Ancient Wisdom in the New Millennium
While both Eastern and Western physicians practice their skills and prescribe their remedies with the intention of healing, their basic philosophies remain fundamentally opposed. Practitioners of alternative medicine say that the conventional view of illness as a random and accidental physical misfortune is wrong, because the mind and spirit are as much involved in poor health as they are in good health, and it is disturbances of the balance and harmony of mind, body, and spirit that are the true causes of illness. Any treatment that is undertaken to heal ailments of the body must also include the mind and spirit, a relationship that Eastern traditional medicine regards as inseparable.
Fundamental to the principles of most alternative therapies is the concept of 'energy balance'. This is not the Western understanding of energy, but instead a healing and spiritual energy in a state of motion and change, derived from the Greek for balance -
In traditional Chinese medicine the name given to this energy is Qi meaning 'breaths', which can also be expressed as Shi or Ch'i, and is also known as Ki in Japan and Prana in India, but is usually referred to as 'Chi' (pronounced "Chee") in the Western world. For example, the Chinese theory of acupuncture is based on the belief that specific channels or 'meridians' carry the flow of energy or Chi through the body, and by stimulating various points or 'gateways' along these meridians, either with needles or finger pressure, or just the hands in contact or close proximity to the body, the flow can be increased or decreased.
In Chinese medicine, the two opposing but complementary aspects of existence are called Yin and Yang, which together constitute a balanced whole and contentment called Tao or 'the way'. This balance can be upset by emotional, physical, or environmental factors. Yin and Yang are also characterised by five metaphysical or symbolic elements -
Traditional Indian medicine has energy centres known as 'chakras', a word derived from Sanskrit and meaning 'wheels' or spinning wheels of light or movement (depending on the translation). The theory of the chakra system is quite complicated and involved, but the simplest definition is that chakras are a link between the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of existence. They bring together hundreds or even thousands of energy channels or 'nadi' (meaning 'river') which traverse the body. Basically, chakras are thought to control our being on different levels, and each chakra is responsible for an organ or group of organs in the body. There are various numbers and positions of chakras depending on which theory is being described, but generally there are seven major chakras, which are associated with the spine, in a line down the centre of the body -
Unbalanced chakras cause physical and mental symptoms that ultimately lead to illness. There is no doubt that massage and other sensory influences have a direct effect on the mind and body, to soothe, calm, relax, and drain away stress and tension. The feelings of relaxation together with sensory stimuli are received by a part of the brain known as the 'emotional centre' (technically the 'limbic system') which then causes the release of chemicals such as hormones, endorphins (endogenous morphine molecules), and encephalins, including serotonin -
The brain's emotional centre, referred to by some as a person's soul or spirit, is also in direct contact with another area called the hypothalamus, known as the 'control centre' of the brain, which is responsible for maintaining functions such as temperature, hormone levels, and metabolism, all contributing to healthy balance and homeostatic equilibrium. So sensory stimulation can help support the body's systems and essential functions, relieve pain, ease stress and tension, reduce anxiety, and strengthen the body's immune system. Impressive claims indeed, yet known for centuries by traditional medicine, whose aim is not to directly heal, but to create the right environment to encourage the body to heal itself. Biomagnetic fields a thousand times stronger than those from the human heart have been found to emanate from the hands of touch therapists during treatment, as well as infrasonic sound known to produce healing effects. These natural influences are said to have the same effect as the artificial electromagnetic fields used to stimulate healing and injury repair in hospitals.
Even the mere presence of a therapist can have beneficial effects. Experiments have shown that when two people are sitting quietly in the same room with eyes closed and in a relaxed state, their heart and brain rhythms gradually become synchronised. This effect was enhanced when they held hands, providing evidence of the power of touch therapies. It is also known that the menstruation cycles of women living together in a group become synchronised.
The flow of life force or 'vital energy' along meridians, sometimes referred to as 'strange flows' along 'wondrous channels' may simply be analogies to represent the constant stream of electrochemical signals and messages between the brain and the body's life support and control systems, such as the distribution and absorption of proteins and dietary nutrients, cell regeneration and repair, the nervous system's pathways, the release of beneficial chemicals, and the protective immune system now known to be in close contact with the brain. This flow of communications between brain and body is the continuous attempt to maintain the complete electromagnetic vibratory network -
The body's systems are being constantly confronted by internal and external challenges such as environmental pollution, inadequate diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol or drugs, emotional pressures, and stress. If just one of the interdependent systems becomes inefficient or unable to cope, or the vibratory electromagnetic network is impaired, then the whole balance is disturbed. Signals and messages become confused or 'blocked', so the brain is unable to respond with its self-
The 'balance' is the process of removing those blockages and re-
More formal comparisons such as these may one day link physics and metaphysics, the ancient and modern, the conventional and alternative, and perhaps narrow the gap that still exists between Eastern and Western medicine. But in the meantime, when people find a therapy and a therapist that suits them, then the benefits of holistic alternative medicine will begin to flow, and the mind, body and spirit will at last be harmonised and balanced.
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