My husband and oldest son recently returned from a backpacking trip to the Porcupine Mountains covered in mud, tired, but exhilarated. Four days to uplug and connect with each other and the natural world gave them a sense of accomplishment but also a deep understanding of how everything is connected in the forest. At the National Institute of Whole Health, I learned that our health is much like the forest, an ecosystem where everything is related to everything else. Our physical health is a byproduct of what we feed it, the thoughts and feelings we expose it to, the environments that we live and work in, and most importantly our belief system which drives every decision we make. In this blog I will explore these elements more in depth, the science behind it and tips for you to optimize your own personal ecosystem.
A brief overview of the 5 elements:
Physical: This refers to the physical body, how we feel in our bodies on a day to day basis. Do we have energy to do all the things we want to do, are our joints and muscles achy, have we been diagnosed with a chronic disease, are we carrying extra weight? The physical body is a picture of what is going on inside each cell of the body, the health of our gut microbiome, and how much inflammation there is.
Emotional/Mental: Our emotions and thoughts are powerful drivers of our health. Each thought or emotion we have sets off a cascade of chemical messenger molecules that tell our cells and bodies how to react to our environment – prepare for danger or are we happy to be where we are right now.
Nutritional: Dr. Georgianna Donadio at NIWH likes to say that nutrition has become the new religion in this country. Everyone is so passionate about what they think is the right diet. There are some food rules to follow (such as no trans-fats) but it is really quite simple. Eat a whole foods based diet that is filled with as much plant based foods as possible, clean sources of protein and healthy fats. Everyone is different and one person may thrive on a diet that would be poison for another.
Environmental: The environments we live and work in give us the structure of our lives. Are our environments conducive to health? Do we live in a toxic environment filled with toxic chemicals in the food, air and water. Do we work in toxic environments with too much stress, too much sitting and no time for a healthy lunch. Are our relationships filled with judgements and negativity?
Spiritual: The word spirit comes from the Latin word meaning breath. It is our breath that connects us to all of life. It is our breath that reflects our relationship to life. Shallow quick breathing reflects a life that is fast paced, stress based and a sign that we are out of touch with our bodies. In yoga, the first and most important exercise you learn is to belly breathe. That turns on our relaxing side of the nervous system and has a way of instantly connecting you to your source. Our belief system is kind of like the hard drive of our computers. You don’t really know how the hard drive works, and unless your computer crashes, you aren’t aware of it on a daily basis. But that hard drive controls the operation of the computer much like our belief system controls our thoughts and actions which ultimately dictate our health.