WHAT IS HEALTH? –And how do I care for it?
Inspired by a recent conversation with a friend I’ve decided to take a short detour from the series of posts about how to improve how you move and tackle these questions. Having started my career as a relatively mainstream physical therapist, it does not surprise me that my work is most frequently lumped in the category of “health care”. I do help people care for their health, though my vision of health and how I help people care for it has evolved significantly over the years.
A very common view I come across defines health as the absence of an identifiable “disease”. If you subscribe to this point of view it makes sense that what we call our “healthcare” system is really more of a “disease containment and elimination system”. I use the term disease fairly loosely to include both ills identified as diseases as well as other things considered “medical conditions”.
Health care and health insurance are hot topics these days, but really what is being discussed for the most part is disease management. Even our “wellness checkups” are primarily about earlier detection.
Implied in this model is a clear “top down” approach where the provider is the “expert” and you the “patient” mindlessly accepts (or possibly rejects) the proposed cure.
Moshe Feldenkrais once said,” It is healthier to learn than to be a patient or even be cured”. What is that about? Obviously his definition of health had little to do with the model I just described.
Essentially Moshe was interested in improving our ability to pay attention to ourselves and his primary vehicle was movement. His method relies on both active and passive (hands on) movements done in a way that awakens our ability to attend to the details of how movement happens. Students (his preferred terminology) consciously or unconsciously learn how pay attention to subtle details and connections. Feldenkrais® and Anat Baniel Method(sm) folks often go to great lengths to insist that the work they do is not therapy and that the work is not medical.
Here is where things get interesting. Many problems involving musculoskeletal pain or neurologic issues are in some way related to movement problems. If a person can improve how they move, it is quite likely that this will have a positive effect on their pain or functional deficit. Does this then become “therapy”? Though kind of wordy, I would say what happens is “learning with a therapeutic outcome”.
So back to the original questions from my unique point of view. I don’t have a definitive definition of overall health- though clearly for me, true health is more than the absence of identifiable disease. I could flirt with some idea like true health involves reaching our fullest potential, however that may be defined.
I do however have more clarity about the role I can play in helping folks care for their health. That’s a good thing, because since I carry a physical therapy license, with it comes the designation of “health care provider”.
The true positive legacy of my kinesiology and physical therapy educations is a deep intellectual understanding of anatomy and movement, and familiarity with a wide range of medical diagnosis, red flags, standard treatments and the like. To this I have added an embodied sense of what is possible movement-wise from a decade of studying and working with Feldenkrais® and more recently the Anat Baniel Method (sm).
When someone comes to see me I listen to his or her complaint- often times accompanied by some sort of medical diagnosis. If they don’t come referred by a physician I will, if relevant, check for medical “red flags” and then proceed to hypothesize how their complaint might relate to their postures or how they move.
I then use gentle touch, active movement and language as appropriate to help people recognize, albeit often subconsciously, less than optimal patterns and create better ones. As a result, the “symptoms” that brought them to me in the first place disappear or at least diminish. In the case of neurological issues new skills develop or old ones are regained depending on the case.
The process of developing new ways of moving and sensing how you are moving provides a key to prevention of other related problems and the recurrence of the present ones. My clients develop tools that empower them to decide what is or is not an appropriate activity for them at any given time, or figure out the most appropriate way of doing an activity. Last, but hardly least from my perspective, is that I help people feel at home in their bodies, one of my criteria for good health.