By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.
We are constantly bombarded with information on how to eat healthily, exercise correctly, avoid stress, and most importantly defy aging.
We see health and happiness marketed on billboards and buses, on the covers of magazines, in pop-up ads on our computer, in endless TV ads from pharmaceutical companies, and with the preponderance of “longevity” clinics, products, and heath resorts.
We are militantly challenged to “defy aging”, conditioned to “want” health, to seek it, to perfect it
….but what, exactly, is health and what is the nature of wellness?
Dr. Zur’s Definition of Health
Health is cultivating that which is best in us in order to live life joyfully, intentionally, consciously, morally, and well. Healthy life often involves connections to other people, personal meaning, and thoughtful attention to one’s body, mind, and spirit, as well as to one’s community and the world. It also requires making conscious choices that support our optimal well being throughout each phase of life, including our attitude towards death and dying.
Healthy living relates to finding balance in our lives between:
- high speed and low speed
- acceleration and stillness
- acceptance of what “is” and desire to change, transform, and transcend
- watching online trading and watching sunsets
- reading blogs and emails and reading novels, poetry, or sacred texts
- attending to everyday, mundane ‘stuff’ and attending to spiritual matters
- attending to our own individual needs and to community or world needs
- spending time with people and embracing solitude
- engaging in virtual and face to face communication
- surfing the Internet and surfing the Inner-net.
Living a healthy, joyous, and rewarding life most often involves
our attention to the following different aspects of our lives:
We often think of physical health primarily in relationship to weight and shape or nutrition and exercise. We tend not to pay much attention to our body if it speaks to us in a whisper, such as chronic mild fatigue, headaches, or high blood pressure. We often finally pay closer attention to our bodies when they shout at us via major illness or medical crisis, such as heart attack, diabetes, and cancer. When possible, we attempt to silence or exaggerate the discomfort or dis-ease with stimulants, depressants, sleepers, alcohol, and pornography, or pain medication. There are three aspects of physical health that will be discussed below: nutrition, exercise and bodywork-massage-rest.
Nutrition: A body well nurtured greatly increases the clarity and presence of our life experience. A well-nourished body and thoughtful nutrition promotes our capacity to live a healthy and fulfilling life. We can achieve such a state by drinking plenty of water, eating fresh and natural foods with a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fats and fiber, and taking supplements that are consistent with our individual constitution, age, and gender. Avoiding processed food further supports the body in this function, as many nutrients are lost in processing, and chemical additives are linked with a variety of physical disorders
Exercise: Physical exercise not only builds muscle, increases our aerobic capacity and helps in weight control, it also strengthens the heart, increases circulation, moves key nutrients throughout the body, and aids in detoxification and in creating hormonal balance. Health promoting physical exercise may include a wide variety of possibilities from aerobic, high intensity intervals, weights, Pilates, yoga, Feldenkrais, T’ai Chi and other forms of marshal arts, and many more enriching practices.
Bodywork, Relaxation and Rest: Besides nutrition and exercise our bodies need to be touched (i.e., massage or some type of bodywork), relaxation (i.e., meditation, progressive relaxation, visualization, etc.), deep continuous rest that is most often achieved in a full night’s sleep. Breathing deeply, slowing down, resting, and receiving massages seem to be lost in a world that is driven by the myth that “time is money.”
Using our brain, mental and cognitive capacity, involves continuing to expand our knowledge and understanding ourselves and the world around us. It also involves learning to employ critical and conscious thinking. Our brains are amazing organs and can accomplish great things for us. Regretfully, people tend to waste the brain’s capacities by allowing it to function largely on its own. Left unattended, our brains often pull our entire awareness into the thought world by incessant planning, ruminating and feeling guilty about the past and fearful worry about the future. To live healthily, we need to cultivate awareness, learn how to control our ruminations, worries, guilt, and fears. We must remember that we are neither our brains nor guilt-ridden ruminators. Instead, we must cultivate our mental capacities to observe the workings of our own mind and find ways to redirect them. Large and small benefits are reaped by this endeavor. We can use this capacity to narrow our focus on the exquisite beauty of a single blossom or single moment, direct our attention to great discoveries and deeper understandings, or to alter the growth trajectory of a cancer cell as part of a contribution for self-healing.
Developing the capacity to comprehend one’s own and others’ feelings, and developing the deep capacity for empathy and compassion, are probably the most unique and important human capabilities. In its ideal form, emotional health is experienced as contentment with the past, open presence, compassionate acceptance, a sense of awe of the present as it is being lived, and a sense of optimistic or delightful curiosity for the future. Healthy people are neither slaves nor victims of their emotions, nor do they let their emotions “run the show.” Instead, they become aware and reflect on their emotions and integrate them with their thinking rather than acting on them impulsively.
Spirituality is a pathway to finding meaning, hope, strength, comfort, deep connections and inner peace in one’s life. While some people find spirituality through traditional organized religions, others find it through nature, music, art, service to others or the earth, or through meditation, ritual or other practices.
Healthy living often involves living with presence while becoming conscious, aware, ‘awake,’ and responsible for one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behavior, as well as one’s impact on other people, one’s environment, and the global good. Part of being conscious is the capacity to think critically and avoid emotional reasoning and dogmatic thinking that is highly prevalent in the mass media, including advertisements and political rhetoric and propaganda.
Come To Terms With Our Mortality
Accepting our mortality, regardless of our spiritual orientation, and being aware of the inevitability of death are essential for many people to achieve full, healthy living. Longevity practices may help us to feel better, as we live longer, but death will claim each of us in the end. Denying or repressing the idea and feelings related to the inevitability of our own death can cause a deadening experience that robs us of living each moment with passion and presence. Some people fail to realize that all the money, sex, gadgets, etc. are not going to change the fact that our days are numbered. When we allow ourselves to know how truly short life is and even to stare death straight in the eye, we will be likely to bring our core values into focus, view each day as precious, and chose to live more consciously and fully in the remaining time that we have. While many people are afraid that facing our mortality can be depressing, in fact, it can be invigorating and life affirming. In summary, those who are ready to die well are likely to live well.
Live With Meaning
Why are we here? What is the value of our lives? These are ancient questions and each person must find his or her way to the ever-evolving answers. As we examine the kaleidoscope of life’s experiences, many of us search for what gives us meaning or greatest value. For many of us, finding meaning in one’s life is an important ingredient in healthy living.
Being part of family and community is essential to our survival as humans. However, sustaining healthy families and viable communities seems to be one the biggest challenges of our time. At the heart of healthy family life are the capacities to love, empathize and feel compassion. Healthy families and nurturing communities come in many forms, vary among cultures, and evolve over time. The core of healthy family and communal relationships involves love and respect for all members and commitment to making choices that protect and nurture the most vulnerable members from violence, exploitation and injustice. Within our marriages, intimate partnerships and families we must learn to effectively deal with crises, such as martial affairs or infidelity, divorces, and teen violence and, when necessary, seek prenuptial counseling. Some of the healthy communal, cultural and societal values include justice, civility, responsibility, nurturance, acceptance and inclusion, leadership, teamwork, tolerance for differences, viewing conflict as an opportunity, seeking peaceful solutions to conflicts, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, and civic engagement.
Our bodies call us to form physical communion with another through intimacy and sexual experiences. While the form of intimacy and sexuality vary greatly among people and cultures, in the best of these unions, intimacy and knowledge expand and something new and beautiful is born. It may be a baby, or it may be the birth of some element of the relationship such as love, trust, bonding, openness, renewed passion for life, humor, or playfulness. Intimacy and healthy sexuality involve awareness and appreciation of these creative potentials.
Creating a healthy lifestyle is multifaceted in its exploration, identification, and application. The definition of health, and the blueprint for building it, are constantly evolving like most human institutions, science, and consciousness. Accordingly, health is an evolving idea and living healthily is an evolving and, hopefully, exciting journey.