Tag Archives: alternative medicine

Healing Hands: Physical Therapy for function, mobility, and comfort

I  have discovered a unique, highly effective form of physical therapy that combines the best elements of personal training with muscular therapy. Valerie Ruccia Eagan has developed her own brand of physical therapy that uses hands-on techniques, core- strengthening, and flexibility-building exercises, as well as mind-body energetic work. Her method cuts to the root of physical pain and mobility problems to provide deep and lasting healing.

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Healing, Marfan Syndrome

Healing the Soul: Shamanism and Psyche

Do you ever feel in the grip of anger, fear or sadness that are sometimes triggered by  seemingly trivial events? That perhaps well up in you from the depths of your childhood and are sometimes powerful enough to cause health problems related to stress and tension? Psychologist Ann Drake, PSy.D., opens her book, Healing of the Soul: Shamanism and Psyche (Revised edition,Busca Inc., NY. 2009) with a challenge to readers:

Join her in her struggle to understand mental and physical illness in new ways that lie outside of the Western way of understanding. She invites us to ponder existence from new and varied perspectives, to take what makes sense, validating it with our own internal wisdom, and, finally, to create our own meaning.

What are these new perspectives? They include seeing how energy, spirit, and psyche interface to create the unique psychological reality of each person. Drake is a scientifically trained practicing psychologist who has devoted her career to finding the connections between the conventional practice of psychotherapy and the ancient healing practices of Shamanism—which holds that the loss of part of one’s spiritual essence or soul, often happening as the result of childhood trauma, can result in psychological pain and even physical illness. For many years she has studied Shamanic practices with a Bomoh—an indigenous healer—in Borneo, bringing back new and deeper understanding and skills to add to her psychology practice.

While cognitive therapy focuses on the rational aspects of the mind, Shamanic healing enters a deeper, energy level. Describing powerful stories of healing the “inner worlds” of her clients, Drake says, “Many of us find ourselves stuck in images and feelings from childhood. These images and feelings create an energetic imprinting.  The hurtful, rageful words of a parent stick to a child’s energy field as if to Velcro, haunting the child [and persisting as the child grows into adulthood] with feelings of shame and inadequacy….” Blockages to the removal of this harmful energy persist in our habitual ways of thinking, says Drake. But Shamanic  work [which focuses on the flow of energy] can remove these blocks and restore the soul to wholeness and the body to health.

This book is an excellent introduction to the potential for deep healing and the alleviation of suffering by combining the science of psychology with the mysterious world of the soul.

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Filed under psychotherapy, Shamanism

The Medical System Gave Up On Me

In 1995 I woke up from routine heart valve surgery with the left side of my body paralyzed from a stroke caused by the surgery itself: A tiny piece of tissue had broken away from the valve, traveled through blood vessels and lodged in my brain, blocking the flow of blood with its essential supply of oxygen to the neurons that controlled movement on my left side. I was 43 years old, married, with two young children.

If I had obediently followed the prescribed role of stroke patient in the world of conventional medicine, I would be an invalid in a wheelchair today. Instead, I am back at work as a medical journalist, paying taxes instead of collecting social security.

I recovered because “adapting” to my disability — which is what the insurance company doctor (who had never met me) told me to do after two months of occupational and physical therapy — was not an acceptable option for me. I didn’t want to buy shoes with Velcro, buttonhole fasteners or devices to hold a tomato steady so I could slice it. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or use a wheelchair in the airport. And I certainly didn’t want to spend valuable recovery time learning to use adaptive devices.

During my recovery, the health providers whom I found most helpful were those who recognized the devastation and despair that I felt as the result of this physical calamity. They saw me not just as a patient, but also as a wife, mother, writer and even amateur musician. In their understanding I found the encouragement, strength and hope that I needed to fight back to recovery.

The doctors I found least helpful were those who saw me not as a whole person, but rather as a “stroke patient:” These included the neurologists who shrugged and said “wait and see” when I told them that they must be wrong: I needed my left arm and I needed to be able to walk; and the heart surgeon who breezed into my hospital room just long enough to say, “Sorry you stroked, but heart-wise you’re fine.”

I quickly learned that while the advances of modern surgery can save your life, the conventional medical system — along with the insurers who pay for it — is not set up for full recovery.  The goal of the system was to get me out of the hospital or rehabilitation facility and send me home. What happened after that was up to me. The insurance company doctor (the one who never met me) told me that I had “plateaued,” which meant that while I had made progress in physical and occupational therapy, there would probably be no further improvement. I was at an impasse and additional intervention would be counterproductive (not to mention expensive).

As a patient, it feels as if the health insurers and many doctors want us to accept and “adapt” to our disabilities — whether we are recovering from a heart attack or stroke, suffering from chronic illness or pain or trying to manage the difficulties of growing older.  It is easier to prescribe pills and adaptive devices than to help us take responsibility for our bodies and our health.

I chose to fight my way back to recovery, and this is a tough thing to do for those of us who are accustomed to seeing our doctors as omniscient beings who control our health.  I learned about methods of healing outside of mainstream conventional medicine,including Traditional Chinese Medicine, chich has used acupuncture for thousands of years to treat stroke patients . Yoga, from the equally ancient Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine, gave me strength, balance and peace of mind. The Alexander Technique — a powerful system of movement education — taught me to use my body with less effort and reduced pain. Pilates exercise coaxed my weakened muscles back to work and craniosacral therapy restored my body’s natural rhythms.

I was fortunate: I had the will, the family support, the research skills and the financial means to pursue unconventional healing methods. Fighting the system is much harder for those who don’t have the money, the knowledge of alternative therapies or the emotional strength to keep up the lonely struggle for recovery.  Too often, such people live with pain, disability and despair.

Doctors must understand what illness means in the lives of their patients. They must use their positions, their authority and their words wisely. They have the power to heal, but they also have the potential to destroy hope and, along with it, the chance to recover.


Filed under acupuncture, Alexander Technique, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Doctors, Stories of Hope, stroke, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Story of Hope: “All I wanted to do was hug my children.”

One Sunday morning in February 1997, Jacqueline Miller was standing on a  stool hanging curtains in her son’s room.  The last thing she remembers before she found herself covered in blood on the floor is beginning to get down off the stool.  “We figured out later that I must have lost my balance, “ she says.  “I had apparently hit my face — hard — on the corner of my son’s desk.”  The impact had severely injured her spinal cord in the area of her neck and she would need 150 stitches for the lacerations in her face.

Jackie’s spinal cord injury had transformed her in an instant from an outdoor enthusiast, scientist and mother of two young boys to someone who could not walk, turn a page or feed herself.  The prognosis was grim: Doctors told her that she would be permanently paralyzed below her waist, with minimal movement in her arms and hands.  “One of my doctors told me that the best recovery I could hope for was to be able to eventually shuffle 10 feet down the aisle — with a walker — at my son’s wedding,” says Jackie, adding quickly, “They were wrong.” When the extent of the traumatic injury finally sank in, Jackie was in shock and disbelieving.  “All I wanted to be able to do was hug my children,” she says.  “And I couldn’t even do that.”
Those who know Jackie best describe her resilience and determination, and these two qualities, along with her sense of humor, have helped her reclaim her life. She is back at work “more than” full-time and recently got back from a trip to Rome and Morocco with her husband. Her son called the donkey “Mom’s Moroccan wheelchair.” Read more of Jackie’s inspirational recovery here

— Here are pictures of Jackie on her trip; She had been told she would be  quadriplegic:


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Filed under Chronic Pain, Healing, Stories of Hope, Uncategorized

Sleepless, With Wet Socks

If you can’t sleep because you are worrying about the economy, the state of the country, or anything else, try wet socks: a seemingly magical solution to insomnia! Integrative physician and expert in European Natural Medicine Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., explains:

Of all the weird alternative cures, this must be the weirdest – wet socks against insomnia. No sane person would believe in witchcraft like this. Yet everyone who tries it declares, “But it works like a charm!”  Including me.
This is how it goes: You need a thick towel or two, and two pairs of socks, preferably one woolen, one of cotton.
You wet the cotton socks with cold water (just as it comes from the faucet). You wring them lightly and put them on. Over the wet socks, you pull the dry woolen socks. You go to bed and wrap your feet in one or two towels. You switch off your light.
Quite probably, the next time you look up, it is morning – and you slept like a baby. The swaddling might be part of why the Wet Socks work so well against sleeplessness: They return you instantly to your pampered childhood and blissful sleep.
There is another factor, too: Scientists tried to find out which parameter was linked to good sleep. As many as they tried – like empty stomach, dark room, white noise, milk as a night cap, counting sheep, and so on – one factor was consistently linked to NOT sleeping: cold feet. And the Wet Socks, as cold and uncomfortable as they sound, really turn your feet toasty warm in no time.
No, I didn’t invent it. Credit Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) with finding this solution to insomnia long before modern science proved him right. Give it a try!

If you want more details, check out Fleckenstein’s book.


Filed under Insomnia, Sebastian Kneipp, Water, wet socks

Healing Arts for Marfan and Chronic Pain

I recently helped to organize a Healing Arts workshop for the National Marfan Foundation annual meeting, which was held in Boson this year. More than 30 participants heard and asked questions of a panel of complementary/alternative practitioners who discussed managing the symptoms of Marfan syndrome—particularly chronic joint pain—with Tai chi, the Alexander Technique, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), nutrition, and craniosacral therapy. Combining alternative treatments with conventional care is called “integrative medicine,” and putting together your own personal healing combination is an excellent way to take responsibility for your health. These healing modalities have applications for anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The workshop began with Tai chi and Alexander teacher Jamee Culbertson leading us in the opening movements and breathwork of a Tai chi form that is thousands of years old. Research has found that these ancient, graceful, meditative movements improve balance and reduce falls. As we breathed deeply and moved slowly in unison, the room seemed to transform into a kind of “sacred space,” as the group united with a shared purpose and energy. With two volunteers, Jamee then demonstrated how the Alexander Technique reduces pain and eases body movement through simple awareness of habitual actions that may be restricting activities. Both Tai chi and the Alexander Technique are gentle, non-invasive practices, and do not stress joints or ligaments.

Eurydice Hirsey, a trained chiropractor and craniosacral therapist, then talked about the use of craniosacral therapy to ease pain and improve movement by enhancing the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid. This is done through gentle touches on the head and sacrum, following the body’s own natural rhythms and movements, without force or pressure. While chiroporactic may not be indicated for most people with Marfan syndrome, the light touch of craniosacral therapy can ease tight muscles and reduce pain, even in those who have had spinal fusions, by focusing on other areas of the body where movement is possible.

Acupuncturist and researcher Stephen Cina shared his orthopedic investigations into the nature of connective tissue and its possible relationship to the meridians (energy pathways) used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. A practitioner either inserts tiny needles into “points” on the skin that correspond to the energy meridians (the needles are usually painless), or applies pressure with the hands (acupressure) on these same spots, in order to reduce pain. And naturopathic intern Amanda Daeges–who has Marfan syndrome, talked about maintaining integrity of connective tissue through what we eat and drink: specifically whole foods and whole grains that include nutrients and trace minerals. She also stressed the importance of drinking enough water. (Divide your body weight in half to find out how many ounces of water you should drink each day.)

All of these complementary modalities (and many more) are described in detail here, has well as profiles of practitioners and personal experience stories.

VERY important: Before you try any complementary/alternative practices, always check with your doctor.


Filed under acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Chronic Pain, Health, Marfan Syndrome, Tai Chi, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Alexander Technique for Depression

This is the beginning of an interesting post about the Alexander Technique as a treatment for depression and mental illness: “In our culture today the connection between physical and emotional problems is gaining currency. Surprisingly, the best answer to coping with the stresses of life is by using a hands-on approach that straightens the body. This technique can help in balancing moods, changing behavioural patterns and managing life’s challenges.”

I have studied the Alexander Technique for years and found it useful for body alignment and functioning without pain. The beneficial effect on depression and psychological problems is news to me, but I can certainly believe it. Here is a link to the post. And here is a link for more information about the Technique.


Filed under Alexander Technique, depression, mental health

Yoga for PTSD in a Military Hospital

How progressive of the US military to use yoga as a treatment for soldiers returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. As reported in the May 6 Washington Post, the Specialized Care Program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center focuses on helping service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with the flashbacks and nightmares typical of post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects 20 percent of the approximately 1.6 million U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a Rand study released last month. The program uses a guided meditation technique called yoga nidra, which I know from personal experience to create a profound state of relaxation.


Filed under Healing, Health, mental health, Uncategorized, Yoga

Paying for alternative treatments

Research is increasingly demonstrating the effectiveness of certain complementary/alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage, tai chi, yoga, meditation and biofeedback for chronic pain, reduced mobility and other ailments. Why then are more insurance companies not paying for them? I think more of us need to “vote with our feet” by demanding coverage for proven alternative treatments and switching to insurance companies that pay for them. We and the health care system will all benefit. As one study found, support for lifestyle changes that prevent disease is far cheaper than hospitalization and expensive pills!


Filed under acupuncture, Chronic Pain, Health, Tai Chi

FDA says no cold meds for kids under 2- but there are alternatives

Today, the government issued a Public Health Advisory warning parents that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products should not be used to treat infants and children under 2 because of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects, including convulsions, rapid heart rates, decreased levels of consciousness, and death.

So what to do when your baby or toddler has a cold? There are a number of safe alternative treatments in Own Your Health: Your Sick Child, by John D. Mark, M.D., of Stanford University Medical School. These include herbal remedies, saltwater nose rinse, herbal steam inhalation, and anti-inflammatory foods—such as hot blueberry soup.

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Filed under children's health, colds and flu