We live in a world obsessed with materialism, and our medical system reflects this viewpoint. Western medicine should certainly be lauded for its tenacious attempts to understand physical body—the knowledge yielded through its tireless examinations has been translated into solutions for countless health problems.
But in many ways, we’ve taken this one dimensional approach too far. For too long, we’ve insisted on viewing health problems as isolated terms rather than parts in a greater system. And we’ve divorced the body from the mind and soul, claiming that the latter have no place in “legitimate” medical practice.
This close-minded approach seemingly worked for a little while, but now the jig is up. It’s becoming more and more abundantly clear that our society’s isolated approach to healing (and everything else, for that matter) is taking its toll.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are rising at such an alarming rate that experts are beginning conversations in earnest about the scary proposition of living in a post-antibiotic world. Attempts at controlling mental health through physical drugs have all but failed (at least if our sky-rocketing rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and every other kind of mental illness are any indication). All the fancy and expensive medical technology in the world cannot seem to stem the tide of debilitating and deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia—all of which affect more and more people every year.
We could go on, but you probably get the picture.
The moral that we’re learning is this: health is about more than just the physical body. Maintenance of our mental health matters (and taking a pill every day isn’t going to cut it); our emotions directly affect our physical health; and even our sense of spiritual connectedness (or lack thereof) profoundly impacts our health.
These non-physical aspects of our health need to be tended to just as meticulously as our blood pressure, our weight, and our ailing biomarkers. In fact, as many people are finding out, if attention isn’t given to the “mind and spirit” part of the equation, our attempts to preserve the health of the physical body can all be for naught.
During this holiday season, when you’re struggling with all the stress and emotional malaise that accompanies last-minute shopping, crammed schedules, and coexisting with family members, just remember to take moments to care for your non-physical well-being.
A new (and old) way of thinking
All of this isn’t to say that we should disregard medicine that focuses on the physical body. Now that we’re beginning to inch away from toxic pharmaceuticals and invasive surgeries back to nature’s pharmacopeia of healing foods and natural substances, a whole new vista of “body medicine” is opening up.
But what about medicine for the mind and for the soul?
Embracing this kind of healing requires a fundamentally different kind of thinking—one that accepts the intimate connection between the body, mind, and spirit. We can still test these non-physical parts of ourselves with the scientific method, but we have to begin by accepting that they’re just as real as the physical body, and that they play an essential role in our health.
For example, studies have now been conducted that demonstrate how negative and stressful emotions can make you sick, how kundalini yoga can be used to overcome addictions and mental disorders, and how meditation practice can alleviate a wide variety of health problems. Scientific data is a wonderful tool for validating these ideas and practices, but someone had to be willing to give meditation and emotional management techniques a chance to begin with.
We’re making progress, but we still have a long way to go. Few doctors will follow up a disease diagnosis by telling you to change your diet, begin a meditation practice, and adopt a method such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for processing your emotions. Even most conventional psychiatrists and psychologists will just prescribe you pharmaceuticals.
But the fact that psychology even exists as a scientific discipline (this “study of the mind” wasn’t even legitimized until the 1950’s), and the fact that the world is overflowing with resources for mental, emotional, and spiritual healing, is immensely promising.
We’re beginning to return to a holistic manner of thinking that is ancient. For a brief spell, our society lost itself in the excitement of modern, reductionist medicine—but we’re remembering that the healing systems that have sustained cultures around the globe for millennia are far richer, more systems-oriented, and more in touch with all that lies beyond the body.
What all of this means for you
It’s very simple, actually: just remember that, contrary to popular opinion, you are so more than just your physical body.
If you are not happy, your physical health will suffer. If you do not feel fulfilled in your life, your physical health will suffer. And if you do not feel connected to something greater than yourself (whether this takes the form of a spiritual belief, creative inspiration, or an impassioned life purpose), your physical health will probably suffer.
This means that, if you’re dealing with some kind of health problem, you need to examine every aspect of your life (not just your body) in order to find the solution. By all means, start with the body: carry out the necessary tests, and take the necessary measures. But don’t put all your faith in drugs and medical procedures. Go further—examine your diet and lifestyle practices, explore natural alternatives to pharmaceuticals, and take a look at everything holistic medicine has to offer.
Once you feel you have all your physical bases covered, allow yourself to entertain a more radical possibility: maybe your physical ailments have little to do with your physical body. See if you can find any “blockages” in your life. Do you always feel stressed out? Are you unhappy at your job? Are you having relationship issues? What are you passionate about, and are you engaging with it on an ongoing basis? Do you have a spiritual practice?
If this is new territory for you, know that it’s just fine to take baby steps. Check out this article on emotional healing, and begin to explore the mind-body connection through a simple meditation practice. Opening to this more all-encompassing definition of health will make all the difference.