallic needles that are normally manipulated by the hands. These needles are sterilized and used only once.
Acupuncture has been practiced in China for thousands of years. Acupuncture is one of the key techniques used in traditional Chinese medicine (TMC). In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state"; with disease being due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. Qi can be unblocked, according to TCM, by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. These meridians are in 14 main channels and connect the body in an interconnecting matrix of some 2,000 acupuncture points. Needles can even be used to ease pain after surgery.
Chiropractic; is a branch of healthcare that focuses on the evaluation, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine The philosophy is that these disorders affect general health via the nervous system. This is because each nerve feeds a part or parts of the body. When vertebrae are misaligned, pressure exerted upon that nerve can dramatically affect the health of that corresponding part of the boy. Chiropractic is generally considered to be a branch of alternative medicine, probably due to its more holistic approach. Chiropractic treatment focuses on manual therapy including spinal manipulation and other joint and soft tissue manipulation, and includes exercises and health and lifestyle counseling. While chiropractic medicine is relatively new, being founded in the late 1800s, the manipulation of joints can be traced back thousands of years in Thai massage and other traditional healthcare practices.
Reflexology; Reflexology is also known sometimes as zone therapy. It is based on the theory that each body part is represented on the hands and feet and that pressing on specific areas on the hands or feet can have therapeutic effects in other parts of the body. The practitioner can gauge health by feeling the hands or feet and choose to work on certain areas of the hands or feet to improve circulation, not only to those same hands and feet but also to the corresponding parts of the body. Most often points are held for 10 or more seconds, with pressure varying according to patient tolerance. Reflexologists believe that wherever tension is found on a foot, it is a sign that stress and its effect have begun to accumulate in the corresponding parts of the body.
My personal experience of reflexology is that it needs to be practiced regularly to have the long term desired effect, but that it is a very valuable therapy on the road to optimal health. Just beware of ticklish feet!!!