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Reclaiming Your Agency in Healthcare: Health Cannot Happen TO You

The more I venture down my own health journey, the more evident it becomes that in order to achieve health and wellness, we need to be able to connect and listen to our body’s innate wisdom. In other words, we need to be able to connect and listen to the messages our body and mind communicate to us regarding our health status, and know what to do with those signals. My biggest criticism of Western medicine is the abundance of treatments that happen to you. In this culture, medicine is promoted as something external that you must take in order to be healed or cured - and rarely promotes the path of health and healing from within. As a result, we become more and more disconnected from our bodies and the innate intelligence that it has developed through years of evolution. We become reliant on “specialists” for just about everything, opt for treatments that often mask symptoms rather than address root causes, and venture down a road of poor health literacy.

No recipe for perfect health

But what if you are doing everything “right”? With poor health literacy, it is no wonder we end up looking for people or medications to “fix” us. It also becomes a no brainer why we can easily fall prey to things such as fitness or dietary fads, often leading to unsustainable, non-personalized and often strict exercise or diets because we’ve been sold that it is “healthy”. The reality is, the only person who can figure out what is “right” for you, is you. That is not to say that the health resources and practitioners of Western medicine are of no benefit - the issue arises when we become solely reliant and dependent on others during our health journey, and fail to achieve the self-awareness needed for us to bring accurate information to the practitioners we have available to collaborate with.

A personal story - my experiences with gut health

Throughout the majority of my adolescent and adult years I have experienced gut pain. At what felt like “random”, I would have searing pains in my lower left abdomen that would leave me completely immobile, curled in a ball in my bedroom until they finally subsided. I say “random” with quotations, because to me at the time I would be left confused as to why this would happen to me. I ate relatively well, minimizing junk or processed foods, and I exercised regularly and led what I believed to be a “healthy lifestyle”. I have not experienced sharp and debilitating gut pain for over a year and a half now - but what changed? In spring of 2022 I had the opportunity to do some deep work with plant medicine that brought with it many teaching surrounding self-awareness, emotional release, and the opportunity to build some somatic awareness and connection with my body. I was given the opportunity to see how these instances of gut pain were not “random”, but followed a very predictable pattern where high levels of emotional stress would manifest into physical symptoms. My body was literally screaming for my attention to listen and heal.

In doing “the work”, I’ve been able to continue working on the residual gut discomfort that persists, and identify the moments when a little more self care is needed.

What if I never chose to listen?

Still posted on my fridge is a blood test referral I received from my GP from last year to examine the status of my gut. I have had blood work done in the past for this issue, which was unremarkable - and yet, I chose to raise the concern with my GP at a later date - I wanted to be “fixed”. I say this because, it feels so much easier to seek a “fix” … but I promise you, it is so much harder in the long run to rely on and external locus of control for our health. It simply does not work. There is no health care physician on this planet that can deliver health to you. But the beautiful thing is, the innate wisdom of our body has benefited from years of evolution and is far more intelligent about our unique self than any generic piece of health care advice will ever be. Your systems have quite literally evolved to respond in ways that give us feedback as to how they’re functioning and your overall health. Had I chosen not to start listening to my internal messages, it is quite possible I’d still be experiencing intense episodes of gut pain, or my body would find new ways to cry for my attention through additional physical symptoms.

What might taking agency over our health look like?

There are plenty of ways our body can give us feedback on our health. Some ways we can work with our mind-body connection are:

  • paying attention to how your body feels during a run to learn what food works for you prior to your exercise, or how your body is responding to your overall eating habits

  • creating a relationship with your stress levels to better build a night time routine to promote sleep hygiene and optimize recovery

  • understanding and being able to identify your psychological triggers to establish healthy boundaries in your life

  • becoming conscious of our autonomic nervous system in response to daily stressors and knowing when it may be time for some coping strategies (i.e. breathwork, a time out etc.) before you exceed your window of tolerance

  • for my fellow menstruators: making note of your energy and mood throughout your cycle to better understand when your body is in need of periods of rest or opportunities to release more energy

Regaining connection

Activities in nature such as hiking allow us to shift into the present, disconnect from the business of urban life, and slow down for a brief moment in time.

The mind-body connection is something that has been widely accepted and practiced in Eastern and Indigenous cultures for centuries - but is only slowly being accepted and integrated into Western practices. To our benefit, there are plenty of ways we can start to harness the power of mind-body connection and learn to utilize its messages to fuel our health. Some of the practices I have found helpful are:

Mindfulness Meditation -

Meditation can be a great way to dedicate some time to practice tuning into our bodily sensations and our reactions to them. As with any skill, the more we practice, the more automatic it becomes.

Exercise -

When placing a focus on how I am feeling during and after exercise, I find I receive a lot of feedback on multiple aspects of my health - nutrition status, sleep hygiene, fitness etc.

Exercise can be a great way to build a relationship with your body by asking it what it needs, listening, and delivering without caving to the external pressures of what you “should” be doing.

Plant medicine -

Though not for everyone, plant medicine can be a powerful way to instill a sense of presence so we can access our internal messages with more freedom from distraction or disconnection strategies. It can also be a powerful way to bring our unconscious patterns, behaviours or internal struggles to our consciousness, delivering the self-awareness required to work on these areas.

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