Alternative medicine on the rise in NWI - August 15, 2016

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • August 15, 2016

By Giles Bruce

Raquel Williams thought she was just looking for a Mother’s Day present. Turns out she was searching for something else.

The Griffith college student went to buy her mom a gift certificate for Reiki, an alternative healing technique that uses energy to promote stress-reduction and relaxation. Williams got to talking to the Reiki practitioner, the Rev. Rose Fier, and discovered the difference it might make in her own life.

She’s been doing it on a monthly basis ever since.

“It feels like a really good meditation,” says Williams, 25. “It’s like an oil change but by a mechanic you really love and who really cares about you. And while she’s in there, she might fix your A/C and put up an air freshener and a flower on the dashboard.”

Williams is one of the increasing number of Northwest Indiana residents turning to alternative medicine to improve their physical and emotional well-being. That category of medicine includes more mainstream practices like chiropractic, meditation and yoga, as well as lesser-known ones like cranial osteopathy, Rolfing and shiatsu.

With more and more natural healing practitioners opening up shop in the Region, they say they don’t want to replace modern medicine but complement it.

“I don’t go against doctors. I work with doctors,” says Fier, owner of Munster-based Reiki Energetix. “I’m not trying to take their patients away. I’m trying to help their patients have a higher success rate of healing.”

A collaborative effort

Even local hospitals and doctor’s offices are getting in on the trend. Methodist Hospitals and Community Healthcare System both offer yoga to cancer patients; Community also provides them with Reiki. Dr. Faleh Atassi, a family physician with the Porter Physician Group, does medical acupuncture. Ingalls Health System has hypnosis, aromatherapy and reflexology at its wellness center in Flossmoor.

Rebecca Sasak, an acupuncturist at Thrive Center for Integration and Healing in Chesterton, doesn’t like the term “alternative” medicine because it implies you have to utilize one kind of medicine or the other. “I prefer integrative,” she says.

For instance, she cares for cancer patients to relieve the symptoms of their treatments. Her partner at Thrive Center, therapist Kelly Bishop Bohren, works with a nurse practitioner if her clients need psychiatric drugs. “I marry East and West,” Bishop Bohren says. “If people are invested in their treatments and do hard work themselves, they can stop taking medications with a lot of self-care.”

Sasak and Bishop Bohren are among several local practitioners who are Northwest Indiana natives who lived for a time in progressive bastions, such as Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, before moving back to the Region.

Growing acceptance of alternatives

“I think people are just tired of taking pills,” says Nick Wawok, director of The Lotus Center in Valparaiso. “If you look at Chinese medicine, it’s 10,000 years old. We’re putting so much stock into things we invented in the last 50 to 100 years.”

Wawok practices Rolfing, a sort of deep massage that uses the knuckles and elbows to realign the body’s connective tissue. The Lotus Center also offers Access Bars (releasing stored energy in the brain and body), shiatsu (similar to acupuncture, but with the hands instead of needles) and cranial osteopathy (a manipulation of the skull and top of the spine).

“It’s astonishing: the power of the mind over the body and vice versa,” Wawok says. “You can heal the mind and thereby heal the body, or you can start healing the body and the mind follows suit.”

Like The Lotus Center, many natural health centers in the Region offer a variety of services to treat clients in a holistic fashion.

“We collaborate with each other because everything is done here with no medication,” says Pam Kozy, owner and director of Heart in Hand Natural Health Center in Highland. “It’s all done through tapping and massage and stimulating endorphins in the body through acupuncture points and things like that.”

Jerry Ashmore has been practicing Buddhist meditation since 1978, founding a meditation group at a Hobart church in the early 1990s. That group, Empty Circle, now has more members than ever. He says meditation has helped him be less stressed, and more mindful and relaxed.

“The word mindfulness itself has gone mainstream,” he notes, adding: “It works. If it didn’t work, it wouldn’t become popular.”

When Andy Wichlinski began teaching yoga in 1979, he was one of about a half-dozen instructors in Northwest Indiana. But the popularity of that and other natural healing practices has grown significantly, owing to the media paying more attention to them and Asian immigrants bringing them to the Region. He now teaches yoga, tai chi and qigong at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe and the Cancer Resource Centre, both in Munster.

“I think people are fed up with the medical model,” says Lori Enevoldsen, a Schererville chiropractor who also works with essential oils and measures patients’ adrenal fatigue. “I think they’re looking for a change. You can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results.”

First modern, then alternative

Dr. Chiedu Nchekwube, a Merrillville physician on staff at Methodist Hospitals, started off as a family practice doctor but quickly realized that by prescribing medications with negative side effects he was going against the physician’s mantra of doing no harm.

So he earned a subspecialty in integrated medicine, and now incorporates naturopathy and homeopathy into his practice. He prescribes vitamins, supplements and herbs for a variety of conditions. “I use all modalities to take care of people with as little harm as possible and also empower patients to take care of themselves, to be a teacher of wellness rather than rescue somebody from illness,” he says.

Nchekwube uses natural remedies to treat opioid addiction, breeched pregnancies and hypertension, as well as to just keep people well and feeling like their best selves.

“The medication of the future will be meditation, exercise, whole food that is nutrient-dense and supplements,” he says. “Rarely will you need medicine. You will be able to take care of yourself another way.”

“A nation that is sick is vulnerable,” he adds. “If we keep people well, the hospitals can close, and that’s OK.”

Dr. Kalpana Doshi, who practiced anesthesiology for nearly three decades, changed her career path after acupuncture helped relieve her back pain. She now does medical acupuncture in Munster.

“Nowadays people are more open to other matters of treatment before they go for surgery,” she says. “Everybody’s scared of surgery, and the guarantees aren’t there. If something simpler can help, why not do that?”

Doshi, though, argues that with the rise of technology, old methods like acupuncture are even less accepted, as many doctors opt for the latest-and-greatest treatments, regardless of their efficacy.

Old medicine

As acupuncturist Jason Wilson puts needles into Crown Point esthetician Juliana Rospond’s skin on a recent day in Dyer, she notes that she started acupuncture to relieve the hand and back pain that comes with her job. “You want to find a sore spot,” Wilson says, bending over to examine her closer. “That’s the body’s way of telling you where to treat.”

He notes that, because of the internet, people are more informed than ever about all kinds of medicine. He believes natural medicine should be used to keep people well, while Western medicine should be there in case of trauma. “If you break your arm, thank god for the hospital,” he remarks.

Lying on the table, Rospond says she notices the pain relief from the acupuncture instantly. “Give it a shot,” she recommends. “It’s been around thousands of years, so there must be something to it.”