You know that unpleasant feeling when you want to be feel centered inside but your brain keeps spitting out thoughts at a rapid pace – useless things like the name of a song you absolutely must remember right that moment, worries, things you’ll have to do next week, fears about the future, regrets about the past, guilt, anxiety, maybe even panic? One thought leads to another until you’re exhausted and in quite a state, unable to get anything useful done or calm down and fall asleep if this happens at bedtime.
I chose the brain scan images below not to advise you to meditate (though I do think meditation greatly enriches life) but to show how different an active and a relaxed brain are. There’s lots of active thinking going on in the brain on the left and very little in the one on the right.
The scans below show brain activity in a normal brain vs an obsessive compulsive brain. You can see there’s a whole lot more activity going on in the OCD brain, most of it probably not at all helpful to the person in which that brain resides.
No matter what your circumstances or how long your brain has been running you this way, you have the ability to calm yourself down and feel centered. Not overnight but with practice.
If you don’t already have helpful techniques for quieting your brain, perhaps these three suggestions will help you get out of your brain and reconnect with your body.
DON’T JUMP INTO THE TANK
Oregon Coast Aquarium (Newport, OR)
Our powerful human brains keep generating thoughts even when we don’t want them to. Meditators call this phenomenon monkey brain – our thoughts jump around in our heads like playful monkeys.
In a meditation workshop I took with Sally Kempton, a well-known teacher and writer, someone asked her how to stop thoughts from popping into his head while he was trying to meditate. Sally offered this nice image for the hardest part in developing a meditation practice or quieting your brain when you’re trying to fall asleep – non-judgmental noting of distracting thoughts and emotions: “When you’re in front of a large aquarium looking at an interesting creature, you don’t jump into the tank and swim after it. Instead you say to yourself or the person you’re with ‘what a beautiful fish” and move on.
Sally’s advice to us was simply to note that we’ve had a thought, say silently to ourselves thought – and not swim after it.
With a little practice, this actually works. There are nights when my brain is abuzz with an ongoing stream of things I really don’t need to be thinking about right then. Thinking thought, thought, thought … to myself interrupts the stream and lets me fall asleep.
USE EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TAPPING TECHNIQUE (EFT) TO RELEASE NEGATIVE ENERGY & RELAX MUSCLE TENSION
We tend to tighten up the muscles in our faces, especially around our eyes, when our brains are racing. Helping those muscles relax also helps us be grounded in our bodies, feel more spacious inside, and relax our minds.
The Emotional Freedom Tapping Technique is quite effective at relaxing those muscles – and other energy points you may decided to tap, releasing negative energy in them and restoring balance to the body’s bio- energy system.
EFT is an energy-based self-help method combining the principles of ancient Chinese medicine’s system of energy pathways (meridians) with modern psychology. Its techniques are used to release negative thoughts and behaviors which have become stored in our bodies on a cellular level.
Descriptions of the tapping technique usually recommend saying positive affirmations out loud while tapping in order to clear blockages. I’ve found mental, emotional, and physical relief solely from tapping, particularly around the eyes and the crown of my head, without saying any affirmations. I do set intentions for myself. Maybe one of these days I’ll also add some affirmations.
In EFT, you use your fingertips to tap on your body’s acupressure points.
See Tamsin Young’s EFT Tactics for Success, Meditation & Relaxation for a fuller explanation of the theory and practice of EFT. The five minute video, Intro to EFT – Tapping with Brad Yates, about half way through the article, demonstrates how to perform the technique. It’s clear and worth watching to help you get started.
CREATE A ROOM OUTSIDE YOUR BRAIN FOR CHATTERING THOUGHTS
A very smart and creative psychotherapy patient of mine, realizing he wasn’t ever going to be able to stop all the obsessive thoughts his brain generated, came up with a clever way to co-exist with them: He ‘built’ a ‘room’ just outside his head to put them in. That way, they could still be yammering away out there but they wouldn’t take over his thinking. This ‘room’ has let him get on with what he wanted and needed to do with his conscious brain.
Alva Noë, a philosopher at UC-Berkeley, disagrees with Decartes’ famous formulation: I think, therefore I am. Noë’s version is I am, therefore I think. He argues that we are NOT our brains – that it’s considerably more than the neurons in the brain that determine our perceptions and sense of self, that consciousness is created in a continual and lively interaction with our surroundings.
This view, that we are engaged in an ongoing dance with our environment, that our perceptions are habits, makes it clear we can actively change our consciousness to alter what takes place in our brains. Which takes us back to don’t jump into the tank.
I was very fortunate to be able to take two workshops with singing bowls Master Teacher Suren Shrestha and some of his students at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in NYC this past weekend: Vibrational Sound Therapy (1.5 hours) and Learn to Heal with Singing Bowls (3 hours).
The workshops were both didactic and experiential. We learned various ways to play singing bowls and ting-sha (Tibetan cybals or chimes), a bit about their history and how to use them for healing, and about the body’s Chakra System (both the Indian Vedic and Tibetan systems).
The best singing bowls are made of a special seven-metal alloy of gold, silver, iron, mercury, tin, copper and lead. Each bowl is tuned to the specific note that affects one of the body’s seven chakras. The art of making traditional Tibetan singing bowls has been handed down from generation to generation within family clans. Craftsmen in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal today are reviving the ancient techniques, traced back to the time of the Buddha – 2,500 years ago.
These singing bowls, when struck on the side or made to sing, produce multiphonic and polyharmonic sounds which are unique, complex, subtle … and healing. (Shrestha, 2013)
Suren grew up in the small village of Khandabari in Nepal, 45 miles from Mount Everest in the Himalayas, and now lives in Boulder, CO. In Khandabari, people were healed by herbalists, monks and shamans using drums, gongs and mantras. He learned from them how to practice the ancient techniques using sound and vibration and is now a Master Teaching traveling the world to educate others.
This is his website, including a calendar of his workshops.
HOW TO MAKE A TIBETAN BOWL SING
Set the bowl in the palm of either hand without touching the sides of the bowl as that is where the vibration occurs.
Holding a striker with an even pressure in the other hand, rub it in a circular motion on the outside rim of the bowl. Sometimes it’s easier to strike the bowl first to get the vibrations going before rubbing.
When the sound becomes full, remove the striker from the bowl and let the bowl continue to sing without touching its sides.
Everyone has a vibration that is a signature of their health and wellbeing. You could think of it as a natural results of the processes that ran our physical bodies as well as your mental, emotional, and subtle bodies. Similar to a musical instrument that can fall out of tune through use, our bodies can also fall out of vibrational harmony and potentially develop illness. Stress and negativity create blockages of a healthy flow of energy, showing up in the energy field around our body as lower energy disturbances at first, and later as illness in our physical body.
Sound and vibration can be used to re-tune us to health and one of the most powerful modalities for this is the use of Tibetan singing bowls. When there is a deep relaxation through soothing, resonant sound, the body is affected on a cellular level, opening up the flow of energy to move us back toward vibrational alignment with health. Sound can help us shift our energy frequency from lower to higher, removing the lower frequencies of emotions such as fear, anger, and resentment. If fact, whenever you are immersed in lower frequency emotions you can simply chant “Om” to elevate your energy.The sound of the bowls is calming, and they are frequently used as a meditation aid as the sound induces a sense of peacefulness.
Quantum physics has proven that everything has vibration, whether it’s a table, a chair, a person, a planet, or a cosmos. And wherever there is a sound, there is a vibration. When we use sound coupled with intention, which is the most important aspect of healing, we can direct sound vibration to raise the body’s vibrational frequency.
Negative energy can make us physically ill or mentally depressed. Each bowl emits a soothing vibration that radiates out negative energy, which restricts your ability to reach your full physical, spiritual, and mental health….
Healing through sound and vibration has been known to reduce stress, improve concentration, reduce blood pressure, stimulate life force flow in the body, improve immunity, harmonize the chakras with the energy field, heighten intuition and perception, synchronize the brain hemispheres, remove mental and emotional negativity, and enhance creativity.
Most importantly, stress is at the root of many of our twenty-first century diseases and it’s through relaxation of the body that balance, health, and happiness can be restored… As much as 70 percent of the human body is made up of water, so when you strike a singing bowl next to your body, the vibration makes a mandala (a pattern) in your body, which is healing and relaxing.
– From the Introduction to How to Heal with Singing Bowls, by Suren Shrestha, pages 13-15
Suren is donating all profits from this book, along with a large portion of the proceeds from the healing workshops he teaches in Boulder and around the world, to the Aama Orphanage Education Foundation (AOEF) to build a new orphanage in his native village in Nepal. The Foundation’s goal is to provide quality education to orphans of Eastern Nepal, giving priority to orphaned girls.
There are many ways to use Tibetan singing bowls in healing. Here are some examples:
ON AND AROUND THE BODY
AS AN ADJUNCT TO ACUPUNCTURE
AS AN ADJUNCT TO MASSAGE
ON THE HANDS
ON THE FEET
INVERTED ON THE HEAD
Warm water inside the bowl helps transmit the positive energy of its harmonics to the client. (Shrestha, 2013)
TIBETAN SINGING BOWLS IN WESTERN MEDICINE
Western healers, including respected, board certified physicians, have taken an interest in the ancient art of using sound to heal.
Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor, a well-respected oncologist practicing in New York City, considers healing with sound as integrative medicine – a complement to it, not an alternative. He distinguishes between curing and healing. To cure means physically to fix something, whereas healing refers to wholeness, a union of the mind, body and spirit. He compares sound healing to music therapy.
In “The Healing Power of Sound” he cites studies indicating that music lowers blood pressure, reduces cardiac complications among patients who have recently suffered heart attacks, reduces stress hormones during medical testing and boosts natural opiates. (Gaynor, 2002) (Rosenbloom, 2005)
Researchers from the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program at the Centenary Institute in Sydney, Australia, have shown that 97% of human DNA programs or encodes proteins in our bodies. One of the researchers said, “this discovery, involving what was previously referred to as ‘junk’, opens up a new level of gene expression control …”
These findings form a scientific basis for the claim that we can reprogram our DNA to heal ourselves with vibrations. Numerous scientists – in the tradition of 1,000’s of years of spiritual adepts – claim light and sound can alter our DNA, directly influencing our biology.
Russian linguists, Dr Pjotr Garajajev and Vladimir Poponin found that DNA follows patterns and rules similar to human language.
Biologist Dr David Deamer and Susan Alexjander, an MA in music, have discovered that DNA makes its own beautiful music – on its own, before any attempts to alter it. The pair measured tha molecular vibrations of DNA, recording it using an infrared spectrophotometer. They exposed each section of DNA to infrared light and measured the wavelength it absorbed to determine its sound frequency. Alexjander described the combinations of frequencies as “hauntingly beautiful” music. “… they are just stunning. It sounds alive to me.” (Health Freedom Alliance, 2014)
MEDITATION ON ANTIQUE TIBETAN SINGING BOWLS
As a bonus, here’s a short video (4:30) of master percussionist Emile de Leon of Temple Sounds playing some large, high quality antique Tibetan singing bowls.
IPHONE SINGING BOWLS APP
If you’ve fallen in love with Tibetan singing bowls, have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, and want to be able to hear them wherever you are, there’s an app for that.
Bowls – Authentic Tibetan Singing Bowls
By Oceanhouse Media
Compatibility:Requires iOS 5.1 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
A major flaw in modern Western Medicine is its focus on diagnosing illnesses and then treating them with pharmaceuticals or surgery rather than on the prevention of diseases – maintaining health. We hear procedures such as mammograms and colonoscopies being referred to as ‘preventative’ when their function is really to diagnoses a disease process already under way.
Disease: an impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors. (Merriam-Webster, 2014)
Put in simpler terms: disease = dis-ease.
In the practice of modern medicine, we are mostly viewed as our symptoms, not as a whole system that has become out of balance. We are largely treated by specialists for the various symptoms of our imbalance – a dermatologist for our skin problems, an ENT for our allergies, a rheumatologist for our arthritis, a cardiologist for our heart problems, a gastroenterologist for our digestive issues, a urologist for repeated urinary tract infections, mental health practitioners for our emotional problems … and many more specialties and sub-specialties.
Physical illness in the body and emotional well being have unfortunately come to be seen as separate.
If we truly want to be and feel healthy – and greatly reduce the cost of our health care system, we would do well to get re-acquainted with some of the ‘primitive’ healing modalities which emphasize balance in the whole system.
TRADITIONAL TIBETAN MEDICINE
Tibetan Medicine, one of the world’s oldest healing traditions, has been practiced for more than four thousand years in Tibet and the Himalayan region. Tibetan Medicine, called Sowa Rigpa in Tibetan, means the knowledge and science of healing. Sowa means to heal the imbalanced and Rigpa means the knowledge or science of a particular subject. Sowa Rigpa is regarded as one of the most important sciences in Tibet. (Tibetan Wellness & Healing Center)
Tibetan Medicine is a fully holistic system, highly esteemed throughout Asia for its subtle and accurate diagnoses and effective treatment. It focuses on treating the root causes of symptoms unique to each person and seeks to restore a healthy balance to body and mind – in contrast to Western Medicine’s focus on alleviating the discomfort caused by the symptoms. Tibetan Medicine recognizes how combinations of dietary, psychological, lifestyle and environmental factors can cause imbalances in the body and mind, what many call the ‘body-mind’.
Tibetan sages integrated the finest elements of Indian Ayurvedic, Chinese, Persian, Mongolian and indigenous Tibetan systems of medicine into a unique medical science evolving over centuries.
Tibetan Medicine can be used alone or in conjunction with Western Medicine.
PRINCIPLES OF TIBETAN MEDICINE (Tibetan Wellness and Healing):
The fundamental principle of Tibetan Medicine is that the body, the disease, and treatment, all share common principles and are comprised of the five elements, earth, fire, water, air and space. This approach recognizes that every thing in the universe – plants, animals and human beings (including all our body tissues, internal organs, skin, skeletal system and even emotions) are composed of these five elements.
Each one of them plays a major role, both individually and in combination, in all matter. The five elements maintain reciprocal relationships. When they are in balance, the result is a healthy body, speech and mind.
However, if any one of these elements becomes out of balance – in excess, deficient or disturbed, not only does the affected element manifest disharmony but it also causes the rest of the elements to lose their balance and manifest particular syndromes or symptoms.
Since each individual disease is caused by disharmony or disturbances in one of the five elements, the treatment principle is to balance the elements through diet according to an individual’s constitution and behavior, utilize herbs, and other accessory therapies such as blood letting, Mey-Tzar (Tibetan moxa), external therapy (heat or cold), natural or medicinal bath, enema, and Ku Nye (Tibetan Massage).
TRADITIONAL TIBETAN MEDICINE – AN OVERVIEW (International Academy for Traditional Tibetan Medicine, 2007)
Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM) is a natural and holistic medical science, which addresses the individual’s needs of body, mind and spirit, in an integrated way. Dating back to antiquity, TTM has a genesis, history and development of its own, rooted in the Tibetan landscape, the indigenous culture and the spirit of the Tibetan people.
Traditional Tibetan Medicine contains a comprehensive philosophy, cosmology and system of subtle anatomy with associated spiritual practices.
The study of TTM contains a wealth of knowledge on anatomy and physiology, embryology, pathology, diagnostics and therapeutics, including a huge herbal pharmacopoeia and a large variety of external therapies which are little-known in the Western world.
Despite being one of the world’s most ancient healing systems, Traditional Tibetan Medicine continues to be effectively practised in contemporary society. Modern research is now confirming the extraordinary benefits of this ancient knowledge.
The aims of TTM are two-fold:
Preventiveaspects: Prevention of illness through correct lifestyle and diet are fundamental to TTM. In this modern age, most chronic diseases arise as a result of imbalance of mental attitude, incorrect lifestyle and incorrect diet. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease are well-known examples of this.
Curativeaspects: Once imbalance arises, overt disease becomes manifest. It then becomes necessary to re-create balance through working on the underlying causes and effects. This means, in the first instance, attending to dietary and lifestyle factors, and then secondly making use of herbal therapies and external therapies.
What is meant by Balance and Imbalance?
Balance refers to harmony between body, energy and mind. Of these, energy is the most important, as it is the vital link between body and mind. When this vitalising energy becomes imbalanced, the physical body and the mind also lose their balance resulting in ill-health.
Good balance results in a healthy body, a clear calm mind, and abundant energy.
Imbalance arises as the effect of negative causes. In TTM, negative causes are classified as primary or secondary. Primary causes always arise from negative or destructive mental attitudes such as anger or aggression; lust, unhealthy attachment or desire, and ignorance. Secondary causes are the perpetuating factors such as incorrect diet and life style, or acute precipitating factors.
THE TIBETAN MEDICAL PHARMACOPEA
In the Tibetan pharmacopea, natural herbs, plants and wild-flowers are employed for their therapeutic effects. A variety of mineral and a smaller number of animal-derived substances are also used. Many of these substances can be found all over Asia; however some specific, particularly powerful herbs and minerals are found only on the Tibetan high plateau. Due to the pristine nature of this environment, the ingredients of the Tibetan Materia Medica is particularly pure.
Tibetan medicines are formulated according to two guiding principles – Taste and Potency. Doctors examine the tastes of substances and compound a combination of medicines. Each substance of the Materia Medica has a natural potency which is independent of taste and services to guide the compounding. Using ancient texts and generations of Tibetan Medical recipes, Tibetan doctors are still producing both of these types of medicines.
A simple remedy might contain 10 substances, whereas a more complex formula might contain as many as 70 ingredients. Remedies may be given as pills, powders, decoctions, concentrates, creams or lotions.
There are approximately 500 medicinal formulae currently in common usage. These remedies have the function of restoring the balance of the three Humors. Scientific studies are now demonstrating the efficacy of these Tibetan formulae. (International Academy for Traditional Tibetan Medicine, 2007)
BODIES IN BALANCE
If you’re in the New York City area and interested in learning more about what ancient, traditional medicine has to offer us today, I highly recommend a visit to The Rubin Museum’s exhibit Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine before it closes on September 8, 2014.
Are You In Balance? Take the Quiz: According to Tibetan medical knowledge, the human body is composed of three forces (called nyepas in Tibetan) that are responsible for physical and mental well-being. Maintaining the balance of these forces ensures good health. To discover a patient’s dominant force or forces, a Tibetan doctor would perform a variety of diagnostic procedures, including an interview and observation of the body.
Take this quiz to answer a sampling of the questions a Tibetan doctor might ask you to determine your dominant force or forces. For each of the questions select the responses that best apply to the way you feel. For some questions more than one response may be possible, and you can select all of the responses that apply. If no responses apply, you can skip the question.
Nourish, Practice, Know: A series of events and workshops that explore the power of food, contemplative practice, and life-long learning to help us balance our bodies. Through outings to Jackson Heights kitchens, yoga and meditation classes, and our signature conversation series, we will hear from ethnobotanists, Tibetan doctors, chefs, aromatherapists, and others about the path to wellness.
Tibetan Medicine in the World Today : Tibetan medicine has long been practiced far beyond the Tibetan Plateau. As early as the seventh century, hagiographic accounts of the practice’s beginnings recall an international gathering of eminent physicians from India, China, and Persia that provided the initial momentum for its emergence. The term used for Tibetan doctors in many regions (amchi) is a Mongolian word and a Tibetan pharmacy relies extensively on raw ingredients not found on the Tibetan Plateau. Basic ingredients used in the majority of Tibetan formulas, such as chebulic and beleric myrobalan and the Indian gooseberry, as well as many other highly valued materials are not native to Tibet and have to be imported from other climate zones.
We invite you to explore the videos and photos gathered on this site to see how Tibetan medicine has continued to spread across the world, namely how it is practiced today throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.
TIBETAN MEDICINE IN THE MODERN WORLD
Here’s some information from the Rubin Museum’s website about the current study and practice of Tibetan Medicine in countries around the modern world:
PADMA, INC.: A Swiss pharmaceutical company called Padma Inc. now produces registered Tibetan pharmaceuticals according to Western standards of pharmaceutical safety and efficacy. The company was established in 1969 by a Swiss businessman and a Polish doctor of Buryat origin. The first two products registered under Swiss law were based on formulas from Aginsk Monastery in Buryatia.
ROYAL EDINBURGH BOTANICAL GARDENS: The Royal Edinburgh Botanical Gardens has a horticulture training aimed at helping Tibetan doctors face the challenge of cultivating medicinal plants that are quickly disappearing from the Tibetan Plateau. One of these plants is the blue Himalayan poppy, a plant that also grows in Scotland.
SHANG SHUNG INSTITUTE SCHOOL OF TIBETAN MEDICINE: Originally established in Italy in 1989 by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, the Shang Shung Institute School of Tibetan Medicine launched a branch in the United States in 1994 in Conway, Massachusetts. The Institute offers public programs to “deepen the knowledge and the understanding of the Tibetan cultural traditions in its religious…and medical…aspects in order to contribute to the…preservation of this culture.” The school is the first in the United States to offer a four-year curriculum in Tibetan medical practice.
There’s also an excellent – and beautiful – book based on the exhibit, Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine, edited by anthropologist Theresia Hofer, curator of the Bodies in Balance show.
From the preface to the book:
Tibetan Medicine had likely been the most complete, codified, and learned medicine that existed prior to the development of conventional Western biomedicine. It contained the knowledge of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine concepts, complementing them with indigenous diagnostic and therapeutic methods and practices.
… The exhibition is entitled Bodies in Balance, which suggests that the major aim of Tibetan medicine is to heal the sick and suffering by restoring a lost balance, mentally and physically. This implies that behind the symptoms of disease there can be a wide variety of causes for the imbalance.
… The state of the mind is as important as that of the body when healing is concerned, a holistic view that transforms the scope of diagnosis and treatment.
– Jan Van Alphen, Director of Exhibitions, Collections and Research, Rubin Museum of Art
The book is available at the Rubin and also from Amazon.
Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicineis the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of the triangular relationship between the Tibetan art and science of healing (Sowa Rigpa), Buddhism, and the visual arts. This book is dedicated to the history, theory, and practice of Tibetan medicine, a unique and complex system of understanding body and mind, treating illness, and fostering health and well-being. Rooted in classical Indian medicine, Sowa Rigpa has been influenced by Chinese, Greco-Arab, and indigenous medical knowledge and practices and further developed within the context of Buddhism in Tibet. It adapted to new geographic, socio-cultural, and medical environments on the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalayas, and Mongolia and survives today as a living medical tradition whose principles are at the heart of many complementary therapies now widely used in the West. (Amazon, 2014)
TRADITIONAL TIBETAN MEDICINE’S PRINCIPLES ARE WIDELY USED AS COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES IN THE WEST – YOU’LL RECOGNIZE SOME OF THEM
OTHER TRADITIONAL MEDICAL SYSTEMS
There are many other traditional medical systems that developed around the world before the advent of modern medicine. They also regarded the mind and body as one and focused on healing imbalances in the system.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Aspects of Traditional Chinese Medicine are acupuncture, Chinese herbology, massage, exercise and nutritional therapy. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a 3000 year old tradition still used today by a quarter of the world’s population. It is based on the concept of Qi (pronounced chee) – the life force or vital energy. Qi is the animating force that serves to warm us, protect us from external pathogenic factors, promote the functions of the body and hold our organs and tissues in place.
As with Traditional Tibetan Medicine, the goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine is to guide the body back into balance. Traditional Chinese medicine is holistic, treating the whole person (mind, body, spirit), not just the illness. (San Francisco Natural Medicine, 2009)
Ayurvedic Healing, the science of life, is a system of therapies developed in India over 3,000 years ago and still practiced today. It’s concepts of health and disease include the use of herbs, nutrition, acupressure massage, Yoga, Jyotish (Vedic astrology), and panchakarma cleansing (a cleansing and rejuvenating program for the body, mind and consciousness, known for its beneficial effects on overall health, wellness and self-healing). (The Ayurvedic Institute, 2011)
Shamans are wise healers, medicine men or women who possess deep knowledge of the preparation and uses of healing plants. They use this knowledge in conjunction with the forces of nature to effect cures. Unlike the focus of Western Medicine, from the shaman’s perspective, medicine is more about healing the person than curing a disease.
Shamans in the jungles of Amazonia and elsewhere around the world have passed their wisdom of the medicinal value of indigenous plants down from one generation to the next.
The Amazon, the world’s largest tropical forest, is home to a quarter of earth’s botanical species – as well as to hundreds of Indian tribes whose medicinal plants have never been studied by Western scientists.
A fascinating introduction in the ancient wisdom of shamans is Mark Plotkin’s Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest.
Aspirin, the world’s most widely used drug, is based on compounds originally extracted from the bard of a willow tree. More than a quarter of our pharmaceutical drugs contain plant compounds. Western Medicine, now faced with the health crises of AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease and cancers, has begun to look to the healing plants used by indigenous peoples to try to develop new pharmaceuticals.
Plotkin is an ethnobotanist and plant explorer, an expert on rainforest ecosystems, an active advocate for rainforest conservation, and also quite a good writer.
MORE RECENT ALTERNATIVES TO MODERN WESTERN MEDICINE
Homeopathy is a system of medicine that treats the individual with highly diluted substances, given mainly in tablet form, with the aim of triggering the body’s natural system of healing. Based on their specific symptoms, a homeopath will match the most appropriate medicine to each patient.
The principle of treating “like with like” dates back to Hippocrates (460-377BC) but in its current form, homeopathy has been widely used worldwide for more than 200 years.
It was developed by a German doctor, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), who was shocked by the harsh medical practices of his day (which included blood-letting, purging and the use of poisons such as arsenic) and looked for a way to reduce the damaging side-effects associated with medical treatment. (Society of Homeopaths, 2014)
Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia was founded in 1885 to teach homeopathy to American students. It is now a center for Western Medicine.
Reflexology, or zone therapy, is an alternative medical practice involving the application of pressure to the feet, hands or ears with specific thumb, finger and hand techniques. Reflexology is based on a system of zones and reflex areas that reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands to effect a physical change on the corresponding part of the body.
Practices resembling reflexology have been documented in the histories of China and Egypt.
Zone therapy was introduced to the United States in 1913 by William H. Fitzgerald, M.D. (1872–1942), an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and Dr. Edwin Bowers. It was modified in the 1930’s and 1940’s by Eunice D. Ingham (1889–1974), a nurse and physiotherapist. Ingham mapped the entire body into “reflexes” on the feet renaming “zone therapy” as reflexology. Modern reflexologists use Ingham’s methods or similar techniques developed by the reflexologist Laura Norman. (Wikipedia, 2014)
Quantum Healing evolved from the scientific principles of Quantum Physics.
Everything in the universe is made up of only matter and energy. Matter describes the physical things around us: our earth, the other planets, the atmosphere, trees, water, our bodies, etc.
Matter is actually energy condensed to a slower vibration that converts it to a more visible state. Instead of disappearing after the conversion, energy particles continually transform in a never-ending process. All reality exists on a subatomic level.
Even the Greeks had already conceived the atomistic nature of matter and the concept was raised to a high degree of probability by the scientists of the nineteenth century. But it was Planck’s law of radiation that yielded the first exact determination – independent of other assumptions – of the absolute magnitudes of atoms. More than that, he showed convincingly that in addition to the atomistic structure of matter there is a kind of atomistic structure to energy, governed by the universal constant h, which was introduced by Planck.– Albert Einstein
In the early 1900’s, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein postulated a formula of relativity, E=mc², in which E=energy. m=matter, and c²=the speed of light multiplied by itself.
This formula states that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content – ie, that mass and energy are two forms of the same thing. In the right condition (the near-to-light speed), mass can turn into energy and energy can turn into mass.
This relationship applied to our bodies and energy forms the basis of Quantum Healing.
All our physical and emotional difficulties have a counterpart in our energy system – and they can be treated at that level. The focus of Quantum Healing is on correcting the flow of blocked energy or energy that is out of harmony. This addresses the cause of the difficulty, not just its effect.
This kind of healing holistically transforms the cause. Most other approaches only try to treat the symptom.
A good introduction to Quantum Healing is The Living Matrix: A Film on the New Science of Healing. Here’s its trailer.
The amount of stress in my life increased significantly when my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 1998 and I began making frequent trips from New York City to Florida. She succumbed in April 2000. Then 10 days after her death, my father collapsed from an internal bleed from his own colon cancer.
Shortly after my mother’s diagnosis, I realized I could use some emotional support and began attending a Family Support Group at Gilda’s Club NYC. Gilda’s Club also offered free yoga and meditation classes to members. I had been interested in trying these Eastern mind-body techniques for a few years so fortunately had the good sense to take advantage of this opportunity … and profoundly changed my life for the better. Yoga, meditation and breath work (pranayama) have given me tools to feel whole and centered. And as an added bonus, all three practices have also brought important health benefits.
YOGA TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION
Research is confirming what yoga practitioners have long known: that practicing yoga reduces stress and inflammation. (Holland, undated) A study to test the mechanisms underlying hatha yoga’s stress-reduction benefits compared inflammatory and endocrine responses of female novice and expert yoga practitioners before, during and after a restorative hatha yoga session as well as in two control conditions. The study found a lower amount of the cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6), an important part of the body’s inflammatory response, in the blood of women who routinely practiced yoga. (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010) This inflammatory cytokine is part of the chronic inflammation process in the body. (Wikipedia, 2014)
The women in the study, both novices and experienced yoginis, showed smaller increases in IL-6 after stressful experiences than women of the same age and weight who did not practice yoga. Inflammatory cytokine blood levels normally increase with age and stress. IL-6 is implicated in the development of heart disease, stroke, Type-2 diabetes, arthritis and many other debilitating age-related diseases. (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010)
MINDFULNESS MEDITATION TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION
Mindfulness meditation techniques have long been known to reduce unhealthy emotional reactivity. Now researchers are finding they can reduce post stress inflammatory responses in the body so would be useful in chronic inflammatory conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema – and likely all autoimmune diseases and conditions since they are based in inflammation somewhere in the body. (Kelly, 2013)
Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to affect the body at the molecular level, altering activity of genes that control inflammation. (Nature World News, 2013)