You may be new to using alternative medicine or perhaps you have already seen the amazing benefits alternative medicine and alternative therapies can bring to your life. But do you know how long it has been practiced and where it originated? Well, let me take you on a journey into the fascinating history of alternative medicine.
The history of Alternative Medicine is an interesting one and has links with many different cultures. However, it’s difficult to say exactly when Alternative Medicine began, in part because up until recently the practices that fall under this term were the conventional medical practices of their time. But if we go back in history and trace several of the forms of healing that are now labeled as alternative, we find that their origins go back as much as 5000 years.
One of the oldest forms of alternative medicine can be traced back through Chinese history. The ancient Chinese, in much the same way as alternative medicine, is used today, based their healing on the importance of the body and spirit being in balance. Much of the philosophy of Chinese Medicine is based on Taoist and Buddhist principals and the belief that a person and their environment are closely interlinked. The widely known principles of Yin and Yang come from Chinese Medicine and are integral to its practice.
Yin and Yang explain how opposing forces are integral to each other and how for harmony within the body to take place, these must be in balance. When these are out of balance, disease occurs. Chinese Medicine works at restoring balance in various ways including herbal medicine, acupuncture, breathing and movement (Tai Chi and Qigong) and also through diet. The practitioner looked at the patient’s health and life in detail to ascertain where their life force or Qi (pronounced Chi) was out of balance. Various methods would then be used to restore the patient back to health. Such was the effectiveness of Chinese Traditional Medicine that it still forms a large part of modern health care in the East. It’s not unusual for these alternative practices to be used in hospitals alongside western medicine.
The other Eastern Culture that has a long history of alternative medicine is India. Ayurvedic medicine dates back as far as 6000 years ago and like Chinese Medicine also has links with Buddhism. Ayurveda comes from 2 Sanskrit words – Ayu meaning life and Veda meaning knowledge of. It is a system of medicine that keeps a person’s body, mind and spirit in tune with nature in order to maintain good health.
In the West, the History of Alternative Medicine goes back around 3000 years. Treatments such as hydrotherapy were popular with the Romans and Greeks. The Ancient Greeks who were greatly influenced by the Babylonians and to a lesser extent by India and China brought herbalism into the West. Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC), a Greek physician commonly referred to as the Father of Medicine, practiced herbal medicine. During the Middle Ages, Monks in Europe studied and grew medicinal plants and translated many works on the subject from Arabic. Folk Healers also passed on their knowledge of healing through word of mouth, from Master to Apprentice. The understanding of the power different plants have is ingrained in many native civilizations and has allowed man to understand and thrive in often challenging environments.
When the Europeans settled in America they found that the Native Americans had an extensive knowledge of the healing power of their indigenous herbs. Likewise, the Aborigines in Australia understood the power of plants found in their environment. Moving forward in time towards the 19th Century, before the rise of Western Medicine, as we now know it, medical practitioners were more like today’s naturopaths. They would take a detailed medical history paying particular attention to the patient’s lifestyle. They would then suggest ways to improve this by changes in diet, environment and would also prescribe herbal remedies.
The widespread use of alternative medicine in its various forms decreased during the 20th Century. Treatment of patients became more focused on the use of hospitals, and developments in modern medicine lead to the widespread use of Pharmaceutical Drugs to treat disease. The discovery of Penicillin and its development into a drug that could treat bacterial infections in the 1940′s revolutionized health care and alternative medicine lost favor with most medical practitioners. Although many Doctors let go of what they considered to be outdated treatments such as homeopathy, herbalism and traditional Chinese Medicine many patients still sort them out, especially when conventional medicine did not appear to be working for them.
The result now is that Alternative Medicine is on the increase. Practices such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, aromatherapy, and healing are kept alive by practitioners who specialize in one or more alternative form of treatment. Frequently alternatives are used alongside modern medical treatments, which have led to alternatives being given the term complementary medicine. This brief history of alternative medicine shows that many of the practices used today have been with us for thousands of years. Given the rising popularity of using alternative medicine to deal with health issues today, it’s likely that these practices will be around for many more.