Truly vibrant health reaches all levels of your being: body, mind, heart and spirit. In order to cultivate this type of health, all of these parts of yourself need to be nourished. The Health Foundations listed below are one way to describe these fundamental needs. They are organized here from a physical to a spiritual level, but they are not hierarchical – each is essential to your wellbeing – click on each one to learn more. Every person’s needs are unique, and genuinely individualized medicine supports you in exploring how each of these can be most beneficial to you.
We are all aware that our bodies require nutrients as fuel and building blocks, but everywhere you look you will find yet another opinion on the right and wrong ways to eat. It would be fantastic if there were just one answer as to how everyone should eat, but the true answer is that some of the foods that best serve you as an individual are not the same as those that best serve your neighbor, and this is not only about nutrients but also about finding foods that delight your taste buds. Not only does is matter what you eat, but also how you eat – pace, chewing, attention, etc. It is worthwhile to identify the approach to healthy eating that fits best for you not only to improve digestion, but also for many other benefits, including increasing energy and focus, balancing emotions and sustaining good health throughout a lifetime.
Most have heard the statistic that an adult’s body is about 60% water and know that drinking water is probably a good idea. However, with so many popular beverages that tend to remove water from the body even as they add it (via increased urination), many people are not optimally hydrated. Some people tend to be more thirsty, but others find that they rarely crave water. For some this is a case of mistaken identity – you can become so unused to drinking water that thirst can become confused with hunger, leading to eating when water is what’s really needed. There are also many ways to make water more interesting for those who aren’t fans of the taste. Better hydration also has many benefits, including better energy and focus, fewer headaches, and removal of wastes and toxins from the body.
The idea of exercise often summons up images of toiling away at a gym, an approach that is a great fit for some but is not at all appealing to others. As a society we tend to be more in our heads than our bodies, and we frequently spend most of our waking time in a position that we did not evolve for: sitting in a chair. Movement allows you to reconnect with your body, and it should be something you actually enjoy – why else would you keep doing it day after day and week after week? This covers a whole spectrum from a simple walk outdoors to a workout at the gym, and from fitness classes to organized sports. Many people find it more enjoyable to have a partner or a group with whom they participate in physical activities. The benefits of exercise appear to be endless – in some form it is helpful in preventing and treating nearly every health condition that has been researched. It is one of the most powerful ways in which to impact your health in both the short and long term.
Here is another activity that we know is necessary, but although there is some variation in how much sleep each person requires for optimal functioning, there is widespread agreement that the average American adult is not getting enough sleep. This situation is made more difficult by a tendency to idealize people who can “get by” on less sleep, and needing adequate sleep can be seen as a weakness. Our bodies are designed to have regular daily rhythms, and sleep is a fundamental part of our daily cycles. While it is a given that insufficient sleep leads to low energy and more difficulty with focus, many people are not aware that is also leads to emotional dysregulation and is being increasingly tied to a rise in the risk for many chronic diseases, as well as to increased weight gain. Sleeping enough to rejuvenate your body means getting more out of each moment you are awake.
Breathing is automatic – our bodies will fortunately continue to do it even when we are not paying attention. However, this does not guarantee that we are breathing in ways that are most beneficial. Cultivating specific breathing practices is often associated with meditation and can be a valuable component of spiritual practice, but changing how you breathe also has immediate physiological effects. These effects include not only bringing more life-giving oxygen to all of your tissues, but also lowering your heart rate and blood pressure and shifting to a more calm state of being. Breathing practices can be a powerful way to manage stress. Some research also suggests the improved oxygenation can optimize your metabolism and allow you to burn the calories you consume more efficiently.
Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a special relationship with the sun. Having grown up in New England, I had never seen people get “sun drunk” before I moved here – the beatific smiles and brightened moods that come when the sun peeks out after grey days. Light has a profound effect on our mood and energy, as well as being a primary driver for our circadian rhythms, the day/night patterns that regulate our sleep. These rhythms used to be regulated solely by the sun’s light, but with artificial light, we can prolong “day” indefinitely. While going to bed at 4pm in the winter would be impractical, bright environments and a plethora of lit screens can make it difficult for your body to know when it is bedtime. Shifting your relationship with light can improve your sleep, as well as your energy and mood.
Caring for the health of the earth is deeply important, and we can all recognize how polluting the water, air and soil can have a negative impact on our health. What is often not considered is the wholesomeness of our indoor spaces and the environments we create on and around our own bodies. In many places indoor air quality is of greater concern than the air outside, and this can be particularly problematic if you have respiratory allergies or asthma. There are a plethora of products available for cleansing and beautifying our bodies, and many of these products have some less than ideal ingredients, especially for those with more sensitive constitutions. Creating a personal environment in harmony with your body’s needs can improve mental clarity, increase energy and decrease symptoms in a number of conditions. Another component of our environment is the configurations in which we work, live and sleep. Finding an ergonomic setup that is a good fit for your body can reduce musculoskeletal discomfort and pain, as well as improving your productivity.
Social Connection & Support
At our core human beings are social creatures with a deep need to connect to others. In order to form meaningful, nourishing relationships, we need to be able to be our real, vulnerable selves, a challenging task when the predominant culture tends to equate vulnerability with weakness. If you aren’t willing or able to be vulnerable, how can you take the chance to reach out to someone for support? Creating balanced relationships also involves learning to set clear and healthy boundaries. Cultivating genuinely nourishing relationships with your partner, parents, children, family, friends and colleagues will help you to feel safe, to have support when you need it, and to weather life stresses much more successfully.
Meaningful Work & Work-Life Balance
How we view our work has a profound effect on our experience of working, as well as on our lives outside of work. It matters whether you can find meaning in the work you do beyond it simply being a source of a paycheck or what you are “supposed to” do. When your work is connected to your gifts and talents and is in harmony with your core values, it can become something that feeds your life rather than draining it. It is not about finding the “right” job in some external sense but rather finding work that genuinely resonates with you. The other side of this coin is work-life balance – being sure that you truly allow yourself a life outside of work. In an age when many of us carry multiple electronic tethers, it can be very challenging to really unplug. In order to create a healthy relationship with yourself and with your loved ones, establishing this balance is critical.
Creativity, Play & Joy
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, the world is not composed of creative people and non-creative people, but rather people who express their creativity and those who do not. Creativity is not the exclusive territory of the visual arts, literature and the performing arts, but rather extends to a multitude of activities, from cooking a novel dish to designing a new engineering application, and from finding new ways to express yourself through the movement of your body to planting and caring for a garden. Play and joy run alongside creativity and often spark new ideas to feed it. Sexual expression and satisfaction are just one of many facets of the adult need for play. Research shows that adults need many forms of play to live full, rich lives, and we have all experienced how joy and laughter help to feed our spirits.
We evolved to exist in the natural world, and though most of us choose to live and work in structures created by human beings, our need for contact with nature is still present. This need can manifest in something as simple as improved healing when the view from your window is of a natural landscape vs. a parking lot. People are nourished by their time in nature in a wide variety of ways, and connecting with the natural world overlaps with many of the other health foundations, including movement, light, healthy environment, social connection, creativity, play, joy and spiritual connection.
There are diverse routes in the quest for the divine. Whatever your conception may be – Spirit, Creator, God, Goddess, Deity, Universe, Nature or one of the many others – nurturing your relationship with the spiritual source that resonates with you is important to your health and wellbeing. For some this is very personal and solitary path, while others celebrate their spirituality in community with those on similar journeys. One of the benefits of nourishing your spiritual life is having ways to finding meaning in life’s events and challenges. Daily spiritual practices such as prayers, meditations and affirmations can each provide support to you on your path.