Where do you go for information and advice about caring for your health needs? According to a 2011 Pew Research study, 80% of Internet users look online, whether it is for the latest diet and exercise routines or for a self-diagnosis of a worrying health problem.
But is this approach such a healthy idea? Not according to many health professionals: they warn against too much online research. There is even a newly identified psychological condition called cyberchondria, reportedly induced through reading too much health information.
A rather cheeky spoof in Newsthump on this aspect of our information age highlights the problem with a short article stating that, “Individuals should limit themselves to one piece of Government health advice per day.” The article confirms that information on the Internet is often contradictory and inaccurate, even on a government website.
Despite the fact that many people are aware of the challenges of seeking health advice on the Internet, scores of us have made living a healthier lifestyle one of our personal New Year’s resolutions.
In our search, we don’t need to banish the Internet, because it is a place where people share ideas freely – including ideas about what they have learned that works. And, many people today are sharing how they have found better health by incorporating new practices, like paying attention to the mental and spiritual foundations of well-being.
Of course, the application of these practices in a modern medical setting may be new; but the ideas themselves are not. Many of them come from ancient wisdom. Throughout human history, religions and spiritual paths have included teachings on how to care for one’s spiritual and physical health – for example, the current interest in meditation and yoga. In many cases these teachings didn’t see mental and physical well-being as two separate things — rather, they looked at the holistic (whole) man. Modern health care, on the other hand, tends to separate the body from the spirit or to use mindfulness practices, like a “pill,” to maintain or fix the mind and body.
In both old and new approaches to health, the key question is whether we think the body is the actual source of our health. Current health theories believe it is.
Yet, when we look at some of those earlier teachings, we find that they are actually telling us to focus on things of the Spirit first. They invite us to investigate and grow our understanding of the Divine as the most important thing we can do. This turns thought away from our worried preoccupation with the body, to a more spiritual sense of life and health that has its roots in the Divine. For example, Jesus, the consummate expert on health and healing, challenged the prevailing preoccupation with looking to the body for health. He taught his followers to first seek the kingdom of God. And, he showed them that, when they did this, the result was always a change in their experience of health and wholeness.
Taking this teaching to heart – that is, focusing on Spirit first – influences my daily routine. For example, I love to go for walks and bike rides, but my focus is not on my heart rate or whether I cycled a certain number of miles. I’m pondering the nature of the Divine and appreciating how it shows up in other forms of life around me.
For some, part of their daily health routine starts early with prayer or meditation, and a study of sacred scriptures. For me, a quote or verse from The Bible can set me thinking for days, encouraging me to put it into practice. For example, here’s a humorous modern version of a verse from a Jewish proverb:
“Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life; don’t for a minute lose sight of them. They’ll keep your soul alive and well, they’ll keep you fit and attractive. You’ll travel safely, you’ll neither tire nor trip. You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry, you’ll enjoy a good night’s sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner, because God will be right there with you; he’ll keep you safe and sound.” (Proverbs 3:21-26)
Seeking wisdom like this and putting it into practice, focuses our thinking on the presence of the Divine. This healthful approach is originating from sources more experienced and wiser than almost anything we’ll find on the Internet.