Building integrated health and resiliency


Building integrated health and resiliency blog

What is health?  This is one of the first questions that Marisa Hebb, Didi Pershouse and I ask at the beginning of our Health And Resiliency Training (HEART) program.  I’ve been surprised, and delighted, by the answers we get.  People start offering words like: ‘Free’, ‘Joyful’, ‘Aliveness’, ‘Happy’, ‘Vital’, ‘Energized’.  Before we’ve finished the go-around, we’ve already begun to develop a qualitative sense of health.  It’s as if we all intuitively know what health looks like, and feels like inside ourselves.  I find this particularly fascinating, given that our society’s mainstream health education and literature focuses on benchmarks like blood pressure, cholesterol numbers, and the absence of pathogens and symptoms.  It has relatively little to say about the state of vibrancy that is our intuitive sense of health.

The etymology of the word ‘health’ ties in closely to this intuitive sense that emerges in our discussions with students.  ‘Health’ is derived from the Old English word hal, which is also the root of ‘whole’ and ‘holy’ in contemporary English.  Centuries ago, one word, hal, was used to describe all three qualities simultaneously – hal was the state of a whole, healthy, holy person.  It meant a person who was whole, or, as we might say today, ‘integrated’, both within their own being (‘whole’) and in relationship to forces and powers beyond their independent self (‘holy’).

In strictly physical terms, being ‘whole’ means that all parts of our body are flexible, fluid, and able to function in balance with one another.  A blockage or constriction in any body system (musculoskeletal, nervous, digestive, cardiovascular) impedes the free flow of blood and nutrients throughout the entire body, and so an integrated health system must provide ways to create a free and balanced structure where all systems are free of blockages and constriction.  This can be accomplished through proper nutrition, and exercise grounded in awareness and relaxation, and time spent engaging with the natural world.

Being whole also means a balanced relationship between body, psyche, and spirit.  In our Health and Resiliency Training, we emphasize the use of meditation, breathing exercises, and engagement with the natural world as ways to help heal and integrate the psyche, and open the space for active engagement with the transcendent (or ‘spiritual’) aspect of ourselves.  We also emphasize the critical role of a network of support and peer counseling methods.  Nobody can be truly ‘whole’ if they aren’t in loving relationship with others, and this support is essential to building both whole individuals and whole communities.  One of the reasons I love teaching these classes is that health and healing happen best, and the results endure longest, when they happen in community.  

The role of community in supporting healthy individuals is a great example of what we mean by ‘Resiliency’ in our HEART training.  If health is a state of vibrant wholeness, then resiliency is the capacity to return to a state of wholeness when we get knocked out of balance by sickness, injury, or loss.  In our changing world, we believe it’s not enough to strive for an ideal state of health – we have to also consider resiliency.  We teach resiliency in every aspect of the HEART training program, so that responding to stress, unpredictability and change is built into the process of learning health.

Some examples of resiliency that we teach include:

Building a strong network of peer support and allies in the journey of health
Exercise systems that strengthen the body against injury, release tension, and tone the nervous system to respond differently to stressors
Teaching systems of meditation that are not simply a ‘break’ from stress but reveal ways to break the patterns of afflictive emotions at their roots
Learning dietary principles to deeply nourish the nervous system, and the ‘80% principle’ to eat in ways that are both healing and can easily handle periodic intake of unhealthy food
Learning to engage with nature as a source of physical and psychic health, so that we are never without access to a free source of healing power
A resilient health system is self-sustaining, it provides tools for vibrant health that, once learned, can be applied indefinitely with little need for outside treatments, medications, or specialized care

One of the truths that emerges over the course of the HEART training is that every one of the five core aspects of health we cover (diet, exercise, peer support, meditation, and engagement with nature) mutually support each other.  Our approach is intentionally integrative, and we have found that emphasizing the whole person is a much more effective approach to building health than teaching any one of these components in isolation.

We envision building a community, of healthy, whole people, and through this building a healthy, whole world.  We’re excited to offer the HEART training here at Open Door.  Will you join us in this great adventure?

—Mark Kutolowski