Japa K. Khalsa, DOM
What really happens inside when our health has spun out of control? Have you or a loved one ever been through a real health crisis, when you felt horrible and did not know what was wrong? Or perhaps you came back from the doctor with news that was less than happy. What can be done during those times to return that lost sense of autonomy—the feeling that we have choice, hope and that there is an opportunity for quality of life to be restored?
This kind of event can be terrifying on so many levels, and without the right direction and support it can compound the health issues at hand due to the added stress of not knowing how to accept the illness.
What really helps us get well in times of crisis is not completely about the specific techniques applied or the correct doctor, although of course those help. True healing comes from health efficacy; the feeling that one has hope and choice in the face of chronic or life-threatening illness. In order to turn on this inner ability to heal, one has to find the hope not just for survival but the reason for living. What are the reasons to stay alive? What choices are available for self-empowerment in the face of chronic illness?
Thinking about being forced to exercise or change one’s diet can be depressing, but thinking about one’s beautiful grandchildren or favorite hobbies or activities can turn around a downward spiral. When a sense of hope and a connection to why we want to stay alive returns to the mind, then the power to work with what we have been given opens up.
Blame and Shame Have Got to Go
When health takes a turn for the worse there is often a projection that it is the person’s fault. Even if the cancer or autoimmune disease is 99 percent genetic in nature, a person can feel guilt or shame that they didn’t eat right or take the right supplements. Cancer especially is a disease that has a collective shame around it. Others put a pressure on the person, saying that it is because they were so emotional or that they attracted the illness to themselves because of their “karma.” This is completely wrong thinking.
If people have attracted a serious illness to themselves, it is about the same as enrolling in a high-level Ph.D. program. The challenges they are about to face will be as grueling as writing a complex thesis. The person should be applauded for facing something so intense. Perhaps this process will yield profound awakenings of spirit for themselves and others as they go deep to face the fear and the unknown that comes with any serious illness.
The sickness itself is the remedy. The amount of self-knowledge gained from the bravery of accepting the illness creates light for everyone involved. It’s important of course not to cover the situation with Pollyanna-style saccharine sweetness. Instead, eliminate blame and shame and bring the focus toward a sense of curiosity and openness. What will this illness reveal or bring to light that was not known before?
A Story of Healing
I am reminded of an older patient of mine with congestive heart disease who became very depressed at the progression of his illness. When reminded of what he had to live for, how much he loved his grandchildren, he astounded his doctors with his bounce back from the illness. He went on to live another eight years, ultimately dying from the illness. The inspiration he drew from consciously accepting his illness and continuing his life with love and happiness allowed for healing on many levels for himself and his family.
The Medicine of Laughter
One way to penetrate the darkness of illness is through a commitment to daily laughter. When we have a good belly laugh, our immune system is flooded with a release of stress hormones, and the function of natural killer cells and other immune cells is enhanced. Your musculoskeletal system relaxes for up to 45 minutes. Think of all the veins, arteries and your ever-pumping heart; these too go through a cycle of relaxation. Studies have even shown longevity rates are higher for those with a better sense of humor. This could be due to the benefit of our bodies’ response to laughter. When we look at things from a different perspective and laugh about it, we let go of toxic emotions like anger and bitterness. All of these benefits help our bodies be stronger and more resilient, qualities we greatly need when facing illness.
Just listening to laughter can make you want to laugh. Luckily our brains are wired to experience laughter as contagious, otherwise why would there be so many laugh tracks on TV? But don’t just watch it on the flat screen. People laughing together can be healing for relationships and help develop social bonding. So many studies show that relationships and healthy communities contribute to overall well-being and longevity.
Try an experiment: Take your friend’s or partner’s hands, lean back and let out a forced belly laugh. Keep going together and don’t stop for about two minutes. Sometimes just listening to your friend’s laugh will trigger a response where you actually start laughing. Either way, after a good two minutes of pumping your belly with rolling belly laughs, you will probably feel better (and you might get some real chuckles out of it as well). Do this as an exercise, especially if your friendship is strained, as shared laughter is very healing for relationships.
Things You Can Do
· If you usually choose dramas or serious shows, pick a comedy every once in a while.
· Be willing to laugh at yourself, reflect on your life and remember funny or embarrassing moments and be willing to share them.
· Ask others about themselves, because people love to recollect and make others laugh. “Tell me a funny story or something that happened to you that makes you laugh.”
· Have a collection of funny videos on YouTube; skits that make you laugh or funny animal videos. Watch them when you feel down.
· Cultivate your own repertoire of jokes or funny stories to share when appropriate.
· Make a commitment to develop your comic timing and comic ear, just like you would your singing voice; the more you laugh, the more humor you will find in life.
Resources in New Mexico
The New Mexico Dept. of Public Health hosts the MyCD (Manage your Chronic Disease), a clinically tested and proven program to support adults with one or more chronic illnesses (diabetes, arthritis, etc.). For information, call 505.222.8605 or visit https://nmhealth.org/publication/view/general/119/
HealthInsight.org has a coalition to help New Mexicans prevent fall injuries in older adults, one of the leading causes of death and injury in the state. http://healthinsight.org/images/locations/nm/PDFs/Falls/NM%20State%20Facts%20handout_2014.pdf
GRD Center for Medicine and Humanology teaches Kundalini yoga and meditation to those with life-threatening or chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes, HIV, cancer, heart disease, chronic pain, depression and life transitions to improve health efficacy. http://www.grdcenter.org
Japa K. Khalsa, DOM, co-author of Enlightened Bodies: Exploring Physical and Subtle Human Anatomy (enlightenedbodies.com), teaches a weekly yoga class for people with chronic pain at Sacred Kundalini in Santa Fe. She combines traditional acupuncture with herbal and nutritional medicine, injection therapy and energy healing. Her work emphasizes optimal health and personal transformation through self-care and awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. www.drjapa.com