Those of you who know me already know I don’t believe there is a magical path to health. Question everything that sounds too good to be true, my friends. Hell, question that which sounds just a little bit good too. Critical thinking is a tool, use it. that being said, as an herbalist I do often get the question “what is the most important thing I should do for my health?” In the cranky spirit of not really talking to anyone and just linking to my blog instead I am making a list of what I consider the foundations of health. I have chosen a totally arbitrary number and I am sticking to it. SO here goes: An herbalist’s toolbox for health, happiness and abundant booty!
1. Wear minimalist shoes! I am a strong believer that our feet are the foundation of our entire body’s health. I see us putting our base into pinchy chunky footwear and it horrifies me. Alignment is important and it starts with feet. grounding is important and starts with feet. Proprioception is important and starts with our feet. Balance is a LOT easier in a zero drop shoe. I love watching my dog run outside, how she has never learned awkward gait patterns, never deformed herself with high heels or pointy-toed slides, how her paws grip the earth in a relationship that just cannot be formed with several inches of synthetic material between the foot and the earth. Yes, I love bare feet but I totally acknowledge a lot of problems that can come from shoelessness. I firmly believe that a lot of pain that we are currently treating as herbalists or as medical doctors could be at least partly remedied and/or prevented by wearing a flat minimalist shoe with a wide toebox. I highly recommend http://www.katysays.com and http://www.mobilitywod.com as great resources for information on feet, walking and alignment.
2. Exercise! I heard a doctor on the radio this week recommend 2.5 hours a week of exercise. Hmm. Well it’s better than none. But I try to exercise/move 2.5 hours a day! The benefits of exercise are vast–encouraging lymphatic movement, moving meditation, muscle building, bone building, circulation boosting, blood sugar support, balance-inducing, buttocks building, community forming, endorphin promoting, good old fashioned fun. The benefits of sitting are….um..nothing. Some great exercises are hiking, brisk walking, obstacle courses, kettlebells, dancing, sports, gardening, wood chopping, swimming, biking, yoga, mobility, plyometrics. I consider treadmilling and Jane Fonda-ing to be last resorts. You don’t have money? A jump rope is 5 bucks. You don’t have time? What the hell are you doing? You don’t have legs? I am sorry. I still suggest some type of movement though. Movement heals.
3. Limit screen time. No, I am not going to tell you to kill your TV/computer/video games. Life sucks, sometimes we need to escape. And heck I like to laugh. However in my experience too much time spent watching TV steals our vitality. Sitting and zoning out should be used occasionally rather than big chunks of every day IF you are trying to achieve optimal health.
4. End the war on “dirty”. This one is a little more abstract. But the attitude that our bodies are dirty causes us to do weird things. We are very open to manipulation due to our underlying body discomfort. We speak of our body hair as dirty, or our body’s natural fluids and excretions and/or our natural non-harmful thoughts. We squirt all kinds of fluids up our buttocks, force ourselves to live on juice, imbibe scary amounts of fiber and apply hot molten wax to our vulvas all in the name of “clean”. We cover our homes in stank-ass fake spring breeze sprays, apply antibacterial gels all over our bodies and live in fear of sitting on toilet seats. Argh! We expend so much energy destroying, fearing and suppressing totally normal processes and substances-not to mention spending a pile of cash and producing a lot of garbage in this war on dirty. Chill, it’s normal.
5. Let go! Links between a suppression of emotions and physical illness have been identified. [see When the Body Says NO by Dr. Gabor Mate for more information, http://www.dr.gabormate.com) Our culture loves to say “smile!” as if that in some way fixes anything. We promote the suppression of anger, especially in women. Yes, unchecked anger can eat us alive and harm others too. But denying it does not help. Express yourself, even if it is just on paper, and move on. Learn to manage anger in a realistic way. As a culture we are more comfortable with vision boards and positive energy than acknowledging the dark sides of life and the dark sides of humans. But shit’s complicated, dudes. People are complicated. Explore, acknowledge, express, let go.
6. Food. Yeah, you knew that was gonna come up right? There is soooo much information out there about food and damn if people don’t ALL seem to think they have the answer. I am a Unitarian, and I am a fooditarian too. I do not accept that there is one right answer. I think humans can live Paleo or live Vegan. I think humans do well on a low-glycemic diet–yet some can eat mostly white rice. But there is one clear food rule: do not eat a bunch of crap. Large amounts of sugar is not good for anyone. Large amounts of processed food are not helpful. Be reasonable. But beyond that, I think we need to look at culture, class, temperament and lifestyle and make our own decisions.
7. Bacterial balance. Oh man do I ever love bacteria. I love probiotics. I love fermented foods. I love compost! I am not against antibiotics–but I am against their overuse. I also think we should limit our use of strongly antibacterial herbs and I almost never use essential oils internally. I avoid oregano oil and grapefruit seed extract. I even use Goldenseal sparingly. (To be clear, in emergencies I will use whatever works.) We are absolutely full of bacteria and I’ll be damned if they don’t help us more than we will ever fully know. So avoid killing them if possible, avoid hating them and give them a little replenishment whenever you can!
8. Go outside! Time spent outdoors is foundational to my mental health plan. The outdoors feeds me on every level. I believe it can help with insomnia, mild depression and anxiety, grounding. It deepens our appreciation of the world we live in, gets us out of human-made environments, helps us build observational skills. Very little heals me more than time spent in nature and I highly recommend it.
9. Replenish! Marketing of low-fat foods and lab-made oils has affected us deeply. But we need good fats and healthy oils in our lives. I believe strongly in nourishing and rebuilding with foods and herbs to allow the body to heal itself. It is part of getting out of our own way and just giving our body the tools to make repairs. Sometimes the easiest and most basic health support is really the best, and adding good oils while removing crap oils is something nearly all of us can do for ourselves. Additionally, sleep is extremely valuable. Repairing, dreaming, and rebuilding are vital to our well-being. I suggest viewing sleep as a pleasure rather than a pain in the ass that keeps us from making money/destroying the world/texting/whatever the heck you do.
10. Stop slathering excess chemicals on yourself and your vicinity. Hair dye, lipstick, anti-perspirant, douches, scented tampons, scented everything, Lysol tm, paint, lotions, driveway sealant, household cleaners, air “fresheners”, medications, pesticides and herbicides, fertilizers, fake flavorings, dryer sheets….ack! Read the ingredients of everything, always. Question everything. Think critically about these products. Where do they go?!? Into your body? or “Down the drain”? And right into a frog’s boudouir! Yes, there is sometimes a lesser evil alternative. But giving up as many products as possible will benefit the short and long-term health of humans and non-humans alike. Trust me, I love to slather myself with homemade scented oil. I am no ascetic. But things are out of control. The air freshener aisle at Target tm is like 2 miles long. Open a window, people.
Bonus: Get some booty, friends. It’s medicinal. Tell your partner an herbalist “prescribed” it to you! No partner? I believe in medicinal masturbation. Ain’t no shame in a little personal pleasure.