What kind of question is that anyway? Why would I even suggest that disease could be a teacher? This may seem strange, and yet, as I see it, this is the most important distinction that I draw between the current holistic and allopathic approaches to medicine.

The allopathic mind-set is one of eliminating or “destroying” disease. This is reflected in the language that is used when addressing disease: the war on cancer or the fight against HIV. On the upside, this approach has made Western medicine incredibly effective at managing acute and dangerous diseases. But on the downside, it really doesn’t do much to address the roots of a condition and can instead create an ongoing struggle with numerous chronic diseases.

Western medicine isn’t alone, of course, as this mind-set extends into just about every challenge we face in modern Western life, be it a war on terrorism, the fight against poverty, or the war on drugs. The war list goes on and on, and why shouldn’t it? Indeed, when was the last time you had a battle with somebody that improved things?

The holistic approach to medicine, on the other hand—ideally, the approach of holistic health practitioners—is focused on supporting health by

1. addressing the unique physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of the individual
2. taking a radically different approach to disease, where instead of viewing disease as the enemy, the holistic practitioner and patient choose to view disease as a teacher.

What an incredible shift! Instead of wondering what drug or supplement will get rid of certain symptoms, they ask, “What do these symptoms have to teach me?”

This new question encourages looking within. It encourages personal growth and evolution. It encourages a compassionate understanding of the body and self, instead of aggravation. The symptoms (physical, psychological, or spiritual) can be seen as the best attempt to adapt to unfavorable circumstances, and they can be heard as the voice of Nature declaring that something is out of harmony.

The more you adopt this new consciousness, the more you will notice an increasing sensitivity and respect for this voice because you’ll begin to understand that when we don’t listen to Nature’s whisper, she screams instead!

And what does Nature’s scream sound like? It is our experience of increased and overwhelming stress, the epidemics of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other chronic and debilitating diseases. It is devitalized and toxic food, massive environmental pollution and destruction, and startling global climate changes.

And yet these are all just branches on the Tree of Disease; the roots lie in our consciousness, lifestyles, and food choices. If the roots are not addressed, it won’t matter what wonder drug or supplement comes along or how enthusiastically we chop away at the branches because new ones will continue to grow. But by affecting the roots, we can change the entire tree.

The roots in consciousness are reflected in our experiences of relationships and work. Are we engaged in battle or harmony? Do we feel deep significance and purpose in life, or are we confused, lost, or frustrated? Feeling connected to our source and seeing the importance of our contributions is essential for health.

The roots in our lifestyles relate to how we live each day. When and how do we eat, sleep, exercise, and have sex? Do our habits support us feeling alive and energized? A healthy lifestyle generates health!

And finally, the roots of disease or health lie in our food choices. Truly healthy people eat whole, organic, nutrient-dense food, with respect for the land and animals that nourish them and regard for the season, climate, and their constitutional needs. They eat real foods that have been valued for health for many generations, instead of our modern processed, packaged, low-fat invention foods. They also feed their senses with Nature’s sunlight, sounds, and beauty, instead of just staying trapped inside with the television on.

Let’s take the example of the common cold, which is something that we’ve all experienced. It can come at an entirely inconvenient time, or you may notice that sometimes you get a cold right after a really stressful period. It’s almost as if you were waiting for the right time to allow yourself to get sick. Regardless, being sick, especially when it comes with a fever and heavy sinus congestion, really knocks us out of our ability to work and run around doing things.

It’s at this point that we have a decision to make: will we take the time to rest and recuperate, or will we power through the cold with the aid of some over-the-counter cold medicines?

If we power through the cold, we won’t have addressed the underlying reasons that we got the cold in the first place. This is the war model attempting to annihilate the symptoms. The trouble with this approach is that the battlefield (our body and mind) ends up in a worse state than before the cold. Nothing has really been done to strengthen the body or reduce stress, so now we’re even more likely to get another cold, feel more stressed, and lay the foundation for other symptoms and disorders.

Our other option is to approach the cold as a teacher and to listen to what it is telling us about our state of health. Colds are essentially a request for rest and rejuvenation. They alert us that our immune system is not functioning optimally. The more quickly and fully we can satisfy these needs, the more quickly we will get well.

Recently, two days before I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles for an important presentation to six hundred people, I got a sore throat and started feeling a little under the weather. I had to be well for this event!

So I decided to listen to what this cold had to teach me and followed my own recommendations for colds. I avoided solid food, meat, and eggs and switched to an all liquid diet with bone broth, coconut milk, vegetables, and lots of coconut oil, which has fantastic antimicrobial properties. I drank plenty of beet kvass, a lacto-fermented beverage that supports detoxification and immunity, and took extra cod liver oil, which is rich in fat-soluble vitamins. I also took some of my favorite immune support herbs: Echinacea, elderberry, and amalaki. This approach gives the digestive system and body both rest and nourishment so that the body can dedicate its energy to a quick recovery.

Then I was sure to get plenty of rest and spent some time viewing a special television program on inspiration by a speaker that I thoroughly enjoy. Stress is an immune depressant, whereas inspiration and joy stimulate and strengthen the immune system. When the time for my presentation arrived, I had fully recovered and delivered an excellent performance.

It is essential that each individual take personal responsibility for his or her health and world. A total reliance on a passive medical system that relies on drugs and miracle interventions is disabling, whereas an adoption of the principles of an active holistic health care system is positively life transforming!

I’m sharing a tremendous vision for the holistic health care movement. The vision is that as more and more people begin to relate to disease in their immediate bodies and minds as a teacher instead of an enemy, I believe we will see that same consciousness extend into our larger bodies and minds: our communities, our countries, our planet—and beyond.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html

Author's Bio: 

Jacob Griscom is a clinical Ayurvedic specialist and founder of Peaceful Living Holistic Healthcare Center. He is on the teaching faculty for the California College of Ayurveda and is a graduate of the Bay Area Nonviolent Communications Leadership Program. He offers classes, teleclasses, Compassionate Communication training, and in-person or online holistic health care consultations with an improved health guarantee. Jacob is the author of Dietary Supplements for Enlightenment: Guidance for Inner Peace and Self-Realization. His articles have been published nationally and internationally, and he has been a featured speaker at T. Harv Eker’s Master of Influence seminar. Visit his Web site at http://www.peacefullivinghhc.com.