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A Look Into Alternative Medicine: Ancient Practices for Today's Health

In search of a more holistic approach to wellness, many are turning to alternative medicine. This age-old practice, rooted in ancient traditions, offers a variety of techniques to promote mind-body balance and improve overall health.


Silhouette of a person meditating in a peaceful outdoor setting at sunrise, framed by leaves, with a serene cityscape in the background.

Image Source: Pexels


Let’s look at some of the most popular alternative practices. We’ll look at their history, benefits, and how they can integrate with modern healthcare.


Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a mental training technique where you focus on the present moment, without judgment. It comes from Buddhism, but nowadays you can find it used in all sorts of places, from hospitals to schools to offices. 


In mindfulness meditation, you typically sit quietly and observe your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they come up, without getting caught up in them or trying to change them. 


By practicing this non-judgmental awareness, people aim to become more clear-headed. It also helps people be more insightful and better at managing their emotions.


Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Here are some benefits of mindfulness meditation:1,2,3,4


  • Helps manage stress: It quiets the mind and detaches from worries and anxieties, leading to decreased cortisol levels and promoting calmness.

  • Enhanced focus: The practice trains the brain to focus on the present moment which improves concentration and filters out distractions.

  • Better sleep quality: Since mindfulness meditation calms the mind, it promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality.

  • Pain relief: Mindfulness meditation helps you focus on the present moment. This reduces perceived pain intensity and improves coping abilities.


Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice from India that's been around for ages. It integrates physical postures (asanas) with breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and ethical principles.


There are different yoga styles, like Hatha (good for beginners), Vinyasa (more flowy and energetic), and Kundalini (known for chanting and breathwork). Each one offers something a little different.


The beauty of yoga is that pretty much anyone can do it. No matter your age, fitness level, or what your body's like, there's a yoga practice out there for you. You can find classes at studios, gyms, or even online. Plus, some doctors even recommend yoga as a way to manage health problems and feel better overall.


Benefits of Yoga

Here are some benefits of yoga:5,6


  • Improved flexibility and strength: Yoga postures (asanas) are designed to stretch and strengthen various muscle groups, enhancing overall flexibility and muscular strength.

  • Enhanced balance and coordination: Balancing poses and controlled movements help improve balance and coordination. 

  • Better cardiovascular health: Certain yoga styles can elevate heart rate and improve circulation, contributing to cardiovascular health.

  • Increased self-awareness: Yoga cultivates mindfulness and awareness of the body and breath, fostering greater self-awareness.

  • Clearer skin and complexion: Exercise like yoga boosts circulation, nourishing skin cells and flushing toxins. This translates to a healthier, radiant complexion.


Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific body locations called acupoints. It’s been part of traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Acupoints are believed to lie along meridians, channels that conduct vital energy, or "qi," throughout the body.


The theory behind acupuncture revolves around the concept of balancing the opposing forces of yin and yang.11 When these forces are in harmony, the body is believed to be in a state of health. Acupuncture aims to restore this equilibrium by stimulating acupoints, potentially influencing the body's physiological processes.


Benefits of Acupuncture

Here are some benefits of acupuncture:


  • Pain relief: Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain relief, particularly for chronic pain conditions. Studies have shown effectiveness in managing pain from lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, and migraines.7

  • Relieves digestive issues: Some studies suggest acupuncture may help alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders like nausea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).8

  • Stress reduction: Acupuncture sessions are often accompanied by a sense of deep relaxation, which can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. 


Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based on ancient Chinese ideas. It sees the body as one big connected system, just like nature itself. The main goal of TCM is to bring everything in your body back into balance.


In addition to acupuncture, TCM includes herbal medicine, which involves the use of plants, minerals, and animal products to address specific health concerns. TCM herbal formulas are often prescribed based on a person's unique pattern of symptoms and underlying imbalances.


For example, some TCM herbal formulas may include cannabis as a key ingredient, particularly in certain traditional preparations. Ancient methods explore the potential use of cannabis as an alternative medicine, particularly focusing on cannabinol (CBN). It’s celebrated for its documented benefits, including the positive effects of CBN on health and well-being.12


Benefits of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Here are some benefits of TCM:9,10,11


  • Comprehensive healthcare: TCM is a comprehensive approach that addresses not only physical symptoms but also emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of health.

  • Natural and gentle healing: Since TCM utilizes natural remedies derived from plants, minerals, and animal products, it emphasizes the body's ability to heal itself.

  • Preventative healthcare: In addition to treating existing health issues, TCM emphasizes preventative measures to maintain health and prevent illness.

  • Integration with modern medicine: TCM can complement conventional medical treatments, providing additional support for patients undergoing Western medical interventions.


Conclusion

While alternative medicine shouldn't replace conventional medical advice, it offers a valuable toolkit for overall well-being.  Whether you choose mindfulness meditation for inner peace, yoga for physical and mental fitness, or acupuncture for pain relief, there's likely an alternative practice to address your needs. Ultimately, exploring alternative medicine empowers you to take an active role in your health journey.


Sources:

  1. Chen et al. Meditative therapies for reducing anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depress Anxiety, 2012.

  2. Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev, 2011.

  3. Rusch et al. The effect of mindfulness meditation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 2019.

  4. Hilton, et al. Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Behav Med, 2017. 

  5. “9 Benefits of Yoga.” Johns Hopkins Medicine.

  6. “The Benefits of Yoga.” American Osteopathic Association.

  7. Xiang et al. The Immediate Analgesic Effect of Acupuncture for Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2017.

  8. Li et al. Acupuncture and regulation of gastrointestinal function. World J Gastroenterol, 2015.

  9. Matos et a.. Understanding Traditional Chinese Medicine Therapeutics: An Overview of the Basics and Clinical Applications. Healthcare (Basel), 2021.

  10. Ling et al. “Three advantages of using traditional Chinese medicine to prevent and treat tumor.” Journal of Integrative Medicine, 2014. 

  11. Marshall AC. “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology.” Drug Discovery and Evaluation: Methods in Clinical Pharmacology, 2020.

  12. Brand EJ, Zhao Z. “Cannabis in Chinese Medicine: Are Some Traditional Indications Referenced in Ancient Literature Related to Cannabinoids?” Front Pharmacol, 2017.

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