Nutritionist in Paris: Are Yoga Gong Baths and Alternative Therapy the Way...

Nutritionist in Paris: Are Yoga Gong Baths and Alternative Therapy the Way to Wellness?

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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”

alternative therapy
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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.

© Alelsamdr Davudpv/123RF

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.

Charlotte Debeugny
Nutritionist in Paris Charlotte Debeugny. Photo courtesy of author.

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.

alternative therapy
© CCO Creative Commons

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!

4 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Charlotte, firstly – Lol! Wailing whale song gongs.

    I am pro-sound baths. I’ve actually been meaning to go to another one! Hey, if it takes novelty indulgences like sounds baths to sell people on chilling out, then I would say Do Whatever It Takes! My ethos is to approach Relaxation as a life skill – something you can learn, practice and hone like any other skill. You’ve just got to do it heaps! The thing I’ve found about Relaxation is that – unlike so many other things in our life – we cannot force ourselves to relax, we can only surrender. It’s hard to spontaneously relax and most people really need to set themselves up in order to elicit ‘The Relaxation Response’ – maybe by having a glass (gallon) of wine, reading a book, or going to a yoga glass…. or a… sound bath??

    Secondly – I really appreciated your article. I am all for healthy skepticism!

    I am a Chinese medicine student in Sydney, Australia – While Chinese medicine is unquestionably an ‘alternative’ and ‘complimentary’ therapy, I reckon the best term is ‘integrative’ therapy. This is to combat the implication that healthcare modalities oppose each other; why is medicine separated into conventional and alternative? West and East? Why do we have to choose? Should the aim of health care not be to help all patients in every way? What is holding this integration back? (Insert healthy skepticism here)

    The greatest complaint against the Western healthcare system isn’t that it’s ineffective at treating diseases – it is that it is ineffective at treating patients like PEOPLE. It has been revealed statistically in Australia that the number one complaint against healthcare practitioners is simply: communication. The growing popularity of integrative medicine has a lot to do with this sense of distrust. One of Chinese medicine’s greatest influences on modern healthcare comes down to it’s wonderful ‘holistic’ focus on ‘Patient-centred care’.

    However, I also feel the word ‘holistic’ could also be contested as it seems to prop up alternative therapies unjustifiably – like you said, a Chinese doctor is not your go-to for a brain haemorrhage or anaphylactic attack! Therefore the term ‘holistic’ is misleading. I agree with you that different therapy modalities may have their specialty. What Chinese medicine could do though is support rehabilitation and treat asthma in the long-term.

    Have you ever tried acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine?

    A la votre!
    Jas

    • Thank you Jas

      Yes, I possibly might appreciate a gong bath after a litre of wine……!!

      Some random thoughts and comments:

      Do you have a link to the statistical survey you refer to regarding healthcare and communication? I’d possibly underline that communication issues are not just limited to healthcare practitioners so I’d love to see where/how/who was surveyed for this Australian study.

      The two main criticisms leveled at integrative health:

      1) Practitioners are not regulated and the level of professional qualifications can vary widely (for example, someone could read a book on Chinese medicine over a weekend and set themselves up as a practitioner). I’m sure you’d agree that your level of knowledge as a student who is following a detailed Chinese Medicine qualification would be vastly superior to someone who is practicing after reading a book on it (!) The question is how can the general public distinguish between you? I’d like to see more regulation and certification of all healthcare practitioners in order to raise standards and ensure the general public not only receives a better quality of care, but especially to protect them from unqualified practitioners who may not be giving them the quality of care they deserve.

      The second point is that there is very little scientific evidence to justify that complementary therapies are effective, though there have been recent studies relating to meditation, yoga and acupuncture, some of which have found a positive benefit to these therapies. Does it matter? Well possibly not! If a therapy makes someone feel better, that’s the most important thing, regardless of the evidence base.

      I’m attaching a link to a site you might find interesting and I felt it was a balanced summary regarding the current status of Chinese medicine. It’s on the National Centre for complementary and integrative health. They highlight some of the points I have already made as well as raising concerns about potential contamination of some Chinese herbs with mercury and added toxins. This site also recommends checking that any practitioner is fully trained to practice.

      https://nccih.nih.gov/health/whatiscam/chinesemed.htm

      Finally, a second link to an article in the FT which discusses how China is now conducting clinical based studies for Chinese medicine in order to demonstrate that it is effective.

      https://www.ft.com/content/65018acc-5d79-11e7-b553-e2df1b0c3220

      The results of these trials should be interesting! Thank you again for your thoughtful comments and good luck with the rest of your studies.

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