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Health & science

The many alternatives

A quick guide to some of the various therapies out there.

 

Published 6/30/1999

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Here is a selection of alternative and complementary therapies that have risen to some degree of popularity in this country. As with all systems of medicine, whether they are useful or not is up to you to decide.

Acupuncture: Chinese and Japanese practice in which tiny, fine needles are inserted at various points on the body in order to improve the flow of energy through its meridians (pathways).

Acupressure: Similar to acupuncture, but without needles.

Alexander technique: This therapy focuses on improved posture and coordination to enhance the body’s functioning.

Aromatherapy: Uses the aromas (usually pleasant ones) of essential oils distilled from plants to enhance the emotional, and therefore physical/spiritual, well-being.

Ayurvedic medicine: A system of medicine that originated in India and focuses on integrating the body and mind.

Biofeedback: A technique in which body rhythms are analyzed, so that
patients can be more aware of areas of imbalance.

Chinese medicine: A traditional system of medicine that uses acupuncture, herbal remedies and sometimes Qi Gong (see healing touch) to balance the chi and cure disease.

Chiropractic: Based on the idea that if the spine is out of alignment, the other systems in the body will not be able to function properly. Uses spinal manipulation to restore balance.

Colonics: This therapy claims to cleanse and detoxify the body by irrigating the lower intestinal tract with purified water.

Craniosacral therapy: Works on balancing and soothing the nervous system by gently moving the bones in the cranium (head).

Feldenkrais: This practice improves the body’s functioning by improving its posture and coordination.

Flower essences: Distilled essences of flowers are administered to address a range of emotional needs, from indecisiveness to discouragement. Comes under several names, such as Bach Flower Remedies and Flower Essence Services.

Gemstone therapy: Those who use this method believe that gemstones have a vibration that can affect the vibration of a human’s aura – by wearing a gemstone with a specific vibrational field, one can strengthen one’s body and resolve problems in one’s life.

Healing touch, therapeutic touch: Also known as Qi-gong, a therapeutic touch practitioner manipulates the energy field, or chi, around a person’s body in order to improve the flow of energy and therefore the person’s well-being.

Herbal supplements: Various natural substances are prepared in individual doses, which are taken for their supposed health benefits.

Holistic health: Refers to an overall approach that takes into account the patient’s physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

Homeopathy: Based on the idea that like cures like, this practice uses miniscule doses of natural substances to induce the body’s natural immunities and cure physical and emotional problems.

Iridology: A largely discredited
diagnostic tool which is based on the idea that the color, texture and pigment flecks seen in the iris can indicate the presence of illness in corresponding organs in the body.

Magnet therapy: Small magnets are worn against the skin, anywhere on the body, in order to alleviate pain. The magnetic field generated is said to
penetrate the skin and tissue, increase the capillary size and thereby enhance blood flow, which brings more oxygen and nutrients to the area, speeding healing.

Massage therapy: This term covers many different practices which use the direct manipulation of muscles to assist in healing.

Myofascial release: Helps restore flexibility to muscles and connective tissues through a variety of specialized stretches.

Naturopathy: This system of medicine sees the person as a whole, and uses various techniques, including homeopathy and massage, to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself.

Orthomolecular medicine: This term was coined in 1968 by Linus Pauling, who put forth the idea that by providing the body with optimal amounts of essential natural substances (such as vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and essential fatty acids), diseases could be prevented or treated effectively.

Pilates: Named after founder Joseph H. Pilates, this is a form of exercise or body conditioning that focuses on integrating body and mind, and improving flexibility and strength.

Polarity therapy: Based on Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine, this practice believes that the human energy field must be balanced. It sees the body, mind, spirit and emotions as interdependent – in restoring balance to these systems, it may employ bodywork, nutrition, yoga and counseling.

Reflexology: Similar to acupressure, but uses foot massage to stimulate points on the soles of the feet that correspond to organs in the body.

Reiki: A technique whereby patients learn, through integrating the body, mind and spirit, to reduce stress and increase well-being.

Rolfing: Practitioners manipulate the body’s connective tissues to restore an ideal vertical alignment that works with, rather than against, the force of gravity.

Shiatsu: Practitioners of this Japanese massage technique use the body’s meridians to restore the balance of the chi.

Swedish massage: Uses deep strokes to improve and increase the circulation.

Visceral manipulation: A kind of massage that reaches the internal organs in order to affect their influence on other parts of the body.

Yoga: Integrates exercise, breathing and meditation to induce relaxation, fight stress, and allow for a balanced and healthy body, mind and spirit.

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