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Some background and thoughts on Restorative Medicine

To the much needed benefit of humankind, the last twenty years have brought us a more comprehensive understanding of what is required for the restoration of wellness.  [ Note: My practice in Arlington, Virginia is called Wellness Restoration, and the style of treatment offered is called restorative medicine. ]

Restorative Medicine™ comprises the ancient, time-tested theories and principles of health and longevity, according to Classical Chinese Medicine,  and are combined with complementary and alternative medical practice.

Through a complex history of exclusions and omissions, the current medical model operates as if the body were separate from the psyche. Such a position creates a focus on the body as a machine whose malfunctioning or diseased parts need to be drugged or surgerized. Health is generally viewed as a state in which the symptoms are being managed, even though the causes may be unknown.

Although there is a trend toward acceptance of the bodymind relationship, the majority of Western medical practitioners don’t take it seriously.  It is the patients themselves who are inciting the present revolution in healthcare, by experimenting with practitioners of Oriental Medicine, Ayurveda, Tibetan Medicine, herbs, massage, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation. Their experiences of wellness restored via medical practices that have endured millennia, are causing more doctors to modify the way they practice medicine.

The bodymind relationship is not a modern construct. Chinese Medicine is founded on it. In 19th century Germany, Freud worked to gain recognition for the importance of psychic drives and their vicissitudes, while other thinkers, such as Nietzsche, were working for a retrieval of the human body – to move beyond the split between body/mind/spirit by spiritualizing the body itself. His was the creation of the philosophy of forces (the Will to Power, the Eternal Return, ressentiment) that centered on the health of the body, with a “joyful knowledge” that “we require for a new goal also a new means, namely, a new healthiness, stronger, sharper, tougher, bolder and merrier than any healthiness hitherto…” This healthiness was not a state of being to be possessed complacently, but rather one to be acquired again and again through an ongoing effort of will. Restoration of body/mind/spirit is a process that is at the core of the medical model whose time has come… wellness restoration.

Jung stressed the need to rediscover the body, too long a prisoner of the spirit, and to “reconcile ourselves to the mysterious truth that the spirit is the life of the body seen from within, and the body, the outward manifestation of the life of the spirit – the two being really one.” As a practitioner of Restorative Medicine, I believe that any therapeutic approach that seeks to integrate the psyche and body processes must catalyze people’s greater awareness and deeper physical experience of their ways of being in and reacting to the world. This type of awareness takes the form of the bodily felt sense, as Heyer dubbed it, in which we feel ourselves to be inside ourselves, confronted with our deepest feelings. We remember how to sense what emotions and experiences spawn in our body and we recollect that which has played a part in our becoming disconnected from ourselves, causing illness, depression, submission, entrapment, addiction, whatever manifestation mirrors the person’s lack of harmony.

When a practitioner learns how to help another retrieve a sense of body/mind/spirit integrity, this is the heart of Restorative Medicine. The restoration of wellness begins with the cultivation of possibilities that stem from this newfound awareness of self as multi-dimensional entity. From this consciousness stems the realization of where one is stuck in a rigid frame of mind and body and one can see how they affect eachother. This can open up a whole new can of worms that leads to restoration of the individual in all of his bodies. Chronic disease can be transformed; long-held beliefs that stifled one’s happiness and health can be acknowledged and changed. Hence, the person experiences what it is to become un-stuck, more free in body/mind/spirit. Now, anything is possible. That prognosis of imminent death or recurrence of disease is no longer the gospel truth.

A lifetime of eclectic education and experience in other cultures has brought me to the point at which I can no longer say that I’m an acupuncturist or a health consultant or a bodyworker – these terms are finite and don’t express what I’ve become in my quest for knowledge about what it means to be well, whole, happy. This medicine or that medicine are not more or less superior or appropriate for this or that diagnosis. If all there is to being a medical practitioner is palliating symptoms and telling patients that they just have to accept their plight or keep experimenting with the limitless combinations of so-called magic bullets that we’re made to believe exist, then medicine is boring.

Almost twenty years of observing, working with, and listening to patients’ stories has led me to believe that true medicine is that which helps the patient move beyond the relativity of his illness or complaint by guiding him/her to sensing what he’d be like when healthy, or when more completely whole in body, mind, and spirit. Dr. Mark Seem, the founder of Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York City, where I received my degree , taught me that acupuncture can help a person access that part of himself in which the recollections lie, just waiting to be retrieved. Some practitioners use hypnosis, others regression, others Rolfing, some refer patients to psychotherapists or to priests…there are many ways to dredge one’s way back to himself. I have personally witnessed a majority of people who have restored their integrity, their wellness of body, mind, and spirit, to the absolute dismay and sometimes shock of the attending physician. I’ve witnessed this in many countries, in the countryside and in the city, in the hospital, and in the humble cubicle in China where patients lie side by side and privacy doesn’t exist. I’ve witnessed what some may call miracles, in my treatment rooms.

Wellness Restoration™ is about learning to decipher the source of the physical, psychological, and spiritual blocks, by reading the effects that they have had on the body. This is similar to noticing the effects of rain on soil erosion or the effects of wind on a tree that’s too rigid. When I see someone who’s hunched over and looks down a lot, I wonder what that person learned as he was growing up, about how to face life and its challenges. What is the connection between someone’s chronic colitis and her misery on the job? Drugging or cutting out the offending body part separates the person from the felt sense of himself , hence the recollection of what caused him to become that way -- the recollection that could lead him to Nietzsche’s “joyful knowledge” or “new healthiness…bolder and merrier than any healthiness hitherto.”

Main stream media has brought to our attention some of the dangers of relying on drugs, surgery, and experimental treatments to save us from disease in spite of our reluctance to modify our lifestyle and choices. Most often, people don’t even know what they should be doing to help themselves. Many are self-prescribing homeopathic remedies, herbs, and supplements. This, too, is dangerous. Where do we go from here?

The very first chapter of the ancient Chinese Medical Classic, the Nei Jing, opens with this conversation:

Huang Di asks: I have heard it said that in ancient time people lived to 100 years of age. Nowadays, we are already worn out at 50 years old. Is this due to changes in circumstances or to the fault of the people?

Qi Bo answers : In ancient times, people lived according to the dao. They observed the laws of yin and yang, were sober, and lived simple lives. For this reason, they were healthy in body and spirit and were able to live 100 years. Today, people drink alcohol as if it were water, they seek out every licentious pleasure, and addict themselves to intemperance. Thus they are not able to live more than 50 years.

Chinese medicine evolved from the foundation of the connection between the body and the mind. It was believed that most people could live to 100 years of age if they lived moderately and followed the laws of nature. When I did clinical residencies in China and Vietnam, I was struck by the agelessness of my patients. Most of them looked twenty years younger. And this is in spite of working until their 80’s and 90’s and commuting up to 100 miles in a day.

The fact that length of life is primarily the responsibility of the individual based on his choices of diet and lifestyle is attested to by Gao Lian in Eight Essays on Abiding by the Rules of Life:

One’s destiny (i.e., length of life) resides within oneself. It does not reside in heaven. Ignorant behavior results in dying young. Wise behavior results in prolonging one’s life.

Chinese physicians knew that wise behavior signified a lifestyle that supports wellness in body and mind. This required an eclectic knowledge of self-care, which was taught by physicians. They knew that trusting in only one regime or practice, such as Qi gong or a healthy diet, is not enough. This is made clear by Ge Hong:

In everything that pertains to nurturing life, one must learn much and make the basics one’s own; look widely and know how to select. There can be no reliance upon one particular specialty, for there is always the danger that those who work for a living will emphasize their particular specialty. When we focus only on a specialty, we fail to learn about the divine process.

That divine process is the multi-faceted path that can restore wellness at the physiological, energetic, and mental/emotional levels. That divine process is unique for each individual. There is no one diet, treatment, drug, surgery, exercise, meditation, geographical location, or philosophy, that will restore wellness to most people, even if they have similar symptoms,diagnoses or socio-economic status.

Medicine of the 21st century is taking shape globally and it’s based on restoring wellness of the individual, in his totality, from the inside out. Proof that this is not just the latest new age trend, is the overwhelming success of the NIH’s Consensus on Acupuncture that took place in November of 1997. This historic international meeting of eminent scientists and physicians of Oriental and Western medicine resulted in a newfound acceptance and respect for the oldest recorded body of medicine, that of the Chinese. Since then, large numbers of Western medical practitioners have scrambled to get some education in Chinese medicine, mainly in the realm of acupuncture and herbs.

But to be a qualified and clinically experienced practitioner of not only Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture, but of Wellness Restoration, requires years of schooling, clinical experience, an eclectic educational background in the healing arts, a wellness lifestyle, and being challenged in National Board Exams, as medical doctors are. It is a distinct body of medical knowledge that evolved over thousands of years before Western medicine came into being. Presently there are many organizations and lawmakers working in behalf of the field of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture, and Herbology, to protect the consumer from practitioners who do not meet its high standards of education and competence.

My experience in the healing arts spans twenty years and it began as a technical consultant to chiefs of surgery in metropolitain hospitals in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. I had the privilege of learning state-of –the-art surgical procedures that required the use of instruments that were technologically superior to the surgeons’ manual methods and that allowed them to perform life-saving procedures that had never been done before. I was invited to scrub in on hundreds of major cases in which the patient’s life was radically changed for the better due to technology.

Being one who believed that wellness begins with a wellness existence, I naturally grilled the surgeons in the doctors’ lounge about their ideas for preventive regimes for their newly-saved patients. More often than not, a funny laugh or remark that questioned my sanity, was the response. Lacking an ego that was too big to be embarrassed, I would rephrase the question. What could the patient do to help ensure that after the trauma of surgery, he would maintain his health? Answer: Nothing. If he has a recurrence or falls prey to another disease, he’s to come back and we’ll fix him.

Next to the gross lack of answers and incorrect diagnosis that caused my mother to die before she was 45 years old, the surgeons’ pat answers were the events that changed me forever. THIS is the practice of medicine? I wondered. So I spent the last twenty years studying incessantly and travelling the world meeting, observing, studying and working with, and reading about practitioners, both modern and ancient, who evolved beyond the norm, and whose presence in the world changed the lives of all with whom they interrelated as they went about their practice of body/mind/spirit restorative medicine.

Restorative medicine fits perfectly in with the global trend towards restorative development, whereby our economies are increasingly based on restoring our natural resources and on revitalizing our communities.  This transition from the old frontier-style economic model (based on conquering new lands and extracting virgin resources) was first documented in Storm Cunningham's (my husband) book, The Restoration Economy (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Nov. 2002).
Because of the dearth of translated ancient medical texts from before the Chinese Revolution, one either has to learn to read Chinese or Vietnamese or has to find teachers like Dr. Tran Viet Dzung from France, and learn it in French. He and Dr. Nguyen Van Nghi , his world-renowned teacher and partner for over 35 years, had travelled the world at the invitation of both Western and Eastern doctors to teach from the Classics. They were sought after to perform and teach acupuncture anesthesia and Classical Medicine Now Dr. Tran carries out the translation and continues teaching students such as myself, so that we can continue the work after he is gone. Teachers with this level of ancient knowledge and experience, who also have a background in Western medicine, are very rare. Students receive a level of knowledge that is well above the norm in the U.S. Nowadays, it’s popular to teach almost anything that involves Eastern philosophy or medicine. Virtually anyone can put together a workshop and claim to know the medicine.

Since no two people manifest a diagnosed illness in the same way, it’s logical to a doctor who practices Restorative Medicine that he is to diagnose the Root, or cause, as well as the Branch, or symptoms, and decide which is most important to treat, for each person, no matter what the Western diagnosis. One person may be having an acute pathogenic attack from having been out in the cold rain and wind and the other may be having his usual back pain, except today he’s more tired and he feels cold. The acute presentation requires a Branch treatment to dispel the pathogen and the chronic presentation requires a Root treatment in order to address the underlying cause. To do anything different could cause the illness to become worse.