As the old world order crumbles, mind-body medicine is increasingly becoming accepted as the new health paradigm, says Chandrika Gibson.
Is there such a thing as perfect health? If so, what does that mean? From a material science point of view, perfect health is a body that functions unfailingly, that is free from pain, discomfort and signs and symptoms of disease. Perhaps a functioning brain would be included in that definition, but what of the mind? As science evolves, the understanding of the mind, particularly as it affects the body, is becoming more advanced. This is the growing field of mind-body medicine.
Perfection of the body implies a sort of ultimate goal, a finishing line or end point which is fixed, stationary. Once it is achieved (theoretically), maintenance would be required, but not necessarily healing. In the material paradigm, there is only scope for healing when something has gone wrong with the body. Yet the body is never stationary - rather, it is in a constant state of flux with cells continually going through their processes of growth, maintenance, replication and death. Certain cells are better suited to this rapid turnover than others. Cardiac cells and those of nerve tissue are the least adept at renewal. Other cells are very rapid in their renewal, but occasionally become ultra efficient and grow into tumours. Healing occurs continually when the body cleans up after these aberrant cells, macrophages dead cells and fights off infections before symptoms are felt.
Holistic healing that embraces the mind and body sees health as an ongoing process. While the physical structure of the body will eventually break down, thinking holistically means caring for the body as a temple, seeing it as a vehicle for the soul to maximise opportunities for learning in this lifetime.
Even as the physical body degenerates in disease or natural ageing, healing is possible if it is healing of the states of mind that cause the person to lack energy, to feel unwell or suffer.
At rest, we are continually healing. The physical body is renewing and regenerating, old cells are dying off and new, vital structures are being formed. This process happens effectively for the first 40 or so years of our lives. According to yogic science, after that time, the process of regeneration slows and the body shows signs of ageing. Ageing is the process whereby decay and degeneration slowly but surely outweigh renewal and growth. It is easier then for younger bodies to heal after surgery, illness or trauma. This is because of vitality, that subtle flow of energy through the mind to the body. So while excellent nutrition and appropriate exercise can slow the signs of ageing, it is in the mind that happiness is felt, and from the mind that energy flows.
Holistic healing includes an understanding that goes beyond the health of the physical body to include all states of mind, both blissful and painful, a personal journey experienced as being unique to each human being and yet shared with all of life in an interconnecting web. The realisation that we are interdependent on all life, part of a wondrous ecosystem, held within the arms of the universal parent and unable to exist separately from the rest of life is an evolutionary leap people take to embrace holism.
Such a perspective gives rise to many questions - "Why are we here?" "What is my purpose?" "What role should I play and how can offer something positive to the collective?" "What happens after my physical body dies?" and "What's the point of life anyway?"
Seekers, sages and teachers from all traditions live holistically in answer to these profound questions. In these times of great uncertainty, wise people are preparing themselves to experience life from a deeper perspective. The current crumbling of capitalism and the loss of external luxuries on which modern people hinge their happiness and sense of self has long been predicted. Yogis speak of the impending end of Kali Yuga, an age of materialism, to be followed by a new golden age of spirituality. This is a crucial time to seek healing for those issues that hold you back from shining in your full radiance.
So what does it mean to heal yourself? Do you require expensive therapy, elaborate treatment protocols, to regress back to childhood traumas you'd rather forget? Not necessarily. It is a deeply personal choice where some therapies will hold more value for you than others. There are so many possibilities and a holistic magazine such as this is a wonderful resource for healing. But the foundation for healing must come from within - no one can take your journey for you. You are a unique snowflake, with the wisdom of many lifetimes, and you can be your own best therapist. That doesn't mean you never need help from others - of course it makes sense to have a suitable person facilitate some aspects of your healing, but they cannot be responsible for your states of mind. Only you can do that. This self responsibility is at the core of holistic healing. The natural therapist or holistic practitioner is there as a guide or teacher, passing on useful knowledge and tools to educate and empower their clients.
This open dialogue between client and therapist echoes the Bhagavad Gita's discussion between Krishna (the wise, experienced knower) and Arjuna (the courageous seeker). It is the opposite to the old paternalistic paradigm of "doctor knows best". In the age of information accessibility, it is normal for clients to be very well informed about their condition. This allows them to understand terminology and seek out information about treatments, their efficacy and any side effects. It also allows the therapist or health professional to work in conjunction with the client, to be the supportive "knower" who walks beside them as they find their own healing solutions.
The focus of healing in modern times has been largely centred on the body. Medical testing has had to focus on the measurable, quantifiable molecular level, using increasingly sensitive technology to extend the scope of our five physical senses. The definition of health has been an absence of symptoms. Yet even the World Health Organisation agrees that health is a sense of wellbeing which encompasses mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, as well as a functioning physical body.
Holistic healers in all cultures and traditions have been able to utilise their minds as a sixth sensory organ, to intuitively and often very accurately assess, diagnose and treat problems at all levels of the being. It has been a shared understanding, with different language appropriate to different times and places, which sees that health stems from the mind down to the body. Now modern science is supporting this ancient wisdom. It has been shown that in people suffering from depression, the platelets in the blood are stickier, leaving them at higher risk of blood clots, heart disease and heart attacks. According to yogic science, the vritti (thought form) of hope/hopelessness in the heart chakra affects the flow of prana or lifeforce to the physical heart. The two paradigms of subtle healing and gross anatomical medicine are coming much closer together as practitioners realise there is much to be learnt from each other.
Naturopathic colleges have always taught the biomedical sciences alongside holistic modalities. Now medical schools are placing greater emphasis on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). There is a burgeoning association of holistically minded GPs in Australia coming together under the banner of the Australian Integrative Medicine Association. GPs with an interest in CAM can undertake courses of study to broaden their abilities to treat people as unique, valued individuals, rather than calling a set of symptoms by a disease name and treating with drugs or surgery. Now there are more doctors prescribing rest, relaxation, meditation, exercise, yoga and nutritional changes. Some have revisited the simple, yet soothing, hot lemon and honey drink for minor colds, rather than the stereotypical mass prescription of antibiotics.
It seems it has been a critical mass of individuals seeking support for healing in a holistic way that has tipped the balance in favour of natural medicines, regardless of their chosen practitioner. Rather than sticking to the old "us and them" mentality, the new wave of medicine embraces all the healing arts and sciences. In the huge diversity of our global community, there is a need for the vast continuum of healing. Just as there are many paths to enlightenment, there are many avenues of healing. From orthomolecular nutrition to astrology, deep tissue massage to flower essences and including all the modalities of acupuncture, chiropractic, pharmacology, surgery, nature cures, fasting, colonic irrigation, tai chi, chi kung, yoga in all its forms, psychotherapy, chanting, herbal medicine, homoeopathy, colour therapy, aromatherapy, crystal healing, counselling, visualisation, the list goes on.
As individuals find themselves distressed, exhausted or uncomfortable with their states of mind, whether or not that manifests as physical symptoms, they are inclined to seek healing. Given the huge array of techniques available, it makes sense to feel your way into your healing journey. For some, the first practitioner they meet becomes their trusted guide. More often, people find clues and inspiration from a variety of sources, sometimes settling into the practice of one particular discipline as they find a meaningful path for themselves. At times, they will seek out a practitioner, but mostly they will read, meditate, perhaps attend classes and workshops, associate with uplifting friends and seek every day to dive deeper.
As the journey progresses and health on all levels improves, they may find themselves a beacon of light for others. Imagine the planet from far out in space - flickering like tiny candles are those hundreds of thousands of healers, self realised or ideal leaders, teachers, parents, and loving companions on the journey. Alone, they are tiny sparks of light. But when seen collectively, the force of light, of goodness, of non-material wealth is powerful. As you embark on the next leg of your journey, I encourage you to join with these light workers, to embrace the massive paradigm shift of planet earth and become the healthy, healed and whole self you know you can be.
Chandrika Gibson ND is a holistic yoga teacher and naturopath