IS CHRONIC DISEASE OPTIONAL?
By Elizabeth Rowan, DSOM, LAc
Aging is as inevitable as the seasonal change, but did you know that conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and cancer are not the inevitable result of growing old? They're strongly correlated with lifestyle choices. Simple and enjoyable practices can add decades to your life and reduce the need for medical intervention. It's easier to take full responsibility for our bodies once we accept the profound impact our daily choices have on our lifelong health.
With the sea of healthcare advice out there, most people don’t have the time or training to sift through all the conflicting evidence. Some of the advice is downright harmful! Even the most dedicated people may find it difficult to know which changes to prioritize. Fortunately, the foundations of health are well established. I will show you why a few specific changes are worth incorporating into your daily routine. These are the most important practices for anyone planning to enjoy a lifetime of physical health and mental acuity. If you’re already struggling with a disease process, these practices will accelerate your return to health. Since I recognize how hard it is to change old habits, I’ll also provide some strategies for overcoming resistance.
The most important principle is also the least understood. When you think about your body, you likely think about your organs, bones, and muscles. You might also consider things like blood vessels and nerves, but do you ever think about the connective tissue (fascia) that holds all this together? As it turns out, until recently most doctors haven’t given much thought to connective tissue either. This is unfortunate because it’s incredibly important! Fascia is continuous from the center of every cell in the body to the surface of the skin. It provides the structural architecture of the whole body, and even influences cell function.
In healthy tissue, the fibers glide past each other as the body moves. When it becomes damaged, as it does with any injury, fibers stick together to form what we call fascial adhesions. Adhesions are present to varying degrees in everybody. Some are subtle, like the stiffness felt upon rising in the morning, others are more severe, like surgical scars. Adhesions impair the function of any structures passing through the area. Capillaries are small and easily crushed, so blood flow is impaired. Sometimes nerves even get compressed, as anyone that has ever experienced sciatica knows all too well. The bad news is that we accumulate adhesions throughout life, especially if we tend toward sedentary activities. The resultant circulatory problems contribute to all disease processes because cells struggle to function.
The body is constantly rebuilding, and with discipline, much of the damage is repairable. The more we move, the more easily our connective tissue moves. Incorporating stretching and other physical activities into your daily routine will have a more substantial impact on your lifelong health and vitality than anything else ever could!
Despite this fact, you might be confronting some resistance. Maybe you spend hours sitting at work and barely have time to manage all your responsibilities at home. It may seem like there is no end of your To-do list. For most people “urgent and important” responsibilities continue to arise. We become adept at ignoring the little physical discomforts while we continue to focus on other things. When we live with a symptom long enough it can even begin to seem normal.
However, our symptoms are important messages that tell us how things aren’t working in our body. By responding appropriately, we can correct the problem before it gets out of hand. Without question, the people I have seen making the most remarkable recoveries are those that have committed to improving lifestyle and dietary habits. Rather than judging it as indulgent, set aside time for self care every day. It makes a huge difference! This is akin to putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Add it to your calendar. Find a class you enjoy. Enlist a friend to join you.
This may feel daunting, especially if you’re in pain. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. Acupuncture utilizes the many properties of connective tissue to repair adhesions and restore circulation. A tiny needle prick at the toe sends instantaneous signals through the body. We can treat a hip condition by sticking needles in the feet and shoulders. We’re familiar with the organizing principles of the body’s complex network, and we know where to stimulate it to bring about the desired effects.
The type of bodywork I practice incorporates the same ideas. By applying gentle pressure with my hands, I can sense areas of tension and laxity in the connective tissue network. When I apply a gentle stretch, the impulse is distributed along the line of tension which results in all the fibers loosening. Fascia is highly responsive, so it doesn’t take much to bring profound results. In Chinese, this is called Ting 聽, Song 松, Hua 化 which means Listen, Loosen, and Transform. The character Song 松 can also be used as a noun. In this case, it refers to the pine tree: revered for longevity and steadfastness since it remains green and supple through the winter. It is strong, yet able to bend in the wind. This is a nice metaphor for connective tissue.
So, what does this all mean? If you’d like to “keep the doctor away” attend to your circulation, connective tissue, and oxidative stress.