The Anatomy of Health: An Integrative Approach to Wellness

The Anatomy of Health: An Integrative Approach to Wellness

When I was in my very active 20s—dancing, biking, hiking—I had severe back and hip pain. I was studying for a dance degree at the time, and one of my very wise teachers witnessed my pain and frustration and told me that turning 30 would change my life. Yeah, right…

Well, she was right. Today, I understand that in my 30s, I took control of my life. I made decisions that were for me, rather than thinking I could be a bottomless reservoir of selflessness. I let go of friendships and relationships that drained me. An incredible baby boy came into my life. Although his care was more taxing on my body, I slowed down as I strolled with him through parks, inhaling deeply his sweet baby scent and the ever-changing fragrances of my surroundings. My priorities changed: Sleep became more important. I sang more, giggled more, cooked more. I indulged more in the sensual. And I continued to work.

Mmmmm, sweet balance.

I was living health. Although health has no singular definition, dictionaries and experts seem to agree that it encompasses a way of being in the world that reflects in our physiology. It is not just the state of our physiology, which is perhaps why health and well-being (which connotes a deep state of peace) seem to be constantly paired or used synonymously. Balance is the fulcrum of each.

The path to health and well-being has generated a lot of buzz—and, in some ways, has even become a commodity. Even the renowned research firm Gallup is quantifying it through its Well-Being Index (, a measurement that is based on an assessment of emotional and physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and basic access.

“Contrary to what many people believe, well-being isn’t just about being happy. Nor is it only about being wealthy or successful. And it’s certainly not limited to physical health and wellness. In fact, focusing on any of these elements in isolation may drive us to frustration and even a sense of failure,” write Tom Rath and Jim Harter in their book Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, which is based on Gallup’s study.

According to the firm’s comprehensive study (which included participants in more than 150 countries), five universal, interconnected factors shape the health of our lives: career well-being, social well-being, financial well-being, physical well-being and community well-being.

Dr. Cari Jacobson, doctor of chiropractic and holistic medicine and owner of Be Optimal ( in Glenview, describes complete health as the balance between structural, biochemical and emotional health. By following her prescription to own your power, you might well score high in the five factors Gallup uses to quantify well-being. Dr. Jacobson invites us to achieve optimal health by considering the following:

• Water. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces, daily.

• Nourishment. “The fuel we put in affects how we function,” Dr. Jacobson asserts.

• Amount of rest. Get eight hours each of work, sleep and time to have fun and feed our souls.

• Exercise. Indulge in movement/exercise that promotes strength, flexibility and circulation.

• Owning your power. Speak the truth, honor yourself and sit in stillness a little each day to breathe, receive, ground and clear your mind.

Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and medical director of the Integrative Medicine program at NorthShore University HealthSystem, agrees that health and well-being are catalyzed by balance. She suggests that we “maintain a balance between the spheres of the physical, emotional and spiritual.” To do so, her Integrative Medicine program encourages us to attend to eight elements: nutrition, environment, breath, spirituality, movement, rest and recreation, love and relationships and consciousness. By being mindful of how we live our lives, we can make healthy choices. Consider the following questions:

• Do you use food to control emotions/stress? Do you prepare meals joyfully? Are you aware of how food affects you physically and mentally?

• Is there beauty in your surroundings? Is your home a haven? Are you aware of settings that drain you?

• Do you ever find it difficult to breathe or experience sensations of suffocation? Do you know how to use your breath to control your mind and body?

• What brings you peace and your life meaning? What provides a sense of hope in you? Is faith or fear the prevailing emotion of your day?

• How do you integrate physical activity into your life? What movement does your work require? Do you try to increase or reduce activity during your day?

• What are your practices for restoration? What are your creative outlets? What do you do for fun? How often do you laugh?

• Are you satisfied with how you love? Does forgiveness come easy?

• What are you passionate about? Do you feel loved? Do you understand unconditional love?

• What events do you block from your awareness? Do you practice self-reflection? Do you value your own intuition?

Indeed, health is a life practice, not the pronouncement of a series of test results. And the stories we tell ourselves around health and well-being are just as important as what we put into our body or how we exercise. According to Dr. Jacobson, “Our thoughts create our reality, and 99.999 percent of our disease is caused by stress and emotions.”

Thus, when you continuously question yourself about whether you are doing enough, making enough or are enough, you may create internal stress that initially expresses itself in diarrhea, for example; if left untreated (not just the symptom, but also the perceptions or habits that are creating the stress), it may spiral into a chronic condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome. So, in addition to calling a doctor about your physical symptoms, assess the behavioral and emotional patterns that influence your malaise, and design decisions about how to honor you and your needs. Classes in meditation, Feldenkrais® and yoga may help you to be more centered and aware.

The final prescription for health and well-being is different for each of us. Pursuing healthcare that follows the philosophy (conventional, integrative, holistic, Eastern) that best suits us and creating the life that allows us to powerfully choose in all moments, optimal health is possible for all of us.

(Reprinted from Chicago Health: Top Doctors & Hospitals, November 2010)


A Practice a Day Keeps the Doldrums (and Disease) Away

Several Local resources we recommend:


Inner Metamorphosis University, 1418 W. Howard St., 773.262.1468,

Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago, 7331 N. Sheridan Rd., 773.743.8147,

Siddha Yoga Meditation Center of Chicago, 770 N. Halsted St., #106, 312.738.2798,



Moksha Yoga Center, Riverwest, Lakeview and Logan Square locations, 773.235.9642,

Yoga View, Bucktown and Ukranian Village locations, 773.342.9642,

Om on the Range Yoga Studio, Lakeview and Bucktown locations, 773.772.9642,



Feldenkrais Center of Chicago, 1216 W. Sherwin Ave., 773.531.6333,

SD Rehab, 1962 N. Bissell St., 773.477.7599,

Water over Stone, 3309 N. Clark St., 773.755.1347,

Published in Chicago Health Winter 2010