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A-Z of complementary therapies

(also see complementary health news)


Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine sterile needles to clear blockages in the meridians of the body. It is based on the principles of Chinese medicine which assert that the life force (Chi) flows through the twelve meridians of the body. Each meridian is associated with a particular body system or organ. Sluggish or blocked meridians give rise to health problems and imbalance

Visit the British Acupuncture Council for more information


The use of digital pressure to clear blockages in the meridians of the body. Acupressure is based on the principles of Chinese medicine and has a similar background to acupuncture.

Alexander Technique

A technique devised to improve posture and balance within the body. The technique enables relearning of the correct ways of sitting standing, moving around and lifting so that no stresses or strains are felt. The technique is based on the belief that poor posture may be the root cause of many other troubles. (e.g. joint pain, infections, lack of confidence etc.)

The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT) has further information.


The holistic use of aromatic plant essential oils to treat mind, body and spirit. A treatment is tailored for each client by selecting oils with properties which target specific organs or systems. Specialised massage techniques are employed to introduce the oils to the bloodstream. The oils are used to balance the body and so promote self-healing and a sense of well-being. Oils may also be introduced in other ways such as in bath preparations, compresses and inhalations.

Visit the Aromatherapy Consortium for further information.


An entire medical approach developed and practised in India over the last 3000 years. It promotes the use of a range of therapies to keep the consciousness, mind and body healthy. The approach focuses on prevention rather than cure and involves meditation, lifestyle guidelines, dietary guidelines, yoga and the use of herbal preparations.

Visit the Ayurveda Institute for more information.

Bach Flower Remedies

A system of treatment based on the belief that all physical and other health problems originate from the emotions. The client is given a flower remedy designed to act on the emotional system and thereby relieve physical symptoms. In the 1930s, Dr Bach developed a range of thirty-eight remedies. The flower essences are diluted in brandy and a few drops are taken by mouth. Each remedy is associated with a particular emotional state and they can be taken in combination. Since Dr Bach's work other forms of flower remedy have now been developed.

Visit the Bach Centre for more information.

Bowen Technique

A non-invasive treatment developed by Tom Bowen in the 1950s which stimulates energy flow and helps the body to self heal and restore harmony. The therapy is carried out on a soft, low treatment table with the client wearing loose comfortable clothing. Light rolling movements on the muscles and tendons are used to encourage circulation, increase mobility and promote lymphatic drainage.

See the Bowen Association UK for more information.


A healing technique based on manipulation of the spine. It is believed that any spinal misalignments, known as 'subluxations' or 'fixations', not only cause back pain, but may affect the functions of the whole body. Treatment focuses on joint manipulation to remove these misalignments and some techniques may resemble those used in osteopathy. There is a gentler form of chiropractic called McTimoney which relies on swift manipulative hand movements.

Visit the General Chiropractic Council for more details.


Herbalism is the oldest form of medicine and is practised all over the world. It involves using plants or combinations of plants often made up into an infusion or tea to treat a range of conditions. After consultation a professional herbalist will make up an appropriate herbal preparation to treat an individual holistically.

See the British Herbal Medicine Association for more information.


A system of medicine that works on the principle of using like to cure like. It treats an illness with medicine made from a substance that would produce similar symptoms in a healthy person. Homeopathic preparations are made by diluting animal, mineral or vegetable extracts in alcohol and then converting it into tablet form. By giving a tiny dose, it is believed that the body's natural defence and immune system will be stimulated to deal with the problem. The more dilute a preparation, the more potent it is believed to be.

See the British Homeopathic Association for further information.


Uses techniques to induce a trance-like state in which patients can be desensitized to fears, phobias or pain. Practitioners believe the mind has different levels of consciousness. Under hypnosis the conscious, rational part is temporarily bypassed making the subconscious part receptive to suggestion. There are also techniques for self-hypnosis which can help to programme the subconscious mind when in a relaxed state

The National Council for Hypnotherapy has further information.

Indian Head Massage

Indian Head Massage (known as Champissage in India) has been used for over a thousand years. Focussing on massage of the head, face, neck, shoulders and upper back it is an effective therapy for stress relief. It has also been found beneficial for eyestrain, headaches, insomnia and sinus congestion. The treatment is usually given with the client seated and fully clothed.

For further details visit the London Centre of Indian Champissage


Iridology uses the appearance of the eye, and in particular the iris to assess mental and physical health. Practitioners claim to identify past and present disorders and predict future problems by studying the colour, condition and markings of the iris. They claim not to diagnose an actual disease but to pinpoint weaknesses in the body so that health problems can be avoided. Iridology is sometimes used as an additional diagnostic tool by practitioners of therapies such as homeopathy and naturopathy.

See the Guild of Naturopathic Iridologists for further information.


Kinesiology uses a system of muscle testing to determine both imbalances in body systems and intolerances to food and other substances. Knowledge about the state of the body is thought to be held in the muscles.

See the Association of Systematic Kinesiology for further details.

Mainstream Medicine

Medonline - links to unbiased information about a wide range of mainstream medicines and treatments.

Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)

A specialised form of massage that drains the lymph - a watery fluid that circulates around the body and which contains large numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells - back into the blood. It is used to help fight infection, redress the water balance in the body, promote healing and aid problems with circulation.

For further information see the Manual Lymph Drainage UK site.


Massage is a technique of therapeutic touch used to relax and heal the body. Gentle massage techniques promote relaxation while stimulating the circulation and helping the body to eliminate toxins. The sensation of touch promotes a feeling of well-being which can help to counteract stress. More vigorous massage techniques can be used to act on particular areas of muscular tension and can help in breaking down adhesions and the elimination of wastes. Specialized techniques are used in the context of sport to help heal damaged muscles and joints.


A philosophy of healing based on the idea that only nature heals. The practitioner helps the client to eliminate disease through improving general health. Lifestyle changes might include prescription of exercise, diet modification, fasting, hydrotherapy and counselling.

Visit the General Council and Register of Naturopaths for further information.

Nutritional therapy

Good health is believed to be directly related to the quality of food eaten. By analysing a person's diet and tailoring it to their individual needs - rectifying any vitamin, mineral and other nutrient imbalances - nutritional therapists seek to alleviate and treat common diseases and promote health.

The British Association of Nutritional Therapists has more information.


Reflexology is based on the premise that energy runs through the body in zones and that each zone has a corresponding reflex point on the foot. Specialised massage techniques are used on the feet (and hands) to unblock pathways and stimulate the natural healing process.

Visit the Association of Reflexologists for more information.


Reiki originated in Japan and is a form of healing which asserts that universal energy can be 'drawn down' by practitioners and channelled into areas of the body where healing is required. There are four levels of attunement. It can be practised both as a hands-on technique and at a distance.

The Reiki Association has more information.


A system of healing based on the theory that many diseases are associated with disorders of the muscular skeletal system. Diagnosis and treatment of disorders involves palpation, manipulation and massage. Osteopathy provides relief for many disorders of bones and joints. As well as physical treatment the osteopath will address lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet and stress management.

See the General Osteopathic Council for more details.


A form of massage which involves applying sustained pressure to various acupressure points around the body. The therapist uses fingers, thumbs, elbows, knees and even feet. The aim of the treatment is to restore and balance the flow of energy around the body and so release tension and induce relaxation.

The Shiatsu Society has further details.

Thermo-auricular therapy (Hopi Ear Candles)

A treatment derived from North American Indians in which hollow candles are inserted into the ear and then set alight. The candles contain beeswax, honey and herbs. The treatment causes a chimney effect in the ear which helps to cleanse the ear and regulate pressure in the inner ear. Useful for blocked ears, sinusitis, rhinitis, headaches, migraines, glue ear and stress.

See the Thermo-auricular Therapy site for more information.


A form of gentle exercise to harmonise body and mind. In its purest form Yoga is a complete system of physical and mental training. A series of spiritual stages are the path to enlightenment. These begin with ethical guidelines including healthy eating habits and progress through the practice of 'asanas' (physical postures) and 'pranayama' (breathing techniques) to meditation and eventually to supreme level of pure consciousness.

Today there are many types of Yoga - Hatha Yoga being the most popular form in the West. Hatha means 'balance' reflecting the balance of mind and body. A calm mind promotes regular breathing and a relaxed body and vice versa.

Visit the British Wheel of Yoga for lots of information about yoga.