Humans have come quite far in terms of medicine, technology, education and science. But no matter how much technology and new advancements we have available today, there are ancient practices – some as old as 5,000 years – that are still incredibly valuable in the world of health and wellness. Incorporate thousands of years of wisdom into your world. Read on to find out about six ancient techniques that promote health and wellness in modern life.
An alternative form of medicine that dates back nearly 5,000 years, Ayurveda originated in India and supports wellbeing through use of particular foods, herbs, yoga and healthy living practices. According to Ayurvedic principle there are three basic doshas (energetic dispositions): Vata, the element of air, movement; Pitta, the element of fire, transformation; and Kapha, the element of earth, growth. Those who follow Ayurveda philosophy believe that each of these elements exist in a person, but some elements are more prominent than others. In order to be healthy and happy, all must be in balance. Practitioners develop individual plans for each person according to their dominant dosha and particular imbalances. Ayurveda (under the supervision of a professional) has been used in the West to treat depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia and other medical conditions. As the interest in alternative medicine continues to grow, organization such as the National Cancer Institute are now funding research to explore the benefits of these practices. One study of two Ayurvedic herbal remedies has shown promise against cancer cells – in vitro and on animals.
Related: Ayurveda and Cancer
2. Tai Chi
Legend has it that this ancient martial art practice dates back as far as 12th Century China. It is considered a moving form of meditation that pairs slow, structured movements, meditation and deep breathing. In Chinese philosophy, it serves to smooth the flow of chi in one’s body, which promotes health. When brought together, these components produce numerous physical and emotional benefits to those who consistently practice the martial art. The main advantage of this type of exercise is that anyone can do it. Tai chi is low impact, very gentle and offers positive results quite quickly. Researchers have reported that tai chi promotes proper balance, increases lower body and arm strength, alleviates symptoms of arthritis, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, increases sleep duration and can even help with symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease. A small 2008 study published in Gait and Posture, found that “people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson's disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 tai chi sessions.”
Buddhist Mikao Usui developed the spiritual practice of Reiki in Japan in 1922. In this alternative medicine, the hands are believed to be the conduit for healing energy in the form of chi (energy or life force) when placed over a sick person’s body. It is also used to calm and restore balance in a worried mind. Practitioners of the Western Reiki form utilize a specific set of hand positions, while those who practice traditional Japanese Reiki tend to rely on intuition to determine healing hand placement. Conclusive evidence for this technique is limited, however, some research suggests Reiki is particularly beneficial for those suffering from anxiety, depression, stress and pain. In a 2008 review of 24 therapeutic touch studies, it was found that those who received Reiki therapy -- by an experienced practitioner -- saw greater benefit in pain reduction than those receiving other types of touch therapy.
Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. William H. Fitzgerald and his partner Dr. Edwin Bowers introduced reflexology, which dates back to ancient Egypt, in the early 1900s. The practice suggests that the feet, hands and ears have pressure points that are connected to other areas across the entire body, and manipulating particular points on the ears or one of the extremities can improve health in a corresponding body part. Although research is not conclusive, some studies have found that reflexology can help alleviate pain, promote relaxation and relieve anxiety and depression. A 2007 study compared having partners of cancer patients reading to them versus administering reflexology. The patients who received reflexology reported lower levels of anxiety and pain after the treatment.
Scholars speculate that the yoga philosophy, which teaches suppression of mind, body and will to distinguish the self and achieve permanent peace, dates back as far as 500 BC -- or even earlier -- in India. The word “yoga” is Sanskrit for the English word “yoking” (related to “joining” or “uniting”). The goal of yoga is to bring the physical body, mind and soul into balance and, thus, union with each other. Hatha yoga, the system of using breath practices, meditation and asanas (or body postures) to reach that union, has become one of the most popular forms of exercise in the last century, but especially this past decade in the United States. Weight-bearing poses held for several breaths are intended to help the body to build lean muscles in a meditative environment. Researchers have also found that a consistent yoga practice (3-5 days a week) promotes low blood pressure, increases bone density, facilitates proper digestion and improves clarity of thought and immune function.
Over 2,000 years old, this ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles under the skin at pressure points throughout the body is used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and calm the body and mind. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine believe that when there are blocks in one’s energy, disease and sickness occur. They believe that acupuncture creates a clear passageway for one’s chi (energy or life force) to flow freely through the body. Each time a needle is inserted into one of the 14 meridians (energy pathways), pressure is put on the surrounding nerves and muscles, a message is sent to the brain to release endorphins (pain-numbing neurotransmitters) and the pain is then relieved. Treatments last around 45 minutes and practitioners recommend 8-12 sessions. Research on whether acupuncture really works is mixed. A 2012 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine assigned 18,000 subjects suffering from chronic pain randomly into one of three groups: acupuncture, sham-acupuncture and no acupuncture. The results found that the acupuncture group experienced superior effects on pain reduction in comparison to the other two groups. However a December 2013 study published in the journal Cancer included 47 women who were on aromatase inhibitors for early-stage breast cancer. Half were randomly assigned to a weekly acupuncture session for eight weeks; the other half had sham acupuncture sessions, which involved retractable needles. Women in both groups reported an improvement in certain drug side effects, such as hot flash severity, but there were no clear differences between the two groups. The doctor who led the study concluded that it was a “placebo effect.”
Related: Acupuncture for Chronic Pain
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever tried acupuncture, Reiki, reflexology, yoga, tai chi or ayurveda? What was your experience? Did it provide benefits for you? What were they? Leave a comment below and let us know.