Complementary Health Approaches

Mind and Body Practices

Most complementary health approaches fall into one of two categories: natural products or mind and body practices. This section addresses mind and body practices.

Mind and body practices are a large and varied group of procedures performed or taught by a trained practitioner or teacher.

Acupuncture is a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body -- most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. Researchers have investigated acupuncture for various kinds of pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and other symptoms.


Massage therapy includes many different techniques in which practitioners manually manipulate muscle and other soft tissues. Massage therapy has been studied for a variety of symptoms, including several types of pain, anxiety, and depression.

Most meditation techniques, including transcendental meditation and mindfulness meditation, involve various approaches in which a person learns to focus attention. Meditation has been studied for several types of health problems, especially high blood pressure, other cardiovascular disorders, and substance abuse disorders.

Movement therapies include a broad range of Eastern and Western movement-based approaches. Examples include Feldenkrais method, Alexander technique, Pilates, Rolfing Structural Integration, and Trager psychophysical integration.

Reiki is a complementary approach in which practitioners place their hands lightly on or just above a person, with the goal of facilitating the person’s own healing response. There is a lack of high-quality research on Reiki.

Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation, are designed to produce the body’s natural relaxation response. They have been studied for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other conditions.

Spinal manipulation is practiced by health care professionals such as chiropractors, osteopathic physicians, naturopathic physicians, physical therapists, and some medical doctors. Practitioners use their hands or a device to apply a controlled force to a joint of the spine. The amount of force applied depends on the form of manipulation used. Spinal manipulation has been studied for low-back pain.

Tai chi and qi gong are closely related practices from traditional Chinese medicine that combine specific movements, coordinated breathing, and mental focus. Researchers are studying whether tai chi or qi gong can help people manage symptoms associated with some chronic conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and heart failure.

The various styles of yoga used for health purposes typically combine physical postures or movement, breathing techniques, and meditation. Yoga has been studied for low-back pain, depression, arthritis, and other conditions.

Commonly Used Practices

Several mind and body practices were among the complementary health approaches most commonly used by adults in the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. They included deep breathing, meditation, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation, massage, yoga, progressive relaxation, and guided imagery.

Working With a Practitioner

Mind and body practices usually involve working with a practitioner or teacher. It is important to select a complementary health practitioner as carefully as you would select a conventional health care provider. For more information on selecting a practitioner, see the section entitled "Be an Informed Consumer."

Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health practitioners you’re seeing and any complementary approaches you’re using to treat health problems.

For More Information

NCCAM has information on mind and body practices on its Web site at www.nccam.nih.gov.