To some extent, the roots of the Health and Wellness Movement go back at least to the days of the Ancient Greeks and the Olympic games themselves. In that time the ultimate in development was physical prowess in the various games. At the same time, an age-old conflict, which has persisted to the 21st century, existed between the Empiricists and the Rationalists.
Empiricism has regarded the human body as a vital entity subject only to its own laws and those of the spirit or the universe. Rationalists have held that the organism is neither spontaneous nor autonomous, but is determinant to a large extent by ‘observation of laws’ and logic.
The Empiricists ultimately believed in an internal homeostasis. Symptoms were interpreted as signs of the body’s own healing effort, and therefore potentially beneficial.
Rationalists, on the other hand, viewed all symptoms as morbid, being the effect of an external attack on the body.
Rationalists always were more concerned with opposites, and Empiricists with similars. To some extent this difference was highlighted in the development of homeopathy, where Hahneman employed the principle of similars; that is, if a given compound caused specific symptoms, then giving it in extremely small dilute quantities should treat the symptom.
Concomitant with the Ancient Greek Rationalists and Empiricists, the Church followed similar lines. The Church’s codification of the rational approach became doctrine and principle, which to a large extent was opposed to inherent mysticism and spirituality. The Rationalists would determine that they knew what God had intended. The Empiricists would state that knowledge of God is beyond perception, beyond ideas, and beyond phenomena of nature. Galen was a Rationalist. Hippocrates was an Empiricist. Aristotle was a Rationalist. Plato was an Empiricist. There have rarely been wise Rational Empiricists.
This age-old battle between Rationalism and Empiricism has led to radical conflicts at times between various factions. In general, in this century, as has been well documented in ‘The Social Transformation of American Medicine‘ by Paul Starr, the Rationalists won the battle by rejecting the concept of ‘non-scientific’ thoughts such as homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy, chiropractic, electrotherapy and osteopathy.
To some extent, it is this rejection of Empiricism that has led to the rise of the Health and Wellness Movement.
In this century the Fathers of the Health and Wellness Movement lie in the lay psychic Edgar Cayce and in the New Thought Church Movement, started originally by Mary Baker Eddy with Christian Science, Ernest Holmes with Religious Science, and Charles and Myrtle Filmore with Unity. Cayce gave almost 15,000 trance readings, two-thirds of which were related to health and healing. Christian Science and the New Thought Movement believed in a more natural approach and had a much greater emphasis upon spiritual healing. By 1960 the Humanistic Psychology Movement had begun the only somewhat scientifically-oriented approach with Abraham Maslow’s leadership. These three movements, the Cayce concepts, the New Thought Church concepts, and Humanistic Psychology, have provided the broadest foundation for further development of wellness.
In the early 1970’s the work of Jan Smuts, the early 20th century Prime Minister of South Africa, who had written a book ‘Holism and Evolution‘, provided a variety of stimuli that founded the Holistic Movement. The first and originally strongest of these was the Association for Holistic Health in San Diego. At its peak, it attracted over 3,500 individuals, most of them nurses, humanistic psychologists, counselors, and laypeople interested in non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical approaches to health.
In 1978 the American Holistic Medical Association was founded to provide a common community for physicians who went not only beyond the concept of prevention but felt that the spiritual nature of the patient was one of the dominant features. Perhaps nowhere in modern times has the difference between Rationalism and Empiricism been so emphasized as a negative article written by a professor of Neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve, criticizing the development of the American Holistic Medical Association. He stated, ‘We are too busy taking care of sickness to be bothered with prevention.‘
Meanwhile, Preventive Medicine, begun approximately 50 years ago, has remained a relatively small field within medicine, and has dealt primarily with the Rationalist approach to external causes. Preventive Medicine, to a large extent, grew out of the major scientific advances early in this century that, according to Thomas McKeown, have been responsible for 92% of all increases in longevity of life in this century.
Namely, these influences are pasteurization of milk, chlorination of water, proper disposal of sewage, and adequate availability of calories and protein. McKeown attributed only 8% of all increases in longevity to drugs and surgery and other innovations in medicine. The Preventive Medicine Movement, therefore, has concentrated upon, in general, such simple external characteristics as habits and lifestyle, ranging from smoking to physical exercise and particularly diet, with an emphasis on cholesterol.
Meanwhile, the Holistic Movement has concentrated much more on the humanistic psychology approach from a spiritual or transcendent approach. Wellness conferences began to spring up concomitant with the Holistic Movement, and indeed the National Wellness Institute, founded by Dr. William Hettler in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, held its 21st annual conference July 13-19, 1996. There, 190 presenters gave over 225 presentations. The conference included 49 hours of continuing education credit for physicians, nurses, health education specialists, counselors, dentists and other health professionals, as would be expected in such a meeting.
Featured presentations include ‘Beyond the Hero: Classic Tales of Men in Search of Soul,’ by an associate clinical professor of psychiatry of the University of California – San Francisco, and ‘The Role of Emotions and the Suppression of Emotions in Health and Wellbeing,’ by Candace Pert from Georgetown University School of Medicine. Other presentations included ‘The Healing Power of Music;’ ‘The Power of Positive Insanity;’ and ‘Mind, Body, Medicine: What We Know and What We Don’t Know.’ Interestingly, most lacking in this program and many others is a significant emphasis upon physical exercise, despite the Surgeon General’s current emphasis that more improvement in health could be achieved with adequate physical exercise than any other change in health habits. And there is not adequate attention to the chemicalization of food.
The American Holistic Medical Association has emphasized from the beginning the principle that drugs and surgery are often the treatment of necessity and of choice in acute illness and often inadequate in significant healing for those with chronic illness. In AHMA the principles that have been emphasized are nutrition, physical exercise, various body therapy approaches, including Reichian therapy, Alexander therapy, Rolfing, and Feldenkrais therapy; energy medicine, most emphasized by acupuncture and homeopathy; and, above all, an emphasis upon spirituality. In the last two decades, the emerging science of Psychoneuroimmunology has added a great deal of emphasis to the concept of body/mind medicine.
With psychoneuroimmunology and an increasing interest in wellness, from the Surgeon General down through various medical societies, to some extent Rationalism and Empiricism are finding common ground in the logical and empirical evidence, so well emphasized two decades ago by John Knowles, late President of the Rockefeller Foundation. Namely, at least 85% of all illnesses are the result of habits and lifestyle. To a huge extent, wellness is available for those who go beyond logic to common sense. Perhaps we should all become Rational Empiricists!
C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D. is the father of holistic medicine and co-founder of the Shealy-Sorin Wellness Institute. Call today to schedule an appointment for your healthy longevity evaluation. +1 417-467-2124