A whole approach to health
What do I mean by my whole approach to health? I mean acknowledging the whole as well as the parts, and tending to all aspects of health- physical, mental, emotional, social, sexual and spiritual. Read my extensive (oops) ramblings to find how my mind connects these and how I work towards achieving health in my life.
Finishing my website/ guide last month really felt like a massive exhale. I finally have something to share with anyone who is interested in being vegan or following a plant based diet, and a personal outlet for my thoughts. A need for this had been brewing in my mind for a long time but I took it easy, as most things in my life. I didn’t stress, I chipped away at it from time to time as I found the inspiration- from entertaining abstract thoughts to leaving notes on scraps of paper and in the notes app, to non-committmentally researching my gaps. Then it all started coming together- an image of what I wanted to share crystallising in my mind, then a plan, then I started to write it and then a friend of mine, a budding digital nomad, showed me my way around building a blog/website. And boom the excitement started rising. I could see it taking shape, and soon enough every waking moment when I could find the mind power to focus I was working away on my project, driving it to completion like an art work in its final stages.
After finishing and sharing my project, the guide to being vegan, I threw it to the side as I am sure any artist would after finishing something they had poured themselves into. Away from my tired eyes, which couldn’t see the whole anymore for its components, until time could allow me to look at it and enjoy it again with a fresh perspective. I got my gym membership back which was something I had been intending to do for a (long!) while. Home workouts are my backbone but from time to time a guided workout and the sauna really do me good. I initially set myself the aim of posting in my shiny new blog every two weeks, as I could already feel 15 things I would like to write about rise to the surface. Soon enough though, I started realising this wasn’t really a possible or kind aim to set myself. Between my work and my life, bunnies, laundry, dishes, groceries, enjoying small moments, having good food, good workouts, spending time with my boyfriend and allowing time for meditation or stillness, I really haven’t much time left these days.
I needed a week to catch up on sleep, a week to burn myself out in the gym, a week to see to pesky admin-y niggly life things, and another to enjoy that beautiful Autumn out there. I started beating myself up a bit about not being able to meet this timeline that I had set myself. But then, a thought- no, hold on Paulo. You just created this awesome tool for self expression, you’ll be damned if you turn it into a job. I’d hate to tie my creative expression to a schedule of time if I don’t need to. This is part of my internal balance. After the extended effort of putting the website together I needed to recharge my own batteries, and enjoy it. Anyways, if there really is anyone out there waiting for me to post that next blog post, they can just spend that bit longer exploring my guide instead. All of this envelops and is part of, my view on what health is. Health is a whole balanced picture of being well, content, happy. It’s emotional health, physical health, mental health, social, and sexual health. It’s balancing and taking care of myself consciously on all those levels.
The levels our health exists at are strongly, inexorably, interlinked and coexisting. By taking care of one I am always taking care of the others, and a problem in one area will most certainly manifest itself in another. If I overspend in one area I will be paying by falling back in another and too much focus on one of those areas throws me out of balance. And this leads pretty well on to what I wanted my second blog post to be about. What do I mean by my whole approach to health? Basically I believe that we should look at our health in the most whole way possible and that everything is whole, interconnected, dynamic. This being a blog about my lifestyle and a dumping ground for my thoughts and findings, there will be a lot of reference to whole health and my different thoughts and ways of taking care of it, so I thought it would suit if I briefly introduced what I consider to fall under this umbrella.
The Wholeness of Health
There is an old parable that describes a group of blind men who hear about a new kind of animal they had never heard of before, the elephant. They decide to examine this new animal with their touch. Each man describes his experience of the animal in his own way. The man who came across the trunk describes the animal as a massive snake, while the one who came across his leg describes the elephant as a tree. They can’t agree on a definition of the animal and argue. They each fail to grasp the true essence of the animal because they are too focused on his parts.
I see health in this way- I like to see the elephant as the elephant, including both his parts and his wholeness. Too often we compartmentalise our health, focus on something very particular and demand that bit to be better without seeing a wider problem we might have. To me, health is integrally comprised of my physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social and sexual health. Let me explain.
Physical health is probably the most talked about facet of human health and also potentially the most misunderstood/ abused. Today’s society seems to be obsessed with symbols of physical health, but have little to no interest in achieving or maintaining physical health itself. Symbols of physical health include a defined muscular frame, clear skin, strong nails and bright eyes. We all want a healthy body but from my experience, there is more to this than anyone tends to point out.
Physical health comprises of nutritional health, fitness- flexibility, endurance, strength and agility, posture or body alignment, adequate rest and sleep and the status of toxins your body deals with.
Nutritional health is essential because there is literally nothing else that you put into your body three times a day, to process and to form its building blocks. What you eat becomes you. My plant based diet is a cornerstone of my health. Nutrition needs practice, attention and learning. It doesn’t make sense to let down this part in a chase after a symbol of health like an attractive body. (cue protein powders, questionable supplements and diets geared to giving your body a ‘fit look’) Just the same way as it wouldn’t make sense to sit in the gym 4 nights a week if that meant you weren’t getting adequate sleep because that is equally as important.
Mental health is a pretty widely mentioned aspect of general health today and I tend to hear a lot about mental health problems yet not very much about what it is or how you can work with your own. The way I see it, mental health is about exercising and working with the mysterious machines that our brains are. It appears that you can improve your situation a lot by making an effort to accept, understand, and then direct, what happens to your thoughts.
To me personally, taking care of my mental health means I am making an effort to constantly be challenged to improve myself through watching and directing my own thoughts. Continuing learning. Not allowing the status quo to be my daily bread. Solving problems and expressing myself through outputs that I can see in front of me. Engaging in discussions that are stimulating to my mind, internally or externally.
The fact is that we all humans come with a very powerful brain that is capable of many amazing mystical things, including experiencing and conjuring a lot of thoughts. And fact is also, that this wonderful machine has the capacity to run on autoplay for us until we take it into our control. In other words, you can form your thoughts or let your thoughts form you. Try an exercise of writing down your thoughts, honestly as they come, and then revisiting them a few days later pretending to be a caring, positive friend and trying to imagine what you would tell yourself about the things you wrote down.
I don’t feel this is well addressed in society today, at all. We live in rationalistic left brain led times where emotional intelligence has been suppressed and given very little importance. No one talks about emotions, even though they really do drive the outcomes of our lives. I am happy to be the first one to stand up and admit that I have feels, I have struggled in the past with first acknowledging then directing them, and now after extensive self- work they are a very important part of me and my life experience.
Emotional health means acknowledging, respecting and expressing your emotions in positive, constructive ways.
If you are in a place, or a relationship in which you are not expressing your own needs, emotions, feelings, then you are not emotionally as healthy as you should be. Suppressing or ignoring your emotional health makes you unwell, as everything you feel will need to be either resolved or make its way out somehow. Now, also think about the emotions you experience on a daily basis. Are you mainly experiencing emotions along the lines of anger, helplessness, despair, fear? Those are emotions you can work through to get to the better side of yourself. Are you able to easily access and sustain feelings of gratitude, compassion, love, peace, stability, happiness? If not, know that these are accessible to you just as to anyone else, with a bit of work and self introspection. To the parents out there- if you are tending to your child’s physical needs but ignoring their mental or emotional health, then I dare say you are not doing it right.
Spiritual health is in essence knowing your place in the world. It has nothing to do with religion, but with the fact that until we give direction to our lives our lives are directionless, a meaningless stream of tending to our basic needs, making money, eating and going to bed, and this in itself causes distress to the self at a profound level. This is the level at which we all know that there is more to it than that.
Spiritual health means being in touch with and dictating your own spirit and purpose. It means going into the unknown and being ready to fail in the quest to actualise your own path in life, rather than someone else’s.
Spiritual health is a profoundly individual thing. No one can take care of your spiritual health for you or tell you what your purpose is. You have to go within yourself to find your own answers. An indication of poor spiritual health is living a life that was set out for you by someone else, or something else. Some good questions to ask yourself are, what do I enjoy doing? Do I enjoy what I am doing right now? Would my child self have chosen to do this? If I were to die tonight, would I be happy with the way I have been living my life? Am I proud of my contribution to the world?
Being part of the human race, we are social animals. The need for belonging is one of the most innate, fundamental human needs and the lack of belonging can wreak havoc in our lives. Whether you are an introvert like me or an extrovert, we all need a level of social interaction and need a set of skills to be able to achieve this.
Social health to me is having and knowing your place is society, having people around you who you feel at ease with but also knowing the difference between company that makes you feel well or unwell and not sacrificing your self for your need to belong.
As with any innate human need, the need for belonging can cause us trouble if it runs away with us. It’s something that, if not satisfied in healthy ways, can push people to do things they are not really comfortable with to try to achieve it. To me part of social health is having the knowledge of self and the assertiveness to remain yourself in social situations and not allowing your need for acceptance to dictate your actions. Those who care about you won’t mind, and those who mind don’t really care. When you exercise being yourself, you’ll find that the people who stick around are the ones who were meant to.
This might mean different things for different people, but for one sure thing it means a lot to most. Having a strong, deeper bond with someone and sharing intimacy is another one of those needs that just are human and, again, if not satisfied in a healthy way in adulthood can wreak havoc or push us to seek to achieve it in self- destructive ways.
When it comes to sexual health, I only have two things to say: 1. Take care of yourself, and 2. Express yourself (not anyone else)
One of the biggest things that baffle me about society is whenever one person thinks they need to have a say about another’s sexual expression. So for now I just want to say, not letting anyone else define what sexual health means for you is probably rule no.1 of taking care of your sexual health. Not doing anything you don’t feel is right for you and doing what you feel is right. Not being restrained but acting in accordance and respect of all the facets of health I have already described above. That is all. xx