Life force

What is the relevance of “life force”, as you have defined it, for the possible future integration of osteopathy into UK health care provision? Life force as a concept is an ambiguous notion which is more of a philosophy than something that has a physical entity. It is for this reason that Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM) have an inherent problem in practice within the UK health forum. Predominantly due to the lack of scientific evidence available at present.

The argument mostly centres on the word “holism”. Holism is a central characteristic of alternative medicine (Fulder 1995) and commonly recognised as the unity of mind, body and spirit and it has been influential in attempts to redefine health. However this concept of vital force causes a great deal of controversy in medicine, as whilst it is used extensively in traditions of healing systems, in orthodox science they are disputed and too evasive for biomedical scientific institutions to grasp.

Life force to me is many different ideas; embryonic stage of life; breath, state of mental health; physical health; energy fields surrounding and within the body; and spirituality (religious and non-religious). It is a notion that has been around since the beginning of time that has evolved with time and with man. It creates a purpose for rituals and aids cultural development also giving a person/community something to believe in, for example, the way Egyptians prepared bodies of their Pharaohs in order to preserve their spiritual life force.

(CBO LRP 2) Where does this life force come from then? According to many ancient philosophies the living body (human or animal), radiates warmth and energy. This energy is the life force itself, and assumes as many names as there are civilisations. The Taoists call life force energy Chi (Qi) and charted its movement through the body. Indian yoga adepts call it Prana and used it for healing. In the West, Dr. Wilhelm Riech discovered the same energy and called it Orgone energy.

It is known as Ruach in hebrew, Barraka in islamic countries, and Ch’i in China. In Japan the energy is called Ki and it is from this word that Reiki is named. In traditional Chinese medicine, Qi is a form of energy flowing along unseen meridian channels throughout the body. Qi is not visible. Everything in the universe has Qi. The human body is a type of Qi. According to ancient qigong texts, Original Qi is created by the parents which with time, age and any prolonged illnesses diminishes the reserves of Qi in the body.

In the course of every object it inevitably involves matter; therefore all things can result in the creation of Qi and in the exchange of Qi. We not only have to consider our flow of Chi but also we must be careful of the food that we eat Grain Qi, the air that we breathe Cosmic Qi (Svoboda and Lade p19) and the thoughts that we have and the fact that many of us don’t know we have Chi (or don’t acknowledge it) until we impede it’s flow and become ill.

It is interesting to note that so many diverse cultures have evolved the same theory; for example, Ayurvedic medicine in much the same way as ancient Chinese medicine has Prana which links the spirit, mind and body together and breath is an important aspect of an organism’s prana which can be replenished “instantly” or in from well digested foods (Svoboda and Lade p49). It should be noted that although prana is considered as being a life force that keeps the body alive and healthy, it comes from 3 distinct sources: the sun, the air and the ground (Sui 1990 p3-4).

In the early western world of medicine Hippocrates applied rationale to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks’ supernatural beliefs that the body is influenced by internal and external factors. He separated these beliefs from medicine and applied nature to the causes of diseases. His methods were developed further by Galen in 1st Century AD who believed in pneuma (spirit) derived from the World and pneuma is taken in on each breath. Galen systematised the Ancient Greek heritage of humoral medicine that laid the basis for the influential tradition of “Galenism”.

Galensim remained popular until some of his theories were disproved by Vesalius in 1537. Biomedicine only came to be accepted as orthodox by doctors, the public and the state in the second half of the 19th Century. It was developments from this later period that created the separation of dealing/treating the mind and body separately and the use of empirical sciences to analyse and understand the ways of the world (Ahlenius 2004).

This began the gradual decline of humoral medicine which had held dominance in medicine before the emerging biomedicine which now began to represent orthodoxy and received a consensus final stamp of state authority by way of the Medical Act 1858. It can be seen, in the history of Western societies that humoral and biomedical systems are closely linked but largely incompatible due to their theoretical assumptions being opposing. Both the humoral and biomedical systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

The biomedical focussed on generalisable causes of disease and therefore treatment was abstract from the patient’s condition. The humoral systems had ability to provide a unique explanation for each individual’s illnesses which provided treatment for both mental and physical elements. Dr A. T. Still, the founder of Osteopathy, evolved much the same theory as Hippocrates and believed that disease could begin both outside and inside man and most importantly that the mind and body are inseparable.

Still’s classical triad of principles (“Structure governs function”, “the rule of the artery is supreme” and “the body contains its own medicine chest”) are known to lie in the heart of the osteopathic profession but they do not provide clear treatment guiding principles. It provides an understanding of what Still understood Osteopathy to be but not “firm enough set of guidelines on their own…[as to] what information is relevant or what treatment will be effective”.

(Tyreman 1998 p133) The use and practice of CAMs is widespread throughout Britain, North America and Europe “and it has grown, in the UK to provide substantial subsidiary healthcare system” (Fulder 1996). A recent House of Lords Sixth Report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2000) recommended that Universities and Royal Colleges should familiarise all related colleagues with CAM so that they could provide information to their patients and retain their gatekeeping role.

Osteopaths should also try not to alienate themselves by being so “holistic” as to not be regarded as wishy-washy but the House of Lords did assert that “these innovative techniques should be rigorously assessed and, where appropriate, integrated into mainstream conventional medicine”. It is interesting to note on this report that the House of Lords tried to define CAM and was unable to do so and instead provided a list of commonly used CAM practices. The closest to possibly identifying a vital energy is as a “rarefied” detectable field of “bioplasma”.

Sui (1990) declares the “term “plasma” as ionised gas with positive and negative charged particles…use of Kirlian photography has rediscovered the bioplasmic body”. (Sui, 1990 p6). However, as you can see the definition is not very clear. Conclusion The challenge it seems, and possibly the danger for the future is to harness the creativity that values core principles of holism and vitalism in CAMs that nurtures the work that CAM practitioners do, rather than exploiting it.

The argument is that conventional practitioners such as GPs could also say their practice would be holistic if they too, were allowed to spend the time on consultation and treatments etc. , as Osteopaths do. It is arguable that Osteopaths would truly be able to practice in mainstream public healthcare in the same way they do in private healthcare at present and time would probably be an element of treatment likely to be compromised. The question then is how medicine might look a century from now. Will it be a further extension and development of the biomedicine today or, will it be as different and alien as the humoral medicine is today?

Maybe the way forward is to transform it and integrate it into a comparable unitary system of both biomedicine and humoral systems to make it a more comprehensive framework in order that it can derive the strengths from the both systems. As Stephen Tyreman suggests in his conclusion to his writing in Examining Complementary Medicine, Osteopathy needs an alternative medical model in order to focus its distinct way of thinking and working, it simply cannot work with the current medical model’s focus on disease.

This is probably a notion already considered by many and, of course, in reality it would be difficult to integrate orthodox and CAM therapies without first providing clear defining and guiding principles for CAMs such as Osteopathy to effectively practice and be an integral part of the UK health care system.

References: Fulder, S. (1995) The Impact of Alternative Medicine on Our Views of Health, Journal of Contemporary Health winter: 24 vol. 1 Fulder, S (1996) The Handbook of Alternative and Contemporary Medicine. Oxford University Press, London.

NHS Confederation (1997) Complementary Medicine in the NHS: Managing the Issues, Research Paper No. 4 London: NHS Confederation. Sharma, U. (1995) Complementary Medicine Today: Practioner and Patients. Routledge, London. Coulter ID (1999) Chiropractic: a philosophy for alternative care, P38-46, Butterworth Heinemann, Oxford. Greaves D. (2004)

The Healing Tradition: Reviving the soul of Western medicine. (p135-148), Radcliffe Publishing, Oxon Svoboda R. , Lade A. () Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda (p19-49). Mortilal Baorsidas Publishers, Delhi. http://www. parliament. the-stationery-office. co. uk/pa/ld199900/ldselect/ldsctech/123/12301.htm [accessed 25 February 2005] Tyreman S. (1998). Osteopathy: physiotherapist with time or the practitioner with healing hands? IN: Examining Complementary Medicine (p124-p137). Edited by A. Vickers.

Stanley Thormes (Publishers) Ltd, Gloucester. Wood C. (1998). Subtle Energy and the Vital Force in Complementary Medicine IN: Examining Complementary Medicine (p124-p137). Edited by A. Vickers. Stanley Thormes (Publishers) Ltd, Gloucester. www. Meaningoflife . 1/2. com Universal life force energy [accessed 28 February 2005] Jahnke R. (2001) Integrating Complementary Medicine into Health Systems. Aspen Publishers.

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