By Kellie Buckley
Naturopathy: Ancient Wisdom Can Be The Wave Of The Future
You may have heard a term floating around these days in certain health-conscious circles…the mind-body connection. It’s the latest buzz word in yoga studios and with alternative healing practitioners, but what does it actually mean? Ironically, while you may have only recently begun to hear references to this mind-boggling concept, it is an ancient theory which is only now finding its feet in Western medicine.
As Americans have become increasingly unhealthy, they have also become increasingly unsatisfied and disillusioned with a medical system that seems to be failing. Cancer, heart disease and diabetes are just a few of the illnesses that are reaching epidemic proportions causing people to reconsider the path they take to good health. Naturopathic medicine is based on the belief that the body can heal itself and focuses on prevention and the self-healing process through the use of natural therapies.
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are primary care physicians who blend centuries-old knowledge and a philosophy that nature is the most effective healer with current research on health and human systems. Yoga, acupuncture, proper nutrition, botanical medicine, essential oils and massage are among the types of treatments promoted by ND’s; however, the success of these treatments hinges on discovering the underlying cause of the illness. For this, we must consider the mind-body connection. While naturopathic medicine is gaining momentum in the West, it makes one wonder, how did we lose this knowledge in the first place?
Beginning in the 1700s, man’s view of his relationship to nature began to shift. The previously held view was that mankind is an integral part of a natural world in which everything was interconnected. Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, led the shift away from the man as part of nature to man as separate from nature. Dubbed the father of modern Western philosophy, Descartes touted the notion that not only was man separate from nature but that the human body was a machine in which good health could be maintained or restored by following unchanging scientific laws. Such was his influence on science during the Western scientific revolution that his philosophy became the foundation for modern medicine in the West.
The result is a medical system that is driven by only what can be seen, measured, quantified and analyzed. By taking the view that the body is a machine and that health can be maintained by following certain rules, we have developed a health system that ignores the power the mind has on the body. This omission has culminated in a one-sided approach to health and well-being that is only seeing half of the picture. Ancient systems of health care, still practiced in India and China today, do not make a distinction between the body and the mind but rather view them as a complex interconnected system (the mind-body connection) in which emotions are linked to disease.
In simple terms, the mind-body connection refers to how the brain and our thoughts influence the body and overall health. Perhaps science needed to temporarily separate the study of the mind from the body in order to focus on certain aspects of how the body functions. Indeed, Western medicine has become quite adept at saving or prolonging lives touched by the disease. Heart transplants and bionic limbs are just a few of the extraordinary leaps Western medicine has made in the last 300 years. However, research has started to come full circle and faced with not only understanding how to treat disease, but identify the cause, scientists have been turning their attention back to the link between mental and physical health.
Today, we accept that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social, spiritual and behavioral factors can directly affect our health. A mind-body approach requires a high level of awareness of our emotional state and the ability to recognize when it is impacting our physical well-being.
This is not to say what we do with our physical body doesn’t play a role in disease. Of course, things like exercise and diet have a huge impact on our health, but our bodies also respond to the way we think, feel and act. Emotions like stress, anger, and anxiety manifest themselves in the body causing any number of physical reactions. For example, you might develop high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer after a, particularly stressful event. Perhaps you overeat when you are sad or upset which causes weight gain, bringing with it a whole host of potential illnesses. Thoughts and emotions are very
powerful and when the mind dwells in certain negative thought processes for extended periods of time, the body will become weakened and out of balance allowing illness and disease to take hold.
Of course, this is not to say that all illnesses are “caused” by our thoughts. The relationship between the mind and body is complex, and sometimes things happen at a physical level for which we don’t have a plausible explanation. We have to acknowledge that we may have an inherent tendency for health or imbalance, and in some cases, genetic inheritance is the major factor underlying an illness. At the same time, we have amazing potential to heal and transform ourselves through our thoughts, perceptions and choices. The body is a magnificent network of intelligence, capable of far more than current medical science can explain. It is not uncommon, after all, to hear of someone diagnosed with a terminal illness that defies the odds, armed with little more than a positive attitude and a will to live.
But don’t take my word for it; test the theory yourself. While there are many naturopathic doctors around these days who can guide you on your journey to health (and I recommend you seek them out), the best place to start is with a journal. It doesn’t take a ton of time and may shed enormous light on the root of any ailments you suffer from. Take a little time each day to candidly write down a few sentences about how you were feeling emotionally each day. Then write a few sentences about how you were feeling physically. After a few months, reflect on what you have written and see if you can draw any correlations between your emotions and your physical health. The mind-body connection sometimes takes a bit of soul searching because we often don’t realize when we are under stress or are unwilling to admit that things might be out of balance in our lives. True healing requires brutal honesty with ourselves. It often also requires forgiveness and letting go. In the meantime, here are a few tips from the Chopra Center, (www.chopra. com) a groundbreaking integrative health center, based in California which provides a wealth of information and resources.
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools for restoring balance to our mind and body. In the silence of awareness, the mind lets go of old patterns of thinking and feeling and learns to heal itself. Scientific research on meditation is accelerating with the growing awareness of meditation’s numerous benefits, including a decrease in hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and addictive behaviors.
Next, to breathing, eating is our most vital bodily function. To create a healthy body and mind, our food must be nourishing. Ideal nutrition comes from consuming a variety of foods that are appropriately prepared and eaten with awareness.
Regular exercise offers incredible benefits for your body and mind. Not only does exercise keep the body young, but it also keeps the mind vital and promotes emotional well-being. Research shows that physical activity sparks biological changes that increase the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and perform other cognitive tasks. Exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of stress and lift depression.
Restful sleep is an essential key to having health and vital energy. When you’re well-rested, you can approach stressful situations more calmly, yet sleep is so often neglected or under-emphasized. There is even a tendency for people to boast about how little sleep they can get by on. In reality, over time, inadequate sleep disrupts the body’s innate balance, weakens our immune system, contributes to weight gain and depression, and speeds up the aging process.
Many of us harbor emotional toxicity in the form of unprocessed anger, hurt or disappointment. This unprocessed residue from the past contributes to toxicity in our body and needs to be eliminated. You can begin by asking yourself, “What am I holding onto from the past that is no longer serving me in the present?” Once you have identified what you want to release, spend some time journaling about how your life will be different when you change, and then let it go.
Research shows that a good social support network has numerous physical and mental health benefits. It can keep you from feeling lonely, isolated or inadequate and if you feel good about yourself, you can deal with stress better. Stress is one of the leading causes of disease. If your network of friends is small, think about volunteering, joining an outdoor activities group or trying an online meet-up group to make new friends.
Finally, enjoy a good belly laugh at least once a day. I think it goes without being said that laughter really is the best medicine.