Your body's ability to heal itself is a guiding principle of integrative medicine. That doesn't mean you can't help it along a bit.
"The world is moving on from this idea that you either take the conventional approach or you take the CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) approach," says Brent Bauer, medical editor for "The
About 38 percent of American adults use some form of alternative medicine, according to the Mayo Clinic. Still, questions and misperceptions swirl around even the most common integrative approaches. Here we look at four modalities that are worth getting to know.
What is it: a 2,500-year-old Chinese medicine practice in which thin needles are inserted through the skin at strategic points to balance the body's "qi," or "chi" (energy flow). "Acupuncturists try to change the flow of energy," Bauer says. "Unblock a blocked area, slow down a channel that's going too fast."
What can it do? The National Institutes of Health released a 1997 statement concluding that acupuncture is effective in treating adult postoperative and
How to get started: Ask your primary care physician to recommend a licensed acupuncturist. You can also turn to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's website (nccaom.org) for a practitioner registry. "You want to make sure the practitioner is NCCAOM certified," says Miller. "It's the only real benchmark we have to assure a level of competence and excellence and continuing education." He recommends scheduling five to 10 treatments before you assess whether it's helping you.
What it is: the process of kneading and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments on either a targeted part or the entire body with varying degrees of pressure. Different types of massage offer different benefits. Deep-tissue massage applies heavier pressure to target the layers of muscle and connective tissue that lie deeper in the body. Swedish massage typically uses longer, lighter
What can it do? "Massage has a million applications," says Bauer. "We know that
How to get started: Talk to your physician about finding a qualified massage therapist and determining which type of massage is best suited to your needs. Forbes notes that with any holistic practitioner, your comfort level and ability to relax are paramount, but particularly so with massage. "If you can't really relax in this person's presence, no amount of credentials on their wall will change that."
What is it: a Japanese method by which a Reiki master positions his or her hands slightly above your body in a dozen or so different formations to raise the "ki," or life-force energy, in and around you. Each position lasts a few minutes.
What it can do: "Like healing touch, reiki can promote relaxation," says Bauer. "One study suggests it may positively affect
How to get started: The International Center for Reiki Training offers a national list of Reiki practitioners and teachers at reiki.org. Reiki masters usually teach students to perform the relatively simple techniques on themselves, so the time and cost risks are low. It's difficult to measure how and whether Reiki is working for you, Bauer says, other than "how it makes you feel." "If you feel more relaxed, chances are your body is going to do better, regardless of the challenges you are facing," he says. "As an adjunct to conventional care, almost any patient could explore it and see if it helps them. As a direct treatment, for a specific medical condition, the research isn't there yet."
What is it: the practice of focusing your attention, often on your breathing or a particular object or mantra. Yoga, tai chi and Qi gong are forms of meditation incorporating physical movement and breathing exercises. Other forms (mantra, mindfulness, transcendental) focus on increasing awareness of the present and an attempt to achieve total stillness.
What it can do: Research shows meditation helps with
How to get started: Check if your community hospital, health clinic or fitness center offers workshops or mindfulness-based stress-reduction programs. You can also try training CDs and DVDs, though Miller recommends in-person training. A local acupuncturist or holistic physician can probably point you to a good training program. Start small, and aim to increase over time. "30 minutes a day is a good goal for most of us," says Bauer. "More is even better."