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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Your health is in your hands

Your health is in your hands

Your health is in your hands

Holistic: Alternative remedies look at the mind-body component of the problem. Photo by Thinkstock.Premium

Holistic: Alternative remedies look at the mind-body component of the problem. Photo by Thinkstock.

A year ago, I took a routine blood test and discovered that I have hypothyroidism; a condition in which the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland produces lower levels of the thyroid hormone. An estimated 42 million people in India suffer from thyroid disorders, according to a 2011 article in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Typically, with hypothyroidism, you have to take medication (Eltroxin) for life to substitute for the hormone depletion. I do that, but I also decided to explore the holistic options that I am naturally drawn to.

Even the most conservative allopathic physician will admit that endocrine disorders—more than other pathologies—respond to mind-body medicine. It makes sense. Anything that has to do with hormones, depression, memory and balance has a mind-body component to it. Any time a doctor tells you that you have to reduce your “stress" in order to get better, you might as well explore alternative remedies. Stress is a nebulous thing—you can’t see it; and often times, you cannot even feel it till it gets the better of you and leads to a breakdown. Stilling the mind through yoga or meditation has been proven to help.

With this in mind, I returned to one holistic field that I have been studying for years: Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM.

Let me begin with the caveats: Although I am deeply interested in holistic medicine and have practised various forms on myself, I am not a trained practitioner. The suggestions below are just that—suggestions; and do not substitute for a visit to a qualified physician. My goal in writing this piece is a simple takeaway: Ultimately, people have to take charge of their health. You consider all options, consult experts, and decide what works for you. For all their good intentions, allopathy and alternative medicine, in general, operate within silos. They don’t talk to each other. It is up to us to find the rare doctor who is proficient in both practices. Failing that, we could look into gentle options like meditation, yoga, su jok and acupressure.

Holistic: Alternative remedies look at the mind-body component of the problem. Photo by Thinkstock.

Chinese medicine, perhaps more than any other system, connects the mind and body, inside and outside, in a way that is both pragmatic and profoundly philosophical. As Ted Kaptchuk, author of The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine, a seminal book on acupuncture, said in a December New Yorker profile, “an important component of medicine...involves suggestion, ritual, and belief". Acupuncture considers these mental and emotional components to be as important as the physical, both in terms of disease and healing. Kaptchuk, a trained TCM practitioner, is testing the mind-body balance as director of Harvard Medical School’s Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter, a remarkable programme that every physician would do well to get acquainted with.

Chinese medicine takes a composite approach that views organs as having a mental component as well. The “kidney", for example, in Chinese medicine is thought to be the seat of willpower. If you want to strengthen your willpower to get a task done—run a marathon, for example—Chinese acupuncturists will work on the kidney meridian. Similarly, one reason for sadness or depression could be “stagnation" of liver qi (chi). An oft-recommend herbal powder for depression is xiao yao san, which means “free and easy rambler or wanderer" in Chinese. The Chinese word for deep sadness—yu—is also used for stagnation. In TCM forums and mailing lists, a protocol often recommended for depression goes something like this: regulate liver qi, tonify spleen, nourish blood.

A site I visit frequently,, has a few protocols for hypothyroidism. Interestingly, there is a correspondence with chakra healing. The crown of the head, for instance, is important both in Indian and Chinese healing. In TCM, this location is called “baihui". Ta’i chi and other martial arts masters will ask you to “lift your baihui" by gently lowering your neck and tucking your chin in, both to combat stress and in real-life combat.

Seed therapy or su jok is based on two interesting concepts. One, it believes that the whole body can be condensed into hands, feet or ears. There are specific locations in our hands and feet that correspond to different organs. The thyroid point, for instance, is at the crease where the big toe meets the foot. Second, su jok uses the notion of “Like cures like", or “Similia similibuscurantur", as they say in Latin. Kidney beans, for example, are supposed to help the kidney, so presumably, if you have a kidney stone, you could bandage a few kidney beans over the area in your feet or hands which relate to the kidneys. I sleep overnight with these seeds strapped on my thyroid points, but others take them off after 20 minutes.

Meditation has a great impact on the mind. Everyone from the late icon Steve Jobs to author Matthieu Ricard, often called the happiest man on earth, has practised meditation in a fairly intense way. There are many methods to still the mind—through breathing techniques, sound and light meditation, or using guided meditation tapes. It depends on your personality. Those of us who are of a restless predisposition need all the help we can get. Guided meditation tapes will help. Others who are naturally calm and able to concentrate might be quickly able to follow the main injunction of meditation: be here now.

Shoba Narayan is not here now. She would like to be, though. Write to her at

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Published: 25 May 2012, 09:34 PM IST
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