The Deeper Significance oF Health

by M. Narasimha Rao, Ph.D. and Beverley Viljakainen[1]

"Accuse not nature! She hath done her part; Do thou but thine, " - John Milton

The ancient benediction, "May you be healthy, wealthy, and wise", is especially relevant to our fundamental understanding of health. As human beings, we need to be well enough to provide ourselves with the food, shelter and clothing that our minds require to awaken our human potential. As a resource, health is wealth. Only when we are healthy can we hope to be wealthy and wise.

The words "health", "whole", "hale", "heal", and "holy" are derived from the old English root "hal", meaning "whole", "sound", According to the World Health Organization, "Life is not [simply] to be alive, but to be well.... Health is the normal condition of the human organism, the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Being a subjective experience, health cannot be defined precisely or quantitatively. As individuals, we experience health as an inner feeling of physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being that extends outward into our environment. Since we are increasingly aware of modern society’s imbalances, health is where our attention needs to be for real change to happen within ourselves and in the world.

Most of our attention tends to be directed outward, via the senses, leaving us quite unaware of the equally fascinating inner world. In order for humanity to awaken to its fullest potential, more attention needs to be given to our interior selves both in health and in illness. The oldest known tribal healing approach involved the entire tribe, not just the sick person. When people are cared for in this way, their immune systems naturally work more efficiently, their health is restored more quickly and the society also benefits.

More than the absence of disease, health can be understood as the body's ability to function effectively within a given environment. Because our environment is constantly changing, our health is a process of continuous adaptation to the stresses and challenges we confront internally and externally. The healthy body’s chemical composition remains constant, regardless of external factors. No one system functions unto itself alone, each system is intricately integrated with every other system in order to maintain optimum balance, homeostasis. Similarly, between our body and our mind (the brain being the physical apparatus in which the mind operates), there is total integration of all the relevant systems. The brain, for example, directly influences our immune system, meaning that our emotional and psychological condition plays a vital role in healing any disease, which is the immune system's primary function. Conversely, the condition of our immune system can affect our emotions and psychological state. A healthy organism preserves its autonomy while integrating with other systems. Illness is the organism bringing itself back to balance. For this reason, the person, not the disease, is to a more appropriate focus of healing.

Because of the body's innate capacity to heal itself, a distinction is to be noted between "cure" and "healing", "cure" referring to external assistance and "healing" referring to the natural internal processes whereby the organism rights itself. Ultimately, only the body's internal healing processes can restore the balance in the absence of which symptoms, illness and disease occur. By becoming more sensitive to our own condition, we can facilitate these innate processes. Many minor problems can be taken care of by simply breathing some fresh air, engaging in some normal exercise and eating intelligently. More serious imbalances may require more time, greater effort, and perhaps a particular course of therapy or treatment. Even so, our innate capacity to restore the balance constantly strives to do so.

A quiet, patient attitude enables us to listen to our body and facilitate its healing process. In fact, this attitude is the original meaning of the word "patient": a person who is prepared to reflect on his or her condition and do what is required so that the body can perform its functions as completely and as efficiently as possible. However, in today's world, the word "patient" is more likely to involve handing over responsibility to someone else, in the hope of being rid of annoying symptoms as quickly as possible so that "life can return to normal”- "normal" quite likely being what led to the imbalance in the first place!

The Phenomenon of Illness

Illness provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on how we have been living. Often, following a serious illness, a spontaneous re-focusing of internal values occurs wherein former ways of living lose their appeal. No illness need be considered a disaster; instead, it can be looked at as a chance to see and experience life differently, freshly. Although we have moved away from this more positive concept of health care, we can take back responsibility for our own health, a vital first step toward awakening our human potential. Humanity’s need for radical change is becoming increasingly obvious, and more and more people are taking up the challenge of self-responsibility. Health, not illness, is our natural state of being. The severe illnesses that are so common in today's world began as minor imbalances that eventually became major ones. Whatever the imbalance, a therapeutic approach is required that not only takes care of the physical and psychological aspects of disease but identifies what may be creating the organism’s dis-ease and makes the necessary changes.

Illness is not a sudden event but, rather, a gradual process that is interfering with the body-mind's constant attempts to maintain health. When any part of our body is tense, the flow of energy and nutrients is cut off. The tense part eventually withers and dies, creating conditions that manifest as illness. We see this depletion phenomenon at work in our houseplants when they are denied light and water. Areas of tension caused by unresolved deprivation, excesses and conflict are cut off from an otherwise properly functioning system and become more prone to injury and disease. Injury and illness, therefore, act as signals from our body that we need to take better care of it. By learning to listen to the body’s messages, we become more aware of and responsive to its needs. In time, this attentiveness enables us to listen to every single cell! Many ancient people had this ability simply because they developed it and nothing about their life-style obstructed it. Our ancestors of only a few generations ago also had this ability: they listened, learned and then acted appropriately. We too can develop the capacity to sense what we need to do to maintain our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

Illness is a natural outcome of the overuse, misuse and disuse of the body-mind organism. The development of illness demonstrates the extent to which our body will go to maintain a natural state of health. Its normal activities include building up, breaking down, transforming, transporting, synthesizing, holding, expelling, and otherwise manipulating matter and energy in manifold ways. The natural processes for eliminating excess toxins, i.e., urination, evacuation, respiration, and perspiration, are usually enough to right an imbalance in its initial stage. Because these processes are constantly at work, illness is often averted or eliminated without us being aware that we are not well. If, however, the illness becomes chronic, the organism must resort to more extreme elimination processes, in the form of various skin diseases, because the kidneys and the other organs of elimination have all become too overworked and weakened to do what’s being asked of them. In more advanced conditions, toxins have accumulated in various parts of the body as excess mucus, fat, cholesterol, mineral deposits, and protein waste. These toxic accumulations congeal in the sinuses, inner ear, lungs, breasts, intestines, kidneys, gall bladder, and the reproductive organs. If they are not broken up and eliminated, any number of diseases can result, including various kinds of cancerous conditions, coronary artery disease and diabetes.

We see that the body is eliminating toxic matter in such conditions as lingering fatigue, head colds, fever, chills, aches and pains, headaches, sore throats, coughing, constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, menstrual irregularities, decreased sexual desire and vitality, frequent urination, skin eruptions, abnormal sweating, body odour, depression, and irritability. The appearance of any of these conditions also indicates that the body is in healing mode, doing what it can to return to its normal state of dynamic balance. While such unpleasantries may not be cause for celebration, they certainly need not be cause for complaint. If we pay attention to what the body is telling us, we will be more likely to come up with ways to help it do its work and lighten its burden in future.
The body’s natural elimination of toxins tends to follow a specific pattern--symptoms move from the inside out, i.e., mucus in the lungs is coughed up, toxic matter from deep within the system erupts into boils, rashes, etc. Symptoms also move downward, i.e., toxic kidney medications, such as steroids, may be eliminated as leg rash. Symptoms of chronic conditions tend to disappear in reverse order of appearance, i.e., the most recent symptoms leaving first and earlier symptoms re-emerging and leaving later. It is also not uncommon to experience symptoms of previous conditions once healing is under way. Their re-emergence simply means that the body is now taking care of the former condition as well. The symptoms of internal cleansing are often preceded by a feeling of well-being, which may continue throughout the process, a sense that deep down everything is all right. Whereas an actual illness that we might be perpetuating is often accompanied by a feeling that something is wrong. By developing an awareness of the difference, we can respond more appropriately.
The discomfort of the body's cleansing processes is viewed much more objectively when we know that our body is simply doing its job. Our symptoms and their duration may vary, depending on what is being discharged, how, and from where. Once we understand the process, we realize that illness is not an enemy; it is simply a warning that we need to pay attention to what the body-mind is trying to tell us about how best to live and interact with our environment. In many ancient cultures, the physician was a highly spiritual person whose vision of life was that of one harmonious whole, a wisdom teacher who others could respect and learn from. Now we must and can do this for ourselves.

Facilitating the Healing Process

To emphasize cure, rather than prevention, is a little like digging a well after one becomes thirsty. The prevailing notion in our present illness-oriented health care system is that many diseases are caused by an attack from some external source, i.e., viruses and bacteria, rather than imbalances created within the organism itself. Why then, when similar bacteria and viruses are equally prevalent in the tissues of healthy people, do they not experience the same diseases? The functioning of many essential organs requires the presence of bacteria. Of the huge bacteria population known to exist on earth, only a small number is capable of generating diseases in the human organism. These harmful bacteria are usually destroyed in due course by the organism's immune system. Also, certain bacteria are relatively harmless in those who have built up the necessary resistance through exposure to them, and can be quite virulent in others who have had no previous exposure.

In other words, the host environment plays as much of a role in the presence or absence of bacteria and their functioning as do the specific characteristics of the harmful bacteria. But focusing on maintaining a natural harmony within the body’s systems is difficult for those who think of disharmony as our natural condition, evidenced by such phrases as "fighting the odds", "keeping the peace", and so on. We need to understand and appreciate that harmony and peace are what naturally prevail until, or unless, there is some interference or other. To live in harmony is to do what is meaningful to us and not what everyone else may be doing, not always easy in a society where the word "citizen" now means “consumer”. Our health is bound to be compromised if what we say and do is in conflict with what we think and feel. When our thoughts, speech and action are at odds, havoc spreads throughout the body-mind. When we live and interact with others free of such conflict, our healing capacities function much more efficiently and we are more open to whatever may facilitate the process.

When the body is seen as a mere machine, and food simply an aggregate of separate particles called nutrients, a person’s fundamental wholeness is lost sight of. Because the trend has been increasingly in this direction, smaller and smaller parts of the person's physiological functioning have become the focus of meticulous attention and specialization so that illness-based practitioners now know less about the physical body as an integrative whole, let alone the whole person, and its innate healing ability. This is not to say that the specialized approach is totally without merit. In fact, it has contributed greatly to our understanding of how the body-mind functions and has been very successful in treating certain areas of the human organism. Unfortunately, however, this approach is almost exclusively absorbed in the search for magic bullets that, while attending to local problems, often create havoc in the overall organism.

There are now so many documented cases of iatrogenic illnesses, illness caused by the medical care itself, that it is now considered to be the most rapidly spreading epidemic of our time. Modern medicine’s dependence on drugs is largely due to their effect on a wide range of physiological functions related to the nerves, muscles, other tissues of the body, blood, and other bodily fluids. Because many of the bodily functions affected by drugs involve subtle biochemical processes that are not fully understood, we would be wise to conclude that every drug does have side effects. Adverse drug reactions have become an alarming public health problem affecting millions of people annually. Antibiotics are losing their effect and pharmaceutical researchers are running out of possibilities for more effective strains. Also, many drugs are being overused or misused, especially in chemotherapy, both through doctors' prescriptions and through self-medication practices.

The term "psychosomatic" to indicate a disorder with no clearly diagnosable organic basis reveals another significant contemporary attitude towards health. Such disorders are often thought to be imaginary in nature, even today, because of the medical profession's strong bio-medical bias. However, in its more objective sense, the term "psychosomatic" recognizes a fundamental interdependence between the body (soma) and the mind (psyche). Therefore, to single out any disorder and say that it is psychologically-based is as simplistic as thinking that there can be a purely organic disease with no psychological aspects. Whatever the cause and however it manifests, almost every disease involves both the body and the mind, the interrelationship between the two such that one cannot be separated from the other. This would suggest that what and how we think are at least as important as any medicine or other therapy we may use to facilitate the healing process. Chronic fear, worry, anxiety, resentment, hatred, and so on, are all based in particular ways of thinking. These sensations are now known to directly affect the body's chemistry in ways that compromise our innate healing ability.

While the term "psychosomatic disorder" is redundant, "psychosomatic medicine" is not because it recognizes the interaction between mind and body. Given that illness manifests in various ways, symptoms can range from being almost totally psychological in nature to almost exclusively physical in nature, "almost" being the key word here. Symptoms that are primarily psychological are often accompanied by physical symptoms. In some mental illnesses, for example, biological and genetic factors may even be the predominant cause of the illness. The psychosomatic nature of illness implies an inherent capacity for psychosomatic self-healing, aptly demonstrated by the biofeedback technique currently used in the treatment of some conditions. Many physical processes are directly influenced by the mental efforts of those using this particular self-healing device and various other techniques, such as guided imagery, self-hypnosis and acupressure, in which healing messages are sent to the brain and translated into the body’s biochemical language.

Self-healing techniques recognize that, since we have participated, either consciously or unconsciously, in the origin and development of our illness, we can also participate in our own healing process. Based on the psychosomatic approach, we participate in the development of an illness by making certain choices wherein we expose ourselves to stressful situations and then react to these situations in certain, often-unconscious ways. Even so, we know much more about ourselves than we may think. Because our body and mind do not always speak the same language, the communication may be in the form of vague, non-verbal sensations, so easily ignored or dismissed as insignificant or false by our predominantly verbal minds. We do know, however, that the sensation feels good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, right or wrong. To listen to these sensations is to participate in our own inner healing process. There is no guilt involved here; rather, we appreciate the opportunity to effect the necessary changes that will help the body’s systems regain their natural balance.

Any changes made are best made gradually so as not to throw our body-mind systems into confusion. In terms of food choices, the goal is not to eat rigidly, according to some externally imposed standard, but to be happy and healthy so that we are free to pursue our human potential, individually and collectively. To achieve this goal, a basic understanding of how we obtain our nutrients from the surrounding environment is essential. Then, we will be better able to alter our food habits in a significant and lasting way. How we acquire our food may also need to be considered. Whenever our actions are not in line with what we know to be right, in terms of how we "earn our daily bread", a conflict is created in our mind. This can interfere with our body’s ability to digest the food we eat. Food eaten under such circumstances can be toxic to our system, rather than the life-giving nourishment it is meant to be. Conflict makes its presence felt during the digestive process in very subtle ways, marking the difference between health and illness. As we become more sensitive to how our body-mind functions, these subtleties become increasingly obvious to us.

Another significant factor that we seem to have lost sight of, given contemporary life-style changes, is the connection between diet and exercise. If we exercise sensibly without eating quality-rich food, we cannot expect to regain and maintain optimum health. Nor is a proper diet without proper exercise conducive to health. Since a simple, natural diet and exercise are no longer givens in today's world, we need to deliberately include them in our daily activities. But, first, we need to be aware of our body's requirements in both areas, the connection between diet and exercise, and how they interact with and affect both our conscious and unconscious mind.

The human body is not a machine; it is a living organism that is conscious and intelligent. How it extracts its nutritional requirements from a given food is not a purely physical process. Much more subtle and complex, the process involves various interdependent and integrative processes that maintain the miraculous balance that is the human organism. By observing the body and listening to its needs, we can participate in its truly creative processes, both in sickness and in health, through the foods we eat and the activities we pursue in our daily life. By asking what is to be eaten, how much, when, how, and where, we invite inner responses that may alter our present eating habits in very practical and beneficial ways, both in terms of our physical and mental health.

The ability to sense our own hunger is inherent in all living beings. Unfortunately, this sense has been all but lost in so-called advanced countries. As societies become more complex and technology enables us to take the availability of food for granted, selecting the proper food and following basic healthy eating habits has taken a back seat to other pursuits. This ability can be revived simply by waiting for the physical sensations of hunger to occur before we eat. Also, giving thanks for our food creates an attitude of inner peace and appreciation, which, in turn, enables us to pay more attention to our food. To feel lonely when we eat alone means that we are not paying attention to and appreciating our food. When we sit quietly, calmly and leisurely with our food and chew each mouthful well, eating becomes an enjoyable activity because we are allowing ourselves to experience the food’s natural delicious taste. We find ourselves feeling satisfied with lesser amounts of food and overeating is less likely to happen.

Many people do not enjoy eating at home because they have not cultivated the art of cooking. Or, if they know how to cook, they may not appreciate the act of cooking for the art it truly is. The ability to prepare simple meals that are nutritious, tasty, and visually inviting is what turns cooking into an art. Simplicity in eating has a remarkable way of carrying over into other areas of living, making life the beautiful and fulfilling experience it is meant to be. Once we become interested in cooking as a means to enjoy optimal health and a greater sense of well-being, the necessary skills are not difficult to acquire; in fact, cooking can be as enjoyable as eating.

Ultimately, we can only support the healing process; we do not make it happen. Health care professionals who truly understand healing will never tell people they are going to die because they know that our response to disease is not at all predictable, statistics aside. Every cell in the body knows exactly what to do and will do it if it can. Those who have recovered from serious illnesses are not simply having "spontaneous remissions", a term used by contemporary medicine to explain what it does not yet understand or accept. Such recoveries need not be considered accidental or miraculous either; rather, they are simply examples of self-healing whereby the immune system has been sufficiently stimulated to perform its task, a process now known to be very much dependent on the state of a person's conscious and unconscious mind.

Stress and Health

Whenever we are faced with a threatening situation or must adapt to certain changes in our environment, we experience an imbalance due to our body-mind’s temporary loss of flexibility, called stress. Given that the organism is constantly interacting with its environment, stress is unavoidable and does not come only from negative experiences. Any event, positive or negative, joyous or sad, that calls for us to adapt to profound or rapid change is stressful. The real secret of a successful life is our capacity to adapt to constant change, which, in turn, keeps our body healthy by continually casting out old cells, eliminating metabolic waste, causing the blood and lymph to flow easily, their pH balance constantly monitored and adjusted.

While temporary stress is natural and harmless, prolonged or chronic stress plays a major role in the development of many illnesses. When the stressful situation is such that we can neither fight nor flee, the organism has no relief from its stressful state, eventually proving detrimental to our health. Some of the physical and psychological symptoms of prolonged stress are muscular tension, anxiety, indigestion, and insomnia, all of which can lead to illness because the immune system, our body's natural defence against illness, is being suppressed. If the stressful situation persists and, at the same time, escape into a particular disease is effectively blocked by medical intervention, the results can be even more detrimental than the disease itself. The intervention may cause the person to shift the expression of his or her stress response to a different illness with more serious consequences. Chronic and degenerative diseases, so prevalent in our society today, are now known to be closely connected to the accumulation of excessive stress.

Personal emotional traumas, anxieties and frustrations are not the only situations that give rise to stress. Increasingly, we are discovering that our social and economic systems are creating hazardous environments in which we must live. The various and interdependent systems in our body and their capacity to be flexible and responsive have their limits. Living in a society that subjects us to change at increasingly accelerated rates means that we have to take certain very specific action to maintain our health, since we alone are ultimately responsible for it. We do this by monitoring those changes in our lives that create excessive stress and act accordingly. Assuming that our society is likely to generate an increasing number of changes at an even faster pace, it behooves us to create and preserve a certain degree of inner peace and harmony by being aware of where stress comes from, how it affects us, and how we can best alleviate it.

A greater degree of harmony within ourselves and our environment can be created by becoming aware of and living according to nature's rhythms, which govern all living organisms and much of the physical world as well. Daily ocean tides ebb and flow, night becomes day, and day becomes night. Monthly, the moon waxes and wanes and the annual seasons come and go. Similarly, we become hungry, tired, happy, sad, energetic, and irritable at fairly predictable intervals governed by the rhythmical fluctuations of the body's internal systems--blood pressure, heart beat, respiration, urine flow, hormonal and enzyme levels, and body temperature, usually at its highest in the afternoon or evening and dropping to its lowest in the early morning hours. These biological rhythms are integrated and regulated by a process referred to as our "circadian rhythm" or "internal clock". The body's circadian cycle adheres roughly to the period of time that the earth revolves around the sun, encompassing both day and night and the shifts from one to the other. So sensitive are we to these rhythms, whether we are aware of them or not, that any disruption in them can cause us to be irritable, depressed, and even physically ill. Jet lag is a case in point.

The lunar cycle that governs the ocean tides also influences human energy systems, especially those of women. From ancient times, people have known that certain activities, those requiring greater amounts of initiative and creativity, are best carried out during the moon’s waxing, whereas less demanding activities involving the completion and evaluation of activities, and more contemplative pursuits, are best left to the latter half of the lunar cycle, when the moon wanes. Similarly, spring, summer, and early fall are seasons of heightened activity when crops are planted, tended, and harvested, while late fall and winter are seasons of rest and reflection. To live in harmony with these natural rhythms in and around us prevents the accumulation of undue stress.

Many of us do not recognize the inner healing capacity we have at our disposal. Conditioned since childhood to think that certain symptoms can only be dealt with by medical practitioners, we wait until a problem develops and then look outside ourselves for a solution. The reality is that our own inner healing power is what ultimately sets things right. When we tap into our own innate physical and mental resources, we awaken and develop the more inner-directed orientation required to restore and maintain health, thereby awakening even more of our human potential. We would do well to remember that, for nearly all of human history, we have survived and multiplied without any medical care whatsoever. Even today, most people in the world have very limited access to modern medicine. This relatively new approach seeks immediate results by introducing certain substances into the body that are highly antagonistic to whatever is thought to be causing a particular set of symptoms. Rarely does modern medicine concern itself with the root cause of the condition, since it does not see the body as a whole, each part interrelated and interdependent.

Natural healing, on the other hand, takes a slower, more organic approach, recognizing that the human body is exceedingly well-equipped to resist and heal disease and injuries IF there is nothing blocking its ability to do so. This approach facilitates and enhances our innate healing processes. Results are not expected to occur immediately, nor are there “side effects” and physiological complications so commonly experienced when more invasive methods are employed. Taking a much needed rest is often a much simpler, cheaper, safer, and more beneficial response in the long run. Simply paying attention to our inner condition can activate and facilitate the healing process. Attention is direct perception, an activity that requires no knowledge of anatomy or physiology, no recourse to words, only an awareness of the body's sensations without naming or describing them in any way. To simply be aware is to be free of thinking, which is meditation as defined in the second chapter. In this sense, then, health, as a prerequisite to wisdom, becomes our meditation in which the wisdom available to us is revealed.

The Holistic Approach to Health Care

Holistic health care recognizes the human being as a living system comprised of various parts and sub-systems, physical and psychological in nature, an interdependent and integrated whole. This approach also considers the person to be an integral part of the larger, external systems--family, community, society, nation, and world. As a natural outcome of this understanding, holistic medicine is not merely a specific procedure or form of treatment; it is a way of living, a way of responding. It recognizes that the physiology of the human body is affected by the host of internal and external factors with which it interacts, that any irregularity in its functioning is connected in some way to how we live in our environment, and that the disease process is an expression of the body-mind's overall condition, the sum total of our thinking, attitudes, food, and other acquired living habits. Just as the macrocosmic universe is more than the sum of its parts, and is a complex web of relationships, so too the microcosmic body-mind complex.

True healing is not a matter of removing symptoms but of discovering why they appear in the first place and how to correct the underlying condition without harming other areas of the body. A holistically-oriented practitioner knows that we can and do heal ourselves and encourages us to assume responsibility for our own health. True health-care practitioners understand that if people continue to live in ways that have led to the imbalanced condition that expresses as poor health, whatever therapy they may be engaged in, they are likely to develop similar or even more serious ailments in the future. Therefore, they stress the need to alter detrimental habits as part of the healing process in conjunction with the appropriate external interventions, if applicable. They are also able to tolerate the healing process’s inherent uncertainty, to honour a patient's emotions while being equally responsive to their own, and to provide the necessary support throughout the process even though the outcome may be death. In fact, the word "doctor" comes from the Latin docere, "to teach", and the word "therapy" comes from the Greek therapeuein, "to attend or assist".

The potential for taking responsibility for our health and availing ourselves of the best that both conventional and complementary medicine has to offer has never been greater. Since 75 percent of all medical visits are either stress- or anxiety-related or are for colds and flus, many of the holistic therapies are the simplest, least expensive, and safest means of health care. Given this scenario, a large percentage of the financial and human resources presently focused on high-tech research would be more effectively re-directed to patient education and encouraging life-style practices that enhance our inner healing capacity.

It needs to be understood that pain and other expressions of the body trying to balance itself are friendly warnings, not enemies to be driven underground. Even as the pain signals are given, the body releases pain-relieving endorphins ("inner morphine"). The body's ability to release endorphins is enhanced by deep relaxation, the basis of all natural pain-relieving techniques and the best possible medicine for invoking the healing process. Many common painful conditions--low back pain, migraines, peptic ulcers, and even heart attacks--respond very well to deep relaxation, which enables nature to take its course, emotionally and physically. The release of endorphins is a healing response that we can learn to activate to alleviate pain in a more natural, less invasive way while avoiding the expense, inconvenience, discomfort, and dangers of highly toxic drugs and surgical procedures, best used only as a last resort.

Once we acknowledge the inherent healing capacity of the body, we can easily adopt a more holistic approach to our health, in terms of our daily activities, an approach based on the simple principles of living. We are then more likely to discover and include appropriate nutrition and exercise into our day, and to learn how to relax and interact with the external world as it is. Listening to our body and fulfilling its requirements becomes easier with practice, the entire process becoming part of the harmony that is our life. Those who have adopted this more holistic life-style enjoy greater "adaptability" in all areas of living, an adaptability that our ancestors had even in the most rugged circumstances. Quiet reflection on the various messages our body is constantly conveying is, in most cases, all we need to do to know how to respond in order to maintain optimal health. This is what taking responsibility (the ability to respond) for our health is really all about.

Health and Meditation

Without health, there can be no meditation. The body will distract us and the mind will preoccupy itself with our physical discomfort. Diet and other life-style issues that tax the balanced state of our body-mind rob the mind of its ability to be quiet, clear and receptive, no matter how diligently we practise.

Meditation is total awareness of, total attention to what is as it is, externally and internally. In this state, right action is spontaneous, without effort or conflict. We are aware of our body's condition and are more able to maintain its health. Meditation can become our natural state, awarefulness that recognizes our human potential and purpose. In this sense, meditation is both the means and the end, health being a key factor throughout. Health is our wealth, our means of seeing everything as it is in its wholeness, which is meditation. Health and meditation are one.

  1. ^This article is an edited, abridged version of Chapter 5, Meditation: Awakening Our Human Potential, by M. Narasimha Rao, Ph.D. and Beverley Viljakainen (1995, ABM Publishing, Durham, Ontario, Canada). Dr. Rao's doctorate is in Philosophy (Yoga and Vedanta}. He taught yoga at the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute in Pune, India before immigrating to the U.S. in 1988. Beverley Viljakainen is a life-long student and practitioner of meditation, living in rural Ontario.