Health. What is it? How should it be defined? The messages we receive regarding health, nutrition, physical exercise and more are controversial amongst varying experts.
According to Merriam-Webster, health is:
- The condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit, freedom from physical disease or pain and/or the general condition of the body
- A condition in which someone or something is thriving or doing and/or general condition or state
Most people would agree on the definition that the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers us and more recently many would agree that health is beyond just the physical body and that overall health and physical well-being is directly connected to the state of the mind and spirit as well.
The latest research continues to reaffirm that the body, mind and spirit are intertwined and when there is a lack of balance, this oftentimes manifests itself as symptoms in the physical body.
According to the National Institute of Whole Health, there are five aspects one must address in order to find a true sense of health and well-being.
When assessing one’s health and well-being one must consider the physical state of the body, nutritional choices, the environment one lives and works, and the emotional condition and spiritual life of an individual.
Because these fives aspects are so interrelated, if just one is out of balance then all five aspects are out of balance effecting the state of one’s well-being.
In order to create optimal health and in order to thrive, one must seek to nurture all five aspects of whole health.
So Where Does One Begin?
As a yoga teacher, holistic health educator and fascial stretch therapist, my first suggestion to a client is to begin journaling.
I like to encourage clients to do automatic writing first thing in the morning, tapping into that stream of consciousness and just write down whatever comes to mind without editing.
This is a great way to begin to notice what is on one’s mind, how one is feeling and what issues or stressors may be present. Within the same journal, or possibly different one, begin keeping a food diary.
Simply write down what is being consumed each and every day, along with noting feelings and energy levels about half hour after eating.
Initially, the idea behind journaling is to do some self-inquiry work to find out more about one’s inner life. Oftentimes the inner life influences our outer life, and as one better understands herself, he/she can and will begin to make changes.
The Inner World
What does journaling reveal? What is going on inside? How are you feeling? What are your stressors? How are these stressors affecting your life? What feelings do the stressors invoke?
What are your spiritual beliefs? Does your spirituality and relationship with a Higher Power effect your emotions and the way you deal with the stressors that come up?
The inner world of emotions and how the body adapts to emotions has a direct effect on the health and well being of an individual. Whether the body is undergoing stress due to positive events or negative events, the body still has to adapt to the changes.
When an individual does not have a toolbox full of coping techniques, the body cannot relax in order to return to a peaceful and balanced state.
When the body is in a constant state of chronic stress due to one’s inability to cope with various situations, the body goes into what is called ‘fight-or-flight’.
Fight-or-flight is a great place to be if one has been placed in a situation where one must make the decision to fight or flee, such as if one is being followed in a dark alley.
However due to the many stressors today whether these stressors are emotional, relationship, financial, work-related to name a few coupled with the busy-ness of life, remaining in a constant state of chronic stress takes a toll on the physical body.
Finding the necessary stress management skills will be one of the most valuable things one can add to his/ her life skills.
These may include: exercise, meditation. breath-work, spending time in nature, using a stress ball or fidget toy, journaling, petting a dog or cat, spending time with friends, yoga, Pilates, attending church or synagogue to name a few.
Seeing and talking with a counselor may help. Finding the coping tools that work for you will be the key to all five aspects of your health as stress directly effects your nutritional, physical, emotional, environmental and spiritual health.
When the body becomes stressed, the body is no longer in a homeostatic condition, the body begins to use energy stores, depleting the body of adequate nutritional needs as one prepares to fight or flee.
During chronic stress, the Vagus nerve will not function properly inhibiting the digestion of food, so nutritional needs of the body increase.
Because the body is working to meet the needs to what it thinks is to fight or flee a potentially dangerous situation, the digestive system, immune system, reproductive system begin to shut down, while the respiratory and cardiovascular system begin to fire in order to enhance the chance of survival.
During a real fight or flight situation, one’s goal would simply be to survive. Because the serotonin levels in the body decrease and the desire to feel good can be satiated with more food, the body will naturally seek to come back into balance, and the body will crave and consume more foods in order to return to homeostasis.
Even if consuming a perfectly balance diet full of plenty of raw fruits and veggies, the correct ratio of protein, fats and carbohydrate, the body will not be able to assimilate if under chronic stress.
More often than not, digestive issues are caused by stress and in most cases chronic stress. Most individuals are not faced with simply trying to survive by hunting and gathering their foods or looking for shelter.
Most individuals have their basic needs met and so it is important to begin looking at the bigger picture regarding how other things may be contributing to the chronic stress.
The emotional life of an individual definitely plays a role, as well as the environment in which one lives and works.
There is an emotional component to one’s environment. Who are the people in your life, whether at home or at work?
Are the relationships in your life conducive to leading a healthy lifestyle? Are the relationships at home and work healthy?
Do you have clear communication and understanding within your relationships, or do you need to work creating a space that allows for open and authentic dialogue between you and those you love?
Are there relationships in your life that really support you in achieving your health and wellness goals, and are there relationships that you need to re-evaluate? How are your relationships serving you and the lifestyle are trying to create?
Occasionally it is the relationships and people in our lives that can contribute to a toxic environment that would ultimately effect our emotions in a negative way.
And of course are your physical surroundings safe? Are both home and work environments clean and free of toxins?
If one is living or working in an environment with poor air quality or known carcinogens, a factory with chemicals these will have an effect on the body long term, but possibly even short term.
Assessing one’s emotional and physical environment, making changes to improve the quality of one’s environment will also be a key player in finding health and wellness.
And finally, what type of spiritual path are you on? Are you affiliated with a specific religion, church or community? Do you have faith in a power greater than yourself?
Are you living in alignment with the deeper Truth that resonates with in you? There is no right or wrong when it comes to a spiritual path.
Spirituality is an individual journey and when one is not living in alignment with what he/she feels or knows in their heart to be true, there will be a disconnect within the mind and body.
Having faith and our belief system has been shown over and over again to improve the quality of one’s life.
Many new age philosophers believe that we create our reality based on our beliefs and so it is very important to choose those thoughts and beliefs wisely.
In conclusion, it is very important when your goal is optimal health and you want to live a life full of vitality, you must look at the five aspects of whole health: physical, nutritional, emotional, environmental and spiritual.
Begin to consider where you might be out of balance and which areas need nurturing, and/ or which areas you need to begin to cultivate or integrate more of into your life. Finding balance in all five will contribute to overall wellness and your chances of thriving!
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