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Holistic Medicine: 5 Examples of Cultures Where It Rules

Image: Holistic Medicine: 5 Examples of Cultures Where It Rules
Healing herbs in white ceramic mortar and pestle. (dreamstime)

By    |   Sunday, 12 Oct 2014 11:51 AM

Holistic medicine — the philosophy of treating body, mind, and spirit together — is being incorporated into standard medical treatment throughout the world.

For many cultures, the term “holistic treatment” is used to refer to alternative or complementary medicine, which uses natural remedies to treat and prevent illness and disease. In those societies, such holistic treatment has been the standard of care for centuries. Here are five places and cultures that have strong focuses on alternative medicine:

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• Native Americans – The medicine of Native Americans was a combination of practices gathered from more than 500 nations that were in the Americas over the centuries.

“Specific practices varied among tribes, but all native medicine is based on the understanding that man is part of nature and health is a matter of balance,” The Center for Health and Healing said. "The natural world thrives when its complex web of interrelationships is honored, nurtured, and kept in harmony.”

Some of the natural remedies used by Native Americans have not been well studied, but others are in tune with modern medicine. For instance, one pain remedy used the bark of a willow tree, which contains acetylsalicylic acid — or what we know as Aspirin.

• Middle and Near East – Some of the oldest information we have about ancient medicine comes from cuneiform tablets found dating back to 3000 BC in the ancient Mesopotamian period. Many of the tablets highlight prescriptions used by physicians of the time to treat their patients, while some are treatises on medicine.

While some of the medical practices still used today began in those times (such as using bandages), many include treatises and prescriptions, Iran Chamber said. Other cultures also developed medical knowledge separately, including Egypt, where ancient texts from around 2635 BC talked about physicians, including women physicians, who practiced amazing surgery and mummification techniques, Iran Chamber Society said.

Those roots grew a strong belief in alternative medicine in the area. The preservation of that ancient knowledge is important to the culture; in 1995, younger generations were failing to learn about the medicinal plants and treatments of their ancestor, and the Middle-Eastern Medicinal Plant Project was started to collect information and also to research the medical legacy.

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• The Maori culture in New Zealand — Traditional Maori healing, still in use in the country today and passed down by medical practitioners through generations, takes a holistic approach. Mauri (spark or life force), wairua (spirit), and tapu (natural law) along with Whakapapaor, or genealogy, was part of healing.

“The connection between the elements and sickness or medical problems was the key to the craft of the tohunga,” NewZealand.com said. “Skilled in the use of healing herbs and plants found in Aotearoa, the tohunga made rongoā or tonics, preparations and prescriptions, used mirimiri or massage, karakia or incantations and prayer, and wai tapu — water therapy, including suffusions, steam and heat applications.”

• China — Traditional Chinese medicine is thousands of years old, and it is holistic in the true sense of incorporating both alternative medical treatments with herbal medicines and also various mind and body practices like acupuncture and tai chi.

To understand the ancient holistic practices, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine said it’s important to understand the following facts about traditional Chinese medicine:
  1. “The human body is a miniature version of the larger, surrounding universe.
  2. Harmony between two opposing yet complementary forces, called yin and yang, supports health, and disease results from an imbalance between these forces.
  3. Five elements — fire, earth, wood, metal, and water — symbolically represent all phenomena, including the stages of human life, and explain the functioning of the body and how it changes during disease.
  4. Qi, a vital energy that flows through the body, performs multiple functions in maintaining health.”

• India — Ayurvedic medicine, as the traditional medicine practiced in India is termed, is about the same age as the tablets from Mesopotamia. At 3,000 years old, the practice is one of the oldest medical systems in the world.

“The term ‘Ayurveda’ combines the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (science or knowledge). Many Ayurvedic practices predate written records and were handed down by word of mouth,” according to NCCAM. “Key concepts of Ayurvedic medicine include universal interconnectedness (among people, their health, and the universe), the body’s constitution (prakriti), and life forces (dosha), which are often compared to the biologic humors of the ancient Greek system. Using these concepts, Ayurvedic physicians prescribe individualized treatments, including compounds of herbs or proprietary ingredients, and diet, exercise, and lifestyle recommendations.”

These are, by no means, the only cultures that use traditional healing philosophies and techniques that have been handed down for generations. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, 40 percent of adults use some form of alternative treatment when dealing with their health.

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Holistic medicine - the philosophy of treating body, mind, and spirit together - is being incorporated into standard medical treatment throughout the world.
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Sunday, 12 Oct 2014 11:51 AM
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