How Do We Heal?

Recently, a scholar and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (a medical system that originated 5,000 years ago in China) showed me a plant with a withering, yellow leaf. He is trained as a conventional orthopedic surgeon with additional certification in acupuncture and herbal medicine. After many years of practice, teaching and research, he has thought a great deal about how we heal, and he was trying to explain his views to me.

He pointed to the leaf and said, “What shall we do about this? We can perform surgery and cut it off, but if the plant is having a problem growing, this will not help. We can spray the surface of the plant with chemicals to kill any pests that may be attacking it, but that will not stop pests from returning. Or, we can nourish the soil in which the plant is growing, strengthening its roots and increasing the flow of water and nutrients throughout the stem, branches and leaves. This will help the plant become more resistant to pests and disease.”

If you have a broken bone, uncontrolled bleeding, a heart attack, a concussion or some other acute problem, you want an ambulance, a hospital and all of the sophisticated technology of modern medicine and surgery. But what if you are living with chronic pain, a degenerative disease such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, or ongoing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis or Marfan syndrome?

Modern medicine cannot yet cure such conditions. At best, your doctor can offer you medication — along with the attendant risk of side effects — advice about lifestyle modifications, and physical or occupational therapy.

But what if we asked our doctors to see us as more than a collection of symptoms? What if we also tried to strengthen and nourish our own potential to heal? How can we become more resilient to disease and pain? These are the kinds of questions I have explored in my books and will be hoping to discuss with others through this blog.

11 responses to “How Do We Heal?

  1. Leon

    Cold bathing have great healing benefits. I been off of medications for both allergies/asthma since Jan. ’08


  2. Pingback: Strength and Serenity for Women With Cancer « Own Your Health

  3. Jamie Savage

    To what extent do we have the ability to control the tissue healing process with our brain and intense meditation? I heard that we can control the dispersion of stem cells to certain areas of the body by focusing our minds on them.


  4. Jamie Savage,

    If I had cancer, I certainly would try to visualize myself to better health. Although, in truth, science about this is still murky. But preliminary studies seem to indicate that a positive outlook helps people survive cancer better. If it has to do with stem cells, cytokines, hormones, or whatever – we don’t know yet.

    If I had cancer, I would also eat a healthy diet, full with greens and anti-oxidants. I would assemble my loved ones around me to hold my hands during this difficult time of my life. I would make an effort to get enough sleep. I would do regular, moderate exercise like walking and rope jumping. And I would end each hot shower with a cold one.

    If you asked this because you or someone close to you has cancer, I wish you all the best.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.


  5. We underestimate ourselves, we really do.

    I am an Neuro-Linguistic Programming Trainer and in all the years of working with people with cancer, multiple-sclerosis and chronic fatigue among other illnesses, I have witnessed at first hand, people healing from all of these, some are said to be incurable. I know it is not just working with the mind, but also something higher, greater. If you have a major disease, don’t believe it’s the end of your time (if you don’t feel it is) because believe me, you can do more. Start doing your own research, because within your beliefs, you hold the answer to all quests and questions – Change your beliefs and you’ll change your life.


  6. Rik,

    Thank you for your insightful comment.

    Life and death are both real, both have their place – and we can choose, to a degree.

    Many people are disappointed and burnt out and bitter, and really don’t want to live anymore.

    On the other hand, I have seen people die who would have loved a few more years of vibrant life. -Life is not fair, and poses many questions. I don’t know the answers. As a physician, I watch and comfort and try to lend a hand.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.


  7. I’ve spent many years working on this issue and what I’ve learned is that healing which is not the same as cure, involves mind, body and spirit. Check out to see if there are some things that might provide some new insight.


  8. Lovely piece on Chinese medicine. I’ve practiced tai chi and qi gong for a number of years and I know what you mean about how Western medicine deals with more catastrophic bodily problems. Keeping people healthy, not so good at that.

    Lovely blog.


  9. Traditional Chinese Medicine has much to teach us about treating the whole person and encouraging our natural healing ability. Thanks for your site.


  10. Thanks for your holistic medicine approach and your own writing! The world needs more clinicians like you.


  11. tcriggs

    Thank you for the refreshing perspective! I look forward to reading more!


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