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A to Z of complementary medicine

It seems that more and more people are turning away from the orthodox medicine of hospitals, GPs and pharmacists and looking for alternative or complementary forms of medicine to help with illness or other complaints.

The British Medical Journal has identified six main practices in complementary medicine as being important: these are acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, herbal medicine, homeopathy and hypnotherapy. We take a look at these to see what they are and what they can offer.

The Alexander Technique

What is it?
Practitioners will teach you how to improve the way you 'use' your mind and body, with a view to improving your overall well-being. The learning process will involve finding out how to improve your posture and your attitude to health, to avoid slovenly habits like slouching, and generally keep your joints and muscles supple.

What can it do for me?
As you learn the technique you should find some aches and pains are alleviated, you give your body more freedom to move and breathing, circulation and digestion can all be improved.

Where can I find out more about it?
The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique is the best place to start, on 0171 351 0828 or on the web at http://www.stat.org.uk

Aromatherapy

What is it?
Aromathertapy is said to help us relax and improve our overall well-being using the properties of essences or essential oils extracted from the bark, flowers, fruits, leaves, seeds of specific plants. Oils are usually diluted for massaging into the body or are breathed in or added to a bath.

What can it do for me?
Aromatherapy is claimed to help relaxation and reduce stress and even rejuvenate the body. Different oils are also used for specific problems such as headaches, allergies, menstrual pain and nervous tension.

Where can I find out more about it?
The Aromatherapy Organisations Council can provide information on different forms of aromatherapy - call 01858 434242. Their web site is at www.aocuk.net

Massage

What is it?
Massage is a way of stroking, kneading, and pressing muscles and tissues to relax you mentally and physically. Massage can be gentle or more forceful, and some masseurs focus on just the muscles, while others  include the joints and others may massage the ‘trigger points’ used by acupuncturists

What can it do for me?
Most people enjoy a relaxing massage but it can also stimulate the body and mind. Gentle massage may release the body's natural painkilling compounds, endorphins. Stronger massage can help increase blood flow and clear the toxic products of everyday metabolism from the lymph system.

Where can I find out more about it?
The British Massage Therapy Council is on 01772 881063 and their web site is at http://www.bmtc.co.uk.

Where can I find out more about it?
There are many different types of meditation, some based on religious practices, others forming part of other forms of complementary medicine. The best place to start to find more information is the British Complementary Medicine Association on 01373 461873 or at http://www.bcma.co.uk

Meditation

What is it?
Meditation is a state of mind that one can enter by various methods, including the repetition of a phrase or ‘mantra’, or focusing on a pleasant vision. It’s said to bring inner peace in which distractions are ignored. Practitioners say that they not only achieve heightened mental awareness during meditation, but that there are physical benefits as the body relaxes too.

What can it do for me?
First of all, it can help you relax more deeply. This can bring mental benefits like relieving stress and anxiety, but may also help you sleep better, relieve headaches, and even help lower high blood pressure. Many practitioners believe meditation can also boost the immune system to help fight off illness.

Where can I find out more about it?
There are many different types of meditation, some based on religious practices, others forming part of other forms of complementary medicine. The best place to start to find more information is the British Complementary Medicine Association on 01373 461873 or at http://www.bcma.co.uk

Nutritional therapy

What is it?
Most forms of medicine involve advice about diet and nutrition. Nutritional therapy takes the idea that ‘we are what we eat’ one step further, and says that special diets and food supplements can be used to alleviate physical and psychological symptoms of many different illnesses.

Some approaches involve finding deficiencies of vitamins or minerals, while  others involve eating and drinking foods that are said to 'detoxify' the body. More specialist diets such as the Hay and the Ornish diets involve not mixing particular food types in the same meal, or excluding some foods from the diet altogether.

What can it do for me?
Lots of complaints can be caused or made worse by an unsuitable or poor diet. There are demonstrated links between what you eat and cardiovascular disease while attacks of migraine, allergies and asthma can sometimes be triggered by problem foods.

Where can I find out more about it?
There are so many forms of nutritional therapy that the best place to find out more information is your GP, if you think a dietary change might help you. Your GP can also carry out specific tests for deficiencies and make you sure you are have a balanced diet. The Association of Natural Medicine can provide more information on 01376 502762.

Reflexology

What is it?
Reflexologists map every part of the human body to a point on the foot. By pressing the feet to find sharp or tender points, reflexologists say they can find ‘imbalances’ elsewhere in the body. They then systematically massage and press the feet to stimulate the corresponding organs in the body. This is said to activate the body's natural healing powers.

What can it do for me?
Reflexologists say that there are more than 100 ailments, including pre-menstrual syndrome, that can be treated with the technique, although there is little scientific evidence to support this. However, most of us appreciate the relaxing effects of a foot massage. While the mapping of parts of the foot to organs in the body has not been proven by science, massage does stimulate blood flow, and this can help the body clear away toxic by-products from the everyday workings of our cells.

Where can I find out more about it?
The Association of Reflexologists is on the web at http://www.aor.org.uk or can be contacted on 0870 5673320

Reiki

What is it?
Reiki involves a 'laying on of hands' technique, which practitioners claim allows the so-called 'universal life energy' (‘rei ki’) to be channelled into areas of the body where it is needed. There is little scientific evidence for reiki therapy, although some doctors might see it as beneficial alongside conventional treatments.

What can it do for me?
Reiki is said to help relieve stress and related conditions such as headaches, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. Practitioners say it can also be used to treat pain and even speed up wound healing.

Where can I find out more about it?
The Reiki Foundation website is at http://www.reikifed.co.uk/ and the Reiki UK web site is at http://www.pentagram2001.co.uk/sitehost/reikiuk/

Relaxation and visualisation

What is it?
This is a technique that can teach you to use your imagination to cope with stress, achieve an ambition or even activate the body's self-healing process. Relaxation and visualisation can be a part of positive thinking and many doctors see positive thinking as a useful tool in keeping us well.

What can it do for me?
The main benefits might be in stress relief, motivation and personal development. Practitioners also believe visualisation can be used to control pain, allergies and even immune system disorders.

Where can I find out more about it?
The best place to find out more information might be your GP, or you could try the library for one of the many self-help books. The British Complementary Medicine Association on 01242 519911 or at http://www.bcma.co.uk might also be able to help you find a practitioner in your area.

Shiatsu

What is it?
Shiatsu is a form of massage. A shiatsu specialist will use their fingers, hands, elbows, and knees to apply pressure to specific points on your body. The aim is to free the flow of so-called Qi (pronounced chee). Qi is said to be a kind of life energy that courses through our bodies and when it is blocked ill health occurs. Other complementary medicine disciplines such as acupuncture  also focus on Qi.

What can it do for me?
Shiatsu can be both relaxing and stimulating. It is thought to stimulate the blood circulation and release the natural toxic by-products of everyday metabolism so they can be flushed from the body by the kidneys. It can help relieve stress, fatigue and various ailments such as headaches and menstrual pains

Where can I find out more about it?
The Shiatsu Society are on the web at http://www.shiatsu.org or you can call them on 01733 758341

Sophrology

What is it?
Sophrology, derived from the Greek syllables ‘Sos’ meaning tranquil or calm, ‘Phren’ meaning Mind & inseparable body and ‘Ology’ meaning science or study of, in short the study of relaxation and its effects on the mind and body, this also includes the study of the therapies that achieve relaxation.

Clinical Sophrology

Clinical Sophrology is a therapy in its own right and is practised throughout Europe and Japan, utilising the healing properties of deep relaxation based on proven techniques, specialities include Natural Childbirth, Fertility, Respiratory illness, Phobias & OCD, Eczema along with many other illnesses.

What can it do for me?
Clinical Sophrology will teach you to relax easily and deeply. This can bring about many mental benefits relieving stress and anxiety associated with illness, thus allowing the sufferer to gain full control of their bodily functions and allowing the sufferer to become their own therapist.

Where can I find out more about it?
Educational programs for Schools, Colleges and Universities are available for those wishing a clear understanding of Complementary therapies along with courses to improve the quality of research. To find more information in the UK, contact The Serene Clinics UK on (029) 20514565 or (01446) 730423 or at http://www.serene.clinics.uk-therapists.net

Yoga

What is it?
Yoga is a form of exercise, but also a way of life taught by practitioners with the aim of training the mind and body to increase well-being. The practice involves various postures which can be gentle or more stimulating, and often involve stretching muscles as well as balancing.

What can it do for me?
As a form of relaxation yoga can improve your state of mind. The postures, which can be gentle, or in some forms of yoga quite vigorous, are said to increase joint and muscle suppleness, improve muscle tone, aid digestion and improve breathing.

Where can I find out more about it?
The British Wheel of Yoga is on 01529 306 851 and their web site is at http://members.aol.com/wheelyoga