I grew up with the notion that we unquestionably needed doctors to diagnose and heal us every time we were ill, as though we were broken and required fixing by someone other than ourselves.
It wasn’t until I reached my 20s that I began seeking a different path to healing, understanding holistic health, and empowering myself to take wellness into my own hands at a deeper level.
As we endure a brutal winter season in our region with many friends falling prey to the dreaded flu, I’m focusing on something I’ve found increasingly important lately: self-directed healing, which means taking our health into our own hands, and empowering ourselves to be our own healthcare providers as best we can, instead of relying on others to do it for us. Of course we’re not all medical experts, and when absolutely necessary our family occasionally pays a visit to them, but only after we have exhausted all other options of self-care.
Who knows our bodies better than we do? We are with ourselves all of the time; we know what we ingest, our stress levels, how well we’ve rested (or not), if we’ve taken care of our bodies or mistreated them—so we may as well make the effort to learn what our bodies (and minds) need by carefully observing and checking in to find what adds to our health or detracts from it.
Over time, we may come to know our health more deeply and will then be able to more aptly care for ourselves in gentle, natural ways that don’t require as many expensive trips to the doctor, harsh chemicals (pharmaceuticals), or invasive procedures.
If we’ve allowed health issues to build up throughout our lives and have expected others to “fix us” every time we’ve fallen ill, we may need much more drastic or financially-destabilizing care down the line, as many of us haven’t learned the basics of personally caring for our uniquely individual bodies.
Holistic self-care at home has been greatly beneficial in aiding my family’s health, keeping us out of clinics, and allowing us to avoid the need for medication and hospitalization for the majority of the past decade. As we raise our eight-year-old daughter, I am so thankful that she has taken interest in understanding her body, what it needs, when it’s not at its highest state of well-being, and what to do in order to heal and reduce inflammation or boost immunity.
If ever we feel ourselves on the brink of a cold, body ache, or other illness, the first place we turn is to the kitchen.
The first question we ask in our home is, “What have we consumed lately, and has it helped or hindered our wellness?” Finding the root causes of our health issues allows us to solve them at the core, rather than putting a quick, convenient fix on them which often leads to them returning later on.
Illness is just a another word for imbalance, and seeking balance in all of our bodily systems will allow greater functioning.
After my own childhood of constantly taking prescription medication, these last several years I have been amazed to witness repeatedly that almost every illness that comes upon us can be thwarted, reversed, healed, or reduced in length or severity by paying closer attention to and altering the food we eat, beverages we imbibe, or herbs and home remedies we utilize.
All of the information I’ve gathered here comes from years of personally experimenting with various ways of boosting immunity and reducing inflammation in the body, according to books and online research, as well as by word of mouth from friends and family.
Some call it folk medicine, passed on through generations of ancestral experience, a method used for centuries before Western medicine arrived on the scene rather recently. What I call it is self-empowerment, and it has changed my life drastically, from previously viewing myself as a weak, sick child, to now having great confidence in my body’s amazing capacity to heal itself if treated naturally and patiently with mindful care.
Some of these are simple, momentary remedies, while others require much more longterm effort to adopt, making them more of a lifestyle change of deeply ingrained habits. Overall, they have benefitted our family’s health immensely and I hope that they may do the same for you.
Eight Holistic Life Hacks for Greater Health:
1. Drink More Water.
I can’t emphasize this enough. Though it may seem too simplistic, it’s my favorite health tip because it works wonders and is vitally important.
We are all made of water; we are born from it, it is our blood builder and cleanser, it allows our cells and organs to heal and reproduce, our skin to stay bright, supple, glowing, and clear of disorders. With water, we rid ourselves of toxic waste that enters us through food, chemical products, and polluted air.
Wake up and drink warm water every day, as soon as you get up. It prepares the body for easing digestion before we eat and allows mucous to loosen and remain fluid and moving. It also allows lymph (bodily fluid which cleanses the blood) to do its job more efficiently. Often, we may think we’re hungry but it’s actually a deep thirst. Hydration = health.
2. Run to the Kitchen.
The first step for almost anyone experiencing health problems should be to balance gut flora, meaning to cleanse the digestive system so that healthy bacteria can do it’s job while we reduce the unhealthy bacteria lurking there.
When it comes to health, food can either be our best ally or our worst enemy. After many years of trying various eating paths, I now choose not to view certain foods as “good” or “bad,” as this may cause an unhealthy relationship with our eating habits. Instead, I teach my daughter that every food we choose can either add to our health and immunity or detract from it at varied levels, depending on how each of our bodies individually reacts to certain foods.
Although we generally do not eat loads of packaged, processed foods or novelty items with cartoons or characters on boxes, we mostly try to shift the focus onto balance rather than restriction, avoidance, or deprivation, attempting to eat whole foods with their natural nutrients still intact for the majority of our meals. At the first sign of any illness, we head to probiotics, loose-leaf herbal teas, the juicer, or the blender to get a lot of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits into our guts in order to begin cleansing the body of toxins or bacteria that may be causing imbalance.
Our gut health is imperative in order for all other body systems to function well. The digestive system controls more than our bowels and food processing; in fact, a growing number of scientists are now studying the correlation between gut health, our mental health, and the nervous system—that “gut feeling.” Much like ancient Chinese medicine or Indian Ayurvedic paths, we find that all of our systems are greatly interconnected and rely on one another for ultimate, balanced health.
3. Up and Out.
When we have excess mucous or phlegm buildup in the lungs, nose, or gut, we need to flush it out, allowing the airways and digestive system to open and continue to move waste out.
“Up and out” is the phrase that I repeat to my child (and myself) when we are ill. Just keep moving things up and out, whether emotional or physical blocked energy, tears, mucus, lymph fluid, digestive waste, etc.— continuously release and get these moving in whatever way possible, as toxins will go along with them. (Drinking more water is a big help with this.)
Also, contrary to much advice about resting a lot when we’re sick, getting up and outside for fresh air, walking, yoga, dance, or other gentle movement can be helpful in cleansing the lungs, blood, and moving toxins or byproducts of food waste out of us. Keep it moving, and the body will heal faster, provided you have also gotten the adequate amount of rest needed for cellular repair.
4. Learn the Lymph.
It wasn’t until this past year that I began learning about the lymphatic system as I suddenly faced issues with my own. Our lymphatic system is a series of vessels carrying a fluid (lymph), which cleanses the blood of impurities, as the digestive system allows food nutrients to enter the bloodstream to be utilized throughout the body for healing.
If the lymphatic system (where white blood cells are formed) has an overload of infectious agents, it will hold onto them to restrain and detoxify the blood and may become swollen, which is why doctors check for soreness of lymph nodes in the neck when you are ill. It is a sign that the body is fighting something and attempting to detoxify.
I had issues with swelling lymph nodes in my neck, causing pain and difficulty swallowing, and learned that this could be a precursor to developing certain types of cancer if not treated. I chose to treat the swelling naturally, by getting my body moving through yoga and briskly walking outside. Also, I utilized herbs, salt water gargles, and immune-boosting teas as well as topical herbal compresses, such as turmeric, ginger, and apple cider vinegar. This helped the swelling to subside within a few days as my lymph nodes were clearly battling some sort of infectious bacteria.
Depending on our care of the body, lymph, and immune responses, we either aid in the spreading of cancerous (mutated or damaged) cells or healthy cells. Therefore, our diet and all that we consume by mouth, skin, or air entering our lungs, may be fighting or feeding cancer and all other health issues we face.
5. Ginger, Ginger, Ginger.
It’s a no brainer for me—as soon as a cold, pain, ache, flu, sniffle, or sore throat begins, I run to the ginger. It is warming, healing, immune-boosting, and flushes all kinds of waste out quickly.
Whether you juice it, add it to a smoothie, shred and eat it raw in food, drink it in tea form with lemon and honey, or massage it onto an achey body or congested chest, it is a magical gem in the holistic health world. It promotes energy circulation in the body and can increase our body’s metabolic rate; it contains chromium, magnesium, and zinc which speed healing and improve blood flow, prevents chills, fever, and excessive sweat; it induces cell death in ovarian cancer cells, remedies motion sickness, morning sickness, nausea, stomach gas, and indigestion. Don’t underestimate this plant!
6. Clove Essential Oil.
I have used this warming essential oil topically for a host of ailments. Dilute a tiny drop of the oil with water or a carrier oil and dab it on cold sores. It is a strong antibacterial, quickly killing germs and stopping the spread of the virus cells from reproducing. It stings a lot if not diluted and should not be placed close to the nose or eyes (mucous membranes). It can also be numbing for pain relief all over the body.
We sometimes bathe with a tiny drop of it or massage aches with it mixed into a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba. We also utilize many other essential oils as they are simply plant nutrients that aid in healing. For example, breathing in the steam of water mixed with Tea Tree or Rosemary oil can improve breathing when congested.
7. Epsom Salt.
Taking an epsom salt bath is like a holistic luxury dream, as it is extremely inexpensive and can do wonders for so many ailments.
Epsom salt, which is a form of the mineral magnesium, gets its name from the place where it was discovered: Epsom, England. It is composed of magnesium and sulfate compounds and plays a vital role in regulating the body’s functioning and healing. Magnesium deficiency is becoming increasingly common for many, as our food contains less of the mineral due to modern farming methods which do not allow the nutrient to reach levels that it did when organic, local farming was the norm decades ago.
Magnesium sulfate is an electrolyte and an essential building block of brain tissue and joint proteins, and it is also known as a strengthening agent of the walls of our digestive tract. Since magnesium sulfate is readily absorbed through the skin, it makes complete sense to derive maximum benefit through soaking in bath water.
8. Eat More Plants.
This one is self-explanatory. Plants are incredible healers, filled with nutrients and minerals we desperately need, so eat them more and your health will improve drastically.
If you have difficulty digesting raw foods that are high in fiber, be sure not to overdo it. According to Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, warm foods are easier on our digestive tracts. Certain plants will help to reduce inflammation and acidity in the body, making our pH more alkaline. Generally, the higher the sugar content in a food, the more acidic it is, which can lead to health issues. Eat more alkalinizing foods, as seen on this chart.
9. Use Fewer Chemicals on the Body, Skin, and Food.
The more harsh chemical products that we use, like lotions, makeup, shampoo, soap, artificial fragrances, home cleaning agents, laundry detergents, and pesticides, the more we are taking into our bodies and the harder our systems must work to function properly at cleansing and removing the toxic waste.
This requires more work from our digestive systems, our lungs, kidneys, and cardiovascular and lymphatic systems to rid us of the hundreds of chemicals inhaled, ingested, consumed, rubbed on, and soaked in. Think of how many chemicals you’ve already put on your body today before leaving the house, simply by showering and going through your daily routine.
When the lymphatic system is overloaded, it will release toxins through the skin. When unnatural fibers (like nylon or polyester) are worn and chemical creams, deodorant, or soaps are applied to the skin, toxin release through the skin is blocked. Much of what should be eliminated is re-absorbed along with some of the new toxins from the chemical-laden clothes and skin products. This slows detoxification, and keeps us ill longer. A product survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group in 2004 revealed that more than 25 percent of all women and one in every 100 men use at least 15 products daily that could contain toxins and carcinogens.
Additionally, buying new clothing, toys, gadgets, and furniture can bring large amounts of chemicals into the home, as they are made with unnatural materials and dyes, “off-gassing” air pollution from the factories where they are made and the plastic packaging that they arrive in.
In our home, we attempt to reduce the amount of chemicals entering our bodies (and our carbon footprint) by seeking products with the least ingredients and made with natural, organic materials, as well as saving money by not buying many new items, but instead buying used, vintage, and second-hand when possible. The more we buy newly made products, the more polluted our air and water become. This effects not only us, but countless others living in the countries where many of our products are made, often in unsafe working conditions and polluted environments.
To reduce waste and increase health, reduce personal consumption.
10. Self-Massage with Oil (Abyangha).
This one is a huge help when we’re on the brink of a cold or other illness. We can’t all afford a spa day every month, but self-massage works wonders as a preventative measure. If we make a point of practicing self-care weekly, before we even feel a health issue arising, then we may get sick less often.
I try to give myself (and my daughter) an oil massage at least once a week, usually before a shower or right before bed. It doesn’t have to take an hour, just make use of what time you have, as a little massage is better than none at all. It will move the lymph and reduce inflammation or stress. I love using various essential oils mixed with sesame or almond carrier oils.
Author: Tina Picz Devoe
Editor: Emily Bartran
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron