Holistic practices look at a problem as a whole. Whole body, whole system, whole person, never just a single symptom or issue. As an herbalist, it’s important to me that I continue to learn and educate myself on new and effective ways to prevent illness and treat current issues holistically. These are a few of my favourite things I have learned a bit about recently and will continue to explore! Enjoy this list and let me know if you’ve ever had experiences with any of them, or have recommendations for me to research later! I’m not an expert on any of these topics, and want to stress that these are just tiny snippets of what each practice encompasses. I encourage you to do your own reading and learn from the experts after looking for inspiration in this post!
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a holistic view of treating and preventing illnesses, and encompasses many incredible practices. In TCM, patients are evaluated as a whole with many moving parts. TCM differs from allopathic medicine in that it treats specific issues rather than symptoms or diseases. Practitioners of TCM seek to understand and treat the root cause of a bodily imbalance, and use techniques such as acupuncture, herbalism, and reflexology to treat them. It also has a heavy focus on preventative maintenance, and promotes healthy eating, exercise, and herbal medicine as part of a healthy lifestyle. It is an ancient and revered form of medicine that one could spend a lifetime learning about. I recommend watching videos such as “A Brief History of Chinese Medicine” by Tess Lugos and “Basic Concepts of Chinese Medicine” by Professor Hung-Rong Yen for an introduction into TCM!
One of the main practices associated with TCM is acupuncture. Acupuncture makes use of hair-thin needles and the fascial grids within our bodies. We run on electrical impulses that control our smooth muscles, run through our nerves, and control every move we make. Within and under our skin, fascia connects our muscles to our skin. Acupuncture is thought to be using this fascia as well as the nervous system in the area to reduce inflammation, tension, and deeper issues throughout the body. However it works, studies have shown acupuncture to have real benefits to the body and profound effects on the brain. I was lucky enough to work alongside an acupuncturist for several months, and had the opportunity to watch people with nerve damage find more motion and feeling, and to see chronic headaches slowly disappear over the course of several treatments. I saw the visible twitching and releasing of tense muscles, and heard skeptical patients explain how they actually felt energy rushing to the area, and later, relief from their pain. It’s an amazing practice I am so lucky to have encountered. If you ever have the chance, find a good acupuncturist and ask them to explain their process to you as you receive treatment. I guarantee it’s worth your time!
Herbalism and the Use of Supplements
Herbalism is, of course, near and dear to my heart. It has been practiced across the world in a variety of ways since the dawn of time. Every culture has their own special form of herbalism, much like they do cuisine. Herbalism works by extracting or otherwise ingesting the phytoconstituents in plants to use as medicine. Different phytoconstituents have different effects on the body, ranging from relaxing nervines to balancing adaptogens. Making use of these plant medicines can be done in a variety of ways, the simplest being by eating the plant raw, and the more complex methods involving extraction and blending with different solvents. It is a simple and intuitive science driven by exploration through our senses and experiences. Thanks to the preservation of knowledge over thousands of years alongside the dawn of the internet, we have an unthinkably open web of knowledge regarding herbalism. Everything I have learned has come from books, videos, blogs, and webinars, most of which are free to access online. This very blog is dedicated to the education of herbalists all over the world, and I like to think one day it could be a valuable tool for beginners and masters alike. For now, I share my resources and learning plans as I myself become good friends with the practice, and encourage you to explore it for many resources and guides to get started with! Check out the page “Beginner Herbalism” for a landing spot of all things herbalism on this blog.
Yoga originated in Northern India about 5,000 years ago, perhaps in the Indus region. It appears in the Vedic texts, a group of sacred Hindu writings. It is now a worldwide practice of immense diversity, and has become part of mainstream culture here in the U.S. Yoga involves stretching the body, strengthening it, and using breath and meditation to truly connect to yourself and the world around you. It focuses less on the end pose you may or may not achieve at any given point in your journey, but more so on getting there, and having the right technique. Yogis stress not pushing past your abilities, and maintain that slow progress is the name of the game. The practice of yoga is more important than flexibility or gracefulness.
Yoga comes in many forms, and can be adjusted to suit the lifestyle and abilities of everyone. Whether you prefer the gentle flows of vinyasa yoga or the breath-based meditative style of hatha yoga, there’s a practice for you. If you prefer more athletic and energy-moving practices, consider looking into Bikram yoga. Or, if you find yourself needing gentler, less intense poses, try chair yoga and make use of aids like yoga blocks, towels, and straps.
While you may be picturing someone closing their eyes and thinking of flowers or an apple orchard to escape the chaos of daily life, meditation comes in many different forms, and isn’t about thinking of “nothing”. Instead, it happens when we are in tune with our minds and let ourselves feel emotions and remember moments without attaching to them and allowing them to consume us.
Traditional meditation involving mindfulness, breathing techniques, and the act of letting go can be beneficial to everyone at one point or another, but may not be practical for people who struggle with clearing their minds enough to truly listen in on their thoughts. In truth, meditation can be just as effective, if not more so, when our hands and other senses are preoccupied. For example, I find it easiest to meditate when I am making something with my hands. Whether that be through sewing, sculpting, drawing, or painting, I find myself much more relaxed and open to exploring my thoughts when I don’t have to hold still or force myself to sit a certain way. I encourage you to be mindful of when you feel the most open, and use that as an outlet for meditation.
Massage therapy is a soothing albeit painful (at times) process that helps our muscles relax, promotes healing, and can reduce pain and inflammation over time. By manipulating muscles manually, they release tension as well as purge excess uric and lactic acid buildup. Regular massages can reduce the healing time of injured or strained muscles, and can make stretching easier afterwards.
Myofascial release focuses on gently breaking up the bonds between skin and muscle to increase mobility and reduce pain. Trigger point therapy finds “knots”, or tightly wound spots in the muscle, and uses pressure and small movements to get them to release. Other techniques such as Effleurage are extremely gentle and are great for anxiety and stress reduction. Massage generally helps promote blood flow and circulation to an area, which in turn nourishes the muscle and speeds up healing. You can learn how to do a massage on yourself or your partner by watching YouTube videos on the techniques you’re interested in, or you can seek out professional treatment from a licensed massage therapist. There are many niche techniques to explore as well, including lymphatic drainage, which is a very unique and interesting topic to learn about!
I hope these brief introductions to a few of my favourite holistic practices inspires you to take an interest in them, and in your health in general. Let me know which one sounds the most interesting to you, and feel free to drop other suggestions for others to explore in the comments! Don’t forget to share this post if you found it insightful!
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