The Path to Total
by Jason and Wendy Bazilian
Enjoying optimal health, happiness and longevity are the goals of most individuals. Health, however, is not something that can be “picked-up” on the way home from work, packaged and marketed in the latest, trendiest marketing promotion, or achieved by popping pills or relying on supplements.
For a person to be healthy, he or she must gain clarity, motivate and work at health. This poses a challenge to many of our earth’s contemporary Westernized inhabitants. The Path to Total Health, therefore, is one that must encourage people to reconnect with themselves and find balance. For us, we believe this can be achieved by blending the wisdom and philosophy of the 2,500-year-old complete medical system of Traditional Chinese Medicine with contemporary knowledge and approaches to health, diet, and exercise. This is the essence of lifestyle change. . .
Remember the tortoise and the hare? . . . This story is the underlying principle that guides our program to health behavior change on the course to total health. The Tortoise Approach allows the person to slow down, proceed at an individualized pace, take time to relax, enjoy and practice living.
By blending the most practical and useful aspects of ancient traditions of TCM theory and healthcare with contemporary perspectives on nutrition and exercise, we can bring this approach to the next level, one that is appropriate for the reality that we live and breathe in today. We incorporate these three major ingredients in our approach to total health.
Here we share a few of the fundamental ideas, taken from a recent interview.
The TCM approach to health
Jason: TCM’s rich traditions and history need to be shared. TCM is not an ancient Chinese secret anymore. In fact, we can actively communicate the underlying theory of the complementary yet opposing natures of Yin and Yang, along with the 8 principles, with our contemporary friends, families, colleagues and patients. The key is to impress – and imprint – upon others the practical aspects and ancient traditions that can be easily blended into daily life.
In order to make changes, people must seek change. Motivation has to come from within – from a state of clarity and readiness that can be encouraged through exploring and using the best TCM theory and practice have to offer. By helping people maximize TCM’s multiple wholistic modalities, Chi can be distributed and dispersed evenly, bringing clarity of mind and balance to health. These, of course, include not only acupuncture, herbal medicine, and massage, but the promotion of healthy nutrition, regular activity, recreation, creativity and rest. Perhaps most importantly is encouraging the patient in due course to recognize and rely on his own abilities to help encourage flow and improve health. This consists of practicing self-care through healthy eating, getting moving, stress management, self-massage and other practices appropriate for the individual.
Wendy: So in using the TCM approach to health, Jason encourages self-care with healthcare, promoting balance in order to achieve clarity and motivate individuals to seek health. In line with this idea, in Public Health and behavior modification, consciously seeking health is one of the most basic, yet challenging aspects in helping clients – encouraging motivation from within and helping people to realize that they possess the control within themselves to make a change. We typically assess new patients using Prochaska’s stages of change to help determine their level of motivation when we first meet them. Integrating the TCM approach to health can be so powerful in helping people move from thinking to doing. We encourage clients: “Don’t just contemplate, motivate . . .and do.”
Jason: It is quite important, and can also be very natural, for traditional medical systems and contemporary Western science to coexist in practice. Together, blended, the two successfully supplement and complement each other in order to create a broader whole. This more complete, wholistic approach gradually promotes increased self-awareness, empowering people to work beyond contemplation, through motivation to action – and slowly begin to make profoundly positive lifestyle changes that include exercise and diet.
Wendy: Well, everyone eats food. This said, relating healthy nutrition practices and principles can be a fun and interactive process, built into one’s lifestyle through a series of small steps and reinforced through the pleasure of doing good for the body. In Western nutrition, we often look at biochemistry and the ways nutrients are optimally consumed in the diet for maximal absorption and energy efficiency. For this reason, we have the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) and other guidelines that come from sound scientific principles largely established in very recent history.
However, with the rapid modernization of the world, the Western diet has been refined, fattened-up, and most startlingly perhaps, sped up. These are reactions of course to busy lifestyles, consumer demands and crafty marketing, but the rich, Western diet is rapidly catching up with us. The top three killers in the U.S. – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer – are very significantly associated with diet and other lifestyle behaviors.
At the same time, we are beginning to discover – or perhaps rediscover – the benefits of whole, plant-based foods in the diet and the drawbacks of refined, processed foods. In the laboratory, we are discovering the literally thousands of phytonutrients that nature offers us in foods in the form of antioxidants, anthocyanidins, flavonoids, indoles and a host of other compounds. Society’s response? Supplements, fortification of foods, functional foods and the whole multi-billion dollar neutraceutical industry. There are appropriate therapeutic and sometimes preventive uses of such products, but by-and-large they are unnecessary in a simple, balanced whole foods diet.
This is the diet we promote and work on with patients on an individual basis. Food literally is our fuel and provides the nutrients to make our bodies function properly. But food is also so much more. A whole-istic approach to nutrition and diet is one that is predominantly plant-based and focuses on whole foods, but also integrates the social, psychological, cultural, spiritual, economic, environmental, and health aspects of food.
One might think of this as a return to the traditional diet of so many cultures, and epidemiological evidence continues to confirm strong correlations between plant-based diets and reduced risk of many of today’s chronic diseases.
We focus on whole grains, fruits and/or vegetables at every meal, plenty of water and enjoyment at every nibble. We incorporate the Tortoise Approach to dietary changes, offering comfortable, simple alternatives to what people already practice. We believe this can be achieved by anyone – remember, after all, a diet is a regular, habitual way of eating – not a temporary change that will end once some predetermined goal of weight loss or gain is achieved. Our goal: enjoy your food and eat your way to total health.
Jason: Wendy often refers to food as fuel, and I like to tie in food as medicine. In TCM, nutrition is the highest form of medical care since the patient herself is ultimately the one in control of this essential aspect of healthcare. The tastes and nature of food are keys to advanced therapeutic care within TCM. Foods can be used to promote health, encourage the body’s normal functions, and prevent states of illness. This is not new. The Chinese and other cultures have known, applied and practiced this for millennia. Eating regular amounts at regular times – through a sort of food discipline – is something we teach in a comfortable and “tortoise” way. So few people seem to be in touch with the feeling of hunger, and of engaging all of the senses in the culinary and consumption experience. Encouraging a different kind of indulgence, we promote, “indulge in the variety of life.” By doing so, individuals can learn slowly how to tap into that energy – the Chi – that food provides.
Wendy talks about the fast-paced diet that has become a way of life for so many people today. We teach: slow down, enjoy, savor and experience the essence of food through all the senses.
Jason: Being “active” conveys multiple layers of meaning and encompasses much more than just the physical. However, the application and practice of daily movement today is limited – or in many cases absent altogether – from one’s “normal” routine. The word, activity, itself moves and movement in all areas encourages healthy flow. We commonly refer to the multidimensional nature of activity including the physical (exercise, coordination, balance, and flexibility), emotional (communicating and connecting); spiritual (meditation and exploration of beliefs); mental (challenging the mind through activities like crossword puzzles, reading, creating, and learning); and recreational (rest, relaxation and play). Breathing is the thread that ties them all together to promote flow. When these are in balance, there is harmony and health is promoted.
So many people today seem to be in a state of disconnect between their heads and their bodies. Getting out of the head and into the body is part of the goal to reconnect and tap into the multidimensional expressions of activity. Activity needs are individual just like one’s healthcare and nutritional needs. One’s current state of health and activity helps guide the process of molding this balance between the various forms.
Wendy: This is so true. We are naturally compelled to first think about the epidemic of obesity in the U.S., and the couch-potato lifestyle, virtually devoid of physical activity, that is so prevalent today. And this is a serious and obvious concern to us as health professionals in reintroducing activity – in its various forms – into one’s routine. But we can just as easily relate this idea of promoting the multiple dimensions of activity and balance when we look at supposedly “healthy” and “fit” individuals. Take, for instance, certain body builders and ultra-endurance athletes. How often do we see a body builder that excels at bodybuilding, but is virtually uncoordinated and lacking flexibility in other life activities – like walking? We need only observe these people walking in their almost disjointed way, seemingly calling on individual muscles to make movement happen – instead of the internal, natural strength and flow that makes a body move gracefully.
Runners who can’t dance, bikers who struggle to walk, and multi-sport athletes who can’t settle down to relax or have a conversation: these are just a few examples. Then look to master martial artists who appear almost “soft” and gentle in their street clothes, move smoothly like a snake or gazelle, and yet have the strength of a lion. A dancer who seems to glide on earth as she walks offers another example. This is the picture of getting the body in harmony through activities that do engage the muscles, but also the spirit and the mind. Therefore, we promote aerobic exercise for the heart and oxygen delivery to the muscle tissue; strength work for healthy metabolism and lean muscles; balance and coordination exercises to help the body feel and react to the earth and changing environments; and flexibility training to effectively tap into the body’s full potential. Mental, spiritual and recreational activity is included with the physical – and breathing is always at the center.
Jason: And don’t forget the fun and important practice of twisting and circular movements. Found in countless styles of martial arts and other sports like gymnastics, surfing, and dance, slow rotations of the torso coupled with deep and relaxed breathing focused on the dan tien helps the body internally (Yin) as well as externally (Yang). It serves to massage the internal organs and consequently promote healthy movement in the digestive tract to help maintain the body’s homeostasis. Besides also helping improve flexibility, circulation, and strength of muscles, ligaments and tendons, it’s also quite a release – and most people find it fun. Our motto: Think play not passiveness. Think sports, not soap operas.
Jason: Everyone can walk the path to total health. Sections of our path are geared toward grasping the individual’s attention in order to spark the possibility for change. Change may not be easy, but it is possible. Change is the slow, steady and gradual accumulation of techniques and activities – via the Tortoise Approach – that enables variety and balance in life and improvement in health. It is the smooth flow of Chi and clarity of mind that allow us to make balanced decisions relating to food, to recognize the need for physical, mental and recreational activity.
Wendy: Life enrichment comes through the constant challenge and stimulation of mind, body, and spirit. Daily living is full of choices and opportunities. If we hurry all the time, we are like the hare and will run off course, lose direction, become unbalanced and eventually burn out. This has direct consequences to our health. Rather, we can proceed like the tortoise slow and steady down that path, enjoying the race, and discovering our sense of balance and flow. Indulge in Life!