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Types of Holistic Medicine

By Christine Williams ; Updated August 14, 2017

The importance and attention that has been generated by the practice and participation in holistic medicine is evidence of its great appeal for people wanting to engage and be pro-active in their own health care. Many of the therapies classified as holistic – treatment of the whole person – are also known as complementary and alternative medicines. There are a many types of therapies that come under the umbrella of holistic medicine.


The founder of the American Holistic Medical Association and editor of "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Alternative Healing Therapies", Dr. Norman Shealy, supports the idea that 'Ayurveda is the oldest holistic system of medicine now being practiced'. Its philosophy, originating in India, is based on how the five elements – ether, air, fire, water and earth – combine with each individual's soul and how that combination influences or controls the myriad functions of the body. There are three sets of combinations, or 'tridoshas' which are the basis of diagnosis and prescriptions. They are: Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Each dosha is a combination of two of the five elements and treatment for each dosha varies accordingly.


The most well-known of the holistic forms of medicine, acupuncture, comes to Western medicine from Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. It has been practiced in China for thousands of years based upon the belief that the life force, or 'qi or chi', can be balanced by needling key recognized acupuncture points along meridians. These meridians, or energy channels, link with the body's organs. Of the 500 acupuncture points, 100 are commonly used in needling. U.S.News & World Report published the positive findings of a study of 1200 patients being treated with acupuncture. The study confirmed that both conventional acupuncture and sham acupuncture, which is needling without adhering to the specific acupuncture points, benefited the patients in the treatment of their lower back pain.


The founder of reiki, Dr. Mikao Usui, developed this holistic healing practice after meditating 21 days on top of a Japanese mountain where he experienced a vibration of universal energy in a spiritual vision. He understood and then developed his theory that all life could consciously attune to the life force of the earth's vibration. The reiki practitioner channels this energy and delivers it through their hands. Reiki masters practice the ideals set down by Dr. Usui in order to maintain a clear energy flow within them so that the 'ki' or life force can be transferred to the recipient freely.


In 1790, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann made an important discovery when he wanted to understand how the bark of the cinchona tree was curative for malaria. Quinine is made from cinchona bark. He tested it on himself, even though he did not have malaria, and soon after he developed symptoms similar to malaria. The first law of homeopathy became known as the Law of Similars in which Hahnemann concluded that any substance that causes disease symptoms in a healthy person will cure the disease in an ill person. According to the European Central Council of Homeopaths, '29% of the EU's population use homeopathic medicine in the day-to-day health care'.


Osteopathy is another holistic medicine that treats the whole person. It was developed by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, an American who, like Dr. Hahnemann, was looking for an alternative to healing because he was disillusioned with how little he was helping his patients. Osteopathy is based on the belief that the body has its own system for healing and it is the job of the healer to activate this innate healing response. In osteopathy, this is done by manipulating the musculoskeletal system which supports the body's organs and interacts with the nervous system, as well as the circulatory and digestive system. Improper alignment can lead to impairment or damage of the body's ability to maintain homeostasis – equilibrium of the interdependent physiological processes of the human body.

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