At the start of last summer, I was of the popular opinion that traditional medicine is always more effective than alternative methods. Unconventional practices like meditation, acupuncture, yoga, relaxation techniques and therapy seemed ineffectual and far-fetched. It wasn’t until I saw the tangible effects of these practices, visible to me in a loved one’s rapidly improving health, that I started to believe.
My dad struggled with anxiety for a long time, but last summer, I began to see change in him everywhere I looked. In the mornings, soothing sounds of meditation music would float up the stairs from his Bluetooth speaker. By August, he and my mom had become regulars at Kindness Yoga. My dad frequently mentioned the journaling exercises he’d been doing in therapy, and new books like “Self-Compassion” and “14,000 Things to be Happy About” appeared on our living room table. His anxiety hasn’t been solved, but with these methods, rather than just prescribed medications, my dad found a way to exert control and comfort over his condition.
Why is it that I, like most people, had to see complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) save somebody I love before agreeing that it should be accepted by the scientific community at large? After all, these practices have been around far longer than conventional medicine and have been proven by several studies to be clinically successful. A collection of qualitative data from academic journals like the 2016 Journal of Gerontological Nursing and the 2008 International Journal of Health Sciences provides evidence of CAM’s efficacy (Bruckenthal, Tabish). When it comes to accepting CAM in the scientific community, a lack of medical legitimacy is not the problem.
CAM is a divergence from the status quo, a way of approaching health care that clashes with our society’s comforts and expectations. Our minds are trained to believe that a new approach like CAM cannot be effective, especially since it has been so often scorned in the past. But we are reaching a critical point: To ignore CAM’s potential is to ignore a glaring and urgent need for a change in our perspective. With issues like anxiety and depression, chronic pain management for cancer patients and the opioid epidemic looming over our society, it is vital that we start looking for new and different solutions. CAM could be the answer to these problems, but we won’t know until we let go of our doubts and try it.
By Ruja Parikh, Boulder