Sometimes you have to go full circle to really know where you started. It seems a bit that way with our understanding of how our bodies work and the approach we take to our gut health and medicine.
Modern western healthcare is based on the understanding of cause and effect. It is a linear relationship and we cannot ‘fix’ an illness if we do not know what caused it. Hence, our healthcare system and the approach we take to medicine has become very compartmentalised, separate and distinct areas that we ‘specialise’ in – and charge a fortune for.
Alternative medicine – or original medicine if you want to be more accurate – has a better understanding of how we as ‘Beings’ operate. We are not separate bits thrown together but a machine that is entirely interlinked. We are layers upon layers of systems that are neither separate nor distinct from each other. Therefore, when we have a emotional problem this can manifest as a physical symptom. When we have a deficit of spirit it can affect our ability to function on a physical level. When we operate in an unhappy environment, the result is an imbalance in our bodies. A physical problem can be cause an emotional imbalance. Our Mind, Body and Spirit are all closely interrelated. In alternative medicine, saying that a problem of our mind causes a physical ‘dis-ease’ is no stranger than saying that an infection of the lungs has caused our cough. Our three ‘systems’ of mind, body and spirit need to be in balance for us to feel well and happy.
Very often, it is not necessary to understand the cause of a disease in alternative medicine. Our shortness of breath could be caused by an infection in the lungs or a grief we have not dealt with. In both cases, the result is an imbalance in our system and this could be treated in similar ways – breathing exercises, herbs, stimulation of acupuncture points, massage – the goal being to return the body and all its subtle layers to a state of balance. In Western Medicine, it would be very hard to understand that difficulty in breathing could be caused by unprocessed grief and even harder to treat this issue with pills and potions.
It’s not that alternative medicine has some hocus pocus going on – modern science is beginning to understand the relationship between various parts of our bodies that have before now been seen as distinct and separate entities. Which is interesting because many ancient traditions have always spoken of same things, albeit in a slightly more non-scientific way.
Hippocrates, the ‘father of medicine’ wrote that ‘All diseases begin in the gut’. The quote, ‘Let food be thy medicine’ is also attributed to him. In the book, ‘The Psychobiotic Revolution’, Scott C Anderson et al describe how brain health and state of mind are intimately connected to your microbiome. Our Microbiome is mainly centered around our gut area and is full of bacteria and organisms that function pretty much independently. In fact, the number of them vastly out-number the cells in our body, which leaves the question hanging of just who exactly is host to who. The authors go on to describe how many common mental health problems can be tackled by looking after our gut health. It may not be that far fetched that presenting with a medical problem in a few years time like depression will mean being prescribed a course of ‘biotic pills’ full of bacteria that will treat our gut and hence improve our mood.
This relationship between our gut – the physical world of food, bacteria and our physical bodies – and our mental health is well catered for when you look back at ancient health systems like Ayurveda which originated in India over 3,000 years ago. This system incorporates the chakra system which has exploded in popularity. Within the chakra system is the Manipura or Solar Plexus Chakra – which governs our digestive system and inward and outward energy. This chakra is also related to our self esteem, confidence and self assurance – all attributes that we might work on if we were dealing with anxiety or depression.
Traditional Chinese Medicine also puts forth a similar theory. Shen is our ‘spirit’ and is one of the three treasures – the other two being Jing (Essence) and Qi (energy). Very broadly speaking, we can treat our Shen via the lungs, Spleen, Kidneys, Liver and Large Intestine. This can be achieved via acupuncture, herbs or changes in diet and environment. Again we see the common theme coming through that mental issues are not just treated with ‘mental solutions’ but through the interplay of our physical and spiritual bodies. There is a very real and subtle connection that has been understood for thousands of years before our healthcare systems ‘discovered’ it.
The same thinking can be found time and time again when we look at emotional health. There is no singular treatment for emotional problems in ancient healthcare – by that I mean that emotional problems are treated via our physical bodies and mental health – i.e. food, environment, meditation and exercise.
It would seem that ‘As Above, So Below’ the much cited phrase which can be found in the 2,000 year old Emerald Tablet, is not as occult in nature as it might seem. Treating our physical well being in our gut ‘below’ is as important as treating our spiritual and mental health ‘above’ and the condition of one is intimately linked to the condition of the other.