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Your Body Is Wise But Needs You to Pay Attention

body

Although complementary medicine has made strong advances, mainstream medical practice still keeps faith with drugs and surgery as the default methods of treatment. The way forward for anyone who wants to establish a high level of wellbeing isn’t going to come via the family doctor but through self-care. The first rule of self-care is to trust in the body’s wisdom and to make choices in line with it.

Living in accord with your body’s wisdom is simple and natural, which is why practices that hovered on the fringe when I was first practicing medicine in the Seventies are now tried and true.  The following points are unarguable: Continue reading

Deepak Chopra: The Real Secret to Staying Healthy for Life (Part 2)

photo: PRAVEEN VENUGOPAL

What is the best way to insure that you will remain healthy your whole life? America has led the world in medical research that gave rise to the best advice on how to prevent lifestyle disorders. This trend has only increased, and the evidence for it has kept mounting. Up to 90% of cancers may be preventable, for example, a complete turn around from a decade ago. Lifestyle changes would reduce the rates of overweight, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke as well. If more people actually complied with the recommended changes, general health would take a leap ahead.

But that isn’t my focus. As important as it is to take care of yourself, letting your body take care of you is the real secret.

In my last post, I shared two things that are crucial to giving your body the best chance to do what it was designed to do: survive and thrive at any age. Here, I want to deal with the first critical ingredient: Create a matrix for a positive lifestyle. You can’t make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural, and enjoyable.

The flaw in the whole prevention movement has been non-compliance. We are a nation suffering from an epidemic of obesity, turning more and more sedentary despite the good advice, which is constantly drummed into our heads. Unless they’ve been hibernating, everyone knows that long-term health depends upon a sensible diet and moderate physical exercise every day.  As a first step, let’s stop thinking in terms of discipline and self-control altogether. Some people are prevention saints. They consume only one tablespoon of total fat per day in their diet, because that’s the ideal amount for heart health. They ignore wind and rain to get in five hours of vigorous exercise a week.  Saints are inspiring to the rest of us, but deep down they are also discouraging because they remind us that we are a hundred miles from being saintly ourselves.

Change without force is certainly possible.  What you need is to create a matrix for making better choices. By matrix I simply mean your setup for daily living. Everyone has a matrix already. Some people live inside a setup that makes positive choices much easier than it is for others. A cupboard that doesn’t contain any snack foods would be part of such a matrix. A house without a television or video games would be another, but you aren’t being good to yourself by jogging every day because you have no entertainment at home. In the end the physical side is secondary.  A matrix is more substantial and sustainable.

The real key is to live in an environment where the mind feels free to choose the right thing instead of being compelled by habit and inertia to choose the wrong thing.

Matrix for a Positive Lifestyle

Have good friends.

Don’t isolate yourself.

Sustain a lifelong companionship with a spouse or partner.

Engage socially in worthwhile projects.

Be close with people who have a good lifestyle – habits are contagious.

Follow a purpose in life.

Leave time for play and relaxation.

Keep up satisfying sexual activity.

Address issues around anger.

Practice stress management.

Deal with the reactive mind’s harmful effects: When you have a negative reaction, stop, stand back, take a few deep breaths, and observe how you’re feeling.

These items have been well correlated with longevity. One thing that links them is very basic: success comes when people act together; failure tends to happen alone. A spouse or life partner who keeps an eye on your diet (“Haven’t you already eaten a cookie today? Have a carrot”) is better than wandering the supermarket aisles alone and impulsively grabbing a week’s worth of frozen dinners. A friend who goes to the gym three times a week gives you more incentive than all the promises you make to yourself as you watch Sunday Night Football. It’s important to establish your matrix early and keep it going. Studies have shown that losing a spouse suddenly leads to isolation, depression, higher risk for disease, and ultimately shortened life span. But if you have a wider social network beyond your spouse, you have a cushion against these baleful influences.

The other items on the list should be perused carefully, asking yourself honestly how you can improve your matrix.  The goal is to practice what is good for you while making everything as effortless as possible. This only happens with positive reinforcement. The good news is that as you change your lifestyle, you are training your brain in a positive direction. In time, all the right choices become second nature.  Research has shown that the best way to be happy is to make each day happy. The same holds true for the highest state of health, which is well-being.  Build it day by day and the results will last a lifetime.

Your outer environment is only half the story. In the final post I’ll discuss the second key to lifelong good health, which is  to create the right inner environment, a journey that begins with making the mind-body connection as strong as possible.

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Deepak Chopra: The Real Secret to Staying Healthy for Life (Part 1)

If you want to stay healthy for life, you need to take care of yourself. That’s the conventional wisdom. It’s a frequent guilty reminder when we look in the mirror and realize that we aren’t in the best shape. “I’ve got to start taking better care of myself.” But the real secret to lifelong good health is actually the opposite: Let your body take care of you.

I’m not being contrary. The human body consists of hundreds of billions of cells that function perfectly, and if we were single-celled creatures, immortality would be normal. An amoeba or blue-green algae keeps on living indefinitely by constantly dividing in two to produce the next generation of cells. Absent death from external circumstances such as being eaten or drying up in the sun, one-celled organisms exist in a state of perpetual well-being.

Instead of being disadvantaged by having many cells instead of one, the human body has made tremendous evolutionary leaps. Our cells have perfected special functions for each organ and tissue. They’ve learned to cooperate with one another by staying in constant communication. An immune system keeps watch on threats from the outside world, and if an injury or disease occurs, the healing system rushes in to repair it.

Modern medicine, for all its advances, knows less than 10% of what your body knows instinctively. Humbling as it is to realize, a doctor doesn’t heal his patients. He facilitates the body’s healing system, adding whatever is lacking when self-healing falters. By the same logic, everything you and I do to take care of our bodies is actually just an adjunct to letting our bodies take care of us. Our active role is quite secondary. Yet there is no doubt that it is vital.

What makes it vital is the brain and nervous system. They send a constant stream of messages to the rest of the body, creating a feedback loop of information. One side of the feedback loop runs automatically. The other side supports free will and choice, which means that what you decide to do with your life enters the body’s feedback loop, gets communicated to every cell, and has repercussions. If you ran your body entirely on its automatic processes, you’d be in a coma. As long as you are awake and alive, making choices, you are adding to the feedback loop.

This picture is simple but not simplistic. Despite the incredible complexity of the brain and nervous system, it forms an information highway teeming with messages, and these are either positive (enhancing your health and well-being) or negative (injurious to health and well-being). Your body will take care of you for life if you maximize the one and minimize the other. I doubt that anyone would seriously disagree with that proposition, but then we reach a fork in the road. Modern medicine looks at the body’s feedback loop almost entirely in physical terms. The subjective world of thoughts, feelings, hopes, wishes, and dreams is discounted. If that world intrudes, as it does in depression, for example, the conventional solution is still physical – take an antidepressant.

The other road is holistic, which doesn’t deny the physical but refuses to discount the subjective world. The body doesn’t recognize that there is a fork in the road. A chemical signal sent from the brain fits into a receptor site in the outer membrane of the cell wall. The entire feedback loop runs on that mechanism, and as far as the cell is concerned, there is no difference between a message that began as an emotion or mood and one that began as growth hormone or estrogen. Your body couldn’t survive a single day without being holistic.

Fixating on the physicalist approach, modern medicine has constructed a map to health that puts almost the whole emphasis on physical measures. Exercise is physical, obviously, but so is proper nutrition. Although we take it for granted, sanitation is a physical measure that has probably done more to increase human life span than any kind of drug or surgery. Avoiding toxins is physical, and beyond not smoking and overusing alcohol, there is a growing awareness that environmental toxins we take for granted because our exposure is minuscule, may still have harmful effects. (These include pesticides, herbicides, and hormones that are routinely introduced into the food chain.)

But if you adhered rigorously to the entire physical side, as beneficial as the results might be, you are not really letting your body take care of you. You are basically minimizing risks. A risk-free life is far from being a healthy life. To begin with, the very word “risk” implies worry, and people who worry about every bite of food, sip of water, the air they breathe, the gym sessions they have missed, and the minutiae of vitamin doses, are not sending positive signals to their cells. A stressful day sends constant negative messaging to the feedback loop, and popping a vitamin pill or choosing whole wheat bread instead of white bread does close to zero to change that.

To let your body take care of you, two things are vital:

1. Create a matrix for a positive lifestyle. You can’t make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural, and enjoyable.
2. Create the best inner environment for your brain. The brain processes every experience you have, and it must function well in order for the real controller of your life – the mind – to make its best intentions known.

In the next two posts we will cover these two vital areas in detail.

Read Part 2 and Part 3!

photo by: 50 Watts

Deepak Chopra on The Higher Health, Part 3

America has reached a threshold that will permit us to cross over and reach a state of higher health. We have more than enough proof that prevention should be based on positive lifestyle changes. Yet compliance still remains a problem, with far too few people taking the good advice that we’ve been offered. But leaving the issue of compliance aside, the real breakthrough to higher health doesn’t lie with prevention.

It lies with a new conception of wellness, one that moves beyond long-held assumptions about health. These assumptions include the following:

  • Drugs and surgery are the chief ways to combat illness.
  • The mind-body connection is interesting but too fickle to rely upon.
  • Unique treatment for unique diseases is an illusion; diseases follow a normal course in most people.
  • The intelligence of the body is a speculative, marginal idea.
  • The human body is a structure made up of many complex smaller structures.
  • Disease and health are essentially materialistic.
  • Spontaneous remissions and the placebo effect are curious phenomena, while “real” medicine is a numbers game.

All of these assumptions are hidden just beneath the surface in medical education, the attitudes of physicians, and the common public discourse about illness. They have been slow to change, yet for thirty years the possibility of a new set of assumptions has been expanding. What would wellness look like if we tossed out — or at least challenged the standard accepted notions in this list? We would look on each person as the author of sickness and wellness. Every treatment would be tailored to the individual. The body’s intelligence would be the first line of information about how sick or well a person is, long before serious symptoms arise. And arching over all these ideas, consciousness would be the control center for both mind and body.

I promised practical guidelines to higher health in this installment, but I needed to lay out these new goals first. If you don’t know where you’re heading, you will approach wellness in a haphazard, piecemeal, usually emotional way. Here we know that we want to become the authors of our own wellness. That’s the biggest goal, the one that all practical matters must serve.

So the practical matters that make the most sense fall into two categories: things to do and things to avoid.

Things to do:

  1. Practice prevention — you already know what this means in terms of diet, exercise, and not smoking.
  2. Keep in mind a vision of living an active, healthy life well into your eighties.
  3. Work first and foremost on your inner sense of well-being.
  4. Actively take measures to reduce stress. This includes getting eight hours of sleep a night without fail.
  5. Find out who you really are — a secure, flexible sense of self is a great preventive of illness.
  6. Be easy about diet but head toward less fat, red meat, processed food, refined sugar and carbohydrates, along with a balance of food groups that favors fruits and vegetables.
  7. Learn to meditate. If that’s not possible, take two breaks a day where you sit silently and alone to collect yourself.
  8. Associate with people who share your positive outlook, uphold your spiritual ideals, and delve into the world’s wisdom traditions.
  9. Express and share your emotions. Take steps to get rid of toxic emotions.
  10. Find an outlet for love, which means both being loved and showing love.

Things to avoid:

  1. Don’t obsess about diet and exercise.
  2. Don’t wait for others to cure you after you’ve failed to practice prevention.
  3. Don’t attach hope to miracle cures as a reason to avoid lifestyle changes.
  4. Don’t do what you know to be wrong.
  5. On the whole, don’t bother with vitamins and supplements unless there is a good medical reason to take them.
  6. Don’t take unnecessary medications, and reduce those you must take to a sensible minimum.
  7. Don’t wait to correct hypertension and overweight, which cause long-term damage even though they are slow-acting.
  8. Don’t haunt the doctor’s office.
  9. Don’t fall for medical scares and fad disorders.
  10. Don’t put yourself in high-stress situations thinking that you can handle them. In the same vein, don’t fool yourself that you can go short on sleep for more than two nights.

None of these measures is surprising, yet surveys indicate that few among us actually follow them. The main surprise, if there is one, has to do with consciousness, putting your inner sense of well-being first and foremost.

The body’s intelligence always goes back to the feedback loops that sustain every cell, tissue, and organ. These loops are in process; they aren’t material structures like the liver and kidneys.  You don’t have direct control over invisible processes like liver enzymes and the rise and fall of hormones. Yet if you are secure in being the author of your own existence, your body gets the message, and then you can have confidence that it will reflect your positive awareness through a state of wellness.

I am sorry to paint with such a broad brush. Many people want a specific answer about cancer or Alzheimer’s. Already suffering from ill health, they want an alternative to conventional drugs and surgery — which for most means that their goal is immediate, painless healing. Such healing does exist, but it is elusive, unpredictable, and quite variable. One day the higher health will encompass healing treatments that today exist only at the fringes. Our understanding isn’t there yet, which is why we continue to explore in the world’s traditional healing systems, East and West. What I’ve offered here seems general, but it is powerful nonetheless. Becoming the author of your own life is a high spiritual goal, but the body shouldn’t be left behind on the journey. In the end, the body benefits from the path to higher consciousness as much as the mind and spirit.

For a limited time you can enter to win a ticket to Deepak Chopra’s Path to Love Workshop by submitting a short video of your favorite poem, song or Valentine’s expression to a loved one. Click here to enter.

 

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Deepak Chopra on Higher Health (Part 2)

In Part 1 of The Higher Health we discussed the possibility that higher health was possible, reaching beyond our current conception of wellness. Such an advance depends on two things. The first, which isn’t new, is to comply with current prevention measures that too many people ignore.  The words “diet, exercise, and stress management” roll off the tongue so easily that many have learned to ignore them. Yet recent research confirms just how crucial these lifestyle choices are.

For much of the recent past, prevention has been focused on recognized lifestyle disorders like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is now it is becoming clear, however, that the body as a whole is being affected. For example, inflammation, which has long been known to be damaging to our tissues and organs, is now believed to be linked far more broadly to all kinds of possible disorders, including cancer. If you are not complying with prevention, there is mounting evidence that your choice to avoid exercise, ignore stress, and eat a diet high in calories and fat will lead to bad results over time.

The reason for this conclusion is more obscure than anyone ever supposed, and it leads to the second platform of higher health: working with your body’s intelligence.  The notion of the body’s intelligence is more than three decades old, and it is based on the discovery of “messenger molecules.” These molecules are floating chemicals that interconnect the brain with various parts of the body.  The average doctor and patient don’t think much about how cells communicate; yet, three decades on, we know with a certainty that the human body is a vast process, not just a structure.  Every cell’s outer membrane is a kind of antenna that constantly monitors what the rest of the body is doing, feeling, thinking, and processing. As the messages shift, so does the cell. The result is holistic and dynamic, which is to say, every part participates in the whole and no change can affect one cell without affecting all the others.

Here lies the real frontier of higher health. If you look on your body as a feedback loop within which are thousands of smaller feedback loops, the system must contain the following:

– Messages in and messages out

– Senders and controllers of information

– balancing mechanisms

– Flexible limits for action and reaction

Higher health emerges from gaining control over these parameters. They sound like abstractions, but they are the basis for how cells live, eat, and breathe. Forty years ago, cells we didn’t believe cells did much else. But now we realize that cells are participatory — everything you do, they do. This includes your moods, beliefs, expectations, fears, and dreams. Your brain registers the subjective side of life, yet the inner world includes trillions of cells that do not speak or think verbally. They participate through the dynamics of biochemistry, non-verbally but just as present in the moment – or stuck in the past – as you.

In practical terms, when you take a bite of food or get on a treadmill, you are talking to your cells, sending messages back and forth. You are adding to a sense of control or subtracting from it (i.e., allowing random and habitual messages to dominate). You are going into balance or out of balance. You are becoming more flexible in your responses or less. Ultimately, you are responsible, at the level of self-awareness, for maintaining a complete world as it expands or contracts, goes in and out of crisis, confronts challenges, and so on.

The fact that every road leads to the body’s intelligence is crucial here, because it implies that you have more control (over input and output, balance and imbalance, flexibility or rigidity) than some mechanical agent like your genes or the involuntary nervous system.  Because the body is a process, structures come second. This is a big reversal from the generally-accepted paradigm, as medical education has always been first and foremost about structures (cells, tissues, hormones). The goal of Western medicine has been to standardize diseases — fixing each one in a tight, isolated cause-and-effect scheme. But if you look at a key system like the immune system, once described as a battle ground between the body and invading germs, it becomes evident that all kinds of common things — being fat, losing your spouse, getting fired, having inflamed joints — are inescapably linked to how strong or weak your immune system is.

In short, holistic health has become inevitable. A piecemeal approach to wellness doesn’t fit how your body works. It is no longer “alternative” medicine that concerns itself with broad issues of holistic wellness. The need is universal, and the sooner we begin to lay down practical guidelines for living holistically, the closer we will come to higher health. In the next post I’ll cover some proposed guidelines.

 Stay tuned for Part 3…

 

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Is Your Body Ready For A Miracle? This May Be It

A male client tells his psychotherapist he is having difficulty turning his neck from side to side without experiencing excruciating pain.  Another female client reacts to a new relationship, which on the surface looks and feels good, but when her partner speaks in a certain tone to her; she feels a sense of dread in her gut.  Another client comes in carrying a baby blanket to help her feel safe from a flood of emotions too painful to ignore, but too difficult to express.  What all these clients seem to be exhibiting is a history of un-resolved trauma and emotional pain that is so debilitating, it can only be felt in their bodies, but cannot be expressed verbally.  In these types of cases, psychotherapy that accesses the bodies felt senses may be the best treatment to un-earth these chronic symptoms that many suffer from in the aftermath of intense trauma and emotional pain.  Some of these treatments include Somatic Experiencing, Whole Body Consciousness, or Psychodrama.

The different types of trauma can come from a host of past experiences such as childhood neglect or abandonment, physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, an auto accident, a divorce, a sudden death of a loved one, or even a natural disaster such as an earthquake.  Although these clients may not be able to verbalize their pain, their bodies speak for themselves.  There is a knowing that something doesn’t feel quite right.  Some of these symptoms show up later as an increased heart rate, sweating, trouble breathing, muscular tension, chronic fatigue, digestive problems, depression, or anxiety.   Some of the ways people deal with these traumatic pasts are to numb out, freeze, disassociate, or even go into denial.  This is the body’s way of protecting itself from traumatic experiences that were too severe to have been endured at the time they happened.  For example, many sexually abused individuals report an “out of body” experience when perpetuated by the abuser.  It is as if their body is there, but their mind disappears so as not to have to feel the emotional pain of the abuse.  If these body messages are not dealt with, many trauma victims turn to other ways to self soothe or self-medicate such as addictions to food, sex, drugs, alcohol, spending,  self-mutilation, and other self defeating behaviors.  Other symptoms of un-resolved trauma can stay underground for years and suddenly a major stressor erupts, and a person develops panic attacks or a feeling of being detached or dead inside.

When a person is threatened, the body stores energy to help defend against the danger, however, when the energy is not discharged properly at the time of the event, it becomes blocked in the body only to show up later when there is a life altering event in a person’s life. This is when it usually shows up as anxiety, panic attacks, or even phobias such as fear of flying or fear of driving on freeways.

Other examples of symptoms that occur when un-resolved emotional pain is not dealt with might be denial where a person acts as if an intolerable event never occurred or he or she might be drawn to situations that replicate the original childhood trauma.  For example, a person chooses a partner that is an alcoholic similar to an alcoholic parent from his or her family of origin. This type of behavior is a person’s way of unconsciously re-doing the past to get it right.  In other words, it is a coping mechanism people use to deal with un-resolved emotional pain that has not been processed.

When unresolved trauma is not worked through, individuals have difficulty setting boundaries.  When a person goes through a major traumatic event, he or she becomes disconnected from his or her body.  Therefore, he or she doesn’t know where boundaries begin or where they end.  They might let others take advantage of them because they do not know how to say “no” or become extremely co-dependent in their relationships.

The goal of body psychotherapy is to be able to begin to correlate thoughts with body sensations.  By being able to make the connection, a person learns not to respond in the usual habitual ways.  For instance, when you are triggered by a boss or a loved one, you become aware of the body sensations that are being effected and can respond appropriately versus impulsively.

There are various therapeutic methods to track the felt senses in the body.  One way to heal trapped energy or past emotional pain is to become present to your bodies sensations by noticing the subtle changes that occur when you are upset or when you feel joy.

“In somatic experiencing you initiate your own healing by re-integrating lost or fragmented positions of your essential self.” (Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Peter A. Levine, 1997).  This is a method by which the psychotherapist helps the client access the felt senses in the body when he shares both difficult material from the past, as well as experiences that are pleasant.

As we develop, we learn to disconnect from our body awareness through the socialization processes.  We learn to role model from parents, teachers, and other authority figures that teach us what is right and wrong.  When we begin to explore the world around us, we are told to “sit down” or “be still” when what we should be doing is exploring our environments with a sense of curiosity and excitement.  These messages encourage us to shut down losing touch with the energy force that lies within us.

“The gap between body and mind stems from programming that encourages us to be quiet and repress our feelings in the interest of being stoic and well behaved.” (What’s your body telling you? Listening to your body’s signals to stop anxiety, erase self-doubt, and achieve true wellness, Steve Sisgold, 2009).

Some examples of whole body consciousness are learning how to deep breathe, scanning the whole body for changes and witnessing the sensation as they move, meditation, or learning how to alter body positions.

When you expand your chest, you are more likely to access uplifting and positive thoughts versus shrinking your shoulders which represents a negative thought process.  In meditation, you learn to be a curious observer of your thoughts instead of trying to control them. You learn how to regulate your reactions towards yourself, others, and situations instead of acting out inappropriately.  Suddenly your relationships improve because you are no longer a victim of un-processed trauma where energy has been stagnated, but rather the energy now flows more freely and smoothly and your reactions come from a more balanced and mindful place.  You begin to be able to cope with un-comfortable situations in a more peaceful fashion making decisions from a grounded position versus not thinking things through.

Another type of body psychotherapy is psychodrama which is a type of role play that allows individuals to rework relationships with others and with themselves.  It is a way to correct distorted views of how they might have seen others.  This is done through role reversal by putting themselves in another person’s position. It allows them to feel re-empowered and restore a sense of safety where they might have felt helpless in the past.  It allows individuals to see how others might be viewing them by receiving feedback so they can change self-destructive behavior patterns.

Finally, when you learn to access your body’s innate wisdom and investigate emotions that have been repressed, you get the opportunity to un-leash un-tapped energy so that you can move more freely and easily.  By releasing deep seated pain and old wounds, you begin to feel empowered and nothing or no one will be able to hold you back from being the creative, resourceful, and brilliant person you are meant to be.

Wisdom Within The Temple Teleseminar: Accessing the Body as the Gateway to Healing  http://www.mcleanmasterworks.com/sherry-gaba/somatic/

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