An A to Z of alternative health: Which one is right for you?

A list of alternative health therapies with a brief description of their benefits

Acupuncture is one of the most popular – and effective – alternative therapies around. It can be used to help relieve the symptoms of a variety of ills, from backache to morning sickness to fibromyalgia – and isn’t as painful as you might think. Extra fine needles are inserted into the skin at various body points to help improve health and wellbeing.
You might also want to check out another ‘A-lister’ – aromatherapy, which can be used to cure all manner of ills. Choose from a smorgasbord of gorgeous scents, such as lavender to help relax you and induce sleep, grapefruit to invigorate and revive you, refreshing citronella which also keeps the bugs, such as pesky wasps, at bay, or clary sage which can help tone the uterus to relieve pre-menstrual cramps or prepare for labour.
Bach Flowers
Bach Flower Remedies claim to have been “Relieving stress and emotional imbalance in humans and animals for over 70 years” and the truth is that many of us couldn’t have sat our driving tests without them! They are 100 per cent natural and suitable for everyone.
Cupping is an ancient Chinese technique used to unblock the body’s energy, allowing it to flow. Plastic suction cups are placed on the skin to draw up the underlying tissue which is believed to help release toxins, kick-start the lymphatic system, relieve constipation and even clear varicose veins.
Dream Therapy
First made famous by Sigmund Freud in the 1900s, dream therapy is the practise of recording and analysing dreams to interpret their meanings and, ultimately, aid healing. In some countries, it’s even thought that dream therapy can be a useful treatment for some serious psychological conditions such as depersonalisation and psychosis.
Not only can regular exercise help to protect you against heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, it’s also great for your emotional wellbeing. Just 30 minutes of activity three times a week can help to combat feelings of depression and anxiety. And even if aerobics and Zumba aren’t your style, there are still plenty of gentler activities you can take up like walking, yoga and swimming.
Feng Shui
Feng Shui is, essentially, the ancient art of achieving harmony by arranging your environment according to the flow of energy – a spiritual approach to interior design if you like. It involves de-cluttering your home or office space and repositioning your furniture, as well as using mirrors, colour and crystals to create the perfect surroundings. But it’s best to read up if you’re not a pro!
Gemstone Therapy
Gemstones are believed to carry certain properties which can sometimes help to heal pain and disease and restore harmony to an otherwise imbalanced body and mind. Amethyst, for example, is thought to promote healing and protection, while Jade is said to also instil courage. The easiest way to use them is to wear some gemstone beads.
This is a therapy which treats the person rather than the illness and means taking very small amounts of substances that will trigger the body’s natural defences – ultimately encouraging it to heal itself. It can help with lots of different conditions, from recurrent infections to menopausal problems to migraines and insomnia. The first step is to find a trained homeopath in your area who can spend at least an hour or so getting to the root of your problem so that he or she can come up with the most appropriate medicine for you.
Iridology is a bit more baffling and is a therapy that’s been met with more controversy than most. It’s basically the scientific analysis of the structures and patterns within the iris of the eye.
Juice Therapy
Fruit and vegetables are packed full of health boosting vitamins and nutrients so it’s no wonder that raw juices contain natural healing power. It’s a great way to get your five-a-day and can help to ward off some of the health problems associated with today’s busy lifestyles. Fruit juice is easy to digest and, if consumed regularly enough, could even help to stall the effects of ageing. It’s one of the easiest ways to maintain all-round good health, but it’s best to speak to your doctor first as certain juices can have harmful effects on some people and diabetics need to take extra care.
This is the science of human movement which is also sometimes known as ‘human kinetics’. It’s a growing area of complementary medicine which has been known to help certain allergies and infections. It’s another area which encourages the body’s natural healing processes and, apparently, there’s no such thing as a typical session.
Light Therapy
Light therapy, or phototherapy as it’s otherwise known, is often used to treat certain skin conditions, including jaundice in newborns, and psychological problems such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and even bipolar disorder. The treatment usually involves looking directly into a bright light via a light box or light visor for regular short bursts. As with any treatment, there are pros and cons and one of the downsides is that it can be very time consuming. But people who receive this type of therapy normally report rapid results.
Medical Herbalism
Herbalism is the traditional method of using plants and plant extracts to promote both mental and physical healing. The therapy has evolved over the years to become an advanced form of medicine where herbalists can prescribe natural treatment as capsules, liquids or teas.
Massage is another ‘M’, which is a great alternative therapy but I think it pretty much speaks for itself. Choose from hot stone, paraffin wax, deep tissue, aromatherapy variations and many more.
Naturopathic medicine is, of course, based on the healing power of nature. Naturopathic doctors use a variety of therapies, including nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture and herbal medicine and try to find the cause of the problem by understanding the mind, body and spirit of their patients. But their general motto is that prevention is better than cure so much of their work is focused on preventative measures and lifestyle changes.
Osteopathy is particularly good for treating back pain – treating only the part of the body which has caused the symptoms. Osteopaths will assess your age and level of fitness before attempting to manipulate your body by movement, soft tissue massage and muscle stretches. They are also very skilled at easing arm and shoulder problems; pelvis, hip and leg problems, and sports injuries.
Pet Therapy
Both UK and US research has shown that owning a pet can not only have certain health benefits, but that it can actually prolong your life. One study proved that being a pet owner can help women overcome the pain and fear associated with breast cancer, while one even suggested that animals can smell cancer on your breath. That’s why the UK’s Pets as Therapy charity makes it possible for cats and dogs to visit people in hospitals, residential care homes and hospices.
Paradigm Shift Technique
Paradigm Shift Technique – or PST – also fits our ‘P’ category and is a non-invasive alternative therapy which can release even deep-rooted emotional issues quickly, easily and permanently – with no need to re-live or recount bad experiences or trauma. A gentle ‘swiping’ movement is applied down the spine to boost oxytocin (a natural feel-good chemical produced by the body) levels in the brain. This, combined with tackling troublesome or negative emotions, can cause an amazing positive shift in perception. This is what we call the ‘Paradigm Shift’. Once negative emotions are released, clients feel lighter as if a weight has been lifted from their shoulders and are calmer, happier, more confident, have clarity of thought, and feel more assertive and personally empowered. Negativity can literally stop us moving forward in life but PST can help us to overcome negativity by giving us the confidence and freedom to move on. Funnily enough, it’s exactly what I specialise in.
Qi Gong
Slow and graceful movements and controlled breathing are the essence of Qigong – a bit like Tai Chi. It’s an ancient Chinese form of meditation and means ‘working with the qui’ (or ‘life energy’). The idea is to control the flow of energy through a serious of choreographed movements and poses, and meditation and breathing techniques.
In reflexology, each area of the hands and feet represents a particular organ in the body, which is divided into 10 different zones: five on the left and five on the right. Trained practitioners feel for abnormalities elsewhere in the body by feeling the hands and feet and then apply pressure using specific thumb and finger techniques – massaging each area to stimulate the flow of blood, energy, nutrients and nerve signals to the corresponding part of your anatomy. The great thing is that anyone can benefit, from babies to the elderly to pregnant women, although doctors are quick to point out that it shouldn’t be used in place of medical treatment in cases of serious illness. Rumour has it that it’s particularly helpful to Multiple Sclerosis sufferers who experience regular urinary tract infections. Sessions can take up to anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half, but they don’t come cheap. Expect to pay around £30 for a private session.
Shiatsu, which is also known as acupressure, is the traditional Japanese art of healing through finger pressure massage. It can help to reduce stress and high blood pressure, improve circulation, calm anxiety and nervous tension and heighten mental and spiritual awareness. There are a whole host of other benefits to be had, too, and what’s more, it’s extremely relaxing and a pleasure to receive.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) dates back more than 3,000 years and is completely different to any type of treatment developed here in the West. Its work is based on a holistic understanding of the universe and on the laws and patterns of nature. Therapies are wide and varied and include acupuncture, dietary therapy, herbal medicine, massage and qigong and are often used in tandem to treat almost any condition, from acne to hair loss to sexual dysfunction. Trained TCM practitioners will assess you by carrying out some observation checks, paying particular attention to your tongue; by listening and sometimes smelling you; by feeling your pulse or palpating certain parts of your body, and, of course, by asking you lots of questions. The symptoms of more serious conditions, such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes and AIDS have been known to respond well to TCM and this type of acupuncture has helped people with nausea as a side-effect of chemotherapy.
This is a form of Greek medicine which prescribes a combination of diet, drugs and healing drinks to help you live the healthiest life possible.
Visualisation can help you to think more positively and focus. Simply put, it means that once you are deeply relaxed, you can use your mind to create positive mental images of what it is you really want.
Water Cure
People have believed in the healing powers of water for thousands of years – using spas, hot springs and floatation tanks to boost wellbeing. So water cure is really just a posh name for any treatment involving H2O, whether it’s hydrotherapy, taking a dip in the hot tub or drinking mineral-rich water.
X – Kissing Therapy
Everyone loves a good smooch – and now scientists have discovered why! Apparently, when we pucker up, we release chemicals to reduce stress. But this could just be the beginning because, according to researchers, the science of kissing (or ‘philematology’), is vastly understudied.
Almost everyone has tried yoga by now and it’s still one of the gentlest and most relaxing ways to tone up, improve your flexibility and soothe the mind. But there are so many forms of yoga on the go that the trick is to find the one that’s best for you. Hatha is great for beginners who still need to learn the basic postures and relaxation techniques and a typical class will be slow and gentle. Dynamic Flow is a really graceful form of yoga and has sometimes been described as “meditation in action”, while Iyengar normally uses lots of props, like blankets, straps and blocks to work your body to its comfortable maximum.
Zen meditation is a brilliant way to relax the mind and is typically done in the lotus position. It involves deep, natural breathing on which you must focus for at least ten minutes a day to feel the benefits. The only real tricky bit is stopping your mind from wandering.
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