Alternative health/medicine is a branch of healing methodologies used by various peoples the world over for the treatment of illness, pain management, and accompanying symptoms. Alternative health practitioners believe in the close interrelation between body, mind, and spirit and the relationship between these that form the groundwork for holistic health.
Alternative healing is based predominantly on the "natural healing model" which emphasizes the use of natural herbs, foods, exercise, and energy healing or indigenous therapies to promote health. They are generally non-invasive and nature based and can include anything from aromatherapy, acupuncture, acupressure, magnetic therapy, yoga, meditation, and many other techniques used by civilizations for thousands of years. Many modern cultures continue to use alternative treatment to complement modern medical treatment as these traditions are steeped in cultural traditions and/or because of the high cost of Westernized medicine and pharmaceuticals; and, because they work. In fact, Dr. Andrew Weil, a prominent American medical doctor, is popularizing a growing form of Western medicine called Integrated Medicine. This new way of thinking is a beautiful marriage between traditional and indigenous therapies, modern energy healing, and Western medicine.
Why is it called complementary and alternative medicine?
Thousands of years ago, these were the only known treatments prior to the discovery of penicillin, antibiotics, and all other modern medical treatments used in medical institutions today. Alternative Medicine is the original medicine. However, the advent of modern medical treatments pushed aside the use of these types of therapies but they are now coming back due to the short-comings of modern medicine to provide healing in many circumstances (especially when dealing with chronic pain and illness) and the revolutionary discoveries in quantum science. These quantum studies are once again starting to validate indigenous and alternative therapies and, when used alone or in place of conventional treatments, they are known as complementary and alternative medicine.
What is holistic medicine?
Many of these alternative medicine treatments emphasize the interrelation of the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health that are what make up whole person. These parts of the human condition when in harmony create a state of health in the individual. When one part of the system is thrown out of balance or "falls apart" then the other two are forced to overcompensate and over a period of time they too also fail or are deeply affected - hence the reason for using holistic health treatment. Holistically speaking, the part of the person that is in illness can be healed by building up or strengthening the other parts thus taking the pressure off the ill part and allowing the it to heal more effectively. For example, a stressed out and overworked body can be healed by alleviating mental or emotional stress thus letting the body function more readily and to rest more easily. As we know, a stressed mind leads to a stressed out body.
Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Most of these practices evolved way before the discovery of conventional medical approaches. However, many alternative medical systems have been developed in Western cultures within the last century, including homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine. Systems originating from the East and popularized as modern alternative treatments are traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine.
Mind-Body based therapies utilize various techniques aimed to enhance the mind's capacity to stimulate natural healing, affect bodily functions, and alleviate symptoms. Many, if not all of these, are rooted in healing practices that came from cultures existing thousands of years ago. Often, they were first used in Eastern cultures and have become mainstream. Practices such as the many forms of yoga now practiced all around the world are good examples of this. Other alternative therapies of this kind are meditation, Reiki, Pranic Healing, hypnosis, and emerging therapies that use creative media (art, dance, and music) such as art therapy, movement therapy and sound or music therapy.
Manipulative and Body-based techniques that are considered alternative therapies are Alexander Technique, Rolfing or Structural Integration, Cranial Sacral, and chiropractic. It's important to recognize that chiropractic care just a few years ago was looked upon as dangerous and fringe medicine. All types of massage from Thai to Swedish and everything in between also fall under this category.
Biological Based Therapies make use of substances naturally found in nature including herbs, foods, and vitamins and plant and animal matter. The popular use of dietary supplements, vitamins, and herbal products, including other natural medicines fall into this category. Scientist are constantly proving that certainly foods, vitamins, minerals, etc. are useful in fighting disease such as the broccoli cancer connection or the wine heart attack connection. Often, indigenous food, mineral, vitamin therapies have a 50/50 track record in their effectiveness such as the debunked idea that shark fin can cure cancer or the successful re-discovery of anti-oxidant foods for alkalizing the body.
Energy Therapies intend to target the energy fields that are found all over the human body. These are often referred to as Chakras and the quantum scientist Candace Pert is using the Scientific Method to map and further understand these energy centers with us. These therapies aim at manipulating bio-electric fields or currents within the body through the application of pressure, manipulating the body, or even needles (as in acupuncture). It is thought that the body has a steady even flow of energy moving through it and when an illness occurs this flow is either decreased, diverted, reduced, or overly stimulated thus causing disease. Qi Gong, Thai-Chi, Therapeutic Touch, and Reiki are examples of this natural health therapy.