Among the many pearls of wisdom in natural healing is this statement: "Illness can be the doorway to health." Whether the illness originates in the mind, body, spirit, or environment, we have the choice to allow illness to compel us either toward health and higher learning, or away from health and to eventual destruction.
It is not surprising that over 50 percent of people in the United States now use alternative therapies, both to maintain health and to treat illness. However, alternative therapies are, in truth, not so alternative. Many of them have actually been utilized for thousands of years. Many people in this country are using them as important additions to Western allopathic medicine. The evidence is overwhelming that people who take care of themselves have lower health care costs.
Preventive medicine in particular is a kind of health insurance that pays interest. Preventive therapies require that people take part by achieving awareness and body conscious behavior by actively participating in and being responsible for their own health. Preventive therapies enable us to feel confident that what we do now to avoid medical bills will help us overcome or deal with future health care crises. We are looking toward our later years, a time when life should be fruitful and satisfying.
Food As Healer
Food is vital because it is the primary source of gaining energy. Everything around us has its own unique kind of energy or vibration. Some foods increase energy more than others. Depending on the way they are grown, prepared, and eaten, foods have the ability to increase or decrease the vitality and the strength of body, mind, and spirit. This fundamental knowledge of foods has always been with us.
Today the quality of our earthly environment has a net effect on physical health. Commercial kitchens, supermarkets, agribusinesses, and systems of food distribution are industrialized and immensely complicated. Radiation, food additives, genetically engineered foods, and overprocessing are just a few of the problems we deal with today. Our bodily elimination systems were not designed to decompose substances totally foreign to us. Pesticides, decayed matter, food additives, dead protein, certain inorganic minerals, and a number of other substances simply do not belong in our bodies. The condition of our bodies also reflects the condition of our environment, our world, and our future on planet Earth.
We can be overwhelmed by toxic accumulations as a consequence of fatigue, poor circulation, constipation, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, improper diet, and our environment. As the body becomes increasingly toxic, proper oxidation cannot take place in the tissues. Without oxygenation, we lack energy so the tired body continues the downward spiral. Restoring our own bodily systems after years of constant wear is essential for maintaining health and preventing disease.
The Body is Both Our Mother and Child
Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes the body as a sensor:
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"Many times it is the things of nature that are most healing, especially the very accessible and the very simple ones. The body is like an Earth. It is a land unto itself. It is as vulnerable to overbuilding, being carved into pieces, cut off, overmined, and shorn of its power as any landscape. We tend to think of the body as this 'other' that does its thing without us. Many people treat their bodies as if the body were a slave. We have only to pay heed to our bodies to know what we must do. The body is not sculpture or marble. Its purpose is to protect, contain, support, and fire the spirit and soul within it, to be a repository for memory, to fill us with feeling. It is to lift us and propel us, to prove that we exist, that we are here, to give us grounding, heft, weight. The body is best understood as a being in its own right, one who loves us, depends on us, one to whom we are sometimes mother, and who sometimes is mother to us." [Women Who Run With the Wolves]
The importance of being "mother" to my body hit home when I was in my late twenties. During many years of studying nutrition, I felt I had taken care of myself with good eating habits. Imagine my alarm and confusion upon realizing my health was deteriorating a little more with each passing year. Constant allergies made it impossible to be anywhere without a box of tissues. I began to have night sweats and insomnia. Seasonal colds and flus came and lingered long. It did not seem to matter how much care I took with my diet.
Detoxification and Regeneration
It was at this time, while reading Dr. Walker's book Raw Vegetable Juices, that one small paragraph about detoxification caused a light bulb to go on in my head -- and I have never looked back. The message was simple: "Cleanliness is the first step toward a healthy body."
This was an important but missing link for me: We can regenerate the body when clean tissues are able to draw all the nutrients and chemical elements we need from the foods we eat. We cannot put clean food in a dirty body and expect good results. Accumulation and retention of waste and morbid matter in our bodies begins in the womb and continues throughout childhood and up to the present moment. We are not necessarily what we eat; we are what we are able to assimilate, digest, and utilize. If the organs of our bodies are clogged and congested, we cannot expect to function optimally -- and we do not!
A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body
About 2,500 years ago, Hippocrates is said to have offered the Grecian people wise advice: A healthy mind in a healthy body should be the goal of all generations in the world. Hippocrates was a vitalist who taught that good health and purity of environment are dependent upon each other. Over time, pollutants build up in the tissues of our inner environment and cause our bodies to fall out of balance and weaken. Various forms of disease are then able to take hold when the body is in this weakened state. Many others since the time of Hippocrates have known that the body comes back into balance with the assistance of correct diet.
Hippocrates was an enlightened physician; his first step in maintaining health was regimen, or a regulated mode of life. He knew that Nature made the cure and that the doctor's role was to assist. He believed that the diseased body needed a period of rest -- not only a physical rest, but a chemical rest, which he considered even more important. Chemical rest could be achieved only by withholding food, thus giving the organs of the body an opportunity to discharge accumulated waste products and thereby to cleanse themselves.
Fasting: The Oldest Form of Natural Healing
We go about the restorative process by the use of special cleansing and dietary fasts. Fasting is the oldest form of natural healing. Many authentic world healing systems, which include Ayurvedic, Unani Tibb, Chinese, Japanese, Sufi, Native American, and European folk medicines, utilize herbs, foods, and fasting to achieve balance and health. Internal cleansing is the foundation of preventive medicine. Utilizing food and fasting to heal the body offers the benefit of helping the body to detoxify itself from the variety of pollutants evident in our modern environment. Many people intuitively sense the need for this detoxification.
The principle of fasting is based on the basic structures and processes of the human body, mind, and spirit. Some people confuse fasting with starvation and find various ways to talk themselves out of this healthful practice. The sense of hunger often disappears in people who completely abstain from food -- both those fasting and those starving -- but the similarity ends there. The process of fasting is one of gradually aligning more and more with the body. It is actually the epitome of a natural way of life, and its benefits do not end with correcting our out-of-balance systems and restoring our health.
"Restoring balance physically and mentally through right diet and fasting can change the individual human constitution, the intellectual tendency, the sexual inclinations, and social behavior slowly and steadily in the direction of total health," explains Japanese nutritionist George Ohsawa. [You Are All Sanpaku] The great visionary Edgar Cayce proclaimed: "The body physical is truly the temple through which the mental and the spiritual and soul development must manifest, and in manifestation does the growth come." [Edgar Cayce Handbook for Health Through Drugless Therapy]
The methods of fasting employed throughout history range from discontinuance of a single food for a short time up through total abstinence from all foods and liquids for extended periods. In the present day, fasts must be adjusted to suit the times. These all involve certain combinations of food and drink. If you are reasonably well, most fasts will bring about an almost euphoric feeling of well-being and provide inexpensive and effective insurance against disease. If you are not well, the fast is an excellent beginning of a therapeutic program.
All Cure Starts From Within
The corrections the body makes can be subtle or powerful. Hering's Law of Cure states: "All cure starts from within out, from the head down and in the reverse order as the symptoms first appeared. " [Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management, Dr. Bernard Jensen] The law of cure for healing the body moves symptoms from inside to outside, from top to bottom, from more important organs to less important organs. The movement may stir up your most recent symptoms of disease, or it may reawaken your oldest ones. Old problems may reappear for a short time, but they will fade. It will not take long for peaceful healing signs to emerge, and these signs will let you know you are doing a good thing for yourself.
The Sufis probably have more experience performing fasts than any other group. They point out that natural symptoms or "healing crises" are precisely the events that Western medicine labels illness and disease. Many people are unwilling to endure any discomfort or unpleasantness whatsoever when ill and thus resort to various chemical drugs, which will unfortunately put an immediate end to any healing actions of the body. This may suffice to get a person back to work, or prop him or her up to attend an important function; but over years of suppressed eliminations, the toxic matters back up within the system until organ damage occurs and there is no hope for a cure, except by the most drastic measures. (The physical manifestation of illness may also be the effect of a deeper problem involving your emotional and mental body. When you address the cause, your body must follow suit.)
While fasting the severity of the symptoms in a healing crisis is usually related to the amount of stored toxins in the body. You may experience headaches, cold or flu symptoms, constipation, depression, skin eruptions, or fatigue. In many cases, the possible effects the detoxification triggers are much less dramatic than you might imagine. In most cases, these symptoms are a good sign that you are allowing your body to heal itself. However, your medical history should be taken into consideration. If you feel concerned about any symptom, you may wish to call your physician. Some people go through cleansing fasts with few symptoms.
Benefits of a Fasting Cleanse
A cleansing fast will encourage the body to release stored toxins from muscles, glands, tissues, and fat cells into the bloodstream for elimination through the lungs, kidneys, intestines, skin, and the menstrual cycles for women. If elimination is impaired, these toxins cannot be eliminated quickly enough, which creates some of the uncomfortable symptoms. To help relieve this toxic burden, the internal baths are very important. You will learn much about your own needs as you progress through your fast. It is important to observe and utilize disturbances as stepping-stones for higher, better, and greater understanding of your body's needs. Remember to be patient while fasting, knowing that healing must arise from constructive thinking and application on your part.
When the body is cleansed, the eyes sparkle, the skin becomes soft and clear, the mind is sharp, and the manner is calm and pleasant. Everything gets better, including the memory, circulation, and digestion. These benefits are only the beginning. Health and happiness can become as contagious as disease. If we work on our health only when we are ill, we will usually return to the place where we started. Or, we can work on our growing health and not become ill. The willpower and discipline for proper care of nourishment, exercise, and self-awareness are not easy, but then nothing of value ever is.
Fasting has been likened to a surgeon's knife: It does away with toxins of all kinds. We must ask ourselves what is wrong with us, and then direct the fast to the purpose in the correct manner.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Healing Arts Press,
a division of Inner Traditions International.
©1998, 2002. http://www.innertraditions.com
The Seasonal Detox Diet: Remedies from the Ancient Cookfire
by Carrie L'Esperance.
A unique blend of dietary world wisdom, The Seasonal Detox Diet provides readers with a dynamic program for using healing fasts to detoxify, tone, and restore the body for optimum energy and performance. Unlike modern notions of fasting, Carrie L'Esperance's concept of this practice emphasizes dietary alteration rather than abstinence. She offers recipes designed around seasonal changes and geared toward individual health concerns, including fatigue, digestive disturbances, and excess weight gain.
Book originally published under this title:
The Ancient Cookfire: How to Rejuvenate Body and Spirit Through Seasonal Foods and Fasting
Another book by this author:
Soul Breathing: Spiritual Light and the Art of Self-Mastery
About the Author
Carrie L'Esperance, a certified iridologist and former gourmet food professional, has spent more than twenty-five years studying the healing systems of the world's cultures. She now specializes in helping clients discover the individual nutritional requirements that will allow them to feel and function at their best.
Listen to an interview with Carrie L'esperance: