Report: The alternate track to Health
If you suffer from an illness, the allopathic general physician is just the first stop-over in the treatment chain. Now diseases are treated, or at least certainly have the potential to be treated, in a much wider perspective than that of symptoms and medicines alone. Alternate therapies have come into play and they take into account the mental state and the energy realms of the patient. Alternate therapies expand their focus to take into account several other aspects of the patient’s mind and body, than just the diseased organ or illness alone. If alternative therapies like yoga bring in spirituality, reiki and acupuncture lay just as much emphasis on the healer, as on the patient.
Around the world, alternative therapies are being accepted into formal health systems. The UK for example has the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), which has opened its doors to alternative therapies. Now alternative therapy practitioners can be registered under this council and this takes alternative therapy out of the realm of being seen as hocus-pocus. Like UK, there are many other countries where people spend billions of dollars on getting themselves treated through dozens of different therapies. India is uniquely placed in the alternative therapy world map as it has had yoga, ayurveda, spirituality and other therapies deeply engrained in its health systems for thousands of years. It is only now that what was commonplace treatment is coming back in a new and expensive bottle—that of the wellness industry boom. Urban Indian consumers are willing to pay thousands and lakhs of rupees to get themselves treated in upmarket clinics, spas and by therapists which cater specifically to the rich. Interestingly, in India, alternative medicine is popular with both the rural poor as well as the urban rich population. On the one hand, there are the ‘dharmarth aushadhalyas’ where traditional medicines are distributed free, and on the other, there are wellness spas which charge consumers thousands of rupees for a single day of treatment.
The term alternative means making a choice from among the alternatives available. The treatment of disease by means other than conventional medical, pharmacological, and surgical techniques is often referred to as alternative therapy. These are complementary disciplines that typically use natural, rather than chemical, approaches for treatments of diseases. Alternative therapies work on the belief that our body is governed by seven energy centres or chakras and five elements: air, water, fire, earth, and ether or space. These need to be in perfect harmony within our body depending on our body type to remain healthy. Alternative therapists view our elements and chakras as a set of wheels that needs to move in sync for balanced health.
As believed in this therapy, the seven colours of the rainbow are associated with the seven chakras (energy centres) of our body. Each chakra is related to a specific gland. So, a proper use of colour helps heal the body ailment concerned. For instance, red is used to treat liver disorders, blue affects the pineal gland and green helps treat pituitary problems. The procedure involves use of solarised water as a healing tonic. In this method, purified water is filled in a clear container of the prescribed colour and left out in the sun for a couple of hours. The sun’s rays filter through the coloured glass container and energise the water with the vibration of the prescribed colour. Coloured light bulbs and coloured glass windows can be used as part of the therapy.
Acupuncture has been a major part of primary healthcare in China for the last 5,000 years. It is the practice of inserting very fine needles into the skin to stimulate specific anatomic points in the body called ‘acupoints’ for therapeutic purposes. Along with the usual method of puncturing the skin with the fine needles, the practitioners also use heat, pressure, friction, suction, or impulses of electromagnetic energy to stimulate the points. The acupoints are stimulated to balance the movement of energy (qi) in the body to restore health. Acupuncture involves stimulating.
Reiki is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through Reiki guru to the recipient. The purpose is to heal spiritual, mental or physical ailments. Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that includes relaxation and feelings of peace, security and wellbeing. The therapist draws energy, transfers energy by placing hands above the seven chakra points of the recipient’s body. Patient feels the energy flow. It is wonderful technique for pain management, headaches, chronic pain, stress and worry. While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. A course of 2-4 treatments is required. A quality time of rest is advised after each Reiki session.
The practice of massage however has its roots in the ancient Chinese, Greek, Roman, Indian and the Egyptian era. There are over 80 types of massage therapy. In all, therapists press, rub, and otherwise manipulate the muscles and other soft tissues of the body, often varying pressure and movement. They most often use their hands and fingers, but may use their forearms, elbows, or feet in order to relax the soft tissues, increase delivery of blood and oxygen to the massaged areas, warm them, and decrease pain. Massage tradition followed right from childbirth involves application of coconut oil blended with sweet fennel and cajaput essential oils are applied on babies. A mixture of rose or jasmine oil with nutmeg in a carrier is rubbed during puberty to relieve menstruation cramps. For adults, massage ointments derived from ginger or clove oil is applied to overcome muscle pain and fatigue
The basis of this therapy lies in the essential oils contained in plant materials such as leaves, flowers, roots, seeds, bark and resin. These oils are highly concentrated and when extracted, can either be used in a pure form or diluted and blended with other oils to produce the required strength. Essential oils are medicinal and fragrant and travel through the blood stream, reacting with hormones and enzymes. When the fragrance is inhaled the nerve ends in the nose transmit pleasurable signals to the brain which reacts to the positive power of the fragrant aroma inducing pleasant memories, restoring emotional balance and encouraging relaxation and energisation. Many of these fragrant oils have antiseptic and antitoxic qualities and often act as an antidote to viral infections, inflammations, aches and pains. Aromatherapy encourages the use of other complementary natural ingredients including cold pressed vegetable oils, jojoba, hydrosols, herbs, milk powders, sea salts, sugars, clays and muds.
Reflexology is a complementary therapy used to help restore and maintain body’s natural equilibrium. According to Chinese medicine, the soles of the feet hold the sensory nerves of the internal organs that are spread through the body. By stimulating and applying pressure to the feet or hands, reflexology increases circulation and can promote specific bodily and muscular functions. A professionally trained reflexologist can detect subtle changes in specific points on the feet, and by working on these points may affect the corresponding organ or system of the body.
During a reflexology session, the therapist applies manual pressure to the feet, working on specific points that connect with different zones in your body. Pressure is then applied to particular areas of the soles of the feet. Deposits and imbalances are sought out and released in order to remove blockages and restore the flow of blood and energy. Reflexology uses hands, fingers, a wooden stick, cream, and oils to stimulate a reflex action in another part of the body. The Reflexology massage can be given every day but only for duration of 45 minutes. This gentle, soothing therapy provides a method of stress release that can help on a physical, mental and emotional level. Reflexology should be avoided for at least one hour after meals. It is also advised to drink plenty of water after treatment.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water to heal and ease a variety of ailments. It is the most beneficial system of restoring normal functions in the body, employed to balance metabolism. No other therapeutic agent possesses so many admirable qualities as does water. Hydrotherapy is used as a technique of physiotherapy for people recovering from serious injuries and with problems of muscle wastage. It is also used for people with joint problems and those with severe physical disabilities. There are different ways of treatment in Hydrotherapy.
It improves blood flow to internal tissues and organs. It helps to reduce swelling. This method is not advisable for people with serious conditions or for the elderly or very young.
In this, the person first sits in the warm water, which covers the lower abdomen and hips, with the feet in the cold-water compartment. After three minutes, the patient sits in the cold water with the feet in the warm compartment. Sitz baths treat conditions with broken skin, such as piles or anal fissure, and also for ailments affecting the urinary and genital organs.
Steam baths are used to encourage sweating and the opening of skin pores. It has a cleansing and refreshing effect.
In this, patient is placed in a tub of water, the temperature of which is maintained between
33.5oC and 35.6oC. Half an hour of immersion in neutral bath has a relaxing and sedative effect on the nervous system.
Hot and cold sprays
Hot and cold sprays of water may be given for a number of disorders but are not recommended for those with serious illness, elderly people or young children.
Flotation involves lying face up in an enclosed, dark tank of warm, heavily salted water. It refreshes and relaxes the patient.
Wrapping is used for feverish condition, backache and bronchitis. A cold wet sheet that has been squeezed out, is wrapped around the person, followed by a dry sheet and warm blanket. These are left in place until the inner sheet has dried and then covering is removed.
Transcendental Meditation or yoga nidra aim towards a totally detached frame of mind. These forms encourage the practitioner to retreat within the inner-self, into the “real” world, away from the “illusions” (maya) of outside influences. The simplest form of meditation is to sit quietly and focus the attention on the breath. It is believed that there is a direct correlation between one’s breath and one’s state of the mind. For example, when a person is anxious, frightened, agitated, or distracted, the breath tends to get shallow, rapid, and uneven. On the other hand, when the mind is calm, focused, and composed, the breath is slow, deep, and regular. As you focus your awareness on the breath, your mind becomes absorbed in the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation. As a result, your breathing will become slower and deeper, and the mind becomes more tranquil and aware. The meditator sits quietly and simply witnesses whatever goes through the mind, not reacting or becoming involved with thoughts, memories, worries, or images. This helps to gain a more calm, clear, and non-reactive state of mind. Regular practice of this therapy leads to intelligent growth of mind; increased productivity at work, good health coupled with balanced state of mind, relieves depression and overall improved quality of life. It can be practiced without any instructor, at home, by oneself.
Music is an age-old part of Ayurveda, the holistic science which promotes a happy and healthy lifestyle. It is best typified by the example of the classical music maestro Thyagaraja who brought a dead person back to life with his composition. Music is capable of improving happiness, peace, health and concentration. The first step in music therapy is towards the correct diagnosis of the disease and then the selection of the precise raga that will be helpful. Procedure, discipline and a systematic method will help achieve this goal. It is believed that music stimulates the pituitary gland, whose secretions affect the nervous system and the flow of blood. It is believed that for healing with music, it is necessary to vibrate the cells of the body, for it is through these vibrations that the diseased person’s consciousness can be changed effectively to promote health. The right kind of music helps one relax and refresh. Even during the course of working, light music improves efficiency. Listening to music helps control negative aspects of our personalities like worry, bias and anger. In addition, it can help cure headache, abdominal pain and tension. Music therapy is one of the most effective ways of controlling emotions, blood pressure and restoring the functioning of the liver. It is believed that classical Indian ragas can benefit a whole host of conditions ranging from insomnia, high and low blood pressure to schizophrenia and epilepsy. Now a days, even doctors are taking help of music therapy during surgeries. Music CDs that improve concentration are even available at music stores making way for easy access to therapy music.
Essential oils: revival of interest
Aromatherapy is said to reduce pain and anxiety, bring both energy and relaxation and even make the immune system stronger. Aromatherapy is the treatment or prevention of disease by use of essential oils. Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the said effects. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils. Essential oils are produced by aromatic plants as part of their photosynthesis. Once produced, they are stored in specialised structures or pockets, distributed according to the botanical species. For example, in the leaves, in the case of mint; in the rind in the case of citrus oils such as lemon; in the petals as in essential oil of rose; in the rhizomes as in essential oil of ginger. In an aromatherapy session, the therapist generally asks for a detailed personal and medical history of the patient or the user, after which the correct formulation and choice of essential oils is done by the therapist. If one is advised inhaling an essential oil, four drops of the oil are put in a pot of boiling water, and the patient is asked to inhale the steam. This method of treatment is said to be beneficial for sinus problems, dermatitis, headaches, and sore throats. Hot or cold compresses where 3 to 5 drops of a blend of essential oils are placed, for example on the site of a spasmodic colicky pain, or on a swollen sprained ankle if there are no fractures. In aromatic baths, 2 to 3 drops of the oil blend are added to the bath and it is supposed to relieve stress and help with skin problems. Specialised aromatherapy massage by qualified aromatherapy practitioners are also done.
The author is a freelance journalist
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