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The History Of Holistic Medicine

Before discussing the history of holistic medicine, it is necessary to define it. The term 'holistic medicine' has come to be used as a catch-all phrase that covers every aspect of alternative medicine. Holistic medicine is actually a system of alternative medicine that looks at the whole person and not just at an illness or condition. It looks at the person's environment, lifestyle, emotional health, spiritual health and more to help cure the person and can incorporate aspects of both conventional and alternative treatments, including herbs, pharmaceuticals and surgery.

Back in the days before modern medicine was developed, healers and physicians had no choice but to use alternative methods of treatment. Many of the traditions that developed also looked at the body as a whole and some became the forerunners of modern holistic medicine. These traditions developed in many different regions of the world.

It was more than 4,000 years ago that traditional Chinese medicine began to develop. This system, which is still considered to be holistic medicine, looks at health through a lens of balance between the yin and yang, the Five Elements, the spirit, Qi, emotions, bodily fluids, Jing and blood. All must be working in harmony for the body to be healthy. Health is recovered by restoring balance.

The first known references to this field of medicine can be found in works dating back to the 14th century BCE. The practice spread quickly and soon came to include herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage. The Chinese were publishing medical textbooks long before the beginning of the common era.

Ayurvedic medicine developed in India around the same time. Unlike traditional Chinese medicine, this system never relied on spirits or magic, but looked at health from a rational point of view and considered it to be a byproduct of properly regulating one's life. Herbal remedies were not introduced into this system for several hundred years. The first ayurvedic textbook was compiled in 600 CE.

Holistic medicine also developed independently in Europe and dates back to at least the Greeks. Socrates, Aristotle and Plato all wrote extensive discourses on holistic healing. It is possible that they were influenced by either Chinese or ayurvedic medicine, but the link between the two, if its exists, is not known.

The most well-known physician in Ancient Greece is still famous today. Hippocrates is considered to be the founder of modern medicine, but he was also a holistic healer, who warned other doctors about messing with the healing powers of nature. He believed that illness was caused by an imbalance in one of the four humors of the: body, blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Proper treatment would rebalance the humors and allow the body to heal itself.

Many other cultures also developed holistic healing techniques but these are the most influential on modern thought and the most famous. Holistic medicine kept developing throughout the common era, even in Europe were its practitioners faced witch hunts.

Modern, conventional medicine began to gain traction in the 1800s. This led to the decline of many traditional healing practices, especially in Europe and America. The success of conventional medicine in treating so many illnesses that couldn't be touched by holistic medicine ensured its spread, and by the early 20th century, holistic medicine had all but disappeared in much of the Western world. It never lost much popularity in the East, however, and is still widely used as a first line of treatment in much of Asia.

Cracks started to appear in the facade of conventional medicine around the middle of the last century. Modern methods proved very good at treating injuries and certain forms of illness, but its methodology of separating the illness from the person was not always working. Many people were left sick and feeling lost. This led to a revival of holistic medicine that occurred along with the counterculture revolution in Europe and America during the 1960s.