Orthodox medical treatments have achieved a well-deserved reputation in the areas of surgical procedures and emergency treatments. However, the sustained use of drugs in certain cases has been criticised by practitioners of traditional medicine. On the other hand, the absence of scientific evidence to confirm the way in which the natural therapies work has prevented orthodox medical acceptance of them on any significant scale. The philosophies of orthodox medicine and traditional natural therapies are in fact quite different, in some areas even diametrically opposed, and until recently it has been virtually impossible to even begin to bridge the gap in understanding. For example, much of allopathic medicine is palliative – drugs are used to suppress the symptoms of a particular condition – whereas the natural therapies try to isolate the underlying cause of the problem and help the patient as a whole person to eradicate it. Both methods can offer immediate help in reducing pain and distress.
Such is the complexity of sickness and disease that it is possible to offer only broad outlines in discussing the relative merits of each system. Science has, over the years, tended to look at the human (and animal) being as if it were simply a collection of cells which in turn are made up of atoms and molecules. This approach has strengthened the symptomatic concept and the idea that we can get ‘a pill for every ill’. Although it is convenient to have drugs such as paracetamol and aspirin to control sudden aches and pains, researcher continue to look for a lasting cure for the more persistent problems. This is why the holistic approach of traditional medicine, which treats the whole person and not just the symptoms present at one time, is becoming increasingly popular, although comparatively few people really understand what it means or how the treatments should be carried out.
Traditional medicine sees the individual as being composed of three elements – the physical body, the mind, and the consciousness or spirit. ‘Spirit’ when used in this context refers to a ‘life energy’ or vitality which is present in all living things. At death, this life energy leaves the physical body, which then decomposes. The ancients believed that this energy plays an integral part in health and disease, and consequently it forms a significant part in all traditional healing methods. It may be called by a variety of names but it is recognized as the principal factor in healing. Yoga, for example, an ancient philosophy of discipline and health, is much concerned with the use of the mind and the way in which spiritual energies are transmitted into the physical body. This occurs at points which the yogi call ‘chakra’ and these are associated with the endocrine glands. They are seen as terminals where the spiritual energy, directed by the higher consciousness of the individual, is brought into the physical body to give it life. Yoga places great stress on the correct attitude to life and the environment because negative thinking over a long period ultimately inhibits the free flow of this life energy.
The role of the mind in health
The mind and the attitudes with which it is ‘programmed’ can play an important part in the creation of health and disease. It follows from this that every person has some responsibility for maintaining his or her own health and ensuring that the energy flow between body, mind and spirit is maintained. In the healthy individual, sleep and relaxation are usually enough to ensure that the system is brought back to normal regularly each day so that one awakes revived. Disease, in the view of the traditional therapist, is not usually caused by germs such as viruses because these are present at most times. Rather, disease occurs when the immune system of the body is not functioning correctly so that germs are allowed to breed and cause the symptoms related to the disease. The immune system keeps us healthy by killing and disposing of invading germs, but prolonged stress and negative thinking can act as a depressant and prevent it from working correctly. Rest and relaxation are the natural answer and these give the body every assistance to repair itself and regain the balance which has temporarily been lost. Here we should not always think of rest and relaxation as sleeping or watching television, but rather as doing something quite different from the usual pattern of everyday life.