Old Wisdom Many centuries ago the Swiss-German physician Paracelsus, founder of the discipline of toxicology, declared this adage "it's the dose that makes the poison." Taking a 21st century spin to this old adage we can use this wisdom in any sphere of our human existence to understand how, indeed, anything in life can tip from being a healthy choice to an unhealthy choice. Let's take a look at the pillars of health - movement, sleep, food & emotions.
Emotions We meet perhaps the biggest contender that we have to conquer everyday - emotional stress. It's typically referred to in a negative context but as I once questioned a grade 6 elementary class - what would our lives look like without any stress? They didn't have answers initially because they had been conditioned that all stress was negative. That's the illusion - that we wish for a life without stress but actually we couldn't survive without it! Again we continually learn and strive to find that balance - some days we can take on higher levels of exercise, nutritional, lack of sleep or familial/work stress but on other days/weeks we need time to retreat or escape for us to recover and prepare for the next dosage of stress. I firmly believe with every fibre of my body that having your 'head in the right place' is the MOST important daily task. How quickly our mind can be distracted and consumed with daily drama or past/future dramas, that our mind is rarely peaceful. Everything we do from thinking, to eating, exercising, talking and breathing requires energy. We need to ask ourselves what kind of fuel efficiency are we working toward with our body & mind - that equivalent to a Chevy Spark or that of a Ferrari. Ask yourself 'how much energy do I have right now?' You can ask this several times a day and it can help guide you toward a lifestyle filled with more energy and vitality. Professor Robert Sapolsky, neuroendocrinologist at Stanford University, has remarkable evidence to support how we as humans have actually exceeded our physiology from a stress perspective. Take any other animal on the planet and you'd observe although they do experience high stress, that stress typically lasts a few seconds to a few minutes, after which the event has ended or their life has ended! They may go minutes, hours or even days between these high bouts of stress. Humans, on the other hand, seldom have a physical 'life or death' survival experience every few days as wild animals do but through the power of our mind we create many elaborate fantasies. We become so skilled at using our mind in this way, that it's rare to enjoy a few minutes of inner peace each day. We buy into these fantasies in such a way that our entire physiology reacts as if it were really happening creating a fight and flight response. As a consequence we have this highly exaggerated physiological response comparable to multiple tigers entering the room to take our life. Although we in our minds can differentiate these scenarios our physiology continues to react as though these tigers were actually present in the room before us and about to pounce! Imagine this happening over and over, your stress hormones eventually tap out and other systems get over taxed, you can't recover as quickly and your energy and vitality continue to decline that diseases of all kinds can have their wicked way with you.
Watch this thought-provoking documentary by Professor Sapolsky.
Video 2 - Stress: Portait of a Killer - Full documentary
Sleep There is no greater fantasy to a new parent than having a peaceful, uninterrupted nights sleep with an easy morning of gently awakening, perhaps a cup of coffee and morning salutations in the sun (I confess, as a parent of four young boys, I still have this fantasy myself!). Maybe one day... Again we have these ideas that if a little is nice, a lot must be better. Perhaps we've had that experience of feeling fatigue but that even with 12-hours of sleep we still awaken unsatisfied or even more fatigued. And so it is with rest and sleep cycles also, that we need to listen to our body, perhaps even keep a log of what our body requires, to help find that balance point of sufficient rest before exposing our body to the next experience of stress which is equally essential to create growth. An important note to remember is that our body manages it's phases of adaption to what we have exposed it to on a daily basis, during our sleep cycle. The more restored we feel in the morning, the greater our vitality level and the more prepared we are for our next daily experience.
Food I recall hearing on a radio station once where a competition to drink a high volume of water that day, led to the death of a participant through what is known as dilutional hyponatremia or overhydration. So even something as healthy as water even has the potential to become a source of suffering, pain and even death in this case. And so it is with food. Our detoxification system in the body is highly intelligent, born through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. It is designed to help cleanse the system when toxins arrive. Again though, too small a volume of toxins and the system doesn't learn to cleanse itself and strengthen the immune system and too many toxins leads to a cascade of symptoms such as slow injury recovery, poor training responses and physical pain which are indicative of a suppressed immune system and disrupted hormonal system. It's even been illustrated that we as Westerner's are comparably malnourished to those with extreme poverty, however, we show the other extreme in symptoms through being overweight and obese together with symptoms of disease.
Movement Having spent many years studying human movement and teaching a variety of personal training clients I encountered many individuals who deemed that, if a little exercise was good, a lot must be great. I recall one client who was so addicted to exercise she would train through pain, illness and make every conceivable effort to get her morning dose of exercise. Her routine of exercise had such an impact on her physiology that her menstrual cycle had stopped and although she admitted she and her partner were trying to have a baby until her physiology found a balance again there was no way her body was going to permit the conception of a child. She taught me one great lesson in life that 'you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink it.' It's essential that you listen to your body and energy levels to help you understand your normal, so that when you deviate from normal you can judge how to adjust your exercise & activity program, otherwise your physical training can be counter-productive and lead to minimal-to-zero results. As one of my teacher's, Paul Chek, once shared that exercise is a drug - given the wrong prescription it can be ineffective for the client. I refer you to a short video teaching from Paul Chek regarding how to bring balance your physiology.
Video 1 - Stress Response & Homeostasis
Applying this knowledge You know your body better than ANYBODY out there. Learn to understand what your body is trying to communicate. If you are experiencing any prolonged symptoms such as muscle pain, soreness, joint pain, fatigue, mental drowsiness and poor digestion these can be clear indicators of your body attempting to communicate an imbalance. Learn to listen and apply the appropriate medicine. Become a self-educated patient by reading books and articles that relate to your own experiences. Create a team around you that includes your doctor, a naturopathic physician, chiropractor, massage therapist, personal trainer and a nutritionist. Your health team is there to help assess you and essentially counsel
you during your life's journey to master your own health and wellness and then share it with others!
To your optimum health, Jason.