The image of our body as a garden is one that originates in traditional medicine.
This phrase is a quote from a physicist by the name of Larry Smarr who spoke at last week’s annual conference of the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM). Science is slowly catching up to centuries-old concepts and people like Mr. Smarr are at the forefront of getting the word out, beginning with decades of tracking and de-coding his own microbiome health data.
The hope is that this sort of information-gathering will one day be a tool easily available to all of us so that we can make targeted pro-active choices about our wellness.
Imagine: instead of “weed-wacking” or clear-cutting our way out of illness, with this kind of data we all have the potential to be the master gardeners of our own health. Intentional self care with our own personalized data can help us strategically plan against the overgrowth of invasive species. We are learning increasingly how much our gut microbiome has to do with our overall health. It may be that our gut is in fact the forest floor.
Alternative and traditional health care is based on creating and fostering a healthy and balanced “garden”. Now these concepts are going mainstream.
Collaboration and True Health
It’s impossible to fully convey what an exceptional week this was with the AIHM in San Diego and Mr. Smarr’s presentation was only a drop in the bucket. This was a gathering of roughly a thousand health care practitioners from 19 different professions and 23 different countries. We were there to stand for a trend in healthcare that not enough people are talking about. That I myself didn’t realize was in such full force.
Integration of “mainstream” Western medicine with alternative and traditional healing methods is happening on a global level. Did you know: that the World Health Organization (WHO) has, since 2014, been calling for member states (countries) to submit standards of care specifically to include alternative and traditional methods? This is known as the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023 . It’s the first I’d heard of it and it blew my mind just a little bit.
People are noticing at the institutional level that alternative and traditional methods of healthcare are indeed effective and in fact, corner an enormous part of the market with literally billions of dollars spent by patients out of pocket just in the US alone. It makes good governing sense to embrace it and bring it to all people – not just the financial elite.
Walking the Talk
Politics aside, this conference served as the perfect primer for me to return to my own health again. If you know me or some of my writing, you know that I am liberal with the concept of “beginning again”. There is nothing more human than hopping on and off the proverbial wagon – whether your wagon is about reigning in addictive behavior or simply an ongoing quest at self improvement. There is no shame nor failure in falling. It just is.
Getting up and starting again is where it’s at.
Another speaker at this conference addressed that very same concept in a different way. Not only is there no shame in it, the falling is where we do our growing and learning – literally. Research has shown that neuro-chemical brain changes associated with meditation happen not from staying focused, but from practicing repeatedly the act of choosing to: re-focus, return to the task or get back on the “wagon”. Just like strength training in the gym. You need repetitions to get stronger and build muscle. Why wouldn’t then this concept of starting again and again hold true therapeutic benefits for us in all aspects of life?
Is Your Idea of Optimal Health Falling Short?
Each day of this retreat style conference, I noted to myself: “Oh, NOW I’m really relaxed.” And yet each day my senses were reminded of even greater relaxation potential that I forgot I was ever capable of. Not unlike this progressive shift in perception of my actual relaxation level, I suspect the experience of our own health status might be similarly more skewed than we can know. It’s not until we find relief from a health crisis that we remember what it’s like to not be sick or in pain.
But how many of us strive to go farther than this? Do we all think that “not sick” or “not in pain” is the best we can hope for? Have we all forgotten what optimal health really feels like? I suspect the answer is yes more often than not. As a practitioner, I find myself unwilling to accept mediocrity on behalf of my patients. Part of my role is to hold the space for and reflect to them their full potential health and yet apparently I let the awareness and memory of my own true optimal health slip away. How easily that happens and especially when my “out of balance” self is, in comparison to so many others, the epitome of well being.
By the fifth day of my time away, with my eyes newly re-opened to true ease of mind and body (albeit temporary), I believe I started to glimpse something I hadn’t felt since I was a child; a sense of remembering deep well-being, a cellular belief that everything is as it should be and will truly continue to be okay within my cells and every electromagnetic energetic connection outward.
It’s easy to get lost in our struggle to exist in the attempt to get through the minutia of our day-to-day. But let’s remember every so often to get back on the wagon, re-focus, rejuvenate in even the smallest of ways. Every little bit really does count.
Tending our physical, emotional and spiritual gardens is the way to optimal wellness. It’s not a straight path, it may require help from others and at times it may veer far off course. Reach out. Reach within. Begin again and again and again. Therein lies the cure.
Stay tuned in weeks to come for more musings and reports about my time with the AIHM crowd…
Illustration by Sandy Johnson – Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain™