The body as a collection of Nature's basic elements (the medieval conception of the four humors is an example).
The body as the temple of the soul.
The body as an expression of the life force (the Chinese concept of Chi is an example).
The body as a machine.
Depending on which model your culture accepted, you approached illness and wellness in different ways. A doctor might advise a patient to pray to God as opposed to taking a pill, strengthening his Chi, or correcting imbalances in the four humors. Today the body-as-machine model prevails thanks to the reductionist method of science. Machines are repaired by mechanics who tinker with its defective parts, and that's basically what doctors do in their practice. But it's obvious that your body isn't a machine. Your body is alive, for one thing. It can heal itself. It's self-organizing and self-regulating. Exercise makes it stronger, whereas a machine, if used more often, begins to wear out.
Yet the biggest flaw in the machine model, as I see it, is its rejection of the mind-body connection. When I was in medical school, no such thing existed. At most we learned about psychosomatic disorders, with the clear implication that they weren't real, being the result of the patient's imagination. This situation hasn't changed much in medical school, sad to say, but the surge in alternative and integrated medicine has brought the mind-body connection to the fore. This development is so important that a fourth model of the body is being formulated as we speak: a systems model.
In the systems model, every cell is intelligent. The body holds together through a constant stream of information that reaches every cell. Homeostasis - a state of dynamic balance - represents health. Inflammation, as yet not fully understood, represents the state of imbalance, leading to many if not most diseases. A person's habits, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior are the key to well-being, since messages from the brain affect the whole body. The brain plays a critical role in the feedback loops that maintain homeostasis, yet at every level, down to the expression of your genes, feedback repeats the same pattern of input and output. Positive input promotes well-being; negative input impairs well-being.
-The advantages of a systems model can be summarized in a few key points:
- Self-care becomes primary care, not reliance on drugs and surgery from a doctor.
- Beliefs and attitudes assume the same status as physical input, such as food and exercise.
- Improving genetic expression is now possible, extending the benefits of positive lifestyle changes.
- Positive lifestyle changes don't need years to show benefits but start immediately.
- Most chronic disorders become preventable through routine maintenance of the whole system. This includes heart disease and probably the vast majority of cancers.
- Mind-oriented practices like meditation improve well-being throughout the system, all the way down to the genetic level.
There is abundant and mounting evidence that all of these things are true, which means that a systems model has reality on its side, more so than the machine model. In reality your body is a process, not a thing. Well-being depends on finding your flow, in terms of a relaxed but alert mental state, a steady positive mood about your life, following the natural rhythm of rest and activity, taking realistic, practical steps to reduce stress, respecting the need for a good night's sleep, avoiding toxins, and relying on your body's intelligence.
It's the last point that will radically change people's behavior, I believe. Our basic attitude should be a reliance on the intelligence that is innate in every cell. Instead of seeing the body as a machine that, like a new car, must deteriorate over time, we should see it as a system that learns, adapts, and improves over time. In short, we need to let the body take care of us, for that is what it's actually doing. The one thing this amazingly self-sufficient system needs from you is better input. A host of things constitute better input:
- Whatever makes you happier.
- Being more relaxed and accepting.
- Strong self-esteem, a sense of worth.
- Being of service to others, giving.
- Showing generosity of spirit.
- Loving, nurturing relationships.
- Any activity that makes you feel light in mind and body.
- Taking time to play, and having a playful attitude.
- Not stressing out other people.
- Devoting yourself to projects that have real meaning and purpose.
- Being self-aware.
- Expanding our awareness. Growing and maturing from the inside.
- Being comfortable with your inner world.
- Working through negative emotions like anger, envy, and fear.
- Reverence for Nature.
- Faith and a belief in a higher power, whatever that may be.