One of the reasons I love practicing naturopathic medicine is that it encourages a broad perspective on health. I look at each individual as a unique combination of experiences and choices which have created the life he or she is currently living, then I encourage them to make new choices which can lead to the changes that are desired. In naturopathy we first look at a group of life-sustaining needs called to the "determinants of health" to help uncover the area(s) of greatest need in each individual. These determinants (shown below) are: breath, water, sleep, nutrition and exercise.
You can quickly see that if one of these areas is out of balance, the whole person can be thrown off balance and dis-ease may take its place. Most often the imbalances can be addressed using natural treatments and lifestyle modifications focused on the individual's needs. This is where naturopathy shines. In fact, if you read the modern medical studies regarding our major health challenges as humans (heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol, obesity, infertility, mental health and aging) most of the talk is about prevention and is directed at these five determinants!
Modern medicine is now aligning with naturopathic principles rather than the other way around!
Looking at the graphic above you can see that I put exercise in a central position with two-way arrows pointing to the other determinants. This is not to say that exercising is the most important of the determinants, but I believe that it plays a key supportive role in the utilization or optimization of the others. For instance, we know that having regular exercise improves sleep quality which leads to improved recovery; which leads to better stamina in future exercise; which leads to improved sleep. This cycle can continue until a point of diminishing returns is reached when exercising more would interrupt the balance of one of the other determinants or cause injury. You can follow the same logic trail with the other determinants as well. They support each other, but each is necessary on its own.
You might've guessed already that I prescribe moderate doses of regular exercise to every one of my patients. This is not just because of my personal history as an athlete, but the studies support it too! I think everyone who is able to do so will benefit from walking 20 to 30 minutes each day. I also like to add some form of resistance training to the daily routine to help maintain strength and optimize neuro-muscular connections.
When it comes to resistance training, I look no further than yoga and its wide variety of poses. I've been practicing yoga for many years and at one time even had instruction from a yogi in India while visiting my wife's family there. I continue to benefit every time I get on my mat. Yoga is so common in the U.S. now that it needs no introduction. It offers strength, flexibility and breath training all at once, but there is also a philosophical aspect to yoga that offers a gateway into a spiritual understanding of our physical experience (highlighted by the choice to take our next breath or not). Yoga is so much more than tying yourself up into knots and/or balancing in some unbelievable way! In fact, some of the most basic poses can produce profound benefits in health and personal awareness.
My goal with the next few blog posts is to introduce you to some of these poses and offer you key insights into their potential benefits. Unlike the popular yoga classes which jump from pose to pose you will have only one pose to practice for a couple of days, so you will get the opportunity to really tap in to your self-awareness through the pose.
All you will need for this practice is a few minutes of focus time each day and timer to help you stay with the pose long enough to reap some of its benefits.
Using a yoga mat can be helpful for added stability in some poses, but it is not absolutely necessary. If you want one, you can buy a mat at stores like TJ Maxx and Target.
Don't worry if you're a newbie to yoga. You will find out that yoga is not so much about proficiency as compared with experienced practitioners but about self-discovery and doing the best you can in the moment. Experienced "flow" yogis will find new perspective with this single pose practice.
Look for the first pose in my next blog post in a couple of days. I'd like to offer this to as many people as possible, so please share it with others you think will benefit!