Holistic Healing

Whether it goes by the old moniker, alternative medicine, or the newer label, complementary medicine, in some circles interest in practices like yoga, reiki and acupuncture is leading to a new outlook on personal health."I think people want to take charge of their health," said Betty deMaye-Caruth of the Minerva Educational Center [Honesdale, Penn.]. The Minerva Center offers classes and training in some of these modalities (a blanket term often used by practitioners of complementary medicine to describe different techniques).She said one of the main tenets of complementary medicine is that the individual must engage in active and on-going participation in his or her medical future. It is, in many ways, a departure from the traditional medical approach of dealing with illness as symptoms arise.Dr. Lee T. Besen, a family physician from Peckville who also believes in the efficacy of complementary medicine, said most of these techniques can dispense specific treatment for specific ailments, but they are better suited to "maintaining" health. In other words, if a person finds an alternative therapy helpful, then they should keep using it so that the can remain in a healthy state. "If you continue to practice the techniques we teach, then it becomes preventive medicine," deMaye-Caruth agreed. She said that through techniques like yoga or therapeutic touch (a method of using the hands to direct the bodies energies to assist in the healing process), practitioners can get their body to a state where it can deal with illness or, in some cases, fight off illness. In no way, though, should it be used as a replacement for medical attention. A pamphlet -- deMaye-Caruth --which answered some of the most frequently asked questions about one alternative therapy called "healing touch" said, "Healing Touch complements other approaches to health care and supports the interventions of all physicians or other licensed health care providers. It is NOT used as a substitute for present day medical care." This particular passage relates specifically to healing touch, but speaking with deMaye-Caruth, she indicated these sentiments apply to all the techniques.The general medical term used to describe alternative treatments and the accompanying health philosophy is holistic. This means basically that the whole body is one machine and should, therefore, be treated as a whole unit in order to deal with any specific ailment. So if a person gets chronic headaches, everything including lifestyle, mental state, nutrition, spiritual practices and physical concerns all must be considered when searching for a cure. According to Besen, it's simple really. "I think the linguistic root of holistic is whole, so what we want to do is treat the whole patient," Besen explained. Despite what some people think, there's nothing particularly mystical about complementary or holistic medicine. And that's one of the things Besen said needs to be corrected before things can move forward; alternative techniques need to be demystified in the eyes of the public. If the public can get past the many faulty perceptions that exist, he said, an ideal medical situation could take over where complementary and traditional methods would be balanced to best serve the patient's needs completely. Looking at medicine in this way not only makes obvious sense, but it also elevates the physician to something more than just a mechanic for the body. It makes the doctor someone who can be consulted for advice on how to promote health, not just restore it. "I want to be a healer," Besen said about incorporating alternative and complementary techniques, "rather than just dispensing modern technology." Besen isn't the only medical professional catching on, either. Though some are still very skeptical, he said complementary medicine courses are offered in one third of all medical schools and residencies. The most important thing for everyone, including other doctors, is to stay open minded. "The key is to avoid arrogance, because what are today's alternative methods are tomorrow's conventional methods," he said, adding that many medical practices looked down upon just a few short years ago are now mainstream. For years the problem was the traditional scientific and medical community claimed proof of complementary medicine's effectiveness was based on testimonials. There were no unflawed, scientific experiments to provide proof. Besen said that's all the more reason to be open minded. The medical and scientific community should embrace these methods and fully study their worth so everyone can learn something. Besides, he said, the argument that complementary medicine isn't legitimate because all the supporting evidence has been anecdotal goes against the historical traditions of medicine."A great deal of medicine throughout eons has been based on observational methods," he said. He even conceded that some techniques may simply be examples of the placebo effect, where patients think they'll get better so they do. But if they work for whatever reason, Besen said, they should at least be studied and considered. It all relates to one of central ideas of holistic medicine which is the mind-body connection. "The body's not just a pedestal for the head," Besen said, repeating a saying he learned at a seminar. This simply means that there are "psycho and somatic issues" to virtually every illness; a healthy individual has combined harmony between body and mind. Taking it a step further, Barbara Cohen, executive director of the Inner Harmony Wellness Center, Clarks Summit, said, "We're really -- instead of bodies that have souls -- we're souls stuffed inside bodies. We're all energy." Inner Harmony, which opened in May, offers classes, seminars and lectures on many of these practices. Cohen and de deMaye-Caruth both said their respective centers exist to educate people about existing health options and to explain the steps involved in achieving optimum health. "Inner Harmony will be here to help heal people and really bring into everybody's awareness the mind, body, spirit connection which is really the essence of this alternative lifestyle," Cohen summarized. Once again, it's about understanding how the body works and then capitalizing on this information. Most complementary therapies simply prepare the body to deal with or overcome illness; they are not miracle cures or magic spells. "When you're a practitioner you're just helping the person's body strengthen so the immune system can take over. The client's body is doing the healing, I'm not doing the healing, I'm just assisting them," deMaye-Caruth said. Maybe it's a matter of semantics but Besen said labeling these techniques "alternative," and labeling western medicine "conventional," is a bit backwards. Especially since therapies like acupuncture have been around for 5,000 years while conventional Western medicine has been around for more like 200. Cohen said this renewed interest in these ancient techniques can be thought of as something of a Renaissance. It's been quite a comeback, too. Last year alone, $13 billion was spent on alternative therapies, she said. All this is out of pocket too, because in most states alternative therapies aren't covered under health insurance plans. "We don't have the power or freedom to choose our method of health care," Cohen said. "We're at the mercy of our insurance companies." But as the numbers show, this financial reality hasn't slowed the growth of this field of medicine yet, and Cohen said she doesn't think it will. At this time in history, as modern advancements continue to make life more complex instead of more simple, and as disenchantment with the disease/cure approach of Western medicine grows, people seem ready for natural alternatives. "People's lives are like haywire," Cohen said. "We're stressed out and people want ways out." Until now the way out was thought to exist externally, in the form of things like medication. But from the holistic approach, the way out can be found in the same place as the problem: in the patient. Common Holistic Health Techniques "Acupuncture": This nearly 5,000 year old practice has been slowly gaining acceptance in America in the last few decades. So much so that in the United States, about $500 million are spent on it each year. The ancient technique, though still not fully understood, involves putting needles into trigger points in the body to alleviate a number of ailments especially muscle and joint pain. One of the things that set it, as well as many of the other complementary health techniques, apart from some religious cures is patients don't need to believe in it for it to work. Some, but not all, of the problems acupuncture works for are headaches, migraines, arthritis, tennis elbow, muscle spasms and low back pain -- ailments suffered by people of all ages. Treatments are very specific to the patient and can sometimes have immediate results and sometimes take a few sessions over a few days. "Therapeutic Touch": Before saying what it is, it's probably more important to say what it is not. Therapeutic touch is not a massage technique and, despite the name therapeutic touch, the practitioner may not even touch the patient's body. Also, patients undergoing this therapy remain fully clothed. Now what it is. Therapeutic touch is a method of using the hands to direct the bodies energies to assist in the healing process. Literature from the Minerva Educational Center says therapeutic touch was developed by Dora Kunz and brought to the nursing community by Dolores Krieger. Like many other alternative medical techniques it deals with the idea that the body is energy and unbalanced energy can lead to ailments. Some of the alleged benefits include accelerated wound healing, easement of pain, reduced stress and a boosted immune system. Therapeutic touch and healing touch are taught at the Minerva Educational Center in Honesdale. "Reiki": Reiki is Japanese for universal life energy. In theory at least, reiki sounds similar to therapeutic touch. Reiki also involves energy and the hands. Again, the client remains fully clothed throughout the treatment. The practice was developed in the 19th century. The idea is the practitioner should be highly trained to serve as a conduit for the life energy which he or she can then pass along to their patient. The main difference seems to be this and other treatments is this inclusion of an outside energy source. Therapeutic touch appears to utilize the body's own energy while reiki calls on universal energy. It's even supposed to have healing benefits for animals and plants. Some of the benefits for humans include relief of stress, balance and harmony and general wellness. Reiki classes can be found at both Minerva and Inner Harmony. "Meditation and Yoga": The simplest and probably most widely practiced complementary techniques, meditation and yoga, are meant to relax and invigorate the body and mind thus providing a much better overall connection between the two. Both are considered very beneficial as stress reducers. Considering that most illnesses have some connection to stress, the medical benefits are obvious.Meditation is simply the practice of sitting calmly and quietly, ridding the mind of all pent-up anxieties and focusing on the inner-workings of the body. Though it sounds easy, classes are available to teach the most effective and beneficial techniques. And like anything else, practitioners say proper meditation requires practice. Yoga involves meditation, breathing and stretching. This combination of movement and relaxation is also supposed to help with stress reduction. Again, some moves are more advanced than others and classes exist to teach the basics and beyond. Yoga requires practice as well. Classes are offered in numerous places including most centers for holistic healing, local health clubs and some local colleges and universities.

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