Being well and remaining well is the best possible medicine. Fixing things when they are broken, though utterly wonderful, is second best. To be well and remain well, we have to pay attention to systems, how things connect and how things work to remain well.
Older medical systems had many elements of practice that I call ‘Flow Medicines’. They seek to support and nourish wellness through paying attention to how understanding systemics and enabling the right flow prevents stagnation, depletion and disease.
What does ‘Well’ mean?
It comes from the Old English, which itself has Nordic and Germanic roots. The original word ‘Well’ meant – abundant, fully, as desired. There are other translations too, such as ‘whole’, meaning complete and uninjured. The Old English ‘helge’, meaning holy or sacred. And the Old English ‘hælan’, which means to heal, and in this sense, is to return to wholeness.
‘Well’, as in being uninjured, fully complete and abundant, we could describe as super-optimal. It also is an aspect of the whole, the fullness that is holy, sacred, and to which one returns as the process of healing or coming back to wholeness. Incidentally ‘wellness’ is an English word from the 16th century, not simply a modern and new age fad, it has roots!
When I refer to systemic, I mean the relationship between parts that creates the functional whole. We can already sense here the relationship between the parts and the whole as an aspect of wellness.
So arguably perhaps, the ultimate wellness is a continuous super-optimal state that gives us our best functionality in direct and inseparable connection and interrelationship with the whole.
Body is inseparable from mind
Mind affects the body, every thought releases hormones, peptides and neurotransmitters creating emotions, moods and states that directly affects physical well-being. Ultimate wellness includes this direct link between mind and body.
Having said this, if the body is tight and rigid, inflexible and sore, weak and tired, then these body states are sending information in relentless waves that the brain interprets as ‘difficulty’, and this then affects the way we see, feel and think.
It is either a virtues cycle or a vicious cycle
Emotions, mind and body, one inseparable loop of feedback and connection – a system. In fact a system within a system, as we are inseparable from our environment.
Conscious breathwork reminds us that we are interdependent with plants. Systemic thinking reminds us that bees and plants are interdependent and that what informs evolution is the environment. If we neglect the quality and care of our environment, ultimately we neglect ourselves – wellness includes care for and stewardship of the environment.
We have a problem, because we have not paid attention to the systemics, of body-mind or body-mind-environment. We have not listened, not paid attention to the feedback, and thus we have endemic sickness, illness and un-wellness.
Anxiety, Depression and Stress
If we look at mental ill health, just anxiety and depression, let alone all the other complex conditions that people experience, we find up to 20 percent of the population of modern industrialized nations are struggling with illness.
If we include stress then we find that 74% of the adult population of the UK, and 50-75% of the population of the USA have felt stressed to the point where they feel they can no longer cope.
Then there are the vast numbers of our population who struggle with cardio-metabolic diseases such as strokes, heart conditions, diabetes, hyper-tension and all the inflammatory diseases that lead to compromised immune systems.
How many? The answer is shocking, figures point towards 70-80% of the adult population.
Stress and the Coronavirus
People with stress and cardio-metabolic disorders tend to have increased ACE receptors in their respiratory membranes, these are the gateways through which coronavirus enters us.
Coronavirus found a population whose ACE receptors were wide open and waiting – and the result? Many of us ill or dying from Covid-19. Covid-19 created cytokine storms and immune responses off the scale in people who were already compromised.
In the UK over 100,000 people have died from this particular virus, arguably they died from the pre-existing conditions that were exacerbated by this particular virus. The numbers of people who died from Covid in the UK who had no pre-existing conditions sits at a much lower rate.
Whatever we think about coronavirus, based on whatever source of information we research (and reading posts on facebook is not research), the reality is that we have systemic dis-ease issues and our population wellness is utterly compromised.
Systemic Connections: The Mind-Body-Environment
To return to the ultimate wellness that is possible, we have to understand our systems, the body-mind as systemic, the body-mind within the environment as systemic. This requires understanding and intelligence. Knowledge of how these systems work at a cognitive level and wisdom based on our own personal and direct experience.
Studying how our body and mind works, and how ecology works, are crucial endeavours for our wellness. We need to study the manual of being human and get to grips with how to optimize our life and our wellbeing. Wisdom, based on personal and direct experience gives us access to the systemic web from the inside, it is this that all the wisdom traditions that have promoted flow medicines have taught.
- We need an embodied movement and awareness practice, to be able to access the awareness and feedback of the body and how this relates to emotion and thought.
- We need a practice of mind mastery so we can choose what to pay attention to and access the executive power of the prefrontal cortices (These are the frontal lobes that as humans make up 30% of our brains and give us our unique human capacities), without which we are merely in reaction to the information from the body and the world around them, including their social media feeds, this is a whole topic in its own right, but without the power of your frontal cortex, you are at the mercy of the algorithms.
- We need a conscious breath practice to build daily default settings of inner peace, inner and outer connection, bliss, ease and joy. To de-stress from a lifestyle of demand and pressure. To prevent stress and distress through preemptive practice of being in flow.
And all of this is held in the inevitable, the face of impermanence, the fact that every person ever born from a womb or indeed any living thing ever germinated or birthed in any way, dies. Wellness in a personal sense is simply the slowest way to die.
Wellness is Wholeness
So wellness needs to be held in a bigger vision, a larger perspective. This we do by understanding everything we do as a function of the greater good. We can start our practices with the recognition that we practice not simply for our own good, but for the wellbeing of all beings, without exception, everywhere.
Our wellness is functional for the wellness of all, the wellness of our planetary home. The wellness of our children and all of life-form for the next seven generations and beyond.
This article first appeared at the author’s blog ChristopherGladwell.com and is used with permission.
Christopher Gladwell is a Yoga Master, a Certified Breathworker, and the Founder of Holokinesis. He has taught internationally for twenty years around Europe, Africa and Asia.