“The fact that you just used the word ‘Naturopath’ makes me think a little less of you” … and there it was; in less than 140 characters, the omniscient force that is Twitter hit a well manicured nail on the head and succinctly summed up the gaping divide in our perceptions between what holistic is, and what we think it is.
Speaking to Louise Westra, Naturopath at Gleneagles Hotel and Spa, she hovers around alternative descriptions of the new and seriously detailed ESPA Life treatment programmes she oversees, before concluding with some frustration: “I try to avoid the word ‘holistic’ because it is misunderstood” … she is too polite to elaborate so I interject – “yes, it tends to conjure images of ageing hippies and tree-hugging” – not I hasten to add that there is anything wrong with any of those things, but more the sort of thing most people are happy to embrace on a sunny afternoon contemplating the meaning of life than when they are dealing with an aggressive case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or some other equally personal concern.
So if there is no tree-hugging involved, what exactly is Naturopathy? “Well,” says Westra, “I don’t treat disease, I treat people” – uh oh, still thinking this sounds a little fluffy, until she continues: “if someone has a medical diagnosis, I take that into account, but where I am different to a doctor is that a doctor will look at the problem and medicate for it – they don’t usually have time to look at what’s going on in the body to exacerbate that condition – that’s my job. I look into why the condition has occurred, and also how to help the body support itself while undergoing treatment – particularly in the case of chronic problems like Rheumatoid Arthritis where the effects of the medication can be quite unpleasant. I look at underlying causes. Naturopathy is a wide reaching practice including reflexology, acupuncture, nutritional supplementation, wellness testing, and hydrotherapy, so it can be used for everything from problems conceiving to aches and pains, or simply for anyone who has nothing in particular wrong with them, but who is simply not feeling right.”
As Westra points out, Naturopathy is a pretty wide ranging practice – it isn’t one particular treatment, it is something of a philosophy that has a more natural approach, as the name might imply, to more accepted Western practices, and where it makes a lot of sense is that it takes the bits that 21st century medicine deems to be the most effective from more time-tested institutions. Notable sources of inspiration include Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine – two of the oldest practices that remain in use (and are still a medicinal standard in China). Adding a scientific twist into the equation for good measure and more targeted results however are a plethora of wellbeing tests that Westra is able to offer so that treatments are less of a stab in the hemp-scented dark, and are actually more about you than your average trip to the GP.
Of course if you want cold, hard facts, Westra’s own clinical background goes a long way to reassuring holistic sceptics about Naturopathy’s validity in the quest for long term health – she holds a Bachelor of Health Science in Complementary Medicine and an Advanced Diploma in Naturopathy as well as a post-graduate certificate in Colon Hydrotherapy. Not only that, but this is a woman who practices what she preaches – having spent ten years living in Australia and coming to the UK only on the proviso that her surroundings were still conducive to her way of life: “There has been scientific research that shows views of nature improve your recovery rate from illness. We have a connection with nature and most people are separated from it all day at work – it resonates with us on a deep level.” – she should be happy as a sand boy at the rather spectacular Gleneagles in that case.
Which brings us onto ESPA Life – a rather more accessible way of understanding and implementing Naturopathy in the lives of you and I, they are a range of spa packages unique to the luxury, Scottish venue that use the world of spa in its traditional and most effective manner, with overnight breaks that see Westra working with clients to tailor a whole programme of restorative, diagnostic, but ultimately pleasurable life changes that include everything from acupuncture, to diet, to wellness tests, to chilling out by the pool, and treating everything from sluggish digestion to depression or a general feeling of bleurgh! (technical term).
As a parting question for Westra, I asked – so, what’s your best advice for most people who want to feel a little better day to day? “Chew your food more” she said without a moment’s hesitation, and sensing my surprise continued: “everyone is focused on food, but not how the body breaks it down, you can eat all the organic produce in the world, but if your body isn’t using it properly you won’t get the energy from it. You should chew each mouthful 30-40 times.” Well, there we go then … I think I will start with the spa part and build up to the Olympic chewing.
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