We all want to have it, but very few of us are anywhere close to achieving it. This is because, unfortunately, health is not a high priority for most of us. Even more so, most of us don’t even know how to define optimal health. Our medical model teaches us that health is the absence of disease. I can guarantee you that health is much more than this. There are millions of people who don’t have a diagnosable disease, but are still in poor or mediocre health.
Interestingly, there are also many people who do have a disease but are in good to excellent health.
How could this be? Because I define health in a much different way than our medical model does. I define health as the absence of suffering, not disease. Health is about living spontaneously. In Chinese medicine, the character ziran symbolizes both health and spontaneity.
Now, this may seem strange to you. But think about it. People who are free of harmful habits, both mentally and physically, exude peace and contentment. I am referring to both inner and outer habits here. For instance, coffee, sex, gambling, food, cocaine, TV etc. are external habits. These are just outward expressions of inner habits – which include belief systems and perceptions that are victimizing, blaming, judging, stuck in the past, anxious about the future, etc. To achieve optimal health, we must be loosen the hold the destructive attitudes have on us, so that we can live a life of joy and freedom.
We can see here that optimal health has a strong spiritual component, as it is largely based on seeing through limiting thoughts and beliefs and living with a fresh perspective every day. The by-product of a spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced life is tremendous energy and vitality and a heightened experience of general wellness. If this is one end of the spectrum and death is at the other, I would argue that most of us are somewhere in the middle. We may not have a ‘disease’, but we don’t feel that great either. We may have chronic pain, stress, emotional ups and downs, fatigue, etc.
If we look at the following statistics, it is obvious that, as a society, we have a ways to go before most of us are optimally healthy.
- 23 million people in the US have diabetes
- 57 million people in the US are pre-diabetic
- Over 30% of America obese, 4 million Americans carry over 300 pounds
- We each have a 1 in 3 lifetime risk of getting some form of cancer
- 23 million Americans have some kind of heart disease (1 in 12), 44 million have arthritis (1 in 6), 38 million have anxiety and depression, 5 million have Alzheimers
The following five foundations of optimal health have become apparent to me after working with such a diverse array of people and health concerns.
These five foundations have spiritual, emotional, and physical connotations, each of which is an integral part of healing.
Passion, Purpose, and Joy:
For most of us, embarking on the path to optimal health will entail making some lifestyle changes that are conducive to this pursuit. To do this authentically, we have to start with a healthy psychological orientation toward making changes. This means that we initiate our healing without using will power. Instead, we use our intention, passion, and purpose to guide us through change. We identify with the deepest part of ourselves that is already complete and we set an unwavering intention to allow this to surface as we embark on healthy living. We are not making changes out of guilt or ‘should’ – this will always backfire because will power comes in limited supply.
Instead, we can utilize our innate (but usually hidden by the time we’ve reached adulthood) desire for growth, fun and adventure to motivate us. Most people are not satisfied by repeating dysfunctional patterns like coming home from work, grabbing something quick to eat, and staring at the boob tube – it just doesn’t feel true to who we are deep down inside. Underneath the surface, we all have a burning desire to live life fully, and explore new territory. Our health declines when we are cut off from this desire, and live a life of “quiet desperation” instead of fun and joy.
Nutrition (this includes anything we put into our body):
Many people approach the subject of healthy nutrition backwards. Making wise choices shouldn’t feel like an imposition or a punishment, but for many people that’s just what it feels like. And that’s one of the main reasons dietary changes don’t stick – the last thing anyone wants is less pleasure in their life.
So we have to “take it from the top”, so to speak. We do this by taking the focus off of food, and put it on balancing our emotions and attitudes. We use techniques like acupuncture and EFT to reduce or eliminate the emotional stresses and unpleasant feelings that we use food to escape from. And then we tune into our inspiration to find ways to add more joy back into our life.
It’s important to focus less on all the labels we’ve learned to give food – if we eat something our mind thinks of as “bad”, that very thought is at the very least an additional stress, and it’s potentially very confusing to the body. After all, if someone came up to you and made you eat food that they told you was harmful, how would you react? Yet that’s what most of us do to our bodies every day.
So it’s important to any nutritional program out with a mental cleanse. When we bring feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and other “wholesome” feelings to the table, we are not just affecting our mind. We are actually “turning on” genes for growth and rejuvenation, and turning off genes for disease that are activated by chronic stress. And that allows our body to get the most out of any food that we give it.
Once the emotional triggers and programs have been cancelled out or re-balanced, it’s easy to make healthy nutritional choice – in fact, it’s flat out more pleasurable to eat and drink in a way that promotes greater vitality and happiness, and it’s hard to imagine why we would eat any other way.
We have all heard that it is essential to exercise regularly, but so many of us haven’t made a commitment to it. This is because exercise feels like a burden, it is uncomfortable and we have to use will power to do it. Sometimes we use exercise to beat ourselves up, or we exercise out of guilt. And for some of us, it just isn’t on our radar screen at all. Exercise can only be done long-term if it is enjoyable.
So once again, use your inner guidance to find something that you like to do, something that you would actually miss if you couldn’t do it. That may involve some time and experimentation – some people love salsa dancing, for others it’s a nightmare – but what else do you have to do that’s more important?
Most of us need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to get the rest we need for our busy lives. When we are living with joy, passion, and purpose, we can get away with much less sleep, perhaps even 5-6 hours per night. After all, sleep is partly to repair the damage of the day, and chronic stress is a major cause of that damage.
If you suffer from insomnia or restless sleep, then healing this should be one of your first priorities. We need time to rest and restore, or else our waking hours will be compromised.
Energy medicine like Acupuncture and EFT:
So, how does alternative medicine fit into achieving optimal health? Well, I think it plays a big role even if we aren’t suffering with explicit health problems. In China, acupuncture is considered to be a primary part of the average person’s lifestyle. It keeps the internal workings of the body balanced and often improves one’s mental well being as well. The truth is that, unless you are already optimally healthy, acupuncture and herbs can take you very far in that direction.
EFT and other Meridian Tapping Techniques can be used to address the underlying negative emotions that contribute to ill-health. (Please go to www.emofree.com for more information)
Other forms of medicine such as Ayurveda can also be very helpful, as can the skillful application of drugs and surgery in Western medicine.
In order to initiate the lifestyle choices that reflect a high degree of wellness, it is important that you take action NOW. We are incredibly clever when it comes to putting off things of this nature. We convince ourselves that it’s simply not a good time to even think about this. Each of us has a passion for self-care and optimal living that is buried within us.
How are you going to find it in this moment? Perhaps the first step is making a personal commitment to live in accordance with health and balance rather than stress, drama, and denial. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it certainly can be done. The choice is yours.
Call Jim today at 360.943.0306 to set up your first appointment today!
Jim Stegenga, L.Ac.
Serving Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater, and the South Puget Sound