Archived Issue - PRAKTIKOS Spring Equinox, 2006

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
    - Norman Vincent Peale

Finding “The Line” to Good Health

If it is a big bad one, your palms get moist and your mouth dries up so you can’t spit or whistle. Your breathing gets rapid and shallow, and you can feel your heart pumping in your chest.

Only moments ago you were floating peacefully down a beautiful river in your kayak when the whole world seemed to drop away. The noise first alerted you: a deep thunderous roar that reverberated off the steep canyon walls. Peering ahead, you can see only an abrupt horizon line looming downstream.

Quickly you paddle to shore before being swept into the unseen rapid. You slowly pull your body from the tiny kayak to give your feet and legs time to unwind and regain their steadiness. Then you follow the well-worn path down the riverside and begin to scout the rapid.

At first your eyes are inexorably drawn to the dangers lurking in the turbulent chaos. The right bank is undermined, and a large tree has fallen into the river. Its gnarly branches extend into the main current creating a strainer that can trap and drown a kayaker like spaghetti in a colander. Just below the tree on the left is a deep keeper hole that could spin you around and spit you out into the uncaring river.

You stand there with your palms sweating and your heart pounding, your mouth dry and your heart pounding, fearing death by drowning. But here is where your mind must change directions and work pure magic: you must now push the danger to the very back of your mind and look for what is called “the line.”

“The line” is the path that leads safely around obstacles. In this case it is a path that passes closely along the left riverbank, avoiding the tree, and then quickly moves to the right to avoid the keeper hole. You must visualize yourself making the line. You must see yourself making the moves required, or it will not be safe to paddle the rapid.

The reason it would be unsafe to paddle this rapid if your mind fixates on the obstacle rather than the line is simple: in kayaking (as in life) you tend to go where you look. If you climb into your kayak with that deadly tree in mind, you will be swept into its clutches and you could die. You must mentally focus on where you want to go and not on where you are afraid you might go.

In kayaking this principle of “going where you look” is both powerful and instantaneous. While most people will never paddle a rapid with a deadly strainer tree, the principle applies to everyday life as well.

Life, like a river, is filled with obstacles that can monopolize our attention and draw us towards destruction. Pathology is one of these dangers. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, strokes, and arthritis; we all know people with these pathologies. It is hard not to fear such things in our own futures.

It is easy to become mired in the obstacles, the dangers of modern life. Yet, just as on the river, fixation on the danger actually increases our chances of having problems with our health. What we need is a “line” to visualize, a path to paddle that leads us past the dangers and to true health. This is more difficult than it might seem because we don’t even have a word to describe this path.

Unfortunately, we do have a word to describe the movement towards disease: pathogenesis. Don’t stare at it; it only gives it more power!

Instead, direct your attention to a new word: salutogenesis, the movement towards health derived from the Latin root “salute” meaning health or safety. Now we have a place to focus our mind’s eye that leads past the dangers to safety.

Life is an individual undertaking (just like kayaking) so you are free to scout and develop your own line, but here are a few suggestions: walk everyday for about thirty minutes, get eight hours sleep every night, eat when you are hungry and stop before you are full, eat a broad variety of healthy organic foods, eat slowly and enjoy the taste and texture of your food, have a little beer or wine with your meal, laugh a lot, smile often, tell jokes, sing, start and end each sleep cycle by stretching your arms overhead and lifting your rib cage, stand up straight, swing your arms when you walk, don’t smoke, breathe deeply using your ribs, help someone out who needs a hand up, tell someone you love them, forgive those who have hurt you in the past, hug somebody, take up that new sport, get trekking poles.

The above examples of paths, of lines, that you can choose to focus on and paddle through individual effort, but there remains a final salutogenic process that is just as important but requires outside help: get regular chiropractic adjustments. By keeping your spine and nervous system in optimal condition, you will not only feel great everyday but your body will be stronger and more able to deal with life’s inevitable challenges.

As final evidence of the effectiveness of this salutogenic approach, I would like to cite briefly the specific cases of two of our neatest ladies. Both women are in their seventies, when it is easy to focus on disease and pathology, and yet each is only improving with time.

Judy is white haired and 73 years old. She recently found her daughter’s jump rope and decided to pick it up. She can now jump thirteen times in a row. She is losing weight, her blood pressure is down, her blood sugar is better, and she can walk up and down stairs again without using her hand or fearing for her safety.

Josephine is almost eighty now, and she lives on her own despite the fact that she does not drive and must walk everywhere she goes. With her pedometer and brand-new carbon-graphite trekking poles she goes shopping and then carries her purchases home in a backpack. She is currently planning to enter some competitive walks this spring.

I swear, when either of these two super ladies smiles, the room lights up. You can feel the health radiating from both of them.

What are you doing to improve your health and your future?