In Western culture, such as that of the United States and Western Europe, alternative medicine is considered to be a non-conventional approach to health. It incorporates a variety of techniques that stem from tribal and historical knowledge. The field is growing and many people are beginning to turn to alternative medicine in order to complement their Western medical regimen or start a new, more natural way of life.
Many diverse practices fall under the category of alternative health, including acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, homeopathy, meditation, and yoga. Most alternative methods of health care are preventative and focus upon each person as a whole being, mind and body. They acknowledge the mind-body connection, and work to make each treatment individualized so as to have the most impact. Some form of alternative health also has a spiritual component or come from traditional knowledge.
Critics of alternative medicine say that there is little scientific proof for the effectiveness of these methods. However, as more studies of alternative methods continue, they grow more mainstream and accepted even in the medical community. Many are being used in conjunction with conventional Western medicine. For example, Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has founded a Stress Reduction Clinic which introduces patients to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice. Other medical programs across the United States have begun to recognize the power of these tools in conjunction with Western medicine in treating patients with chronic pain.
Like meditation, many methods of alternative health practice, are now considered 'complementary medicine'. Combined with typical, Western methods, they are found to be useful. For example, aromatherapy, the inhaling of essential oils, encourages healing after surgery. The idea behind most alternative medicine, of treating one's whole person with care, is a good idea of maintaining health across the board.