An Obsession with Disease?

May 30, 2013

I have spent a lot of time in the past year reading and working toward my yoga certification, a process that is now on hold due to the fact that the class I needed to take to finish “on time” was sold out. It’s not that there’s a time limit on my certifications; I just wanted to have it completed before my baby came. Ah well…

In Your Body Speaks Your Mind (Part I and Part II), and elsewhere, there is an idea in Eastern medicine that all disease starts in the mind. The chemicals developed in the brain transmit into the body, where they’re stored. Over time, the same negative signals (in addition to other factors such as diet, chemicals, environment…) can promote disease within the body and/or mind.

Yesterday, as I was teaching prenatal yoga, the ladies and I were discussing the idea that the Western world is obsessed with disease. It got started with a mention on anorexia nervosa (AN), an eating disorder. Strange, because this week I stumbled across a Tumblr post about a girl whose battled AN for ten years and now has heart problems because her perception of her self-image has forced her body to eat her own heart muscle. The post advocated a resistance against those Tumblr blogs promoting–and, in fact–giving advice to young boys and girls on–achieving the ultimate thin body.

It reminds me of this story I read in 7th Grade, where two girls became obsessed with a machine that magically transformed their bodies into the “ideal image.” They could eat whatever they wanted. In fact, I believe the machines were set up in an ice cream parlor. So they’d gorge on sweets and then pop into the machine for a slim-up. Over time, even what had been a healthy body slowly shrank into skeletal features because they couldn’t perceive what was thin anymore, and what had been thin yesterday wasn’t thin today.

Sound familiar? Look at what’s on TV, in magazines, in music videos, in shopping malls. What are young people today striving to look like? The recent Abercrombie & Fitch CEO’s admission to limiting his company’s sizes IS the norm in the fashionable world. And who doesn’t want to be fashionable?

What about the other end of the spectrum? Several years ago, I watched The Ultimate Fat Debate on Dr. Phil. It was a fabulous discussion held by three trim fitness instructors, three huge women, and (as a kind of mediator with Dr. Phil) Kelly Osborne, who’d been on both sides of the fence. I thought both sides had points–that we shouldn’t discriminate based on size (it happens to thin people as well as fat, friends, just so you know), and that people should be responsible for their own actions pertaining to their bodies.

What I didn’t agree with (personally) is the mindset of one of the heavy women, who advocates for an organization that promotes fairness for overweight/obese individuals. It reflects a large percentage of what overweight/obese individuals think, and the trend is growing: I look good the way I am. To me–please, again, don’t judge, because I’ve been on the heavy side myself so I know what it feels like–this is an excuse to maintain the same poor behaviors that have caused the weight gain in the first place. This isn’t a judgment. It’s more of an observation from the countless times I’ve seen overweight individuals shrug their shoulders and continue to do nothing to promote a healthier body and improve their quality of life.

What about school-aged children? I just finished reading Natural Prozac, a book on how to help reverse depression. (I say help because you might need a doctor first before ever trying the methods suggested in it.) One of the things that struck me was his talk on dopamine and norephinephrine levels of the brain, how they cause anxiety-based depression that keep people doing so much, they don’t feel it until they crash. I got to thinking about children in schools whose parents are told they need Ritalin because they have ADD/ADHD.

Granted, there are real cases out there where people do need drug therapy. A vast majority of kids however, as Dr. Robertson later states, actually just have abnormally high levels of dopamine and norephiphrine running through their systems on account of partaking of the things that cause the elevation of the levels of these neurotransmitters, namely (but not only) violent/action-packed movies and TV, violent/loud music, video games, and poor high-processed diets. They watch/listen/play these things before school, eat a lot of sugar, and then sit in a classroom. The answer? Exercise! They need to be allowed to burn off the excess energy (and neurotransmitters) so they can sit and focus easier. (Incidentally, this is one reason why I feel that physical education should be a requirement for all grades through high school, which it isn’t.)

Or, think on the huge boom in pharmacology in the last 60 years. Today, antidepressants are one of the biggest prescribed classes of drugs in medicine. Pain killers are another. Look at the advertisements on television. Drugs (and weight loss diets/supplements) are everywhere. I believe it’s like 1 in 5 adults are on some kind of anxiety or pain medication.

There’s also a rise in how often people go to the doctor to be diagnosed for something. Disease, in general, is on the rise. Again, this is partially due to things like high-processed diets, environmental factors, chemicals, and the like; but it is also due to a believe that something is wrong and instead of looking at what they can change in their own lives to improve (and even prevent) unhealthy feelings and disease, people want a quick fix. Drugs, surgery, etc. These businesses are booming.

Now at this point, you’re like, get on with it. So here is my point. You may or may not agree with me, and that’s okay. Not everyone will, or does. There are people out there who’ve begun movements to help bring awareness to these, and other, areas so that we may live healthier, better lives. It’s awesome to see!

In a yoga lifestyle, it is believed that you only have one body. Therefore, in a yoga lifestyle, we encourage people to accept themselves, love themselves, and build a fierce desire to take care of themselves. No replacement parts necessary. No mind-chemical-altering drugs needed. Food, exercise, meditation, hard work, and living in accordance with nature are all the best medicines a person needs…and laughter too!

Does that mean that, if you’re one of those struggling, this is all you need to do? No! For many people, we need a doctor’s help to get started. We need to talk to a therapist to get through some tough parts of our childhood/lives. We need the drugs to help balance us out until we just don’t need them anymore (or need less of them).

The yoga mentality is not one of absolutes, like so many other diets, etc., out there. It’s about taking care of you. It’s about letting go of the thought that contribute to disease-forming factors. It’s about living in moderation: enjoying that piece of chocolate cake but also enjoying the exercise you do afterward to burn off the excess calories. Living healthy can be fun if we believe it.

Take the chance. Read books like Natural Prozac and Your Body Speaks Your Mind. Go see a doctor or a friend or a nutritionist if you don’t know what’s going on or what you’re doing. You’ll thank yourself later, and your quality of life with increase.

And who doesn’t want increase in their life?

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2 Responses to “An Obsession with Disease?”

  1. habisha said

    Good post. I’ve found I can lose weight by watching portion sizes, making healthy eating choices, and walking some every day. Many of the restaurants serve huge portions, so my husband and I often share a plate and get individual salads.

    He’s lost a lot of weight and just had to go buy new clothes. Yay! I’m so proud of him. Both of us are losing and feeling healthier. It will be a slow and gradual process for us, but I think it’s better, because I struggle with AN and often just won’t eat, which doesn’t help. I’ve dealt with eating disorders all my life, so making myself eat, and making good food choices is healthy for me.

    Yes, I have an occasional snack of chips or popcorn, but now it’s not that I eat the entire bag of chips at one go, or the whole bowl or popcorn. I eat a few chips to even my blood sugars or because I just want some, but it’s only a few and mostly the bag sits there till the chips get stale. I’d much rather eat carrot sticks, or the trunk of a broccoli. I love salad bars and fear French fries. I admit to being something of a carbophobe.

    Still, I’m happy for the progress I’ve made. we just made a huge move to Honolulu. It was stressful and chaotic, but I weathered it with some sort of equanimity, some laughter, and a tiny glass of whisky shared with my best brother-in-law and my son. Good memories and somehow healing.

    I believe God holds our times and places. He gives us strength when we need it and humour in the stress. I’m back in Honolulu in my little tiny cottage, and this time it feels like the right nest.

    Healing and progress comes in all sorts of forms. Walking, hanging out by the ocean and listening to the waves and the breeze in the palm trees, just finding some space in the midst of the hurry and bustle.

    I agree with Meredith on the point that we use too many drugs. I refuse to use anti-depressants or anything for my ADD. I work to find my focus. I have a guy I work with who is on something for his ADHD and it doesn’t work after a while. I want to tell him to just stop and focus. I don’t think all the drugs we’re being given are actually designed to help us, but more to make us dependent on the pharmaceutical companies and our doctors. I’ve found that using vitamins and minerals is more helpful than anything else, and eating a healthy diet is the best.

    I’m sure I will eventually learn yoga, but for now, I’m learning and growing (and shrinking in size) and that’s all good. One step at a time.

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