The dichotomy between the mind and the body, we keep learning, is a false one: We actually carry emotions in our physical selves, and can tell how someone is feeling by how they move or sit or stand. I was drawn to The Alchemy of Self Healing largely because the subtitle seemed to embrace this idea — this breaking down of the alleged wall between our physical and psychological selves.
At first I thought there would also be a Taoist slant to the book. In Chinese history, Taoist monks sought immortality of the body through chemical alchemy, and also used physical exercises like qigong and moving meditation. While author Jeannine Wiest does not go in this particular direction, she does give one qigong exercise as part of her plan. In general, though, her metaphor of alchemy is about changing your self by changing your body’s energy.
The book begins with a quiz that helps you see the relationship you have with your body. Much of the text is based on the concepts of craniosacral therapy — Wiest is a practitioner who first learned of the field while seeking help for her chronic pain. As I had not heard of craniosacral before, I did some research.
Though the term may mean different things to different practitioners, the Upledger Institute, where Wiest received her training, says that a therapist uses a very light touch to ease the pressure caused by stress or injury in the tissues surrounding the spinal column. The reviews I found from patients were all very positive. The medical profession reviews I found were not so positive, and I noticed a consistent call for more rigorous research.
That may not matter to all readers of Wiest’s book, some of whom might still benefit from her exercises and suggestions. That said, if you’re a person who is turned off by anything that seems even remotely New Age or not rigorously evidence-based, this may not be a good read for you. Wiest is also a Reiki Master — again, not for everyone.
The basic tenets of craniosacral therapy seem sound: The body is a unit; the body is a self-regulating, self correcting mechanism; structure and function are inter-related; and movement is health. Beyond that, however, the book gets less clear. It is structured as a four-week program, but it’s not a workbook in the sense that there are no specific tasks for specific days. Each week consists of two chapters that introduce you to concepts and exercises, and each builds on and is dependent upon the other sections.
As a whole, the text is a bit difficult to follow. Wiest is a nonlinear thinker, which is good in many situations, but books are generally linear. That made various references to what you will learn in a later chapter and how it affects what you are learning now quite distracting. The book might have been better as an online publication, where you could click on links to concepts that will later be addressed, easily read the information, and then easily return to where you started. That would have been much simpler than trying to flip back and forth between pages.
If you’re trying to get in touch with your body, Wiest does provide some good tools. And if you’re already familiar with or interested in traditional Chinese medicine, you’ll find some nice parallels here, such as the use of healing sounds and the changing of energy flow. Overall, though, there may be other books that explain these types of techniques more clearly.
The Alchemy of Self Healing: A Revolutionary 30 Day Plan to Change How You Relate to Your Body and Health
New Page Books, October 2014
Paperback, 224 pages