We welcome Dr. Benjamin Alter, ND to Pacific Naturopathic. To start this week’s column, we’ll share Dr. Benjamin’s journey as a naturopathic physician. Then Benjamin will talk about the body’s healing power – the Vital Force.
When young Benjamin Alter fell off his skateboard and landed in the emergency room at age 12, he knew he wanted to be a physician.
Beyond the pain, he was fascinated to watch how the body gradually and steadily healed itself.
Ten years later, he flew over the handlebars of a mountain bike and broke his right wrist. His right-hand-dominant, left-brained scientific and analytical mind was suddenly struck with creative inspiration.
On a sure course to become a doctor, he took a drastic turn. After earning a degree in human physiology at the University of Arizona, he moved to Hungary to help a research team investigating brain cancer genomics.
Frequent illness in Hungary created a heightened awareness – he realized it wasn’t the foreign food, water, or pathogens that were causing his acute symptoms.
In a stroke of insight he realized that something deeper was missing – it was a strange sort of homesickness for his own deeper Self.
He began a daily practice of meditation and centering. By gaining better control of his random thoughts and feelings, and daily bathing in the healing peace of the Soul, he found his outer experiences subtly changing.
Amazed by this experience of a mind-body connection, he chose to set aside his dream of becoming a traditional physician, and to pursue a more energy-based education in the healing arts.
Back in the US, Benjamin earned an MA in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica. By learning to identify, own, and love all aspects of his life experience equally, he slowly refined his understanding of true healing.
Today, an energy-based approach to healing continues to inform his practice. Dr. Benjamin is devoted to helping preserve traditional healing modalities that have served humanity for millennia, and that rely on strengthening the body’s own healing powers.
Traditional medicine holds that the body is its own best healing agent, and that the role of the healer is to educate, and to choose the most gentle, effective medicines possible.
When not seeing patients or researching the latest health discoveries, Dr. Benjamin can often be found cycling, doing yoga, hiking, or doing high-intensity interval training.
Benjamin’s partner Susanna is an emerging Naturopathic Doctor in her own right – they enjoy working in organic gardens, preparing plant-based meals, and being together in the wild outdoors.
Naturopathic Philosophy 101
by Benjamin Alter, ND
Naturopathic Medicine follows a hierarchy called “the Therapeutic Order.” This template, created by Drs. Jared Zeff and Pamela Snider, two of my teachers in medical school, is a wonderful guide to the priorities of Naturopathic Medicine. It portrays the entire compass of the healing process.
Level One is establishing a foundation of optimal health. The words may sound a little vague, but the message is clear: remove all thoughts, actions, substances, and behaviors that may be disturbing the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Whether it’s food that’s stressing the system, or physical inactivity, or emotional stress, our first priority is to build a strong foundation for healing. Otherwise, further treatment will be temporary at best.
Level two is stimulating the body’s self-healing mechanisms. This is where the rather odd term “Vitalism” comes into play. It’s an ancient way of referring to the body’s own self-healing mechanisms – sometimes called the Vital Force or the vis medicatrix naturae.
What is the Vital Force?
The Vital Force is the spark of life and higher intelligence that is always trying to create a condition of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Just as a seed bursts through the earth’s crust and shoots toward the light, given proper care, the life force is always working in us, growing, repairing, and healing.
The body’s inherent wisdom is always looking out for us. It’s the force in us that prompts our yearning to grow toward greater light, healing, and freedom from suffering.
Seen from this perspective, even the worst diseases are the body’s best attempt to correct the health errors of the past, and to restore us to a balance of health and wholeness.
How can we stimulate the Vital Force?
While vitamins, minerals, herbs, and supplements can help us heal from outside-in, strengthening the Vital Force and removing obstacles to its steady flow can make a tremendous impact from inside-out.
There are countless ways to stimulate and release the self-healing power of the Vital Force in our bodies. Every one of our bodies is highly individual – thus the best methods for restoring the Vital Force in our individual body will be unique.
Here’s a brief list of well-researched methods for stimulating the Vital Force:
- Spend time in nature
- Hug/physically touch
- Be with loved ones
- Think positively
- Be grateful
- Breathe deeply from the diaphragm
These simple-sounding activities have a powerful impact on the framework of our psycho-neuro-immuno-physiologic selves.
The heightened sense of life that comes from doing these simple activities reflects the activation of the Vital Force.
When we’re feeling happy and peaceful, the body enters an enhanced state of healing – this has been shown time and again by scientific research – for example, in countless studies reported in Dr. Dean Ornish’s book, Love & Survival, which documents the tremendous healing power of social support and connection. From the book:
Just as chronic stress can suppress your immune function, altruism, love, and compassion may enhance it. In chapter 2, 1 described a study of students at Harvard who were asked to watch a documentary movie about Mother Teresa’s service to the sick and dying poor of Calcutta’s worst slums. Another group of students watched a more neutral film. On average, those who watched the movie about Mother Teresa showed a significant increase in protective antibodies whereas those who watched the neutral film did not. In other words, just watching a film of someone embodying altruism improved immune function.
Taking care of the Vital Force strengthens the immune system, balances hormones, improves circulation, eliminates harmful toxins, and accelerates healing.
Next time you find yourself reaching for a medicine or supplement to address your symptoms from outside-in, consider stimulating your Vital Force as an effective approach to heal yourself from inside-out.
Done with a clear, positive intention, these Vitalistic principles will have a powerful, sustained impact on every aspect of your health and well-being.
To arrange a consultation with Dr. Benjamin Alter, N.D., our newest associate at Pacific Naturopathic, call (650) 917-1121.