All of us desire health during our lifetime. Along with life and death, the desire for health is what we have most in common with each other, throughout the world. As a medical doctor, I learned that as long as there have been humans, and as long as they have become sick, there have also been healers among us.
This commonality is comforting. Knowing that the desire to share wellness is an integral and unifying part of our human history gives me daily happiness in practicing medicine. It is also fascinating, since the treatment of human health and illness has given rise to an abundant diversity of approaches throughout time and space. Different cultures at different times have answered the question “what can we do to become and remain healthy” in very diverse ways.
As a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, I am especially interested in the wealth and diversity of therapies consisting in aware body movement that have evolved through the centuries and around the world. These include manual medicine, the precise movement of the healer’s body and hands, as well as therapeutic exercise, the precise movement of the patient’s body, and all the various permutations of the interactions between these two.
The vastness of this “hands on” “experiential” repertoire is logical, since human movement is the most complex and complete manifestation of who we are on all levels: intellectual, physical, spiritual and social. “Body language” even more than verbal language is deeply rooted in reality: the “integral” between what is in common among all people, our living body, and what is different within each of us: our own life experiences. Our bodies and the way they move are by far the most sophisticated of our membranes, through which we experience life. Through our bodies, we transform our experiences and are transformed by them. Moreover, the movements and gestures of our body language are breathtakingly complex. We can make computers which beat us at chess but we still cannot make machines that can compete with us or even mimic us convincingly, in speed, smoothness and flexibility of a seemingly simple task such as walking upstairs.
The realization of this commonality and complexity led me to consider some very basic questions:
If we are all in the same boat, in this challenge of embodiment, why have we come up with such different ideas about aging and death, and solutions to common, fundamental issues such as illness, disease? Even more interestingly, how is it that we have diverse definitions for health, how it looks and feels?
Are some solutions absolutely better than others, or are they just culturally and temporally defined? Did premodern western medicine or traditional Chinese medicine “get” the answers to problems more than we do now? As we become technologically more aware and advanced and globalized in treating life-threatening diseases, are we also making headway in solving problems that have to do with basic human health? Or, are we forgetting, losing something, distancing ourselves from basic truths about what makes us live best as who we are and how we fit into our environment?
More importantly, since I am a doctor and not a politician, sociologist or philosopher, I asked myself: can I do something useful with this diversity-in-common, to help my patients go beyond illness, into a wholly healthy peaceful, meaningful coexistence within this technologically driven, culturally diverse world, and can I start this process at the level I know best, the living, whole, human body?
Through time, I studied and practiced many different approaches in attempting to answer these questions. The one that has worked best for me, is both integrative and transcultural, since I live and work in a westernized, globalized country.
The transcultural method of thinking has allowed me to include both the divergences and the convergences in thinking about human health and movement, to more effectively apply different solutions to the problem that the patient brings to me. It is moreover in pinpointing the divergences in thought, in treatment solutions which have developed to solve similar problems, that I discover the greatest clinical treasures. I have found instead, that methods or even just “marketing strategies” which try to syncretize different medical traditions into one approach or merely to apply one solution on top of another become unwieldy, lacking in finesse, and frequently prohibitively expensive to the patient.
This transcultural approach, combined with a passion for clinical medicine, treating one patient at a time, are the basic driving force that has shaped my 30 years of medical practice. This approach and the also forms the basis for the integrative medicine group that I have formed over these last 15 years: AIM for Health (Active integrative medicine for health). We are a group of specialists with diverse training, but with the common goal of finding the best solution to whole health, with each patient who comes to any one of us. We treat with equal importance both health and illness when seeing our patients, but our final goal of treatment is to sustain health, since we realize that the search for health and vitality, for “comfortable, meaningful embodiment” is the basic commonality we all share as living beings.
To this end, beyond treating specific problems with injections, pharmaceutical or parapharmaceutical options, we focus on therapeutic movement. When considering the human body, movement and life are synonyms. The difference between life and death is the quality of dynamic harmonious movement at each of our levels of existence, from the regeneration of our genetic code to the coherent use of our “body language. Every therapeutic movement prescription is unique, because it is generated for a unique embodied individual. Just as one diet does not work for everyone, one type of movement does not work for everyone.
We work to offer clinical assistance for a variety of illnesses, disabilities, and also situations of fragile health that our patients bring to us. We do this through interprofessional, often simultaneous medical team evaluation, led by an MD, but including physical therapists, osteopaths, yoga and tai chi instructors and others. We then generate a complete, step by step treatment plan that draws from multiple medical traditions, transculturally, to brings our patient all the way to salutogenesis. The diversity of medical traditions practiced with excellence by members of our group gives us a rich repertoire from which to create a salutogenic strategy.
We are also a school: we provide interprofessional CME-certified courses in principles and hands- on practice of healing strategies within traditional chinese medicine: acupuncture, tu ina, qi gong, tai chi, as well as courses in manual medicine osteopathic techniques and functional anatomy and physiology for therapeutic yoga. Our entire group is united and also “transcultural” in our own daily health practices, with a firsthand knowledge of each member’s areas of specific expertise and most productive area of overlap, in order to avoid gaps and costly redundancies in care.
In the 15 years that our group has grown together, we have found that we provide the best quality of care to our patients and education to our students when we are able to explicate the method of our integration. Specific methods, based on complex systems analysis and exploration of each medical philosophy that we use, with a critical scientific approach are vital to creating an integrative team: bringing us “up a level” from simply a group of qualified professionals who treat the same patient. We have codified this method into a course which teaches how to initiate and nurture the specific interprofessional interaction, on a basis far more solid than economic gain.
We also offer cultural and scientific formation, in anatomy, physiology and basic therapeutic movement strategies, designed to promote understanding of the similarities but also some very basic differences in how different cultures see the body moving for health.
Our mission is first a clinical one: to continue provide a nurturing, comprehensive, “home” within which each of our patients can regain the ability to generate their own health, the ability to “embark on salutogenesis.” Secondly, we aim to expand our method of transcultural integration of medicines, teaching professionals who are engaged in healing, how to work together successfully, creatively, meaningfully and ergonomically.
Beyong this, our final vision is to transform each problem that a patient brings to us, into an opportunity for wholeness, for connection: the sense that we are more alike than we are different, as human beings, and that, while the similarities can be pleasant, enjoying and understanding the differences among us is what will help us survive, and evolve.
Daniela Jurisic, MD