Many of the people in my circle are holding tight to their 2013 New Year’s resolutions—especially those hoping to improve their health with exercise and changes in diet. We have good reason. As a community, we struggle profoundly with obesity, which can lead to an onslaught of health concerns, including type 2 diabetes (more than 80% of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight), and heart disease and stroke (African-American women are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke than our White counterparts). These dsys, my folks are ceating clean, kettle-belling and training for marathons.
Unfortunately, a number of them are also very busy and sad. We have bought into the notion that grinding is the only way for us to get it all in— to achieve our goals in our careers, social lives and now, our health. With that grind comes anxiousness, fatigue, depression and sleepless nights, so while we are doing a great deal to become more physically fit, many of us are also becoming more exhausted, irritable, and incapable of centering our minds. “What if I tell you that caring for your body is the least important part of your health”, asks Lisa Rankin, a medical doctor who spoke at a TEDx conference concerning shocking truths about our health.
Rankin shares a powerful story with her audience. An OBGYN who became so disgruntled with the patriarchal led medical care for women that she left her practice in 2007, she was frustrated with seeing patients who showed obvious symptoms of not being well, but whom she could not diagnose with a tangible illness, or treat. What she later realized was happening with her patients was that their bodies were physically manifesting a host of issues occurring in their minds, and these manifestations had become an epidemic. One that Rankin herself could not escape:
“By the time I was thirty-three years old I was your typical physician… I had all the trappings of success, I thought—the ocean front house in San Diego, the vacation home, the boat, the big fat retirement account, so I could be happy one day in the future. I was twice divorced by that point. I had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. I was taking three medications that failed to control my blood pressure and I had just been diagnosed with precancerous cells of my cervix that needed surgery.”
More importantly, says Rankin, she was completely disconnected from who she was and what she wanted in life. “I had covered myself up in a whole series of masks”, she explained. Her life, without the fancy medical degree and ocean view, sounds a lot like my own life after my second divorce and I’m that banking the lives of many of you reading today aren’t so different.
When we are unhappy—in failing relationships and hostile work environments, when we are spiritually disconnected—our bodies gently whisper to us that something is wrong. Of course, we often ignore those whispers. We pop a few pills to soothe our headaches, we have prescriptions that momentarily take away our restlessness, there are medications that treat our attention deficit disorders and our episodes of hopelessness, but we do little to repair or rid ourselves of the issues that cause these physical illnesses.
It’s understood that a good diet and exercise regimen can relieve stress and boost endorphins, which make us happier and healthier, but Rankin believes that we also have to work harder at alleviating those stressors that bring us back towards unhappiness. In this 2011 article, Marc B. Levin offers insight on the theory of monoism, which states that the needs and functions of our mind and body are “not as distinct entities but as one interrelated system.” Thus, your body is impacted by the state of your mental and emotional wellbeing and vice versa. “The mind produces changes in the body, and the body produces changes in the mind.”
And if this is all true, we must do more to align our lives with not only what we feel our true purposes are, but what really, genuinely, brings us joy. It isn’t enough just to add quinoa salads to our diets; we must also remove those people from our lives who always seem to bring drama. As we remember to take the stairs at work, we must finish those creative projects that may one day amass into that novel we’ve wanted to write since we were nineteen years old, or the photo exhibition that we silently wish would happen instead of the promotion we just earned. Mostly, we have to be serious about taking as good of care of our minds as we have promised to take care of our bodies.
After all, one can’t possibly do or be well without the other.