Salutogenesis – an old and neglected word

Salutogenesis

The word salutogenesis comes from the Latin salus (meaning health) and the Greek genesis (meaning origin). The word caught my eye in an article by Nigel Crisp, in Prospect Magazine,  How Aristotle Can Teach Us  to Build a Better Society:

There is a long (but often neglected) western tradition of interest in salutogenesis, the origins of health, which is concerned with understanding the causes of health as opposed to pathogenesis, the origins of disease. This is in some ways the precursor to what is today called “social prescribing,” an approach which sees clinicians prescribe gardening, swimming, singing and other activities instead of (only)pharmaceuticals, making use of the health-creating benefits of each. This is not about prevention of disease but the creation of health—the causes of health not the causes of disease. It takes the positive, not the negative approach to creating the conditions for people to be healthy.

Nigel Crisp

I had not heard of Nigel Crisp so I looked him up and stumbled on this introduction at Harvard:

Lord Crisp is an independent crossbencher in the House of Lords, where he speaks mainly on issues of international health and development. Lord Crisp was chief executive of the National Health Service in England between 2000 and 2006, and permanent secretary at the UK Department of Health. The National Health Service is the largest health organization in the world…Previously he had been Chief Executive of the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital NHS Trust, one of the UK’s leading academic medical centers. Lord Crisp chairs Sightsavers International—a charity which promotes quality of opportunity for disabled people in the developing world; is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement; a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Harvard School of Public Health; an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Health-creating activities always pique my interest. As you know from reading my blog these are the kinds of things I love to promote. The non-medical things we can do to support our well-being in conjunction with our medical treatments.  Furthermore, I naturally gravitate to studies of what works rather than what doesn’t work. I confess the article sent me sailing down the rabbit hole to Crisp’s most recent book Health is Made at Home and Hospitals Are for Repairs. (It arrived today.)

Up Our Chances

It seems to me, in life, with all of its difficulties, joys, and sorrows, health and otherwise,  focusing on what we can do to enhance our daily lives is our best bet. It’s why playing an active role in our own illness is the first guideline of Living Well with Illness.  We can’t get along without medicine but medicine needs our active engagement too. Whether we are talking about cancer, heart disease, or mental health when we do things that are health-creating we up our chances of reducing unwanted side effects and improving our condition.

I don’t use the word prevent because it easily becomes a blaming word. It implies we can actually prevent X if we do y and z. And since I know so many people who did do y and z and still got X, I no longer use the word. I absolutely believe, however, that we can reduce our risks when we engage in health-creating activities. For myself, I experience an improvement in the quality of my everyday life when I move my body, get enough sleep and eat reasonably well. Not to mention the many creative activities that absorb and relax me/us.

And I observe that we can’t wait for the perfect time. There will never be time left over nor a time when conditions are perfect for us to implement some life-giving opportunities. We need to take charge of ourselves and figure out what makes our lives better. And the important thing is to do it even while life is throwing us curve balls. By now, you know I am never talking about utopian visions of how to live. Rather I am talking about the messy, stressful, sometimes dysfunctional and ordinary and amazing lives that we all have. And working with that. Changing what can be changed. Creating joyful moments. Learning something you have longed to do.

Noticing

Noticing the things you do that make you feel better, is a good place to start. And with things as they are in your life, taking action to do the something you can do. Only you can figure this out. Take a step back from yourself and see what is working. Who are the humans in your life who fill you up rather than drain you? You may want to make more time to keep the company of those who are health-producing for you. Laughing is a sure sign.

I am convinced that we are all doing the best we can, with what we know, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  And we may need a tiny nudge, now and then to enjoy new possibilities.

Blessing – by  Carrie Newcomer on Gratefulness.org

May you wake with a sense of play,
An exultation of the possible.
May you rest without guilt,
Satisfied at the end of a day well done.
May all the rough edges be smoothed,
If to smooth is to heal,
And the edges be left rough,
When the unpolished is more true
And infinitely more interesting.
May you wear your years like a well-tailored coat
Or a brave sassy scarf.
May every year yet to come:
Be one more bright button
Sewn on a hat you wear at a tilt.
May the friendships you’ve sown
Grown tall as summer corn.
And the things you’ve left behind,
Rest quietly in the unchangeable past.
May you embrace this day,
Not just as any old day,
But as this day.
Your day.
Held in trust
By you,
In a singular place,
Called now.

Notes

1:) A snippet from a beautiful book for children and adults called The Blue Hour by author Isabelle Simler.

2:) Health-creating activities are often small pleasures. Here is a lovely 4-minute video from The School of Life in London called Why Small Pleasures Are a Big Deal

3:) A hundred thank-yous for stopping by here. I feel like the luckiest person every Wednesday – another thing I do that does not feel like work and revives my spirits. Let’s sing while there’s voice left. Warmest wishes, Trudy

 

Restfulness – Simplicity

Always this beginning:

Twelve years ago my friend sent me the following stanza by poet Marge Piercy from her poem, The Spring Offensive of the Snail. She also added this note, “This is a great poem to start off the New Year. There is a ceremony among some First Nations people, which involves throwing water over their backs seven times. In doing so, they wash away any habits or thoughts no longer beneficial for growth.  People forgive those who have harmed them and ask forgiveness of those they have harmed.  Now they are ready to start the year anew.”

“…But remember to bury
all old quarrels
behind the garage for compost.
Forgive who insulted you.
Forgive yourself for being wrong.
You will do it again
for nothing living
resembles a straight line,
certainly not this journey
to and fro, zigzagging
you there and me here
making our own road onward
as the snail does…”   excerpt from Marge Piercy’s poem

Restfulness

I am interested in restfulness as we enter this year. It’s a bit of a quandary that at a time when we are predisposed to hibernate with a need to curl up in front of the fire there are many demands to exercise our will in all manner of goals and resolutions for the New Year. Common ones are to eat less and exercise more, get started on the unfinished projects from last year and create BIG new goals for 2022. I am reconsidering all of this and looking at the first three months differently. Possibly as a time to cultivate restfulness.

Restfulness doesn’t mean feet up and doing nothing. It certainly doesn’t mean laziness. Rather I see it as wisely using our time to do the things we need to do while leaving enough space in between each activity so we are not agitated.  Rather than booking our calendar back to back and relying on our will to see us through why not try something different. How about adding rest notes throughout our day, not just at the end.  Maybe we take 5-15 minute intervals, (without turning this also into a task-oriented life) in order to actually enjoy this wonderful gift of waking up. In order to enjoy our contributions.

I’m thinking of the pauses we could interject to breathe, gaze out the window, read a poem, scribble in our journal, close our eyes. A mindful walk through the day where we aren’t running to catch up but rather walking and noticing the beauty of the sights and sounds. Being present to what unfolds.

Your important work will still get done.

The longer we are bound to our desk chair the harder it is to pause. To take three breaths. To stand and stretch our legs. Little breaks can help us to accomplish our important tasks without breaking our backs or our psyche. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has a good definition of overwhelm: he defines overwhelm as “life is unfolding at a pace that I find unmanageable in my psyche and in my nervous system.” If that is the case we can do something about it.

Life is a banquet with so much to choose from. We can’t have it all without serious indigestion.  I want to savour a few things this year that I love by saying no to other things that I would also like. It’s all about limited time. I’m not good at any of this but I want to experiment.

To Be Present

I know my heart is wanting simplicity and meaning, and restfulness is part of this. Poet and philosopher David Whyte claims that we aren’t meant to work 8 or 9 hours a day through will. For instance, it takes no will at all for me to prepare and present my Friday webinars at Wellspring Calgary because I love doing them. I am preparing a conversation and finding a poem and music to complement the topic. All things I love. Friday is my Wellspring day and it is topped off by spending an hour with wonderful people.  I don’t take on competing purposes that day and I am rested and rejuvenated and filled with delight when the day is done. It allows me to be present.

When we can do something like this we can give the best of ourselves. And as Whyte also says we get a glimpse of what we have already been given.

In the spring when the sun is coming up early and the evenings are getting longer and the earth is coming back to life is time enough for considering some of my more audacious goals. I might take advantage of spring fever instead of demanding constant service from my willpower. Will power is important but we demand a lot from it and I want to modify my thinking a bit – give it a break.

So, my wonderful readers, each day is a new day. We don’t need a new year to make any changes we are curious about and I have no idea what is best for you. The truth is, YOU are the expert on you.

As for me, this new year, I am aiming for a few more contemplative and meaningful moments without rushing. Restfulness. I am curious about the possibilities.

Notes

1:) Once again we are in difficult times. Like the others, it will pass, but not without angst and suffering for many. Please, take heart! May you stay safe, yet, not isolated. We all know ways to do this now.

2:) “There may be a good reason to move quickly. there is never a good reason to rush…what happens if you soften and slow, just a little bit? Feel how that changes your experience. Your sense of yourself. Your capacity for ease in the moment.” Martin Aylward, “The Art of Slowing down.”

3:) I am honoured and delighted to start off 2022 here with you. Please accept my best wishes and my thanks for your generous and encouraging words and know I so appreciate them. A thought – if you have a favourite poem or two you would like to share, you are more than welcome to send me a copy. Warmly, Trudy

PS the photos: Both from Gottfried’s library. The banner was taken in Yellowknife in January 2003 (I think) and the second one from  Gabriola Island looking across the coast Salish Sea in the general direction of  Vancouver.