I study alternative healing, specifically subtle energy (more about that later). Before I studied it, I long held an interest in alternative healing, and I’m not alone. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine nearly 40 percent of Americans report using complementary and alternative medicine. Whether conventional medicine acknowledges it or not, people are flocking to alternative healing.
Health is important to me. This is why I am an aspiring Reiki Master, Yoga Teacher and person with an MA in Integral Health. I want to feel good physically and mentally. I want to live a long, full and happy life. I wouldn’t be opposed to looking good, too. I want the pursuit and maintenance of my health to be easy, effective, with minimal cost and no side-effects.
I am passionate about health for everyone, not just me. I want everyone to feel good physically and mentally and live full lives, etc. That is why I started mindful mending. To me, being mindful about health is exploring all of the options the best I can.
So, what are our options? How do we approach this in the best way possible?
The world inundates us with information, opinions, advertisements and perspectives on health. There are a lot of different types of healing practices out there, alternative and conventional. Only a few alternative practices, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture, require licensure and specific standards of care.
Ok, so we have tons of options, but the problem of too much information and not enough filters to make sense of it. How do we sort through all of this to figure out what is best for our health?
For me, it’s easiest to examine something once I’ve defined it. There are a few definitions of health, but I’ll start with the most conventional. In conventional medicine, “health” is usually defined as “the absence of disease.” Health can be more than that, but for now, let’s stick with the goal of being disease free.
The body is designed to keep itself disease free. Most of us have noticed our antibodies spring to action against an infection. The body is also designed to keep itself trauma free and many of us have noticed that when we break a body part it fixes itself; like our skin, the wound will crust over in order to repair the damage. When this process is working well the body can solve a multitude of health problems. This is awesome aspect of having a human body! Imagine life if you had to live with every ding, scrape and illness that life has inflicted upon you.
Some of us have also noticed that sometimes that system doesn’t always work well; antibodies spring to action when there is no infection. Sometimes wounds heal slowly or we feel tired and lethargic. Sometimes we look and feel crappy because our bodies can’t seem to keep up with its regular maintenance. We get run-down, unhappy, and susceptible to disease. When this happens, we are living with every ding, scrape and illness that life has inflicted upon us.
When healing stalls in the body, it is either because the body’s healing process has been compromised or there is a physical obstacle standing in the way. The various forms of healing (conventional medicine included) are usually designed to either revive or stimulate the body’s healing process or remove the thing that’s preventing the healing process from occurring in the first place.
There are a lot of different ways to foster healing and understanding where it all fits could help you figure out how you want to approach your own healing.
This is how I define the different ways we currently foster healing:
- Allopathic medicine (the theoretical basis of most conventional medicine), treats illness by compartmentalizing the body. The treatments are often mechanistic in nature and localized to a particular body part or process. Removing diseased organs, replacing organs and antibiotics are based on this perspective. According to Dr. Andrew Weil’s book, Health and Healing, treatments using blood-letting and purging eventually led to what is considered to be allopathic medicine.1 It was originally defined as a practice that treated a disease by administering its perceived opposite, for example, prescribing antihypertensive drugs for high blood pressure.2
- Homeopathic doctors treat illness by administering a diluted version of a substance that would replicate the patient’s symptoms under normal circumstances. Allergy shots are based on this theory, and it could be argued that vaccinations are homeopathic in nature. Samuel Hahnemann (of Hahnemann University Hospital, in Philadelphia) was a homeopathic doctor and homeopathy has a surprisingly once-conventional place in American medical history.3 According to Weil, this form of healing was marginalized mostly for political reasons.4 Although Hahnemann is often credited with inventing homeopathic medicine, Paracelsus (circa 1490-1541) wrote about the use of homeopathy in his own practice and by healers who pre-dated himself.5
- Traditional or Shamanic healing techniques vary widely; herbs, rituals, intuition, physical interventions, subtle energy and spiritual teachings are used to foster healing in the body. All cultures have a history of some form of traditional or shamanic healing. One of the most popular today is traditional Eastern medicine. It’s emphasis is on keeping the subtle energetic body balanced in order to prevent illness before it occurs or re-balancing subtle energy to foster healing. The body is not compartmentalized, but all symptoms are weighed to identify a pattern of imbalance. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the physical condition of skin, tongue, nails, pulse, etc. and other factors, such as, emotional states, habits, environment, etc. are taken into consideration. Acupuncture and Reiki are examples of subtle energetic healing.
Weil has a much longer list and goes into a lot more detail about the various methods and the history of medicine in the US. He’s also personally tried a lot of them, so it’s an interesting read.
When it comes to treating disease or trauma, conventional medicine has historically been remarkably effective, so why is there so much use of alternative forms of healing?
I think there are two reasons. The first, people are dissatisfied with the current limitations of conventional medicine. The second is that people are not looking to merely be disease-free, but to thrive.
I am not going to comment on the limitations of conventional medicine here, but I am going to comment on the desire to thrive. We want to be extra strong to prevent future injury and disease. We want to feel extra good and have a lust for life. We want all aspects of self—psychological, spiritual, directional, emotional, relationships—to grow and move forward. Thriving creates a fuller, deeper and happier existence.
Can alternative medicine help us thrive beyond the absence of disease? What are your thoughts on healing, thriving and conventional versus alternative health care? How do you define health? Do you feel as though you are thriving?
1Weil, Andrew, Health and Healing: The Philosophy of Integrative Medicine (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004) p. 13.
2Weil, p. 17.
3Weil, p. 12.
4Weil, p. 22.
5Hall, Manly P, and Paracelsus, Paracelsus, His Mystical and Medical Philosophy (Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1980).