In the big wide world of health science (medicine, exercise, nutrition, disease prevention, immunology) we’re still in the dark about many things. While plenty of experts talk as though they have the final word on the human body and how to manage it (feed it, exercise it, treat it, heal it), the truth is we’re all still learning on the job; we’re students. Or at least, we should be. As an exercise scientist with vast practical experience, a reasonable academic background and a good aptitude for this stuff, my knowledge, understanding and skill level are constantly improving (because I work at it) and at the same time, my beliefs and thinking are always evolving because I’m learning (and un-learning) things daily. My thinking about what I do and how I do it, and my practical approach to my work have changed over the years because I have grown, adapted, learned by doing and made numerous mistakes. My “what I don’t know” list is still way bigger than my “what I do know” list. And always will be. I don’t aspire to know it all, just more.
Aside from what we know we don’t know about the human body (with me, here?), there’s also what we think we know but actually don’t. Then there’s the mountain of conflicting (research-based) information available to you and me, and last but not least, there’s the widespread professional and philosophical disagreement between not only the individual experts in each field, but also between the various professions. Ask the same question to ten experts and you’ll probably get ten different answers. And a headache.
Some experts don’t want you to know that much of what was scientific ‘fact’ only decades ago is now scientific embarrassment. In the next few years we will discover that a percentage of what we currently consider to be ‘absolute’ is either partial truth or completely wrong. On many levels we assume, hypothesize and guess but we don’t know for certain. There is still much sickness and disease, and at the other end of the scale, health and healing, that doesn’t actually make ‘sense’ according to our current scientific knowledge. We all know stories of people (friends and family perhaps) who have recovered from an illness that they shouldn’t have. Or people with medical conditions that just don’t seem to make sense (within the confines of our walls of current understanding). Or the person given three months to live five years ago who is still living a functional, happy, healthy and productive life today.
For the last few years I’ve worked with a lady who isn’t meant to be here – according to the doctors. All the ‘medical intelligence’ says she should have been dead years ago. Someone was wrong. And the science was wrong. Perhaps she determined her own destiny rather than having it forecast by a stranger or a set of mandatory rules that predicted her imminent death. Perhaps she chose to live and by making that choice something happened on a physiological level. Perhaps her psychology changed her physiology. And maybe her thinking produced biochemical changes which lead to changes in her immune system, improved health and ultimately, life not death.
The area of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a relatively new field of study (born in the mid-seventies) which looks at how our thinking affects our immune system, how our mind affects our health. We now know that our mental and emotional states have a significant (and often under-estimated) impact on our physical health. Although other cultures have known and benefited from this understanding for centuries. People who dwell on the negative will have a suppressed immune system and will be more predisposed to illness, while their more positive counterparts will be less likely to fall ill. We know that prolonged mental and emotional stress (a form of illness) will invariably lead to physical disease just as we know that, happy people will typically outlive their stressed neighbours and have a better level of health doing it.
“For this is the great error of our day, that the physicians separate the soul from the body” – Hippocrates
Yep, an old Greek bloke figured this stuff out 2,500 years ago… Some of us are a little slow to catch on.
The cool thing is that when we look beyond that ‘part’ of the person (in this case, the body) and start to treat the ‘whole’ of the person (body, mind, spirit) we begin to move beyond logic, science and our own understanding. That’s often where freedom is and where the miracles happen; a miracle being something that we can’t explain with our humanistic, Western, self-limiting mindset. Sometimes the very things which stand in the way of our health, healing and happiness are in fact science, logic and our erroneous beliefs and understanding of what’s possible for us. Sometimes what works for you won’t make sense in many people’s eyes and won’t be particularly scientific. And that’s okay. Your mind, body and spirit are in constant communication but the question is, are you paying attention?. When we step out of the “I am a body” mindset and into the “my body is not who I am, it’s where I live” paradigm, then the term complete health takes on a totally new meaning.
By and large (whatever that means) Western medicine is the only medical system in the world which treats the body in isolation rather than treating the entire person as an integrated unit. In most non-Western medicines (for want of a better term) the person is treated as the multi-dimensional, amazing creature that they are, whereas in our culture we have traditionally treated the body, not the person. In many cultures (some would say, more evolved cultures), the mind, emotions, body and spirit are treated in unison because it is understood that when a part of the individual is unwell, the whole of the individual will be unwell. If not right now, soon.
I’ve just read what I’ve written so far and I guess this message could sound somewhat contradictory coming from a scientist (of sorts) and I can understand why many people would think that. On many levels I’m not very good at the ‘science thing’ because I find some of it to be limiting, wishy-washy and conflicting. Having said that, I still believe it should play (and continue to play) a role in the overall health management process, keeping in mind that it is constantly evolving and flawed; just like the people who create it and teach it. Including me. When we take away the scientific arrogance and the need to be right (we love being right in our culture because we have our ego attached to our triumphs), then we open our mind, body and spirit to a world of possibilities; a world of healing, happiness, harmony and health that lays beyond our understanding, logic and often beyond anything we’ve ever known or experienced.
When we (you and I) stop treating the body (in isolation) and start treating the person, we begin the move towards enlightenment, a shift in consciousness and complete health. Health like we’ve never known.
So my friend, look after not only your body, but your head, your heart and your spirit too.
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