Complementary and alternative medicine continues
mainstream medicine struggles with inadequate facilities, loss of primary care physicians and
funding dilemmas, another form of local health care is flourishing. Complementary and alternative
medicine has been growing throughout La Plata County since the late 1980s. In recent years, it has
taken even greater strides as more local residents supplement existing treatment with
nontraditional medicine or choose to use it exclusively.
| Naturopath Louise Edwards, of the Namaste
Health Center, displays the numerous options available in
herbal pharmacy./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
Dr. Louise Edwards has been practicing naturopathic
medicine in Durango for 14 years. Almost immediately after she opened shop, people flocked to her
seeking an alternative, she said. "My practice exploded pretty quickly," she said. "I was
massively busy for years."
Edwards' Namaste Health Center also was massively busy
early this summer when Valley-Wide Health Systems Inc. announced it would lay off more than half
of its staff at the Durango Primary Care clinic.
"When the Valley-Wide layoffs happened, a number of people
called me to see if I would be their primary care doctor," she said.
| Acupuncturist Caleb Gates treats Heidi
Timm for symptoms of the common cold at his Durango office
on Tuesday. Like many alternative practitioners, Gates
often works in tandem with traditional doctors to treat his
patients for everything from cancer to skeletal problems./Photo
by Todd Newcomer.
that the shift toward complementary and alternative medicine is a natural one. She noted that it
stems from a combination of growing consciousness about alternatives and general dissatisfaction
with traditional medicine.
"In general, it takes people a long time to see a
mainstream doctor," she said. "When they get to a doctor's office they're kept waiting. The visit
is short, and they often don't feel that they've been heard. Then they're sent off with expensive
medicine that has side-effects, and in the end, they're charged a lot of money."
Edwards added that in addition to offering a more
compassionate and affordable approach to healing, complementary and alternative medicine is
effective. "It works," she said. "It's very effective. It's a gentle and nourishing form of
medicine, and contrary to popular belief, there's a ton of research supporting its
However, Edwards admitted that there is little she could
do for someone who has experienced severe trauma, and as a result, she does not discount
mainstream medicine. Instead, she argued that everything has its place, and the best form of
medicine combines all approaches.
"Integrated medicine is the best form of medicine," she
said. "It's really about using the right form of medicine at the right time."
opened Dancing Willow Herbs 12 years ago. Next week, the business that started in a basement will
move out of the back of Maria's Bookshop and into its own expanded space in the 1000 block of Main
"When I opened the shop, it was right before the real
estate boom in Durango, and it was also at the beginning the whole herbal movement," Swanson said.
"Since then, we've really been riding this wave of growing awareness."
Looking back at Dancing Willow's beginnings, she added,
"We call ourselves the pioneers of herbalism for the Four Corners because we literally have been.
We've treaded on ground that nobody has."
Swanson said that her hopes are that the new Dancing
Willow Herbs will become a wellness center. In addition to expanding current services, she said
she hopes to lease space to a naturopath, offer more extensive classes and begin seeing people
"We want to have a place where people can go and learn
more about their health and become more empowered about the decisions they can make," she
Swanson said she credits Durango's openness and awareness
for her business success and expansion. "In other parts of the country, the light bulb is just
going on," she said. "But Durango has really been waking up over the last several years and has an
expanded consciousness. Even the medical establishment is looking at the value of alternative
medicine. We get regular calls from physicians and having that happen is really inspiring."
alternative is alternative?
"alternative medicine" is a curious one, according to Shauna Young, a certified doctor of
naturopathy who owns and operates the Assertive Wellness Center. "It's interesting that we're the
alternative when we're practicing medicine that's over a thousand years old," she said.
Like Edwards, Young said that people come to her looking
for another way to heal. Citing techniques like chemotherapy and radiation, Young remarked, "One
of the reasons natural medicine made such a burst in the 1930s was that conventional medicine
became so brutal . Medicine has again become brutal. It's the cut, poison and burn system, and
people have decided that they've had enough pain."
Young said that complementary and alternative medicine
offers another approach. "Everything that a naturopath uses does no harm," she said. "We work more
on balancing the immune system."
Like Edwards, Young's practice has been effective in its
two years of existence. She said she is totally booked, has customers locally and in 28 states and
three countries and generates her business only from word of mouth.
the natural process
Caleb Gates has practiced acupuncture for 2`BD years in Durango
and also has never been hurting for business. "I've been steadily
growing since I opened," he said. "I've been the busiest ever in
the last three months."
Gates added that during the same period of his growth, at
least four other acupuncturists have started practices in Durango. "This is a community that
definitely supports acupuncture," he said.
Gates said that the biggest factor in the support of
alternative medicine is that people get results. "Healing is a natural process," he said. "The
body has the capability to heal itself and alternative medicine supports that. It's really about
getting beyond symptoms and maintaining the body's peak performance."
Like Edwards, Gates said that this goal often requires
several different approaches. He said he often works in a complementary way with people undergoing
treatment with physicians. In this capacity, he has worked on everything from helping people going
through chemotherapy to helping heal muscle and skeletal issues.
"I'm seeing that when patients want to use alternative
medicine, their physicians don't have a problem with it," Gates said. "I think it's also just
getting stronger as more and more people want to use both types of medicine. In the short time
I've been here I've already built up some good relationships with local doctors."
Edwards said she also sees positive strides, but said
there's a lot of ground left to cover.
"We're probably a little ahead of the national curve, but
we have a long way to go," she said. "I'm not practicing in the hospital yet, but I have a lot of
doctors willing to work openly with me."
Edwards concluded that the future of local medicine is in the hands of
the community. "This shift is happening because people are asking
for it," she said. "Where the money flows, the power goes."