Updated: Oct 20
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 Four Engines that drive health and healing: Nutrition, Movement, Connection, and Rest. (I much prefer Four Engines rather than pillars because pillars seem too inflexible and trite to me. Engines can be activated, after all, even if they stall, while once a pillar crumbles, it weakens.) I arrived at these Four Engines by stumbling through my own life after a near-death-like experience in medical school that disrupted how I experienced myself and the world. Over many years, I had to figure out how to balance and integrate a whole new way of functioning. Years later, in hosting the Healing Is Possible podcast, I found that the techniques I used to integrate and stabilize my life were the same that people used to heal and even cure disease. I present a brief description of these Four Engines below.
Nutrition of the mind: While we often think of the body when we speak of nutrition, my view is that nutrition begins with the mind. Nutrition is 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. Ask: Do these stimuli suggest possibility, ease, growth, and healing? Or barriers, restriction, and dis-ease?
Nutrition of the body: Many books and experts on nutrition of the body 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, Type 2 diabetes, and autoimmune disease:
Reduce and eliminate processed foods. (Almost everybody agrees with this, which is remarkable considering the controversy over diets.)
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Movement of body, range-of-motion: 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 as you do. Start simple and build. When we intentionally move–whether it's a fingertip, a major joint, or the full body–we shift our system into the state of rhythm and dance, and movement and expansion of the mind follows. All movement counts.
Movement of breath: The breath connects the mind and body. Rapid, shallow breathing is associated with anxiety. Deep, slow breathing is associated with restfulness and availability. This association and integration of breathing, body, and mind brings ease and flow.
Movement of emotions: 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, fear, 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.
Movement of creativity: What do you love doing? What inspires you? What do you have to say? Find a way to express yourself in writing and/or with others. Release what is unique to you into the world so others can experience it.
Movement of body, exercise: This is any form of sustained physical movement, usually one that works up a sweat. This activates all elements of the physical body and helps it equilibrate and tone its functions.
Connecting means getting in touch with all aspects of your-self in the fullest sense at 3 levels:
Connecting with the planet. We come from the planet and return to the planet. Therefore, direct contact with the planet is healing, while not being in contact brings dis-ease.
feet in the soil/ocean/creek (see studies on grounding, electron equilibration, and reduced inflammation)
sun on the skin
fresh air in the lungs
eyes on the sky - the experience of unity
Connecting with others. This is participating in the dance between me-ness and other-ness–the exchange and sharing of experiences through relationships.
Connecting with self.
Asking the big questions: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is my purpose? Where have I come from? Where am I going?
Meditation, mindfulness, self-inquiry
Self-touch, self-massage. The "namaste" pose, for example, is a form of self-touch that brings the two hands, and therefore the two sides of the body, together. Touching the body in different places has various effects on the body, including facilitating rest, relaxation, alleviation of pain, and focus. This brings our body's intelligence to the surface.
Resting while awake
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. 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.
Many of our guests on the Healing is Possible podcast experienced healing and learned how to cure themselves of disease in this way.
A wonderful side-effect of all these changes is that self-exploration surfaces and blossoms naturally. The mind opens to its deeper layers, previously subconscious memories come to light, and a process of integration happens. It's not an easy process, but one that is a hallmark of the journey of life.
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 start!