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Maximum Effort, Maximum Damage: The difference between health and fitness

Yesterday, you forced your body past all of its previous limitations, pushed yourself to 150% of your normal endurance, felt the burn.  Now, as you contemplate your next workout, something strange is happening.  Your body is not just stiff- it rebels at the idea of movement, and energy drains from your limbs.

Many of us have had that experience, heard our instructor telling us to push past it.  No pain, no gain, right?

How long did you stick with that program?  If, like most of the population, your mental resistance built up until you’d accept any excuse to avoid your workout, you should know that there’s a reason that was well-known to the practitioners of Taoist martial arts like Tai Chi and Bagua.  Taoism understands the need to seek balance in everything, and it knows that if you overload your body, it will push back.  Whatever is overstretched collapses.

We’re used to a world in which professional athletes, martial artists and people in other high-fitness professions push themselves so hard on a regular basis that they routinely wreck their joints, their backs, their connective tissue and so on before they reach their mid-30s.  We’re taught to push ourselves to new heights by straining our bodies to their limits and pushing ourselves to exhaustion again and again.


Fitness versus Health

It’s entirely possible to be fit without being healthy, and to be healthy without being fit.  We may see someone who’s ripped and can do endless push-ups or run marathons as healthy.  By Taoist standards, they may be anything but.  The Taoist definition of health requires that

–          your body is able to move painlessly through its whole natural range of motion

–          that you are free from chronic illness, injury or pain

–          that you have a healthy back, joints and connective tissue

–          that you have high vitality due to a healthy emotional life, lack of tension in the body and free circulation of life energy- chi.

–          that the resting state of your muscles and nervous system is completely relaxed

The problem with constantly pushing yourself to your limits is that you build abiding tension in your muscles, you strain your joints and connective tissue in ways that lead to a constant state of pain and inflammation, inviting disease.  You become physically and emotionally exhausted, draining your energy and vitality rather than building it up.

That is exactly why Taoist training methods build up basic health and vitality before attempting rigorous strength, speed or endurance training, and don’t jeopardise the former to get the latter.

If this seems strange to you, there’s one question you should ask yourself that will put the health versus fitness question in perspective:  when you’re forty, fifty, even eighty years old, will you have an easier time or a harder time staying fit because of the kinds of exercise you’re doing today?

This is exactly the dilemma which so many martial artists in disciplines like Karate and Tae Kwon Do – that emphasise maximum effort and raw performance – face all the time.  After a certain point, usually in the mid to late twenties, their abilities peak, and no matter how hard they practice, they just go downhill, more often than not with chronic pain from injuries and strains to slow them down even further.

One of the great advantages of the Taoist internal martial arts is that this wall doesn’t exist– you can keep practicing and improving throughout your entire life.  The timescale of training in these arts, even in the times when they were actively used in combat, ran into decades.

Build Yourself Up Without Destroying Yourself

This lifelong vitality is achieved through a method that respects the laws of natural balance.

  1. The 70% rule: This rule from Tai Chi practice asks you to train consistently at around 70% of your capacity.  This not only means 70% of your strength, speed and endurance, but even your range of motion, the length of time you practice and so on.  As you do this consistently, your body will use that last 30% reserve of energy to repair and replenish itself, building up your vitality over time.  As you practice consistently at this level, your 70% will go up naturally.  This is the direct opposite of the “train till you drop” propaganda that permeates our competition-crazed culture.
  2. Slow down to speed up, relax thoroughly to increase effort: The more pressure you or your trainer bring to bear on your body to put forth ever more exhausting effort, the more that tension is going to live in your muscles and nerves, reducing your ability to move freely, creating emotional stress and changing the neurotransmitter balance in your body.  On the other hand, if you train slowly, deliberately, and make sure to move with complete, deep relaxation on a regular basis, you will find that you can not only move faster when you need to, but also put forth more effort.  This is exactly why Tai Chi forms are done at a fraction of combat speed- that slow, relaxed and deliberate approach in practice translates into movements so fast you can’t see them with the naked eye.
  3. Injuries are bad for your health: It seems odd to have to say it, but building up your strength by injuring yourself is a contradiction.  Yet this is exactly what we do to ourselves through our obsession with endless repetitions of a single exercise, or in sports like football where injuries are virtually inevitable.  Boxing has taken some hits [] recently over the brain damage suffered by many boxers from repeated blows to the head.
  4. Treat pain with respect: If you are coping with pain or injury and you want to return to full health, follow the 70% rule to gradually improve, rather than trying to push all the way through and probably exacerbating the problem.


Pain is a Teacher

Think about this.  What is the point of fitness now that wrecks fitness in the future?  What is the point of strength now that leads to injury, disease, chronic pain and possibly early death in the future?  A certain amount of stress is necessary for us to make progress in any area of life- it’s called eustress, a term coined by Hans Selye meaning good stress.  The opposite of eustress is distress, the stress that leads to real pain and exhaustion.  When we cross over from eustress to distress in exercise, our bodies know.

Listen to psychological manipulation perpetrated in this video.  “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.”  “He had more in him.  Wuss.”

These are the hallmarks of the Western approach to strength, which always tries to overcome the body with the mind.  Over the millennia, humans have performed certain kinds of tasks for which our bodies are optimised- namely, slow, painstaking tasks that require us to sustain about 70% of effort by their nature.  Hunting, gathering, farming, carpentry.  Our burst capacity is for emergencies, not everyday use.  That’s what we’re set up for.

If our approach to training ignores the balance of human nature, something will give.  For every action, there is a reaction.  For every overextension, there is a collapse.  That is the most fundamental difference between the Taoist approach and the others.  One respects the way the human organism is set up.  The other works against it.  But nature always wins.

Ground-Breaking CANCER Documentary (Plus 10 Tips to Minimize Your Risk)


Every minute, more than 15 people will die of cancer.  That’s why we’d like to take a minute to introduce you to the trailer for Ty Bollinger’s documentary The Truth About Cancer: A Global Quest.  Inspired by the loss of his dad to cancer, Ty travels the world in search of the real answers about cancer and its treatment.

What are the real risk factors for cancer? What can you do to decrease your risk and improve your chances of survival? There is so much disinformation out there that people often don’t know what to do or where to turn. Worst of all, it’s in the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry to focus your attention on their new drugs, rather than anything that might help you avoid them, so you really have to dig to find the research that we need to see, the research that can help us avoid this modern epidemic.

Five Risk Factors

The body can keep cancer at bay. One of the great myths is that the immune system can’t fight cancer. The body can repair the DNA of cells that were damaged by chemical or radioactive agents. The immune system can fight cancer. It happens all the time. The trick is to find out what’s preventing the body from doing its job. Here are a few of the culprits.

  1. Chemical: The first big set of risk factors are chemical in origin, from the aluminum salts in your deodorant to the chemicals you may have sprayed on your lawn. Many of these chemicals are free radicals, molecules that chemically damage your cells. It is important to know that many commercial chemicals introduced to our food chain, household products and ecosystem undergo no rigorous testing for carcinogenic properties. You can find more information about these chemicals from the National Cancer Prevention Coalition.
  2. Nutritional: Nutrition has a multiple impact on our chances of developing cancer. First, by eating unhealthily, we can seriously damage our immune systems, which matter very much in cancer prevention. Second, by eating processed and non-organic foods, we take in carcinogenic pesticides and carcinogenic food additives. Artificial sweeteners are one food additive business that has been working hard to keep the carcinogenic effects of their products under wraps.
  3. Electromagnetic: Multiple studies have shown high correlation between cancer and exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields, including those from power lines and electronic devices, and, unfortunately, medical imaging technologies based on X-rays where the dosage is not tightly controlled. When the US Environmental Protection Agency was ready to declare electromagnetic pollution a risk factor for cancer, it seems that certain special interest groups, notably the military, stepped in to prevent it.
  4. Emotional: Many studies have found that a person’s emotional life highly correlates with their cancer risk. We’ve written before about the link between the emotions, the brain, the hormonal signalling system and the immune system. In this case, one particular trait, emotional repression, correlates highly with cancer. One longitudinal study of a population found that among those who ultimately died of lung cancer, although all those who died were smokers, all of the smokers who died were the ones who had this trait.
  5. Hormonal: Cancer is highly dependent on the hormonal balance of the body for growth. By ingesting or coming into contact with artificial hormones, you destroy your own hormonal balance and create a cancer-friendly environment. These include, most obviously, the growth hormones your meat and dairy products may contain. There is also a class of molecules that simulates estrogen in the body, which can be found in such pervasive food additives as soy as well as parabens and heavy metals found in cosmetics and personal care products.

Five Steps for Risk Mitigation

  1. Nutrition: By adjusting your diet to strengthen your immune system, alkalise your body and avoid harmful substances, you can give your body a boost. Many fruits, vegetables and spices contain effective antioxidants to help your body deal with those free radical chemicals. Some foods have also been shown to have a significant impact on cancer.
  2. Detoxification: Clearing the accumulated toxins out of your system is a good first step in boosting your immune system. This can also help to reset the biochemical environment in your body, leading to better hormonal balance and stronger immune system.
  3. Emotional Health: The effect of prolonged negative emotions, like anger or frustration, on our biochemistry is pernicious. But by transforming that negative emotion into a positive one, rapid and palpable physiological and chemical changes take place, on the order of 1400 distinct reactions. There are numerous methods for improving your emotional life and dealing with emotional baggage. Getting yourself out of ‘Survival Mode’ will help to balance your hormone and neurotransmitter levels, improving the health of your immune system.
  4. Exercise: Daily exercise has been shown to have a dramatic effect on cancer survival rates. Anaerobic exercise in particular stimulates the release of Human Growth Hormone, helping to strengthen the immune system.
  5. Research: Learning about your risk factors and how to adjust your lifestyle can give you an early edge in preventing or diminishing cancer.

To learn more, check out the trailer for Ty Bollinger’s upcoming documentary The Truth About Cancer: A Global Quest.

Nutrition and the Brain: Quick Tips

Nowhere is the body-mind relationship more important or more ignored than in the relationship between the brain and the food we eat. We often don’t realise how much our mental state has to do with the chemical state of our body, which in turn is affected heavily by the food we eat. We’ve already covered the all-important relationship between senility and poor diet. Patrick Holdford’s book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind looks at some other brain problems related to nutrition and what you can do about them.



There are a few important things to know about your diet if you suffer from anxiety. One is that your blood sugar balance is extremely important. A dip in blood sugar caused by an overactive insulin response can bring on hyperventilation and increase lactic acid in the body, which is a contributing factor to anxiety attacks. In general, balancing out your blood sugar is a very good idea for mood disorders. High copper levels, often the result of drinking water in buildings with new copper pipes, depress histamine levels, associated with extreme fears. You may need to increase your level of zinc if high copper levels are an issue.

On the other hand, dark green leafy vegetables and nuts provide magnesium, a mineral that helps both the mind and the muscles to relax. Other important micronutrients for anxiety sufferers include Vitamin B12 and folic acid.

The neurotransmitter we look to to govern anxiety, reduce adrenaline and promote a calm mood is known by the abbreviation GABA. Drugs like alcohol stimulate brief GABA releases, making us feel momentarily good, but the more we drink, the more our GABA levels fall. Tranquilisers work by making the body more receptive to GABA. Unfortunately, tranquiliser addiction is rampant throughout Western society. Benzodiazepine tranquilisers are more addictive than heroin and are associated with extreme withdrawal symptoms. There are natural alternatives with less risk, such as valerian root, which performs the same function, and hops (yes, the same hops found in beer) which act to calm the central nervous system.


There are a few major ways to improve your diet to address depression, the most important of which is to make sure you take in omega 3 fat and B-series vitamins. Together, these help the brain build up receptor sites for neurotransmitters and promote neurotransmitter production, especially serotonin. In clinical studies, major improvements in depression have been linked to omega 3 intake. Folic acid, a B vitamin, has an important effect on neurotransmitter levels.

Long-term depression, as opposed to a momentary low, is primarily a chemical state of a brain that either does not know how or does not have the materials to change that state. Antidepressant drugs are notorious for their side effects, but there is a natural alternative, St. John’s Wort, which has far fewer side effects at recommended doses (despite frequent attempts to scare people with any side-effect stories that come up). Its success rate is comparable, and more patients stick with it due to the reduced side effects.

Learning Disorders

Learning problems such as ADHD, dyslexia and so on are heavily linked to nutritional deficiencies. This has been heavily studied. Studies from MIT and California State University have shown that the fewer refined foods children ate, the better their learning, mainly due to the lack of micronutrients in processed food. Other studies have explored the effect of nutritional supplements and dietary changes on learning, with often dramatic results, including leaps of years in reading level and jumps in intelligence test scores. In one study by Dr. Michael Cogan, a group of children on vitamin and mineral supplements showed an average improvement of 1.1 years in reading level and 8.4 I.Q. points over 22 weeks, while a group which also had changes to their diet improved 1.8 years in reading level and gained 17.9 I.Q. points.

(As an aside, one of the most noxious elements of intelligence testing has been the role of its proponents in arguing that intelligence level is innate to the individual, and that because intelligence level is a predictor of success, people are somehow innately destined for their lot in life. The huge difference made by a change in nutrition calls this sharply into question, especially where impoverished populations are concerned.)

The important factors here are antioxidants, which help to reduce the detrimental effect of free radicals on the brain, and the building materials such as omega 3, B vitamins and amino acids that are essential building blocks of the brain and neurotransmitter system. The effects of increasing healthy fats in the diets of dyslexic children have been shown repeatedly. Increasing vitamin and mineral sources and healthy fats while decreasing high-carb processed foods is the essential formula for healthy learning, although heavy metal contamination and other issues may enter into it.

Hyperactivity, as we all know, can be partly attributed to sugars, but also to deficiency in the nutrients the body needs in order to calm down, such as magnesium and Vitamin B6. Studies by Dr. Bernard Rimland compared the effects of Ritalin against B6 and magnesium supplements, and found the latter to be ten times more effective.

(The same dramatic improvement has been shown in a California State University Study on the behaviour of young offenders. Correcting vitamin and mineral deficiency greatly improved behaviour.)

Bottom Line

The food we eat effects our brains, neurotransmitters, nervous systems and therefore our moods, our fears, our mental capabilities. The conditions discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg. Mental and psychiatric disorders that we often regard as chronic and irreversible are strongly linked to nutritional deficiencies. The complex interconnectivity of the body-mind organism is a major key to addressing what may seem to be mysterious or intractable problems. We need to optimise the whole organism, rather than just a part.

The general lessons we can draw from these particular conditions are straightforward:

1. Make sure that you eat a good amount of Omega 3 fats

2. Make sure you eat enough fresh produce and leafy greens

3. Supplement as necessary to compensate for the poor state of micronutrients in our food chain- the B and C Vitamins as well as magnesium are particularly important for brain health


Tibetan Medicine: Transforming Our Assumptions About Healing

We often do not realise how deeply our assumptions about the nature of human beings and the nature of the world determine how we approach illness and medicine. The unspoken assumptions of Western medicine, such as…

– That treatment means introducing specific chemicals to the body
– That all patients are more or less interchangeable as far as treatment is concerned
– That medical knowledge depends on breaking things down to the most microscopic level
– That the mental state of the physician has even less to do with treatment than the mental state of the patient
– That side-effects are a normal part of treatment

…seem conventional to us, but in the context of traditional Tibetan medicine, they seem utterly ludicrous.

Tibetan medicine is a unique blend of the Indian Ayurvedic tradition and Chinese medicine with native practices. As such, it represents the fusion of the two most comprehensive medical systems of the ancient world. Its approaches to patient care and treatment hold surprising insights which can help us to re-examine our own approach to illness and healing.


Approach to the Patient

In Western medicine, diagnosis results from questioning the patient about symptoms, physical examination, chemical analysis and radiological imaging methods. The Tibetan approach also makes use of the first two methods, but based on their understanding of the makeup of the human being, the underlying approach is quite different.

Tibetan medicine regards the patient as a complete, integrated being, in which the body, mind, emotions, energy system and spirit all affect each other. It regards the interplay of the body’s energies and substances with environmental influences as critical, and regards the patient’s lifestyle and mental state not only as contributing causes of disease, but as the main causes.

For that reason, the patient is questioned about their life in broad terms, including behaviour, diet, relationships, their living and working environments, their spiritual life and so on. Physical examination is not simply a search for symptoms, but catalogues the patient’s manner, build, posture, speech and everything that can tell the physician about the patient’s own elemental balance, mental and emotional state. After this, the physician can proceed with checking pulses according to the Chinese method, which tells the physician about the state of the energy system in relation to the major organs.

The following video gives you an idea of the preparations and mindset of the practitioner:


Approach to Treatment

The Tibetan approach to medical treatment is just as distinct as their approach to the patient. No treatment is solely physical or solely psychological- the patient’s personality and emotional life are known to affect their physical health. Likewise, the balance of elements in the constitution of the specific patient is unique, and knowing which elements to enhance and which to inhibit, knowing how a particular patient will react to a medical substance are essential. All of this means that every treatment is calibrated to the particular patient.

Treatments involving physical medicines are most often complex formulas designed to work together, the opposite of the Western project to break down the pharmacopeia into individual chemicals. The character of the ingredients is known to change depending on the time of year, where they are found and other factors.

For the Tibetan tradition, the mindset and intention of the physician are just as important as the medical substances themselves. Before gathering or compounding medicines, the physician prays and practices identification with the Medicine Buddha. Everything is done with calm mindfulness, a positive mental attitude, a compassionate intention and respect for the ingredients. Because Buddhism does not recognise matter and mind as fundamentally different, the physician’s intention and spiritual development plays an important role in the effectiveness of any treatment.


The medical substances are regarded as an offering to the Medicine Buddha, and are thought of as a mandala, an arrangement representing the different interrelated forces and properties of the cosmos. The means of physical treatment are varied, including incense, herbal baths, medicinal oils and butters for massage, bloodletting, moxibustion, acupuncture, ingestion of medical compounds and so on. But the most important vehicle for physical treatment is changing the diet and lifestyle of the patient, which is essential not only to treat disease, but to make sure the patient stays healthy into the future.

Although all of these methods involve the patient’s energy system, they approach it through the physical body. Tantric medicine treats the energy system directly, and through it the mind and the body. It is especially used for psychiatric diseases and those that are believed to be of karmic origin. The two basic kinds of tantric medicine are the healing of others by a cultivated practitioner and self-healing.

Tantric rituals use the complex Tibetan map of the energy system to transmute the body’s energy into the healing power of the Buddha-power through the generation of compassionate energy, the visualisation of healing deities and the projection of healing light. The practitioner sees himself as the Medicine Buddha and the world as the medicine mandala, which purifies the perceptions of self and world and encourages both to transform into their Buddha-nature.

In order to heal oneself, it is necessary to view illness as an indication of imbalance within one’s own life and an opportunity to readjust one’s own life and relationship with the world. It is also necessary to have complete trust and confidence in the practice and compassionate intention toward other beings.

This compassion is the central theme of Tibetan medicine. The physician is “expected to practice compassion at all times and equally toward all beings”. He is expected to cultivate his own spiritual practice in order to develop the wisdom to correctly see and treat his patients. His practice of medicine and spiritual development are therefore more than complementary, they are the same.


As we re-learn the implications of the interconnectedness of the human body-mind organism, and as we begin to realise once again the influence of our mental states on the reality we experience, traditions like the Tibetan medicine can give us the tools to critically examine the mindsets we have received about health and disease.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

“Theta Healing is the Answer. Now What was Your Question Again?”

While that may sound a little flippant, it does underscore the versatility of one of the top energy healing systems in the world today – Theta Healing.

One of the consistent observations of energy healing has been that both physical and psychological problems do not come into being on their own, but are caused by a particular way of living. That way of living is the result of carrying out a deep-seated subconscious program. Finding that program and then accessing it, changing it out for a new one that works better, can be a challenge of years or decades.

Theta Healing provides a creative response to these challenges through a multi-step approach. The first stage, common to many energy healing modes, is muscle testing. Muscle testing proceeds from the observation that, since our mind body and energy system form one organism, our instant, subconscious reaction to a thought or idea changes the strength of our energy field, and therefore the ability of our muscles to resist pressure. It is therefore a means of eliciting responses to simple questions directly from the subconscious mind about its own condition and programming.

When muscle testing has narrowed down the problem area, the practitioner and the patient, who need not be in the same room or even on the same continent, go into a deep theta state, corresponding to the brainwave patterns of deep meditation or certain stages of sleep. In this state, in which the subconscious is most readily accessible, the practitioner, through focused prayer and meditation, sends the patient a new program, and then tests that it is working.

Brent Phillips, probably the leading practitioner in North America, uses the example of money. A person may hold the (Biblically incorrect) subconscious belief that “Money is the root of all evil,” and be sabotaging their own possibilities for a financially prosperous life. If the patient wants that belief changed, the practitioner prays to the Absolute to change that belief. An essential part of this whole process is reconnecting the patient with the Absolute, with the source of life, which is essential to all self-transformation.

The result of a single healing session may be the cure of a physical ailment, or have nothing directly to do with what you wanted to accomplish, because you need other things to change in order to accept that change subconsciously. But Theta Healing also emphasises that it is the total underlying pattern of life, not the cause-effect sequence from a particular belief or program to a particular symptom, that must change for long-term physical and mental health.

To listen to Brent Phillips and others go into more depth about Theta Healing, watch the video above.

You can also learn more about Theta Healing in general and Brent’s programs in particular by clicking here.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


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