It's important to think about, contemplate, and reflect on health because is fundamental to having the best experience in life and in living. Health is a vast topic. Like wealth, it is a deep and can have meanings that we haven't considered before. This will be the first of several posts exploring the meaning of health as it relates to the many ways the word and concept is widely considered.
As always, I'm inviting contemplation and reflection on my own, and others' personal stories and experiences to find deeper meaning, a-ha moments of recognition, opportunities to make changes, or simply understanding ourselves a little better.
THE QUESTIONS AROUND HEALTH
Do we always think about 'health' when faced with certain situations, occurrences, and choices? Do we too easily assume that health only means not being sick? And when something happens that affects us physically - like an illness - does that mean that we are categorically not healthy? In other words, is health a yes or no paradigm? What do we do about it, how do we react, respond, and recalibrate?
The big question I'm pondering is: do we consider health a static condition and state, or is it dynamic, nuanced and fluctuating?
Is it something we have, or is it something we are? Is it something to attain or something to steward? Is it something we can lose or something that ebbs and flows?
THE BODY AND THE MIND
We're made of organic material that breaks down over time, and is subjected to natural challenges and cycles, in addition to the ungodly amount of unnatural elements that we throw at them like toxins, radiation, GMOs, and pollution. Not to mention all the things we put in our bodies, willingly and often unconsciously, in the form of food and drinks that are poisoning us and causing so many health issues.
These bodies of ours are constantly in flux - growing, shedding, breaking, repairing, decaying. They grow old. They get hit with stuff. They tear, they bend, they break. They mend.
They are incredibly resilient.
And if our minds are resilient, our bodies stand a better chance of being healthy, and whole. I'm grateful for the resiliency of my mind and my emotions when I've faced intense physical challenges like losing my hearing.
Did you know that roughly 80% of visits to primary care doctors result from emotional distress, and studies have demonstrated that workplace stress accounted for up to 38% of differences in longevity across workers in different professions. We're talking about lifespan!
Increasingly, the medical community is realizing the importance of treating patients with tools for stress management, including the use of mindfulness, rest and play, purpose and vocational pursuits, and other techniques for emotional distress.
Mostly, though, society largely thinks about health as being only of the physical body. And this is how the dictionary definition is treating the word as well. At best, in the medical community the use of the word health extends to mental health, and sometimes doctors may speak about emotional health.
It is encouraging to see some progress, by doctors, in the application of health to other areas of being human and not just to the body we are in.
We are starting to acknowledge that being human - the condition of being human - is so much more than the physical body we occupy. Being human means our bodies aren't perfect, our minds are complex beyond our understanding, and unchecked emotions can silently kills us.
We cannot always be in an optimal state of ... health.
Health is not perfection. It is not a perfectly static condition of the body that contains no trace of anything harmful, bad, broken, ailed, assailed, injured or diseased.
THE DEFINITION OF HEALTH
There are many inspiring stories about people who have overcome ailments, illness and some of the most terrifying diseases-- the kinds that no one is supposed to survive. Where 'health' isn't even a word to be considered. Where it's about survival.
As defined by the dictionary, health is:
* the state of being free from illness or injury.
*the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit-especially: freedom from physical disease or pain.
"he was restored to health" and "he nursed them back to health" and "she is the picture of good health"
synonyms: well-being, healthiness, fitness, good condition, good shape
*a person's mental or physical condition.
*the general condition of the body.
"bad health forced him to retire" and "how is your mother's health?" and "in poor health" or "enjoys good health"
synonyms: physical state, physical shape, condition, constitution
*a condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing well: well-being.
"defending the health of the beloved oceans"
Health is described as the lack of something - the absence of illness. It's also considered a general state or condition. Health. We also consider the 'lack of' health to be a condition that causes suffering, pain and unpleasantness.
Is health a static condition, then? I picture an antique scale with two plates hanging from bronze chains. Like the scales that represent Libra or the scales of justice. And the scales can be affected by adding or removing something to the plates that hold it in perfect, motionless, equilibrium.
Is health - as a desired condition or state - only achieved or attained when that scale is perfectly balanced? Is it even possible to be in perfect balance all the time? And what happens if the scales tip or dip? Do we then tip into 'unhealthy'?
No, of course not!
Health cannot possibly be considered as a black or white, good or bad, yes or no condition. Because it is obvious that while one part of our body, mind, or even a habit or lifestyle is considered unhealthy, it doesn't mean that we, as an individual person, are unhealthy.
I like to think of health as a starting-point, like the beginning. Like zero.
From here, health explodes into myriad forms and directions. It is used to describe just about every part of our lives, i.e. a healthy body, mental health, healthy relationships, emotional health, healthy habits, even spiritual health.
In a way, we use 'health' as 'good' or 'preferred' or 'well' or 'wellness'.
Since health can be thought of as the condition of being well, or the starting point from which we measure our wellness, then for me, health is about balance.
Balance. Like those scales, but without the expectation of being in perfect, motionless equilibrium. Our lives are not static; nothing is static, and most certainly, health is not a static condition. The scales move and adjust. We need wiggle room and we need to flow!
When I think of my health on any given day, I want to feel balanced. I want to be in resonance. I want to be resilient. Knowing I can still thrive under less than optimal conditions. Like I can make progress in my life in all areas - from daily tasks to reaching big life goals, no matter what gets thrown at me. So that any challenge is transmuted into a strength.
And if the scales tip way too far in one direction and I have to majorly course-correct because I am unable to live well, to feel good, to be joyful and to flourish, then I'll consider it unhealthy - in that part of my body, my mind, my soul or the part of my life that is out of balance, causing me suffering, pain or discomfort. Those are signals telling us something needs to be adjusted.
I'm healthy, though I brush up against situations that affect my health. Things that take me out of balance. Everyone does. It's how we deal with the teeter-tottering that allows us to 'be healthy'. And as I contemplate that, another word comes up very strongly in relation to health and balance: harmony.
Harmony. Consonance. Congruity.
Among the Navajo, health and longevity are attained by "walking in beauty," living in harmony within oneself and with the natural world. Being in harmony with life. Being in harmony with others. And also, very importantly, being in harmony with ourselves and our energies.
HEALTH IS AS PERSONAL AS YOUR DNA
I'm passionate about taking control of your own health -- all aspects of it. Yes, I used the generic word, 'health'. Because health is YOU. You are health. Your body, your mind, your emotions, your energy. You are trying to keep yourself in balance. Trying to find harmony with life.
Health is a generic term describing a 'general condition' of being 'free from illness or injury'. So, healthy is when we are 'ok'. The problem is that 'ok' or 'general' doesn't cut it. It cannot be a blanket term.
My version of being healthy is so, so different from yours. My version of health is deeply informed by my personal genetics, the environment I live in, and also by mental constructs around ideals and preferences. My digestion, my ability to handle stress, my emotional state -- all of these can be defined on a health scale by a nationally appointed medical group, and influenced by the latest research and by well-funded groups with big marketing budgets.
However, it's far more likely that I will define whether any part of me or my life is healthy in order to fit with a personal belief or preference. I'll maneuver my way around the health and all the ambiguity that goes with it.
Here's an easy example: weight.
My preference on 'healthy weight' is not the same as someone else's, and it may not even be the same as what a board of doctors determine to be the correct weight to height ratio, etc. Who else has questioned the relevance of their health as it relates to the BMI (body-mass index)?!
Every single day, science is discovering more and more about our bodies and our minds. It's calling into question past discoveries, past beliefs. It's showing us how beautifully complex, delicate and strong we truly are. It's showing us how unique we are. We had no idea.
There is the exploding field of functional medicine, which is based on offering highly personalized treatments to people based on their genetics, DNA, lifestyle, experience, environment, etc. The operative word here is personalized.
For example, we can look at genetic sequencing as an example of the way we can know, on a granular level, what makes me, or you, or any individual exactly the way we are. It shows us what can cause us to become sick, what can push us to thrive, what can help us to heal. It's forcing us to question whether we should accept every widely-administered or recommended treatment, protocol, regimen, medication, diet is truly what's best for us, especially if we are not doing our own part in being diligent about how we are feeling and responding.
HEALTH IS a PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
When I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, I was 16 years old. I've spent more than half my life learning about and applying holistic nutrition and medicine, managing stress and lifestyle and diet choices, while still keeping up with modern scientific medical progress on a condition that has eluded a cure. Treatments have changed. Doctors continue to learn. I continue to learn.
We must be responsible and accountable for our own role in the maintenance of our health. Of our one and precious life. And the experience we are giving ourselves through our choices.
We cannot take a treatment, therapy or suggestion at face value. We cannot afford not to be aware of our own body, mind, or emotional state. We need to practice personalized attention to ourselves. This is how we will maintain our optimal, and highly personal, condition of health.