Essence of Health and Well-being
When we are healthy we can adapt to change. If our bodies and minds get what they need and are not overwhelmed, they can successfully meet challenges. Like a spinning gyroscope, we stay upright provided we have enough energy, but loose our balance if we are pushed too far. So what we mean by ‘energy”, how do we get and keep it, and how does the body manage to maintain balance and harmony that add up to well-being. These are questions that the new medicine has to ask. They are different from the questions medical science has asked until now, and they are important because medicine is in crisis. The crisis has to do with rocketing costs and wide spread disillusionment among the public with scientific medicine’s obsessions with molecules, drugs and technology at the expense of serving the whole person. It is an aspect of world wide concern with sustainability and the side-effects, whether global or medical, of technological solutions to complex problems. Fortunately, science is becoming more holistic as it realizes the limitations of a fragmented approach to solving problems and starts to understand complexity. Curiously, the scientific picture emerging today has a lot in common with truths known to world oldest healing traditions. The new medicine will integrate this timeless knowledge about self-healing and whole person care with 21st century science. It is even possible, as complexity is further explored and understood, that traditional notions such as “life-force” and “energy body” could find their way into mainstream medicine.
The Body in Flux
The new medicine requires a way of thinking about the body. The body is alive and constantly on the move, continually changing. The body is also continually healing and renewing itself –cells die and is replaced, food is processed and oxygen pours in to fuel the biochemical furnace that gives us energy. Physical and mental demands are met by continued adjustments our internal systems. On one hand these demands may be straightforward as those involved in taking a book from the shelves, sitting down with a cup of coffee and reading or they may be demands that the body finds to deal with. These difficult challenges could involve something tiny as abnormal genes, chemical toxins or disease causing germs, an uncomfortable working position, the effect of an injury, or widespread hardening of arteries. More subtle kind of distress, such as the emotional strain of a difficult relationship, financial pressure or death of a loved one, can also present the body with challenges.
Common sense tells us that how well we feel must influence our approach to life, and that when negative influence outweigh the natural resilience of our body and mind, we become ill. Science bears these ideas out. The latest research shows that the connection between mind and body is complete; one influences the other. It is also clear mind-body has built-in healing responses of its own that we can tap into. Many scientist and doctors suspect that natural healing technique can mobilize this self-healing response to prevent illness and promote better health and well-being, even in someone who has chronic disease. Some people are convinced that the future of medicine depends on our learning how to make use of the response. Modern medicine, although skilled in waging war on disease, has lost its knowledge of self-healing. Various people have compared medical science to war; weapons can backfire and war tends to increase the enemy’s aggressiveness. Looking at medicine today, we can see how the ‘arms race” between science and disease has led to over reliance on technology, high costs and side-effects, and more resistant infections.
What is missing is a way pf building up the mind-body’s natural defenses. This something the world’s traditional medical systems know about. These systems have had to rely not on scientific research but on their traditional knowledge and skills to trigger self-healing through touch, words, movement, art, and the products of nature, food, exercise and harmonious living.
Three Mind-Body Levels
We can think of the human mind-body as compromising three interdependent levels: biochemical, structural and psycho-social. These levels provide a frame work for thinking about aspects of our health. They are interrelated, so an impact on one level affects the others. The holistic nature of complementary medicine aims to encompass all these levels, although clearly some types of therapy are directed at a particular level: herbal medicines and nutritional supplements are more biochemical in their effect than structural therapies, such as chiropractic and massage, while cognitive behavioral therapy and talking therapies act on psycho-social level.
In regulating itself the body draws in all three levels: the biochemical level that fuels body processes; the structural level that supports the organs and body systems; and psycho-social level that governs thoughts, desires, actions and emotions. For example, after an exhausting and stressful day, a good night’s sleep allows the biochemical furnace to cool down, the body structures to rest and relax, and the mind to assimilate the day’s events. If challenges become intense, unrelenting or too frequent the body and mind’s extraordinary capacity to adapt can be overwhelmed. Coping relies on energy and order, but a person’s resources are depleted then the ability to maintain balance is undermined. Defense and repair systems may begin to fail if the integrity of cell chemistry, body structures and mind is threatened.
The underlying factors upsetting self-regulation can be obvious or subtle, intense or diffuse, short-lived or prolonged. They can include a short-term severe injury, for example from a car accident, a bereavement triggering depression, a spell of rushed working lunches resulting in bouts of indigestion, or flu caused from exposure to an infected person. In their own important ways, the resulting ill-effects tell us something vital about how well we are adapting to the demands placed on us; they are a message about things we need to attend to, and changes that we might have to make.
Challenges affect all three levels – psycho-social, structural and biochemical- and, since they are entwined, when there is a problem in one, it can affect how other two works. For example, a biochemical disorder such as a nutritional deficiency or food sensitivity may have psychological consequences, such as depression. Loneliness, depression, bereavement and inner conflicts can undermine immune system defenses, while a structural injury might cause pain that then undermines well-being and relationships.
The implications are obvious: give your body what it needs to work well and avoid the things that harm it. This may include taking up yoga, meditation or dance, giving up smoking, seeing friends or making dietary changes. Do whatever you need to do nourish yourself intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.