Updated: Jun 11, 2022
The essentials of health and healing don't change, because they are based on understanding the human system and what it needs in every way. These essentials can be thought of as 4 main engines that drive health and healing: nutrition, movement, connection, and rest.
Many books and experts on nutrition offer conflicting advice. Some say avoid carbohydrates and stick with protein. Others say carbohydrates are okay, but dairy should be avoided. Yet others say a balance of different kinds of foods is best. What works best for you will be unique. Having said that, there is a simple approach that has been found to consistently help in reversing common conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disease: A plant-based, fresh foods nutrition plan that minimizes/excludes processed foods.
Importantly, nutrition is much more than what you eat. It's also the thoughts you entertain, the books you read, the shows you watch, and the conversations you participate in. Think of the body as swimming in a sea of stimuli. Choose the stimuli that nourish you.
If you can exercise many times a week, great. But even if you can, don't stop with exercise. Learn to develop and enjoy subtle, slow movements. Stretch, stand up, move every single joint through its full range of motion, and take a few full, easy breaths. Start simple and build. When we intentionally move–whether it's a fingertip, the full body, or deep breathing–we shift our system into the state of rhythm and dance. All movement counts.
Movement also applies to the mind. Creatively expressing your ideas is moving your ideas. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions that pass through you and find avenues for their expression is also movement. As the deeper layers of the mind begin to move once again, stagnant beliefs and unexpressed emotions can be released. This can be a challenging time so it's important to have other outlets for expression, such as talking with friends, journaling, exercising, or anything else that can help bring stability and clarity. As the mind continues to move, the body will also respond, because they are not two to begin with. Areas of tightness in the body can relax, and pain can be alleviated.
Connecting means getting in touch with all aspects of your-self in the fullest sense at 3 levels:
Connecting with the planet. This includes being in nature, breathing fresh air, being in contact with soil and water.
Connecting with others. This is getting a feel for the dance between me-ness and other-ness. The exchange and sharing of experiences that we call relationship.
Connecting with self. This is recognizing the layers of experience beyond the body, the thinking mind, and sensation. This is connecting as simply being, which is the openness beyond the activity of mind and body. It goes to the heart of well-being, anchoring the experience of well-being as it develops.
There are many ranges and depths of connecting. The above 3 are simply the broadest categories that are essential to wellbeing. We have the ability to connect anywhere and anytime, in just a few moments.
Rest includes sleep and R&R–for example, curling up with a good book. Both are examples of turning off the stress response (depending on the book!) and promoting restoration. In today’s to-do-list society, rest can sound like a bad word that's often equated with doing nothing, which couldn't be further from the truth. Rest isn't indolence. Knowing what rest feels like is key to bringing the restful state into our lives even as go through our day.
When you give your body a break, it dedicates itself to eliminating toxins, fighting infections, repairing injured tissue, and releasing hormones that promote development. During the day, we can unknowingly leave the restful state and enter the stressful state. In fact, just waking up in the morning and remembering an irritating experience from the previous day can trigger a stressful state.
An irritating memory can activate your stress response as a protective mechanism. Although your life is not in danger, your brain prepares itself for the worst, signaling your adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline. Your pupils dilate, your blood vessels constrict, your blood pressure increases, and your heart starts pumping faster, a system-wide reaction.
Over time, frequent episodes of the stress response can change our baseline state from a restful one to a stressful one. Therefore, valuing and choosing rest as an important physiological state is key to reset and re-center the system.
When we attend to The Four Engines, other aspects of well-being will come into our line of sight. When you connect with yourself, you will become clear on what you want to spend your time on, which will inform occupational and social well-being. When you “move with yourself” and express yourself sincerely and effectively, other areas of yourself will again be affected. The same goes for when you nourish yourself and rest.
A wonderful side-effect of all these changes is that the feeling of love surfaces and blossoms. Contrary to much of the social messaging we see, love is not something that comes from somewhere or someone else. Love is innate–a wellspring within each of us that begins to suffuse our entire anatomy when we remove the obstacles that unexamined habits have put in place.
This doesn't mean change will be easy. In fact, it confirms that change isn't just a matter of talking about wellness or only meditating, but rather integrating and acting in all aspects of our lives, one step at a time.
While all four engines have been covered here, they don't all need to be addressed now. Otherwise they become another reason to stress. Instead, choose one step now and step into it. The rest will follow.
Adapted from Michelangelo's Medicine.