Alternative therapies (or complementary therapies / alternative medicines) include everything from Aromatherapy to Yoga, Reflexology to Reiki. But do you know which is which and what the underlying therapy for each actually is?
To find a good practitioner, you should look for someone with appropriate qualifications, and a number of regular patients - indeed, once you start asking around, you'll likely find people who are only to ready to recommend their favourite practitioner. With more and more research demonstrating the effectiveness, this is a field that is sure to continue growing.
An ancient Chinese medical practice, acupuncture uses needles, heat and electrical stimulation at very precise points to encourage the body to heal itself and function better. Practitioners explain that acupuncture works by unblocking channels of energy that run throughout the body.
These energy channels, called meridians, can become blocked as a result of poor diet, bad food or lack of exercise. This practice is successful in a range of areas including the prevention and treatment of various illnesses.
The practice of aromatherapy combines essential oils with the healing power of touch. The fragrances are powerful tools to promote self-healing - whether by relieving pain and muscle tension, this holistic treatment is a powerful way to benefit mind, body and spirit.
Aromatherapy has proven effective in treating numerous ailments, but is particularly effective in helping relieve those suffering from stress, anxiety, and psychosomatic induced problems. Women also find it helpful in dealing with issues such as PMS, menopausal complaints and postnatal depression.
If you are uncomfortable taking powerful medications, homeopathy may be what you're looking for. Homeopathy works on the principle that by taking an extremely diluted form of something that would normally make you ill, you can actually treat the symptoms.
Developed by German physician Christian Hahnemann, this gentle therapy is now used to treat a range of illnesses including hypertension, diabetes, ulcers, and migraines. A good course of treatment can increase your energy levels and improve your quality of life - indeed, many people report that it has resolved physical problems that have been bothering them for years.
How does magnetic therapy work? It is based on the ancient Chinese belief in wei chi - 'defensive energy' - an invisible energy that flows just beneath the skin. Acupuncture is one way to strengthen the wei chi, and magnetic therapy is another.
Magnetic therapy is applied to the acupuncture points, and aims to help build new cells and rejuvenate the tissues of the body. In use for over 2000 years, this gentle treatment has helped relieve pain from arthritis and other ailments for thousands of people.
For sheer relaxation, massage therapy is hard to beat. But there's much more to it than just being profoundly relaxing. There is a growing body or research which shows that massage therapy can reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve blood circulation and lymph flow, and of course relax muscles.
For those recovering from an injury, it can stimulate weak, inactive muscles and help lead to a more complete recovery. It is also popular post-exercise for its ability to relax muscles and improve range of motion.
The powers of meditation are gradually being accepted in the West - by contrast, meditation has been popular in the East for thousands of years. Meditation has many benefits including reduced oxygen consumption, breathing rate, heart rate and muscle tension.
As a result it is highly recommended for people with CHD (coronary heart disease) and hypertension (high blood pressure). In addition, regular practice has been shown to be beneficial in improving overall health, including helping those with depression, obesity, insomnia and headaches.
Understanding Neuro-Linguistic Programming, or NLP, combines the fields of psychology and linguistics in order to help people understand their behaviour better, and become more successful in their personal lives. NLP practitioners believe that our mind, body and language work together to influence our thoughts and behaviour.
By using the techniques we can change unsuccessful behaviours and learn new, more successful strategies that will help us to excel. By changing the way we think, learn and communicate, we can take control of our lives. It has been used successfully in a variety of fields including reframing negative beliefs and removing phobias.
Part pleasure, part pain, reflexology is the practice of stimulating points on the feet and hands to improve health. Practitioners of reflexology believe that each area of the hand or foot corresponds to another part of the body.
By applying appropriate pressure to tight or "gritty" areas of a person's foot, the practitioner can stimulate the corresponding body part, causing it to begin healing itself. In addition to treating specific areas of the body, this gentle therapy also promotes overall feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.
A simple, non-invasive healing system, Reiki involves using the hands to direct energy to promote wellness of mind, body and spirit. Reiki is becoming increasingly popular with a variety of patients, including pregnant women, the elderly, and even children.
Patients reporting a range of benefits including improved sleep and reduced blood pressure. As with most forms of alternative therapy, it also engenders a feeling of deep relaxation, helping the body to release stress and tension.
A practice over 6000 years old, yoga has a range of benefits that explain its growing popularity. In our ever more frantic world, its ability to relax may the most powerful of all its effects. There are numerous yoga styles, so it's important to find one that meets your needs.
Some are more energetic, closer to a Western style workout, while others focus far more on breathing and relaxation techniques. Whichever style you choose, regular practice will leave body and mind feeling better and more relaxed.