What is Alternative Medicine?

Jul 22, 2020

This is one of my favorite things to talk about. Alternative, complementary, integrated, “new age” are all terms for the same collection of practices. Examples of these practices would include acupuncture, massage, herbalism, energy healing, meditation, chiropractic care… yoga and even prayer could be on this list. These are techniques of healing that most students in medical school are not trained in and in most parts of America not accepted as mainstream medicine. That’s where the term “alternative” comes from. Alternative practices are the opposite of allopathic or Western medicine. Western Medicine is not all bad. It has provided many wonderful things to our society and amazing discoveries about the body and how it works.  Also of note, as western medicine evolves practices such as dry needling are being developed. The theory of the practice is not the same as the theory in acupuncture, but there is the value being found in the benefits of using needles in specific areas of the body. The difference is the approach and of course the age of the practice. Most “new age” practices are ancient medicine. For example, dry needling was developed in the 1980s, our children may think that is ancient but we know that it is relatively young. Especially when we consider that acupuncture has been around for at least 5 centuries! Massage has been used in healing for over 4500 years. The recognition of the body’s energy system has been noted as early as the bronze age. Each culture has a different name for it, but they all understood that the balance of the energy system leads to health. Christianity has taught that prayer can heal for as long as it has existed. Meditation for healing and wellness is said to go back 5000 years. With all that being said, we cannot call these modalities “new”, they have been around a very long time… they are just newly being accepted into mainstream America.   

Allopathic practices are very new in comparison. Anatomy was not studied and understood both outside and inside of the body until dissection became accepted in the 13th century. It wasn’t until the 1940s and 50s that synthetic drugs began to be created. So really, what we know as medicine or health care today is the “new” age style of healing. Now, before we go any further… let’s be clear, I am not here to bash Western Medicine or to encourage you to abandon your doctor, I am a nurse for goodness sake. However, I think it is important to understand where we lost ourselves as technology and understanding of the physical body advanced.  My philosophy has always been that in order to reach true wellness, we must cater to our physical health, mental health, and spiritual health-body, mind, and soul. You can read about the importance of having a well-rounded wellness team here. I think we can all agree that Western Medicine is very good at focusing on the physical body, however, there is much room for growth in the understanding of mental health as well as spiritual health, and how the three affect one another. You see our society placed value in evidence-based research, in tangible, replicable studies, and in quick-fix options. In doing so we left behind our intuition and understanding of the body as a whole and expanded on things we can see, things we can replicate, and things we can control. Outside of that, as medical doctors became more intensely trained, the wisdom of our ancestors was not retained. In fact, many of the healers, herbalists, and midwives were killed during the witch hunts as they had such a great understanding of modalities that had not yet been explored in medicine OR were not found to be accepted by certain religions. So, their knowledge died with them. As we have gotten further away from the generations that were taught how to follow their intuition, how to use plants to heal their body, how to maintain a connection with nature and cycles of the world, we have created a society in which we NEED someone else to tell us what is wrong with our own body, instead of being able to check-in and know for ourselves. The issue lies in the imbalance of care we are receiving. Care that is strictly physical-based with little attention to the connection of mind, body, and soul. 

That is why it is so important to include alternative practices into your routines. If you’re struggling with the “voodoo” idea of it, consider how people felt about blood transplants in the beginning. It was strange and foreign to put someone else’s blood into your body. Now, people receive transfusions daily and don’t think twice about it. What about father’s being in the delivery room during labor. At one point in our history that was not okay either. Now, it is expected that Dad is in the room for delivery. Cell phones were once a syfy ideal. Now everyone has one all the time. You see, there are so many parts of our lives that felt foreign at first, and are now just a normal part of how we live. Yes, most alternative practices are ancient, but they are new to us and it’s a new way of thinking. I encourage you to be open to the change and allow yourself to connect to your body, mind, and soul so you can reach your best wellness. Allow yourself to become Purely You!  



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