A New Year, A New You: Some Perspectives on Integrative Health and Healing
Posted on December 7, 2015 at 10:05 am
Co-written with Allie Stark, MA, RYT
In the world of wellness, the New Year is a business opportunity. The health industry can’t help but take advantage of the many people looking for salves, supplements, and “booty busting” exercises to make you, the best new you. And while eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and de-cluttering your house are certainly of value, they can also be distractions; one-off actions focused on symptoms rather than deeper forces at play.
Rather than seeing our health concerns accurately–as linked to our own mind/bodies and the world around us–we often tend to look beyond ourselves for explanations and solutions. It is important for us to understand why we see the world in the ways that we do. Otherwise we will seek answers that are of limited scope and value.
Our way of thinking
Many of the systems we use to organize our lives–educational, economic, and health care—owe their structures to a reductive methodology. School subjects are broken into mathematics, literature, foreign languages, sociology, anthropology, anatomy, chemistry, on and on. Business is chopped into many departments (specialties), while organizing power hierarchies from top to the bottom. Health care, in turn, is dominated by specialties and specialists—neurologist, orthopedist, gastroenterologist, and nephrologist.
Allopathic medicine: benefits and limits
Let’s be clear: allopathic biomedicine has achieved the miraculous. Antibiotics, antivirals, and surgeries have saved millions of lives. However, the diseases that now plague us are systemic, life-style diseases that do not respond to a specific drug or laser focused surgical procedure. These “new” diseases are not amenable to diagnosis and treatment with a reductionist approach. However, because our medical education system has been built upon a model of specialization, it is estimated that the health care system will be 40,000 doctors short of where it needs to be in the primary care arena by 2020.
Ancient wisdom, modern healing
Lao Tzu is believed to have created the ancient Chinese philosophical system known as Taoism. Taoism is a set of beliefs, attitudes, and practices, designed to help each person understand their true nature and provides tools to live in harmony with that nature. Lao Tzu describes life as a constantly fluctuating state. We are energetic beings, embedded in a great cosmic field, absorbing and transmitting these energies. If we live in harmony with these forces, according to Taoist philosophy, we will enjoy lives of health and contentment. If we resist the Way of the Tao, and live out of balance, we will experience sickness and unhappiness. In a state of balance, the body/mind is better able to heal itself.
Taoism sees sickness as a function of imbalance rather than the result of some specific, reducible phenomena.
The integrative approach
If you are suffering from a health problem that can most easily be diagnosed within the reductive, biomedical system, such as a ruptured appendix or a broken bone, see a medical doctor. However, if it is a vague illness like chronic fatigue or digestive distress (once pathology like infection has been ruled out), allopathic medicine may not provide you with the appropriate tools to help restore balance, or empower you to look within for the answers you need to heal.
Ideally, our health system would consist of a comprehensive model of care – and we are indeed inching closer towards integration. There are now clinics that include medical doctors, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists, and health coaches. But these are still few and far between.
Meanwhile, it is possible to create your own team of alternative/complementary practitioners. Individuals who will not only work with you to determine the sources of imbalance in your life, but will also provide you with useful lifestyle tools. Working together, you will be asked to engage in practices of self-inquiry: Are you moving your body, eating properly, and getting adequate sleep? Are you satisfied with your work, living your passion, speaking your truth and happy in your personal and professional relationships? The answers to these questions will enable you to put together a plan that will address your chief complaints and encourage you to take responsibility for your own healing.
Within you/Without you
Although we have been taught to look outside of ourselves for the causes of our ailments, most often the deepest truths about the origins of our suffering lie within. And yet, because we spend so much time in outward focus, not taking responsibility for our own actions, reactions, and emotions, we often miss these soft whisperings. Learning to access the inner voices of our body, mind, and spirit is often the first step of the healing journey. In our modern lives filled with busy-ness and distractions this can be hard to do. But no one can do this except ourselves.
So yes: Let’s exercise and eat well and organize our closets in the New Year! But let us first sit quietly and see if we can hear our inner truths speaking. Even if it is the quietest of sounds, it is in the act of listening that our healing journey begins.
Dr. Ricky Fishman has been a San Francisco based chiropractor since 1986. In addition to the treatment of back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries, he works as a consultant in the field of health and wellness with companies dedicated to re-visioning health care for the 21st century.
Allie Stark, MA, RYT works as a health and nutrition coach, wellness consultant, and yoga instructor for individuals and organizations. She is committed to supporting clients in setting and enacting lifestyle and behavioral goals in fields including: integrative nutrition, stress management, empowerment and leadership, compassionate communication, functional movement, and mindfulness.