09/06/2011 01:02 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2011

Integrative Veterinarians 'Surf' the Wave Of New Knowledge

Surfers often rise before the sun and travel to their favorite locations in search of the perfect wave. Surfing is more than just a sport. It contains elements of physics and athletics, and many surfers experience a spiritual/mental awakening and love of nature as they achieve a state of mind in balance with the sea and its tremendous energy. When the surfer becomes aware of waves, communicates with them and learns to read their "secrets," then he or she can harness the wave's energy and ride in a remarkable demonstration of cooperation and harmony. In this ride is a balance of awareness, energy and perception that leads many surfers to become practical philosophers.

As I watched the sun rise over beautiful San Diego, California I couldn't help but notice the similarities between pioneering integrative and holistic doctors and surfers.

Surfing has a long history that pre-dates recorded history. The indigenous people of Hawaii were intense lovers of the sea who migrated from Polynesia around the fourth century AD. In Polynesia local people developed belly boards, but it was not until they arrived in Hawaii that larger boards and standing up on the boards became common. The sport was ruled by strict codes, many of which are still present today. In 1779 Lieutenant James King made a ship's log entry describing the sport in a two page entry that said: "The above diversion is only intended as an amusement, not a tryal [sic] of skill, and in a gentle swell that sets on must I conceive be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this exercise gives."

Efforts to assist one another in healing and health also reach back thousands of years. Healing is an intimate part of our efforts to improve our relationships spiritually and physically. Healers learn by direct observation and contact, as well as trial and error. They seek to translate the power and potential of nature into wisdom and practical, love-centered methods they can use to better assist their friends and families in their effort to survive. Like surfers, healers capture nature's power, and attempt to better balance and align it with their patient's needs. They both seek to understand and use their resources, and in doing so, improve our ability to enjoy more intimate and productive relationships.

At the recent AHVMA annual meeting, professionals traveled from all over the world to gather and "catch the wave" of integrative, complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM). Surgeons, veterinary school faculty, board-certified internists and oncologists, and some of the top people in their fields of therapeutic nutrition, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM), chiropractic, osteopathy, Western Herbal medicine, homeopathy, homotoxicology and bioenergetic medicine arrived in San Diego for four jam-packed days of professional exchange.

Healers and surfers both harness naturally occurring energy in different ways to propel themselves towards their goal. And since energy manifests itself in different ways but is still energy, as we study energy we learn that its behavior can be influenced by life in many ways. While some people are surprised at this integration, the growing number of professionals doing biologically-friendly therapies find it quite natural to realize that energy -- which is the basis of all things physical -- has something to do with disease manifestation, health creation and recovery. Like surfers we are simply learning how to read energy patterns and use them to improve our ability to coexist and live in better relationship with those around us. That activity of improving relationship, finding harmony and creatively existing, brings about spiritual and mental balance -- and actually affects the energy states of matter as things organize into either "ease" or "dis-ease."

It is funny how these concepts are so clearly shown in the conceptual origins of our basic language.

The meeting presented 98 hours of continuing education and much of the learning that occurred involved connecting and networking with other interested professionals outside of lecture halls. One of the most exciting things to me about this meeting is the interdisciplinary networking that occurs between people in human and veterinary medicine and research. There is no way to summarize it all here but some of the highlights follow:
  • Dr. Steve Marsden is one of the most qualified integrative veterinarians in the world. He was recognized as the Canadian veterinarian of the year last year and gave presentations on a wide variety of topics. He is uniquely qualified to treat both human and veterinary patients and does just this in his Canadian practice. On the first day of the conference, he discussed in detail why we see seasonal occurrences of certain disease conditions in human and veterinary patients.

    This lecture nicely integrated conventional and ancient pattern diagnosis as developed in different modalities. Each season presents its unique challenges, abundances and deficiencies, which living systems must address for optimal survival. Attendees learned many techniques that better assist them in addressing the unique needs of individual patients as they relate to seasons. Dr. Marsden also discussed the use of adaptogenic herbs like astragalus, and TCVM approaches to skin diseases.

  • Because nutrition is the foundation of health, it was no surprise to see many lectures covering differing views of how to best feed patients and how to use nutrition to assist patients when they experience health states that are less than optimal. Approximately 24 hours of lectures involved some aspect of nutritional care of veterinary patients in addressing various conditions. All realms of healing benefit from proper diet and customized use of nutrients and herbs -- from allergies to zoonoses, in animals from aardvarks to zebras.

    On that note, Dr. Barbara Royal, incoming vice president and fellow Huffington Post blogger presented a lovely series discussing how veterinarians can help clients can face the 4,000 plus pet foods and make better choices for their individual animal charges. Dr. Joseph Kincaid covered the use of whole food nutrition. Dr. Lea Stogdale examined diet as it pertains to the management of feline kidney disease.
  • We were joined this year by two board-certified oncology lecturers. Dr. Gregory Ogilvie discussed "Care Beyond a Cure: A skeptics perception of the mind body connection," and presented the keynote address covering advances in veterinary and human oncology. The lectures were well attended as people rejoiced seeing conventional medicine begin to use techniques long taught in alternative circles. The use of low dosed agents, a new way to utilize toxic chemotherapy agents mirrors homeopathy, is part of the growing field of nanopharmacology. Dr. Mona Rosenberg discussed how conventional oncology is beginning to recognize the need for integrative approaches to cancer therapy. In her lecture she called for veterinarians to mirror efforts by respected integrative oncology centers at UCLA and John Hopkins medical schools.
  • Dr. Rodney Bagley, department chair of veterinary clinical sciences at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, gave a wonderful set of lectures about neurology and gait difficulties.
  • Lectures on large animal acupuncture, herbal medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy, along with conscientious management of organic livestock, were well attended and show the AHVMA's rising dedication to supporting organic and sustainable agriculture.
  • This year's meeting was the largest ever. We had a record number of attendees and a large number of on-site registrations. People shared our excitement about the launch of the AHVMA Foundation and its desire to improve veterinary research and evidence mosaics for CAVM, as well as its purpose to improve education. As a result, at least five new studies are being designed for this next year. Dr. Shelley Epstein devoted several hours to explaining how evidence-based medicine is advancing in the field of homeopathy. Her lectures were well attended, and evidence-based medicine continued to appear in the majority of lectures this year. In fact, the formal announcement of a new organization to assist state veterinary boards in evaluating veterinary continuing education was announced.

Life is this vast activity which defies understanding, but when people come together and associate with the purpose of exchanging knowledge, we grow in our ability to help one another. As we grow we generate a wave that propels us forward and carries others in the process. Having more tools simply allows us to improve our relationship with ourselves, our families and our world -- and that is a wave I hope we all catch!