My recent bout of influenza was, on many levels, a life-changing experience for me. As I lay naked on the shower floor, having passed out flat, wallowing in self pity and sobbing to myself “I can’t afford to be sick….I’m a single mum running a business”, my attention quickly turned from WHAT can I do/take to quickly get better (which I detailed in a blog post here), to the far more interesting question of WHY did I get sick in the first place.
I know that nothing occurs randomly in nature. It is not simply “bad luck” that some people get sick while others, who are exposed to exactly the same illness, do not. A compromised immune system doesn't stem from the fact that you are simply “unlucky”. I firmly believe that illness, in whatever guise it takes, is a potent sign that the body is, in short, out of balance. Whilst the greatest yearning of the human heart is connection, the greatest yearning of the human body is balance. The ancient yin and yang principle beautifully illustrates that without balance, chaos and disorder results. Our internal and external ecosystems dance in a harmonious tango that predicate balance. When there is balance, there is flow, energy and vitality.
“Whilst the greatest yearning of the human heart is connection, the greatest yearning of the human body is balance”
Illness is mother nature's wake up call that you could be looking after your health a little better and have let things get out of balance. It's the canary in the coal mine. It's the timely messenger saying "Ahem, sorry to be the party pooper but you can't keep doing what you're doing. Something has gotta change. And I'll just keep sending you louder and louder messages until you really stop and listen".
To keep our internal ecosystem in homeostasis (balance) we need to attend to a number of lifestyle /environmental factors which are so pivotal I call them the 8 foundations of health:
5. stress management (mindfulness)
6. breath (how and what we breathe)
7. connection with ourselves and others
8. spending time in sunshine and nature generally
These foundations are so fundamental to keeping the body humming in homeostasis with a robust immune system that a consistent neglect of one or more of them results in imbalance leading to illness or dis-ease. I go into song and verse about each of these foundations in my health coaching sessions.
For me this bed ridden illness was Mother Nature sitting me down, looking me square in the eye and saying "Ok great, now that I finally have your attention, what can you be doing better to improve your health and well-being on a day to day basis? Care to have a little think about what you were neglecting?" There is nothing like a debilitating illness to force us to look within and really ask what is going on. And sheepishly I glanced down and found on the floor 3 balls laying forgotten in the corner gathering dust with the words "stress management", "movement" and "sunshine" on them.
I gathered them up, blew off the dust and had no choice but to reflect on the strategies I will have to put in place to create space in my week to give them the love and attention they deserve. I can no longer view these 3 foundations as luxuries (“who has the time to exercise, I mean really?!?”, “Lying on the beach in the middle of the day when I have a business to run, are you kidding me?!”, “Spending 20 minutes in meditation- what a life?!”) but as absolute necessities to counterbalance my raging yang with calming yin.
We need to bask in the sunshine and to move our bodies as they designed to move and to meditate or just chill out doing nothing each day to calm our nervous system from the constant bombardment of stimulants of modern life. We NEED to do so, so that when life does throw us a curve ball in the name of an illness, we have the resilience to dodge it. A nutrient-dense wholefoods diet can't make up for the consistent neglect of the other foundations of health – they are ALL equally fundamental. It's often a bitter pill to swallow for über-driven A-type personalities like myself who are hell-bent on being on the go to furiously tick off to-do lists, and won't rest, exercise or have fun in the sun until it's "all done". The reality is that it's rarely going to get "all done" anyway especially if you're working on grandiose projects that are very much a work in progress. If you don't create balance, Mother Nature will sooner or later take care of that for you with "forced rest". Wiser to chip away on a daily basis with rituals of foundational self-care than have to experience the misery and inconvenience of forced rest.
“Illness forces us to look within and really ask what is going on...”
As I look back on my life, every bitterly painful situation I have experienced, turned out in hindsight to be a blessing in disguise. It was an opportunity to learn and grow and steer us into a different, more fulfilling, direction. Every illness, breakup, redundancy, and accident were divine interventions redirecting me to a brighter path. I have written before that sometimes it takes something cataclysmic for us to change paths. We often need to have the breakdowns in order to have the breakthroughs. Nothing is more true of debilitating illness. The mere realisation that some aspect of your health and well-being has been neglected means you're half way there. But actually doing something about it on a consistent long term basis is what will get you to vibrant health.