By Ashley Herrin, D.O.M., A.P.
Vibrant Health Center
Optimal health. We all want to have it, but very few of us are anywhere close to achieving it. This is because, unfortunately, health is not a high priority for most of us. Even more so, most of us don’t even know how to define optimal health. Our medical model teaches us that health is the absence of disease. I can guarantee you that health is much more than this. There are millions of people who don’t have a diagnosable disease, but are still in poor or mediocre health.
Interestingly, there are also many people who do have a disease but are in good to excellent health. How could this be? Because I define health in a much different way than our medical model does. I define health as the absence of addiction, not disease. Health is about living spontaneously. In Chinese medicine, the character ziran symbolizes both health and spontaneity.
Now, this may seem strange to you. But think about it. People who are free of harmful habits and addictions generally exude peace and contentment. I am referring to both inner and outer habits here. For instance, coffee, sex, gambling, food, cocaine, etc. are external habits. Inner habits include belief systems and perceptions that are habitual, rote, and stuck. We get lost in what we think we know about ourselves and our lives. To achieve optimal health, we must be free of addictions of all kinds. The daily habits are what get us in trouble.
We can see here that optimal health has a strong spiritual component, as it is largely based on seeing through limiting thoughts and beliefs and living with a fresh perspective every day. The byproduct of a spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced life is tremendous energy and vitality and a heightened experience of general wellness. If this is one end of the spectrum and death is at the other, I would argue that most of us are somewhere in the middle. We may not have a ’disease’, but we don’t feel that great either. We may have chronic pain, stress, emotional ups and downs, fatigue, etc.
Sometimes we wonder if there really is something wrong with us. Symptoms such as these show us that the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, especially if there is a family history of degenerative illness or cardiovascular disease. If we look at the following statistics, it is obvious that, as a society, we have a ways to go before most of us are optimally healthy.
- 16 million people in the USA have diabetes
- Over 30% of America is obese
- 4 million Americans carry over 300 pounds
- We each have a 1 in 3 lifetime risk of getting some form of cancer
- 23 million Americans have some kind of heart disease (1 in 12), 44 million have arthritis (1 in 6)
- 38 million have anxiety and depression
- 5 million have Alzheimers
The following five foundations of optimal health have become apparent to me after working with such a diverse array of people and health concerns. These five foundations have spiritual, emotional, and physical connotations, each of which is an integral part of healing. Each of these must be met with this quality of spontaneity that optimal health depends upon.
Mindfulness, Passion, and Purpose
For most of us, embarking on the path to optimal health will entail making some lifestyle changes that are conducive to this pursuit. To do this authentically, we have to start with a healthy psychological orientation toward making changes. This means that we initiate our healing without using will power. Instead, we use mindfulness, passion, and purpose to guide us through change. We identify with the deepest part of ourselves that is already complete and we set an unwavering intention to allow this to surface as we embark on healthy living. We are not making changes out of guilt or ’should’. This will always backfire because will power comes in limited supply. Contrarily, we have a burning desire to discover who we are and to fulfill our potential. Our health is crucial to and inseparable from this process. This is the most important foundation because it is crucial for the success of any of these other foundations.
Ok, now that we have identified what we are seeking out to do, we need to eat a certain way to be healthy. Food is an extremely important influence in our mood, attitude, energy level, and how comfortable we feel in our skin. The key is to strip away what you have been taught about food through your upbringing, the media, or what you see around you. Food is either poison or medicine and we have to start working w/ it medicinally if we wish to use it as a gateway to optimal health. Eating an organic whole foods diet is a wonderful first step to take in this regard.
We have all heard that it is essential to exercise regularly, but so many of us haven’t made a commitment to it. This is because exercise feels like a burden, it is uncomfortable and we have to use will power to do it. Sometimes we use exercise to beat ourselves up, or we exercise out of guilt. And for some of us, it just isn’t on our radar screen at all. Exercise can only be done long-term if it is enjoyable.
Most of us need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to get the rest we need for our busy lives. When we are living with mindfulness, passion, and purpose, we can get away with much less sleep, perhaps even 4-5 hours per night. If you suffer from insomnia or restless sleep, then healing this one of the first priorities for your health. We need time to rest and restore, or else our waking hours will be compromised.
So, how does alternative medicine fit into achieving optimal health? Well, I think it plays a big role even if we aren’t suffering with explicit health problems. In China, acupuncture is considered to be a primary part of the average person’s lifestyle. It keeps the internal workings of the body balanced and often improves one’s mental well being as well. The truth is that, unless you are already optimally healthy, acupuncture and herbs can take you very far in that direction. Other forms of medicine such as Ayurveda can also be included in this category, as can the skillful application of drugs and surgery in Western medicine.
In order to initiate the lifestyle choices that reflect a high degree of wellness, it is important that you take action NOW. We are incredibly clever when it comes to putting off things of this nature. We convince ourselves that it’s simply not a good time to even think about this. Each of us has a passion for self-care and optimal living that is buried within us. How are you going to find it in this moment? Perhaps the first step is making a personal commitment to live in accordance with health and balance rather than stress, drama, and denial. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it certainly can be done. The choice is yours.