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  • Ann-Sophie Briest, MD

Recipe versus Strategy in Healing

Wouldn’t it be frugal yet extremely satisfying if the human organism was operating like a machine that could be ‘fixed’? … with well-defined and explicit symptoms which would indicate an effective treatment which for its part would bring the system back to perfect health? Certainly, I’m provoking here with a utopian image. And while modern medicine is not sharing this exaggerated view either I invite all of us to be very candid here. To what extent do we believe in and follow such a symptom-based formula?

Most of us grew up being surrounded by a health system that promotes ideas such as “if you have pain take a painkiller” or “if you suffer from depression take an antidepressant”. That is a recipe! It is symptom-based. In terms of the therapeutic approach (symptom-based) it doesn’t quite matter if you take Prozac or Saint John’s wort to treat a depression - it is still a recipe, it's not holistic… even most of the household remedies are symptom-based… This mindset is deeply ingrained and difficult to change. In fact, many of the alternative forms of medicine use that same approach only with a diverse ‘tool box’ - it's not that one approach is 'right' while the other is 'wrong' - they are simply different and thus have different strengths and challenges. Other systems of medicine which require this full change of perspective include TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), Homeopathy or Ayurveda.


I was once sitting in on a family doctor’s practice in Germany. The physician was also offering acupuncture to his patients. I noticed that he would always use the identical points for the same diagnosis (such as knee pain). He told me that there is extensive evidence that in the case of knee pain specific acupuncture points are more effective than painkillers and that German health insurances had recently started paying for those acupuncture treatments. That was why he was using the same points repeatedly - in this case knee pain. Here, the holistic system (TCM) got turned into a symptom-based form of medicine. While I find that it is important and valuable to subject holistic forms of therapy to modern studies, I also believe that the methodology needs to be adjusted to the respective medical system. It will always be difficult – if not impossible – to evaluate energy-based systems such as TCM and Homeopathy on physically-based parameters. I truly hope that creative and progressive minds will develop new ways to ‘measure’ and prove the powerful results which those systems comprise.


Having grown up in the West, to me the required mental flexibility to switch to a holistic form of healing is a complex task, difficult to develop. It calls for continuous training and mindfulness. From my own experience, there is no magic switch, no big ‘aha-moment’ after which you ‘get this holistic therapy thing’ but instead it is a fascinating, humbling on-going learning process. Basically, a self-discovery.


Let’s talk about Yoga Therapy.

I invite all of us to take a moment to honestly reflect on our own attitude towards the yoga practice. Do we try to ‘fix’ the body… practicing the top 5 asanas to heal lower back pain…? Do we aim to get rid of certain emotions which are burdening us… practicing the fire breath to become more self-confident…? Do we somehow view ourselves like a conglomerate of different symptoms that can be treated with yoga therapy? Do we use yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation, kriya, diet, fasting, etc.) like a recipe?


While the yogic system is indeed a powerful ‘pill’ to treat specific symptoms, it is much more than that – it can actually promote healing! How? By activating the self-healing mechanisms of the body through yogic practices. Instead of detaching a symptom from the rest of the complex organism we understand the body as a dynamic equilibrium – everything is brilliantly interwoven. Yoga techniques are used as part of a larger healing strategy to support the body’s own intelligence to come back to balance. Symptoms are foremost signs of imbalance which always point to a deeper cause. Once that cause is identified a strategy is developed. Healing objectives may include points such as ‘balancing the autonomic nervous system’ or ‘balancing the ayurvedic constitution through change of diet and lifestyle’… Recommendations/yogic techniques are aligned with the individual objectives and adjusted to the current life situation. Personal resources are emphasised and challenging factors respected.


Therefore, every Yoga Therapy programme is truly holistic and unique -

as is every person!


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