GIVE IT TO ME STRAIGHT DOC!
Okay, first the doom and gloom – it’s no secret that the NHS is beginning to look a bit ropey. Tossed back and forth between successive Labour and Conservative governments – each proudly declaring its commitment to healing this great British institution whilst covertly carving her up and flogging off parts to private firms via the back door, her prognosis ain’t looking good.
What’s more, the poor old girl is something of a victim of her own success – thanks to the efforts of her staff and the wonders of modern medicine, people are living longer. This is a tremendous achievement in itself, but a rapidly ageing population only ensures that her resources will be stretched ever-thinner in the future; whilst the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in our society and chemical pollutants in our environment and food is causing us to develop chronic health complaints at earlier and earlier ages.
A BETTER PROGNOSIS!
As tremendous as these challenges may be, they are also prompting a much-needed revolution in the way that we perceive our health. Accompanied by a renewed awareness of the need to address people’s spiritual well-being and our intuitive connections to the wider world, we are steadily peeling away from a solely mechanistic view of healthcare and embracing a more holistic perspective. With this transition comes an incredible opportunity to integrate the very best practices of contemporary and traditional medicine – projecting a healthier, happier vision of humanity into the future.
Since the advent of modern medicine, our culture has adopted a ‘patch-em-up’ mentality with regard to healthcare – favouring treatment over prevention and surgical or chemical intervention over the promotion of good nutrition and physical exercise. This paradigm has served us adequately up until a point, but today, as the destructive effects of our thoughtless behaviour becomes more apparent and the resources upon which this system is based dwindle, its shortcomings are becoming abundantly clear.
The word ‘doctor’ is of Latin origin, and means ‘teacher’ – a legacy which is still alive in academic circles’ use of the term, but which has little baring on the practice of contemporary medical doctors. The medicine men (and women) of old adopted an entirely different approach to the consolidation of health, however. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, for instance – even to this day – focus on the teaching of skills and the provision of supplements that maintain health, and are paid whilst you remain well, rather than when you get sick.
Now, traditional Chinese medicine has earned itself a bad rap over the years, and not entirely without just cause – this blogger certainly isn’t advocating the prescription of powdered panda penis or pummeled tiger bones as a viable alternative to conventional pharmaceutical medicine. It’s important to understand, however, how these superstitions have arisen.
Chinese medicine is based upon a conceptual model of life, orientated around ancient Taoist thought and the observation of opposing ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ elements continually waxing and waning within nature. It does not seek to identify technical solutions to specific structural malfunctions within the body, but instead attempts to apply intuition to promote a state of harmony within our internal environment.
Needless to say, employing this interpretive approach does leave room for the proliferation of unfounded assumptions – as is the case with all traditions of folk medicine; but equally, this method has led to the refinement of tremendously sophisticated therapeutic tools – which, just like their Western counterparts, are the result of generations of experimentation and observation. Qi gong, for instance – a series of exercises revolving around breathing and movement (or in some cases holding static postures) has been demonstrated to be a very effective treatment for allergies and boosting immune function.
It is this holistic appreciation of the need for balance in our lives that we must embrace if we are to encourage a healthier attitude to our physical and mental well-being, both for individuals and society at large.
COMMUNITY CARE – THE CURE FOR WHAT AILS YA!
Gravitating towards a more traditional, holistic, community-based existence doesn’t just afford us opportunities to embrace invaluable new (old!) therapeutic devices though; it can actually be thought of as medicine itself!
The most up-to-date research regarding addiction is a prime example of this – demonstrating the importance of an integrative network of support in determining sound mental health. Rather than depicting addiction as a fundamental psychological shortcoming of the afflicted individual or a terrible ‘disease’ that is first and foremost a physical response to chemical stimuli, the latest evidence paints addiction as a very natural response to shortcomings in our communal environment.
In essence, when we lack positive reinforcement, love, support and creative stimulation we seek to fill that void with artificial replacements and become hooked on the short-term high that they afford us. Provide a person with an authentic, well-rounded means of invoking these essentials, however, and addictive substances lose their power over us.
Ironically, this contemporary perspective on mental health difficulties – and the physical dependencies and ailments that often result from them – is backed up by the renewed interest in the use of psychoactive compounds to overcome them. Ayahuasca, for instance, has been shown to be an extremely effective treatment for heroin addiction and alcoholism, whilst Cannabis, LSD, MDMA and ketamine are proving to have tremendous application for a variety of serious physical and psychological complaints.
What is important about these treatments, however, is not just their physiological and neurological effects – but the way in which they are used to stimulate the mind. In many cases these substances do not represent ‘cures’ or treatments in themselves, but are catalysts used to invoke a state that is conducive to the patient carrying out certain work that returns them to a more natural, balanced psychological state. This is a state that is precipitated and maintained by a warm, supportive and fulfilling community-orientated lifestyle.
The positive effects of endorphines (happy hormones!) on immune function and the maintenance of healthy bodily processes is well documented, and there is powerful evidence demonstrating that happiness is both a skill that can be cultivated and a natural outgrowth of a life lead in particular fashion. This appreciation of the mind’s potent ability to consolidate health and facilitate healing is likely to become even more important in the future, as anti-biotics lose their efficacy due to overuse and the resultant growth of drug-resistant bacteria.
We shouldn’t, of course, undermine the value of external agents as powerful tools in our healing tool kit – and once again a more traditional approach proves demonstrably favorable in this regard. In addition to the cultivation of specific herbal medicines – many of which have proven application and can be grown easily and cheaply at home – the benefits of a plant-based diet have been firmly established by scientific study; and are a natural bi-product of living a more sustainable lifestyle, working together to produce much of our own food. Many top-flight athletes today have converted wholeheartedly to veganism, citing greater energy reserves, better sleeping patterns, reduced recovery times and increased cardiovascular fitness as reasons for their decision.
Let us make no mistake, the challenges that we face in reimagining our system of healthcare are considerable. The National Health Service and conventional pharmaceutical medicine are not going to be sufficient to deal with the growing tide of health problems miring our struggling society. They do not tackle the underlying issues and they are dependent on resources we no longer have ready access to in order to maintain their supply.
Nonetheless, there is every reason to look to the future with a sense of hope and optimism. The health difficulties predominantly faced by people in this country are environmental or behavioural in origin – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, most mental health disorders, many neurological conditions, allergies, bone, joint, ligament and postural issues – in the majority of cases these are entirely avoidable or treatable if we alter our behaviour and the environment in which we live.
The evidence is authoritative and compelling – living as part of a loving, supportive, tight-knit community – which grows its own food and passes on practices that promote health from one generation to the next – is the key to a long and happy life. Embrace these principles – be a part of the revolution: embrace community.
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