If you've ever tried acupuncture to manage back pain, taken Echinacea to shorten the duration of a cold, or practiced yoga to destress, you're part of a growing trend of Americans who are using complementary and alternative medicine to treat health issues.
CAM takes a holistic approach to health by encouraging balance among the mind, body and spirit though a number of modalities, such as yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation and herbal medicine. Often, CAM can be used to decrease a person's intake of Western medication while increasing their overall well-being. Studies show that more Americans are turning to CAM to deal with various ailments or simply to change the way they feel.
Ann Bartlett has long been ahead of the trend. When she was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. In addition to daily injections of insulin, her parents encouraged her to be an advocate for her own health. That meant pursing an active lifestyle (Bartlett played hockey, lacrosse and even built her own 2-mile challenge course). It also meant eating balanced meals that didn't include processed foods.
"My mom was not a believer in Doritos," Barlett says.
|Find Your Center|
|Here are some of the most popular mind-body centers in the D.C. area|
|» Body in Balance Center: With a mission to teach others that "Mind Body Matters," Bartlett's Body in Balance Center is one of Northern Virginia's hidden gems. Independent practitioners have come together in one space to offer the community a wide range of expertise and services, ranging from acupuncture and meditation to Reiki and massage. The center offers many types of yoga classes (Vinyasa, Iyengar, etc.), but athletes and inflexible folks shouldn't miss its Deep Stretch class, which works on expanding the connective tissue in the body. 1423 Powhatan Street, Alexandria. 703-518-4434. bodyinbalancecenter.com.|
|» New Life Wellness Center: With treatments like chiropractic care, colon hydrotherapy and ear candling, New Life Wellness Center helps patients address all sorts of conditions. The infrared sauna here is designed to increase circulation and help detoxify your body of pollutants through sweating. 426 8th St. SE. 202-544-9595. newlifewellnesscenter.com.|
|» Blue Heron Wellness: Located in Silver Spring, Blue Heron Wellness' body movement classes include yoga, Thai Chi, Chi Gong, Pilates, and dance. Their couples massage workshop teaches partners how to support one another through loving touch. If you have chronic symptoms or illness, look into its botanical healing program. By meeting with a certified herbalist, you can learn how plant-based medicine can improve your health. 10723 Columbia Pike, Ste B, Silver Spring. 301-754-3730. blueheronwellness.com.|
|» Vital Body and Mind Therapies: Vital Body and Mind Therapies in the Del Ray district of Alexandria works "to relieve physical disease and encourage our clients to understand how emotions are stored and carried in the body." Offering classical homeopathy, life coaching, and nutritional counseling, among other wellness programs, it partners with nearby Mind the Mat, a yoga and Pilates studio, to encourage fitness. 2201 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 703-683-8333.vitalmindbodytherapies.com.
Growing up, Bartlett attended a Waldorf School in Pennsylvania that was across the street from a 500-acre biodynamic farm. Part of her curriculum was planting crops, taking care of sheep and learning how to compost, all of which taught her the importance of clean foods and good nutrition.
Bartlett also sought out the help of a homeopathic practitioner in addition to her regular doctor.
"My parents and my doctor were open to any therapies that might strengthen my immune system," she says.
Bartlett is so convinced that alternative health care has helped her live a vibrant life and manage the symptoms of her diabetes, that she went into the business full time. In 2005, she founded the Body in Balance Center, a comprehensive wellness center, in Alexandria.
Unlike gyms (which tend to focus exclusively on the body), and unlike spas (which tend to focus on pure pampering), wellness centers integrate fitness programs with specific attention to detail about decreasing stress and living in a state of mindful awareness day to day. However, it's becoming a lot more common for gyms and spas to add a wellness component, Bartlett notes.
"The lines can get blurry and people have to decide what works for them," she said.
For example, someone who is already working out regularly may benefit best from a center that focuses more on dealing with stress. Someone else might need a place that will encourage workout-type activities.
One of the benefits of a wellness center is the way it brings together a community of people. With the health care system in the state it is, connecting with others and learning from peers can teach us wonders about our health. That said, just because a certain class or therapy changed the life of one person doesn't mean it'll work for you.
Wellness centers have a variety of treatments and you can experiment with a bunch of them. If yoga doesn't feel good, try tai chi instead.
"Your body will tell you what you need," Bartlett says.