Understanding that the think tank cant run on empty
I was having a conversation with a physician friend recently. Hes in top notch physical condition, and it shows. You know the typeone percent body fat (not really of course), toned, muscled, full head of hair (well okay, thats my issue), and a set of pearly whites you could use to guide a barge into a foggy harbor.
But you cant dislike this guy even as you loosen your belt to the next notch. Hes upbeat, motivating and excited about the conversation. Exuding endorphins, he was talking with me about the nutrition-exercise connection.
People sometimes think we lose weight by exercising. That may be a byproduct and increasing our exercise can certainly help break through a weight-loss plateau. But really, our weight is about nutrition. Our health maintenance is about exercise.
This sounds like a clear, no-nonsense understanding of the broad brushstrokes of good health. And this is one reason I like talking with him. He wants people to be educated in order to optimize their success.
Exercise, movement, breathing properly and such, he continued, keeps our heart healthy. As well as our blood pressure, our brain, lungs and other internal organs. And of course, there are the benefits to our mood and general psychology. If we want to lose or gain weight, however, turn to nutrition to manage blood sugar, balance carbs, proteins, fats, etc.
His words are as gold as his Rolex (last one I promise) and provide inspiration for the healer within. My own experience at the gym has been very positive. Whether working with a personal trainer or on my own with the machines, the benefits are plentiful. But hes rightweight management success is relatively minor from purely working out. Its the protein, carb, fat percentages and whole, natural foods that make the most difference.
The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection
I find all this very helpful. However, I also believe this type of discussion addresses just the tip of the wellness iceberg. Understanding the body and mind are intimately and irrefutably connected, true wellness is possible only when viewing ourselves as a synthesisa holistic, organic, interdependent being that requires fuel for all our selves.
For proof, all one needs to do is think about the last time you were depressed. A state of even mild depression shows itself physically in a sluggish, unmotivated body. Lets go play tennis. Lets go for a walk. Are you serious? Im fine right here binging on Netflix with my two friends, Ben and Jerry.
Conversely, when you feel physically unwell, youre far more prone to brain fog, depression and other mental health issues. Better physical healthimproved mood and a more positive outlook on life. Better psychological healthgreater motivation to become and stay physically healthy.
This isnt necessarily new info. Many of us use this awareness and work very hard at mind and body wellness. But knowing something intellectually (Knowledge Is Power!) and moving that knowledge into your life in a real and measurable way, are two different things.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the much-admired Zen Master and prolific author whos been teaching mindfulness practice for more than seventy years has written a love meditation that begins:
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit. May I be safe and free from injury. May I be free from fear and anxiety.
Witness the easy fluidity with which he addresses mind, body and spirit, and how he asks us to feel the intimate connection of all three.
He also writes, Everything inside and around us wants to reflect itself in us. We dont have to go anywhere to obtain the truth. We only need to be still, and things will reveal themselves in the still water of our heart.
Words to Ponder
Lets consider our mind to be the think tank that sparks our emotions, and our emotional self and physical self as the two selves doing the dance. Sometimes its house music, sometimes a slow, sensual sway. But the dance between the two selves must be in harmony.
One way to bridge any disconnect is to ponder this: Its not just what youre eating; its how you feel about what youre eating. Its not just doing push-ups and going to the gym; its how it feels to know you are strong and healthy. Its not just knowing you really need to sit on the back porch and calm down with a quiet meditation; its how you feel about carving out time for your self-care.
Consider the following terms: balance, whole self, mindfulness, transformation, inner wisdom, and self-love.
What do these terms mean to you? Perhaps you can spend a few moments meditating on them and see how that feels. Can they apply to both your physical well-being and to your mental/emotional well-being? Can they serve to connect the two?
I think about conversations Ive had with my own patients about embarking on a holistic journey of wellness. We consider things like relationships and home life, work life, support system, nutrition, spirituality, quality of sleep, and so forth. We also discuss childhood issues, early life messages, self-esteem, grief, loneliness, and much more.
Another physician friend of mine who practices Integrative Medicine will tell you an individuals health is inextricably linked to their physical, emotional, spiritual and social lives. He offers everything from X-rays and Western medicine to biofeedback and Chinese herbs.
One of my many yoga instructor friends says, Yoga allows ones body to feel strong and supple, and ones mind to be focused and calm. These are key elements for a long, healthy life.
Love, Gratitude and Mindfulness
Where to begin on this journey of integration?
In his mindfulness book, Arriving at Your Own Door, Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches, When you are taking a shower, check and see if you are in the shower. You may already be at a meeting at work. Maybe the whole meeting is in the shower with you.
My Catholic friend, Frances, and my Nicaraguan friend, Sara, each feels their spiritual wholeness comes from devotion to their religion. My Pagan friend, Woody, finds his spiritual wholeness in nature. My atheist friend, Zoe, finds her spiritual wholeness in acts of kindness.
Recently our holistic veterinarian (Dr. Colleen at CHAI) lovingly said, Lily Pad will be just fine. She then prescribed a combination of probiotics and ginseng. And she was right: Lilys now fine. My own doc recently prescribed for me a Western medication, an Eastern supplement, and more cardio! (Ugh.) But I am truly grateful that she views me holistically. Remember, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This can be a problem in non-holistic medicine.
I have a talented colleague who is both a psychologist and astrologer and teaches folks how to create their own astrological charts. She feels that an intimate understanding of the stars can open the door to a greater understanding of the self.
And when my mom was in the hospital with an undiagnosed but persistent pain that her medical team could not figure out, it was my Qigong group, 150 miles away, that harnessed and sent the energy to effectively remove her pain. Her doc and nurses were stunned. Her pain dissipated at the preciseprecisemoment she was on our hearts and minds. Where two or more are gathered
I am reminded of the time I suffered a skiing accident that badly tore the meniscus in my left knee. I was just twenty years old and, as I woozily looked down at my oddly bent leg, I felt the most excruciating pain Id ever felt before or since. There I was, thousands of feet up in the snow, literally leaning on friends, and wondering how I was going to get down the mountain.
Several hours later began what would become a series of consults with physicians. The news wasnt good. Back then, medical technology wasnt what it is today. Back then, the odds of a full recovery were only fifty percent.
That just wasnt good enough for me. So right then and there I asked for a knee brace, gratefully pocketed the big bottle of pain meds, and decided I would help my body heal itself. I embarked on a journey of holistic options that would be non-invasive and encourage my bodys innate intelligence. This is what I believed in. Someone else might have gone in for surgery, which may have been right for them. But here I am, and my knee is healed. Sure, it lets me know when rain is coming (as do other body parts), but I love my knee. I consider my knee well. I am well. And I am grateful.
I think about one of Kobe Bryants inspirational messages: When you make a choice and say, Come hell or high water, I am going to be this, then you should not be surprised when you are that.
Believe what you choose and believe it with all your heart. That which we believe holds the greatest chance of success, because our mind and body are then playing for the same team. Wellness is a creative symphony of mindfulness and effort.
A dear friend of mine whos a registered nurse summed up his philosophy on mental, physical and spiritual wellness this way: Follow your inner compass. And everything in moderation.
Sounds like good medicine to me.
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