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In pursuit of balance
2023-03-11 | By Tracey Taylor | Photo by Leon Gao
When it comes to health and well-being, alternative therapies and holistic medicine are growing in popularity. But why are we moving more and more towards such treatments, and how can they help… I spoke with two doctors to find out more.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been practised in some form for over 3,000 years. Its philosophies differ to how health and dis-ease are approached in the west. TCM’s view of the human body is only marginally concerned with anatomical structures but instead, focuses on digestion, temperature, etc. TCM ‘holds’ the body’s vital energy (Chi or Qi) and circulates it through meridians (channels) that have branches connected to bodily organs and functions.
One area of Traditional Chinese Medicine is acupuncture, the practice of using needles on specific parts of the meridians to ‘influence’ the movement of Qi. Acupuncture helps remove blockages, redirect energy flow, and nourish deficiencies to bring balance to the system. If recovering from, or struggling with a health problem, your body’s self-healing mechanisms will not be able to do their job, so a little help is needed. Acupuncture can increase the activity of those self-healing mechanisms.
Chinese Medical Centre
Dr. Ben Willems L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist) has been a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine since 2006. After studying Environmental Health Science at Maastricht University (NL) and working in cancer research in the USA, he was drawn to other aspects of health and well-being. Questioning the limited view of the ‘evidence-based’ approach to health in the west, Dr. Willems looked east and began exploring the history and philosophies of TCM, quickly concluding that this field fit with how he personally viewed health and well-being.
After graduating (cum laude) with a master’s degree from Yo San University of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (USA), and from Atlantic University of Chinese Medicine (USA), Dr. Willems started his own practice and worked at different Chinese medicine universities as a teacher. In 2010, Dr. Willems and his wife relocated to the Netherlands to raise their children and since then, he has had a thriving practice in Maastricht.
In Dr. Willems’ experience, most people seek out Traditional Chinese Medicine after being disappointed with the results of medication and other treatments. But TCM is also beneficial in a preventative manner as it works by assisting your body’s self-healing mechanisms and correcting biochemical imbalances. It also has other benefits:
• It’s natural (even the best surgeon can’t heal a cut–only the body can).
• Side effects are minimal/non-existent (experts agree, all medications have some side effects).
• It’s safe and works with your body, not against it.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is also outstanding for chronic conditions. Modern medicine is exceptional at helping acute conditions–problems needing immediate attention, e.g., infections, broken bones, trauma, anything requiring surgery–but is not as good at chronic conditions, i.e., health issues that don’t go away on their own. “These persistent conditions are where Chinese medicine and acupuncture is especially effective,” says Dr. Willems.
To the point
One of the biggest misconceptions about acupuncture is that you are stuck full of needles “but this is simply not the case.” A good practitioner knows when it comes to acupuncture needles, it’s about quality not quantity. Another myth is that acupuncture hurts. While everyone has a different pain threshold, the needles–microscopic lasered and only slightly thicker than a hair–only cause a small sensation. “The goal is that one can comfortably relax–almost entering a state of meditation–when undergoing treatment,” says Dr. Willems, “and this is what 99% of my patients experience.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine is more than acupuncture however, and at Dr. Willems practice (Chinees Medisch Centrum Maastricht), he also uses modalities like cupping (placement of vacuum cups on the body), moxibustion (burning of a particular herb to warm areas of the body), Gua Sha (a scraping technique), electro-acupuncture (a light electrical current run between acupuncture needles) and herbal medicine (in pill and tea form). Following an intake discussion and diagnostic methods used in Chinese medicine (feeling the different pulses, looking at the tongue, etc.), practitioners like Dr. Willems develop a treatment plan–based on an individual’s imbalances/background–and will use specific meridian points to treat someone, from a baby to whatever age.
TCM also works well with other areas of holistic care, e.g., chiropractic treatments, as the energetic changes and physical adjustments both work towards the creation of balance.
Open and shut
“Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are generally well-received in the Netherlands,” says Dr. Willems, “but some in the medical community remain skeptical and resistant to the idea.” This suggests the Netherlands is still conservative on this topic, certainly in comparison with the USA where many universities, e.g., Harvard are investigating how acupuncture (in particular) can benefit people and offering programmes that use acupuncture in post-operative recovery or for patients undergoing or recovering from chemotherapy/radiation.
Yin and Yang
As a small business owner, Dr. Willems appreciates the freedom he experiences as his ‘own boss’ and the time he can spend with his patients without having to ‘report’ to a superior. “This way, I can follow my heart with regard to the treatments I employ,” he says.
As time goes on, Dr. Willems hopes to see more cooperation between Western medical treatments and Eastern approaches–especially as they can complement each other so well–and he welcomes any collaboration with MDs. “Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine like myself are trying to help the ‘whole person’ experience a better state of well-being,” says Dr. Willems, “because when balance is achieved, both the body and mind can work on healing.”
Another alternative therapy to help both the body and mind is chiropractic care. Chiropractors perform adjustments to the spine or other parts of the body to help correct alignment, ease pain, and support the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Treatment may also include stretches, exercises, mindset changes and stress reduction techniques. Key aims are to improve mobility, flexibility, energy levels, and general well-being.
With origins dating back to the late 1800’s, chiropractic care is based on the belief that ‘the power that made the body, heals the body.’
East meets west
Dr. Asha Prasad grew up in the USA and was brought up with natural medicine as a first option. Having seen the benefits of chiropractic treatments at a young age–and with her strong background in Eastern philosophies–she was instinctively drawn to the world of holistic health. “Given my background, it just made the most sense to go into a natural health field,” says Dr. Prasad. “I have a deep interest in helping others find their optimal health and well-being through a natural approach.”
Having obtained her Bachelor of Science in Public Health Nutrition (B.S.P.H.) from the University of North Carolina (USA) and graduating from Life Chiropractic University (USA) with a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), Dr. Prasad has almost 25 years’ experience.
After working in the USA and France, Dr. Prasad moved to the Netherlands where, in 2016, she opened her practice Chirowell. Initially based in Gulpen (South Limburg), she expanded her business and now has a practice in Maastricht too.
Chirowell offers a medication and surgery-free solution to achieve optimal health while treating patients with a holistic approach. “Pain of any kind–at any age–is a sign that something isn’t right,” says Dr. Prasad, “and it’s how our body signals we have reached our limit, or a deeper problem has developed.” Even though the human body is magnificent in adapting to help us ignore ‘warning signs’, while these signs may go away at first, the underlying problem remains.
Dr. Prasad treats a variety of age groups and conditions at her practice, from those looking for support from a preventative aspect to those in acute pain. The philosophy of Chirowell is to help individuals better learn how their body functions, and to treat the cause rather than just the symptoms. Dr. Prasad aims to identify the root of a problem–rather than suppressing symptoms–and see all that needs to be addressed. “Everyone is different, and everybody reacts differently,” says Dr. Prasad, “and at Chirowell, we fully recognise that.”
For many, methods used in chiropractic care have been instrumental in helping people heal from–and develop deeper insight into–their physical problems. Very often, chiropractors might find information missed or overlooked by the medical community.
Chirowell has worked with many individuals to help them communicate better with their doctors, achieve healing, and reduce or eliminate drugs and the need for surgery.
Almost everyone can receive chiropractic care and although there are always exceptions, the chiropractic profession has come a long way and has a variety of techniques that can be safely used on most people. Given our complexity as human beings, different aspects can also be addressed and helped when combining, e.g., acupuncture, homeopathy, massage–to name a few–with chiropractic treatment. “Collaborating with other health care professionals can be very helpful for patients,” says Dr. Prasad.
Yours in health
After reviewing a patient’s health history and performing an examination, chiropractors like Dr. Prasad can assess someone holistically and look at factors–emotional, chemical, physical–that may be contributing to their misalignment. Practitioners can then evaluate which techniques are necessary and how a subluxation–when a vertebrae or joint is out of normal position–should be corrected. “By re-aligning the spine, we get less tension in the muscles and better mobility,” says Dr. Prasad. “It also protects our nervous system and allows for a better nerve flow.”
In the Netherlands, the term krakers (crackers) is often used to describe chiropractors but is misleading. Chiropractic treatment is not about ‘cracking spines’. The ‘cracking sound’ heard is simply caused by small pockets of air or bubbles (the fluid surrounding joints) which ‘pop’ when joint tissues are stretched during a chiropractic adjustment. Another misconception is that Chiropractic is a ‘free profession’. In the Netherlands, all qualified chiropractors must follow application courses and register with the Stichting Chiropractie Nederland (Chiropractic Foundation Netherlands).
Practice makes perfect
Being one’s own boss does have its pros and cons. “I love the direct contact with patients, tailoring a treatment, and being able to manage my own time,” says Dr. Prasad, “but even though I want to help as many people as possible, I also need to be conscientious about staying in balance myself.”
In the Netherlands, there are unfortunately still not enough chiropractors for the population so waiting lists can sometimes be long.
Dr. Prasad’s hope is for the Chiropractic profession to grow and educate more people about their bodies and how prevention can ensure a healthy life. She also hopes that a more holistic approach towards people’s well-being will be adopted in general.
Away from her practice–and given her passion for the mind-body connection–Dr. Prasad has pursued certification and additional qualifications to help people through teaching, coaching, and consulting services to work on mindset. She has also published two books and is a podcaster and YouTuber. “My mission is to help people live their best lives, navigate through times of uncertainty, and be as healthy as they can be.”
As we look to reconnect with our inner selves, and search for other–more natural–ways to care for our health, it is clear that expert practitioners in the fields of alternative therapy and holistic medicine can play a vital role in our journey to heal the body and the mind.
Did you know?
The body has over 400 acupuncture points and each has its own function–many working on both a physical and emotional level.
The word chiropractic comes from the Greek cheir (meaning ‘hand’) and praktos (meaning ‘done’), i.e., done by hand.
You can find more about Healthcare in the Netherlands if you click here.
About the author
Tracey Taylor is an aspiring writer and a budding editor. She loves animals, photography, yoga, and choir singing. She is Irish and lives in Maastricht with Dave and their cat Tubby. @traceytaylor_nl