Complementary Healthcare and Wellness

When conventional medicine doesn’t offer all the answers, some seek alternative paths to better health.



The welcoming Soleil’s Salt Cave in Exeter Photo by Emily Heidt
 

Growing up, while other kids delighted in tongue tattoo Fruit Roll-Ups and Smucker’s Uncrustables for lunch, I would open my Powerpuff Girls lunchbox to an apple and turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread from our local farmers market. The minute I showed signs of the flu, my mom would pass me a bowl of Cheerios and fruit for breakfast with a side of echinacea, elderberry syrup, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. The top of our microwave looked like an herbalist’s medicine cabinet. Headache? We had a supplement and all-natural lozenges for that. Trouble sleeping? We had essential oils for that too.

There were times when I was skeptical of my household’s holistic lifestyle, however, I grew up as an anxious child with a constant upset stomach. As a result, I often went through more boxes of Gin Gins than I could count, and I clung to my bottle of lavender oil like it was a stuffed animal. I was no stranger to naturopaths' offices. But as I got older, I doubted their theories, teachings and treatments, temporarily falling off the holistic bandwagon.

Sure, most alternative and natural practices date back thousands of years, but did they really work and live up to the hype? Did they live up to the standard that people like my mom often held them to? I wasn’t convinced.

Two years ago, I found myself drawn back. I had acquired various health complications, including vestibular migraines, adrenal fatigue, digestive issues and increased anxiety. Nothing was responding to traditional Western medicine. I decided to go back to my roots and rediscover the natural practices that I grew up with. I tried guided meditations (conveniently available on my smartphone), became a human pincushion during acupuncture sessions and went through two journals worth of journal prompts with a life coach. I did a detox that required me to drink dirt-like smoothies three times a day. You name it, I tried it. Much to my surprise, many of the therapies and practices gave me the results that I was looking for.

During my first phase of upper cervical treatment at Arete Chiropractic in Portsmouth, Dr. Mychal Beebe used a 3-D image to get precise points of where my neck needed adjustments. She found a misalignment of a bone in my upper neck, throwing everything else off. So began the work of rebalancing my body from the top down.

Arete is the only practice in the state that combines something called cone beam imaging and the Blair Chiropractic Technique to adjust the upper spine in order to help with headaches, neck pain, and head and neck trauma. Its specificity allows Beebe to make quick, effective adjustments to posture that relieves pain with the least amount of force. I noticed a difference after one adjustment.

“My goal is for patients to understand the innate healing capability of the human body,” says Beebe between adjustments. “If given the proper building blocks, I have seen the human body repair itself in the most beautiful and elegant ways. The upper neck alignment is not the only piece of the pie to help this natural healing ability of the body, but it’s a big one, and that’s where I come in.”

While I enjoy needing to visit Arete, especially when that means spending time with the resident office dog, Teton, Beebe strives for spinal stability in her patients so that they need her less. The longer a person can hold his or her adjustment, the more the body can allow for self-healing. “There are lots of choices that people can make when it comes to health and wellness, from eating healthy to exercising and meditating,” says Beebe. “We don’t say that we want to make the body a ‘perfect’ place to live, because there is no perfect and we are never done. While this can be frustrating, it is also inspiring.”

The treatments at places like Arete bear qualifiers like “complementary medicine,” “nontraditional medicine,” “integrative therapies” or “holistic health care,” but the idea behind them is simple: Focus on whole body wellness — body, mind and spirit. Mind-body medicine has been around in some form since the dawn of civilization, and a 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) shows that 33 percent of adults and 12 percent of children are making practices like acupuncture, massage, yoga, herbal medicine, reiki, meditation and chiropractic care a part of their routine. We now live in a society that has trouble slowing down, and it is no surprise that we are seeing a correlation between stress and a variety of health problems, including heart disease and immune system dysfunction.

Whole body health and wellness practices are growing around New Hampshire and the nation, and for good reason — they make people feel better. Suitable both for people who consider themselves healthy as well as those with evident health issues, holistic medicine can complement any conventional health care routine. While you might not think that stoic New Hampshire would offer a diverse array of such practitioners, I set off to see what was available. I found that there are many places where you can pursue the very latest versions of these therapies.

When one of my friends told me about EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping,” I gave her an eye-roll and scoffed under my breath. Physically tapping on your body’s “meridian points” and clearing out negative emotions, like my anxiety, seemed strange and improbable. Once I started working with Concord resident Barbara Belmont, an EFT practitioner, I understood why those who experience it are so passionate about it.

“Tapping is one of the tools that helps with emotional wellness and physical relief,” says Belmont. “It is basically an emotional version of acupuncture without the needles.” Tapping is geared to balance disruptions in your energy system — the results of emotional trauma or losses. Think of it this way: The physical changes that we feel from those disruptions (headaches, nausea, etc.) become attached to the memory of that experience and, in turn, affect the way that we view the world — a vicious cycle of ill-health.

“It is a simple, painless, calming technique that deactivates the fight-or-flight response often triggered by stress, so that you can think more clearly and feel better,” says Belmont. “It also provides impressive results for a range of issues like chronic pain to PTSD to fear of flying.”

In my session, Belmont performs her tapping to show me how I can take control of emotions that might otherwise leave me feeling powerless. While tapping doesn’t take the place of good medical treatment or therapy, Belmont says it is a complementary wellness tool that has the potential to balance a person’s energy system and unlock its self-healing capability.

Himalayan salt therapy is a holistic, natural therapy using micro particles of salt to promote better breathing, healthier skin, sounder sleep and overall wellness. Photo of Soleil’s Salt Cave by Emily Heidt
 

This same concept, that healing flows out from within, is what inspired Daryl Browne to open Soleil’s Salt Cave in Exeter in 2017.

Named after his baby daughter and motivated by her struggle with eczema, Browne and his wife Nastia created Soleil’s Salt Cave, with 22,000 pounds of Himalayan salt as a place to help their daughter heal. “Himalayan salt” actually comes from a huge deposit in Pakistan that dates back more than 100 million years. It’s been observed that breathing in air infused with salt helps to open up your airways and provides a sense of calm and well-being where healing seems to flow from the very walls of the cave.

“This has become a tight-knit community focused on wellness and healing from ailments from psoriasis to insomnia,” Browne says as he rakes the salt between cave sessions. Some come in to work on a specific issue. Others are led by their own curiosity or to test their skepticism. Whatever leads them, Browne says, “It’s inspiring to see people from all walks of life discovering and recognizing the value in finding space for yourself.”

The minute that I stepped into the cave I became absorbed in the soothing glow and tranquil vibes emitted by the salt lamps. There is something to be said for the sense of peace and calm that comes with just leaving your shoes and stresses at the door. The longer I spent resting in the cave, the more I felt a change in my stress levels, headaches and seasonal allergies. 

People come from all over the state, some driving hours to experience the anti-inflammatory properties associated with the salt. Browne says senior citizens come in and, after an hour, can move their arthritic joints or feel extremities that had grown insensitive. Others come in with eczema and find relief after their first treatment.

In the cave, I sank deep into my zero-gravity chair, and found myself lulled toward sleep by the soft, calming lights and recorded sounds of the ocean “shooshing” off the cave walls. Clearly you don’t have to be broken to benefit from the healing effects that holistic treatments like the salt caves have to offer. The warm positivity felt there is part of a vocabulary of holistic healing that practitioners and users alike have learned.

“We now have a language for treatment, wellness and healing, and that is a beautiful thing,” says Browne. Concepts of life in balance and a wellspring of internal peace allow us to stop struggling and rise above the stresses of life — a practice that you can physically experience at Flōte in Hampton.

Float therapy, also known as sensory deprivation, is the brainchild of physician and “psychonaut” John Lilly, whose exotic career took root at Dartmouth College in 1938. Lilly designed his “isolation tanks” to explore the workings of consciousness and to study interspecies communication with dolphins. The current method, not all that different from the one Lilly used, involves floating in a pod of warm water mixed with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. The salt makes you buoyant, apparently weightless, which helps to relieve stress, heal injuries and eliminate pain. Floating has even become a staple in the wellness routines of artists and celebrities like Tom Brady, Joe Rogan, Peter Gabriel and Susan Sarandon.

Jump in a float tank at Flōte in Hampton to experience complete relaxation. Photo by Emily Heidt
 

Catherine Markovsky and Dr. Margaux French opened Flōte in March as a place of sanctuary and wellness that can change lives for the better. Along with floating, they offer additional therapies such as massage, craniosacral therapy, sound healing and yoga. “A lifestyle focused on wellness isn’t as rigid as people think,” says French. “We wanted to offer therapies that help people escape and connect with their own balance and strength.”

Studies have shown that floating increases dopamine and endorphin levels, which elevates mood. Some users report experiencing an afterglow that lasts for days. Similar results can occur from the discipline of meditation, and float tanks could be viewed as training wheels for meditation, allowing one to disconnect from stress and reflect on life. “It is amazing to watch people rush in for an appointment, finish their phone call, and then step out an hour later as a different person,” says Markovsky. Magnesium in the salt is absorbed through the skin during an hour session and helps with muscle relaxation, migraines, anxiety, insomnia and arthritis, she explains.

“We have local doctors calling and referring their pain patients to us,” says French. “It truly is a unique practice that anyone can benefit from whether you are trying it for the first time or coming in with your significant other for a date night out.”

I was ready to try it myself.

I was led to my own float room complete with a private shower. After showering, I put on my bathing suit, put in earplugs, and stepped into the foot of 94.5-degree water. Once I settled into the tank, I was amazed at how long it took me to relax and how loud my mind was when it was stripped of sensory input. This, I was told, was natural.

“There is a profound affinity between your mind and body,” says Markovsky. “Like running a test on your computer, your brain knows exactly what it needs in your float session to reboot.” Part of the process is shutting down superficial mental functions so that deeper ones can begin. With this awareness of the body’s needs, the mind can begin to treat injuries and illness at their roots and get a body functioning at its best.

Some floaters claim to experience out-of-body journeys and messages from beyond. For me, the experience was less supernatural, but was undeniably relaxing.

Therapeutic massage is based on similar principals of relaxation, and can also have effects that might seem out of this world.  

Stacy Harrington opened Under Your Skin at The Loft in Manchester two years ago to help people achieve balance in mind, body and spirit. Sometimes her practice is for specific issues, such as TMJ headache relief or deep tissue massage for chronic pain. Sometimes the practice is a little strange to observe. For example, cupping, which became famous during the 2016 Olympics in Rio when star athletes like Michael Phelps could be seen sporting large circular bruises on their taut physiques.

Find mind-body balance during a massage from Stacy Harrington at Under Your Skin at The Loft in Manchester. Photo by Emily Heidt
 

“Cupping has been around for at least 3,000 years and lifts pressure, drawing blood and oxygen into the body to trigger its ability to heal in that spot,” says Harrington. It is used to balance the body’s meridians and to help pain, inflammation, blood flow, relaxation and overall well-being.

 But Harrington’s passion lies in providing a relaxing massage. “It is hard to shut our minds off in this day and age,” she says. “A massage allows you to focus your brain on something that is calming instead of what you need to get at the grocery store that evening.”

A massage may seem like a cliché way to relax, and maybe a little self-indulgent, but it goes beyond working tired muscles. “An hour massage has the same benefits of seven to eight hours of sleep,” she says. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. You can’t take care of everyone else unless you take care of yourself first, and massage is one of the many ways that you can bring yourself back to homeostasis.” And homeostasis, to use a key word in the lexicon of wellness, means balance.

One restorative, balancing, ancient healing art that can be found in both new-age shops and hospitals is reiki. It’s a practice that I learned more about from Karen Cerato, owner of NH Health & Wellness Center in Nashua.

Before she opened her center in 2016, Cerato applied her background in occupational therapy to her job working in physical rehabilitation hospitals for over 10 years. It was a hospital reiki class that started her wellness journey and later inspired the opening of her business.

“Reiki is about bringing our energetic bodies back into balance so that we can feel better on all levels,” says Cerato. “We aren’t looking for quick fixes; we are looking for root causes.”

“Reiki has been around for 2,500 years, and it allows you to open up energy flow to reduce anxiety, stress and pain,” says Cerato. “Sometimes people notice improvements right away, like eased nausea or headaches, and others wake up the next day with a greater sense of calm and clarity.” More importantly, it is a way to stay grounded in an otherwise frenetic world.

Cerato wants all of her patients to walk away from sessions feeling more calm and balanced. She offers treatments and even teaches reiki to others, empowering them to take their health and wellness into their own hands. She says reiki is a simple self-care tool to keep yourself steady.

“We need to focus on a new paradigm where we can have preventative, complementary healthcare as an adjunct to any wellness program,” says Cerato. “Every month, I do reiki, acupuncture and chiropractic, regardless of how I’m feeling. My immune system is stronger, I can handle stress, and I am keeping my energy balanced and full.” The endgame is to treat your body as a whole, instead of individual symptoms — a concept that is also the main focus of “functional medicine.”

At Family Acupuncture and Wellness in Portsmouth, Adam Learner offers a systematic way to treat many chronic health issues. He uses functional medicine, a holistic approach to medical intervention, to uncover the root cause of illness like inflammation, hormone imbalance and nutrient deficiency. Learner then uses treatments like acupuncture to stimulate proper energy flow and healing.

“In order to address the imbalances that we find, we have to put a large emphasis on addressing lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress,” says Learner. “Our most common treatments are for metabolic syndrome, fatigue, digestive disorders, autoimmune disorders, anxiety and depression.”

By incorporating varied treatments such as ancient acupuncture and nutritional science, Learner can work on improving the function of many of the body’s systems and how they interact with each other. “When we address the underlying root causes, many times patients achieve resolution of many, if not all of the health issues that were affecting them,” says Learner.

I entered his office with a general “anxiety and migraine” diagnosis from traditional doctors, and came out realizing that I had underlying nutrient deficiencies and digestive disorders that were unknowingly contributing to the nerves and headaches. Now, I’ve been able to “reset” my system through herbal supplements, a healthy diet and acupuncture treatments, and achieve a more balanced sense of well-being.

Old books, like the one above, represent the history of what herbalists like Rebecca Montrone, owner of Wondrous Roots in Keene, do as they compound medicines of the Earth to focus on whole body wellness. Photo by Emily Heidt

While holistic wellness might not be for everyone, it can be a complement to any conventional wellness program. During my work with Learner, I became fascinated by the power of herbs and sought out holistic health practitioner, nutritionist and apothecary and herbalist Rebecca Montrone of Wondrous Roots in Keene.

I walked in on what looked like a scene from a Harry Potter adventure with jars of Chinese Rhodiola root powder and other intricate tinctures lining shelves and the humming sound of her famous “Wondrous Skin Lotion” being mixed. There was a flurry of patients and friends asking for remedies for everything from their bee stings to bellyaches. You name the health problem, Montrone has a natural solution for it.

Her love of “medicines of the Earth” comes from her parents, who inspired the name of her company, “Wondrous Roots.” “My father, George Roentsch, was often called ‘the spontaneous remission practitioner’ because he employed botanical medicines into his pharmaceutical practice,” Montrone says as she prepares a tincture. “I became fascinated with the fact that you could use diet and nutritional choices to have control over your health.”

She prides herself in not fitting her patients into the bottles on her shelves — while one person may respond well to herbs, another might be better suited to follow a nutrition-based program. Montrone treats her patients from the inside out by finding the answer to their “dis-ease” and treating the problem. “We can’t change our environment, so we have to change the strength of our inner organism,” says Montrone.

She enjoys forming her own paradigm, setting her own pace, and teaching her clients how to bring their own healing to optimize their health. “My passion is education and fostering independence, not dependence,” says Montrone. There is power, confidence and an inner awakening that comes out of embracing who we are and knowing what we need to be well.

After exploring and sampling holistic practices from across the Granite State, I have come to the conclusion that complementary medicine and natural remedies aren’t as mystical as they can seem. While they may be different, each can serve as a healing tool in a wellness toolbox, and each puts you more in charge of your own health and well-being. In the end, it is about redefining what wellness means for you. For me, it means regular acupuncture and chiropractic sessions, and a top-of-the-microwave herbal medicine cabinet all my own. For you, it might be a maintenance plan that includes monthly float and reiki sessions.

Whatever your version of wellness is, the current mind-body mantra is to try, explore and learn. When you’re ready to get started, holistic, complementary medicine will be there to help you on your way.


Integrative Programs in Hospitals

Holistic healthcare used to be thought of as a “fringe” practice, but hospitals from Portsmouth Regional Hospital to Norris Cotton Cancer Center have started accepting and developing integrative therapy programs of their own. Realizing that more and more patients are looking for ways to supplement their traditional treatments, some hospitals are offering their own holistic classes and services.

Johane Telgener, M.Ed. and director at the Concord Hospital Center for Health Promotion, received her M.A. in integrative health and healing, and was excited to see the benefits of these treatment modalities reach patients and providers alike in the hospital’s wellness program.

“The goal of the program is really to give participants tools other than pharmacology tools to manage their health, chronic conditions and chronic pain,” says Telgener. Class offerings cover topics from general wellness to meditation and mindfulness to nutrition to reiki in order to create a culture of wellness where “everyone is our mission,” says Telgener.

Catholic Medical Center offers their BeWell program, and other similar integrated wellness programs in nutrition, cholesterol and diabetes, to help patients meet fitness goals, improve their health and reduce their risk for disease.

“We are focused on finding ways to keep patients well,” says Samantha Nowakowski, manager of Wellness and Risk Reduction. “We want to keep them from developing these chronic diseases, stopping what we can before it happens.” Hospital programs seek to integrate ancient and contemporary medicine to work together in the healing process. They are bridging the preexisting gap between alternative and Western medicine to allow patients to take control of what they can and better cope with what they can't change, all to stay well.  

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