We hear the terms “Holistic Heath,” “Complementary Medicine,” “Alternative Medicine,” “Naturopathic Medicine,” and “Integrative Medicine” thrown around all the time. Though the definitions are different they do share some universal characteristics. (Listen to our interview with Dr. Lawrence Cohen on Complementary Medicine where he explains the difference between the terms.) They all employ the use of non-Western medicine “weapons” to prevent, treat, and cure disease. “Weapons” that may be looked askance by the allopathic “Drug First” model. Here at Naturopathic Earth we thought it would be handy and wise to give a quick definition of the most-commonly used alternative therapies used in America today. Welcome to the Quick and Clever Compendium of Complementary and Alternative Therapies!
A great complement to this article is our article on Integrative Medicine: The Best of Both Worlds as well as our interviews of Naturopathic Doctor, Yvonne Knighton, and Complementary Medicine M.D., Lawrence Cohen.)
Pressure is applied with fingers to specific pressure points in the body to stimulate and control the flow of energy coursing through it. It is based on the idea that Chi (or life energy) flows through meridians (or pathways) in our body. Disease occurs when the flow is blocked; the massaging pressure may unblock that flow. Though various types of acupressure exists, perhaps the most famous one is the Japanese version: shiatsu.
Millennial-old Chinese therapy that involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points along the meridians to stimulate and re-balance the flow of energy. Similar to the principles of acupressure, flow may be blocked resulting in pain and disease. Used for chronic pain, depression, insomnia, and a host of other maladies.
The use of selected fragrances and oils (extracted from bark, plants, roots, and/or flowers) to alter mood and restore the body and mind. The application of these oils is varied: diffused, applied topically, in baths, or even ingested (though not recommended). Listen to Kate’s Apothecary podcast or check out our aromatherapy recipes!
Relaxation therapy that employs monitoring devices to give a patient information about his/her response to stress by showing the effect of stress on heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, skin temperature, etc. The patient is then taught relaxation techniques to gain voluntary control over the aformentioned.
Originally manifested in taking cold showers, dipping in ice tubs, and jumping in freezing lakes, cryotherapy (or cold therapy) has taken a leap in the public’s consciousness due to cryotherapy spas. (Read our article explaining the nuances of cryotherapy.) Cryotherapy plummets the body’s core temperature to below freezing for a few minutes to accelerate healing and weight loss, slows down aging, improve circulation, and much more.
Earthing (aka Grounding)
The belief that walking barefoot allows one to tap into the earth’s inherent electrical energy. Similar to how we receive Vitamin D from the sun (high amounts have been connected to stronger immune system, weight maintenance, lower rates of cancer, stronger bones, and much more), we receive “Vitamin G” from the ground. We accrue an excess of inflammatory positive electrons throughout the day partly due to the fact we wear shoe apparel. By Earthing one can restore and balance the brain’s natural electrical circuitry by discharging the positive electrons and receiving the earth’s more healthy negative electrons. Used for insomnia, chronic pain, stress/anxiety, body inflammation, and circulation problems. On a side note, earthing on a plane by placing your bare feet on something metallic is highly recommended.
Floatation Therapy (aka Sensory Deprivation Therapy)
Floatation therapy occurs in a dark, enclosed isolation pod where magnesium-based salt water allows a patron to float on top of the water in a quiet, relaxing confines. Used to treat anxiety, PTSD, and chronic pain as well as increases intake of magnesium. 75% of Americans are deficient in this crucial mineral. Check out NPE Radio interview on Float Therapy
Healing Touch (Reiki)
Old East Asian healing art based on the notion that disease causes an imbalance in the body’s energy field. The master starts with centering the patient by having them focus inward to achieve complete serenity. He/she then uses gentle hand pressure to the body’s energy centers (chakras) to harness and balance the life energy force. Healing touch may clear out blockages, which leads to deeper relaxation and stimulate overall healing.
Herbal or Botanical Medicine
Used since time immemorial in practically every culture on the globe. Compounds and extracts taken from the roots, stems, seeds, flowers, and leaves of herbs and plants contain active ingredients that treat many maladies, strengthen the immune system, and protect against disease.
Treatment based on using a very potent, diluted amount of drugs made from natural substances to produce symptoms of the disease being treated. These substances will stimulate the body’s immune system to remove the toxins causing the symptoms in the first place.
Treatment using water in any form, both internally or externally, for healing purposes. External examples include soaking in mineral/hot springs, Sitz baths, hot tubs, steam rooms, and alike. Internal example would be ingesting large amounts of water to spur metabolism, purge the body of toxins, and clean the digestive system. Hydrotherapy may be used to improve blood circulation as well.
Using the imagination and all sense organs to visualize pleasant, relaxing, and/or happy images. Used for chronic stress and anxiety.
Similar to earthing, ionization therapy is the use of air ionizers to clean the air by making negatively charged air particles or ions. Salt lamps are the most popular vehicle of this technique. Used most commonly for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, and respiratory issues.
As the name would suggest, therapy involving the use of laughter to relieve stress, chronic pain, depression, lower cortisol levels, and improved immune system.
Based on the Taoist concept of the balance between yin (death, cold, darkness) and yang (life, light, heat), it is a nutrition therapy that has gained in popularity. In a macro diet, different foods represent yin (e.g. sweet foods) and yang (meat and eggs) and the key is to consume foods that are balanced in both principles and not overeat either one. Grains, brown rice, produce, and fish are considered balanced foods. Processed foods, eggs, dairy, red meat are discouraged.
Technique using muscle relaxation and deep breathing to quiet the mind by focusing attention on obtaining a sense of oneness within oneself. Used to relieve anxiety, stress, pain, lower blood pressure and heart rate. Transcendental meditation (TM) is branch where one uses a mantra to escape one’s body to find complete and utter oneness. Some people while in TM have known to levitate and even depart their own body!
Therapy which employs pets, namely cats and dogs, to improve health and re-stimulate an interest in life. Mainly used for elderly who are depressed due to loss of family, physical or mental debilitation as well as lower stress levels and blood pressure.
Therapy which employs the use of toys to help children express their emotions, share experiences, and cope with traumatic losses. Used mostly by mental health professionals for little kids in therapy.
Therapy which exhorts people to develop greater self-awareness, self-esteem, and love of oneself to assist the body in eliminating disease. Grounded in the belief that disease itself is a negative process and may be reversed by one’s willingness to purge the disease by willing it to happen through positive thought. Perhaps best exemplified by The Little Engine That Could children story.
Century-old belief that the body is divided into ten equal zones from head to toe. Disease results from excessive calcium or acid deposits which settles in a particular zone in the foot. By applying pressure on the foot at that specific zone, the energy is redirected toward the diseased zone of the body to eradicate it. Used mainly to promote relaxation, stress reduction, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, as well as specific maladies such as kidney stones, constipation, and respiratory problems.
Ancient East Asian belief that health is established through harmony with nature and the universe by balancing yin and yang, as seen in the macrobiotic diet. By employing a series of established slow, graceful, and precise body movements supplemented by breathing techniques one can improve energy flow (Chi) though the body. This results in an overall exalted state of well-being, better coordination, and improved stamina. Also helps with osteoarthritis, stress, depression, and various GI disorders, among others.
This Compendium of Complementary and Alternative Therapies highlights just a few of the most common alternative practices. The traditional Western allopathic model of medicine may look down on some these practices and may even call them quackery.
In many cases these “weapons” are quite effective in the prevention and/or treatment of disease. Perhaps just as important, they have little to no adverse effects! Akin to the treatment of cancer, there is little risk in implementing both the conventional allopathic and alternative models simultaneously. If you suffer from any of the aforementioned maladies consider seeking one certified in one of therapies and give it a shot
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