How do we optimize the body for health and healing?
How come some people don't feel better *even when* doing everything right?
These are the questions I sought to answer through what I now call The Restorative Method. I wanted to address why some of us might struggle to get well (without pointing the finger at willpower or discipline) and see if I could better break down how to incorporate "self-care" or natural healing remedies with a greater chance of success.
Because what I've learned is that our tactics aren't necessarily the problem. It’s not that there’s some health secret we just haven’t found out or been told about yet. It’s not necessarily that we need to try one more thing or be more committed *that much more* to health and healing. Instead, what I've found is that we're not asking the right question nor focusing on the right result in the first place.
We don't want to ask... "Why didn't this work for me?" ... but rather... "Did this even have the opportunity to work for me?" So that before we tweak our tools, we first assess their efficacy. Which means it's not just about asking... "Did this tool help me feel better? ... but first it's about asking... "Did this tool ACTUALLY reduce the stress on my body?"
Here's what I mean.
Would you believe that what you think you're eating can affect what you're actually eating? That there's a difference between the food placed in front of you -- and what you perceive that food to be? That your body may respond to what you *think* you're eating OVER what you're actually taking in?
The first time I was introduced to this topic was throughout the book Mind Over Medicine. Author Dr. Lissa Rankin wrote this book to discuss the body's innate ability to self-repair -- and highlight our capacity for influencing this ability through the power of the mind.
In Mind Over Medicine, Dr. Rankin shares a study done by Dr. Alia Crum, clinical psychologist at Yale University, called "Mind Over Milkshake". This study has since become one of my most favorite examples of how the mind can influence the physical body. It shows how our beliefs about the foods we're eating can impact the digestive system even more than the contents of the food itself.
When we change our diets or adopt an exercise practice in an effort to feel better, we're generally hoping to do two things: (1) Reduce the amount of chronic stress in our lives and (2) Help the body function more optimally. So, we're trying to reduce the stress in our lives while increasing the amount of time we spend taking care of our bodies. Even more, we want that time taking care of ourselves to help counteract the effects of any previous stress.
(This is because stress has been linked to many chronic symptoms and immune conditions. Plus, "counteracting" previous stress on the body has been shown helpful as treatment in stress-related disease.)
Dr. Lissa Rankin, author of the book Mind Over Medicine, explains this in another way. She says, “The body has natural self-repair mechanisms that fight disease, kill bacteria, get rid of toxins and foreign bodies, repair broken proteins, slow aging, and generally keep the body healthy. But…. those natural self-repair mechanisms don’t function when the nervous system is in the midst of a ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response. Only when the nervous system is in a counterbalancing relaxed state – in what Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard named ‘the relaxation response’ – can the body effectively heal itself.”
In very generalized terms, this idea that we need to spend time out of a chronic stress state and time in a relaxed state is what natural treatment and self care aims to address. It's why we might be recommended to make dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, practice regular Yoga, create a daily meditation routine, etc. These are all just tools for moving the body from a stressed state to a relaxed state in an effort to feel better.
What I love most about this concept is that it levels the playing field when it comes to which healing tool is "best". It reminds us that the reason we're recommended to change our diet is, at the very core, the same reason we're recommended to take up meditation. It's the same reason we're recommended to find an exercise practice that feels good or why we're recommended to reduce the toxins in our home or get more sleep at night.
Sure, certain tools may be more effective than others for different individuals, but the goal is still ultimately the same. Food changes, lifestyle medications, meditation... we simply want to get the body out of chronic stress by reducing the amount of stressors -- or triggers or toxins or irritants -- coming in.