Marla ate a vegetarian diet, hiked and practiced yoga, competed in triathlons, took dozens of supplements her naturopath had given her, and avoided alcohol, smoking, and using any illegal drugs. But she had a medical chart two feet thick and suffered from four different chronic health conditions.
Marla heard from some friends that my practice wasn’t your usual medical practice, so she scheduled an appointment with me to see if I could figure out why she was still sick in spite of all of her efforts to get well. From reading the new patient intake probing into Marla’s personal life, I found out that Marla was miserable. She was in a physically and mentally abusive marriage and hadn’t had sex in two years. She felt creatively thwarted because her husband didn’t support her passion for art, and she was so busy at work and training for races, she didn’t make time to paint. Plus, she was exhausted from caring for her aging, sick mother, who lived in her home.
After I finished reading her form, I knew that Marla’s body was never going to get well until she healed these other aspects of her life. With all those negative emotions filling her mind and all those stress hormones coursing through her body, no vegetable, supplement, exercise program, or drug was going to be strong enough to counteract the harmful health effects of chronic stress responses on her body.
After sharing with Marla my thoughts about the real reason her body was suffering, I asked her the big question. “What does your body need in order to heal?”
Marla said, “I need to move to Santa Fe.”
“Why Santa Fe?” I asked.
Marla said, “I have a vacation home in Santa Fe, and whenever I go there, all of my symptoms disappear.”
Perhaps there was a biochemical explanation for this. Maybe she had some chemical sensitivity to something in her Mill Valley house. Maybe she was allergic to something that grew in the Bay Area but not in Santa Fe. Perhaps the weather or the food or some other environmental factor could explain such a dramatic difference.But I doubted it, so I encouraged Marla to listen to the wisdom of her body and her intuition.
A year later, I got a call from Marla, telling me she had moved to Santa Fe. In order to make such a drastic move, she sold her company and helped her mother establish herself in a wonderful retirement community close to Santa Fe, where she would be able to visit her on weekends. She also filed for divorce from her husband. And once Marla got to Santa Fe, she enrolled in art school. She had since fallen in love with a new man and met a whole new group of artist friends, and she enjoyed hiking, biking, and skiing in the mountains outside of Santa Fe. Most important, she told me that all of her symptoms had disappeared, as if by magic, within three months of her move.
Marla’s health conditions were not cured by a drug, supplement, or surgery, but by reducing the stress in her life, relaxing her mind and body, following a dream, finding love, and filling her body with health-inducing hormones while ridding her body of harmful stress hormones. Such changes resulted in measurable physiological changes in her body.
I witnessed similar transformations in dozens of other patients as well. I finally realized that the medical establishment’s nearly exclusive focus on the biochemistry of the patient’s body, often to the exclusion of the health of the patient’s mind, was doing our patients a grave disservice.
My experience with my patients fueled the next phase of my research into what leads to optimal health and longevity. With the same passion that sent me to the library in search of proof that the mind can heal the body that I write about in my book, Mind Over Medicine – Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself, I returned to the medical literature to search for what else, beyond the traditional health-inducing behaviors I was taught about in medical school, affects the health of the body via the health of the mind.
We all know stress is bad for us in a vague, what-do-you-expect-me-to-do-about-it sort of way. But after my research, I now understood the clear link between the stress the mind experiences and the way the body breaks down. I observed how emotional stressors like loneliness, frustration at work, anger about a past trauma, money worries, and fear could result in illness.
I set out on a mission to prove that each facet of how you live your life affects the health of your mind and, with it, the health of your body. I predicted that, in order to live a vital life, prevent disease, or optimize the chance for disease remission, you would need these 9 lifestyle traits.
9 Essential Lifestyle Traits for a Vibrant and Healthy Life
- Healthy relationships, including a strong network of family, friends, loved ones, and colleagues
- A healthy, meaningful way to spend your days, whether you work outside the home or in it
- A healthy, fully expressed creative life that allows your soul to sing its song
- A healthy spiritual life, including a sense of connection to the sacred in life
- A healthy sexual life that allows you the freedom to express your erotic self and explore fantasies
- A healthy financial life, free of undue financial stress, which ensures that the essential needs of your body are met
- A healthy environment, free of toxins, natural-disaster hazards, radiation, and other unhealthy factors that threaten the health of the body
- A healthy mental and emotional life, characterized by optimism and happiness and free of fear, anxiety, depression, and other mental-health ailments
- A healthy lifestyle that support the physical health of the body, such as good nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and avoidance of unhealthy addictions
Each of these aspects of your life—your relationships, your work, your creative outflow, your spiritual life, your sex life, and so forth—has the power to either stress you or relax you. A healthy relationship elicits relaxation responses in the body. An unhealthy one flips on the stress response. A healthy spiritual life elicits positive emotions like joy, hope, and a sense of oneness, and the relaxation response turns on. An unhealthy spiritual life, one in which you feel judged by your spiritual community, fear punishment by a vindictive deity, or are threatened with negative outcomes like going to hell, is bound to trigger stress responses.
The Body as a Reflection of our Life Experiences
It’s not enough to focus solely on the body without taking into account the health of the mind. Not until we realize that our bodies are mirrors of our interpersonal, spiritual, professional, sexual, creative, financial, environmental, mental, and emotional health will we truly heal. In fact, the scientific data suggests that, at least in some instances, the health of the mind is equally, if not more, important to the health of the body. The body doesn’t fuel how we live our lives. Instead, it is a mirror of how we live our lives. The body is a reflection of the sum of our life experiences.
Lissa Rankin, M.D. is an integrative medicine physician, author, speaker, artist, and founder of the online health and wellness community OwningPink.com. Discouraged by our broken health-care system, Dr. Rankin set out to discover why some patients experience miraculous cures from seemingly incurable illnesses, while others remain sick even when they receive the best medical care. Fueled by a passion to determine what really makes people healthy and what really predisposes them to illness, she dug into the medical literature to study how doctors might better care for patients. Her research led her to discover that patients have self-healing powers beyond our wildest imaginings, and science proves it. She is now leading a Pink Medicine Revolution to help patients heal themselves, while encouraging the health-care industry to embrace and facilitate, rather than resist, such miracles. She aims to feminize how health care is received and delivered by encouraging collaboration, reconnecting health care and spirituality, and empowering patients to tap into the mind’s power to heal the body. She will be sharing her scientific findings in her upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself.