Our bodies require constant care. They are far more complex than a simple machine but they do require regular maintenance like a car. We do not question the need to change the oil or the brakes on a car, but we sometimes do not see the need to maintain our bodies simply because they are not in pain. Pain is not a good indicator of the state of your physical body. Remember that the body will always try to compensate (view article about compensation) around its limitations to avoid pain. Just because you may not currently be experiencing any discomfort that does not mean there is nothing wrong in your body. We need to remember that – unfortunately – the effects of simply living will cause the body to breakdown.
It is important in this conversation to remember that it’s more than just physical injuries that can lead to long term issues in the body – physical and emotional challenges will create changes in the body (view article on the mind body connection), as well as the physiological effects of stress (view article about the physiological effects of stress). So it really is the total combination of everything that has happened to you, everything you’ve been thinking/feeling in the last 20+ years that can produce the current state of health you experience. Every fall, ankle sprain, car accident, or surgery will change how the body moves. Every time we experience a strong emotion – a fight with a loved one, worrying about others, or the fear of not being good enough for something – physical changes are also seen in the body. When you add in the blood flow changes and inflammatory processes that occur with a stress response it’s not surprising that our bodies seem to break down with age.
Another layer affecting our health comes from food. Awakening Health is not here to argue with anyone about the exact right way to eat; but we do have a few concepts one should keep in mind. The bottom line is that we live in a world where the food chain has become distorted. The food we eat is rarely grown locally, often has pesticides or herbicides sprayed on them that do make their way into our bodies, and there are 100s of chemicals that can be added to your food as “flavouring” or “colouring” that do not need to be listed in the ingredients. These changes in our diet are unavoidable. Even if you are able to eat 100% local organic food it’s still unlikely that the food you eat is not causing some sort of inflammation in the intestines.
So when you take a look at the total picture of what is happening around us in our daily lives it is not surprising that we fight an uphill battle when it comes to our bodies. Fortunately there are many things that can be done to help minimize the effects of the daily bombardment of wear and tear. Regular treatment by some sort of health care professional you have an established relationship with is important. Sometimes the cumulative effects of life become more than what we can handle on our own and the body basically needs a bit of a boost. Some of these effects can be caught with regular visits to your family doctor and may manifest as changes in your blood work. Other times the body may appear to be ok but an appointment with your osteopathic manual practitioner, registered massage therapist, physiotherapist, athletic therapist, naturopath, etc. may identify potential issues and address them before they become bigger ones. The actual dosage of maintenance is different for each individual. For example, some people that have experienced several traumas in their lifetime may need an appointment once a month to help maintain the functioning of their body while others may require an appointment once or twice a year to check in and make sure everything is functioning properly. The more in tune we are with our bodies the sooner we will notice when we require more help.
Meditation and yoga are also important for us when it comes to regular maintenance in the body. Both of these practices have been demonstrated to reverse the effects of stress on the body. Yoga helps to bring the mind and body back into balance as it reverses the tension that accumulates from everyday wear and tear. The body and the mind tend to reflect each other – the more freely the body is able to move the more clarity we will have with our thoughts. Meditation helps us to remain in the present moment, promotes a better perspective in life overall and shifts our focus towards the things we should be grateful for as opposed to the things we do not have.
Emotional expression is also an important part of regular maintenance. The worst thing we can ever do to our emotions is to suppress them. All emotions eventually need to be expressed. Unfortunately we are not able to express all our emotions at the moment we experience them or society may fall apart! An emotion is neither positive nor negative, it is simply what we are feeling based on the things happening around us. Our perception of the emotion dictates whether we decide it is positive or negative, and we are often encouraged to suppress “negative” emotions. NO! Please do not make this a regular occurrence! Emotions need to be expressed in functional ways (view article about Managing Stress) or else they cause long-term stimulation of the stress component of our nervous system (sympathetic nervous system); which leads to inflammation in the digestive system and suppressed activity of the immune system.
Regular physical activity is another great way to help maintain the body. This is similar to trying to save money in a bank account for retirement – the earlier you start the better you will be in the long term. But at the same time it is never too late to start. There are far too many different types of exercise to cover in a simple article like this but I want to focus on the concept of exercise as part of your maintenance. Every time you challenge the body physically it realizes that it is not strong enough to handle the demands you expect it to. It responds by becoming stronger – increasing muscle mass and building more blood vessels or nerves. This is your investment. It may be small at the start but every time you are able to do something active it’s like adding a small amount of money to your savings account. This allows you to handle larger, more stressful situations in the future. You keep your body in a working function so that it is able to handle more difficult stresses/strains in the future.
One of the understated components of balancing our physical and mental health is the importance of being in nature. We are a species that is meant to be outside! In many respects our lives have evolved in a way that our bodies have not – so much of our lives demands that we are inside while our physical bodies crave to be outside. Current research indicates that if we are able to perform activities outdoors there is a greater decrease in stress compared to performing similar activities indoors. These activities can be as simple as going for a walk in the park, or reading a book outside as opposed to inside.
Regular maintenance can take on many forms but is so important for the body in the long term. Many events in our lives seem to break us down so we need ways to reverse those effects to minimize the chances of experiencing any significant breakdown. At Awakening Health we understand the importance of a fully integrated approach to healing but also for your regular maintenance. Our goal is to get you to a point where you feel healthy, and have a plan to keep feeling that way.