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Experiencing holistic health

Consumer Reports News: March 26, 2011 09:08 AM

I started with a drum circle—my first—and found it immediately put a grin on my face. Later, I lay on a Biomat radiating "far infrared rays, negative ions, and amethyst crystals" for 20 minutes listening to a relaxation tape (very warm and relaxing).

Those and other holistic practices and gadgets were available for sampling in the “experiential room” at a recent conference on evidence-based holistic practices for treating addictions, mental-health problems, and pain management. The Evolution of Treatment Meeting was hosted by the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies in Miami Beach.

I tried out the Sound Pillow, which has two small speakers buried in it so you can listen to supposedly sleep-evoking music all night long. Since folks in a Consumer Reports test of sound machines reported that similar devices helped them sleep, I have a personal interest in this technology, which may allow one person in a bed to be tuned to sleep without disturbing his or her bedmate.

I also got to “tone up” my brain waves with two biofeedback experiences. The HeartMath program tracked my heart rate and aimed to help me achieve more “coherence,” defined as “an optimal state in which the heart, mind and emotions are operating in-sync and balanced.” While the one from a newish outfit called Brain Training Centers of Florida promised to help “balance” my brain waves. I did feel deeply calm after listening to chirpy sounds while my brain waves were “trained,” but now I’m wondering exactly how their machine “knows” what a well balanced brain should be like. Acupuncture, massage, and other modalities were also available for the trying, though I didn’t get to those.

As an antidote to all the relaxation, I heard 90-minute seemingly scientific talks from two keynote speakers. Ken Blum, Ph.D., who kept the audience charged as he went through decades of research in brain chemistry, and gently evangelized for amino-acid supplementation aimed at correcting genetic and addiction- and stress-induced neurochemical deficits, which he calls Reward Deficiency Syndrome. Charles Grant, M.D., Ph.D., the second keynoter, said that we’re on the verge of what he called a unified theory that explains addictions, attention deficit disorders, and mental illnesses as a person's inborn or acquired inability to optimally use or balance our natural brain chemicals.

Dr. Grant, who practices what he calls functional medicine, has a soothing, mesmerizing presentation style and I later attended a workshop he did on mindfulness. This no-drug, no-gadget, no-cost method of attending to the "now" is a kind of moving meditation. The idea is that by focusing on the current sensations of, say, the soles of your feet as you walk, you quiet the "drunken monkey" mind of constant mental chatter that keeps us stressed by worrying about the past and future. The DIY aspects of mindfulness techniques appeal to me.

Perhaps most intriguing were the other conference attendees—therapists of all types who work in addiction and pain treatment facilities, and patients trying to find ways to optimize their recoveries. The 360-degree view of treatment is inspiring. This is not a group who thinks the answer to everything can be found in a pill, whether it's a drug or a supplement. Sleeping deeply, eating right, avoiding toxic self-medication, and calming the mind are seen as essential components of treating any mental or physical ill.

Evolution of Treatment [Evolution of Treatment: An Experiential Conference] [Institute of HeartMath]

Braintraining Centers of Florida

Ronni Sandroff

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