Ancient Cures in Modern Hands

What's old is new again.Ancient knowledge researched and perfected over thousands of years in cultures that laid the foundations of civilizations around the world, sits printed in neat rows on bookstore shelves and in clinics around the city.Massage therapists' offices, anomalies in the city and suburbs only 10 years ago, dot the small business landscape, oases of stress relief.Bottles of botanicals labeled St. John's wort, ginseng, eyebright and dozens of other names familiar to gardeners through the centuries line shelves in health food stores and mainstream drug stores such as Walgreen's, Osco and Drug Emporium.Reiki, ayurveda, homeopathy, chi-kung, yoga, massage therapy, and meditation are words commonly on the lips of people disillusioned with traditional Western medicine, and who are looking for alternatives to what many of them consider to be impersonal, expensive medical care and prescription drugs that do more harm than good.Studies conducted last year concluded that Americans spent $13 billion on alternative therapies in 1996, much of it out-of-pocket as few insurance companies pay for treatments such as aromatherapy, massage therapy or acupuncture.Alternative health maintenance and medicine is big business, for reasons that have less to do with good marketing than with reclaiming control over personal health, according to Alexandria Binkowski, owner and manager of Pathway to Health, 1820 N. Farwell Ave."It's about power and control," Binkowski said. "Alternative medicine, wholistic medicine, looks at the whole person and works with the entire system, not just symptoms. Alternative methods allow and encourage a person the strength to participate in his or her health and healing."Wholistic health maintenance and restoration -- methods created with the philosophy that a person's mind, body and spirit are inseparable, and must be treated as one -- has served hundreds of billions of people throughout the world for thousands of years. In the last half decade, it's gained firm ground with Americans disillusioned with what they've been raised to call conventional Western medicine, a change Binkowski has been watching for a few years."Interest is on the rise because people are becoming aware of the side effects of (conventional prescription) drugs," she said. "Preventative medicine is becoming a bigger thing."Alternative medicine is about preventing the imbalances that can result in illness, rather than merely curing sickness after it's occurred, she added. Wholistic medicine's rise in popularity in the late 1990s is akin to its big introduction to the U.S. in the 1960s, and for a reason."The people who had forgotten about it for a few decades are now coming back to it," Binkowski said of the baby boomer generation that embraced Eastern philosophies and traditions -- from which much of wholistic medicine is derived -- and revolutionary changes in society three decades ago.Driving the rising interest in holistic health methods and services is based on more than fascination with untried and mysterious health maintenance methods, according to Larry Johansen, office manager of Heart & Health, 1011 N. Mayfair Rd. a holistic health care center."People are more interested in their own care instead of passing authority to someone else," Johansen said. "I think alternative health care is becoming more popular because people have not found satisfaction in what they've known as traditional Western medicine."A good deal of alternative medicine has its roots in Eastern traditions in China, India, Tibet and Japan, where cultures have understood that many ailments are the results of imbalances in the body and mind. Stress is a main culprit. It's one of the most common reasons people walk through Heart & Health's doors, Johansen said."People tend to burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, too. They're looking to get the stress out of their lives, but many of them are just reacting to it, not getting rid of it," he said.He cited an example of a recent patient, an operations manager with one of Milwaukee's largest corporations, who came to the center to alleviate stress. "His idea of how to get rid of stress was to mow the lawn or go fishing, things that in his case only helped him avoid stress, not eliminate it," Johansen said. "Those activities can help alleviate stress for some people, but in his case, it didn't."The man wanted some of the treatments the center offers, but Johansen, upon hearing more information about the man's lifestyle, recommended instead that he first change the way he dealt with the stress that was making him ill. Blood work and health food weren't going to help much unless that happened first. It apparently didn't sit well with the man, who took some information from the clinic, and never returned."I'm not interested in changing anybody's view, but providing them with information," Johansen said. "Then they can make their own choices." Often they choose to take better care of their spouses, children, relatives, house, car, pets and plants than they do their own bodies."For example, I'll ask someone with children or nieces and nephews to close their eyes and think about how they feel when they take care of those children, when they bend down to gently pick one up. The care and concern just pours out of you, doesn't it? Then I ask them to remember the last time they had that feeling for the body they live in. Their reaction is often a revelation to them."Getting people to start caring for their own mental and physical health in that way is one of the first steps on the road to health, according to wholistic tenets.Many Western tradition-trained doctors are slowly beginning to understand the connection between mind and body, according to Mary Norman, owner of the Gaia Institute, 10909 W. Blue Mound Rd.Assuming Western medicine is more evolved and effective --generally more valid -- than Eastern methods is folly, Norman said."The Chinese have been studying herbs, botanicals, mineral and animal parts in healing for 5,000 years," she said. "Western medicine as we know it today about 150 years old. Western medicine treats the mind and body individually, that the body is one thing, the mind something else. We're not sure what it is yet. Western doctors are beginning to realize that the mind and body are connected." Norman, a state certified clinical social worker in practice for 25 years, started the Gaia Institute two years ago and employs a part-time acupuncturist in addition to her counseling services. She's studying for national board certification in Chinese herbology.The clinic is named with the Greek feminine term for "mother earth," and the belief the planet is a living organism comprised of living parts connected and each having influence over the others.It's a philosophy with fundamental spiritual aspects, a quality that sets wholistic medicine apart from its Western-influenced counterpart.Western medicine is expert at treating damaged parts of the whole when necessary, but Eastern-influenced wholistic medicine looks beyond the parts and sees the mind, body and spirit."As people become more connected, they begin to move in their minds to a more inclusive mindset," Norman said. "I honestly don't know of anyone who takes on a pathway to improve their health and who doesn't ultimately include a spiritual journey on that path. It naturally follows."Stress-related ailments bring most people through her doors."It really starts with the idea that we live highly stressed lives and that has a great effect on our immune systems. And whether they believe in holistic medicine or not, they are often heard to say when they get sick, 'Oh, I must have run myself down.'"The institute's acupuncturist, who also runs his own clinic on Milwaukee's Northwest Side, understands both philosophies.Dr. Guan-Yuan Jin, who is also a master Chinese herbologist, and a radiologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin, received his medical training in China and practiced there for more than 20 years. He's been a U.S. resident for 9 years and is a licensed acupuncturist in Wisconsin, a member of the Acupuncture License Committee for the state.Differences between Western medicine and Chinese medicine are stark."I'll give you an example," he said. "Take a kidney problem. Western medicine looks at it and says 'What is wrong here?' It tests the urine, the blood and finds the precise information. Chinese medicine gets the whole body information, what is happening in other parts of the body, in the life."He uses a old watch-repair metaphor to explain another difference between Chinese, wholistic medicine and Western methods."A watch is out of order, and (the) Western method says 'Open the back and find which part is damaged.' Chinese says 'This watch is so old, we can't open the back. Maybe it will damage the whole watch. So you shake it. Shake the whole watch and make all parts inside move, and find that watch begins working after. You make all parts work for others from outside. That is (the) Chinese method. It was all billions of Chinese knew of medicine for more than four millennia, added Jin."Acupuncture, herbology and chi-kung (a form of tai-chi, or movement designed to aid the flow of energy throughout the body) was only (the) medicine Chinese had for 4,000 years," Jin said. "Western medicine only came to China 100 years ago." Acupuncture's and Chinese herbology's popularity opened up in the West after former U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China and began talks with its Communist government in 1971.Today, stores can barely keep up with demand for traditional Chinese herbs, as well as other botanical supplements intended to provide healing effects, according to Marie Greenfield, education director for The Outpost Exchange health food and grocery store."We have one of the largest selections in the area of aurvedic, Chinese and Western botanicals, extracts and medicines, and that department has grown by double digits in the last few years," she said.Some customers shop the dozens of bottles, looking for the pills that will heal what ails them. Not wise, and not always healthy, Greenfield said.I'd rather steer people out of that department and into reading more about what they want to take instead of seeing them just buy a pill to fix their problems," she said. "That's not going to work. That's just what they would be doing with traditional medicine, and these botanicals aren't going to help them at all unless some of them look at lifestyle changes."A reputable and conscientious wholistic practitioner recognizes and supports the vital role Western medicine and surgery plays in many illnesses, said Pathway to Health's Binkowski."I would never, ever say there is no place for Western medicine. Without it, I wouldn't be here right now," she said.A spinal injury suffered in a car accident last year left her in pain and crippled, injuries that herbs and a positive attitude could not heal completely. Surgery last November helped her heal, and acted as a wake-up call for her to "balance what I know and allow traditional medicine to do its work."Her background as a registered nurse with more than three decades of medical experience, and her day job as a medical administrator in the area, allows her to pull from the best of Western and alternative traditions to form what she calls "the perfect combination.""I think the most successful and best doctors in the future will be the ones who understand both disciplines and who use Western and wholistic methods," she said. "That is taking care of the whole patient. Those methods are even more powerful when combined."Her store, only two weeks old, offers a number of health services, including massage, therapeutic touch, breathing techniques to relieve stress, reflexology, and goods such as herbs, oils, books and food for women, men and children. She also offers a line of natural products for pets.The store is a dream come true for her, not merely a cashing-in on the latest health trend, she said, ."It's not just to sell the stuff," she said. "It really is for people to see that there is a wholeness and completeness to this way of healing, this lifestyle. Come and learn about it."


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