Treat the PatientIt is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.
One of the five core principles of Naturopathic Medicine is “Treat the patient, not the disease.” What does this mean? My primary focus is not on your weight, your “disease,” or your hormonal levels; although, all of these merit their due consideration and care. It means that with few exceptions nothing can impact your health as profoundly and certainly as you, the patient, can through the ways you use and care for your body–mind. Whether you are overweight or diagnosed with colitis, suffer from diabetes or any other disorder, the most powerful source of healing you will find is your self.
I am specifically referring to the way you eat, exercise, think and communicate. These activities are the dominant influences on your anatomy and physiology. Every structure and function of your body is affected by these actions: the composition of your blood and lymph, hormonal balance, brain chemistry, immunity, bones… you name it. If your actions are abnormal, they cause your physiology to become abnormal.
This core philosophy of self-healing work remains substantially the same regardless of your diagnosis. I.e. whether your illness were migraines, arthritis, or infertility, your core healing work would be essentially the same. In order to heal your condition, you need to correct your own individual errors in eating, exercise, thinking, and communicating. Conversely, five different clients with the same diagnosis would each find their program of self-healing to be unique to them: one emphasizing nutrition, a second spinal misalignment, another chronic anxiety, and so on.
Your power to heal such processes as inflammation, hormonal balance and brain chemistry is identical to the power you have to control your daily actions. The wisdom with which you govern your appetite, posture, thoughts and emotions IS the very power that controls your unconscious bodily processes such as digestion, reproduction etc. By performing your most ordinary daily activities with love and with intelligence, you find that your body becomes a LIVING expression of LOVE AND INTELLIGENCE.
This approach, which I call “Self-Healing,” is absolutely practical. It takes the mystery out of healing and puts the power directly in your own hands. Not only is it immediately accessible to everyone, it is actually inescapable. Everyone already eats, moves, thinks, and communicates. The only question is whether or not we will perform these vital functions wisely and with care. There is no escaping the results, for better or for worse.
The most important thing I teach my students is how to wield their power to self-heal.
Do you act incapable of resisting a cup of coffee or a dessert; are you unskillful in directing your thoughts away from anger or anxiety?
Do you allow your actions to be governed by whatever feels pleasant or painful in the moment?
Observe the confidence, intelligence, kindness with which you direct your most ordinary actions. By these actions you feed, rest and exercise your body. Do the thoughts and feelings you focus on stimulate your mind with irresistible desires and terrifying fears or, DO THEY EVOKE IN YOU a passion for health through right action? Ultimately, your body and mind depend DIRECTLY ON YOU.
You are your own master. Who else? Nobody else BUT YOU IS AWARE OF THE CONSTANT COMMUNICATIONS YOU RECEIVE IN THE FORM OF SENSATIONS, THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS. NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU can eat, exercise, think, or communicate for you. And there is absolutely no possibility, none, of escaping the consequences of your actions, both for better and for worse. Reflecting deeply on the inviolability of Natural Law has been perhaps the greatest impetus for me to take better care of myself. I instruct and encourage my students to develop the practice of contemplating the universal law of justice or fair compensation: “As you give, so shall you receive.” It wakes you up to the fact that your actions matter… supremely.
Let us examine one example of the incomparable power you possess for Self-Healing; the power of hunger. Just as you would train a horse to plow a field or a dog to guard your children, you can harness the animal power of hunger. Hunger is a fierce, wild, animal power, which if wielded with love, will defend your body against almost everything.
However, if you allow your body to behave like an uncontrolled animal and eat whatever and whenever she wants, she becomes weak, lazy, and incapable of defending your precious home. Think of how much personal power it takes for you to stop drinking coffee or eating sweets, let alone to fast for a day. This is precisely the power that you can learn to harness to purify and strengthen your body. The power you now squander in short term pleasures you will learn to channel for the restoration of all your bodily structures and functions be theyreproduction, digestion, or circulation.
You can also infuse your body with love and intelligence through movement. Imagine pausing 30 seconds to bring poise to your posture, to breathe fully into your body, and say to her, “This is for you, honey. I am with you, I love you.” Imagine if for 20 minutes each morning you infused your body with such kind attention through conscious exercise.
For numerous reasons, our scientific community has only minimally studied and documented our human powers of self-healing. I appreciate the contribution western science has made to my understanding of healing; however, I did not learn to heal myself by reading scientific journals.
Most of my clients find that their illness makes much more sense when understood as a natural way that their body or a specific organ is actually communicating to them. The body asks much like a baby cries for milk or a flower thirsts for water. Her asking begins gently and increases in intensity. The demands of Nature can never be silenced. It is supremely important that we heed the voice of our body’s wisdom speaking to us in the universal language of pain and illness.
Innocently, we may not have fully grasped the incomparable benefits, or miseries, that await us throughlistening and caring. Illness teaches us to listen and obey our body’s needs. It motivates us to seek and embrace what truly benefits us and to eschew the short-term pleasures that eventually end in more suffering.
I teach my students to interpret their illness as priceless guidance coming to them from the universe Herself. Harsh but invaluable instruction, 100 percent personalized to YOU. The same diagnosis or symptoms in another person would carry completely different instructions for how to improve their life.
As a student makes this perceptual shift from viewing their illness as something foreign and destructive to them to seeing it as highly personal and caring instruction, their interest moves away from trying to cure their “disease.” They become keenly interested in understanding themselves and what it means to truly care for themselves. Now we are treating the patient, not their disease.