Naturopathy:  Holistic healing and wellness

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

 Naturopathy and Health: A positive strengths-based perspective

There is a global calling for holistic healing and wellness through health promotion activities in both personal and public domains. Naturopathy, an ancient non-invasive rational system of healing that practises natural elements based on the theory of self-healing capacity of the body, vitality, and toxemia is being revived worldwide as an alternative positive approach to health.

Naturopathy advocates the importance of one's own health, minimising symptoms of illness, balancing the entire human mechanism, and supporting the body's ability to heal. According to the manifesto of the British Naturopathic Association, "Naturopathy is a system of treatment which emphasises the existence of the vital curative force within the body." Naturopathy, defined by the World Naturopathic Federation, is a system of healthcare with a deep history of traditional philosophies and practices, medically trained practitioners, and a breadth of natural treatment options to serve patients. Hence, it aids the human system to remove the cause of disease i.e. toxins by eliminating unwanted and unused matters from the human body for curing diseases. The top six principles of naturopathy are do no harm (primum non nocere); healing power of nature (vis medicatrix naturae); treat the cause (tolle causam); treat the whole person (tolle totum); doctor as teacher (docere); and disease prevention and health promotion and wellness.

The goals of Naturopathy are not merely curing disease or symptom reduction, but enhancing patients' positive physical psychosocial characteristics as a way to reach and improve well-being when faced with disease (be it somatic or mental); this is complementary to the positive mental health paradigm. These goals implicate the shift from a solely disease-centred approach to a person-centred, strengths-based therapeutic relationship. Promoting a positive mental health paradigm, the approach of naturopathy focuses more on strengthening wellness through various treatment modalities – stress management, acupuncture, massage therapy, dietary supplements, hydrotherapy, homoeopathy, nutrition, herbal medicine, physical manipulation, colonic irrigation, fasting, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and so on. Naturopathic psychiatrists are known to focus on providing therapies that promote self-healing within the body and brain.

In the article Sacred Medicine: Indigenous Healing and Mental Health (2020), Sonia Lucana and John Elfers have drawn attention to the importance of life's connection with Nature in collectivistic cultures. In a collectivist culture, the well-being of the individual is connected to the well-being of the community, and collective well-being is determined by the relationship of the group to the cosmic world of Nature and spirits. The intimate connection with Pachamama (mother earth) mirrors the interdependent connection of members within a community. Healing from emotional or physical trauma means re-establishing a connection with Pachamama through spiritual healing rituals. Healing practices derive from the relationship among four fundamental constructs: "spirituality (Creator, Mother Earth, Great Father), community (family, clan, tribe/nation), environment (daily life, Nature, balance), and self (inner passions and peace, thoughts and values)" (Portman & Garrett, 2006, p. 453 cited in Lucana & Elfers, 2020). Achieving an integrated state of harmony and balance among these four interdependent domains is the foundation of well-being and the primary goal of healing. 

Health Promotion Trust Naturopathy Wellness Centre: An interface of Nature, science and faith.

The Health Promotion Trust Naturopathy Wellness Centre inaugurated in 2022 is a welcomed therapeutic intervention, celebrating the indigenous approach to holistic healing and wellness. An innovative collaborative effort with the National Institute of Naturopathy, Ministry of AYUSH, Pune, and Sisters of the Convent of Jesus and Mary at Nun's Hill is a strategic initiative integrating Nature, faith, and traditional healing methods. The Centre seeks to take forward the clarion call of international and national frameworks on promoting holistic healthcare through naturopathy and its various principles. The Centre bears witnessed empowering and inspiring testimonies of participants of the ten camps organised since July 2022 who claim to have benefited immensely by incorporating Naturopathy principles into their lives.

The 11th RUSA-sponsored Wellness camp (January 6- 8, 2023)for staff members of the College of Social Work (Autonomous), Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai aimed to promote traditional health practices based on Nature's elements for preventing and healing ailments; to facilitate knowledge of simple and affordable Nature cure measures that can be adopted and promoted in homes and communities.

The wellness programme was interspersed with expert perspectives on the relevance of Naturopathy; principles of Naturopathy; reflective exercises; expert consultation and therapeutic interventions.

Participants shared the relevance of the wellness programme to their perspective on health and healthcare at their workplace. Workplace wellness refers to health promotion activities that promote positive mental health. Workplace wellness programmes have often been associated with better performance, workplace initiatives, improved productivity, and effective time management. According to the WHO Guidelines on Mental Health at Work, 2022, mental health and work are integrally inter-twined. Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their communities.

 A summary of the themes that emerged from the experiences shared by participants is presented below:

Hope: The experts assured participants that we could maintain 50 per cent of our lost vitality through healthy practices. Many participants expressed a sense of hope to understand how the body has the potential to heal itself. Healthy lifestyle practices can sustain the vitality one manages to save.

 A holistic approach to health: The spiritual dimension of Naturopathy was endorsed throughout the camp – the mind-body-soul connect; the divine philosophical orientation on food; the nurturant role of Nature; and the positive mental health approach to wellness and well-being.

 Self-Care as a right and responsibility: The body is often viewed as the temple of GOD, and a vehicle meant for journeying towards the ultimate goal of life. The spiritual dimension of the body makes it sacrosanct; something to be valued and nurtured. Hence the care of the body is ultimate for a state of well-being and energy that promotes a healthy environment for all sentient beings around us.

 Listen to the body: An important learning of the wellness was the catch-phrase: Listen to your body. Symptoms of mind and body disturbance is the body talking to us.

 Empowering experience through experiential learning: The reflections of participants demonstrated the empowering experience they had through the wellness programme. Participants shared that they appreciated various learnings. They shared that through the programme, they obtained knowledge on the relevance of Naturopathy; the context and functioning of the six principles in Naturopathy; and the causes of various ailments. Participants obtained an opportunity for self-care through the easy accessibility of therapeutic interventions; felt conscientised to the importance of health and healthcare being in our hands. What we eat, drink, feel, and choose impacts our wellness. The right choices we make can go a long way to heal us. The accessibility of services, the patient and warm approach of the National Institute of Naturopathy team in overcoming one's anxiety related to medical consultation, detailed understanding of the context of nutrition and exercise; the opportunity to nurture holistic health needs beyond intellectual needs in the teaching profession, the realisation and awakening of the urgency to protect at least 50 percent of our vitality; the sense of empowerment to take care of the needs of families based on the knowledge obtained were important reflections shared. Participants demonstrated through their reflections that they had internalised the learnings of the relevance of Naturopathy to holistic healthcare. Participants also shared feeling of being relaxed and overwhelmed at the overall coordination, hospitality and ambience of all three centres.

The experience at the Health Promotion Trust was indeed a clarion call to self-care and its relevance to holistic healthcare. Taking care of one's health is a commitment to the divine purpose of our being and has implications for all sentient beings. As rightfully said by Thich Nhat Hanh, "Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos – the trees, the clouds, everything."        

Dr Sonia Rodrigues is a Professor and a member of the Faculty at the College of Social Work, Nirmala   Niketan, Mumbai.