Great sages, physicians, and masters of all cultures and all times have identified a few simple keys to health: proper breath; nutrition; inner cleansing; moderate exercise; enough rest; a positive, now-focused outlook, and living in harmony with nature. In my practice as a naturopath and energy healer, I am continually drawn back to these basic elements of health, yet I still find that very few people truly understand how vital they are.
As we achieve wellness and balance in any of the seven key areas, the benefits also spread into the other areas, making our task of achieving total wellness that much easier. When each area of our life and health is brought into wellness, we are raised from just feeling ‘well enough’ to a level of unprecedented health and wellbeing. But even making small improvements in these seven are as of health will deliver benefits, helping us feel stronger and healthier in body, mind and spirit.
When we do not breathe correctly, we seriously affect our physiological and mental health. We deprive our cells of necessary oxygen, and of the life-force (or prana) that is carried within it. Shallow breathing contributes to the release of histamine, a chemical that causes allergic reactions, promotes inflammation, and contributes to asthma. Lactic acid builds up in the brain, affecting our moods and mental acuity; lymphatic fluids are not pumped through the body, which means that cellular waste cannot be properly eliminated.
All this means that poor breathing leads to a build up of toxins and wastes in the body while restricting the body’s supply of healing, balancing, energizing life force or prana. This creates a vicious circle of escalating illness, and affects our psychological wellbeing. Correct breathing and regular deep breathing clears the body of pollutants, and also clears and calms the mind.
I consider the major cause of disease in our times to be toxic overload, where the body is struggling under a burden of accumulated toxins, and can no longer safely get rid of them with normal detoxification processes.
We are continually bombarded with toxins in our air, water and soil, our food, and even our homes. When we are healthy, not overly stressed, eat wholesome, fresh foods, and limit our exposure to environmental toxins, our bodies can probably detoxify themselves naturally. Inner cleansing and elimination processes are continuously at work, clearing our bodies of waste and harmful substances that we have eaten, breathed in, or absorbed through our skin.
On the other hand, a body that can no longer effectively clear toxins due to illness, poor immunity, or toxic overload is being slowly poisoned. That body is like a city under siege! It switches from the normal healing mode to a state of emergency. Normal healing and repair processes are brought to a stop, and everyone (all your cells and organs) is preoccupied with defense. Over time, if your body is not cleared of toxins and allowed to recover, your immune system becomes exhausted, and you are prey to a host of health problems. Now, your body needs your help to detoxify.
So what is the solution? Just by choosing natural products and eating more unprocessed foods, we reduce our toxic load. Aim for balance: more clean whole foods; pure water; enough exercise; deep breathing; and less exposure to harmful substances or chemicals. Remember that otherwise healthy athletes who swim in chlorinated pools often develop an allergy to chlorine, and many bakers develop allergies to chemicals in flour, or to wheat, due to constant exposure.
We are always being told to eat healthier foods, but not many of us appreciate the enormous role of food in building and growing health of body and mind. Food is your body’s fuel. If the quality or quantity of your food is poor, your body will simply cannot have enough fuel to provide the energy you need, or the fuel will be of poor quality.
Nor will your immune system work properly if your foods lack the fiber, nutrients and enzymes needed to support and build health. A strong immune system is your best ally in the quest for lifelong health and resistance to disease. To build and maintain good immunity, you must take in all the nutrients your body needs to fuels its many metabolic activities, to help detoxify and to heal your body, to draw on when under additional stress, to nourish your nervous system and brain, and to maintain a healthy biochemistry.
Good nutrition also helps maintain the right pH needed for metabolic processes such as digestion, circulation of blood, and release of body chemicals. To maintain the correct balance of biochemicals – enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters etc. – your body requires a more alkaline internal environment. Too much acidity weakens the immune system, promoting infection and inflammation, and upsetting many metabolic processes that are essential to good health.
Fortunately, what you eat has an enormous effect on your body’s acid balance. A diet rich in raw or lightly cooked vegetables and fruit is the best way to alkalinise your body. This in turn supports the body’s natural detoxification processes, and strengthens your immune system.
Aerobic exercise (the kind that active kids and adults get when they play) gets the heart pumping blood into the muscles, tissues and organs, and the toxins flushed out. Stretching helps release accumulated tension and free toxins from the joints. Strength building creates stronger muscles and organs.
Exercise not only strengthens our muscles, heart and lungs; it also ensures that more oxygen-rich blood is pumped to all parts of the body so that every cell is bathed in vital nutrients, and stimulates the release of healing, ‘happy’ hormones. Our plump cells are rejuvenated, undoing the effects of aging so that we look and feel younger.
Moreover, wastes and toxins are quickly flushed through the body’s elimination channels, preventing the harmful buildup of sludge and toxins around our cells and in our tissues. Your lymphatic system, which carries cellular waste and toxins away from our cells, cannot push the toxins out unless the body is active. This can cause your body to store weight, since fat is an ideal storage place for toxins. Only one hour of moderate exercise a day can keep your body’s energy, nutrients, and cleansing processes flowing: that can be as little as a brisk daily walk in the fresh air.
When it is at rest, your body repairs and counteracts the normal damage and stress caused by everyday living. Without frequent rest, your body can be quickly pushed too far, stressing the immune system, and making you more susceptible to infection, illness and disease.
Sleep is therefore enormously important to your health, both physiological and psychological. Even 30 minutes of additional sleep at night can make a huge difference to your mood, your ability to think clearly and to learn, and your body’s ability to recover from daily stresses. Recent research showed that starting school even 1 hour later can give school children the sleep they need to significantly improve their school performance.
The amount of sleep needed by any individual can vary, though around 8 hours is usually considered a good average. You can gauge what you need by how you feel. If you are continually feeling stressed, tired, or irritable, or are forgetful and overly anxious, you may not be getting enough sleep. Add another 30 minutes to your sleep time and note the difference.
You also need enough rest in addition to good sleep. How you rest is up to you. Many find deep relaxation exercises very restful and refreshing. A calm stroll along the beach can be restful, as can stopping now and then in a busy day to stretch, or just sitting and breathing in the clean air as you watch the clouds. Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Yoga can be restful as they relax and calm both body and mind, and the smooth motions wash the tired body with fresh energy, oxygen and blood.
Most important is the quality of your rest…and also of your sleep. Built up stress or over-tiredness can cause disturbed, shallow sleep, as can allergies and other health problems. Worrying, negative emotions, feeling overwhelmed, helpless or angry can make it difficult to really rest. You might sit down with a cup of tea, but your distressed mind is not resting, which means that your body is not fully relaxed.
The point is that both your body and mind need breaks through the day, time to let go and relax. If you find this difficult, you may find the sixth health secret especially helpful.
Living in the moment
What do I mean by this? A combination of things that together move us from negativity to a positive attitude and what is often called greater personal effectiveness. When we are present in the moment, we are not tied to the past with its regrets, guilt, and other negative baggage, nor are we distracted by wishful thinking or dreaming about the future. Instead, we are centered in this moment, which enables us to live consciously.
Living in the moment reduces the major causes of stress: worry or fear about the future, or dwelling on past hurts or errors. It frees us to focus more productively on doing what must be done now to get the results we want. It also frees us to appreciate what is already around us, and to give to those around us with a lighter more joyful heart. Our life force flows more freely; our health flourishes; it is easier to balance the different parts of our lives and our emotions and to find calm.
A calm person is at peace with himself and the world. A calm mind is able to be fully in the moment. It is the secret of emotional resilience and a keen intellect. When we are able to maintain calm and to return to calm in times of stress, we become more reflective. We are more able to stop before reacting, and to choose our responses based on our own values and ideals instead of feeling pushed to act in this or that way. A calm mind is an enormous source of inner strength and resilience.
Living in harmony with nature
Really, everything you have just read is part of living in harmony with nature. That’s because what is good for nature is also good for us. We are, like it or not, a part of nature, and our bodies are designed to live and maintain health through continuous beneficial interaction with our environment. If our environment is not conducive to health and wellbeing, we are fighting a constant uphill battle to maintain health and recover from everyday stresses and wear on the body.
Keep in mind that illnesses and allergies are often a product of the interaction between your body-mind and your environment. Your health will depend to a great extent on whether you create and maintain a health-supporting environment.
It can help to see yourself as the energy body that you are, living in a world of energy. In some areas, you are the positive pole, in others, the negative. If you try to be all of one or the other – all giving or all taking – you throw the relationship between you and nature (including those around you) completely out of balance. The result? Blocked or corrupted energy, distress, and poor health.
There is a huge amount of information out there on living a more natural life. Some of it is a bit extreme, but lots of it can be easily applied and adapted to your life.
In the long run, the secret of living in harmony with nature is balance between what you give to the world and what you take from it, between what you take into your body and what you take out of it, and moderation in all things. Balance is the key.