Discovering the foundations of health and wellness.
I’ve been studying and teaching the subjects of health and wellness for many years and have come to see that the pursuit of health can at first seem a little daunting, swimming in a never ending sea of products, slick marketing, ambitious exercise classes and bizarre diets. Through my journey I have come to many points when I could not see a way through, when the complexity of the information seemed too great and the understanding of the totality of true health and wellness seemed beyond reach.
After many years of committed research I have come to a point where I truly do understand and in turn know the basic nature of human health and wellness; I can see and experience daily the relationships of the critical aspects of health and can therefore see the elements that are foundational to overall all success.
My role in this newsletter is then not in essence to just give you more disconnected information about highly specific areas of health or to review health issues, not to get lost in the million and one diseases that we can all suffer from but to look more broadly at the things we need to do to ensure we have a true foundation of wellness so that we have the key building blocks to the health equation that empower you to take control and overcome obstacles in your life.
These foundations really are in essence very simple. They are getting enough sleep, drinking enough fresh clean water, optimal breathing, the correct balance of exercise and movement, mastery of the mind or philosophical perception and a diet that is correctly balanced for you and your needs.
There are of course many complexities to all of these areas and some aspects are without doubt a life time study however in principle the foundations are very simple and for many of us mastering the basics of these areas would have a dramatic transformative effect in our lives, so well worth considering the simple things.
The essential foundation of health and wellness
Once I had come to understand that there were 6 key foundations to optimal health it is a natural progression to then research the one that is foundational to all of them. There has to be one aspect of health that has influence on everything else we do and every other action we take to be well. This single aspect of the health equation is so powerful that if not addressed it does indeed dramatically devalue any other effort that we make. Even at the level of intellectual intrigue is it not compelling to wonder if this is really true, and if it is would it not be wise to find out what this essential foundation is?
The single most powerful aspect of the health equation is unveiled through the practice of meditation or contemplation, and it’s through the investigation of the inner subjective world of experience that we can find what I call the ‘healing zone’.
This is very real, very specific and through discussion and one’s own pursuit it can be personally verified as the most important single action that can be taken. I will in later newsletter revisited this many times from all sorts of different perspectives. Why? Because it comes prior to any other single action that could possibly be taken to become healthy. Also as a note, if you find yourself at this moment feeling resistant to the concept in any way from frank denial and scepticism or just a gentle wave of anxiety about not having time or it being too difficult to begin a meditative or contemplative practice then one can, with inner honesty, see that this is in effect resistance to one’s own healing and wellness!
The Emotion that rises as scepticism, denial, fear, perhaps a little anger is exactly the emotional mixing pot that the mind reflects in its thinking that triggers the fight of flight response thus leading to disease! These emotions can be healed, they can be surrender and one does not have to live though them. We have a choice, and as we have choice we can choose to heal, we can choose to be healthy and find our own healing zone.
Be free of fight or flight and find parasympathetic peace!
So why, you may ask, does a meditative or contemplative practice have such a resounding effect on everything else you might be trying to do to get well or to achieve in your training? It’s really very simple. We humans only have one primary stress response, fight or flight, and we get this response when ever we perceive something happening out there in the world as a stress. Meditative practises can teach us to observe our inner subjective emotional landscape and tune in to the emotional tone or feeling that we have prior to thinking. Once we have tuned in to the feeling we can allow it to be rather than resist it which is the basis of the term ‘surrender’.
There was a point in the evolution or the human brain, probably the development of the neocortex, when we gained the ability for future planning and review of the past. This in evolutionary terms is obviously critical however sets us up for the perception of potential future problems and past regrets. We can now imagine the future and think about the past which means we can have stress responses about imaginary things both past, present and future. This effectively means that we can spend a lot of our life locked into a stress response about things that are not actually real. Our bodies although capable of adapting to long term stress are forced into ever deeper compensation that in time can lead to both physical and psychological degeneration and disease.
It’s important to recognise that the stress response when actually needed in the face of an acute danger is obviously very useful! An animal in danger of being eaten will have their stress response then return to normal very quickly having overcome the danger (or if they were eaten, well, they’re not stressed anymore!) we, as a result of our powerful brains don’t have the ability to turn it off unless we have trained to, and it’s that training that is best done in meditation or contemplation. When we have our fight or flight response the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are pumped into our systems. These hormones act together to increase blood sugar levels, increase blood pressure and reduce the immune response. Our muscular system tightens to prepare for action and blood is drawn away from it digestive responsibilities to be pumped to the muscles.
The net effect is that we can’t digest, absorb or assimilate nutrients so effectively and the ones that do absorbed get consumed by the vitamin hungry stress response. We also suffer from the effect of long term increase in muscle tension and this can lead to pain and mechanical dysfunction. So we can see that stress will inhibit our ability to lose weight, make the food we eat effectively less nutritionally valuable to us through minimised absorption, it will reduce our immune response and increase the likelihood of muscular pain reducing the positive effect we might get from physical exercise.
Enter the healing zone
In meditation or contemplation it is absolutely possible to train oneself to become observant of the inner world, the inner landscapes of emotion (feeling) and thought. I have found after many years of my own practice that the fastest and easiest way to tune in to one’s inner world is though feeling. Most of us, with a bit of inner honesty can quite quickly tune in to a feeling of inner discomfort, perhaps anxiety, that’s ok! Nearly everyone has it. Once tuned in to the feeling you have become conscious of it, you are observing the feeling. If you are observing it and can feel where you hold it then one can, with compassion for oneself, let go of resisting it, just allow it to be there, to fill its space. It is safe to move in to any emotion or feeling and it is safe to let them go. If one stops resisting the emotion one is beginning to let go of inner conflict. The mind and so thinking reflects emotion, if you let the emotion go the mind has little to comment on in reflection to the specific emotion released.
This change in perception is then foundational to every other health action that we take as we shift from the sympathetic nervous system being dominated to the parasympathetic nervous system dominance, sympathetic nervous response speeds everything up and Para (like a parachute) slows and calms everything down.
The healing zone is then an internal state of being that grows from the seed of inner awareness and compassion towards one’s self. As one let’s go of emotion, discomfort, disease and distress, like clouds dissipating in the sky one begins to experience peace and stillness where one once experienced anxiety and fear. One is entering the healing zone!
This does indeed take practice, like weight training it takes many repetitions of an exercise to learn and reinforce a new pattern of movement. In meditation or contemplation one keeps returning to inner observation to allow emotions, feeling, to be there rather than resisting it, one keeps letting go. With practice one then begins to form new neural path ways as the brain stops responding to old feelings, the brain physiology begins to change and one is truly healing.
With practice you will be able to experience longer periods of silence and peace and then, one day, much to one’s surprise one finds that one can experience this peace almost all of the time, one has entered the healing zone!