What does healthy really look like?

We hear a lot – too much, perhaps – and from many different quarters about how to be healthy. One could almost say we are bombarded with information on what to eat, do, think, change (the list is endless) in order to be healthy but we are not often asked the question ‘what does it mean to be healthy?’ ‘What does healthy look like?’.

We are often swayed by the physical embodiment of healthy; thin, big muscles, glossy hair, clear skin and these can, of course, be evidence of being physically healthy but I am not convinced that these in themselves denote all round health.

In Chinese Medicine health is described as being “embodied to the degree that we accurately perceive life, and illness is embodied to the degree that our interpretations deviate from reality.” (Lonny Jarrett). This means that our health is directly related to our ability to see what is really going on in our life, enabling us to respond accordingly, rather than react based on our perception, which is always tainted by our life experiences, beliefs and attitudes.

When we are living in accordance with the Dao it is said we are therefore able to live spontaneously, by which, I don’t mean impulsively and according to our desires, but rather in a fashion that is not rigid and governed by our subconscious.

By living in accordance with the Dao we live correctly in each season; resting in winter, being more active and sleeping less in the summer, eating cooked seasonal vegetables in the autumn and raw cooler foods in the summer. In doing this we don’t follow one dietary rule all year round regardless of the season but instead, adapt to our surroundings. In the same way, emotionally, when living spontaneously, we respond to life rather than reacting to it; the latter being driven by our subconscious and rarely positive or productive for that very reason.

These examples illustrate two interpretations of the Chinese understanding of health and I can’t help thinking that is it is a fascinating concept to look at and keep in mind when we are trying to evaluate our health and when we are looking for solutions. Health is not simply going to the gym every day and eating salads all year round regardless of how we feel and what season it is. It is far more subtle and dynamic; rather than prescriptive, it is personal and demands conscious thought and action.