Deep in the heart of the Amazon rain forest, medicine is an herbal-based art in which healing is interconnected with spiritual beliefs. It’s rooted in the dark shadows of shamanic customs in which the healing traditions are orally passed from shaman to apprentice. The herbs chosen are tailored to the individual person and their condition.
Native American medicine is similar to rain forest treatments, as herbs serve as the primary healer. Sage, for instance, was spread on the floor of a sweat lodge, rubbed on the body in the form of a poultice, and burned in spaces thought to be contaminated by disease.
Smudging is another cleansing technique applied by Native Americans. Bundles of fresh cedar, sage, or other herbs are slowly burned; the smoke is then taken into the hands, inhaled, rubbed on the body, then carried throughout the home to cleanse the air. Chanting and prayers accompanied all of this.
While sweat lodges and smudging may not be a part of our modern treatment techniques, we can certainly incorporate the wisdom behind these ancient cultures into our own modern-day lives. How? By supplementing a healthy diet (organic, vegetarian fare is the simplest way to minimize toxins and maximize nutrient intake) with a multitude of cleansing herbs. Herbal teas are a time-honored, healing medium used by millions worldwide.
Linda Page, N.D., Ph.D., in her book Detoxification suggests this combination for blood cleansing: red clover, hawthorn, pau d’arco, nettles, sage, alfalfa, milk thistle seed, echinacea, horsetail, gotu kola, and lemongrass. (For instructions on how to prepare medicinal teas, see the sidebar “Tea Time.”)
According to Dr. Page, the traditional Chinese medicine practitioner reduces toxicity by using herbs that reduce inflammation, detoxify the blood or liver, and reduce and move phlegm. Then he or she looks to tonic herbs, such as ginsengs, to nourish and restore balance to the body. The driving force in traditional Chinese medicine is to achieve optimum health through lifestyle means before an illness occurs.
By using herbs, exercise, aromatherapy, heat therapy, and meditation, Chinese practitioners prevent illness and help their patients enjoy optimum health. An invaluable treasure of Chinese culture, tai chi chuan, is an exercise designed to release stress and promote relaxation. Incorporating this ancient discipline of meditative movements in a daily ritual will—according to those who practice it—stimulate the body’s internal cleansing system and aid in the body’s natural detoxification process.
Aromatherapy’s detoxification properties are reported to be endless. Marcel Lavabre, author of Aromatherapy Workbook, suggests drawing a bath and adding four drops grapefruit essential oil, three drops lemon oil, two drops juniper oil, two drops cypress oil, and one drop red thyme oil. Lavabre insists that this combination will strengthen the circulatory system and “fluidize” the blood.
Hyperthermia techniques of detoxification are central to European culture. Steam baths and saunas certainly get your heart beating and your blood circulating.
According to authors Patricia J. Benjamin and Frances M. Tappan in Tappan’s Handbook of Healing Massage Techniques, “Steam rooms help clear the sinuses and relieve respiratory congestion. Steam also raises the body temperature and causes sweating. A cold shower following a steam room can help wash off sweat and bring body temperature down to normal.” Be sure to drink adequate amounts of water before, during, and after heat treatments, they advise.
Choose a temperature that can be endured for 30 minutes to an hour. It’s also important to shower afterward to prevent toxins from being reabsorbed into the body. A sauna or steam bath after exercise is best. Benjamin and Tappan explain that saunas originated in Finland.
Dry skin brushing is another European technique that’s been used for centuries. In Dr. Jensen’s Guide to Better Bowel Care, Dr. Bernard Jensen says: “Your daily regimen should begin with skin brushing for a period of three to five minutes. I believe skin brushing is one of the finest of all ‘baths.’ No soap can wash the skin as clean as the new skin that you have under the old. You make a new top layer of skin every twenty-four hours. Skin brushing removes the old top layer and lets this clean new layer come to the surface.”
Jensen recommends: “The whole body (except the face) should be brushed one-half hour after rising and prior to the morning bath or shower. You may wish to skin brush again before retiring for the night. Note the powder that comes off your skin as you brush. These are crystals of uric acid and other dried waste products that came out with the perspiration.”
Buy an all-natural vegetable fiber brush with a long handle to reach out-of-the-way places. Brush from the outermost points—the feet and hands—toward the center of your body. Then brush across your upper back and down the front and back of your torso.
According to Vedic tradition, which comes from ayurveda (“a form of holistic alternative medicine that is the traditional system of medicine of India”), one can practice breathing exercises, or “pranayama,” to settle, balance, and detoxify the body.
In the ayurvedic tradition, “prana” refers to the “vital life force,” and this “vital force” is increased by the process of pranayama. According to Hari Sharma, M.D., coauthor of The Answer to Cancer, “Breathing is a direct means of absorbing prana and the manner in which we breathe sets off pranic vibrations that influence our entire being.”
While not everyone will agree with the “spiritual” aspect of pranayama, medical practitioners fully appreciate how important oxygen is to health and well-being. When this “vital life force” is increased through breathing deeply and properly, healing powers improve tremendously.
Throughout our journey, I’ve seen one simple truth emerging. Nature has a way. The Power that formed us from the dust of the ground has provided the necessary tools we need to guard our health and live optimally. Air, water, movement, and nutrition—these are the basics for better health, no matter where you live.