Until recently, Harford County residents interested in alternative approaches to health care had to travel a long way to find such services. But as the county has grown, many of these options have found their way here. Some of these treatments, collectively known as "energy medicine," include ancient Eastern healing arts, while others are relatively new. Here's a look at some of the county's more unusual alternative wellness treatments:
Tui na and energy medicine
One of the most well-known alternative therapies is acupuncture, a 2,000-year-old branch of Chinese medicine. But Chinese medicine also includes other modalities such as tui na, a form of Chinese massage that focuses treatment on the same pressure points used in acupuncture, making it a good choice for those who don’t like needles.
“Chinese medicine is about eliminating disharmonies in the body and restoring balance,” says Bradley Patterson, an acupuncturist at R4 Wellness in Bel Air. He also performs tui na, as well as moxibustion, a Chinese herbal therapy often used in conjunction with acupuncture.
Patterson explains that the central idea in all Chinese medicine is qi, a force unheard of in Western medicine. Qi refers to a vital energy circulating through and around the body. Chinese medicine practitioners say illness ensues when that energy is blocked or misdirected.
Reiki and herbal therapies
Other forms of energy medicine, like reiki, use different terms but employ a similar underlying philosophy.
“I’m taking the energy around me and focusing it on the person’s body,” explains reiki practitioner Pamela Paris.
Originating in Japan early in the late 1800s, reiki’s principles are derived from older Japanese forms of healing and are similar to those found in Chinese medicine.
Based at Pathways to Whole Living, a two-year-old alternative wellness center in Bel Air, Paris describes reiki as “a gentle laying on of hands.”
“It helps relieve blockages that might be interfering with someone’s life energy,” she says. “These can be mental, emotional or spiritual blockages.”
Client Jessica Kaley was suffering from chronic leg and back pain when she started getting reiki treatment. “My sessions with Pam gave me immediate relief,” she says.
Paris became interested in reiki and in herbal medicine after becoming fed up with her own health issues. As an operations research analyst at Aberdeen Proving Ground, her work life was stressful, and her body paid the price.
“I was diagnosed with six different conditions and [was] on seven different medications by the age of 45,” she says. “I got into herbal medicine and reiki to learn how to take better care of myself.”
Now, in addition to practicing reiki, Paris is a licensed dietitian-nutritionist with a master’s degree in therapeutic herbalism. Her custom-made herbal teas are available at Pathways to Whole Living, and her reiki expertise has drawn interest from mainstream medical establishments. Paris frequently sees patients referred to her for reiki treatment through the Cancer LifeNet program at Upper Chesapeake.
The Cancer LifeNet program uses an inclusive approach to treatments for cancer patients. Dr. Gina Sager, a retired board-certified surgeon, teaches courses in yoga and mindfulness to cancer patients through LifeNet.
“Some alternative practices can help [cancer patients] focus more on the quality of life rather than the quantity of life,” Sager says.
She encourages patients to inform their doctors if they choose to pursue any alternative modalities.
“Anything that empowers a patient is beneficial, even if it doesn’t have quantifiable results,” she adds.
With 13 practitioners, Pathways to Whole Living aims to be a one-stop shop for alternative wellness strategies. Owner Tracey Oliver-Keyser provides life-coaching services and also offers chakra balancing, which is derived from an ancient Indian system of medicine called ayurveda.
“The chakras correspond to seven main energy systems in the body,” Oliver-Keyser explains.
Practitioners say balance can be restored to the body through a variety of means, such as aromatherapy or the use of certain sounds. But lifestyle changes may also be needed.
“I tell my clients wellness is not a passive activity. It’s about you taking control of your own health,” she says.
Eden Energy and BioAcoustics
Many newer Western-based programs also embrace the idea of using energy to create balance. One such system is Eden Energy Medicine.
Genevieve DiGiovanni, based at iON Spa in Havre de Grace, is one of only two certified Eden Energy Medicine practitioners in Maryland. She describes herself as “the last stop” for most of her patients.
“My typical client is a usually a woman who’s on an emotional hamster wheel,” she says. “She’s seen every doctor and still doesn’t know what’s wrong.”
DiGiovanni’s own experiences with cancer led her to Eden Energy Medicine, which was developed by Donna Eden about 35 years ago. The system has been praised by well-known physician and author Christiane Northrup.
“Eden Energy Medicine uses meridian tapping to dislodge old emotional baggage,” DiGiovanni explains. Meridians are centers of energy located at various points in the body, she says.
“I teach patients how to use these tools for themselves,” DiGiovanni continues. “That helps them take responsibility for their own well-being.”
iON Spa is also home to Joanne Roland, one of the few practitioners of BioAcoustics in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“BioAcoustics melds computer technology with the ancient healing power of sound,” Roland explains. “BioAcoustics interprets your voiceprint and uses it to tell you what’s going on in your body. After analyzing the voiceprint, we can recommend nutritional changes, herbs and also do a sound presentation using biofeedback to help give the body the frequencies it needs.”
Roland’s client Ann Reed says she was suffering from chronic fatigue after a bout with Lyme disease.
“I was delighted to find how easy it is to take a voiceprint,” she says, adding that she was so impressed with the results, she’s now studying it herself.
Recently, Roland and DiGiovanni joined forces to offer Energetic Biofeedback, a service that will blend the more analytical BioAcoustics with the more intuitive Eden system. DiGiovanni and Roland see the partnership as a way to introduce clients to both programs and to help them choose the one that works best.
“We see ourselves as energy detectives,” DiGiovanni says. “We don’t just wave a magic wand and fix you.”
Summing up this increasingly popular approach to wellness, iON Spa owner Eric Sumwalt says, “Holistic and energy medicine is about what we can do to help you heal yourself.”