Holistic therapies and medicines don’t just treat the disease; they treat the entire individual on all levels of being including mind, body and spirit. The word “holistic” is a relatively new distinction, but the concept of this type of care dates back at least 2500 years. The description of “alternative” is only used to differentiate this type of medicine from the more “conventional” medicine.
So how long have human beings been practicing holistic medicine and how have these alternative therapies and homeopathic products developed?
The ancient Greek Hippocrates was the father of holistic medicine and he believed that in order for the human body to be healthy, all of its fluid essences needed to be in a balanced equilibrium. He placed a lot of emphasis on the healing powers of lifestyle and diet and he focused on supporting healing, rather than just curing disease. He believed in the power of fresh air, healthy food, massage, art, personal hygiene, rest and socialising with friends – in order to keep a person healthy and well.
Another popular school of alternative medicine is aromatherapy, which was discovered in the early 20thcentury by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. He discovered the idea of healing essential oils by accident, because he burned his arm and attempted to relieve the pain by using the nearest liquid he could find – which happened to be lavender essential oil. He noticed that the burn healed much more quickly and did not leave a scar.
Massage is a healing practice with an even longer history. It dates back to around 3000 BC in China, where the very first known writings about massage were found. Massage has been practiced all throughout Egypt, India, Rome and Greece – even athletes would get a massage before competing in the ancient Olympic Games. Massage is still used today to help pamper, relieve stress and ease pain and discomfort.
Medicine was practiced in this way for several centuries. It’s important to remember that these “alternative” therapies were originally the conventional ways of healing. This was, of course, until in the 19th century when things began to change. This was when the scientific revolution was in full swing and new drugs were appearing.
The holistic idea of keeping the body in harmony and balance was abandoned in favour of drugs that seemed miraculous because they could relieve symptoms and pain. Also, modern technology and equipment allowed scientists and doctors to see into the inner workings of the body and observe every microscopic blood cell and the function of the organs. When the printing press was invented, this allowed people to write about medical knowledge and disperse it widely, teaching new methods of healing at schools and universities all over the world.
Unfortunately, although these drugs worked very effectively, they often had terrible side effects. These days, there is still a debate as to which type of medicine is better.
As we look back into the history of holistic and conventional medicine, we can see that the major difference between these two is the way that they perceive illnesses and ailments. According to conventional medicine, ill health is identified as specific symptoms which can be cured or suppressed by specific drugs and treatment. In contrast, holistic medicine looks at illnesses as a primary imbalance and a disharmony within the body, which manifests itself as secondary physical symptoms.
For example, if you are stressed out, worrying and not getting enough sleep this will manifest itself as a physical ailment. Holistic healing takes into consideration all aspects of health, from physical to mental to social well-being in order to work toward a well-balanced state. This is why many stress-related disorders have been known to respond well to holistic therapies.
Of course, there are advantages to both types of medicine and areas where they fail. You would not attempt to treat cancer or a serious virus or infection with massage, hypnosis or essential oils – you would need conventional drugs and treatment to cure the disease. However, holistic medicines can work alongside conventional medicine in order to provide preventative care and to promote a healthier state of being.
Jeremy is a writer and blogger who has written for a number of health and wellness related publications. He is interested in holistic health and alternative therapies.