Book Review – Vital Lifestyle: Your Self-Healing Handbook

 In Book Reviews, Education

Node Smith, ND


Medical Resources for NDs: A Review of Current Publications for the Naturopathic Industry

It’s an honor and a privilege to be reviewing Vital Lifestyle: Your Self-Healing Handbook, by Benjamin Alter, ND, and his partner, Susanna McMillan. Dr Alter and soon-to-be Dr McMillan (currently a 4th-year student at NUNM) have produced not only a very accessible patient handbook outlining basic naturopathic principles, but have also modeled a powerful professional tool that will certainly set their practice apart from other naturopathic doctors.

The book itself – a 64-page instructional guide to living a healthy life – is well packaged with personal photos relevant to the material at hand, all in color, and includes a fantastic forward offered by naturopathic matriarch, Christie Fleetwood, ND, RPh. It includes all the basic guidelines any naturopathic doctor would like his or her patients to be familiar with, such as the importance of sleep, healthy nutrition, hydrotherapy, exercise, and spiritual practices. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on “morning practice,” which very simply supports the use of a morning ritual to set the tone for the day to come. A side note in this chapter was also a very nice touch: “You don’t have to be a morning person to have a morning practice.”

The contents of this book are deep and vast in scope. However, they are written with a brevity which offers a place to go, rather than an entire path being laid out before the reader. The readership, or intended audience, is most certainly their individual patients. This is brilliant, on 2 accounts:

One, the book is written in a very personal style, which brings Ben and Susanna to the forefront of the reader’s mind – an obvious intention. Instead of a lot of dense text, with recipes and directions, the book gives a glimpse into the doctor’s life, how he/she practices a “vital lifestyle.” Not to say there aren’t recipes; there are, and they look delicious. One can see Susanna in the kitchen, a smile on her face, preparing a bowl of delicious oatmeal as Ben saunters in from his morning meditation. It’s certainly a book which, if read by a current or future patient, has the potential to shape the degree of commitment with which that patient is ready to engage, through an understanding of the commitment their doctor is showing up with.

The second brilliant aspect of this short book is that it delivers an understanding of basic treatment from outside of the doctor’s office. It is a method of connecting the reader with the core of naturopathic medicine in a manner that doesn’t necessitate long, laborious, and lecture-filled office visits. As new physicians, it also establishes their practice as having authority, which is essential for brand-building.

My favorite chapter in the book has to be “Befriending Stress.” It is a short chapter which addresses a central issue that people struggle with when facing their stressful lives. Instead of resisting the stress that is an inevitable part of living in the modern world, they advocate becoming aware of the stress and allowing it to exist in our bodies. Here is a short excerpt from that chapter:

Loving Stress

The physiologic stress allows you to adapt and meet the challenge before you. Adrenaline released in the body causes the heart to pound and get more blood to your tissues and muscles, increased respiration to get more oxygen to the brain, and widening of the eyes to see more clearly. While this instinctual response is thankfully unavoidable, studies show that simply understanding the benefits of the stress response enhances the stress response. Accepting stress allows the blood vessels and airways to shift from being constricted to being relaxed. Most importantly, accepting and understanding stress transforms an emotional state of anxiety to that of courage.

The chapter goes on to suggest that the acceptance of stress actually helps accentuate the release of the hormone, oxytocin. This “love hormone” helps lower inflammation, relax circulation and respiration, repair tissues, and enhance emotional connection with others. I was actually rather surprised that the chapter was near the end of the book.

In essence, I would recommend this book to any naturopathic physician who wants a concise and clear basic guideline of vitalistic practices to give to their patients, or to patients who are interested in consulting with this amazing team of young doctors, Benjamin Alter and Susanna McMillan. I would further recommend this book to current naturopathic students who are interested in a powerful way to market themselves and their future practices. The publication of this book, on Graduation Day 2017, as Ben was being handed his diploma, was a stellar career move. Kudos, Ben.

Thank you, Ben and Susanna, for adding to the corpus of naturopathic literature. This book truly takes us and our patients inside ourselves, and pushes us to become better, healthier, and freer individuals. Blessings and love.

Just the Facts

  • Title: Vital Lifestyle: Your Self-Healing Handbook
  • Author(s): Benjamin Alter, ND, and Susanna McMillan
  • Publisher: Self-published
  • Available from: Amazon and
  • Pages: 64
  • Style: Trade Paperback
  • Copyright: 2017
  • MSRP: $12.00
Image Copyright: <a href=’’>valentinarr / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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