The surging popularity in alternative and complementary therapies reflects a desire for more natural things in life. While the clinical efficacy of these treatments is still being debated, one thing is for sure: There is a difference between ‘alternative therapies’ and ‘complementary therapies’ – the former replaces mainstream medical treatment, while the latter acts as a support. Some are fairly safe and natural, but others can be quite invasive and may worsen your condition. Always check with your doctor or healthcare professional on the safety of opting for these methods.
Words: Efi Eqbal
FEELING RIGHT THROUGH REIKI
Reiki is derived from the Japanese words rei meaning ‘God’s wisdom’ and ki meaning ‘life force energy’. Reiki is a method of ‘laying on hands’ using the practitioner’s life force energy or qi to cleanse, de-stress and relax a person while promoting healing. The idea is that if a person’s life force energy is low, he or she is more likely to fall ill or feel stressed.
It’s a safe and simple method using positive energy to recharge patients for spiritual healing and health improvement. The practitioner may either gently place his hands on or, hover them over you. This involves deliberately and slowly moving hands from one part of the patient’s body to the next. It generally begins with lightly cupping the eyes and ears, and touching the crown of the head and so on. Each session takes between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on your needs. The patient will feel a warm sensation on parts that have been ‘touched’, and come out feeling rejuvenated.
There is really none to speak of as this is a natural and safe method that’s based on healing touches. While some may claim to be reiki masters, just be sure you get good vibes from the person who’ll be working on you.
WHERE TO FIND
Reiki is practised in all corners of the world. You’ll be able to find a practitioner near you, or may want to take it up yourself for self-treatment. However, learn the art from a master or you may end up injecting your own negative energy back in a cycle. www.reiki.org
THE SCIENCE OF LIFE
Ayurveda is essentially the art of living in harmony with the laws of nature; in other words, a science of life. When the health is perfect, therein lies the balance among the body’s three fundamental constitutions known as doshas – vata, pitta and kapha. Humans each hold one predominant energy with the other two appearing in varying degrees. Ayurveda means ‘the science of life and longevity’ and its practice covers healing through proper diet, exercise and spirituality to soothe and connect all aspects of the mind, body and spirit. In terms of treatments, there are various methods in Ayurveda such as diets, massage and water therapies, oil therapies for application and ingestion, aromatherapy and herbal medications.
Holistic in approach, ayurvedic treatments are based on determining a person’s prakruti (constitution) and vikruti (physiological make-up and energies) for correct diagnosis. The aim is to investigate the cause of the illness, which includes reviewing diet, lifestyle, emotional patterns, quality of relationships, genetic predispositions and more. The ayurvedic specialist will recommend the necessary treatments that include change in diet and lifestyle to suit individual prakruti. This often includes meditation and yoga with specific positions to ease the ailment, as well as consuming herbal concoctions.
SAFETY & PRECAUTIONS
As Ayurveda covers multi-disciplinary treatment methods, you’ll need to check with your healthcare provider to see if it’s suitable and not contraindicative to your medical treatments. Seek ayurvedic treatment only at licensed establishments with qualified doctors.
WHERE TO FIND
Ayurveda has permeated various cultures and the practice is easily found anywhere in the world. The difference is merely in the depth of treatments available and the qualifications of the practitioners. www.ayurveda.com
COME UP SMELLING GREAT
The olfactory sense is equipped with long term memory. We are able to relate to a particular place, incident or experience with specific smells. Aromatherapy is based on the practice of using natural oils from flowers, barks, herbs, stems, leaves, roots and other parts of a plant to enhance emotional, psychological and physical well-being. The word ‘aromatherapy’ was first used in 1937 by French cosmetic scientist Rene-Maurice Gattefossé whose research revealed that the volatile extracts distilled from certain aromatic plants have profound effects on the skin. Almost every world culture uses aromatherapy for practical or healing purposes. The practice is said to have originated from early Egyptians who burned aromatic woods and herbs to honour their gods and, in beauty regimens. The Greeks adorned their heads with fragrant flowers, leaves and herbs, the Romans extolled the virtues of aromatic baths and the Persians created scented balms and perfumes.
Many aromatherapists talk to their customers first to understand them and their preferred aromas. They then develop a blend of essential oils to be used for inhalation and topical applications. Such oils are believed to stimulate brain function to calm nerves, promote happiness or even inject confidence. There’s a deeper, more specifi c practice of aromatherapy called aromatherapeutics, which helps with pain management and cognitive functions, besides enhancing moods. Aromatherapy is also used as a complementary therapy for terminally-ill patients as a means of easing their discomfort and elevating their mood.
SAFETY & PRECAUTIONS
There are two types of essential oils used in aromatherapy:
Aroma oils and pure essential oils. Naturally, it’s safer to use the latter for application on skin, but it can be expensive, while aroma oils (which are not pure) are suitable for incense burners and air purifiers. Never, ever, ingest or drink these oils as this may affect organs like your kidneys and liver.
WHERE TO FIND
Aromatherapy is widely practiced across all cultures. www.aromatherapy.com
(BEE VENOM THERAPY – BVT) HEALING FROM THE HIVE
Apitherapy refers to utilising everything that comes from a bee including honey, royal jelly, pollen, propolis and bee venom for healing. It’s not clear as to when bee venom therapy began, but honey and other bee-related therapies began in ancient Egypt, China and Greece. The healing properties of honey, in particular, have even been included in various religious texts including the Al-Qur’an, the Bible and the Vedas. The use of bee venom can be traced back to an article titled Report About a Peculiar Connection Between the Bee stings and Rheumatism in 1888 by Austrian physician Phillip Terc. Bee venom therapy, however, is the brainchild of a beekeeper from Vermont, USA, Charles Mraz (1905–1999). This therapy has been heavily researched, documented and published with various positive effects in treating patients with chronic rheumatism, autoimmune diseases and multiple sclerosis.
Ancient Egypt, China and Greece
BVT involves the use of bee venom to relieve symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The bee is held to the patient’s skin and allowed to sting, so its venom penetrates the patient’s blood stream. The principal active component of bee venom is melittin – a powerful anti-inflammatory substance said to be 100 times more potent than hydrocortisone. Melittin also helps to activate the body’s adrenal glands that stimulate the body’s own natural healing response. The venom also contains adolapin, known for its painkilling properties. These compounds seem to greatly improve vision, coordination, mobility and sensitivity to touch in patients with debilitating pain.
SAFETY & PRECAUTIONS
First, ensure you are not allergic to bee venom. A proper practitioner will conduct a sensitivity test to bee stings before beginning the treatment. If you’re good to go, don’t be scared of the swelling, as it is your body’s natural response when stung.
WHERE TO FIND
BVT is slowly becoming popular in complementing mainstream medicine as part of pain management support therapy, but it isn’t widely available. www.beevenom.com
BLOODLETTING & LEECH THERAPY
(PHLEBOTOMY) BIG ON BLEEDS
Bloodletting is an ancient practice of withdrawing small quantities of blood from the body to treat various ailments and relieve pain. It was widely practised by the Mayans, Aztecs, Egyptians and Mesopotamians and appeared quite brutal; the patient would be pierced or cut and then drained of a few ounces of blood until he or she fainted! Bloodletting was the most common medical practice from antiquity till the late 19th century, until it was deemed harmful to patients as it could cause anaemia (low blood count). The term phlebotomy today refers to drawing blood for laboratory tests or blood transfusions. However, newer versions of bloodletting using leeches continue to be practised till today with over 1,000 hospitals in 35 countries using leech therapy as a form of post-surgery treatment.
Bloodletting originates from ancient cultures in South America while leech therapy comes from ancient Greece.
A needle is used to prick specific points on your body to minimally bleed out a few drops of blood at any one site. The therapeutic effect of bloodletting may be immediate for some while it may take a few days for others. The therapy itself will take only a few minutes, depending on how much bloodletting is required. The same principle applies to leech therapy where leeches are used in place of the needle – the leech sucking blood till it is full and drops off. Science has confirmed that leeches possess a therapeutic enzyme in their saliva that offers countless benefits. In fact, it is now part of mainstream medical practice as a post-surgery treatment in the reattachment of fingers, toes and ears. Each leech feeds for five to 10 minutes, so the therapy takes around 20 to 30 minutes.
SAFETY & PRECAUTIONS
Unless it is part of an official treatment at your hospital, you need to be cautious of the establishments you enlist for bloodletting and leech therapies. At least one of the practitioners should be a qualified medical doctor. Leech therapy is contraindicated in patients with HIV and AIDS, and is not recommended to people who are on immunosuppressive drugs as it puts such patients at risk of bacterial sepsis, which can worsen their conditions.
WHERE TO FIND
While these therapies may have been officially removed from mainstream medical practices, their benefits outweigh their negatives, and many hospitals in the last decade have opted for leech therapies as part of surgery recovery treatment.
CUP TO COPE
Cupping is commonly attributed to the Chinese, but evidence suggests it dates back to as early as 3000 BC. In the Ebers Papyrus (one of the oldest medical textbooks in the world), cupping is mentioned as part of a treatment by the Egyptians in 1550 BC. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates (c. 400 BC.) used cupping for internal diseases and physiological problems. Cupping involves the use of a small cup made of glass, ceramic or even bamboo, which is lightly heated on the inside to remove the oxygen so it acts as a vacuum when placed upside-down on a person’s back.
China, ancient Greece and Egypt
The vacuum anchors the cup to the skin and as the heated air cools, the skin ‘rises’ in the cup like a bump causing the pores to open and help stimulate blood flow, thus balancing and realigning the flow of the person’s qi. It also unblocks and dispels obstructions. Several cups are usually placed on the body for about five to 10 minutes, depending on the condition. Some practitioners apply medicated oils to the skin just before cupping to make the skin slippery, allowing them to move the cups up and down particular acupoints or meridians. Cupping is primarily used to treat bronchitis, asthma and congestion; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; and muscular aches. There are two types of cupping: Dry and wet. Dry cupping uses heat for the suction, while wet cupping includes making a little puncture on the skin where the cup is placed to draw trace amounts of the blood when the skin ‘rises’.
SAFETY & PRECAUTIONS
Besides the obvious need for qualified and experienced practitioners, cupping should not be performed on patients with inflamed skin, cases of high fever or convulsions and those who bleed easily or are being medicated with blood thinners.
WHERE TO FIND
Cupping is a popular treatment across cultures all over the world, making it quite easy to find the services of a qualified practitioner near you. www.cuppingtherapy.org
PAIN-FREE FROM A PRICK
Acupuncture is widely accepted to have originated from the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, the body’s qi (life force or vital energy) is highly dependent on the health of the body’s meridians (energy pathways in which the qi flows). There are very precise points from head to toe that correlate with specific emotional, psychological and physical conditions. Acupuncture is applied to these points by tapping a thin needle in to relieve blockages so the qi can flow freely. In recent times, acupuncture has been modernised to include low frequency currents where wires are connected to the tip of needles to stimulate the points deeper for faster relief and greater efficacy.
Depending on the malady, the acupuncturist determines the meridian points that need stimulation. Widely used to treat rheumatic pains, muscle deterioration and those recovering from invasive treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, it has since become a go-to therapy for beauty and fertility too. The needle application is much like an ant bite and doesn’t hurt. If current is applied through the needles, there will be a slight vibration, but the machine controlling the electric current is placed in your hands for intensity control. Each session lasts between 20 to 30 minutes.
SAFETY & PRECAUTIONS
Use only the services of a qualified and licensed acupuncturist. Although it’s not really invasive, treatment can go wrong with wrongly placed or unsterilised needles. This is one treatment where customer testimonials on efficacy are highly important.
WHERE TO FIND
Popularly practiced in China and Southeast Asia, acupuncture has made a mark as one of the most sought-after complementary therapies around the world today. www.acupuncture.com
1. SNAKE MASSAGE
A massage that uses various snake species from grass snakes to pythons, this treatment involves placing live snakes all over your body (including your face!) to stimulate blood circulation through compression and release from the snake-coiling.
2. URINE THERAPY
This age-old practice in India is considered a potent curative method in maintaining good health. In fact, urine therapy has a brand ambassador in India: Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai attributes his good health to a daily dose of his own urine. In some obscure parts of China, mummy’s pee is considered the best facial wash for baby to protect skin. Some people ferment their urine and use it for enemas and facials!
3. BATHINI FISH MEDICINE
The Bathini Goud brothers in Hyderabad, India draw thousands of people to their camp every June. They administer live fish medicine that is said to cure asthma and respiratory problems. A live fish is dipped in a secret homemade medicinal paste and then placed into the patient’s mouth to swallow whole.
4. GARRA RUFA THERAPY
Garra rufa obtusas, known as ‘doctor fish’, is believed to heal psoriasis and other chronic skin diseases of the joints. The fish lives in mineral-rich hot spa pools where you immerse yourself and let the fish nibble away at dry or diseased skin.
1. URUT MELAYU (TRADITIONAL MALAY MASSAGE)
Traditional Malay massage is a technique used to locate pressure points along the meridian lines of the body through long and short strokes, kneading and manipulating soft tissue. This form of massage is generally used to treat injuries while providing relaxation. The goal in traditional Malay massage is having an experienced practitioner find blockages and release them for better blood circulation while relieving muscular, joint and nerve aches and pains. This is similar to Indonesian massage techniques.
2. THAI MASSAGE
Although called Thai massage, this therapy is believed to have been developed by Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha, a physician to Buddha, more than 2,500 years ago in India. This is a rigorous massage where the therapist uses his hands, elbows, arms, knees, legs and feet to mobilise the person in a series of stretches. It works on the principle of muscle compression, joint mobilisation and acupressure. This is a wholly dry massage where you are fully clothed as the material worn allows for better traction during the manipulation. Done well, a session will leave you both relaxed and energised.
3. GUA SHA THERAPY (SCRAPING)
Originating from China, gua means ‘scrape’ and sha means ‘bruise’. In short, it’s a technique where the body part is scraped with a piece of (originally) fl at jade, a polished horn piece and today, coins. Gua sha is said to eliminate toxins from the body, increase blood circulation, clear blockages and relieve pain.
4. BAMBOO MASSAGE
Bamboo sticks are heated and rolled and kneaded over the body to remove aches and pains. The rolling action is applied on acupressure points along the meridian and many practitioners claim that it not only helps to relax and remove aches and pains, it also gets rid of cellulite.
A NEW AGE IN MODERN MEDICINE
1. BIOFEEDBACK THERAPY is a behavioural medicine treatment that involves training patients to control physiological processes such as muscle tension, blood pressure and heart rate through a machine that gives feedback on these responses.
OZONE THERAPY is administered by mixing various gases and liquids that are injected into the body or even through autohemotherapy (blood transfusion method). This treatment is used to treat cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis, among others.
CHROMOTHERAPY involves the use of a spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that emits colours for healing. The reasoning is that colours affect moods and moods affect health.
MUSIC & SOUND THERAPY uses music and sound in a combination of notes pieced together with mathematical precision to relieve stress, motivate, enhance creativity, and promote positive neuro-activity in the brain. It could be as simple as a recording of the rain, ocean waves or the gentle tap on a bell.
EFT TAPPING is also called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. This technique involves tapping on specific psychological acupressure points to optimise emotional health.