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Healthy Living Guide

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Originally published in Seasonal Guide, January 10, 2013
The many paths to good health
Alternative healing methods target body and mind

Iyengar yoga teacher Kim Peralta

Iyengar yoga teacher Kim Peralta, of Brooksville, holds a 59-minute headstand at an alternative health fair at George Stevens Academy sponsored by the Cancer Support Center of Maine in 2011.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant and Faith DeAmbrose

While regular visits to your doctor are an accepted way to check the status of your health, alternative and often Eastern-based medical practices aim to keep you healthy by reducing stress and, when needed, allowing the body to self-heal. The two approaches—fixing what’s broken and preventing the break from ever occurring—highlight the difference between Eastern and Western approaches to medicine and health.

As a nation, we have opened our minds—and our pockets—to this alternative philosophy. The National Institute of Health reported in 2009 that Americans spent $33.9 billion on alternative medicine and products, such as chiropractic, yoga, massage, acupuncture and herbal supplements, all methods not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine. While this represents only a tiny fraction (1.5 percent) of our nation’s total health care costs, the same survey found that approximately 38 percent of adults choose some form of alternative medicine for their health and wellness.

Below are a handful of alternative practices, some more well-known than others, that have become standard for some of us as we strive for optimal well being.

Chiropractic medicine provides a stress-relieving wellness service

Chiropractic medicine assumes that the body possesses innate intelligence and responds to its environment in the most physiologically appropriate way possible. In other words, a chiropractor endeavors to provide care that supports the body’s ability to adapt to the environment and maintain a stable level of heath and wellness. This includes an evaluation of the total body, including nutritional and lifestyle counseling as part of a complete care program.

Chiropractors are trained to recognize interferences to the nervous system, which can cause both physiological dysfunction and initiate a stress response. (The nervous system consists of the central nervous system—the brain and spinal chord—and the peripheral nervous system that is responsible for all body functions not under conscious control, including nerves, heart, lungs, and glands.) Essential to optimal functioning of the nervous system is the proper alignment and movement of spinal joints. In a typical session at the chiropractor, the patient is evaluated for physical weaknesses as well as improper spinal joint motion.

Providing the human being with the natural ingredients it needs for self-regulation, the body, a self-healing organism by design, will use its innate ability to heal, resulting in health and wellness.

For complete information about chiropractic medicine, visit the American Chiropractic Association website at amerchiro.org.

Reiki is hands-on method to heal and relieve stress

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing, based on the idea that an unseen life force energy flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s life force energy is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

Reiki is administered by “laying on hands,” with Reiki masters literally placing their hands on the body to raise the life flow force through pathways (called chakras, meridians and nadis) and in a field of energy around the body (called the aura). Life force nourishes the organs and cells of the body, supporting them in their vital functions.

This flow of life force is disrupted when we accept, either consciously or unconsciously, negative thoughts or feelings about ourselves, which causes diminished function in one or more of the organs and tissues of the physical body.

Reiki master Genie Jones, of Penobscot, turned to Reiki after being diagnosed with cancer. “I got interested in Reiki when I was given three months to live in 2005,” she said. She completed her advanced training in 2010.

Reiki clears, straightens and heals the energy pathways and raises the vibratory level of the energy field in and around the physical body where negative thoughts and feelings are attached, causing the negative energy to break apart and fall away.

It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.

For more information, on Reiki methods, training and history, visit reiki.org.

Acupuncture: Needles help the body return to health

Acupuncture is an ancient form of healing that can be traced back at least 2,000 years to early Chinese civilization, although some scholars and providers debate that its roots go back even further. Focusing on the body’s natural energy, or Qi, an acupuncturist will evaluate his or her patient to determine the best approach for treatment. Reading the body’s pulse, examining the patient’s tongue, and in-depth conversations with the patient are also part of an initial evaluation, or intake.

Utilizing the body’s natural desire to be well, an acupuncturist uses needles to bring back the body’s homeostatic condition, assuming that a lack of homeostasis causes pain and illness.

There are approximately 400 acupuncture points found on the body, each relating to specific body parts, with each point being part of 12 known meridians (specific pathways believed to carry energy through the body) correlating to major internal organs. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the nervous system in order to restore proper energy flow.

Acupuncturists take the time to evaluate the entire body, including mental-emotional issues, and the whole person is diagnosed so a better understanding of the condition is achieved.

For more information about acupuncture or to find a provider in this area, visit acupuncture.com.

Reflexology focuses on feet’s bones, nerves and muscles

Reflexology is conducted in a one-on-one setting often in a comfortable chair that elevates and extends the feet upward and outward providing easy access for the practitioner. During a treatment only the feet are exposed—along with each of their approximate 7,200 nerve endings, 26 bones and 19 muscles.

The feet stabilize and support the body; they are the part that is grounded to the floor and the part that bears the body’s weight. Those who study reflexology believe there are reflex points in the hands and feet that provide pathways to all other parts of the body, including cells, organs, glands, muscles and bones. For instance, reflexology teaches that the toes of the feet correspond to the nerve endings in the head, sinuses, and so on, the spot where the toes join the feet are the reflective of the shoulders, below that are the lungs and further down the foot are the reflective of lower body parts including the small intestines and sciatica. These points are likewise correlated in the hands and fingers.

Reflexology is not a medical treatment, it cannot be substituted for a medical treatment and its providers are, in the majority of cases, not medically trained physicians. But it is something that individuals can practice on themselves or others without worry of causing harm or of harmful side-effects.

It is believed that through reflexology the body rids itself of toxins that accumulate in cells of the body. Those engaging in self-reflexology should educate themselves about the process and drink plenty of water.

For more information about reflexology or to find a practitioner throughout the state of Maine, contact the Maine Council of Reflexologists, located in Augusta, at reflexologyofmaine.org.

Release stress and restore calm with CranioSacral Therapy

CranioSacral Therapy is a hands-on therapy preformed on a client that is fully clothed. With a light touch the practitioner begins a session by evaluating the overall rhythm of the craniosacral system. This system, physiologically similar to the respiratory or cardiovascular systems, extends from the bones of the skull, jaw, face and mouth, commonly referred to as the cranium, to the sacrum, or tailbone.

This system also houses the central nervous system and cerebrospinal fluid, which protects the spinal chord and brain.

Focusing on the sacrum, spinal column and head, a practitioner will use his or her hands to assess the client’s craniosacral system, then work toward assisting the body in achieving optimal balance and functioning. Chronic pain and fatigue, headaches and emotional issues are commonly treated conditions for craniosacral therapists.

According to information provided by The Upledger Institute, a training institute for craniosacral therapy, the craniosacral system is vital in that it “influences the development and performance of the brain and spinal chord,” and an “imbalance or restriction could potentially cause a number of sensory, motor or neurological disabilities.” Those who practice the therapy believe that through detection and correction of improper rhythms in the craniosacral system, the body will begin to heal naturally “to dissipate the negative effects of stress on the central nervous system.”

For more information about CranioSacral Therapy contact the International Alliance of Healthcare Educators at iahe.com or The Upledger Institute at upledger.com.

Terry Cross demonstrates massage techniques

At a 2012 Blue Hill Chamber of Commerce “after hours” function, alternative health practitioners, like Terry Cross, left, demonstrates massage techniques to address repetitive motion techniques.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose
Iyengar yoga teacher Kim Peralta

Iyengar yoga teacher Kim Peralta, of Brooksville, holds a 59-minute headstand at an alternative health fair at George Stevens Academy sponsored by the Cancer Support Center of Maine in 2011.

Photo by Anne Berleant