The Mind-body Connection in Alternative & Complementary Medicine
We live in a small world. Daily technological advances make places and concepts that once seemed far away appear closer and closer. We have access to so much at our fingertips that the average individual has become a wizard. With the click of a finger on a touchpad, we can see a video of yesterday’s game-winning home run, learn next week’s weather predictions in Moscow, or look up the exact wording of Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution. With so much information available, we learn more about what it means to be human every day. We are no longer limited to the sphere of experience contained in one time and place—we have access to it all. While this can make for quite an overwhelming reality, it also allows us to make new connections and draw new comparisons, furthering our knowledge and advancement.
How does this relate to the field of human health? Medical and scientific advances reveal new information about the human body as well as help us understand ancient customs and systems of knowledge. For example, recent studies conducted at the Aging Research Center in Beijing and UCLA's AIDS Research Center, (The Aging Research Center in Beijing, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, and UCLA's AIDS Research Center, www.sciencedaily.com) have shown that Astragalus root, traditionally used in Chinese medicine, slows down the rate of telomere shortening and improves DNA reparability. Telomeres are regions of DNA located at the ends of chromosomes, which help keep the chromosomes from deteriorating during replication (they can be likened to the plastic wrapping at the end of a shoe lace). The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to three scientists who discovered that telomeres have a shortening mechanism that limits the total number of cell divisions, which contributes to the aging process and lifespan. Astragalus root has been used for thousands of years to strengthen the immune system and promote longevity. Since serious diseases such as cancer and AIDS affect cell reproduction and telomere function, there are strong implications for the use of Astragalus root in treating these diseases.www.telomere.net; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov; www.sciencedaily.com.
Scientific studies that bring to light new information about ancient forms of medicine can help us gain a greater understanding of the human body and what is called the “mind-body connection.” This kind of work is part of the growing field of Complementary Medicine, which encompasses a broad group of medical systems, practices and products that are not generally considered part of conventional, or allopathic medicine, but may be used in conjunction. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health), “mind-body medicine focuses on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior, with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health.” This includes meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage, hypnotherapy and tai chi, to name but a few. Some of these modalities are new, and some are very old; but all are continually evolving and can be employed alongside allopathic medicine. To learn more about the mind-body connection and Complimentary Medicine, visit the NIH website at www.nih.gov.
One benefit of living in a time with so many choices is that different types of therapies may work better for different individuals at different times, and when combined, often have a synergistic effect. Thanks to advances in modern medicine, lives are saved daily with complex procedures that ancient humans would have deemed miraculous. With some health conditions, alternative therapies may be utilized before an individual undergoes a serious surgery. In the case of sciatica, for example, a combination of stretching, acupuncture and massage may be applied before a surgical procedure is engaged. There are more and more treatment possibilities for health concerns on every level. It’s important to thoroughly research different options as well as consult with a trusted health care professional when making these decisions, and to discuss past or present therapies employed with those involved in treatments. When the mind-body connection is explored, the journey to obtaining optimal health and well-being can be exciting and empowering.
As I researched Benicia businesses for this article, I was struck by the number of qualified, compassionate, dedicated health care professionals available in our community—who, regardless of the type of medicine or healing they practice, are committed to helping people achieve their wellness goals. Below are profiles of some of these businesses.
NorthBay Medical Center is committed to compassion and excellence, depth and breadth of service, recruitment of outstanding staff, and continued development of state-of-the-art services and technology. The Women’s Health Center offers treatment for women, designed by women, and a variety of resources for women’s health. www.northbay.org
The Women’s Health Library can be found on Northbay's website and contains detailed resources on General Medicine, Gynecological Care, Health and Beauty, Mental Health, Relationships and Health, Nutritional Concerns, Breast Cancer, Exercise, and Natural and Alternative Treatments. Women’s Health coaches are also available. The Women’s Resource Center, located on the North Bay Medical Center campus, has books, CDs, DVDs and books on tape for lending to the general public.
Magic Hands Healing Center is co-owned by Christina Lombardi, CMT and Shawna Miller, CMT. The business consists of a group of independent massage therapists as well as a licensed acupuncturist. The practitioners work together to ensure the best treatment. According to Miller, each therapist uses different techniques, “and we all refer [patients] to each other so they get the maximum healing benefit.” The staff at Magic Hands seems genuinely committed to helping clients find the practitioner and therapies that best suit their needs and preferences. Each therapist has his or her own page on the website to explain their specialties and services, which helps potential patients feel at ease before even stepping into the office. Services provided include both Swedish and deep tissue massage, acupuncture, somatic therapies, healing work and nutritional consulting. The healing center also offers an array of natural products, including essential oils, books, Chinese herbs, and honey from bees belonging to one of the practitioners. Lombardi has her own line of herbal salves, face and body creams and teas. Blue Hawk salves and creams use a base of organic olive oil mixed with herbs and essential oils. These botanicals can also be found online at www.bluehawkpower.com. www.magichandshealingcenter.com.
Wellness Wisdom, started in 1997 by Laura Kohl, offers an array of holistic services, massage modalities, acupuncture, skin care and waxing, Reiki and other services; now featuring Nutritional Analysis. After an extensive informational questionnaire, the patient receives a report on imbalances and a recommendation of appropriate herbs and vitamins to restore balance. www.wellnesswisdom.us.
Piel Medical Aesthetics, Center for Intelligent Health, features a talented staff of physicians, nurses and aestheticians who offer complimentary and alternative medical remedies for various ailments, as well as skin care options such as botox and laser treatments. Visits begin with a complimentary consultation, establishing a treatment plan to achieve the patient’s goals, with an emphasis on revealing natural beauty. Among the many services offered are Homeopathy, Adrenal Fatigue Screening and Body Composition/Weight Management Programs. Piel also incorporates holistic products. www.pielmedspa.com.
Halo Skin Spa is new to Benicia. Beautifully designed and appointed, the studio focuses on effective, nourishing skin care treatments. Owner Francesca Cavanaugh uses “a unique array of the purest, highest quality, multi-purpose products made with care and creativity.” She is committed to using cruelty free, organic products from small, family, or women owned businesses. www.haloskinspa.com.
Family Health Center has been a primary care facility for over thirty years, helping many thousands of people. The talented staff of five doctors now includes a DO, or Doctor of Osteopathy. Osteopathic medicine focuses on treatment of the whole person with an emphasis on prevention and health maintenance.
Marleen’s Yoga and Thai Massage combines the traditional arts of yoga therapy and Thai massage, which aims to stimulate “the flow of energies within the body, to achieve a state of harmony between these energies and a balance for optimum health.” Marleen offers group classes and private sessions. www.marleensyoga.net.
There is something about Benicia—the waterfront, the history—that invites quietude and self-reflection. It is in moments of stillness that the body speaks to us. It tells us when it’s over-worked, hungry, tense, curious, sleepy, happy. As the mind-body connection becomes engaged, we learn more about what we want and need. With the help of talented, compassionate health care practitioners, we learn how to get it.