“The body’s made to heal, and we block it with anxieties, distractions, horrible food, and a sedentary lifestyle. Acupuncture believes that disease and pain result when the energy flow is blocked” explains Dr. Jennifer Neff.
Alternative medicine has been defined as “Medical therapies not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession, such as herbalism, homeopathy, and acupuncture.” But while those practices may have been filtered out from the mainstream of modern Western medicine, they have not been consigned to either history or obsolescence. And some people might argue that the very fact of their endurance — herbs have been applied as medicine since before we could even write about them, acupuncture is at least 2000 years old, and homeopathy began around the time our Constitution was signed — might render them worthy of re-consideration. I am one of those people.
Photograph by Chris Ahrens
My journey into “medical therapies not regarded as orthodox” began in the mid-1960s through yoga, raw foods, and chiropractic. About a decade later, I applied acupressure while continuing to visit my primary care doctor whenever anything needed fixing. Regular contact with my doctor ended abruptly, however, after my father died during a “minor surgery.” Since then, my blood pressure spikes each time an MD straps a Velcro cuff onto my bicep. This reaction, aka “white coat syndrome,” has kept me from all but essential doctor’s visits; I favor working in concert with wellness practitioners who treat the body before — not after — it needs help.
Round two of my health sojourn led to homeopathy, functional medicine, iridology, biofeedback, intermittent and longer-term fasting, deep breathing, cold showers foraging local foods, and other off-the-beaten-path healthcare methods. I believe these practices have contributed to my maintaining all my original parts without chronic pain. Of course, nobody beats the clock forever, and the final curtain will someday fall. Still, considering the average American male lasts only 76 years, my living in harmony with nature for nearly all of my own time on earth has proven to be a good health plan for me. The following is a partial list of people and practices I have found to be helpful.
Legal and CYA requirement: Check with your physician before trying any of the following therapies.
The East/West Connection
According to MD and acupuncturist Dr. Jennifer Neff, there need not be any sort of automatic opposition between modern and traditional health practices. It’s a lesson she began learning while still in medical school. “They sent students all over the state to learn. I ended up with a couple of Harvard-educated doctors who were living in the country, because there was a Waldorf School nearby for their kids. They were living off the grid, doing home births, homeopathy, acupuncture… all of it. I realized then that knowing medicine, herbalism, homeopathy, and energetic therapies was like having more tools in the toolbox.”
Some of her colleagues find her approach confusing. She says they’ll ask, “’You’re such a good clinician; why do you waste your time with that other stuff?’ But sometimes that ‘other stuff’ really helps people. And sometimes it doesn’t. If I think they need a drug, I’ll tell them. Regardless, we’re not getting out of this life alive; we’re all gonna die, so I think it’s important to decide how we want to live. As a doctor, I can’t fix everything, especially not in 15 minutes. There are so many things about health and well-being, and I prefer a team approach. I have 24-25 years under my belt, and I consider it an honor to try and solve each person’s different puzzle.”
Neff says that “most medical doctors and alternative health care practitioners want to help people. But when you don’t feel heard, you’re not going to listen to what they have to say. I can get frustrated with Western medicine dogma that says, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re going to die of a heart attack.’ But if you do all those things and die of a heart attack, they’re going to blame it on you anyway. Ultimately, you’re the boss of you.” And while “most doctors want to do the right thing, some of the products from the pharmaceutical companies are great, and others are crap. The research is being funded by those companies, and as Western doctors, we’re studying that research.”
But things may be changing on that front. These days, Neff is excited by the fact that “a lot of the younger MDs now have exposure to the alternative arts. I learned about acupuncture from the people I trained with, but I decided to practice it because of a family member who is an acupuncturist and a craniosacral therapist. I found her work fascinating. And it’s exciting to show people that there’s a whole other way of thinking about their health.”
Explains Neff, “The body’s made to heal, and we block it with anxieties, distractions, horrible food, and a sedentary lifestyle. Acupuncture believes that disease and pain result when the energy flow is blocked. When your own brain is blocked and you’re crippled by anxiety and depression, the body is disconnected. Patients sometimes need to address things like relationships or the lack of boundaries in their lives. When they do that, sometimes whatever is holding the pain in their bodies transforms, and the pain goes away. I know that sounds like a miracle, but I don’t think of it that way. We’re bombarded daily with bacteria and viruses. We have cancer cells in our bodies every single day, and the body usually takes care of it.”
So while Neff grants that acupuncture can’t, for instance, cure the arthritis in someone’s knee, she says that it can “confuse the body about the pain it’s feeling. One patient was sent to me because she was waiting to get an epidural injection for pain. She canceled her appointment after two or three visits because we took care of the pain through acupuncture.”
What’s crucial is the personal aspect, both in terms of treatment and the collaboration between healer and healee. “Acupuncture works like magic for some,” says Neff. “Even so, about one in ten folks don’t respond at all. Everyone responds differently to different medical paradigms; it’s not one size fits all. There’s a Buddhist saying that ‘If you take in poison and believe it’s medicine, it acts as medicine, and if you take in medicine and believe it’s poison, it acts as poison.’ I’ll work with whatever you think will work, but whatever you choose, you must be all in. I don’t want to give someone medicine and have it act as poison. For a nerd like me who’s always going to be learning, I’ll never completely figure it out.” To learn more about Dr. Jennifer Neff, contact: Jneffmdacupuncture.com
For most of my adult life, I have lugged around 15 to 20 useless pounds. I have tried low-fat diets, high-fat diets, vegan diets, and near-death-experience workouts. Nothing much changed until two years ago, when Coach Cameron Tricky introduced me to intermittent fasting, which can be defined as expanding the time between eating sessions until you are ingesting only one to two meals a day. The argument is that this gives the digestive tract and other vital organs a breather, while leading to a slimmer version of yourself without any noticeable muscle loss. The problem is that for someone who loves eating as much as I do, the very idea of missing meals seemed difficult — okay, impossible. At least at first. I tried talking myself out of trying it by reciting the mantra we’ve all heard since childhood: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But having the equivalent of a big fat baby gripping my mid-section offered enough incentive to give intermittent fasting a shot.
As with most dietary changes, the toughest part is getting through those first few mornings, when the chow bell sounds and you start to salivate like one of Pavlov’s pooches. Hang in there, however, and your cravings should diminish by mid-morning. From there, getting to noon is a cake walk; just don’t think about cake. Through intermittent fasting, I’ve learned the difference between true hunger and boredom eating — the pursuit of a quick dopamine jolt through snacking. While I occasionally breakfast with friends, intermittent fasting is now as routine for me as eating three square meals a day once was.
John Thorp first learned of the Equiscope machine through life’s greatest teacher, pain.
Photograph by Matthew Suárez
Tips: Drink lots of water and stay busy. My results include lower BMI, lower resting heart rate, better sleep, and a range of other health improvements.
Anyone who can run a half-marathon in 110-degree heat without water and swim 188 feet beneath an ice floe wearing nothing but shorts must be some kind of freak of nature, right? Not according to the man himself: Wim “The Iceman” Hof has not only redefined the limits of human endurance — breaking 26 world records along the way — but he also believes he can teach you to do the same.
Hof’s journey began after his wife committed suicide and left him with four kids. Instead of seeking consolation in warm comforts, he turned instead to the brutal honesty of ice. He found that “in the ice, you concentrate on nothing but survival, and depression vanishes.” Combining cold exposure with deep breathing methods, Hof claims to have cured numerous physical, mental, and emotional ailments, all while pushing himself and others beyond their preconceived limits.
Before employing Hof’s breathing techniques, I could hold my breath for around 120 seconds. But after studying only two of his YouTube videos, I managed to sit without breathing for over five minutes. Later that day, I cranked out 75 pushups on a single breath, which is about 20 percent more than I can usually do while breathing normally.
I am convinced of the validity and effectiveness of the Wim Hof Method. But I grant that his Eastern Mystical approach and not-fit-for-the-grandchildren language can be a turnoff for some. You may never warm up to Hof’s vulgar style, but once you get used to the cold, you’re likely to encounter some surprising health benefits. To learn more about Wim Hof, visit wimhofmethod.com
Hawaiian Power Flow
Around 30 years ago, I developed “adult-onset asthma.” It didn’t concern me too much, until it began interfering with my daily surfing habit. I found I needed an inhaler whenever a Santa Ana wind or a red tide blew in. I was so allergic to these conditions that, even living near the beach as I did, breathing without an inhaler became impossible.
One doctor blamed it on my growing up in Los Angeles in a time before unleaded gas, when a million-some people incinerated their trash. But whatever the cause, I found myself wheezing and hacking my way through the seasons. An x-ray revealed nothing hindering the breathing apparatus, and my doctor simply named my condition: chronic bronchitis. I was inspired to ask him about the correlation between my condition and the consumption of dairy products, which seemed to trigger mucous production in me. He replied that there was no link between dairy and lung health, but I decided to try quitting my quart-a-day whole milk habit anyway. The first few days sucked. Within two weeks, however, I found myself congestion-free for the first time in years. When I reported my findings to the doctor, he claimed the clearing of my lungs was coincidental. Loving milk and wanting to believe his hypothesis, I rushed home and poured myself a tall glass of the stuff. Before I finished the first gulp, I began hacking again.
But while removing milk for good solved the mucous problem, my environmentally induced asthma persisted. I lived with asthma for years, holding my “rescue inhaler” closer than a teenager holds his first cell phone. Without anti-inflammatory medications, I sometimes felt like I was breathing through a straw. That all changed after I was introduced to Akoni Apana. Hawaiian-born and raised, Apana, who worked as a Navy mechanic for 35 years, noticed similarities between the ship’s hydraulic system and the blood circulating throughout the human body. His conclusion, which is now shared by many health practitioners, is that nothing heals if the blood isn’t flowing into and through an injured area like “water cutting stone.”
It’s been nearly a decade since Akoni found me seated in my Cardiff front yard, gasping to fill my lungs between inhaler puffs. I told him about my asthma. In response, he applied pressure to some points in my throat, at the base of the skull, and in my shoulders, and asked me to breathe again. I then took my first deep breath in days, and paddled out into the ocean the next day. The now-welcome warm Santa Ana winds produced nothing but endorphins. I gave my inhalers away and haven’t needed them since.
I’m not alone. Many of Apana’s patients have shown improvements that orthodox medicine can’t explain. One such patient is Boys to Men Mentoring Program co-founder Joe Sigurdson. According to Sigurdson: “I’ve had heart problems for about 10 years, and when I had them recently, my doctors suggested I get a stent, to add to the ones they had already put in. Having had problems before with stents, I refused the procedure and called Akoni. He put me on Knox Gelatin and suggested I use a laser light. I did as he prescribed, and when I returned to the doctor a few weeks later, he sent me home, saying that my blood vessels were now wide open.”
Akoni Apana, who worked as a Navy mechanic for 35 years, noticed similarities between the ship’s hydraulic system and the blood circulating throughout the human body. His conclusion, which is now shared by many health practitioners, is that nothing heals if the blood isn’t flowing into and through an injured area like “water cutting stone.”
Photograph by Matthew Suárez
I have been treated about a dozen times by Akoni, and while I have always left with a sense of well-being, I am especially grateful for his firing the magic bullet that nailed my asthma. To learn more about Akoni Apana and Hawaiian Power Flow, check his website or email Lomilomi.email@example.com
Of all the healthcare devices I’ve encountered over the years, perhaps the most difficult to explain is the Equiscope. Because the body runs on electricity, the Equiscope uses micro-currents in healing. The list of people who have given testimonials for the product includes NFL star Darren Sproles, legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, famed author Mark Victor Hansen, and professional mixed martial arts standouts Cat Zingano and Antonio Nogueira, along with notable MDs including Drs. Stephen M. Sinatra, Daniel Amen, and Richard Delany.
John Thorp is the CEO and founder of the Thorp Institute in Encinitas, the center for Equiscope training, and where the machines can be applied or purchased. Thorp first learned of the machine through life’s greatest teacher, pain. Anyone who crashes moving objects for a living, the way Thorp once did as a TV and movie stuntman, is going to end up on intimate terms with injury. In Thorp’s case, those injuries compounded to the point where his career seemed over. That changed when Thorp was working as a stuntman for The Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors. Thorp seemed beyond repair when Majors took him for his first Equiscope treatment. Like most of Thorp’s stories, the details are both intriguing and funny, but the account is a bit too detailed for this piece. I refer all interested parties to Thorp’s biography, From Stuntman to Electro Medicine Man, which is available through Amazon.
I recently attended an Equiscope conference, where a practitioner of integrative medicine who once worked in the top clinic in the U.S. was testifying about the benefits of the Equiscope. Because he is part of the medical establishment, his endorsement of this therapy is akin to blasphemy, and he withheld his name for this article. But he still agreed to be interviewed. According to the doctor, “I have no hesitation applying the device unless there’s some restriction, like a pacemaker. It benefits in the treatment of pain in most diseases, but there is great reluctance to try it by people attached to established practices. If you are being paid by an institute or some government agent, you must adjust your practice to that. That’s not bad, but I’d rather be free. Because of my background, I treat people at home, many of whom have bad diseases that their doctors have given up on. I would suggest the device to any doctor. I have satisfied clients 98 percent of the time without having anyone telling me that I can’t spend an extra hour with a patient.”
I’ve been treated by Equiscope twice. Being in good health, however, I was not attempting to cure any ailment, and therefore cannot pinpoint anything that was healed. I will say the experience was relaxing and seemed to have some overall benefits on stress and sleep quality. Other patients have more interesting stories to tell. You can learn of their experiences with the Equiscope at: IntellBio.com.
I first heard about Arcana Empothicary after an MD recommended it in response to my declining a standard pharmaceutical. Arcana’s founder, Dr. James Mattioda, has a doctorate in Integral Health, and is a registered pharmacist, a diplomat of homeopathy, a clinical herbalist, and an educator in alternative and holistic medicine. Mattioda combines holistic science with innovative research in biochemistry, plant medicine, and clinical homeopathy. For about the same price as vitamins purchased at your local health food store, a trained chemist and homeopathy practitioner will lead you to the best naturally sourced herbs and vitamins. Learn more about Arcana Empothicary at arcanaempothecary.com/