This is because they have the most education, the widest knowledge base and also have access to diagnostic tests that are not available to other natural practitioners. Next are chiropractors and/or network spinal analysis practitioners (a form of gentle chiropractic), because their type of care helps to ensure the proper nerve signal flow that is so essential to a healthy body. If I had a medical condition, I would seek the counsel of a member of one or more of the “top tier” above; then, as money and time permitted, I would seek additional natural therapies (such as massage, herbal remedies, nutritional counseling, energetic healing, etc.).
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture are based on an “energetic” model of healthcare. A practitioner of this discipline is interested in how well energy (called chi or qi) is flowing through your body. Energetic flow is a precursor to biochemical activity. Naturopathy (as a philosophy), on the other hand, is more concerned about the biochemical imbalances that may be occurring in the body. Chiropractic seeks to correctly align the spine by mechanical adjustment, so that nerve signals flow properlypinched nerves don’t transmit information very well, and that can lead to health challenges or disease.
All three healing systems are valid and very useful for overcoming ailments. If you can afford it, I suggest using all three disciplines, and letting your caregivers know that you are in counsel with other practitioners. Here is an overview of some of the most popular and important therapies available. My ideal clinic would offer traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy and chiropractic. The advantage of this is the “cross-knowledge” that the practitioners share by working closely with colleagues in different fields.
Traditional Chinese Medicine/Acupuncture
Nearly five thousand years ago the ancient Chinese recognized a vital energy behind all life forms and processesthis animating force controls the functioning of every organ and system in the body. The Chinese called this energy qi (pronounced chee). The Chinese word and character was originally “latinized” as “chi.” Chi is known as the “life force” by shamans, as “prana” by yogis, as “bioelectric energy” by modern scientists, and the “vis medicatrix naturae” (“healing power of nature”) by modern naturopathic physicians. This term, apparently coined by Hippocrates (a physician who lived 2400 years ago), shows that naturopathic medicine is deeply rooted in the origins of traditional Western medicine.
Live Naturally: Improve Your Health Today
This life force energy must flow freely and in the correct strength and quality for the body to function correctly. In all illness, the flow of vital energy has been impaired, and the goal of traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture is to help restore the proper flow of energy (chi) throughout the body. Correcting an imbalance in energy flow is like fixing a template or blueprintoften preventing an impending illness before it can manifest physically. It’s said that in ancient China people paid a doctor as long as they stayed healthy; if they became ill, payment was suspended until health was regained!
Healing practitioners discovered that chi flows along specific pathways, or channels, called “meridians.” Each pathway is associated with a particular physiological system and internal organ. Disease arises due to a deficiency or imbalance of energy in the meridians and their associated physiological systems. TCM uses an intricate system of pulse and tongue diagnosis, stimulation or sedation of key points and meridians, a thorough medical history and detailed observation of symptoms to create a composite diagnosis. Two people with the same illness may have very different constitutions and causes for the condition. Therefore, an individualized treatment plan is formulated to assist each person in regaining a balanced state of health.
Chinese herbs are either ingested (often as a tea) or applied externally to balance body energy and revitalize cells and tissues. Acupuncture is the process of inserting very fine needles into precisely located points along the meridians with the intent to decrease, increase or shift the flow of chi. Modern science has measured the electrical charge at these points, corroborating the locations of meridians. Each point has a predictable effect upon the vital energy passing through it. According to the manipulation of the needles, energy can be drawn to a deficient organ, excess energy dispersed, blockages removed, and so on, according to the individual need of the patient. Acupuncture needles usually produce a slight stinging sensation, but rarely cause overt pain.
Sometimes points are treated with a special, heated herbartemesia vulgaris latiflora (called “moxa”)which resembles a brown colored wool. Usually a small cone of moxa is placed on the skin over an acupuncture point, ignited, and removed when the heat is felt. Like needles, moxa revitalizes, reinforces, invigorates and restores balance and harmony to the vital energy.
As the balance and harmony of the vital energy is restored, symptoms of illness disappear. If all organs and functions of the body are working properly and harmoniously, there cannot be sickness within the body or mind.
Known as “The Science of Life,” Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that literally means “life wisdom.” Practiced in India at least 5,000 years ago (and still as effective as when it was created by ancient sages known as Rishis), Ayurveda is a natural system of medicine that employs diet, herbs, cleansing and purification practices as well as yoga to effect healing. The Rishismasters of meditation and observationdeveloped a system of healing based on the five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Combinations of these elements are known as the doshas. Your dosha is your constitutional makeup. There are three main types, called Vata (predominately air) Pitta (predominately fire) and Kapha (predominately earth and water), and four combination types. By knowing your type, you have immediate access to useful information on what to eat, how to exercise, how to cleanse and purify your body and how to prevent disease. Many natural food stores carry specific products, such as teas, which have been developed for the various doshas. Generally, you visit an Ayvuredic physician to have a complete profile and healing system created.
Naturopathic medicine is a system of natural healing deeply rooted in Western culture. It is based on a philosophy that health and disease are on a continuum, and that the body has a profound ability to heal itself when given the proper conditions. Therefore, naturopathic patients are taught how to access the body’s innate wisdom, promote vibrant health and prevent disease. Preventive care results in financial benefits, as health is maintained, disease avoided, and costly procedures averted.
Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) treat ‘the whole person,’ taking into account the body-mind-spirit interconnection and the individual needs of the patient. Spending up to 90 minutes for an initial visit and an average of 45 minutes for follow-up exams, the naturopath asks numerous questions, performs a detailed physical exam, thoroughly investigates symptoms and complaints, explains treatment options and includes the patient in choosing a treatment plan.
Naturopathic Doctors are primary care providers (family physicians) and, like a conventional doctor, an Naturopathic Doctor will often use a number of laboratory procedures as well as the physical exam to make a diagnosis. Additionally, nutritional status, metabolic function, and toxic load are frequently considered to aid in diagnosis and treatment decisions. Non-invasive therapies such as lifestyle or behavior modification and relaxation techniques may be “prescribed.”
Spinal manipulation, massage therapy, therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, detoxification, physiotherapy, exercise therapy, homeopathy, acupuncture and psychological counseling may also be included in treatment. In some states where naturopathic physicians are licensed, naturopaths may also perform minor outpatient surgery and prescribe medication. When prudent, a Naturopathic Doctor will refer patients to a specialist for a definitive diagnosis and advice.
Though naturopathy came to the United States just over 100 years ago, the natural therapies and the philosophy on which it is based have been effectively used to treat diseases for thousands of years. In fact, the word physician comes from the Greek root meaning nature. Hippocrates coined the phrase, “nature is the healer of all diseases.” This concept underlies the principles outlined in the “Hippocratic Oath,” as stated below:
• First, do no harm.
• Act in cooperation with the Healing Power of Nature (the ‘vis medicatrix naturae’ in Latin).
• Address the fundamental causes of disease.
• Heal the whole person through individualized treatment.
• Teach the principles of healthy living and preventive medicine.
The first two years of naturopathic school are very similar to conventional medical school, requiring anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, neurology, radiology, minor surgery, microbiology, obstetrics, immunology, gynecology, pharmacology, pediatrics, dermatology, clinical laboratory and physical diagnosis, among other courses. The second two years focus on clinical skills: Naturopathic Doctors receive training in a wide range of natural therapeutics such as botanical medicine, homeopathy, natural childbirth, acupuncture, physiotherapy, and clinical nutrition. Because coursework in natural therapeutics is added to a standard medical curriculum, naturopathic doctors receive significantly more hours of classroom education in these areas than do graduates of many leading medical schools. Students also complete a clinical internship consisting of 1,500 hours treating patients under the supervision of licensed naturopathic and conventional medical physicians in an outpatient setting.
Currently, Naturopathic Doctors are licensed as primary care providers in 13 states and several territories, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Several provinces of Canadahave licensed naturopathic physicians. England, Australia, and New Zealand also have provisions for appropriately trained naturopaths to practice.
It is important to recognize that in jurisdictions that do not license Naturopathic Doctors, anyone can refer to themselves as a naturopath. While these practitioners, some of whom have been educated by distance learning, may have good information about natural healing, they may not have the training to recognize when to refer, nor have the knowledge to work in a complementary fashion with conventional health care providers. To find a qualified naturopath, visit the American Association of Naturopathic Physician’s Web site and chose a Naturopathic Doctor from their database, or use the "Find a Naturopathic Doctor" function at RealizeHealth.org.
[Note: Naturopaths are trained in homeopathy, but not all Homeopathic practitioners are Naturopaths.]
Homeopathy was developed by German physician and chemist Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in the early 1800s. Through numerous experiments, he furthered the theory of “The Law of Similars,” that a substance in small doses can alleviate symptoms similar to those it causes at higher doses. He believed that the microdose of a substance would stimulate the body’s immune system to heal whatever pattern of symptoms would be found in a large dose of the same substance. This principle is also known as “likes cure likes,” one of the two cornerstones of homeopathy.
Homeopathic remedies are prepared by a detailed process of repeated dilution and shaking, which makes them capable of stimulating the body’s own defense system. The shaking, or “succussion,” is the second cornerstone of homeopathy. Hahnemann believed that dilution and succussion released a power that affected the life force energy at the subtle (spiritual or energetic) level. For example, we are all familiar with formerly invisible, immeasurable, unknowable energy forms, such as electromagnetic radiation and subatomic particles. Magnets exerted their force long before science could explain the mechanism. Physicists are still trying to explain gravity and the nature of matter, still discovering phenomena such as the strong force and the weak force. Similarly, homeopathic medicine works at a level not entirely recognized by some in modern allopathic medical science.
Homeopaths believe that although the physical molecules of the original substance may be gone, dilution and succussion leaves something behindan imprint of its essence, or its energy patternthat gives it a kind of healing charge. Scientists who accept the potential benefits of homeopathy suggest several theories to explain how the highly diluted remedies may act. Using recent developments in quantum physics, they have proposed that electromagnetic energy in the medicines may interact with the body on some level.
Homeopathy is not yet well known in the United States, but is gaining popularity because of its high success rate in helping people, especially those who cannot be helped by conventional medicine. Homeopathy is very well-established and respected in England, France, Switzerland, Germany, India and many other countries.
In most cases, homeopaths consider everything that is going on in the patient’s life rather than looking at isolated symptoms. The patient complaining of headaches may also suffer from depression, insecurity, low energy and a long list of other problems. All of these problems may stem from the same root cause; if so, then by dealing with the root cause, all of the problems will fade away. During a lengthy initial appointment (usually about 90 minutes) all of the complaints will be explored. Then the appropriate remedies, made from plants, minerals and other natural substances, are prescribed. Sometimes the remedy is given in a single dose and allowed to work over a period of time. In other instances, an initial dose is given, followed by repeated doses over a period of hours, days or weeks.
Homeopathy is often effective with people who have chronic diseases, long-term physical or emotional problems or recurring illnesses. After taking the correct homeopathic remedy, patients feel greater well-being and happiness, since homeopathic care goes much deeper than most other treatments. Whether or not conventional medicine considers the condition curable is not the major factor in determining whether homeopathy can help. Homeopaths recognize the importance of intervening as little as possible. They know the body is intelligent and produces symptoms for a reason.
Use of homeopathic remedies can never harm the body. Even if they don’t work, they will not hurt. An experienced practitioner can help you use them in a way that won’t spoil the curative action of the potencies.
Chiropractic care began with D.D. Palmer in 1895 when a janitor, who had been deaf in one ear, was able to hear again once Palmer pushed one of his vertebra back into place. The janitor had a vertebral subluxation in his neck, meaning the vertebra was stuck in an abnormal position. Palmer moved the vertebra back into position, and when he did, nerves in that region were able to function again, restoring the janitor’s hearing.
Palmer realized that when misaligned vertebrae are physically adjusted into proper alignment, nerves supplying the afflicted region then operate at greater efficiency, allowing the body to more fully heal itself. Conversely, when vertebrae remain misaligned, the nervous system is compromised, and many parts of the body are not able to function optimally, which can lead to functional problems or disease. Chiropractic care is the process of physically aligning vertebrae back into appropriate positions so that nerve signal flow is restored to full function.
Network Spinal Analysis
A number of years ago, Dr. Donald Epstein, a chiropractor in New York, noticed that many chiropractors used techniques that encouraged the spine and nervous system to realign on its own via gentle stimulation, as opposed to traditional physical adjustments. Some techniques worked around the neck area, others near the tailbone, and still others at specific vertebrae. Each method was aimed at getting the spine and nervous system to realign without physical manipulations. He discovered that these methods achieved excellent results and, after a great deal of research and testing on his own clients, developed network spinal analysis, a synthesis of effective low-force adjustments. Network spinal analysis uses gentle touches to the spine and meninges (tissue around the spinal cord) to stimulate the nervous system and spine to properly align.
Of particular interest is the “respiratory wave,” which, when it flows through the spinal system, indicates that the system is realigning itself to optimal functioning. When the nervous system is operating without interferencewhether from a subluxated vertebra or tension on the nervous system from the spine in another formthen the body can achieve a higher level of healing. Many people report that symptoms of headaches or other complaints disappear after a series of Network adjustments. I personally benefited greatly after receiving numerous treatments from two caregivers.
Therapeutic massage, also known as bodywork, is one of the most pleasant preventive care methods you can use. Its various forms have been used for thousands of years because it increases circulation, relieves tension and muscle spasms, and stretches connective tissue. It can break down or prevent the formation of adhesions, reducing the risk of fibrosis, and can actually increase the number of red blood cells, especially in cases of anemia. Massage improves muscle tone and can prevent or delay atrophy resulting from forced inactivity. It also stimulates lymph circulation and assists the elimination of wastes, lactic acid and other toxins.
There are many kinds of massage available, from direct intervention techniques like Rolfing (connective tissue restructuring named after founder Ida Rolf) and Swedish massage, to modalities like Shiatsu, acupuncture and reflexology, which act by releasing energy through the connective tissue. There are also “full on” energetic modalities such as craniosacral, Reiki and Jin Shin Juytsu that require little or no pressure. On the other hand, neuro-muscular therapy (NMT) and myofascial release are techniques that utilize a significant amount of pressure and can be somewhat uncomfortable (that “good hurt” feeling) during treatment, but provide pain relief after the session. Still other types of bodywork, such as Rosen, Rubenfeld and Hellerwork (all named after their founders) focus on emotional release. There are dozens of other choices, from Watsu (sessions conducted in the water) to the patented “BodyTalk,” as well as sports, Russian and Thai medical massage. Still others offer what’s known as somatic education. These modalities offer postural awareness and movement reeducation along with “tablework.” They include Trager, Feldenkrais and Hanna Somatics (again, the disciplines bear their founders’ names).
Thomas Claire’s book, Bodywork[i] is an excellent reference that provides an overview of many kinds of touch therapies and takes you through the author’s experience of each one. It also gives contraindications (conditions you may have which should not be addressed by massage therapy), explains the training regimen and gives reference phone numbers for each discipline, so you can call for recommended practitioners in your area.
Once you know the kind of work you’re looking for, check the Yellow Pages and pick up some business cards from local bulletin boards. Call a few therapists and ask whether she is nationally certified and how long she has been in practice. Much of your experience will depend on the connection you feel with the therapist. Bodywork/massage is a burgeoning field and there are some people in it just for the money (even though it is hard work)! Look for someone you sense has a true dedication to facilitating healing through touch, and a commitment to excellence and continuing education. Glance at the certificates that should be displayed in the office and notice whether professional ethics are posted.
By the way, while an office in a clinic or sports facility may feel more professional, it’s also very common and legitimate for a therapist to work from a home office, or even to give you a massage in your own home! Regardless of where your session occurs, you should feel comfortable at all times. Sheets and towels should appear clean and freshly changed.
While massage therapy isn’t cheap (session rates vary across the country, but usually range between $45 and $85 an hour), it’s less than most other medical professionals charge for a much shorter visit. And you’ll save money in the long run.
Natural Medicine Conclusion
I hope you’ve gotten a sense of the exciting possibility of participating in your wellness. As Dr. Candace Pert, former head of the National Institutes of Health states: “We have far more control over our bodies and our health (or disease processes and their outcomes) than we realize.” It’s true. We need to re-empower ourselves by learning to listen to the wisdom of our bodies, and use healthcare professionals as partners rather than looking to them to provide all of our answers.