Over the last who knows how many years, thousands to millions depending on who you ask, humans have been surviving challenging environments and situations. Through thick and thin, amazing adaptations and physiological responses have been developed and honed to deal with just about any challenging experience (injuries, famines, fight or flight, infections, psychological, emotional, physical). The human body that you inherited has built in programs to deal with just about anything it comes across.
In the pursuit of health and wellness it is helpful to consider this dynamic. Life is, at its most basic, an organism (e.g. human body) adapting, adjusting and dealing with its environment to the best of its ability by using its hard wired programs and systems. Humans, like other creatures, are marvelous organisms operating at levels far beyond what we can comprehend no matter how smart we think we are and how much we have theoretically “figured out” about how the human body works. Because of this I think we need to, as a default, put our trust in the body. Everything we experience happens for a reason. There’s wisdom in what our body does and listening to it is one of the greatest skills we can develop.
We all know this on some level. When something is wrong you just know it. When something is right you just know it. Ever get a gut feeling? The body knows and it’s not by chance or an accident.
Trust Your Body
Since cold season is upon us it makes sense to start with some things that the body does to help deal with all those unwanted organisms we encounter but as you can see there are numerous ways in which the body does something for a reason and ignoring or eliminating this feedback is often more problematic than the actual problem.
Fever: exists to eliminate pathogens and infections. The body increases its internal temperature to get rid of problematic organisms. When we bring down fevers we stop this process and the infection is allowed to continue and often flourish.
Runny nose: exists to eliminate pathogens and infections. The body loosens the mucous membranes in the nose to flush out problematic organisms. Stopping a runny nose prevents the body from doing this and drying out those membranes hampers our resilience to infections.
Coughing: exists to eliminate problematic organisms. Whether a germ or food particle, the body coughs to get rid of something. Stopping a cough prevents this from happening. You make the body keep something it is trying to avoid.
Pain: exists to alert a problem. Whether acute or chronic, pain signals something is wrong and/or threatened. Stopping pain might feel good but it poses two problems: stopping the healing process and giving a false sense of wellness. Blocking pain does not stop or correct the problem.
Fatigue: exists to signal the need for rest. We get tired if our body is running low on resources or needs to slow down for recovery or attend to other processes. When we ignore or mask fatigue we are making the problem worse. Whatever the body needs to do does not get done or happens at the expense of something else.
Hunger: exists to drive us to get nourishment. Whether a specific food, general food type or mineral/vitamin the body gets hungry for a reason. If your body needs (or thinks it needs) something nutritional it makes you hungry for it. Ever hungry a steak, fruit, sweets, something carbonated or chocolate? There’s a reason. The body wants something that those foods have.
Craving: similar to hunger, exists to drive a behavior resulting in the body getting what it desires. Whether it’s sex, sunlight, activity, change of scenery, personal interaction or time to ourselves, the body makes us crave what we need. Cravings are not accidental or frivolous.
Nausea: exists us to signal there’s a problem with something we are doing/experiencing. Whether it is a bad food, too much food/alcohol, over exertion, pain, over stressed or a number of other things, the body gets nausea to get us to stop doing something it knows is a problem or can not handle. It’s not by chance that you feel ill or something’s wrong.
Intuition: exists to guide us toward favorable behavior for survival and existence. We get instinctual feelings about things to help us keep aligned with our personal safety and progression. Going against intuition is often denying the wisdom of years of your (and human) experience.
How many other things exist that we can chalk up to body wisdom? Boredom, fat storage/diabetes, indigestion/bloating, blood pressure changes, cholesterol levels, allergies, bloating/water storage, addiction/habits, swelling/redness, hair loss, temperature fluctuations, social interactions and on and on. Everything we do and experience is the body doing what it thinks is best for our circumstances. When we listen to and trust the body we can work with it, instead of against it. Like paying attention to the wise old elders: they just know how things work and you can trust in their wisdom. The body just knows and it’s very reliable and trustworthy.
The next time you experience something, take a step back and ask yourself why it is happening. What is your body trying to do or tell you? Take a break from all the noise of listening to other people and your preconceptions and start listening to yourself. No one will speak to you more individually and accurately than your own body. It might often be difficult to discern what those signals are but, just like everything else in life, the more you practice the better you will get. We have been encouraged to interfere with or ignore the reactions of the body and to supersede it’s wisdom, only to find ourselves getting worse as a species. I say we stop disconnecting from our bodies, start trusting them a bit more and reconnect to the basic human experience.
This is a massive idea with some far reaching implications and philosophical questions. Should we sit around and just expect our body to solve all of its (our) problems? Not at all. But we can use the signs, symptoms and feedback we get every single day from our body to help us decide on appropriate behavior that supports our body in staying healthy. We can start trusting our body.
Thanks for reading, have a great day!
P.S. I originally wrote more detailed versions on a few of the body’s responses but decided it would make the post way too long. Here’s the ones that got a bit more details…
Your child feels warm. You reach for the thermometer: 102. Uh-oh, a fever. Before you reach for the Tylenol, ask yourself this: Do I trust the body?
Why do we get fevers? Our body runs hot for a reason: to burn off illness quicker. Innate wisdom is almost always smarter than we realize and give credit to. When we interrupt or interfere with the body, we are likely prolonging the illness. Bringing a fever down might make your child (or you) more comfortable but it limits the body’s ability to combat the pathogen. Whenever the body does something naturally I pay attention and ask myself why. In this case, most instances of fever are signs of the immune system kicking in to battle something off. This is something I want to let play out. I trust the body. As a general rule, I think we should support the immune system instead of dampening it. Rest and good hydration are the two key ways to support the body in fighting off illness. I think any low to mild fever falls into the category of lay low and let it play it’s course. My threshold for comfort lies in the 104 range.
Anecdotal evidence, traditional wisdom and medical science can all agree that the body is pretty smart and does some amazing things to get along in this crazy world. In my mind, fevers are one of those amazing things. So next time you see a fever, think critically about why the body would be reacting that way and ask yourself if you trust it.
** As with everything I post, this is what I believe to be true. It is not absolute and is not medical advice. Use your common sense and treat fevers the way you think they should be treated. I trust the body pretty highly but if you don’t or your threshold for trust is lower (via belief or other medical conditions) then act accordingly.
Rethinking Runny Noses
Another common sight during the winter are runny noses. Before you get the medicine ask yourself why. Why is this happening? It may be annoying, uncomfortable and socially unacceptable (and gross!) but it’s happening for a reason. Could it be that your body is loosening the mucosal membranes to flush out pathogens (germs/bacteria/virus)? To me this seems like a good thing. When you use medication to dry out and stop a runny nose, two things happen: you stop the body’s reactive coping process and you dry out the same mucus membranes that are designed to be slightly moist and catch pathogens. Dry noses are vulnerable noses.
An aching pain in your back, shoulder, knee or head pops up. Before you grab the advil, ask yourself “What is my body experiencing and telling me?” Chances are there’s a reason why something hurts. The three most common reasons we feel pain are 1) acute pain from injuries (banged your hip on the counter), 2) chronic skeletal pain (overuse injuries/tight muscles pulling the skeleton out of alignment) and molecular (inflammation/blood flow restriction/nutrient deficiency/hormones). Pain indicates a problem and serves two purposes: a prompt to stop doing the thing that’s causing the problem and a call for resources to deal with the injury/healing process. Similar to a 911 call, pain tells you there’s a problem and asks for help. Your brain (the 911 operator) gets the pain signal, notes the problem and sends the appropriate resources out, all the while keeping the caller (injury) on the line, getting info and feedback from the injury source. Taking Advil, in essence, ends the 911 call as if the caller says “never mind we are ok now” and the 911 process halts. Did that stop the accident on the freeway? No. It simply makes the 911 operator and rescue crew stop working because they think nobody’s in trouble anymore. Traffic will find a way around the accident but it will remain a problem until someone gets called in to respond.