Earlier this year I wrote a piece titled “What is health?”

Now I’m pondering; what is medicine? One definition; “a substance used in treating disease or illness”. Another; “the art or science of preserving or restoring health or due physical condition”. I prefer the second, as I believe limiting medicine to a “substance” does us all a grave disservice.

I’ve been a practicing massage therapist for over 16 years. It is deeply rewarding work, a privilege to be a part of someone’s health care, and a constant source of amazement as I observe the body’s ability to right itself. Most clients enter the massage room in one physical/emotional/mental state, and leave in another. There is no doubt in my mind of the power of this modality to balance, restore, and enhance health.

And so I wonder: is my practice of massage a practice of medicine? I’m regulated in Maryland as a health care practitioner. Clients describe their sessions as time spent preserving and/or restoring their well-being.

And, if we roughly equate the words medicine and drug, drug defined as “any article …intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans” – are my hands then drugs? 

I chose this work because of what massage did for me when I was managing a full-time work schedule and a full-time credit load in college. Life was pretty hectic and I was always fried.  This was the late 1980s and there were plenty of choices for alleviating my pain.

I chose to drug myself with visits to a massage therapist. I would forget about the strain of my life, and my physical pain was always reduced, often eliminated. I knew my body better, where my pain was originating from and why, and I’d always sleep like a rock that night. Best of all; no negative side effects and I learned a lot about how to prevent pain and how to get myself out of pain.

There are many such practices of “medicine” and forms of “drugs” available to us outside of what pharma and physicians routinely offer: Touch is medicine. Movement and exercise is medicine. Food is medicine. Laughter is medicine. Nature is medicine. Meditation, gratitude, compassion, friendship and community…are all medicine.

Any and all of these will alter your chemical, hormonal, physical, emotional, and spiritual being. Just as a pharma drug might. They are all profoundly powerful, with ZERO negative side effects. Of course drugs, surgery and other medical interventions save lives in serious and frightening circumstances. But for the estimated 80% of health care that is not life-threatening and/or a product of our lifestyle…isn’t it nice to have options that don’t come with a waiver to sign or a package insert warning you of (some horrible and even life-threatening) side-effects?

Have you experienced healing, outside of our standard medical model?

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