World of well­ness

We delve into the an­cient medic­i­nal prac­tices of in­dige­nous cul­tures around the world

Nadia - - CONTENTS -

Healing tech­niques cre­ated by an­cient civil­i­sa­tions can still ben­e­fit our health even in this mod­ern era. We take a look at some age-old prac­tices – from tra­di­tional Chi­nese and In­dian medicine to Māori and Na­tive Amer­i­can reme­dies – and gather a few sim­ple prin­ci­ples to sup­port well­be­ing.


The Maya have a lot to teach us about well­be­ing. This civil­i­sa­tion, which once thrived in parts of Mex­ico and Cen­tral Amer­ica, has an­cient roots and started to de­velop cities from around 750 BC. For the Maya, health was about bal­ance, and dis­ease was a sign of im­bal­ance. To main­tain good health the Maya con­sumed a cold choco­late drink made from ca­cao seeds pretty much with every meal.

Clearly they were onto some­thing as ca­cao is packed full of an­tiox­i­dant polyphe­nols which we now have ev­i­dence to sug­gest may have heart-healthy ef­fects. A team at Yale Univer­sity gave peo­ple a daily dose of hot co­coa for six weeks and found it im­proved their cir­cu­la­tion. There are even stud­ies that have linked a daily hot co­coa with smoother, more elas­tic skin.

The Maya in­vented drink­ing choco­late. They made it with crushed ca­cao beans, wa­ter and chilli pep­per – sugar and milk were in­tro­duced later, in colo­nial times, and at some stage it was heated up. Along with smooth­ies, this is still one of the health­i­est ways to con­sume ca­cao. Or choose a dark choco­late – the higher the co­coa solids, the more polyphe­nols and the less sugar so go for at least 85 per­cent for heart health.


De­vel­oped more than 3000 years ago in In­dia, Ayurveda is based on the be­lief that three life forces or en­er­gies, known as doshas, con­trol how the body works and in­flu­ence the health con­di­tions you are prone to de­vel­op­ing. They are vata (air), pitta (fire and wa­ter) and kapha (wa­ter and earth) and you can take on­line quizzes to check your pre­dom­i­nant dosha.

Diet is a key part of Ayurveda for all three doshas as im­proper di­ges­tion is seen as the root cause of many dis­or­ders. While nat­u­ral, un­pro­cessed, mostly plant foods are the foun­da­tion of Ayurvedic eat­ing, the way meals are pre­pared and when they are con­sumed is also im­por­tant. Freshly cooked food is con­sid­ered eas­ier to di­gest than raw. That means sal­ads and raw veg­eta­bles are eaten ear­lier in the day so there is time for the body to process them. And din­ner should not be too heavy or eaten too late.

Use lots of de­li­cious spices to aid di­ges­tion and sup­port your nat­u­ral im­mu­nity – turmeric, cumin, co­rian­der, car­damom, cin­na­mon, saf­fron and ginger are all con­sid­ered healing.

Keep hy­drated by drink­ing wa­ter at room tem­per­a­ture – if it’s ice cold it’s be­lieved to slow blood flow and the ac­tion of di­ges­tive en­zymes.

Avoid over-eat­ing be­cause a third of your stom­ach should be left empty for the di­ges­tive pro­cesses. And af­ter meals do some sort of gen­tle ac­tiv­ity such as walk­ing.


Tra­di­tional Māori healing is known for its use of plants and herbs, but there is far more to it than that says Auck­land prac­ti­tioner Donna Ker­ridge. It’s a holis­tic sys­tem, treat­ing the whole per­son rather than the symp­toms of their con­di­tion. “The goal of rongoā is to lift the life force within peo­ple so they can live full lives de­spite dis­ease,” she ex­plains.

Na­tive plants such as kawakawa, kū­mara­hou, mānuka, harakeke and ma­maku have al­ways been a part of this and were used to pro­vide re­lief from a wide range of symp­toms. To­day their ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial is go­ing main­stream.

Kawakawa is an ex­tremely im­por­tant plant to Māori. Tra­di­tion­ally it was used for sooth­ing all sorts of in­flam­ma­tion in­clud­ing treat­ing cuts, burns, skin dis­or­ders and stom­ach pain. To­day you will find ex­tracts of this na­tive tree in eczema balms and moisturisers.

Lo­cal skin­care brands such as Evolu and Liv­ing Na­ture have also em­braced the na­tive shrub kū­mara­hou. This is known as ‘gum dig­ger’s soap’ since rub­bing its flow­ers cre­ates a nat­u­ral lather.

“The goal of rongoā is to lift the life force within peo­ple so they can live full lives de­spite dis­ease”

An­timi­cro­bial and non-dry­ing, it was once used by Māori as a der­mal wash for healing skin con­di­tions. It was also taken in­ter­nally to treat bronchial com­plaints and sup­port liver func­tion.

Here is Donna’s recipe for a kū­mara­hou tonic to sup­port res­pi­ra­tory and di­ges­tive func­tion:

Place 1 hand­ful fresh kū­mara­hou leaves in a stain­less-steel pot and cover with about 1.5 litres wa­ter. Bring to boil and sim­mer gen­tly for 15-20 min­utes. Strain leaves from wa­ter us­ing a clean cloth or muslin. Once cooled, store the liq­uid in the fridge and re­turn the used leaves to the earth (not the bin). Mix ½ cup cold liq­uid with ½ cup hot wa­ter and drink.

Donna says you’ll get used to the bit­ter taste.


In tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine two op­pos­ing forces – yin and yang – must be main­tained in har­mony for good health. Also, qi or chi, a vi­tal en­ergy, flows through the body along the merid­ian lines.

The proper flow of qi can be en­cour­aged with tai chi. Of­ten de­scribed as med­i­ta­tion in mo­tion, this form of ex­er­cise is gen­tle enough for peo­ple of all ages but there is re­search to show that it has pow­er­ful ben­e­fits for the body and mind. A study at Har­vard Med­i­cal Cen­tre found that pa­tients with chronic heart fail­ure ex­pe­ri­enced a bet­ter qual­ity of life, sleep and mood when prac­tis­ing tai chi. This sys­tem of slow, easy move­ments also im­proves bal­ance and flex­i­bil­ity, main­tains mus­cle strength, low­ers blood pres­sure, re­duces in­flam­ma­tion and helps con­trol de­pres­sion, stress and anx­i­ety.

You can’t visit a park in China with­out notic­ing groups prac­tis­ing tai chi, and in New Zealand classes are held all around the coun­try. Find one near you with the Taoist Tai Chi So­ci­ety of New Zealand,


Many Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes be­lieved that ill­ness could have both nat­u­ral and su­per­nat­u­ral causes so pu­rifi­ca­tion rit­u­als were of­ten used to bring in good spir­its and clear away anx­i­eties, dark thoughts and un­wanted en­er­gies. The most com­mon shaman­is­tic cleans­ing ritual is called ‘smudg­ing’ and this is still pop­u­lar to­day. Tra­di­tion­ally, it in­volved burn­ing herbs and plant resins in a clay bowl and fan­ning the smoke around the home us­ing a feather. One of the most com­mon herbs used was white sage and you can now buy ready-made white sage smudge sticks (check on­line). Even though its sup­posed ef­fects can’t be proven, there may well be a psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fit to per­form­ing the ritual and clear­ing the way for more pos­i­tive think­ing.

Oldies but good­ies (clock­wise from top left) An­tiox­i­dant-rich dark choco­late, healing manuka, sage to banish dark thoughts, and life-en­hanc­ing tai chi.

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