Very often alternative medicine gets a bad rap in the United States, especially among the Black community. There are so many misconceptions about the practice that leaves people skeptical about whether or not it’s safe or even if it goes against their religion.

Quite simply, though, alternative medicine is a form of therapy that doesn’t involve conventional medical methods. The practice includes everything from massages and herbalism to yoga and Reiki. It is also ancestrally tied to indigenous people, including Africans.

Licensed acupuncturist Lindsay Fauntleroy told Blavity that it’s beyond time for Black Americans to reclaim alternative medicine. 

“Alternative medicine, the energy medicine that we are bringing into the world now comes out of Black and indigenous ancient philosophy,” Fauntleroy told Blavity. “It comes out of Black and indigenous culture, and so it’s a reclaiming of something that is already ours.”

Black pain has been desensitized

The history of Black pain in America will tell you one thing very specifically, it is desensitized.

“Just a different perception of Black pain, even in terms of what we show in the media around Black pain. And you know, an example I give is the George Floyd video. There’s a certain level of desensitization that allows you to circulate those kinds of images and not consider the traumatic impact that it’s having on the people that are watching them,” Fauntleroy said. “And I think that’s just so much a part of the fabric of this country that we don’t even think about it.”

This concept crosses heavily into the medical field with medical racism being a prevalent issue many Black Americans face. This is why Fauntleroy wants more Black Americans to be open to trying alternative medicine in conjunction with conventional medicine.

“So when I came into this work, I learned that Black women had the least access to alternative care and that we were the least likely to use it,” Fauntleroy said. “But the stuff that was killing us in terms of cancer, lupus, heart disease, are all things that alternative medicine can support. So I would say that I would like Black folks to know that alternative medicine is effective for the body.” 

Alternative medicine is not against our religions

A big misconception is that alternative medical practices are sacrilegious.

“We have been socialized to think that anything that creates power for us, that creates wholeness for us, that creates agency for us is anti,” Fauntleroy said. “And so when we look at something like Christianity, and then we look at holistic medicine, it’s a very easy bridge to say, ‘oh, that’s against the status quo.’ ‘That’s against Christianity.’ ‘That’s against my religion.’ Where in actuality, this medicine lives next to our spirituality. It lives next to the wellness, things that we’re doing to keep ourselves healthy, happy and whole.”

In Fauntleroy’s practice, she ensures everyone that their religion and spirituality are their business and responsibility. She encourages people to maintain their relationship with whomever they call the creator.

“But the work that we’re doing in this space is about how do you stay present and connected to whatever’s getting in the way of that connection with your creator,” she said. “And so if you’re walking around angry all the time, if you are hurting in your relationships, then you can’t be as fully connected to your source as you want to be.”

She considers this part of the work to be a partnership between alternative medicine and spirituality.

“It’s not a replacement for your spirituality,” she said. “It’s not even a replacement for your doctors or whoever it is that you’re seeing for your physical health. It’s not a replacement for your therapist, but it is an ally and it is a support that is going to enrich all of those other things that you’re doing for your health.”

Alternative medicine is effective for the body, mind and heart

A lot of alternative medicine is really centered on emotions.

“And so the emotions then are not just something that’s on the side or a symptom, but the emotions are actually part of the disease and the disorder and the pattern,” Fauntleroy explained. “And so we’re really looking at how someone’s trauma is living in their body. It’s an embodied approach to healing. It’s looking at even just someone’s frustrations, someone’s hopes, someone’s brokenheartedness in their relationship and treating those things as if they’re real because they are real.”

Alternative medicine has a philosophical lineage.

“It comes out of philosophies that say that the real world is not just the world that we can measure,” Fauntleroy said. “As we see in modern science, the real world is energy and our emotions are energy. And so we’re looking to treat the emotions as part of a full picture of wellness and health. Being healthy is not just your body, but it’s also the vibration of your thoughts. It’s the vibration of your emotions. It’s waking up every day with inspiration. It’s going to bed every night with a sense of fulfillment. It’s having people around you that you love. It’s having prosperity. All of those things to the indigenous mind are as much a part of health and healing as are the size, shape and abilities of your body.”

It’s also effective for the mind and heart.

“Those things are all connected,” Fauntleroy said. “They exist on a continuum. When your body isn’t doing well, your energy is focused on healing your body, then you can’t think as clearly, you can’t be as self-aware. When we’re in an emotional state, we can’t take care of our body as much. We all have those examples where we’re broken-hearted and maybe don’t eat for a couple of days. So we know on a practical level that our mind and our body and our heart are interconnected.”

Holistic medicine and alternative medicine look at the body, mind and spirit as a continuum instead of as separate things.

“For example, in acupuncture work, I might work on a meridian for an emotional thing, as well as the physical symptoms that are showing up in the body. And they work together. They show up together in patterns,” Fauntleroy said.

Everyone is indigenous to someplace

One of the things Fauntleroy emphasizes in her classes is that everyone is indigenous somewhere.

“Everyone’s indigenous folks were connected to nature across the board,” she said. “Everyone’s indigenous folks were connected to energy medicine.”

Fauntleroy is sure not to discredit non-BIPOC practitioners. Using her model of everyone being indigenous, she simply said that people tend to be called to do soul medicine.

“As we step into this medicine, as we step into this work, there is a remembrance that is awakened and there’s a consciousness and a remembering of a way of being that wants to come back into the world, and we have the opportunity to bring that forward from our own ancestry,” she said. “Through the lens of energy medicine through the lens of even sometimes music or images, as opposed to being really confined to this language and linear way of being in the world, that something is awakened and there’s a resonance and that we feel at home because it’s almost like a language. It’s like someone speaking your native language.”

Self-care is soul medicine

Whether you choose to specifically work with a practitioner or not, Fauntleroy wants you to know that self-care is also a form of soul medicine.

“Whether that is using music as medicine, doing specific yoga poses or stretches, making sure that we build in time to laugh and be around people we love and who love us, all of that is medicine,” she said. “All of that is soul medicine. And so as much as we might work or seek out a holistic practitioner, we can also have responsibility within ourselves to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do to be in alignment and fully open-hearted as we move through the world.”

Fauntleroy is a certified instructor for the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), as well as a facilitator of the Flower Essence Society’s global practitioner certification program. Her approach to soul medicine emerged through more than 15 years of clinical practice, doctoral studies of Indigenous and African Diasporic psychology and her commitment to community wellness. She is also the author of In Our Element: Soul Medicine to Unleash your Personal Power.