An old Indian yoga teacher once told me that in order to remain healthy I must get up half an hour before the rest of my family to do my yoga breathing. Anyone with kids will understand why I laughed in his face. 'why do you laugh?', he asked genuinely puzzled, 'I've got kids', I retorted, he paused and smiled knowingly ‘Even more reason to take time to do this’, he answered gently, his kind eyes sparkling as those of a man in his twenties (he was almost 70), ‘if you are not fit and well’, he continued, ‘how can you care for your family? What would happen if you became ill?’.
Up until that point I'd always viewed doing things for myself as indulgent and self-centred. Yoga, massage, reflexology or even just time with friends, were all treats as opposed to necessities. Even now, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit to going for a treatment when asked what I’ve got planned for the day but should I be? Our bodies are incredibly complex, with today’s pressures it’s not a wonder they become out of balance and it’s when they're out of balance things tend to go wrong. The traditional Western approach to health is so backward. We wait for something to go wrong then we deal with it, generally by going to our local GP, who in turn prescribes some medicine. The Eastern approach on the other hand, is all about prevention and recognises that physical illnesses are often the symptoms of a greater imbalance that may or may not have a root cause in the physical. By viewing ourselves holistically (i.e. as a whole; mind, body and soul), sickness can be kept to a minimum and disease may be prevented (or if genetic, at the very least may be delayed). It is now said that 70% of all GP visits and 85% of serious illnesses are triggered by stress*. That's a huge figure. So many of us are running on adrenaline which, whilst it gets us through the day, puts immense pressure on our bodies and for some, frankly is a time bomb waiting to go off. For most of us life is unbelievably busy and finding time to do something that isn’t thought of as essential is impossible. Maybe an hour a day is unrealistic - there is no way I am voluntarily getting out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5am (our 2 are generally up from about 5.30am). However, I aim for yoga once a week and reflexology or a massage once a month and keep an eye on my diet. I feel I have balance in my life and what's more I don't feel guilty about it. I tell myself it’s crucial to my family's wellbeing (as are the bottle of wine at the weekend obviously!!). Holistic treatments are not only a great way of maintaining homeostasis (i.e. keeping our bodies in balance), they massively relax us which in turn allows us to engage our inner healing. Of course there is a place for Western medicine too but perhaps if we focused more on prevention we wouldn't need nearly as much of it. My yoga teacher was right if we are ill we are no good to anyone!
*UK HSE stress statistics