This is a “back to basics” blog post.
Over time my viewpoint has changed and evolved as my knowledge has grown.
I believe there is a hierarchy of healing co-factors (if you will). As I began to write this piece, I had originally thought that it'd perhaps be best geared toward physical health, and then as I was able to isolate certain parts of the pyramid, I concluded that it'd also have an impact on mental health. And now I'm going to go so far as to say that this is probably the Way to live life. These isolated factors laid out below do in fact impact every aspect of a person's life, directly or indirectly.
The purpose of this writing is simply to orient you to a new way of thinking (or reinforce the one you already have) with concerns to handling your body, mind and health thereof.
Now without further ado, behold the mighty pyramid! Okay, I confess. This graphic took me about 10 minutes to throw together in Photoshop. It’s crude, but it works to illustrate the point.
You'll notice that I've placed supplements at the top of the pyramid.
Yet a lot of people today, with their instant gratification mindsets, are placing supplements at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of importance. And perhaps it’s all they know, for these concepts aren't taught in schools, and much marketing is geared toward selling products, in some cases diets, but the picture is much bigger.
As a side note, when I entered into the supplement industry, I did so with a certain criteria in mind. First, I wanted access to high quality products that I could use and recommend to friends. But I knew that instead of swimming through the sea of crappy products to find the best, it'd be smarter to use supplements that have been in use by doctors, who actively practice medicine and use these supplements on a daily basis. And going one step further, I consider as well that education is the key to better health (or many, many doctors visits, which equates to gaining education in another way).
And thus you will see on the Synergy Gold website that many of the products we offer are coupled with videos by one of the doctors to help you best understand their usage and how to get the most out of them. Anyway, not trying to plug my company, but in this writing I've made it clear that supplements are “supplementing” the other key parts of the pyramid. I don't want to downplay their role as they can offer tremendous support and relief. They are a valuable tool and piece to the overall combination of health factors.
Most people have SOMETHING going on with their body to indicate that some point of this pyramid is out of balance. And so the role of the doctor cannot be understated. Their purpose is to help you get your body (or mind) under some sort of manageable control and into a more optimal and functional state of being.
I often cringe when I hear about cancer survivors that use western treatments to get their cancer into remission and then go on eating cheeseburgers and ice cream, essentially going back to the same style of life that caused their problem. If you’re healthy now, then be responsible for your own self. Improve yourself and improve your loved ones. And teach your children well so that our future will be better.
Let’s get into the points of the GREAT PYRAMID! (insert loud echo voice)
Today, I think stress management is the single most important step one can take to dramatically improve their life. This is so because I also believe that in the hierarchy of healing co-factors, the spirit and mind are elevated above the body in terms of seniority. As I said in another place though, the body’s symptoms can bark so loudly that it would appear otherwise. Plus of course, in our current and less evolved state of being, our ability is mostly checked. (This isn’t an essay on spirituality or metaphysics, so I will move forward.)
What I’ve personally found over the years, in myself and others, is that when enough stress was alleviated, the other parts of the pyramid can work better toward improving health, quickly and with more stability. Sometimes, one’s efforts can be sabotaged by too much stress.
And the important point here is in a) identifying stress, both physical and mental, b) proofing the body up against stress and c) building in the proper reactions to stress.
And while we’re on the subject, from a physiological point stress causes the adrenal glands (via the Hypothalamus > Pituitary >Adrenals ) to release a substance known as cortisol which then circulates around the body, it isn’t a bad thing. It’s a hormone that regulates many different processes within the body including metabolism and the immune system. On the other hand, elevated cortisol levels have been linked (in more than one study) with increased weight gain, trouble thinking or concentrating, depression, anxiety, irritability, lowered immune function, cholesterol (bad type), elevated blood pressure, osteoporosis, poor libido and on and on. So it becomes a big deal when one is always under constant stress. One is almost assured a shorter life span with chronically elevated stress levels.
Thankfully we can rectify this condition most of the time with proper nutrition, proper exercise, good sleep and stress reduction techniques along with supplements.
It is also relevant to note the two different forms of stress known as eustress and distress. Eustress being what one would consider positive stress and distress, which is negative stress.
Eustress has particular qualities:
Motivates, focuses energy.
Is perceived as within our coping abilities.
Whereas distress tends to have the following qualities:
Causes anxiety or concern.
Can be short- or long-term.
Is perceived as outside of our coping abilities.
Can lead to mental and physical problems.
From this we can realize that not all stress is bad and in fact quite necessary and relevant to expanding as a human being, whether that be through physical means (working out, taking martial arts, becoming healthy, hiking up a mountain) or mental (increasing knowledge, certainty and competence on handling or interacting with work, people, situations and life in general). Stress is a necessary and always present part of life.
What Hans Selye, Hungarian born doctor and pioneer researcher on stress stated in his book, the Stress of Life, makes more sense now that we've defined eustress and distress:
“No one can live without experiencing some degree of stress all the time. You may think that only serious disease or intensive physical or mental injury can cause stress. This is false. Crossing a busy intersection, exposure to a draft, or even sheer joy are enough to activate the body’s stress mechanisms to some extent. Stress is not even necessarily bad for you; it is also the spice of life, for any emotion, any activity, causes stress. But, of course, your system must be prepared to take it. The same stress which makes one person sick can be an invigorating experience for another.” (The Stress of Life, 1956, 1978 McGraw-Hill Paperbacks)
Finally, one must consider these words from Hans Selye, “It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
Thus it is quite important to focus on identifying negative stress, both physical sources and mental sources, along with supplying the body with enough resources to counteract such stress, along then with learning how to react to it better mentally.
In The Stress of Life, Selye lays out 31 points or as he called them, “self-observable signs” of stress.
1) General irritability, hyperexcitation, or depression
2) Pounding of the heart
3) Dryness of the throat and mouth
4) Impulsive behavior, emotional instability
5) The overpowering urge to cry or run and hide
6) Inability to concentrate, flight of thoughts and general disorientation
7) Feelings of unreality, weakness, or dizziness
8) Predilection to become fatigued, and loss of the “joie de vivre” [joy of life]
9) Floating anxiety
10) Emotional tension and alertness, feeling of being “keyed up”
11) Trembling, nervous ticks
12) Tendency to be easily startled by small sounds, etc.
13) High-pitched, nervous laughter
14) Stuttering and other speech difficulties
15) Bruxism aka grinding of the teeth
17) Hypermotility, technically called hyperkinesia, an increased tendency to move about without any reason, an inability to just take a physically relaxed attitude, sitting quietly in a chair or lying on a sofa
19) The frequent need to urinate
20) Diarrhea, indigestion, queasiness in the stomach, and sometimes even vomiting. All signs of disturbed gastrointestinal function which eventually may lead to such severe diseases … as peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, the “irritable colon” ...[what we call IBS disorders today].
21) Migraine headaches
22) Premenstrual tension or missed menstrual cycles
23) Pain in the neck or lower back
24) Loss of or excessive appetite
25) Increased smoking
26) Increased use of legally prescribed drugs
27) Alcohol and drug addiction. Like the phenomenon of overeating, increased and excessive alcohol consumption or the use of various psychotropic drugs is a common manifestation of exposure to stressors beyond our natural endurance. Here again, we are actually dealing with flight reactions, known as diversion or deviation, to which we resort to presumably because they help us to forget the cause of our distress and tend to temporarily replace it by the eustress of psychic elation, or at least tranquilization.
29) Neurotic behavior
31) Accident Proneness
As you can see from this list, it is quite far reaching and encompasses a lot of the behaviors so prevalent today in so many people. Our modern society is built upon unhealthy stress accumulation. Kids aren't taught what to eat and parents don't know, so stress on the body from food starts quite early, in some cases in the womb. We undervalue the importance of sleep and over-work ourselves. We don't spend enough time moving and exercising. Most of us are economically or financially enslaved. All of these things equate to distress, that is, negative stress. Pile on top of these stress factors, no knowledge about how to handle life's many predictable and unpredictable circumstances and you have a perfect recipe for a rise in physical and mental health issues.
Thus stress management is the foundation for which to build a healthier and happier life and why I consider it the foundation of the pyramid.
The Role of Food, Exercise and Sleep
I’ve grouped these three together because they are the core of what it means to live inside a body. That is, a body needs proper food, adequate sleep and some exercise or movement.
But what is considered proper? For food, I subscribe to the Eat Right for Your Type concept as laid out in the book by the same title, along with studying my genetic make-up. And naturally I delve a bit deeper to understand the energies that various foods contain which then has an impact on my internal environment (the TCM way of eating). From this I can monitor what to eat and what my body doesn’t like and also when to change it up. And if you’re confused and having trouble with food, I wholly recommend a nutritionist, food diary, igG food allergy test, and the cited book above as a great starting point.
Just remember that food is a key point from which our body sources it’s fuel in order to rebuild, maintain, repair and survive. It can only work with what it has available. The saying is, “you are what you eat” … but these days, I think it’s more appropriate and accurate to state, “you are what you can digest” …
Adequate sleep is defined as what your particular body needs in order to be well rested and to allow for it to maintain and recover from the day. Some people do great on 6 hours, others NEED 8. Some need more. Whatever the ratio for YOU, it’s important. Sleep is also something that, like a serving of food on your plate may adjust from time to time. Sometimes you will need more, sometimes less. The important thing here is to get it and to have it be restful enough that you wake up more or less, refreshed. Sleep also plays a valuable role in mental health as it has been shown those with depression, anxiety, ADHD in both adults and children often show some form of sleep deprivation or sleep concern. So other than sleep’s positive effects on physical health, it cannot be understated in reversing or treating many mental conditions.
From an anxiety perspective, consider the following:
“Sleep problems affect more than 50% of adult patients with generalized anxiety disorder, are common in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and may occur in panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. They are also common in children and adolescents. One sleep laboratory study found that youngsters with an anxiety disorder took longer to fall asleep, and slept less deeply, when compared with a control group of healthy children.
“Insomnia may also be a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, but not as much as it is for major depression. In the longitudinal study of teenagers … for example, sleep problems preceded anxiety disorders 27% of the time, while they preceded depression 69% of the time.
“But insomnia can worsen the symptoms of anxiety disorders or prevent recovery. Sleep disruptions in PTSD, for example, may contribute to a retention of negative emotional memories and prevent patients from benefiting from fear-extinguishing therapies.” Source.
In the chapter called Psychosomatic Implications from The Stress of Life, Hans Selye wrote:
“The stress of a day of hard work can make you sleep like a log or it can keep you awake all night. This sounds contradictory, but if you come to analyze the work that helps you to sleep and the work that keeps you awake, there is a difference. Muscular activity or mental work which leads to a definite solution prepares you for rest and sleep; but intellectual efforts which set up self-maintaining tensions keep you awake.”
He doesn't belabor the point of mitigating negative sleep factors already commonly known, especially by those with sleep disorders such as, ensuring external noise is at a minimum, protecting oneself from light and variations of temperature (too hot or too cold), or in eating hard to digest meals just before retiring.
He does go on to say that “Sheep-counting, warm milk, hot baths, and so forth are also of little value, since they only help those who have faith in them. The fact is that by the time you retire it is too late for anything except the sleeping pill. It is during the whole day that you must prepare your dreams.”Last but not least is exercise. Movement is life. Your lymphatic system requires your movement in order to keep the lymph circulating and doing it’s job. The movement of your blood, working of your muscles, bones, joints and processing centers are all healthy things in and of themselves and movement is the catalyst for better survival. No matter how sick one becomes, they should try to move. If one cannot go on a walk, then go out to the mailbox and back a few times. Or get out of bed and walk around your room. The point is, you want to move. The body is designed to survive not in stagnancy but in motion. Your detox pathways respond better to movement. Endorphins released from faster movement such as running, is not only good for your overall health, but mental health as well (the runner’s high is real).
In another fascinating article from Harvard the author begins with quite a profound statement and one that I have seen in practice often:
“While it is obvious that your feelings can influence your movement, it is not as obvious that your movement can impact your feelings too. For example, when you feel tired and sad, you may move more slowly. When you feel anxious, you may either rush around or become completely paralyzed. But recent studies show that the connection between your brain and your body is a 'two-way street' and that means movement can change your brain, too!”
And so the key here is balance, not too much, not too little. No diet, website or book will tell you what is best for you. You have to read between the lines often and that ability generally comes from having an understanding of the subject. The most important thing I have found so far is to do these points of the pyramid but to be in tune enough with my body to understand it’s limits and to respond accordingly.
And so are there days when I totally cheat? Of course! Life is unpredictable, nor should one “stress” about trying to live perfect for one’s body. Sometimes I find myself eating less than healthy food. Sometimes I get less than 6 hours of sleep. Sometimes I don’t exercise at all. Sometimes I am over-stressed. We ALL are. But having gone from health to illness to health and analyzing this in myself and observing others, I realize that it’s all about balance.
The body is naturally resilient. It’s base genetic code or primary mandate is to survive. This is how some people can go on for years treating their body poorly and still live apparently just fine. It’s because they either have enough spiritual or mental drive AND enough of the pyramid points in that the combo works for them. That’s cool, I don’t care what people eat, how they sleep or if they exercise, so long as they are happy.
But for the rest of the crowd, these pyramid points are the things to start thinking with and fine-tuning to your own needs.
And so with supplements, of which I have tried more than I’d like to confess to, they serve well to fill in the holes of the other pyramid points and to give the body (and mind) a push in the right direction.
Indeed it has been documented in many places that soils in places where modern farming is done have become depleted of minerals which equates to less nutrients in our plant based foods. Now add in the pesticides that are typically used and you get a lot less nutrition from each piece of fruit or vegetable than you should. By the way, even organic farming isn't perfect unless the farmers themselves re-mineralize the soils. You may get cleaner food with organic but that doesn't mean all the soils have an ideal mineral and nutrient content. So often times we need to supplement despite what we eat.
Meat is a whole other beast. Factory farms that feed their animals government subsidized GMO grains, corn, and what not produce sick, fat animals. Your body often has to rob itself of resources in order to handle these sub-par foods. And the picture becomes more bleak when your digestive organs are so stressed by this combination of factors that your digestion begins to become faulty. With faulty digestion, along with all the problems that this by itself produces, your body often must rob itself of stored nutrients in order to compensate. Given the staggering amount of money people in America (and probably other “1st world” countries) spend going to doctors to handle the dozens and dozens of gastrointestinal complaints, it all begins to make sense when you consider the food supply and lifestyles of people in modern times.
Yet supplements can, to a degree, mitigate some of these factors and fill in the holes.
In the world of supplements there are plenty, what I call, “placebo” supplements. That is, their quality is sub-par; lacking in potency, filled with fillers, sawdust or worse, contaminated with heavy metals.
Speaking from experience, cost can generally be a good indicator of a supplement’s worth. Not always, so let me qualify this. There are many supplements on Amazon (as the world’s leading online store, I am choosing them as an example) that carry many placebo supplements. Let’s break it down. A $20 (retail) digestive enzyme probably costs $5-7 at most for someone to purchase in bulk, slap a label on and sell. It probably costs the manufacturer of that same digestive enzyme $2-3 to make (per bottle). I can almost guarantee that the ingredients are inferior and therefore inefficient for what MOST people will require for proper digestion.
Thus the concept of placebo supplements. And if you’re like me, on a budget, you probably started by purchasing these $15-20 supplements but eventually graduated to spending between $25-40 or more. Again, don’t get the idea that this is the case with every supplement. It is not. There are some decent quality supplements to be had that cost less than $20 a bottle but generally these are single ingredient or minimal ingredient products.
How do I personally judge a supplement?
First, I study the ingredients and fillers. If I see things like artificial colorings, it’s an automatic NO (I see this most in weight training products as well as weight loss, but it appears to be more prevalent in products with suspect quality). I personally don’t care what color a pill or liquid looks like so adding this unnecessary ingredient is a red flag. On the other hand, beet root, turmeric, etc are sometimes used in lieu of the artificial colorings and I’ve no issue with such ingredients.
Next I get to know the ingredients and the dosage quantity of the ingredients. Some manufacturers stuff as many “keyword” or “buzzword” things into one supplement that are in such minute quantities that the result is “placebo effect”. Besides knowing the dosages of such ingredients, I also look at the type or form where applicable. For example I can think of at least half a dozen forms of magnesium found across many supplement lines. But which types are best or most absorbed? And which ones are better for different types of conditions? So researching the ingredients can save you time and money in the long run.
Next, I consider the price. If everything checks out with the supplement then I assume that the price should not be outrageously low because if it’s truly a good supplement, with good sourced ingredients in adequate quantity and minimal fillers then it’s not going to cost a few bucks to buy. And naturally a price that is way above the crowd is also a red flag, but my criteria here is to research the company and feedback of it’s consumers and to understand, are the ingredients hard to source? What makes it different or unique? How much quantity and how long is it supposed to last? I also attempt to find supporting science or at least clinical evidence of it’s efficacy. Again, over the years I’ve dived into many different supplements at different prices as a sort of “tester” of sorts. You don’t need to waste your money. It’s the fact that over half of the supplements on the market are worthless. Maybe more. Again, there are plenty good companies out there selling good products, there just happens to be more crappy products than there are quality at this time.
While outside of the scope of this writing, it is worthy to note the role of genetics and more importantly, the role epigenetics plays in one's health. This latter point is something that IS influenced by the 5 Pyramid Points and therefore how your genes are expressed and therefore what manifestations this equates to is largely under your direct influence and control. (I may have already conveyed the fact that your health is your responsibility, but just in case...)
I’ve isolated my own set of rules which have served me well over the years. Take 'em or leave 'em, modify them as you see fit. They are what I've found works.
1) Yin and Yang as it is called is the subject of balance. Life and perhaps the universe itself is all about balance. We want to have fun, interact with other people, have nights out on the town, work hard and play hard too. At the end of the day, I am always striving for some sort of balance. The yin and yang of my days, weeks, months and years, my body, my relationships, work. However you build this aspect into your life, just try to live a balanced life. And that goes for all the points of the pyramid. For example, we can’t always eat perfect, but if you approach more of an 80/20 with 80 being good wholesome organic food, then unless you currently have a condition which you are attempting to handle, 20% of your food can be those not so perfect snacks from the coffee shop or the cheat meal because you just didn’t have time to prepare or purchase something healthier. This is my general rule of thumb but I'm not perfect by any stretch and some days and weeks I find the ratio approaching more of a 50/50 (which is unwise given how many other factors enter into the equation that can affect this ratio to make the 50% bad react more like 75% or more).
2) Migrating Birds. Migrating birds is a simple concept. If in this example the birds are disease or symptoms, then we must figure on the best way to remove them from our environment. Attempting to strike at individual points, as is the case with the allopathic approach, may result in eradicating symptoms. It may even eradicate a disease. But it will offer nothing in regards to proofing oneself in the future from that same disease.
Thus, when attempting to handle physical (and mental) problems one should attempt to bring up their entire baseline of health, not just to simply band-aid or target a set of symptoms. It's all about changing one's internal environment to make it conducive to a healthy state where diseases, parasites, yeast, etc. cannot gain a foothold and become chronic problems.
What sort of internal environment are you creating? When your body goes out of balance it can, if not remedied, create an internal environment that is more susceptible to disease. Thus, the bigger picture is to balance all aspects of life so that our internal environments stay as strong, healthy and resistant to disease as possible. You, after all, are stuck with your body for some time. You may as well enjoy the experience.
3) Work the pyramid. The 5 points of the pyramid are each necessary points for you to examine in yourself and … you guessed it, restore or find balance in them. Educate yourself. Consult with doctors, nutritionists where needed. We each have a personal pyramid of health so the ratios may be different and thus it is up to the person to get themselves into a position of balance. These 5 points are essentially ones which you should further look into if you have any questions on how they apply to your own life.
4) Community & Support. Recently I watched a Ted Talk given by Developmental Psychologist Susan Pinker on the secret to living a long life. It’s worth the watch and I highly recommend it. To me it makes sense to become integrated in your community, to have some sort of interaction and/or responsibility. This includes building a strong base of support derived from friends, colleagues and of course, family.
5) Educate Yourself and Win. Our body, our mind that come together as pieces of our spiritual whole, are ever evolving. The life cycle of a body is, at this time, finite. It evolves, ascends, and descends. Our mind, while able to be affected by the body, works on a two way street and can also affect the body. We can forever continue to evolve mentally. And thus, spiritually. My point here isn’t to get into religion or metaphysics but instead to offer the simple truth that stagnancy is death. Mental, physical and spiritual stagnancy is death and oblivion.
Challenge what you read, hear and even see. Continually educate yourself, even if you know already for as the Socratic paradox goes, “I know that I know nothing.” In other words, if you know all about something and consider such, you may have a hard time learning anything else on that subject. Thus your thinking becomes stagnant. In practical usage, you can know things about your body, but remember that it changes with the seasons, over time and that it is also affected by mental influence. And while doctors are good at helping you to get back on track, in the end it is your responsibility and you cannot be fully (if you will) responsible for yourself if you do not understand what makes you tick, physically/mentally.
6) Listen to your body. There are a lot of solutions out there. Some things that work for some, do not work for others so well, especially in the realm of supplements and diets. Thus, in a world where Dr. Google exists and everyone and their uncle has something to say, in the end you’ve got to listen to your body and self and this is done by a) being and becoming more aware, b) being educated enough to recognize a manifestation and c) then being able to be causative and DO SOMETHING about it. My intention with this writing is in points A and B. And B is something that most people rely on doctors for, yet I believe in being proactive. Point C is up to you (and your doctor).
7) Last but certainly not least. Negativity is the stuff of disease, concern, worry, anger, anxiety, fear and all things bad. The Law of Attraction is a very relevant piece of information which I suggest you familiarize yourself with if you don't know it yet.
"Whether we are doing it knowingly or unknowingly, every second of our existence, we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out."
If you spend your days, months and years connected to negativity, you will know only negativity. This negativity has a profound effect on our mind and body, right down to our very cells. And yes, from an epigenetics point, this DOES influence our genes. You can find dozens of articles on this fact.
If you are only engaging in negativity through forced connections or seeking it out, consider changing your habits, people around you and sources of news. Otherwise you are potentially and likely robbing yourself of your future health, physically and mentally and of course, happiness.
So take these words, use them, or discard them where you see fit. Adapt this to you and find your balance. If you have children, please educate them about balance and the pyramid and how this synergistic combination can help them in life as both preventative medicine, and recovery.
And may we all live a healthier and happier existence.