A Natural Medicine Life: What Keeps Me Healthy (& Sane)
I'm absolutely terrified of saying that I haven't got a cold this year yet. I won't even talk about the flu shot that I didn't get, even though I'm in a high risk demographic working with hundreds of people daily and I'm asthmatic. There's something about saying those words allowed that makes me totally freak out and go and wash my hands and take zinc tablets and drink two litres of water, a magic ritual to ward off the 'lurgy', which for those who don't know, is a word for an unspecified illness, British in origin. And so I approach the Ecotrain question of the week (which I encourage you to answer, too!) with a degree of caution, just in case I totally jinx myself. But hey, as the leader of Natural Medicine, how could I resist writing a post about health? It's the cornerstone of a group focussed on natural healing through conscious choices about what we put in our bodies, or don't, as the case may bee.
I was brought up to be health conscious, and being so has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. If you have two Virgos for parents (who are known to be fanatically health conscious, stereotype wise) you're going to to be. I would marvel at friends who seemed to go weeks without a vegetable touching their lips, whereas I couldn't go two days without needing fresh vegetables. You notice the difference when you're raised on a vegetarian diet and a mother who handed you raw cabbage and capsicum over the kitchen bench when us kids would sit there, watch her cook and wail I'm huuuuunnnnggggrrryyyyy.....'.
And so, even before I get ill, I know what's going to be good for me. I know that a balanced diet with variety is going to give my body's system what it needs, and if I'm ailing, it's my diet that I first look at. I know around that time of the month I'll be craving a brown rice, lentil and silverbeet pilaf kinda think that Mum used to make, and find myself in the garden eating handfuls of raw parsley. In winter it's citrus I crave, and lots of it - limes and lemons in water, blood oranges and tangelos (because just an ordinary orange doesn't tickle me half as much) and pineapples. As for what I don't put in my mouth, all jokes aside, sugar is one I've always avoided. When I was younger it was because I was told it would make you fat, and thought that may be a contributor (no one is going to be svelte on a block of chocolate and two litres of coke a day), I'm more worried about the inflammation it causes, and inflammation is good for nuffin', kiddos, good for nuffin'.
What I love about being conscious about food choices is that it's always a process of inquiry. There's always something new to learn, from the effects of a particular herb, food combinations, or simply how food can cheer you up, calm you down, or downright sustain you through difficult times. Depressed? Give me moong dahl with lots of ginger and a squeeze of lemon, topped with coriander. Ultimate comfort food (okay, okay, I'm guilty of loving a welsh rarebit, which is basically grated cheese, milk and mustard on toast, melted - THAT is ultimate comfort food too). Summertime? Give me a big bowl of raw fennel, red peppers, parsley, pomegranates, various lettuces with an avocado and tahini dressing and roasted seeds.
All of that is nothing, of course, without exercise. By 14, my father had brainwashed me into being a surfer for life, and by 16, I'd brainwashed him into being a yogi for life. The two things go together beautifully and whilst I do love a walk on the beach, I'm never going to run or play ball sports, it's just not my style. Yoga makes sense to me (or asana practice, as a limb of 'yoga') as it stimulates prana, chi, or energy flows in the body - think of this not necessarily as a mystical flow but of lymph and blood and fluids around our joints. I love the investigation into the subtle body and how we might affect our internal organs with a particular pose - twists, for example, will stimulate blood flow around the kidneys, a kind of 'rinse' effect, or, in downward dog, the pressing of your thumbs firmly into the mat will activate the line that runs up to your heart - whether it's 'meridian' or 'fascia' is irrelevant, but I can feel the changes to my body as I attend to these seemingly minor details. And I haven't even begun to discuss pranyam, or yogic breathing which has an incredible effect on our nervous systems, but also can also be seen as an asana, or shape, in it's own right, changing the internal shape of the body as it stretches and tones the diaphragm, the intercostal muscles, the abdomen. All this moving meditation helps me stay sane, too, by pulling me into the present moment with that most blessed of actions, the breath.
Me, in Bali, home practice
I'm far from perfect. Sometimes I drink too much. Sometimes I go a week without meditating. Sometimes I don't do yoga for a fortnight because I can't be bothered and sometimes I eat too many almond fingers because they accidentally fell into my trolley. But on the whole, I do alright. We can't live our lives avoiding all the bad stuff just because we think we might get sick and die. We have a good mate in England that didn't touch alcohol at all and got cancer, so once he was cured, he bought himself the fastest motorbike he could buy and discovered the delights of red wine and cheese. He's healthy and happy. My father's been the healthiest guy I know all my life and it was his 5 month stint in Vietnam where he didn't even fight that caused his cancer, even though it didn't show up for fifty years. He'd be a goner already if he wasn't healthy and fit enough for the treatment he's giving him.
I'm so grateful for the @naturalmedicine community who are there for me if I'm suffering, and I love the way that if people might be experiencing a symptom, there's someone on hand that might know someone who tried a particular treatment that worked, or might point us in the right direction to heal ourselves. I love how we learn and grow from each other and since I've been part of this amazing group, I've learnt more about herbs as medicine too, building on my alternative first aid kit knowledge that started when I was a teenager. So it was that when the husband had a nose operation a few months back, I was able to help the internal bleeding with plantain tea, which worked a treat, or when he got a sore throat, the old ayurvedic treatment of turmeric and honey helped, or when I'm feeling anxious, a few drops of homemade hops tincture in a lemon verbena, sage and chamomile tea helps me sleep at night (we call this a quadruple relaxo).
Sometimes, shit just happens. You pick up a disease, or come across a chemical that screws with your cells, or catch a flu bug. I count myself as lucky to have the education, curiosity, knowledge and support systems that can help nurture me back to health or make give me a fighting chance before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Above all, right now, I believe that maintaining a healthy life is going to surely make me feel better whilst I'm living it.
Now where are those almond fingers?