The Three Pillars of Health
Stay young forever. Lose twenty pounds a month. Improve your memory. Reduce allergic symptoms. Get rid of that flabby stomach. Raise libido. Eliminate tired blood. Restore normal bowel function. Buy this product. Take this pill. Eat this food. How many health-related commercial appeals can you think of?
Whether they are for an exercise machine, a pharmaceutical product or a nutritional or herbal product, many health commercials have two elements in common: they offer "magic bullets," or quick fixes to health conditions, and the touted products address a purely physical level of being. I can't think of one conventional medical product whose advertising campaign offers a holistic, or multi-dimensional approach to meeting health challenges. And, although complementary medicine is multi-dimensional by nature, the pills and potions are pushed in similarly one-dimensional ways. But deep, lasting changes in ingrained health patterns are rarely one-dimensional. And profound changes always entail movement on more than the physical level.
All life depends on a balance of elements or forces. Night and day. Oxygen and carbon dioxide. Activity and rest. Yin and yang. Where there is imbalance, systems operate out of synch and function is compromised. Human beings are not exempt from this equation. Think of the forces that support a human being in terms of the pillars of a triangle. For radiant health to occur in humans, a balance must exist on all three points of the triangle -- spirit, mind and body.
Achieving and maintaining physical health is largely dependent on two lifestyle choices: nutrition and exercise. Except in cases where there is a functional or organic health limitation, appropriate food and exercise will control weight gain and maintain our physical systems in optimal condition.
Choice of exercise is a personal matter. The best exercise is one that raises the pulse rate above 120 beats per minute for more than 15 minutes, five days a week. Within this aerobic guideline, it really doesn't matter which exercise regimen you choose. Brisk walking will accomplish this goal, especially when carrying two to five pound weights in each hand so the upper body gets a workout while you are walking. Positive results will be achieved as long as you are consistent with an exercise pattern and avoid the obsessive behaviors that hurt, rather than help your body. Leave the "no pain, no gain," approach to testosterone-saturated locker rooms.
Nutrition is more difficult to get a hold on because of the misinformation and fad diets that flood the marketplace. Each person is biologically individuated, so eating according to a certain "type" really doesn't work for most people. There is no canned diet that will work for you as well as a diet that you develop based on feedback from your body and some common sense principles.
These principles include:
- Avoid fried foods
- Eat red meat sparingly.
- Have at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Lower your alcohol, sugar, salt and caffeine intake to as close to zero as you can.
- Discover which foods you are sensitive or allergic to and avoid them. The most common allergenic foods are dairy, wheat, corn, eggs and gluten-containing grains.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of pure water a day
- Eat organically as much as you can and filter all bath, drinking and cooking water
- Take as few supplements as you truly need
If you have difficulty in determining which diet works best for you, find a health practitioner who can assist you.
- Finally, when the body does need medical attention, look to non-toxic, holistic approaches before opting for pharmaceuticals.
The essential foundation of mind-body medicine is the recognition that for every experience in the mind, there is a corresponding change in the physiology and biochemistry of our body. We have a vast internal pharmacy that can be accessed through conscious choices we make in our lives. A key tenet of mind-body medicine is that health is not the mere absence of disease. Rather, it is the dynamic integration of our environment, body, mind and spirit.
Mind-body medicine regards as fundamental an approach that respects and enhances each person's capacity for self-knowledge and self-care and emphasizes techniques that are grounded in this approach.
These techniques include self-awareness, relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, diet, biofeedback, visual imagery, self-hypnosis and group support. It explores and integrates the healing practices of other cultures, such as acupuncture and acupressure, meditation and yoga, as well as alternative Western approaches including naturopathic medicine, herbalism, massage, musculo-skeletal manipulation, holistic repatterning energetic medicine and prayer. It views illness as an opportunity for personal growth and transformation and health care providers as catalysts and guides in this process.
Mind and body are not separate. They are in constant and dynamic interaction. The images, or mental programs,” that reside in your mind dramatically influence your mood (emotions), your behaviors, and the physical state of your body. Because they exert a direct chemical effect on your brain, these images determine whether you feel tired or energetic, in vibrant health or in pain, creative or depressed, dynamic or anxious at any given time.
Spirit is the most important of the levels of being, yet it is the most intangible. Spirit is the cosmic glue that holds all three levels together. It is the unifying force in nature. People who are secure in their spiritual lives have fewer fears and tend to deal with health challenges in more constructive ways.
Physicians who work with very ill people know two things about the role of spirit in challenging health conditions: the prognosis is much better and, when it inevitably comes, transition from the body is less fearful and traumatic when a person acknowledges that there is a power in the universe that is greater than themselves.
Incorporating Spirit as part of our daily experience is more than following some preordained set of rules, meditating for hours in lotus position or belonging to a church or religion. It means the recognition that there is a profound inner essence that doesn't pass when the body does. It also entails striving to live conscious lives in attunement with our highest vision, to the extent that we are able to. And it means a lifelong commitment to the conscious pursuit of growth and change.
Albert Einstein once said words to the effect that problems we face cannot always be solved on the same level on which they were created. To me, this means that only by developing new perspectives and growing in spirit can we truly weather the inner transformations that are required to cause shifts on the physical and mental/emotional levels.
For purposes of discussion in this article I have presented the three levels of being separately. In reality, the levels intertwine and blend into each other with no clear dividing lines. Holistic physicians always assess their patients in terms of "center of gravity." This means that we evaluate the presenting condition from both energetic and clinical perspectives to determine which level of being plays the strongest influence in the pattern of illness. We then taper our approach to the patient in an attempt to restore balance and assist in the processes of transformation and growth.
- The Fetzer Institute: http://www.fetzer.org/ The Fetzer Institute is a nonprofit private operating foundation that supports research, education, and service programs exploring the integral relationships among body, mind, and spirit.
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians: http://aanp.org/ Truly, the best-trained primary care providers.
- The MindBody Medical Institute, Division of Behavioral Medicine, New England Deaconess Hospital offers group mind/body programs for different illnesses. They also have affiliate programs nationwide and conduct clinical training several times each year under the direction of Herbert Benson, M.D., and faculty. Address: 1 Deaconess Rd., Boston, MA 02215, phone (617) 632-9525, FAX (617) 632-7383.
The Center for Mind/Body Medicine has both residential and outpatient programs. Developed under the guidance of Deepak Chopra, M.D., it also provides education and training programs in Ayurveda for laypeople and health care providers. Address: P.O. Box 1048, La Jolla, CA 92038, phone (619) 794-2425, FAX (619) 794-2440.