Complementary and alternative medicine: Part 2

Motivating the mind

by Carmen Visser

Continuing from the last article in this series (read it here), this article will expand on the kinds of complementary and alternative medicinal practices that are suited to the human mind.

As CAM takes a holistic approach to health, it is believed that practices developed to better your mental state can also improve other problems with your health. The most popular mind-based practices are meditation, biofeedback and hypnosis.


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Meditation is known as a wellness exercise that is practised all over the world. It involves paying attention to the flow of breath, as well as concentrating on the thoughts that enter the mind. By focussing on these aspects, one learns how to stay present in the current moment and not wander off to the past or future. Furthermore, consumer manuals explain how meditation often induces physical relaxation and mental calmness. It can also encourage spiritual growth, self-love and self-compassion.

According to, meditation has the following benefits: lower stress levels, greater knowledge on pain, better connection and improved focus. In addition to these, meditating has proven helpful to struggles such as depression, anxiety and insomnia.

While there are no strict guidelines, Healthline suggests that there are six types of meditation, each with its own benefits and births. These are mindfulness, spiritual, focused, movement, mantra and transcendental. While mindfulness meditation originates from the teachings of Buddha, mantra meditation stems from Hindu teachings.

It is important to understand that meditation is an open field and should be customised for each person’s needs. Some may only be able to meditate for five minutes while others find that an hour is not long enough. Meditation can be shaped into whatever it needs to be.


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Biofeedback aims to teach control over certain body functions that were previously unconsciously controlled. These include heart rate, muscle tension, breathing, perspiration, skin temperature and blood pressure.

This mind-body exercise involves connecting electrodes to different parts of the body. Body functions are then monitored using specialised machinery. From here, exercises to control these functions are practised and immediate feedback is available, in the form of visuals or audio.

As Harvard Medical School explains, biofeedback requires a lot of effort and time. However, there are many benefits such as relaxed muscles, lower blood pressure or slower a heart rate. In addition, biofeedback has also proven helpful with anxiety, chronic pain, urinary incontinence and headaches.

The concept of biofeedback has been researched by multiple scientists and much work has been published on it. In 1969 a Biofeedback Research Society was formed. From here, several scientists tested these theories and some found that biofeedback worked successfully on their patients. After much more research and testing, biofeedback is now considered a professional health practice.


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Hypnosis, or hypnotherapy, is an advanced state of mind with a heightened sense of focus and concentration. In this trance-like state people are more relaxed and are, therefore, more open to suggestions. Mayo Clinic emphasises the fact that those who are hypnotised are still in control of their behaviour.

Hypnosis is a guided relaxation exercise in which a therapist focuses thoughts onto specific topics or tasks. In doing this, people can explore their painful or uncomfortable feelings and memories. This mind-body exercise helps with phobias, anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, stress, grief and addiction.

Although helpful, hypnosis can result in false memories being created or inaccurate details being remembered from past memories. Hypnosis can also have different effects based on one’s “hypnotisability”, which is their willingness to be hypnotised. Additionally, many people question the ethics of hypnotherapy.

The term hypnosis originates from the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos and was decided by an English physician named James Braid. Britannica explains how hypnosis can be dated back to ancient magic and medicine, but scientifically was first introduced in the latter part of the 18th century. A German physician treated the first patients with hypnosis in Vienna and Paris but was later disproven. In the 1880s, Hypnosis gained scientific interest and has been a popular research topic ever since.

CAM processes work together

Many of the complementary and alternative medicinal practises target more than just one aspect of life. For example, yoga has benefits for both your body and your mind. In addition, while biofeedback is a process controlled by the mind, it directly affects how the body functions. CAM can be practised in a collaborative manner that helps the body, mind and soul. In the final part of this series, processes that focus on energy flow and fields surrounding the body will be explored. These are considered soul-based complementary and alternative medicinal practises.

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