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August 18, 2021 4 min read

The History

Woo-woo wellness is often peddled as a term for natural or holistic medicines that don't have (much) scientific evidence, and is often negatively portrayed in the mainstream media. Even the articles that do mention it and try to give it some credit in an attempt to reach a new, more spiritually-attuned audience, end up contributing to the stigma through the continued use of the derogatory term. 

Specifically, it relates to practices such as:

  • Holistic healing
    Cleansing your energy field
  • Breathwork
  • Sound baths
  • Reiki

And many others that have been considered unconventional, or “woo-woo,” in the modern Western era, due to the lack of scientific evidence backing their validity. However, upon a second glance, that is actually far from being the only, or even the main, reason for the stigma. Let's take a deeper look into the what and why. 

The heritage

Not even a few decades ago, similar things were said about a vegan diet. It was thoroughly scrutinised as a ‘hokey’ belief. It was not taken seriously, although having originated from Ital diet (eating plant-based and unprocessed foods), which the Rastafaris developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. Yet now, it is one of the most widely popularised topics in the health and wellness sphere. It is not only socially accepted, but endorsed, by numerous key public figures. 

Cannabis

Similarly, use of the cannabis plant has been villainised and subject to ruthless prohibition propaganda from the majority of global governments. That said, this is well known to be a fairly recent regression.

As early as the 1800s, there were no federal restrictions on the sale or possession of cannabis in the US, and most other countries. It became globally illegal around the 1920s after a series of unjust, politically-driven decisions as a means of dividing the people. 

Here's how some painted cannabis:

  • A scourge from south of the border
  • A “jazz drug”
  • The corruptive intoxicant of choice for beatniks and hippies
  • Calling it “marijuana” and creating connotations with hispanic minorities

The laws that sought to control the plant preyed on some of America’s worst tendencies around race, ethnicity, civil disobedience, and otherness.

But, prior to that, dating back likely more than two millennia, the cannabis plant has been known and widely used for its many medicinal properties:

  • Chronic pain
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Huntington's disease
  • Parkinson's disease and others

As the popular opinion is (albeit very slowly), starting to shift back to the appreciation for the healing powers of the plant, we are reminded of all the wonderful things it can help us accomplish. 

Ayurveda

Likewise, ayurvedic medicine (or ayurveda for short) is one of the world's oldest holistic healing systems - meaning it was concerned with healing the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.

Ayurveda was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India, stemming from the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit.

While not as scientifically-driven as most Western medicine is, it proved to be none the less effective, and remains one of India's traditional health care systems to this day. 

Chinese Medicine 

Not unlike ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine (or TCM) became almost a synonym to ‘woo-woo’ wellness - a Western slur to denote anything that is not proven scientifically and therefore discredited and assumed a hoax.

Critics argue that there is no physiological evidence that qi or the meridians exist, and scant any evidence of the success with TCM.

And yet, nowadays we start seeing more and more various forms of herbal medicine:

  • Acupuncture
  • Cupping therapy
  • Gua sha, massage (tui na)
  • Bonesetter (die-da)
  • Exercise (qigong)
  • Dietary therapy 

The Stigma 

All this begs the question - if Western medicine was so thoroughly and indisputably effective, why are we seeing these things we used to shun, start to gain traction and recognition? Why are we seeing more and more success stories and anecdotal evidence in favour of these practices? The answer is simple: because they work. 

Culturally, it is not right, and even rather naive, to call these practices ‘woo-woo’.

As per Cambridge English Dictionary, science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment”.

So these, so-called alternative approaches, are science in their own right, as the practitioners systematically studied the physical and natural world around them, and experimented with different methods until they reached the desired result. Even though they differ from the science we know and are comfortable with nowadays. Much like Western medicine, they are rooted in their own ways of trial and error, and have demonstrated tremendous success.

The Best of Both Worlds

The truth is that no practice is all-encompassing on its own, and it doesn’t have to be an either/or debate. Science alone is not the answer, as it would be too bold of us to assume we understand everything and can measure it all in the ways we, ourselves, created. Neither is alternative medicine, however, enough to address every possible aspect, or cause, or root of disease. 

It is only when we stop seeing the two as being on opposite sides, and start seeing them more as a spectrum, will we be able to finally find the truly holistic solution to health. Here at Ohana, we aim to do exactly that :)

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