Fortunately, there is an abundance of modalities and approaches to wellness. Read below to familiarize yourself with some of them. Feel free to suggest additional descriptors or paths to health, healing and personal growth we may have left out at: [email protected]
Acupressure: Based on the same system as acupuncture, but fingers and hands are used instead of stimulation with needles in order to restore the balanced flow of the body’s life energy (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”). This force moves through the body along 12 energy pathways, or meridians, which practitioners unblock and strengthen.
Acupuncture: An ancient Oriental technique that stimulates the body’s ability to sustain and balance itself, based on the theory that an electromagnetic life-force (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”) is channeled in a continuous flow throughout the body via a network of meridians. Disease is understood as an imbalance in the meridian system. Diagnosis of an imbalance is made by “reading” the pulse, face, tongue and body energy. To correct it, a practitioner inserts acupuncture needles at specific points along the meridians to stimulate or disperse the flow of life-force.
Alexander Technique: A system of re-educating the body and mind to support and facilitate proper posture and ease of movement. Through gentle manual guidance, accompanied by verbal directions, the Alexander teacher coaches the student to become aware of unnecessary tension and to unlearn long-standing patterns of movement. The Alexander technique is an established method for helping to improve chronic conditions, including: back, shoulder or neck pain; nervous tension; poor coordination; breathing problems; and vocal strain. It is frequently used by athletes and performing artists to improve performance level.
Aromatherapy: An ancient healing art that uses the essential oils of herbs and flowers to treat emotional disorders, such as stress, anxiety and a wide range of other ailments. Oils are massaged into the skin, inhaled or added to a water bath. Often used in conjunction with massage therapy, acupuncture, reflexology, herbology, chiropractic or other holistic treatments.
Art Therapy: Uses the creative process of making art to improve and enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being, and to deepen self-awareness. The therapist makes a diagnosis and determines treatment plans by encouraging a client to express his or her feelings and unconscious thoughts through the nonverbal creative process and by observing the forms and content created.
Astrology: A system of traditions and beliefs that holds that the relative positions of celestial bodies either directly influence life on Earth or correspond to events experienced on a human scale. Modern astrologers define astrology as a symbolic language, art form and type of divination that can provide information about personality and human affairs, aid in the interpretation of past and present events, and predict the future.
Ayurveda: The oldest medical system known to man and a comprehensive spiritual teaching practiced in India for 4,000 years. It focuses on achieving and maintaining perfect health via the balance of the elements air, fire and water (illness is considered an excess of any element). A patient’s body type—determined according to ayurvedic principles—is the basis for individualized dietary regimens and other preventive therapeutic interventions.
Bioenergetics: A psychotherapy that works through the body to engage the emotions. Performing specified postures and exercises causes the release of layers of chronic muscular tension and defensiveness, termed “body armor”. The unlocking of feelings creates the opportunity for understanding and integrating them.
Biofeedback: A relaxation technique that monitors internal body states. It is used especially for stress-related conditions. Such as asthma, migraines, insomnia and high blood pressure. During biofeedback, patients monitor minute metabolic changes (e.g., temperature, heart rate and muscle tension) with the aid of sensitive machines. By consciously thinking, visualizing, moving and relaxing, they learn which activities produce desirable changes in the internal processes being monitored.
Bodywork: Massage and the physical practices of yoga are perhaps the best-known types of bodywork; both have proven successful in relieving tension and stress, promoting blood flow, loosening stiff muscles, and stimulating the organs. Massage therapies encompass countless techniques, including Swedish massage, shiatsu and Rolfing. The same is true for yoga. Finding bodywork that improves mental and physical health is a highly individual process. Several types may be combined for the greatest benefit.
Chelation therapy: A safe, painless, nonsurgical medical procedure that improves metabolic and circulatory function by removing undesirable heavy metals—such as lead, mercury, cadmium and copper—from the body. A series of intravenous injections of the synthetic amino acid EDTA are administered, usually in an osteopathic or medical doctor’s office. Over time, injections may halt the progress of the underlying condition that triggers the development of various degenerative conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s ‘dis-eases”, and cancer.
Chinese Medicine: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the world’s oldest and most complete systems of holistic health care. It combines the use of medicinal herbs, acupuncture, food therapy, massage and therapeutic exercise, along with the recognition that wellness in mind, body and emotions depends on the harmonious flow of life-force energy (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”).
Chiropractic: Based on the premise that proper structural alignment permits free flow of nerve activity in the body. When spinal vertebrae are out of alignment, they put pressure on the spinal cord and the nerves radiating from it, potentially leading to diminished function and illness. Misalignment can be caused by physical trauma, poor posture and stress.
Colon therapy: An internal bath that washes away old toxic waste accumulated along the walls of the colon. It is administered with pressurized water by a professional using special equipment. One colonic irrigation is the equivalent of approximately four to six enemas; it cleans out matter that collects in the pockets and kinks of the colon. The treatment is used as both a corrective process and for prevention of disease.
Color therapy: Color therapists believe that the vibrations of color waves can directly affect the body’s cells and organs. Thus, different hues can treat illnesses, and improve physical, emotional and spiritual health. Many practitioners also claim that the body emits an aura—or energy field—with colors reflecting a person’s state of health. Color therapists apply colored lights or apply color mentally, through suggestion, to restore the body’s physical and psychic health. Another related sensory healing technique is light therapy, which attempts to restore well-being and can be successful in treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Counseling/Psychotherapy: These terms encompass a broad range of practitioners, from career counselors—who offer advice and information—to psychotherapists treating depression, stress, addiction and emotional issues. Formats can vary from individual counseling to group therapy. In addition to verbal counseling techniques, some holistic therapists may use bodywork, ritual, energy healing and other alternative modalities as part of their practice.
Craniosacral therapy (CST): A manual therapeutic procedure to remedy distortions in the structure and function of the craniosacral mechanism—the brain and spinal cord, the bones of the skull, the sacrum and interconnected membranes. Craniosacral work is based upon two major premises: that the bones of the skull can be manipulated—because they never completely fuse—and that the pulse of the cerebrospinal fluid can be balanced by a practitioner trained to detect variations in that pulse. CST is used to treat chronic pain, migraine headaches, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), ear and eye problems, balance problems, learning difficulties, dyslexia, and hyperactivity.
Crystal and gem therapy: Practitioners use quartz crystals and gemstones for therapeutic and healing purposes, asserting that the substances have recognizable energy frequencies and the capacity to amplify other frequencies in the body. They also absorb and store frequencies, and can essentially be programmed to help affect healing.
Dance/movement therapy: A method of expressing thoughts and feelings through movement, developed during the 1940s. Participants, guided by trained therapists, are encouraged to move freely, sometimes to music. Dance/movement therapy can be practiced by people of all ages to promote self-esteem and gain insight into their own emotional problems; it is also used to help those with serious mental and physical disabilities.
Decluttering: Based on the theory that clutter drains both physical and mental energy, decluttering involves two components. The first focuses on releasing things (clothing, papers, furniture, objects and ideas) that no longer serve a good purpose in one’s life. The second focuses on creating a simple system of personal organization that is easy to maintain and guards against accumulating things that are neither necessary nor nourishing.
Dentistry (Holistic): Regards the mouth as a microcosm of the entire body. The oral structures and the whole body are seen as a unit. Holistic dentistry often incorporates such methods as homeopathy, biocompatibility testing and nutritional counseling. Most holistic dentists emphasize wellness and preventive care, while avoiding and often recommending the removal of silver-mercury fillings.
Detoxification: The practice of resting, cleansing and nourishing the body from the inside out. According to some holistic practitioners, accumulated toxins can drain the body of energy and make it more susceptible to disease. Detoxification techniques may include fasts, special diets, sauna sweats and colon cleansing.
Doula (Birth): A woman who supports an expectant mother through pregnancy, labor, birth and the postpartum period. Studies indicate that support in labor has profound benefits, including shorter labor, less desire for pain medication, lower rate of cesarean section delivery, and more ease in initiation of breastfeeding.
Doula (End-of-life): A person who works with a dying person and their family to create the end-of-life experience that best suits the patient and the family.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): A self-help procedure founded by Gary Craig that combines fingertip tapping of key acupuncture meridian points while focusing on an emotional issue or health challenge. Unresolved or “stuck” negative emotions, caused by a disruption in the body’s energy system, are seen as major contributors to most physical pains and diseases. EFT is easy to memorize and portable, so it can be done anywhere.
Energy field work: The art and practice of realigning and re-attuning the body between the physical, and the etheric and auric fields to assist in natural healing processes. Working directly with the energy field in and around the body, the practitioner channels and directs energy into the cells, tissues and organs of the patient’s body to affect healing on physical and nonphysical levels simultaneously. Sessions may or may not involve the physical laying on of hands.
Environmental medicine: Explores the role of dietary and environmental allergens in health and illness. Factors such as dust, mold, chemicals and certain foods may cause allergic reactions that can dramatically influence diseases, ranging from asthma and hay fever to headaches and depression.
Enzyme therapy: Can be an important first step in restoring health and well-being by helping to remedy digestive problems. Plant and pancreatic enzymes are used in complementary ways to improve digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. Treatment includes enzyme supplements, coupled with a healthy diet that features whole foods.
Feldenkrais method: Helps students straighten out what founder Moshe Feldenkrais calls, “kinks in the brain.” Kinks are learned movement patterns that may have been adopted to compensate for a physical injury or to accommodate individuality in the social world. Students unlearn unworkable movements and discover better, personalized ways to move, using mind-body principles of slowed action, breathing, awareness and thinking about their feelings.
Feng shui: The ancient Chinese system of arranging man-made spaces and elements to create or facilitate harmonious qi or chi (pronounced “chee”)—or energy flow—by tempering or enhancing the energy where necessary. Feng shui consultants can be an asset to both personal and business spaces, either before or after the spaces are created.
Flower remedies: Flower essences are recognized for their ability to improve well-being by eliminating negative emotions. In the 1930s, English physician Edward Bach concluded that negative emotions could lead to physical illness. His research also convinced him that flowers possessed healing properties that could be used to treat emotional problems. In the 1970s, Richard Katz completed Bach’s work and established the Flower Essence Society, which has registered some 100 essences from flowers in more than 50 countries.
Functional medicine: A personalized medicine that focuses on primary prevention and deals with underlying causes, instead of symptoms, for serious chronic diseases. Treatments are grounded in nutrition and improved lifestyle habits and may make use of medications. The discipline uses a holistic approach to analyze and treat interdependent systems of the body and to create the dynamic balance integral to good health.
Guided imagery and creative visualization: Uses positive thoughts, images and symbols to focus the mind on the workings of the body to accomplish a particular goal, desired outcome or physiological change, such as pain relief or healing of disease. This flow of thought can take many forms and, through the imagination, involve all the physical senses.
Healing touch: A non-invasive, relaxing and nurturing energy therapy that helps to restore physical, emotional, mental and spiritual balance, and support self-healing. A gentle touch is used on or near the fully clothed client to influence the body’s inner energy centers and exterior energy fields. Healing touch is used to ease acute and chronic conditions, assist with pain management, encourage deep relaxation and accelerate wound healing.
Herbal medicine: This oldest form of medicine uses natural plants in a wide variety of forms for their therapeutic value. Herbs produce and contain various chemical substances that act upon the body to strengthen its natural functions without the negative side effects of synthetic drugs. They may be taken internally or applied externally via teas, tinctures, extracts, oils, ointments, compresses and poultices.
Homeopathy: A therapy that uses small doses of specially prepared plants and minerals to stimulate the body’s defense mechanisms and healing processes in order to cure illness. Homeopathy, taken from the Greek words homeos, meaning “similar”, and pathos, meaning “suffering”, employs the concept that “like cures like”. A remedy is individually chosen for a person based on its capacity to cause, if given in an overdose, physical and psychological symptoms similar to those the patient is experiencing.
Hydrotherapy: The use of water, ice, steam, and hot and cold temperatures to maintain and restore health. Treatments include full-body immersion, steam baths, saunas, sitz baths, colonic irrigation, and the application of hot and/or cold compresses. Hydrotherapy is effective for treating a wide range of conditions and can easily be used at home as part of a self-care program.
Hypnotherapy: A range of hypnosis techniques that allow practitioners to bypass the conscious mind and access the subconscious. The altered state that occurs under hypnosis has been compared to a state of deep meditation or transcendence, in which the innate recuperative abilities of the psyche are allowed to flow more freely. The subject can achieve greater clarity regarding his or her own wants and needs, explore other events or periods of life that require resolution, or generally develop a more positive attitude.
Integrative medicine: This holistic approach combines conventional Western medicine with complementary alternative treatments in order to simultaneously treat mind, body and spirit. Geared to the promotion of health and the prevention of illness, it neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies, without serious evaluation.
Intuitive arts: A general term for various methods of divination, such as numerology, psychic reading and tarot reading. Individuals may consult practitioners to seek information about the future or insights into personal concerns or their personality. Numerology emphasizes the significance of numbers derived from the spelling of names, birth dates and other significant references; psychics may claim various abilities, from finding lost objects and persons to communicating with the spirits of the dead. Tarot readers interpret a deck of cards containing archetypal symbols.
Iridology: Analysis of the delicate structure of the iris, the colored portion of the eye, to reveal information about conditions within the body. More than 90 specific zones on each iris—for a combined total of more than 180 zones—correspond to specific areas of the body. Because body weaknesses are often noticeable in the iris long before they are discernible through blood work or other laboratory analysis, iridology can be a useful tool for preventive self-care.
Jin Shin (or Jin Shin Jyutsu): A gentle, non-invasive, energy-balancing art and philosophy that embodies a life of simplicity, calmness, patience and self-containment. Practitioners employ simple acupressure techniques, using their fingers and hands on a fully-clothed client to help eliminate stress, create emotional equilibrium, relieve pain, and alleviate acute or chronic conditions.
Kinesiology/applied kinesiology: The study of muscles and their movement. Applied kinesiology tests the relative strength and weakness of selected muscles to identify decreased function in body organs and systems, as well as imbalances and restrictions in the body’s energy flow. Some tests use acupuncture meridians and others analyze interrelationships among muscles, organs, the brain and the body’s energy field. Applied kinesiology is also used to check the body’s response to treatments that are being considered.
Magnetic field therapy: Electromagnetic energy and the human body have a vital and valid interrelationship, making it possible to use magnetic field therapy as an aid in diagnosing and treating physical and emotional disorders. This process is reported to relieve symptoms and may, in some cases, retard the cycle of new diseases. Magnets and electromagnetic therapy devices are now being used to eliminate pain, facilitate the healing of broken bones and counter the effects of stress.
Massage therapy: A general term for the manipulation of soft tissue for therapeutic purposes. Massage therapy incorporates various disciplines and involves kneading, rubbing, brushing and tapping the muscles and connective tissues by hand or using mechanical devices. Its goal is to increase circulation and detoxification in order to reduce physical and emotional stress and increase overall wellness.
Meditation: The intentional directing of attention to one’s inner self. Methods and practices to achieve a meditative state are based upon various principles using the body or mind; they may also employ control or letting-go mechanisms. Techniques include the use of imagery, mantras, observation and the control of breathing. Research has shown that regular meditation can contribute to psychological and physiological well-being. As a spiritual practice, meditation is used to facilitate a mystical sense of oneness with a higher power or the Universe. It can also help reduce stress and alleviate stress-related ailments, such as anxiety and high blood pressure.
Mediumship: A medium professes to mentally see, hear and/or sense persons or entities in a spiritual dimension, and convey messages from them to people in the physical world. Readings focus on evidential messages from recognizable personalities in the spirit world. The messages are delivered as guidance for one’s “highest good”.
Midwife: A birth attendant who assists a woman through the prenatal, labor, birth and postpartum stages of pregnancy. The mother is encouraged to be involved and to feel in control of her birthing experience. Midwives are knowledgeable about normal pregnancy, labor, birth and pain relief options. They respect the process of birth as an innate and familiar process. Certified nurse-midwives are registered nurses who have received advanced training and passed a national certification exam. Nurse-midwives collaborate with physicians as needed, especially when problems arise during pregnancy. (Also see Doula.)
Naturopathy: A comprehensive and eclectic system whose philosophy is based upon working in harmony with the body’s natural healing abilities. Naturopathy incorporates a broad range of natural methods and substances aimed to promote health. Training may include the study of specific approaches, including massage, manipulation, acupuncture, acupressure, counseling, applied nutrition, herbal medicine, homeopathy and minor surgery, plus basic obstetrics for assistance with natural childbirth.
Network chiropractic: Uses Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), a system of assessing and contributing to spinal and neural integrity, as well as health and wellness. Founded and developed by Donald Epstein. Practitioners employ gentle force to the spine to help the body eliminate mechanical tension in the neurological system. The body naturally develops strategies to dissipate stored tension/energy, thus enhancing self-regulation of tension and spinal interference. (Also see Chiropractic.)
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): A systematic approach to changing the limiting patterns of thought, behavior and language. Through conversation, practitioners observe the client’s language, eye movements, posture, breathing and gestures in order to detect and help change unconscious patterns linked to the client’s emotional state.
Nutritional counseling: Embracing a wide range of approaches, nutrition-based, complementary therapies and counseling to seek to alleviate physical and psychological disorders through special diets and food supplements. These will be either macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fiber) or micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements that cannot be manufactured in the body). Nutritional therapy/counseling often uses dietary or food supplements, which can include tablets, capsules, powders or liquids.
Osteopathy/osteopathic physicians: Uses generally accepted physical, pharmacological and surgical methods of diagnosis and therapy—with a strong emphasis on body mechanics and manipulative methods to detect and correct faulty structure and function—in order to restore the body’s natural healing capacities. Doctors of osteopathy are fully trained and licensed according to the same standards as medical doctors; they receive additional extensive training in the body’s structure and functions.
Oxygen therapies: Alters the body’s chemistry to help overcome disease, promote repair and improve overall function. Properly applied, oxygen may be used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including infections, circulatory problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, allergies, cancer and multiple sclerosis. The major types of oxygen therapy used to treat illness are hyperbaric oxygen and ozone. Hydrogen peroxide therapy (oral or intravenous) can be dangerous and should be avoided.
Past Life Regression: Past life and regression therapies operate on the assumption that many physical, mental and emotional challenges are extensions of unresolved problems from the past, either childhood traumas or experiences in previous lifetimes. The practitioner uses hypnosis or other altered states of consciousness and relaxation techniques to access the source of this “unfinished business”, and helps clients to analyze, integrate and release past traumas that are interfering with their current lives.
Pilates: A structured system of small isolated movements that demands powerful focus on feeling every nuance of muscle action while working out on floor mats or machines. Emphasizes development of the torso’s abdominal power center, or core. More gentle than conventional exercises, Pilates—like yoga—yields long, lean, flexible muscles with gracefully balanced movements that readily translate into everyday activities like walking, sitting and bending. Can help in overcoming injuries.
Prolotherapy: A rejuvenating therapy that uses injections of natural substances to stimulate collagen growth in order to strengthen weak or damaged joints, tendons, ligaments or muscles. Often used as a natural alternative to drugs and/or surgery to treat pain syndromes, including degenerative arthritis, lower back, neck and joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, migraine headaches, and torn ligaments and cartilage.
Qigong and Tai chi: Qigong and tai chi combine movement, meditation and breathe regulation to enhance the flow of vital energy (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”) in the body, improve circulation and enhance immune function. Qigong traces its roots to traditional Chinese medicine. Tai chi was originally a self-defense martial art descended from qigong and employed to promote inner peace and calm.
Real Time EEG Neurofeedback: Involves direct training of brain function. Using computer processing to capture electrical activity in the brain, an individual can reward the brain with positive feedback, changing its activity to desired, more appropriate patterns. Gradually, the brain learns and remembers how to exhibit only the good patterns.
Reflexology: A natural healing art based upon the principle that there are reflexes in the feet and hands that correspond to every part of the body. Correctly stimulating and applying pressure to the feet or hands increases circulation and promotes specifically designated bodily and muscular functions.
Reiki: Means “universal life-force energy”. A method of activating and balancing the life-force (qi or chi, pronounced “chee”). Practitioners use light hand placements to channel healing energies to organs and glands or to align the body’s chakras (energy centers). Various techniques can ease emotional and mental distress, heal chronic and acute physical problems, and achieve spiritual focus and clarity. Reiki can be a valuable addition to the work of chiropractors, massage therapists, nurses and others for whom the use of touch is essential and appropriate.
Rolfing structural integration (Rolfing): A hands-on technique for deep tissue manipulation of the myofascial system—which is composed of the muscles and the connective tissue, or fascia—in order to restore the body’s natural alignment and sense of integration. The range and freedom of physical and emotional expression increases as the body is released from old patterns and postures. Rolfing can help ease pain and chronic stress, enhance neurological functioning, improve posture and re-store flexibility.
Shamanism: An ancient healing tradition which believes that loss of power is the real source of illness and that all healing includes the spiritual dimension. Shamanic healing usually involves induction into an altered state of consciousness and journeying into the spirit world to regain personal power and to access the powers of nature and of teachers. Shamanic healing may be taken literally or employed symbolically; the tradition can be both self-empowering and self-healing.
Shiatsu: The most widely known form of acupressure, shiatsu is a Japanese word meaning finger pressure. The technique applies varying degrees of pressure to balance the life energy that flows through specific pathways, or meridians, in the body. Used to release tension and strengthen weak areas in order to facilitate even circulation, cleanse cells and improve the function of vital organs.
Sound healing: Employs vocal and instrumental tones, generated internally or externally. When sounds are produced with healing intent, they can create sympathetic resonance in the physical and energy bodies. Sound healing also is used to bring discordant energy into balance and harmony.
Spiritual Response Therapy (SRT): A spiritual healing method that works on a soul level to release negative programming, or the root cause of a problem or symptom that is negatively affecting your life. SRT can release subconscious mind programs, past life energies and soul programs that allow the soul to move into its fullest expression.
Thermography (thermal imaging): A diagnostic technique that uses an infrared camera to measure temperature variations on the surface of the body, producing images that reveal sites of inflammation and abnormal tissue growth. Inflammation is recognized as the earliest stage of nearly all major health challenges.
Watsu (Water Shiatsu): This uniquely nurturing therapy combines the acupressure and meridian stretches of Zen Shiatsu with yoga-like postures, all performed in water; this takes weight off the vertebrae and allows for movements not possible on land. Pioneered by multilingual author Harold Dull in 1980, watsu’s goal is to free the spine and increase the flow of energy along the body’s meridians. Learn more at Watsu.com.
Yoga: Practical application of the ancient Indian Vedic teachings. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj which means “union” or “to join”, and refers to the joining of man’s physical, mental and spiritual elements. Yoga focuses physical exercises called asanas (or postures), controlled breathing, relaxation, meditation, and diet and nutrition.
Zero Balancing: Developed by Fritz Smith, a doctor, osteopath and acupuncturist, zero balancing addresses the relationship between energy and structures of the body. Practitioners use moderate finger pressure and gentle traction on areas of tension in the bones, joints and soft tissue to create fulcrums, or points of balance, around which the body can relax and reorganize. The goal is to clear blocks in the body’s energy flow, amplify vitality and contribute to better postural alignment. Learn more at ZeroBalancing.com.
Please note: The contents of this Health & Wellness Glossary are for informational purposes only. The information is not intended to be used in place of a visit or consultation with a healthcare professional. Always seek out a practitioner who is licensed, certified or otherwise professionally qualified to conduct a selected treatment, as appropriate.
Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture.