What is Health?
Health is a very ill defined term. In the Western World many people see health as a black and white concept. You are healthy unless you have a disease. Many people even go to a doctor with some conditions that the doctor can’t identify as a disease and the doctor will send them away saying “You look healthy to me”.
I believe it is far more useful to look at health as a scale of say 1 to 100. 1 being almost dead and 100 being incredibly healthy. In this way a person can always be motivated to get healthier. As a person progresses down the scale to ill health that is when they start to have diseases that a doctor can identify such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis etc. Many of these conditions could have been prevented had the person looked at health in the way of getting healthier way before they get sick.
So that begs the question of what exactly is health?
According to Ayurveda the longest existing medical system in the world, health can be seen from several different layers. At the core of health is spiritual health. Spiritual health could be defined as living a life that is in harmony with your true purpose in life. It can also be defined as a life in service of someone or some cause greater than just yourself. Another aspect to spiritual health is to lead a life that does not cause harm to other living beings. This is why in Ayurveda a vegetarian diet is recommended for spiritual health even if in a few rare cases it may be better for a person’s physical health to eat meat. Spiritual health is more important than physical health, but it is also the basis of all the other forms of health such as emotional and mental health.
The next layer of health is your mental and emotional health. Dr Bach, from the UK, recognized the importance of this level of health when he introduced his 38 flower remedies to the world in the 1930’s. He believed that mental and emotional health imbalances usually lead to physical diseases and that Nature is Her Wisdom had given people remedies that could help their mental and emotional health. This is where the idea of the Bach flower remedies, such a rescue remedy, come from.
Chinese and Indian medicines recognize the importance of this layer for optimum health. In Chinese Medicine for example someone who gets angry a lot can easily get Liver problems. Too much sadness affects the function of the heart etc. Herbs, acupuncture, exercises and lifestyle changes will bring a person back into balance.
The last layer of health is physical health. If a person is spiritually and emotionally healthy then physical health is usually a lot easier to come by. This is the level where exercise etc plays a bit part. There are many people in the Western world who just emphasize this level of health. For example, bodybuilders, joggers etc. Sometimes these people suddenly get cancer or drop from a heart attack and people wonder why. It’s usually because they have been out of balance on the deeper layers of health.
So which activities can I engage in, in order to stay healthy?
On a spiritual level of health activities such as meditation and prayer help one to understand their true life purpose as well as generally get them more in touch with deeper aspects of themselves. Following practices of ahimsa, or non violence, also enhance a person’s spiritual health. Taking a caring rather than judgmental attitude towards our fellow living entities will also enhance a person’s spiritual health.
Another aspect of spiritual health is service. It is the nature of the human being to serve someone other than themselves. Spiritual service of some sort will also be a major component in health.
On a mental and emotional level there are many practices than can be beneficial. Meditation again plays a role here, with calming the mind and getting rid of anxiety. Massage plays a big role in also promoting a deep sense of relaxation and in getting rid of stored up stress and old emotions. Walking in a peaceful place such as a beach or in the forest allows the mind time to digest the many thoughts that overwhelm it during normal day to day activities. Listening to peaceful music and having peaceful colours around will also help. As I mentioned earlier the Bach and other Flower essences can play a big role in helping bring people back to balance on an emotional and mental level. In Ayurveda eating food more of a sattvic nature will help calm the mind. Sattvic foods are vegetarian and dairy foods that are fresh, preferably organically grown, and avoid strongly stimulating herbs such as garlic , onions and chilies except in the case of a disease such as a cold or flu, where these herbs are very useful. Overuse however will cause too much rajas, or passion in the mind.
For mental and emotional health it’s also important to know ones limits and not push our minds and bodies too hard for too long. Proper rest is important and not overworking or neglecting ones family relationships.
From a physical health point of view, exercise, stretching, nutrition and massage are the basis of good physical health. Obviously other activities such as not smoking, taking drugs etc and not having too toxic an environment are also very important.
Exercise in general stimulates blood and lymph flow that keeps the circulation going. A person should combine strength building exercises with flexibility increasing exercises. One of the best and most ancient forms of exercise is yoga. Yoga involves stretching and opening up the body as well as stimulating blood and nerve supply throughout the body. Yoga benefits a person’s health on a physical, mental and emotional level and can be adapted to suit all ages and levels of fitness. Chi Gong is an ancient Chinese practice similar to yoga that is also very good for health.
Nutrition is one of the most important factors involved in overall health of the body. For those interested in nutrition I would recommend Paul Pitchford’s book ‘Healing with Wholefoods’. Nutrition is a vast subject and filled with many conflicting philosophies. However, in most ancient and current opinion the basis of a good diet is a vegetarian diet of Whole Foods that are organically grown. In my opinion specifics of what diet is best for you are best approached by learning your Ayurvedic constitution and then making your diet support your constitution. So what foods may be helpful for one person may actually aggravate another person, and that is why some people may diet for a long time but have no success, for example. To discover more about this deep and effective food philosophy I recommend a book by Amadea Morningstar called the Ayurvedic Cookbook. I have sold many of these books in my Naturopathic practice and still think it’s one of the best books on Ayurveda for the beginner.
Lastly getting a massage on a regular basis is one the best thing a person can do to stay healthy or to increase their level of health. Raynor massage, or other forms of deep tissue massage and or acupressure are some of the best forms of massage that get in and unblock the blockages in the flow of chi in the body as well as get deep seated muscle tension out of the body. Many people who have held tension for years in their body can feel 20 years younger after receiving a good deep massage. Most people need quite a few massage treatments to get them to the stage where there is no tension in their body and then will need a treatment between once a week and once a month to maintain a tension free body. Some people in stressful jobs may benefit from more than one massage a week.
Well that about wraps up this article on health. In future articles I will go into more details about some of these approaches to health and the benefits that they may bring. Until then enjoy your healthy eating, and go get yourself a great massage!