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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Healing Rituals Around the World

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by Debra Bokur

From acupressure massage, Ayurvedic facials and Shiatsu to hot stone massage, seaweed treatments and the use of herbs and botanical oils, many of today’s healing rituals share a vital component. Each has a firm foundation in an ancient, respected healing modality that’s recently made its way back into our collective awareness. Thanks to migrating populations and the efforts of world explorers, a glorious overlapping of regions and practices has occurred. Along the way, these traditions have gained renewed respect in today’s forward-thinking wellness communities.

Native American Wisdom

As recently as the mid-1800s, nearly 80 percent of all medicine in Europe and the United States was derived from native plants. Native American populations have a long history of tapping into the healing world of botanicals, awarding great respect to plants and recognizing the life force within them as integral to healing.

Cleansing sweat lodge ceremonies, for example, as well as the use of such natural elements as sage, clay, willow, agave cactus and honey, have become staples in spas throughout Mexico and the West. Recently, another tradition has been rediscovered: burden baskets.

These small, woven baskets are used in an adaptation of an Apache custom, in which they provide a physical receptacle for worries, concerns and mental burdens. Today, guests symbolically place their cares and burdens in the basket. The therapist then removes it from the room and empties it, leaving each guest free to garner the maximum healing benefit from their therapy.

Caribbean, Coastal Mexico, West Indies and South America

Healing traditions within every part of the world share common elements. In tropical locations, local fruit crops of papaya, mango and coconut provide an abundance of natural, antioxidant-rich ingredients for facials and body treatments. On islands throughout the Caribbean and other coastal areas, seaweed, sea water, volcanic mud, sea salt and marine algae provide the same detoxifying and exfoliating benefits today as they did centuries ago.

Mayan-themed rituals available along Mexico’s east coast include meditation in the shadows of area ruins and seaside purification rituals. During one intense ritual, guests are blindfolded and guided through a series of experiences that involve and awaken every sense.

Further south, in the Amazon region of Venezuela, shamanism revolves around the practice of calling upon the spirits of native plants during healing rituals—a respected method that has helped to maintain and restore human health for centuries. Indigenous peoples in this rainforest environment believe that demonstrating proper respect for each plant is essential to the healing process. This respect ranges from asking the plant’s permission before removing it from its source and thanking it for bestowing its healing powers, to guarding against overharvesting and acknowledging that the plant’s spirit is every bit as important as its chemical components.


In Hawai’i (native spelling), kahunas—traditional healers and holy men—have provided a solid basis for modern island spa treatments. Centuries-old lomilomi massage, with its long, stroking movements, helps stimulate and drain lymphatic glands, while easing the sore muscles of countless visitors.

Honey, popular in facials and moisturizing body treatments, has long been recognized for its topical healing properties. It was used in numerous healing rituals throughout ancient Greece and Rome; Cleopatra was said to use honey in her royal bath water.


Today, increasing numbers of people are accessing India’s 5,000-year-old medical system of Ayurveda and the centuries-old practice of yoga. Modern studies of the healing qualities of harmonic sound also have resulted in the production of soothing Eastern and other soundtracks for various traditions of massage as well as the use of Tibetan singing bowls during massage and energy treatments.

The use of gemstones to balance emotions and realign energy patterns, too, has gained popularity. Gemstone therapy has roots in many cultures, including Greek, Egyptian and Judaic societies. It was in India, however, that their spiritual and healing powers were most recognized, with mentions in the Vedic scriptures. Gemstones have been shown to emit specific vibrational frequencies that many believe capable of affecting the body’s own frequencies, functions and well-being.

Africa and Australia

From Africa, the practice of rhythmic drumming to induce a meditative state is still used by shamans as a way to enter the spirit world, where questions may be answered and individuals can progress along their healing journey. Aboriginal medicine men in Australia also use drumming, repetitive percussive music and crystals to gain insight into dreams, which they believe are mediums for important messages—including messages of healing.


Asian cultures understand the health benefits of meditation practice. Today’s moving meditative methods include Tai chi and qigong, as well as the tradition of Japanese flower arrangement known as ikebana.

Once restricted to Japanese male nobility, today, the inspiring and calming ritual of ikebana can be practiced by everyone. The practice makes use of found objects, such as rocks, branches, feathers and other offerings from nature, often with the addition of fresh flowers or greenery. Through contemplation and meditation, the practitioner seeks to create a harmonious arrangement of the gathered components.

Japanese tea ceremonies are another time-honored ritual with multiple health benefits. Today, the antioxidant properties found in tea are well known. The practice of slowing down and taking time for introspection at a regular interval each day also works to reduce stress and create an oasis in the midst of a busy schedule.

Participating in healing rituals and therapies from around the world provides ways for us to reconnect with our past. They remind us of what our ancestors knew so well—that body, mind and spirit cannot be separated. True health embodies the whole person.

Debra Bokur is the travel and wellness editor at and a regular contributor to Fit Yoga and Global Traveler. Connect at

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