The latest trend, my lovely friends, in the yogic world for 2018 is yoga gong baths, a type of sound therapy. And no, it doesn’t involve water or taking your clothes off (!) but lying covered up on a yoga mat and losing yourself in the blissful vibrations of various gongs. The gongs are struck with a variety of instruments producing very different sounds – a kind of ultra-chill music concert. The main aim of a yoga gong bath according to the literature is to “induce a state of deep relaxation, healing vibes and have an intense sense of letting go…”
Be wary of fake science.
Now yours truly, the No-Nonsense Nutritionist in Paris, is famous for her bluntness when it comes to pseudo-science as well as “nutribollocks“ (aka a collection of beliefs/theories/myths about food and nutrition which are blatantly ridiculous to anyone from a science background!) So yes, you might be gasping at the thought of Little Miss Sceptical drowning herself in a yoga bath, not only once but TWICE.
Keeping an open mind
As for why? While I do indeed cherchez la science, I am also very ready to keep an open mind.
“For the mind to work, it needs to be open” but counterbalance that with “Your mind should not be so open that your brain falls out and gets lost”
The first gong bath was mildly relaxing, with the skillful harmony of the gongs in the background sounding vaguely like what I imagine to be lyrical whale song, but by the second time, I began to find it deeply annoying with the whales no longer singing but wailing (if you’ll excuse the pun) under attack from a legion of angry sharks. I was desperate to leave the room but had to fidget in a frustrated silence until the session was finished. Quelle horreur…
And yet, most of the other yogis loved it, truly finding it a deeply spiritual experience, which got me musing over my gallon of wine (Retox – darling!) on the way back home to Paris about complementary therapies, conventional medicine, life and the universe…
Conventional vs. complementary therapies
Yoga is recognized as a complementary therapy. Complementary therapy is an umbrella term to cover a wide range of different therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy and massage therapy. They are promoted as helping to support physical and mental well-being as well as quality of life. You might have heard of them referred to as “alternative” therapies, but I feel passionately that they should be used not as a replacement for conventional medicine, but to provide support alongside it, hence the “complementary” term.
I am convinced that a regular yoga practice has helped to make me more mindful and less temperamental. Maman Zen as opposed to a hissing and spitting Maman Tasmanian Devil! Complementary therapies quite simply help to “soothe my soul” in a modern, busy, frustrating, chaotic, demanding and sometimes crazy world.
But, let’s be very clear about when they should be used. I would not use acupuncture to treat a broken leg, nor is meditation going to help (on its own) with severe clinical depression. I don’t think that Big Pharma is out to kill me (just let them try!) and I mutter a silent prayer of thanks for antibiotics as infections were a major killer prior to the 1900s. I am equally eternally grateful for vaccinations which have helped to protect individuals and indeed the community from potentially dangerous infectious diseases. As for the advances in cancer detection and treatment – Chapeau mes amis – thank you, thank you, thank you!
I am proud to say, “I love science”. Yet, I keep a very open mind to complementary therapies although with a few caveats so I don’t lose my brain.
So with a drumroll, here is the No-Nonsense Nutritionist in Paris guide to complementary therapies!
1. Look for some evidence that the therapies work and at the very least, do no harm!
Critics of complementary therapies argue that there is limited scientific or evidence-based practice that these therapies actually work. It’s a fair point as clinical studies for complementary therapies (studies where you try and prove something works by giving it to one group and then comparing it to a control group which is not receiving the therapy) are very limited, mainly because these types of trials are not able to access the funding that drug companies and government agencies can.
For complementary therapies, the evidence is mainly anecdotal – people testifying that a particular therapy worked for them. I have a patient who tried magnetism for chronic insomnia and to their wonderful surprise has slept “like a baby” ever since.
In contrast, there are many famous Youtubers or Instagrammers (no names mentioned!) who swear a particular product/supplement has helped them to lose weight/get ripped and whatever but are paid to promote these products. So, approach anecdotal evidence with caution!
It should be stressed that the use of complementary therapies should always be complementary to, and certainly not replace medical advice as this is where it starts to get dangerous. Be very, very suspicious of anyone practicing a complementary therapy who advises you to ignore your doctor’s advice.
2. A complementary practitioner should be appropriately qualified and insured to practice
A gentle reminder that medical doctors have to study at least 5 years and most paramedical professionals have to study for a minimum of 3 years. They all have to follow a professional code of ethics and conduct and are subject to statutory regulations which means if something goes wrong, they are held accountable. This is in order to protect you!
So, do ask complementary practitioners about their professional qualifications and the length of their studies to practice their therapy.
Clue 1: A diploma or certification earned over a weekend, might not be the same as a 3-year or 4-year degree!
Clue 2: Having a Ph.D. in astrophysics does not make you qualified to practice aromatherapy. You need a qualification in the therapy you are practicing!
You can also ask to see their professional indemnity insurance and check whether they are registered with appropriate professional bodies which tends to be a quality kitemark of the depth of their qualifications.
3. Seeing a complementary practitioner should not require taking out a second mortgage!
I had a patient who had been advised to take a series of genetic testing costing a mere 2000 euros (yes, I spat my coffee out too!)
Please do be aware that when you are advised to buy products such as weight loss products/tests/vitamin supplements, the practitioner selling them to you generally gets 25% commission, which I personally feel completely compromises their impartiality. How can you argue that you recommended a treatment to a patient to help improve their health if you get a 25% kickback for every sale? It’s just a bit whiffy……
So, check market rates (anything over 100 euros for a complementary therapy consultation starts to be suspicious) and be wary of any therapy which involves you buying a particular product sold by your therapist.
4. Be wary of any health claims relating to “curing or treating” a health concern
In Europe, the advertising standards are very, very strict which is why I am gobsmacked when I see complementary therapies which promise to cure or treat health concerns.
You can certainly state that you help to “support” certain health conditions but you are not allowed to claim that your therapy can cure them – unless you have a body of clinical trials to justify this claim.
Learn to have an open critical mind in pursuit of magic
I went to a career conference recently where, much to my pleasure, one of the skills highlighted as essential for the future job market is “critical analysis”. It’s the ability to assess, analyze and critique which will place people ahead of the competition. It’s also sadly a skill which I sometimes wonder if we’re losing.
Yes, we certainly need to have an open mind. Our magical rainbow-colored worlds merit a sense of curiosity, the “why not” and “let’s give it a go” as well as “leaps of faith”. Yet equally we should not make ourselves vulnerable to misinformation, myths or potential abuse. Look for the magic while searching for the evidence!