by Emily J Weitz
There’s a lot of talk these days about “Holistic Well-being.” But what exactly does it mean?
The idea of holistic wellness is about addressing the body as a whole, acknowledging the fact that the complex systems of our body are interdependent. This weekend, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork will host its 3rd annual holistic clinic, offering people a chance to get acquainted with a variety of holistic healing modules (see sidebar).
Dr. Stephen Braun is a Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) with an office in Southampton, and he’ll be giving health assessments and treatments at the clinic. Just as he does in his office, he’ll meet with patients to discuss their history, lifestyle, and current issues, and then he’ll do an abbreviated treatment. “We usually have hour-long visits here [at the office],” says Dr. Braun. “We want our doctors to spend more time with patients.” Some of the treatments they’ll conduct in a regular visit include “Craniosacral treatments, manipulations, counseling on homeopathy and nutrition… Osteopathy kind of has the idea of a wellness center built into our function.”
There’s a lot of confusion about what osteopathy is. DOs go to medical school, they do residencies, they get board certified.
“The AOA (American Osteopathic Association) and the AMA (American Medical Association) have parody,” says Dr. Braun. “They are equated in the eyes of the law. The licensing process is equal in all states. We have the same rights as MDs in prescribing medicine and performing surgery. MDs and DOs can each train in any specialization, except that neuromusculoskeletal medicine (NMM) is a distinctly Osteopathic field.”
NMM refers to the hands-on practice that is involved in almost all sessions with a DO.
“We learn the manual aspect,” says Dr. Braun. “Our job is to facilitate optimal body function through alignment of the whole neuromusculoskeletal system.”
A common misconception is that osteopathy is a kind of chiropractic work. But this is not accurate.
“It’s not just about the bones,” says Dr. Braun. “The boning alignment can only be assured if the muscular ligament structures are aligned. That’s the way nerves pass through, and they are the communication in the body. If they are not communicating, all hell breaks loose.”
This means that a lot of the work Dr. Braun and other DOs do is much more subtle. It might look like he is just resting his hands at the base of someone’s neck, when really he is working on realigning these systems.
“Chiropractors get things back into alignment quickly,” he explains. “But sometimes the core problem hasn’t been addressed. We spend the time to get to the underlying problem. We use tiny motions to address muscle and tissue tension.”
The other aspect of holistic well-being and what Dr. Braun refers to as “intracellular health” is proper nutrition.
“If those cells are not fed properly,” he says, “then all the structural balancing in the world will only go so far. We recommend a plant based diet with whole grains. Avoid foods with hormones and antibiotics.”
According to studies like the China Study at Cornell University, Dr. Braun says, “A diet of less than 5 percent animal products leads to almost no incidence of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.”
At a time when many western doctors find their primary roles to be writing prescriptions and authorizing surgeries, osteopathy remains hands-on in every sense of the word.
Dr. Braun recalls countless times when he was able to identify an imbalance in a patient using the sense of touch. Once, he was treating a 60-year-old lawyer in the hospital who was suffering from a bacterial lung infection.
“He had a sudden downturn,” Dr. Braun says. “He started talking nonsense, didn’t know where he was.”
Other doctors on call were ready to insert tubes to assist his breathing, but Dr. Braun first used his hands.
“I treated him with rib raising techniques,” says Dr. Braun, “and as I was facilitating the motion of his ribs, he had a cough episode. You could feel the tissues releasing. The ribs pulled together and he coughed out this mucus plug. He immediately opened his eyes and sighed.”
Dr. Braun adds that the man improved quickly after that.
The take-home message, says Dr. Braun, is that “Osteopathic manipulative medicine is dedicated to the treatment of all medical problems through the optimization of body function.”
“We are giving patients back the responsibility for their health,” he says. “We’ll guide them through it as their health coach… I’d welcome anyone to come and try it out. Feeling is believing.”