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The philosophy of anthroposophy was founded early in the 1900s by an Austrian, Rudolf Steiner, in reaction to the contemporary scientific view of the body as a purely physical entity. According to steiner, the natural world is guided by cosmic rhythms, and each human being is a unique individual for whom life has meaning and purpose. Claiming that the loss of this sense of self was reflected by a deterioration in well being, he developed anthroposophical medicine as a holistic approach to health following his philosophy. Practitioners are trained as medical doctors and the practice is especially popular in Europe.
MAIN USES OF ANTHROPOSOPHICAL MEDICINE
Practitioners are medically qualified and may treat any condition. Childhood infections. Hayfever & asthma. Depression. Cancer. Musculoskeletal problems. Fatigue.
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Anthroposophical medicine is a part of Rudolf Steiner's theory of anthroposophy, from the Greek anthropos (man) and sophia (wisdom). His holistic view of medicine stressed the need for an "awareness of man's humanity". With Dr. Ita Wegman, a Dutch practitioner, Steiner developed his ideas to include a medical science. He established his headquarters at Dornach in Switzerland in 1913. In Europe, at least 10 hospitals and several hundred medical practitioners practice anthroposophical medicine. Interest is growing in the US, the UK, and Australia. Over 170 schools worldwide teach children based on Steiner's theories.
Rudolf Steiner, father of anthroposophy, was an Austrian scientist and philosopher. His work embraced not only medicine but education, art, drama, movement, agriculture, and architecture.
Steiner's approach was based on Christian principles, although he worked initially with the Theosophical Society, a late 19th century religious movement influenced by Hindu and Buddhist traditions. The Theosophical belief in reincarnation corresponds to Steiner's theory that health in this life reflects the karma or "load" carried over from past lives. He taught that illness, when appropriately treated, is an opportunity to bring renewed balance and greater wholeness into the patient's life. The anthroposophical medicines and therapeutic techniques Steiner developed were intended to stimulate the healing process from within.
In addition to a physical body, Steiner believed that humans, animals, and plants have an "etheric" body, which is the source of life and growth, and contributes to physical shape. Humans and animals are furthermore said to possess an "astral" body that governs the senses, impulses, and emotions, but only humans have a fourth component - an "ego", the consciousness of self. A patient is seen as an individual in whom all four of these bodies influence one another, thus illness in one body can cause disturbances in the other three.
Good health, according to Steiner, depends on a hormonious relationship between the physical, etheric, and astral bodies and the ego.
The nature of illness is determined by Steiner's principle of polarity. the human organism, he said, consists of two "poles," with a system that links and harmonizes them. The upper "cephalic", or "head", pole includes the brain, nerves, and senses, and is associated with perception and thinking. Overactivity in this pole may lead to degenerative conditions, including tumors and osteoarthritis, that are associated with old age. The lower "metabolic" pole includes the limbs, movement, and metabolism, and associated with action and will. Too much activity in this pole can result in inflammatory disorders, such as pneumonia and other feverish illnesses, which are common in childhood. Linking the two poles is the "rhythmic" system that includes the heart, lungs, respiration, and circulation, and is associated with states of mind and emotions. Practitioners employ anthroposophical medicines and a range of therapies to integrate these components into a harmonious whole.
Anthroposophical medicines treat specific ailments and are made from animal, mineral, and plant substances, such as mistletoe, an extract of which, Iscador, is given by injection to treat cancer. Medicines are prepared by the homeopathic method of potentization, but the plants used are grown according to a system of "biodynamic" agriculture, which takes into account cosmic influences on plant growth. Steiner believed that the seasons and the position of the sun, moon, and Earth affect everything in the natural world, including agriculture and the preparation of medicines, and at least one manufacturer of anthroposophical medicines does not prepare remedies in the two hours after midday, when cosmic influences are thought to render them less effective.
EVIDENCE & RESEARCH
Many studies of anthroposophical medicines have been made by medical researchers in Europe. Iscador, for example, appeared in trials to stimulate all areas of the immune system, increase the production of white cells and antibodies, and to have a mild anticancer action. A 1995 study at the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital found that a cancer care package that included Iscador enhanced patients' quality of life.
CONVENTIONAL MEDICAL OPINION
Conventional practitioners are often unaware of the concepts behind Steiner's approach, but many of those who have studied anthroposophy have great respect for his ideas on the relationship between the mind and body (he corresponded with Jung), and his psychological and educational theories (he knew Montessori). Conventional practitioners sometimes refer patients to anthroposophical practitioners, although often this is at the patient's own request. Many conventional practitioners find it difficult to accept Steiner's belief in karma and homeopathic medicine. Nevertheless, his insights do seem more profound than superficial theorizing that underpins some other complementary therapies.
CONSULTING A PRACTITIONER
An anthroposophical practitioner will often spend more time than a conventional medical practitioner (often as much as an hour) asking questions about your diet, lifestyle, and constitution, with an emphasis on your body's rhythms. For example, are your eating and sleeping patterns regular? If you are a woman, are your menstrual periods regular? The practitioner may also carry out standard medical tests, and will use the information to aid diagnosis, prescribing treatment to balance the poles and systems regulating your body. You will usually be prescribed anthroposophical medicines to treat physical conditions, in conjunction with conventional drugs if necessary.
Practitioners are fully qualified health care providers, who make use of modern technology and medication as required - Steiner aimed to complement and develop medicine as it exists, rather than to set up an alternative system. Anthroposophical practitioners believe that this approach gives them a fuller picture of an individual compared to conventional medicine, allowing them to take a broader view of illness and therapy.
Painting: Using color to create a hormonious image may influence the astral body, or inner emotions, and indirectly affect physical health.
A comprehensive treatment will often include artistic therapies to harmonize your emotional condition, and counseling to look at opportunities presented by the illness for developing your ego, or individual self.
Sculpture: Modeling in clay can foster self-confidence through practical achievement and may also make the patient more aware of her body. The aim is to encourage closer union of the ego, or individual self, with the physical body.
Massage, hydrotherapy and eurythmy may also be used for long-term problems. Many practitioners have a team of therapists attached to their practice, specializing in one or more of these areas.
Eurythmy is a movement therapy developed by Steiner in the early 1900s to enhance the relationship between the ego and the physical body. Unlike dance steps and mime, eurythmic movements are choreographed to symbolize sounds, making speech and music "visible" in shapes, gestures, and color.
Because anthroposophical medicine is a holistic system, aimed at harmonizing elements of the spiritual as well as the physical self, it is said by its followers to be of benefit in cases where a conventional cure cannot be achieved. According to Steiner's philosophy, even where therapy cannot be of help in the present life, it may be used to prepare for a future life.
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