09/12/2007 01:42 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Real Alternative Medicine

In the post "9/11" world, the way we sustain our health will be parallel to the way we sustain life, peace, and fairness on the planet; they can't be separated. Though this has always been true, it's blaring at us right now. Knowing the breadth of what we can't control: the hatred or the greed of others, for example, we can each do our most positive work toward what we can influence and transform in ourselves.

For many years I've had fun and deep satisfaction from lecturing and doing workshops in a variety of high school settings. The subjects are a wide spectrum of topics related to "alternative medicine", "complementary medicine", wellness, natural healing, meditation, relaxation and stress reduction.

For most of those years I've given an experienced based lecture or workshop about the preventative aspects of Oriental Medicine, the philosophical foundations of the medicine, and how those approaches might allow a paradigm shift in how the students think about health, healing and their own lives. I receive e-mails and calls from former students who want to explore acupuncture and Oriental Medicine as their life work.

These lecture are always very well received, but I've added something in recent years, because I see how shaky my students are about their future, safety, security, and certainly those concerns effect their health. My new emphasis makes the students think about some things they've never considered before. I've started making lists of the "REAL ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE".

OK, I say, you're going to be studying about acupuncture and homeopathy and massage and yoga and all manner of interesting treatments and practices... but let's go back even further to what has traditionally been considered the highest form of medicine in the Orient: "Way of Life." The students agree that you can't take a person who has been living on caffeine, high stress, sarcasm, soda, donuts and chips and give them a massage and some homeopathy and make them healthy. In this context, the real alternative medicine is, as presented in my lectures:

*Kale and other greens of the mustard family (this does not include spinach, chard and beets) *Whole grains, used whole, possibly sprouted, not as flour except occasionally
*Natural Light
*Cooperation and Inclusiveness
*Clean Air and Water
*Moderate Exercise
*Gardening or otherwise growing things
*Good Sleep
*Prudent Avoidance of Toxic Purchases..

Last week at our town's farmer's market, I brought three different kinds of kale to market and posted a sign that said: "Kale is Alternative Medicine". It got a lot of attention, and I gave away free garlic with the purchase of a bunch of kale to encourage people to discover kale, the superfood.

In fact, kale is best discovered after the first hard frost, because it cooks faster and tastes sweeter after it's been frozen once or twice. Realistically, however, unless you grow your own kale, you will not have an opportunity to buy kale sweetened by a local frost. So, for now, I hope you'll enjoy alternative medicine # 1, including other dark leafy greens of the mustard family (NOT spinach, chard or beet), from a local market in your neighborhood or town.

Whole Grains make up the big broad base of many of today's new food pyramids, but many people think they are getting their whole grain quotient if they eat some whole wheat bread. Aside from the fact that many people today are actually sensitive or allergic to wheat, foods made from flours are not the same (glycemically, oxidatively, etc.) as foods made from whole grains kept whole, such as quinoa, millet, brown short, medium, long or basmati rice, barley, and others. Grains need to be cooked or sprouted properly and chewed really well. Recent studies have shown that thorough chewing helps send signals of satisfaction to the brain, helping to "turn off" the appetite. Real alternative medicine # 2: Barring allergy, eat more whole grains...the good complex carbs...slowly, and chew them really thoroughly.

Natural light regulates the circadian rhythm of our bodies, helping all the different secretions and molecules squirt out and get circulated exactly when they are supposed to. Being deprived of natural light messes with the perfection of our biological system, and throws off many body processes. Research has shown that women who work night shifts in un-natural light cycles are more prone to breast cancer than those who work during the "normal" day time. Real alternative Medicine tip #3 is to get yourself exposed to a healthy amount of natural light. For instance, go out early in the morning to help regulate your sleep cycle, and midday for about 20 minutes to make some Vitamin D, which is critical for health. Learn about safely avoiding overexposure.

No one thinks there's enough Kindness on the Earth. Make some today. Each of us is the only possible source of it. Tip #4: Create Kindness consciously, a critical alternative medicine.

Violence entertains us, but no one like to be or is entertained by being violated. Being exposed to more Gentleness would help everyone be healthier. This #5 health tip has great implications for economic and foreign policy decision makers

Cooperation is SO missing in our culture that students in my classes don't even know how to answer the "yin-yang" question..."What is the opposite of competition"... Not that there is anything wrong with some good clean competition, but we certainly tend to over do it in all aspects of life, making people feel more tense and isolated and at odds with themselves. I tell my students about a law school class I read about where the teacher announced that no one would get an "A" unless everyone got at least a "B". A cooperative study pattern developed and all the students did really well. There's a new way of thinking about school. Cooperation and Inclusiveness comprise: real alternative medicine #6.

All the yoga and Chinese herbs in the world won't overcome the effects of polluted air and water. We all can make consuming decisions that lessen pollution. As consumers some of us are privileged to be able to set high standards with every purchase. Filters can be used in the home for both air and water: real alternative medicine #7. This begs the larger policy issues and responsibilities involved, like cleaner power plants and better industrial clean up.

Whatever love is, it's good for everybody's health and is good medicine, though I'm not sure we should call it alternative, it stands as Real Alternative Medicine # 8. It's simply necessary.

Moderate exercise used to be part of life styles based on a reasonable balance between physical and mental work. Now we have to go out of our way to create such balance, and because our lives are so extreme, we often exercise to extreme, sometimes even obsessively. Moderate exercise which provides a balance of stretching, movement and cardio-vascular work benefits all body systems, even mood... thus, Real Alternative Medicine #9.

Gardening and Growing living things puts everything else into better perspective. It keeps us honest. It's what reminds us of our true responsibilities and priorities. Even a window box or bucket will do: Real Alternative Medicine #10

Relaxation is a very important and complex body-centered activity and an important alternative medicine. It only happens when we give it time. The health pay off is great... Real Alternative Medicine #11.

Meditation done regularly has many positive health benefits. The brain is proving to be more plastic and changeable than was once widely believed. Practicing meditation can really change our experience of everything for the positive. You DO have time because if you relax and meditate, you'll have more energy more consistently...and more time to work with. That's good medicine... Real Alternative #12.

In modern times, developing patience may be one of the most important practices of alternative medicine. It gives depth to all activities, slows us down and helps us be more present, makes us respect ourselves and others more, and goes beneath the surface and appearance of everything. Real Alternative #13

Shakespeare said that sleep "knits up the raveled sleeve of care." It can, yet many these days people wake up from fitful sleep feeling still raveled. Practicing all of the above "Way of Life" tips and eliminating artificial stimulants which include caffeine, chocolate and sugar, may help some people get a better sleep: Real Alternative Medicine #14

My children grew up annoyed that there were so many things to be precautionary about. I now agree that we may have tried to teach them too much too early, but what is a parent to do about the toxic nature of much of our modern life-style environment?

Thick tomes now abound on the dangers of the ingredients in many personal care products, of artificial sweeteners, plastic water bottles, hydrogenated fats, hormone disrupting chemicals and drugs, anti-bacterial soaps, processed foods and other modern mainstays. Personal habits can effect higher level decisions and policies. No one has to buy soda, or anything with aspartame or hydrogenated oils, or petrochemical cosmetics, or high fructose corn syrup, etc. etc. Appropriate precaution: Real Alternative Medicine #15.

"May all beings happily take care of themselves". This is a traditional phrase from the Metta, or
Loving kindness, meditation practice... which probably merits its own place as Real Alternative Medicine #16.

The Real Alternative Medicine can also be called There-is-No-Alternative Medicine. Only when we get these primary alternative medicines in place, can we effectively use the secondary forms such as massage, aromatherapy, reiki, homeopathy, acupuncture and many others. Then we can keep the heal in health care. As an acupuncturist, I don't think of acupuncture as alternative, though I do think of it as "complementary"... to you, the patient, and to everyone on this luscious and struggling planet.