Popular Alternative Complementary Therapies

By Val Silver

Alternative complementary therapies may seem mysterious and 'out there', but chances are you or someone you know has used one or more alternative healing methods without even realizing it! 

Have you ever done yoga or gotten a massage? Have you ever taken a cold lozenge with zinc, rubbed menthol cream on achy joints, or sipped a cup of herbal tea to soothe your nerves? If so, you have sampled alternative therapy. 

Basically, alternative complementary therapies are techniques and remedies, other than pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures.  They are used to maintain or improve physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual well being as part of a holistic approach to healing and wellness

There are more alternative healing methods than you could number. It would be nearly impossible to sample them all, let alone use them all effectively. Nor would you have any need to.

Alternative therapies are varied in their approach, technique and philosophy.

Some modalities have been around for thousands of years, others are in the process of being created. Some are backed by considerable anecdotal evidence and research, others have little or no reliable support behind them. Several require the help of a healer or teacher. Others can be learned by reading or using videos.

8 Alternative Complementary Therapies

These eight alternative complementary therapies are featured because they have been used for ages. Research and/or anecdotal evidence shows that they can be useful for maintaining and improving mental and/or physical health. Some are even free and can be self-administered. 

1. Yoga

alternative complementary therapies

Yoga is comprised of different traditions and practices that are much more than stretching exercises. Different styles of yoga offer mind body benefits to suit a variety of individual preferences and abilities. For example, Hatha yoga is perfect for beginners. A friend of mine is a laughing yoga instructor who shares at nursing homes and veterans groups. Bikram, or hot yoga, is more demanding.

Research shows that yoga promotes brain health, quality sleep, positive moods, and better blood pressure. If you want to feel more relaxed, stronger and more flexible physically and mentally, give yoga a try. With its emphasis on the mind body connection, and facilitating a deeper, lasting harmony between them, yoga is truly a holistic practice.

2. Ayurveda

Ayurvedic medicine originated in India thousands of years ago. Practitioners determine a patient's dosha, or body type, and then utilize herbs, massage, and/or certain foods and techniques to balance mind, body, and spirit for health and well-being. 

Examples of Ayurvedic medicine include clearing the sinuses with a a solution of saline water poured into the nostrils from a Neti pot and oil pulling with coconut oil to cleanse the mouth of bacteria. Yoga is also mentioned in Ayurvedic texts. 

3. Body Work

Alternative, complementary therapies include many types of body work, such as chiropractic, massage,  and reflexology. Some therapists are trained in rolfing and other body work that help realign the musculo-skeletal system to improve posture and relieve pain. Trigger point therapy unwinds muscle knots and their accompanying pains.


alternative therapies

Massage may well be the number one favorite modality among alternative healing methods. It is absolutely lovely to just lay there while a massage therapist or loved one pampers you and soothes your muscles. Even if you are alone, you can do a fairly good job on some of your own muscles using tools or your hands. Thumbs work particularly well when a little pressure is needed.

Here's one of my favorite techniques: Grab hold of your trapezius muscle halfway between your neck and shoulder. Squeeze as much of it as you can with the opposite hand. Inhale and hold your breath or breathe naturally (your choice). Drop your shoulder and slowly turn your head both ways. Release your grip and exhale. Repeat on the other side. Heavenly!

Not only does massage feel good, it helps bring oxygenated blood and nutrients into tight muscles and helps get toxins out of the cells. Relaxed muscles move better and feel better. You may also be surprised by an emotional release and greater feelings of ease and well-being in connection with your body.

Chiropractic medicine

Chiropractors focus on the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system. It is a popular modality for treating imbalances and pain in the spine, neck, joints, and head. Adjustments are made manually or with special tools to assist with easing impingements on the nerves, realigning the spine, and improving posture so the body can regain balance and the proper energy needed for pain relief, good health and healing. 


Reflexologists use their hands to apply pressure to specific areas on the hands, feet and/or ears believed to correspond (through the nervous system) to different body organs and systems. For example, the big toe is believed to correspond to the head; the tips of the fingers are the sinus points.

You can enjoy the benefits of reflexology on your own with the help of a reflexology "map" of the hands, ears, and feet. Use your hands to dig into the points or use a knobby foot roller.  

4. Herbal Medicine

alternative therapies

Herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years to treat maladies of mind and body. Herbs, in all their various forms for all their various uses, make them another top holistic alternative complementary therapy. The plant kingdom offers some kind of healing help for just about everyone. 

Tension taming teas are sipped for stress relief. Infusions are drunk for their nutritional value and other health benefits. Roots are boiled for their immune and energy enhancing qualities. Herbal steam inhalations are used for bronchial and sinus relief. Syrups and extracts are taken to break fevers and soothe congestion and so much more.

When whole parts of herbs are used to make remedies, such as capsules, tinctures and teas, they have holistic as well as intended, specific effects on the physical body. When standardized to have a more predictable effect, certain parts of the plant are removed and others are emphasized to function more like pharmaceuticals.

Herbs are often combined in remedies for a synergistic effect. For example, black pepper is often added to turmeric to make it more absorbable in the body.

Aromatherapy distills the essential oils from plants to make potent remedies for pain relief, relaxation, improving mood, aiding a variety of health problems, and for non-toxic personal products. Aromatherapy is often applied to the body through massage or lotions or inhaled with the help of a diffuser. Always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil before applying to the skin.

Herbs are also made into vibrational remedies for healing the mental, emotional and spiritual energy bodies. 

5. Energy Healing

alternative medicine

Energy healing has been around for millenniums, but has only regained popularity in the west over the last few decades. 

Energy healing methods may use different techniques, but the basic idea of most of them is that the healer or facilitator channels or offers universal energy to the energetic field of the receiver for relaxation and healing purposes. Touch may or may not be used. 

You can do some energy work for yourself, too.

Reiki is one of the more popular and well known forms of energy healing. Other methods are laying on of hands, quantum touch, therapeutic touch, bio-energy healing, touch for health, qigong healing, and distance healing.  

Some types of energy medicine use body or hand movement, such as qigong and other simple ways to positively affect meridian energy flow

6. Energy Flow Techniques

alternative complementary therapies

Energy flow techniques, or emotional release and meridian tapping techniques, are relative newcomers as alternative complementary therapies. They are included here because they have exploded in popularity over the last twenty years as people experience amazing mental and emotional shifts, and sometimes resolution of physical problems in a relatively short time. 

Of these methods, the Emotional Freedom Technique and its variants are by far the most popular and most studied. Other techniques include the Tapas Acupressure Technique and ZPoint. Neuro Linguistic Programming is a close cousin of EFT and some other meridian tapping and energy flow techniques. Its influence can be seen in some of the reframes and shifting statements used by advanced practitioners.

7. Homeopathy

Homeopathy is based on the principle of treating "like with like" with highly diluted remedies. A substance that causes adverse reactions in large amounts, such as arsenic or poison ivy, might be prescribed in miniscule doses to treat the same symptoms and to expel the poison or sickness from the body. 

Conventional medicine in the U.S. generally dismisses homeopathy as a valid treatment, but it does use the same principle of "like cures like" for vaccines and treating ADHD with Ritalin. It is very popular modality in some other countries.

Although homeopathic tablets and liquids, such as arnica for muscle aches and bruises, are available to the public for general use, true homeopathy relies of comprehensive patient information before prescribing a specific, individualized remedy. 

8. Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture originated in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Fine needles are inserted at specific points on the body's energy channels, or meridians, to release blocks and help the energy flow freely again. 

Acupressure also works to ease these blocks and imbalances. Instead of using needles or electric stimulation, a practitioner applies pressure to the points. 

Research supports that both techniques ease chronic pain, improve mood, and help resolve insomnia after a few sessions. 

Source: <"https://www.jpain.org/article/S1526-5900(17)30780-0/fulltext">Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis

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Alternative healing methods offer much as simple, accessible ways to promote and maintain wellness. As types of holistic medicine, alternative complementary therapies contribute greatly to our ability to restore balance to our bodies and minds. When used alongside conventional medicine, they offer us a way to take responsibility and control of our health and fill in important holistic health care gaps that the modern medical system does not address.

Alternative Complementary Therapies page updated 11/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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