Over the last several years I have lost about 60 lbs, almost a third of my body weight. I feel better. All told I think I look better too. Back in my late twenties when I had trained for years as a triathelete and then maintained my fitness with diet, cardio exercise and weightlifting, one might say I was at my prime. Twenty years later as I approach my 50th birthday, I actually feel more fully alive than ever.
It was the spring of 2007; I had left my monastic lifestyle about a year and a half earlier. A lot of change had been taking place over that time but I was beginning to settle into a new routine. I didn’t feel well though, I was sluggish, achy, just generally not feeling vibrant. It was time to reclaim my health.
My future was full of promise but I felt like I was dragging my body along. I had taken control of my mind in an effort to create more peace and happiness in my life. It was time to reclaim my body, the vehicle that will actually help me to walk the path and bring my wish for a better world alive and into form.
Holistic medicine holds a great fascination to me. If supported properly, the body, has amazing strength and resilience, a natural capacity for healing. I see a Naturopathic MD; I like my Naturopath to also be a practicing MD. Getting the best of both worlds, naturally supporting the body, investing myself in preventative care while having available the technology to handle a crisis should one present itself. These two practices compliment each other and I am grateful to have access to both in this country.
So I visit my doctor and tell her I wish to reclaim my health. We do panels of tests, talk about my symptoms, what I eat, my activities, exercise, meditation, stressors in my life. One of the things that impress me most about the holistic approach is how seemingly disparate symptoms can all be related to the same underlying cause. Typically in the allopathic approach each symptom is treated individually. Holistically you treat the symptoms but most importantly you treat the underlying causes physically, emotionally and spiritually. Fascinating. Holistically we found relationship between achy joints, lethargy, fuzzy thinking, itchy feet, a runny nose and fluctuating moods!
Of course stress was an element. Who doesn’t have stress in their lives? I revisited the idea of how I manage my stress. What do I know works for me? Meditation, movies, exercise, when these things are a regular part of my lifestyle, the impact of stress is lessened. Time to get back to the basics of stress management.
Of course exercise was an element. We are in physical form; our body is our vehicle for practice. Consistent exercise in some form seems to benefit us. These days I walk two miles up and down hills several times a week, stretch and strengthen. I could use a bit of fine-tuning here and there but generally feel pretty good when I engage in regular, moderate exercise.
Of course diet was an element. We have to eat. We are each different and have to experiment to understand what works best for us as individuals. I don’t believe there is standard eating plan that will work for every one. Maybe some fundamentals that we could all benefit from but there is not a one size fits all. I have whittled my diet down to basics. Meat, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, I have eliminated sugar, white flour and processed foods. This works for me. My energy is more consistent and my body seems to have found a natural weight that I am comfortable with. I identify foods that just don’t work for my body: nightshades and wheat for example, I choose not to eat them on a regular basis. Bottom line is that I see how foods make me feel, I see how my body responds and choose to eat them or not based on the results I want.
I have had friends ask why I deny myself so many foods. Truthfully I do enjoy some of them on occasion just not as a rule. I am not so much denying the foods as I am choosing to feel my best. What I have actually denied myself is the suffering that comes with choices that don’t work well for my body. Seems like a reasonable trade off.
This outer practice of awareness and taking action for a greater benefit is a fundamental skill of the spiritual warrior. To train the mind, to learn to Love, to practice patience and kindness we have to make choices. To heal the hearts and minds that suffer we must address the underlying causes. Cultivating mindfulness: awareness and choice. I love that. Caring for my body becomes spiritual practice. It is discipline but discipline informed by our inner motivations not external demands and expectations. Like any skill, consistent practice is required for mastery.
The immediate gratification of an ice cream sundae when dairy leaves you bloated and the sugar sends you on an emotional roller coaster ride may not be worth it. Just like the pleasure we feel we get from hanging onto our hatred or our pride ultimately may not be worth it. In the moment it may feel good but ultimately we are just reinforcing suffering in our lives. The habits of mindfulness that we develop as spiritual warriors support our spiritual practice and our overall health.
What results do you want? What produces those results? The choices almost make themselves.
Keep an eye out Fall 2011 for my meditation journal: “Mindfulness Practice: Alive in Your Body, Alive in Your Life”