I want to share my luck with you. Surely I am the luckiest doc in the land. I’ve had the good fortune to test, train, change and retest hundreds of patients here in Silicon Valley. Rarely are the necessary conditions found in one place at one time; the confluence of money, people and interests that allowed me to explore, in clinical detail, the baseline characteristics and resulting changes following specific diet, exercise and relaxation interventions. Even in an academic environment there would have been more stringent constraints on baseline measures, the degree of control over behavioral changes and the frequency of interventional testing and protocol resets. Money would have ruled out such precision. More importantly however, is the conceptual starting point: we were changing multiple controllable variables and thus results would reflect interactions and not be attributable to a single interventional variable. The reductionist bias of current medical research could not abide such a complex array of ‘actors’ as it would not yield a single result. Well, that is a long discussion: for now I will leave it that the reductionist bias has blinded many to the actual underlying complexity and thus poor value of ostensibly single variable controlled experimentation.
OK, now where am I going with this that you can use?
For those of you who read “To Laree Draper With Filial Love” you will know that I can deliver a one-punch knockout of information about specific health issues. I don’t usually do this for a reason. I’ve found over the years that such ‘one-punch’ information, while precisely what everyone thinks they are looking for, is not what is needed to effect permanent change.
People go on a diet, lose 50 pounds and then do it again 2 years later because they gained the first 50 back and more besides. They work with an idea that there is some equipoint, some still point, where they will be so thin, so healthy that they can stay there. They will get so strong that it will be like a perfect expression of who they are, how they will live for the foreseeable future if not forever.
I’ve found there is no still point, no place of perfect balance. Heraclitus was right in this: “you cannot step twice into the same stream.”
No Zen koan can change this. If there is a transcendent window into the timeless its gifts are not of this world; we all get old and die. I say this well aware that there are in fact great gifts to be had in contemplation of the timeless, the transcendent, the Other of world religions and contemplative techniques; gifts, yes, just not automatic weight loss, injury repair and better 100 meter times.
I will remind you that I think, in fact at some level have proven, that you must measure ‘it’ to reliably change for the better your bone density, your testosterone, your insulin, your diabetes, your whatever. You must be objective but you must also be subjective. You must be an artist of your own life.
Most of the posts here are stories or vignettes of stories of other people’s lives. The purpose of these stories is to give you a glimpse into the nooks and crannies of other lives lived in the rush of Heraclitus’ river of change. Your, hopefully stimulated, sympathetic imagination will then be able to lay the subjective plans for your own success. Your own better bench press, your better triglyceride levels. Empowered by your imagination you can then trust that change is possible and is not the simple stuff of eating better for 6 months and then back to pizza and beer because, by gosh, you like it that way. You will understand that a deep inner dialog between your hopes, your reality and the substance of other’s success can lead to change; change that is not permanent, for nothing is, but to sustainable change because your sympathetic imagination has filled in the details of a future life as only the artist in you can imagine.
My collecting cortisol levels, and heart rate profiles are necessary, yes necessary, tools but they are not the same as the rush of power and near euphoria of someone who can now run a mile when they could barely walk a 1/4; especially if they had to have a knee reconstructed and rehab an achy Achilles tendonitis to do so. The path is long from one point to another; and the path is possible for flesh and blood when imagined as the path of flesh and blood and not mere physiological numbers.
So in my opinion laying out a clear path, as if it were some kind of runway from which you could gain enough speed to take flight to your own discipline of health doesn’t seem to work; or at least it does not in my experience.
You must find your own path. I can give you the tools to measure and ensure that you are succeeding but I cannot give you a valid path.
This is nowhere seen more clearly than in my attempts to encourage a relaxation or spiritual discipline. Now the neat thing about guys like Dr. Andrew Weil or Dr. Oz is that they tell you which path to take. Dr. Weil; basically Yoga. Dr. Oz; pretty clearly TM. Well Yoga is not great for necks and TM is just, well for me, just too weird. Maybe not for you and that too is my point; you have a path. I have confidence about that, there is a path for each of us, a path that can lead to lower blood pressure, better inflammatory markers and so on but taking someone else’s, Yoga for example, will not last a life time; or even long enough. You must find your own.
I am not being a relativist here either; an all paths lead to Rome kind of thing. Not me! But in this open and obvious example of a spiritual discipline is illustrated the problem hidden in the diet and exercise areas as well. The principles are universal and laid out on this site in different ways but the application is unique and yours to find. You must measure what you want to change, you will discover more along the way, but the path must be yours to last.
Smile, Have Fun, God Speed,