Even when we have done all we can to nourish our spiritual, mental, and physical health, we may encounter the challenges of illness and injury. Some of us have a predisposition to certain health issues and, when this combines with stress and environmental pollutants, our health can be compromised. Much of my adult life has been focused on learning skills that enable me to meet my healthcare needs myself. I was very affected by the crazy healthcare that I saw my mom receive, which was compounded by taking more pills to deal with the side effects of the last pills that she had been taking. Both my parents died younger than necessary because of their lifestyle choices. This was probably the most influential reason that, as some have said to me, I am a “self-care hardcore.”

Self-care begins with mindfulness

Illnesses and injuries often give subtle warning cues that we tend to ignore or push through. The little pain in our knee that becomes chronic. The little digestive issues that increase over time to require surgery. The stress we ignore that begins to take its toll on our immune system, muscle energy, or pain tolerance. Even injuries that occur because of accidents can sometimes be traced to lack of mindfulness, tiredness or being distracted.

The mindfulness that we teach in yoga has the potential to make us aware of the cues that warn us of pain and disease. Stressors that make themselves known to us by pain, digestive discomforts, or an inability to relax the mind are all blinking warning signs that our life is unbalanced – that our body is undergoing abnormal stress and needs to be brought back into homeostasis. Yoga teaches us to listen to the first and usually smaller clues about unease in our bodies. This is the time when the problem can be solved with exercise, eating well, relaxation, positive mental processing and striving to be on our life’s path. Though medication and surgery can’t always be avoided, these forms of treatment – with their side effects and complications –should be considered “Plan B,” if lifestyle changes aren’t enough of a solution. Treatments that spring from lifestyle changes should be regarded as the “first line of defense.”

Consulting with our healthcare providers

Asking for help is very individual. We all have our different comfort levels about when we need to get some help. This can be determined by finances. So often, self-care can seem more expensive than going to the doctor, which is covered by the healthcare insurance that we either work for or pay for. Sometimes, for those who are struggling financially, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins are too expensive. Alternative healthcare providers are definitely more expensive than conventional doctors, which is especially unappealing if you are also paying for health care insurance that doesn’t cover them.

So when we do go to our healthcare provider, one way to make sure that we are part of the process is to take some time to be informed about how we feel and what we want.

Here is my strategy:

1. Get medical treatment if I am in acute pain. The allopathic medical community (that is, the community of conventional doctors and pharmacists) is really good at helping in emergency situations!

2. Do the best that I can with my own lifestyle choices in eating well, digestion, exercise and reducing stress. Then I let go of judgment. Our bodies are vulnerable and not made to last forever. I get help if something doesn’t feel right and what I have been trying is NOT making it better.

3. Prepare myself for “consultation” with my healthcare provider. This can consist of sitting quietly, so that my intuition and calmness are available to me during an appointment. I will often do research from multiple sources so that I can contribute to the conversation. If the professional that I am talking to is impatient with me, I know that this is not a person that I want to work with.

4. Ask my healthcare professional why they think that the condition is present in my body.

5. Ask if the doctor knows of any lifestyle changes that can help my condition. I have found that if they know that I am interested in something other than a quick fix of pharmaceutical medication, they will present alternatives.

6. Ask about side effects of any procedures or medications that are recommended.

7. Let myself think about how I want to proceed. If it is a big decision, then maybe I will get a second option or do more research.

I know that the most important aspect of healing is belief. Believing that the pill or herb or therapy is going to heal you is a large part of its effectiveness. This so-called “placebo effect” has been documented in countless studies. I also know that feeling empowered to be at least a part of our own healing process, and not a victim in the process of healing, is part of recovery and the road to health. Do you have any other thoughts on working with healthcare professionals?