A Call to Live / Torah Guidance on Healing
~Avraham ben Yaakov
You can't leave all the work of healing your body to your doctors. Most medical treatment focusses on correcting what's wrong with the body. But don't forget what's right with your body! How you eat and take care of yourself in other simple ways can have a vital influence on your general physical functioning. The stronger your system as a whole, the easier it will be for the sick parts to heal. Ideally, healing should start long before the body gets sick! It's harder to restore health to a body that has been allowed to deteriorate than to maintain good health when the body is essentially sound. Sometimes it takes a bout of illness or injury to make people realize the importance of taking good care of themselves. Even so, it's never too late to start taking proper care. Make up your mind to live wisely and sensibly from now on! Guarding health is taught in the Bible: "Take care of yourself, and guard your soul diligently" (Deuteronomy 4:9). Physical and spiritual healthcare contribute to each other. Good physical health promotes mental and spiritual wellbeing. Conversely, spiritual wellbeing and a strong sense of mission in life make it easier to maintain the self-discipline required to keep healthy physically. Often you have to sacrifice immediate physical gratification for the sake of long-term benefits. You have to learn to say no to your favorite bad foods or other things that are no good for you, even when they're right in front of you. You must maintain your fitness routine even when you don't feel like it. Focus your mind on why you want to heal and keep healthy -- in order to live your life to the full. The stronger your sense of mission and commitment to your goals, the more incentive you will have to maintain your healthcare program.
Wonders of the body
We are usually so busy going about our lives that we tend to take our physical functioning for granted. What is more wonderful than the functioning of the body -- growth, renewal, self-repair, respiration, circulation, digestion, excretion of wastes, vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, movement, coordination, etc. etc. -- every second, every minute, every day for seventy, eighty, a hundred years and more! Take a few moments to reflect on the complexity and subtlety of your body. The Jewish practice is to offer a blessing of thanks over the wonders of the body after relieving oneself: "Blessed are You, Eternal, All-Powerful God, Ruler of the universe, Who designed man with wisdom and created within him many openings and many cavities. It is revealed and known before Your Seat of Glory that if one of them is ruptured or one of them blocked, it is impossible to survive and stand before You even for a brief moment. Blessed are You, God, Who heals all flesh and acts wondrously."
Regardless of any medications you may be taking, remember: by far the most important medicine you take into your body every day is the regular food you eat. This is what is keeping you going! Your diet provides the physical building blocks of your body and the energy it needs to function. Moreover, the food you eat turns into your thoughts and feelings, your moods and your mental and spiritual states. Everybody knows that eating badly is unhealthy for the body. Yet many people are quite unaware of the ravaging effects poor dietary patterns can have on our mental, emotional and spiritual life as well. Bad foods, or even good foods eaten badly, can cause moodswing, anxiety, negativity, fatigue and depression. Among the main villains in our society are excesses of caffeine, sugar, fat and protein, additives, over-refined and processed foods. It's not only a matter of what you eat. How you space your meals through the day and combine different kinds of foods also affects your energy cycles and the way you think and feel. Eat to feed your mind, your heart and your soul as well as your body. Eat only the finest, purest, most nourishing foods -- foods that are fit to heal you physically and spiritually. Just as some foods are good and others bad for the physical body, so there are good and bad foods for the mind and soul. This is the basis of the Jewish dietary code, which excludes impure and spiritually damaging foods, such as unclean animals, mixtures of meat with milk, etc. Acquaint yourself with the details of the Jewish dietary code.
How to eat
Good nutrition is more than a matter of chewing and swallowing your food and then forgetting all about it. The way you eat affects both the satisfaction you derive from your food and also the kind of energy and vitality it gives you. Wherever possible, try to arrange things so that you can sit down for your meals in a relaxed state of mind. Freshen yourself and wash your hands before you eat. As you are about to eat, don't just put the food into your mouth and bite. Pause for a moment. Reflect on the wonderful way in which this specific item of food came into being. Think about the subtle energies in the food and how they will enter your body, turning into your thoughts and feelings and your very life. Offer your thanks to the Creator of the food. Your words of blessing before eating are the channel through which your soul receives the refined spiritual energy contained in the food. Always chew your food carefully. Chewing is the beginning of the digestive process. Proper chewing makes for better assimilation of the nutrients in the food by the body. Thorough chewing also brings greater satisfaction, making it easier to overcome bad dietary habits. As you chew and taste your food, think about how the subtle spiritual energies in the food are being released into your body and soul. Many people forget about what they've eaten as soon as they've swallowed it. But long after you've finished your meal, your body carries on dutifully breaking down the food, assimilating the nutrients and distributing them to all the different body parts. So too on the mental and spiritual planes, the processes of "digestion" and "assimilation" continue as the spiritual energy in the food is released, turning into your moods, your mental states, your thoughts and feelings, words and actions. When you are finishing your meal, these processes are just beginning. Set them off to a good start by pausing for a little while after you finish eating in order to thank God for the food and the physical and spiritual energy it contains. Remind yourself that God is taking care of you and providing for all your needs. "Eat and be satisfied, and bless HaShem, your God..." (Deuteronomy 8:10).
Exercise should be approached with the utmost caution by those who are sick or out of condition. Anyone who is sick, in recovery or rehabilitation should exercise only under the supervision of an expert. Even those who are healthy should seek expert advice about a suitable fitness program, and follow it with the greatest care. The body is extremely subtle and delicate, and must be treated with the utmost care and respect. Sudden crash courses of exercise can be very dangerous. On the other hand, proper exercise is one of the most important keys to good health. Exercise improves blood circulation, brings more oxygen into every cell of the body, speeds up a sluggish metabolism, enhances the functioning of internal glands and organs, improves digestion, facilitates the removal of poisonous wastes from the body, reduces the risk of many diseases, keeps joints flexible and muscles trim and strong, builds coordination and balance, heightens reflexes, reduces stress, improves sleep patterns, increases energy, and helps maintain a relaxed body and a tranquil mind. If your daily life involves a fair amount of physical activity you may not need to devote much time to formal exercise. But if you spend much of the day sitting, you should definitely try to do some kind of exercise at least three or four times a week. Which kind of exercise you do depends on your state of health and fitness and other individual factors. If you've not exercised for a long time and you're out of condition, you must be very patient and gentle as you slowly encourage stiff joints and muscles to start working again. People sometimes try to take a short-cut to fitness by over-straining themselves. But this can cause pain and injuries that may prevent you from exercising altogether. A balanced fitness program should include movements that promote joint flexibility and muscular endurance, and it should also include some "aerobic" exercise. This means a steady, non-stop movement that increases the pulse rate without putting strain on the cardiovascular system. Prime examples are walking (the oldest, most natural form of exercise, which utilizes almost all of your muscles); running (preferably on grass or a dirt track to reduce stress on the muscular/skeletal system and internal organs); swimming and cycling. One of the most perfect forms of exercise is chassidic dance, in which all parts of the body are moved with grace and joy in praise of the Creator. Why not put on a recording of your favorite nigunim (holy melodies) and dance free-style as gently or as vigorously as you like, exploring your body and expressing your inner thoughts and feelings through your movements!
Don't forget to breathe!
The way you breathe affects your bodily health and strength, your energy levels, your calm and clarity and your mental, emotional and spiritual states. Every one of the activities of life is bound up with this fundamental process, through which the oxygen vital to our body cells enters the blood, and carbon dioxide waste is eliminated. It will be worth your while to take a little time to explore your breathing. Familiarize yourself with the different phases of breathing. Become aware of any ingrained habits that may be inhibiting your breathing and strive to cultivate better habits. (Those who are sick should only attempt breathing work under the supervision of a medical expert.) There is no single correct way to breathe valid for all people at all times. Obviously, physical activity requires more rapid breathing than sitting or resting. Aim to allow your breathing to adjust freely according to your specific needs at each moment. The goal should be to remove breathing malfunctions by eliminating tension and correcting the bad habits that may be causing you to inhibit the long, full, rhythmic breathing your body is geared for. When you exhale, let your lungs empty entirely. At the end of the exhalation there is a brief pause before inhalation starts by itself. Relax your stomach and allow the air to flow in. During the inhalation, the abdominal region swells as the diaphragm lowers, drawing air into the base of the lungs. The rib-cage expands, filling the middle section of the lungs. Finally the collar bones are raised, allowing the lungs to fill to capacity. You can practice breathing any time -- at home, at work, while relaxing, waiting for buses or appointments, walking, travelling, etc. Ten long, deep breaths immediately after waking up in the morning will help banish drowsiness and heaviness and set you up for the day's activities. From time to time throughout the day, stop to re-energize with a few long, deep breaths. Deep breathing before going to bed at night will relax you and prepare you for a restful, refreshing night's sleep. Getting dizzy from breathing exercises is a sign of hyperventilation. Use up the extra oxygen with a few vigorous movements. If the feeling persists, stop practicing deep breathing for the time being. Concentrating on your breathing can be a powerful way of entering a state of profound calm and contemplative clarity in hisbodedus. Sit erect with your head balanced and your eyes closed. Use the relaxation technique to release all bodily tension. Now focus your awareness on your breathing. Watch each phase of the breathing process: the slow, long exhalation, the pause, the way the abdomen begins to swell and rise... Feel the cool air drawn into your nostrils and down into the lungs. Each exhalation is actually a kind of death! It is the death of the moment that has passed, as you breathe out the stale air. But this death is a preparation for rebirth: the birth of the new moment. As you breathe out, sigh deeply and flush out all the stale air from within you. Breathe out your tensions and bad feelings. Then, as you breathe in again, focus on how you are drawing in fresh, pure, good air and breathing new life into yourself.
Whether you are sick or healthy, now is the time to learn to love your body and nurture it so that it becomes a fine, healthy vessel for your soul. Take the best care of yourself. Eat well. Make sure you get adequate rest and sleep. Pay careful attention to cleanliness and hygiene. Pamper your body with your favorite bodycare items. Seek out the very best advice on healthcare. You owe it to yourself and your dear ones. If you have a medical problem, use it as a prompt to acquire a deeper understanding of your body and how to take care of it properly. Do everything possible to get the best medical attention where this is called for. If you are not satisfied with your medical treatment, ask for a second opinion. Do whatever is in your hands to take care of yourself, and remember: the rest is up to God.