As a chiropractor, I often take on the role of educator to help clients achieve health and wellness goals. This may be recommending types of stretching or exercise; foods to either eat or avoid; and explaining general principles of health. It is easier to shift your perspective on health than it is to hold your hand through every health decision. I want you to see the world and your body in a new light, so you can make informed decisions on your own. This helps you take ownership of your health and drive it, rather than passively wait for someone else to make you well.
I use a simple analogy that was coined by author Lawrence Leshan of “The Mechanic and The Gardener”. The analogy contrasts the two major philosophies in healthcare–the mechanistic and vitalistic. The mechanistic philosophy of health holds that we are no more than the sum of our parts. That the body is inherently weak and that if something quits working (such as an organ or joint), we can just replace it and keep on living. The vitalistic philosophy suggests that we are more than the sum of our parts. That every aspect of our being works synergistically to produce a thriving and vibrant life.
A mechanic inspects your vehicle, determines what parts are broken and worn down, and then removes and replaces them with new parts. If your brakes are bad, you replace them with new ones. Same for fluids and tires. Traditional medicine takes a similar approach to the human body. Believing that it will eventually break down and fail, MDs look to drugs and surgery to replace failing organs, joints, and biochemical pathways.
A gardener takes a different approach. When a plant or flower is wilting and failing to grow, the gardener makes changes to the environment the plant is in; cultivating its well-being rather than attempting to replace a leaf or a stem. By increasing or decreasing the amount of water and sunlight, and replenishing the soil content, the plant can thrive on its own.
The question I ask is whether you believe the human body is more like a car or more like a plant? As trivial as this may seem, it is fundamental to how you make health related decisions. A mechanistic view of the body keeps you looking to drugs and surgery as the answer to pain and dysfunction. The mechanistic model also reinforces the mentality of dependence and looking externally for health, rather than looking within.
However, a vitalistic viewpoint will encourage you to find the root cause of your health issue. You will take the time to cultivate an environment (internal and external) for your health and wellness. This understanding empowers you to look within for healing and take ownership of your health.
If you feel that empowering yourself with your own state of health blames you for your present condition, don’t. You are missing the point. Your body will naturally respond to the stresses you encounter in your life. You will adapt to these stressors for your ultimate advantage of survival and balance within your environment. These adaptations are wonderful, though over time take their toll. Previously overwhelming experiences create holding patterns in the body, and a need for compensation in the musculoskeletal system, which leads to pain and dysfunction. Working with a doctor or therapist to re-engage proper function, and shifting health habits to support a more regenerative state of being will allow you to let your healing potential shine.
Looking within as you answer these important questions every day – does this food/drink/person/state of mind/emotion/environment serve you, or does it bring you more stress that your body needs to adapt to? It empowers you to make choices that support your ability to heal and thrive.
What is your view on this analogy as it relates to your personal health challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Dr. Jeff Luke
Your South Austin Chiropractor