We love to hear from trainers around the country who are helping the wellness-minded achieve health at high levels. Trainer Christian Elliot is the founder of TRUE Health and Wholeness in Virginia, where clients experience the multifaceted elements of fitness, diet, and wellness education. Our pieces from Christian convey paradigm shifts he’s experienced in his own journey toward optimal health that now serve his wide-spread client base. With a mission to redefine our basic ideas of health in an upward direction, TRUE Health and Wholeness has a wealth of knowledge to share…
Once in a while, it’s just good for us to just bask in a sense of awe. You know what I mean? I’m talking about the rush you get when you leave a movie that took you through a rollercoaster of emotions, the sense of grandeur you get standing next to the ocean or Grand Canyon or when you look through a telescope and think about the vastness of the cosmos. When was the last time you felt caught up like that? I know it sounds funny, but imagine for a second a distant city large enough to hold trillions of people. Imagine further that the sole goal of these people is to live in harmony with each other—hard to conceive, right? Nonetheless, something like that would certainly be an awesome place to behold, would it not?
Well, here’s another train of thought that just might leave you with that same sense of awe. Maybe the place to start when thinking about health is to consider the perspective of the cell – one of trillions inside a vast body. Instead of looking at our bodies scientifically (with an eye for the smallest variables we can manipulate—as medicine likes to do) or mechanistically (an assembly of parts that are removable or swappable), perhaps we could conceive of our bodies as something akin to a large city with trillions of citizens (cells), where their every effort is to benefit the whole. Along with the one cell, you can’t help but wonder, how does everyone else know their place in the body? How do they instinctively know how to help each other? Where did they learn to perform the countless functions they do every second? While I don’t have all the answers to these grand questions, the subtle shift I hope to make by considering this inward yet vast reality is simply that by acknowledging the perspective of the cell, we might become a bit more aware of where the roots of illness really lie. If we can consider that, then my guess is we are well on our way to developing an approach to health and healing that will allow us to live life confident that our health will not be a stumbling block to a life worth living.
If you happened to read my last article, you saw that I tried to come up with a 30,000-foot definition of health. I tried to come up with something better than what you’d find in most dictionaries – health simply defined as freedom from unpleasant symptoms. This time, I want to flip the script a bit and zoom in from the multifaceted definition of health I presented and see if developing an appreciation for the inner vastness of our bodies can not only deepen our understanding of health, but also help us be more aware of how we can care for them. I’d go so far as to say that if we are to have any shot at soaking up as many awe-some experiences as we can on this short ride of life, than it behooves us to become adept at figuring out how to support our cells.
Think about this perspective of the cell for a second: Essentially, your cells are a community, several trillion strong, who work endlessly in interdependent relationships with the one goal of bringing about vitality. From the bottom-up perspective, individual citizens organize into groups (organs and systems) who come together to serve a specific function within the city. Every citizen pays taxes in the form of a service designed to benefit the whole city. In return, the citizens can expect their homes to be defended from invaders, their groceries to be delivered, their trash will be taken out and the surrounding environment to be cleaned.
Looking at the city analogy from the top-down perspective, there is a group of cells that form the mayor (the brain and nervous system), whose role is to look after the whole city. The mayor listens to the needs of the citizens and delegates tasks to the public works department (the endocrine/glandular system) as well as all other branches of government (systems of the body). It’s a magnificent symphony with zillions of processes going on every second—a true marvel!
Just like any city, the body does not have a limitless supply of resources. Every day, the citizens of the body express their needs to the mayor’s office. It is up to the mayor to know what resources the city has available (including which reserves are being drawn upon), discern which requests are most pressing and allocate the city’s resources in a way that serves the greatest good. As long as city’s resources are sufficient, this process goes along smoothly and the citizens remain happy.
Like it often happens in relationships, we tend to find out someone’s needs are not being met when something starts to go wrong. Cells aren’t much different. If their needs go unmet long enough, they will eventually let you know about it. The way you find out they feel neglected is when you have pain. When discomfort arises, it is, in a sense, a protest organized by a group of cells that they are being worked too hard and do not have what they need. We call it a symptom. If their protest is not dealt with in a timely manner, the group of cells may go on strike or stop working altogether. Once that happens, symptoms of their unhappiness begin to start affecting other systems that depend on the function of the cells that have gone on strike.
One further layer to add our understanding is that, just like people, health is dynamic—changing a bit from day to day. The ironic thing is, where you feel the pain (symptom) is often not where the problem started. You may have knee pain because you don’t eat enough fat and your joints can’t stay lubricated well enough. Or, your knee may hurt because you stubbed your toe and the muscles in your foot had to reduce their working capacity in order to heal, thus the knee doesn’t have the support it needs from below. Whatever the source of the problem, the bottom line is, all the cells need each other and it sometimes takes a bit of detective work to uncover where a problem started.
Furthermore, the needs of given cell will vary depending on what it is exposed to and how hard it is asked to work. On days when the body is exposed to something uncommon or asked to work extra hard, it is going to need more resources to deal with the change in routine. From this perspective, it is easy to see that having health is more of an adaptive art than it is a science. It is an art of learning to understand our bodies’ needs, daily supporting its functions, out-thinking future changes, empowering it to fight its battles and listening to the body when it alerts us that we have missed something.
The point in all this is to help you begin to think more like a supplier trying to prevent (or make up for) a shortage, and think less like a first responder plugging along until an emergency happens. Instead of making it your first goal to shut down pain, maybe it would be a better goal to play detective and try to find its source. At the end of the day, the questions I hope you take away from this article are: “What does my body need to function optimally and where am I getting in its way?” Your body is never uninterested in healing, but most of the time something we are doing (or not doing) is really the source of the organized protest. If you can begin to think that way about your health, as opposed to wondering what technological silver bullet medicine has come up with to attempt to drug your cells into better working order, then you’re well on the way to taking charge of your own health.
Whatever these humble words may stir in you, I hope they also leave you with an appreciation for how marvelous your body is and how you are in the driver’s seat of healing it a keeping it moving in a positive direction. Here’s to you and a few trillion of your closest friends.
Side note: Though I made it my own, I owe credit for the genesis of this city analogy to Dr. Howard Loomis and his fabulous work Enzymes: The Key to Health. His title does not do justice to the breadth of information he covers. Check it out if you’re looking for a helpful book on holistic health.