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The numbers speak for themselves; by 2025 the value of the complementary and alternative medicine market is expected to soar to £150 billion worldwide (a leap from £30 billion in 2015), with the main growth in Europe. In short, it appears that if we’re not already au fait with the healing properties of traditional Chinese medicine and other treatments that hail from the East, we’re learning – fast! But why? ‘Nowadays, people are taking more responsibility for their health,’ says Kate Winstanley, an acupuncturist based in London. ‘Unlike our parents, who followed the doctor’s orders with precision, we’re now coming to realise that there are alternatives to the drugs we’re prescribed.’
Whether you’re suffering from eczema, IBS, migraines or all three, alternative medicines don’t treat them separately but assume there is a fundamental imbalance that needs to be addressed. Where historically in the West we’re all about pursuing the ‘cure’, the Eastern approach to medicine is to put prevention at the forefront of healthcare.
So, if you do want to balance the body’s energy, what treatments should you try?
Whether it’s keeping a rose quartz by your bed (helps attract and keep love, don’t you know) or drinking water from a bottle infused with the shiny rocks themselves, there are many ways to get into the crystal craze. ‘Crystals are healing devices because they channel energy,’ says Laura Franses, founder of Crystal Sound Lounge in London. It’s said that we gravitate towards the crystals that we subconsciously need through feeling their energy properties, and there are a whole host of them to choose from. Take aventurine, a stone that fortifies mental powers and bestows luck upon its company, or amethyst, a stone that helps increase spirituality and get rid of addictions.
One way to get your crystal fix is by heading to a sound bath, an LA import that essentially uses crystals to transmit sound waves in a room in which you’re lying down. ‘Your brain goes into a different space,’ says Laura, ‘because the vibrations slow down your brainwaves.’ at means that after about 10 minutes you drop into a meditative state and your ‘chattering monkey brain’, which never stops whirring, shuts down. Not only do you get the crystals’ good vibes but it’s an easy, effortless way for a little peace of mind. Something we could all do with.
The backbone of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can be summed up by an old Chinese proverb that says ‘a drop of prevention is worth a bucketload of cure’. The onus is on maintaining good health so that illness can’t get a foothold rather than having to cure bad health. ‘At the heart of Chinese philosophy is a belief that the key to longevity lies in balance and moderation,’ says Katie Brindle, a Chinese medical practitioner and founder of the Hayo’u method.
So what does a TCM practitioner do? Through herbal medicines and treatments such as acupuncture and reflexology, they prevent and treat maladies consistently rather than waiting for illness to become severe and then tackling it. ‘The signs and symptoms that show imbalance include bad skin, poor sleep, IBS and mental illness, to name a few,’ Katie says, highlighting that these are issues many of us suffer with.
The idea that many of our chronic modern illnesses can be put down to inflammation in our cells (take acne or rosacea, digestive problems and constant tiredness) is widely accepted in Western medicine now, but this has been around for years in Chinese medicine and, as Katie points out, ‘arises as a result of the fundamental yin-yang imbalance’. She compares it to the engine of a car: if we’re to run our engine on a high gear using poor quality fuel, oil, a lack of lubrication and cooling fluid, then our engine overheats (aka inflammation) – it’s the same if we subject our bodies to poor quality food, air and water, overwork and physical and emotional stress. Eventually we break down.
To remedy this, we (or an Ayurvedic practitioner) must tap into the energy at our meridian channels, the energ y points that sit along our body, by using touch. Katie’s Hayo’u method distills key elements of TCM into short, simple rituals that you can do yourself daily to help reduce stress and inflammation, and boost circulation GETTING TO THE POINT
Under the umbrella of TCM sits acupuncture, an age-old treatment (from at least 100BC) that is said to help treat everything from insomnia, depression and food cravings to addiction, fertility issues and even relieve the side effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The practitioner puts the nest, hair-width needles into skin at some of over 600 points (or meridians) on the body, which connect to specific organs and bodily systems. The aim is to balance – and release – the ow of energy in the body because the belief is that it’s the disruption of ow that triggers illness.
‘Acupuncture stimulates the body’s own healing responses,’ says Kate Winstanley, who gets the all-round scoop on her clients’ health – digestion, menstrual cycle, sleep – to understand what seems to be out of balance before getting to work with the needles, even if the primary reason for coming is something very specific, such as a persistent headache. ‘I stimulate acupuncture points with the needles to trigger a healing response in the body and bring it back into equilibrium,’ she says, highlighting that the side effect is that all symptoms disappear; not just the headache, but that IBS, hellish period pain and poor sleep they’re suffering from too. ‘We work on the whole system to make everything work better.’
Acupuncturist Ross Barr agrees. ‘It improves the efficacy of the organs and helps recalibrate the endocrine system [which produces hormones] to return to its default setting, the way we were designed to feel before external factors, such as phones, tablets and the constant stream of information, put us in this frantic state,’ he says. Recommending at least six sessions to start with, Kate then suggests once a month for a couple of months and then four times a year a er that to keep the body in balance.
And then there’s the acufacial, which many well-known clients flock to her for – the acupuncture points on the face and neck are stimulated to prompt blood flow and the skin’s innate healing response (which produces collagen for a plumping effect). ‘People want natural alternatives that actually work and, while Botox may be getting better and subtler, it doesn’t necessarily make you look glowing, bright-eyed and well-rested,’ says Kate. Acufacials, on the other hand? A temporary facelift without the toxins.
Reflexology also works on the ancient Chinese theory that your whole body is mapped on to your feet, hands and ears, and is carried out in Asia and China on a weekly or even daily basis to stay well. ‘So many people come to me when they find that there is no treatment that works through conventional medicine,’ says Rosanna Bickerton, founder of Hands On Feet. ‘And while reflexology is not a one-hit wonder, like taking a pill, it does help to reduce stress and then a whole host of issues melt away.’
KNOW YOUR DOSHAS
TCM’s Indian counterpart is the 5,000- year-old Ayurveda which, translated literally from the sanskrit, means ‘science of life’. Like TCM, the Ayurvedic tradition also deals in the currency of balance. Namely balancing the body’s energies – or doshas – for a healthy mind, body and soul. ‘An Ayurvedic practitioner wouldn’t tell a patient with a rash on their skin to just use a cream,’ says Anita Kaushal, founder of Ayurvedic skincare brand Mauli. ‘They will find out emotionally, mentally and physically what’s caused it. Ayurveda is about taking stock of the unified whole and treating them equally with herbs, massage and diet.’
The doshas – the three key earth energy types that each of us can be assigned to – are fundamental to Ayurveda. ere are pitta (fire), vata (air) and kapha (earth) elemental types, and we are all made up of finely tuned measurements of each one, although one tends to dominate (our primary dosha). If your dosha balance is disturbed, whether that’s from stress, jet lag or an insomniac toddler, the imbalance will manifest itself in illness, much like with TCM. Diet, for one, is important in helping to regulate your dosha. ‘If a pitta type is stressed, avoid giving them a hot curry as you can’t put fire out with fire,’ says Anita. Don’t know your dosha? Look no further than maulirituals.com for a quick diagnostic dosha quiz.
And then there are the seven chakras, the centres of spiritual power in the body that are aligned from the base of our spines to the top of our heads and include the ‘third eye’, which you might already know about through practising yoga. Much like the Chinese meridians, these areas are said to be connected to the nervous system and need to be free- owing for life to be calm. They close when we’re sad but we can open them using meditation and breathing to stimulate a positive ow of energy. Aveda’s Chakra body mists, £30 each, are designed to be spritzed on and deeply inhaled to help this process and heal the body.
And for an Ayurvedic doctor? Word of mouth is best, or head to the Ayurvedic Professionals Association (apa.uk.com).
The concept of healing has been around for generations, but is often swept to one side as a bit u y and the stomping ground of only the most die-hard holistic hippies. Not any more; it’s moving into the common sphere with astounding pace and we’re getting to grips with our spiritual sides more than we have in years. ‘Healing is a way of talking about spirituality and energy without it having a religious function,’ says Emma-Lucy Knowles, a London-based healer and author of The Power Of Crystal Healing. ‘People are looking for something that will ground them in the here and now; they want to talk about their traumas through touch rather than language.’
Reiki, a hands-on healing technique from Japan, is growing in popularity. ‘It’s about calming down the mind enough to sleep, rest and heal,’ says Gill Cro , who works from London yoga studio Triyoga. ‘We have a lot of anxiety and we don’t know what to do with it. I help the body return to its natural rhythm.’ Others, she says, come to her to help find their way through a ‘life’ traffic jam or for a body MOT to reset their system. ‘All of this stuff gets stuck somewhere in the meridian system. If it sits for longer than is healthy it will damage the body.’ The therapist’s task is to use their hands to guide the body’s ow of energy into equilibrium.