Daniel Gagnon

As a human being, you are a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual ecosystem.

It is important to understand that good physical health does not exist independently of the lifestyle decisions we make. We each exist in a personal and collective ecosystem within which our physical bodies interrelate with our internal processes and our external surroundings. No system of health care, herbal or otherwise, can cure a physical condition existing in an ecosystem that is out of balance.

Personal choice is the most important element in maintaining the health of the ecosystem. Who we are is the sum of the choices we make every day. We constantly choose what to eat and drink, whom to be with, what to talk about, which movies to watch, and so forth. All of these choices may seem insignificant when we make them one by one. But when we add them together, they have a tremendous impact on our bodies. For example, eating at a fast-food place occasionally does not have major health consequences. But when fast foods become our main food supply, our bodies become overloaded with fats, sodium and free radicals and starved for fiber, vitamins and minerals. Over a period of time, this type of diet leads to degenerative diseases. It may take years, but it will happen. Each choice that we make either adds up to “health enhancing,” in the positive column, or “health depleting,” in the negative column.

Maintaining our ecosystem is a dynamic process. It is a little bit like being on a seesaw. As we move away from our center, our energy is sapped, so that we are more subject to extreme highs and lows. Conversely, the sooner we take measures to stay close to our pivot point of balance, the less energy we need to expend to stay healthy. This surplus energy can then be used for doing things in our lives that give us joy, happiness and contentment.

Health is incredibly simple to attain and maintain. It is why most people miss the point; the obvious is often easy to miss. We have been taught to rely on experts to maintain and get our health back. A few pills, a little surgery. “Don’t do a thing,” say the doctors. “We’ll fix you.” There are some definite cases where surgery or medication will be the answer. But, by far, most of us get sick because we neglect the basics. Worse, doctors are neither trained nor alert to the neglect of the basics. Maybe that is because the 10 elements of health are so simple. It doesn’t require detailed scientific or medical knowledge. All that is required is that we make health-enhancing decisions on a daily basis in as many of the 10 elements as possible. Balancing and enhancing these 10 elements on a daily basis leads to good health and helps maintain good health.

If you wish to optimize your health, minimize your health risks and increase your resilience. Or if you are confronted with a health problem, I suggest you examine how balanced you are in the 10 essential elements. What choices are you making? Do you need to modify or delete the parts of elements that are out of balance in your life?

Start on the road to wellness today. Choose one of the following elements. Focus on that element each day for three months. Make the appropriate changes. Three months is often the amount of time it takes to create and solidify a new habit. Once the chosen element becomes an integral part of your life, move on to another one. Your rewards soon become evident: You have more energy, feel better about yourself and feel good about life in general. Your body has more energy to heal itself and to stay healthy.

1. Exercise: Are you exercising?
Exercise at least five times a week for 30 to 45 minutes. One of the best forms of exercise is walking because it is low-impact, cardiovascular and inexpensive. Often, this element is the most important in our recovery to health.

2. Rest: Are you getting enough rest?
Set aside time every day just to do nothing except relax and breathe, even if it is only for 15 minutes. Place a priority on getting enough restful sleep; sleep time before midnight is the most beneficial. Taking naps during the day is recommended and also an option.

3. Nutrition: Is your diet fully supporting your body?
Eat a variety of whole grains, vegetables and fruits—all organic. Include at least one portion a day from the following green leafy vegetables: Swiss and red chard, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, parsley, mustard greens, turnip greens, chicory greens, dandelion or beet greens, spinach, cabbage, watercress, purslane, okra, broccoli, or any sprouts, including alfalfa, sunflower and soybean. Vitamins and minerals are helpful in supplementing your diet and metabolism, even if you are eating organic foods. Take a full-spectrum vitamin/mineral supplement every day. Drink about eight glasses of water to stay hydrated. Don’t forget to take your herbs.

4. Nature: Do you spend time outdoors?
Nothing can replace being in nature when it comes to balancing yourself. Devoting time daily to getting fresh air and sun is critical to the overall health of your personal ecosystem. This is best achieved when you go for your walk (see element 1).

5. Creativity: Do you have a creative outlet that keeps you active physically and mentally?
Creative outlets can range from work to that hobby you never seem to have time for. Working creatively in a domain you like, in moderate amounts, is nurturing, self-affirming and rewarding. Staying active and in contact with the rest of the world is integral to good health.

6. Emotional balance: Are you emotionally healthy?
Do you have repetitive episodes of anger, fear or grief that keep you out of balance? There is nothing wrong with having feelings. Emotional imbalance becomes an issue when feelings are either repressed or allowed to rule us irrationally. If either of these extremes is true for you, take measures to identify and change your emotional patterns. Choose to cultivate joy and sense of humor to nourish your ecosystem.

7. Goals: Are you mentally stimulated?
To thrive, everyone should have something, whether it’s doing volunteer work, spearheading a project or working toward a goal that demands brain activity. We all need direction and a sense of purpose in life. Goals give meaning to our lives.

8. Mutual support: Are you giving and receiving love in your life?
Having a loving and accepting support system is critical to healing and staying healthy. Ecosystems, by their very nature, are dependent upon relationships. Giving and getting support and love from your family, friends or support group are essential to good health.

9. Faith: Do you regularly communicate with your higher self or your higher power?
Many a wise soul has said that we must feel connected to a higher power to feel balanced and fulfilled in life. Make time daily for this aspect of yourself.

10. Choice: Do you take personal responsibility for your life?
A critical step in your self-creation of a healthy body and a healthy life involves taking responsibility for your actions. It is such an important element that, by itself, it accounts for 40 percent of healing. At any given moment, you have a choice. Taking personal responsibility is the key that unlocks the door to integrating and balancing all of the other elements of healthy living.

Maximize the effects of herbs.
Herbs truly have the ability to assist you in making significant shifts in both chronic and acute physical conditions. You can further maximize the healing effects of herbs by bringing yourself into a more complete state of balance suggested by the elements above. Is there anything missing in your life? What does your personal ecosystem need? Remember that the daily choices you make give you the power to shape your life.

Daniel Gagnon, owner of Herbs, Etc. and acting director of the Botanical Research and Education Institute, in Santa Fe, has been a practicing medical herbalist since 1976. Gagnon is the author of Liquid Herbal Drops in Everyday Use and the updated Practical Guide to Herbal Medicines. He teaches herbal therapeutics, both nationally and internationally. www.herbsetc.com

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