Sep 7, 2018

East Meets West

Eastern culture is becoming mainstream in the United States.

Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D.
Psychology Today
September 6, 2018

In 1968, the Beatles went to India to take part in a Transcendental Meditation (TM) session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  Led by George Harrison, the Beatles’ interest in TM not only changed Western attitudes about Indian spirituality but ushered in a wholesale fascination with Eastern ways.  Twenyt-something Baby Boomers were most intrigued by the East, part and parcel of their countercultural notion of rejecting their parents’ generation way of life based in Western-style competition, conformity, and consumer capitalism.  Buddhist philosophy meshed nicely with students’ peace protests against the Vietnam War, and achieving a state of bliss through TM and yoga (and psychedelics) became common among American and European youth culture.

A half-century later, George Harrison’s sitar is still ringing in Westerners’ ears.  Eastern spiritualities have become mainstream, with many finding Buddhism to be an ideal alternative or complement to traditional Judeo-Christian religion.  With their early exposure to Eastern philosophies, boomers continue to embrace Buddhism, and millennials too are shopping at what has been called “the spiritual marketplace.”  “Meditation, dharma teachers, retreat centers and monasteries, as well as some core terms (dharma, karma, mindfulness, zazen, bodhisattva, and metta, to name a few) have become well known and understood,” observed writer and teacher Lewis Richmond.  Westerners are also embracing Eastern health care practices en masse, with consumers of all stripes cruising the aisles of CVS, Walgreen’s, and Duane Reed for natural remedies.  Massage, acupuncture, herbal supplements, liquid vitamins, and essential oils are all part of this pursuit to stay healthy without resorting to drugs (and doctors).

Acupuncture—the Chinese practice of stimulating certain areas of the body, usually by putting narrow needles into the skin—is growing especially fast as a form of alternative medicine.  Acupuncture can help those with certain conditions avoid surgery, and research from a study at the National Institutes of Health has shown that the technique is effective in reducing chronic pain.  By literally pinpointing a half dozen energy points in the human body, acupuncture is said to reduce fatigue and help people stay active for longer.  Acupuncture is part of what some refer to as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is expected to thrive in the years ahead.  While Western science has yet to definitively prove that acupuncture has clinical efficacy, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that it and other TCM modalities work.  Unlike Western medicine, where a single doctor visit yields a prescription or referral, TCM works over time.  The acceptance of Chinese medicine has been growing to the point where some insurance providers will cover treatments—some very good news indeed.

More Americans and Europeans are also opting for Eastern fitness regimes such as qigong that offer an alternative to extended cardiovascular workouts designed to build strength.  The aim of qigong is to bring about “qi” (spoken as “chee”), the Chinese concept of curative energy that moves like a current throughout one’s body.  Participants follow a teacher engaged in deep breathing exercises combined with a set of flowing motions involving various parts of the body, especially the joint areas.  The soaring interest in Eastern exercise practices like qigong is a function of Westerners’ desire to achieve wellness via a more integrated mind-body-spirit philosophy.  Health clubs are sensibly responding by filling classes with kinder and gentler activities imported from Asia, a sign of bigger things to come as more Eastern modalities roll West.

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