Many of us have crinkled that white paper beneath our seats as we wait for a doctor to enter an exam room and deliver their diagnosis of our health through tests, history, etc. This common experience is likely one of our most un-embodied in life – we are literally displaying ourselves for examination as just a physical body and waiting for a verdict. Often, doctors dismiss patient reports as uneducated – they rely on tests, facts on paper, rather than the human directly in front of them and, at times, this is unfortunately necessary. But with a practice of self-care, I believe that people can bring a scientific approach to observing their own physical experience of symptoms, fluctuations in performance and pain, to provide an essential window of information for doctors.
Self Care and Health Care
This intersection, where health care and self-care can join hands to forge a clearer path toward overall integrated health, will be critical going forward. Requisite in this partnership is the patient’s willingness to step toward responsibility for their health, and inject a practice of caring for themselves in the service of making life both longer and better.
The word partnership requires that both parties contribute – the doctor, having spent years in study, contributes the knowledge of THE human body, coupled with potential treatments, experience with other patients and research, while the patient can add insight into their individual body, including symptoms, alterations in function and, pertinent observations. I have a student, just beyond middle aged who has tackled some health concerns in his time that exemplifies the awesome potential of this partnership.
After a bout with the flu, Adam had intense calf pain and difficulty taking deep breaths. He was able to report these specific symptoms to his doctor as a result of the careful and various methods of self-care he employs on a regular basis. Diagnosis: blood clots in his calf muscles and those clots collect on the surface of the lungs creating the difficulty in breathing. He was prescribed blood-thinning medications and he augments this treatment with a focus on self-care.
He attends yoga classes, practices soft tissue massage with therapy balls and a vibrating massage tool, runs, and uses his inversion table twice daily. These tools, including grippy, pliable, Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls, inspired him to describe himself as “a little laboratory – I explore the effects in my body and try to trace back to the causes, and treat the causes.” That sense of exploration and curiosity informs the choices he makes, from food to movement to stress reduction. Partnered up with his doctor’s advice, this strategy has empowered him to take charge of his health and the quality of his life. That is quite an alliance – an alliance for good living!
Bo Forbes elucidates the power of interoception in her work as a clinical psychologist and yoga therapist. Through a system of self-care, in the form of mindful movement and inward awareness, Bo Forbes believes that we can train the mind to release the story line that has been put in place through past experience and pain’s leftover legacy in the body. We develop a “sensory awareness of the fluctuations within (the body) from moment to moment,” as opposed to following the same old story and getting what we expect in return. She refers to the practice of “entering the body without a sense of mastery,” which I believe is shared with Adam’s description of his body as “a little laboratory.”
When we are able to stop re-writing the same old storylines of our past and fully experience our bodies, in both health and illness, proper function and injury, we see and feel what is truly present. This skill makes us, as patients, more reliable reporters for our health care providers and enables us to witness the subtle changes that occur within as treatment progresses.
Dr. Adam Wadel, a chiropractor with a bustling business outside of Boston, reiterates this by saying that patients who employ self-care practices ranging from mindful healthy eating to meditation retreats, “are more apt to seek out assistance in their health challenges as well as being more open to making the needed changes to reach their health goals. These patients regularly heal faster and more efficiently.”
The best part of this partnership is that power is in our own hands. There is vast information regarding the introduction to self-care practices that we can welcome into our lives and experiment with as potential welcome mats into our individual “little laboratories.” These practices, when well vetted, can reintroduce us to the internal panorama that we lose sight of in our busy daily lives. This personal panorama holds a powerful key to overall health and contributes to a true partnership between doctor and patient, where both offer vital and informed data to best serve the patient in a long, healthy, mobile, and integrated life.