One of the most basic ways that naturopathic doctors support healing in their patients is by helping them to cultivate greater vitality. We call it “the vital force” or “the healing power of nature” in keeping with the roots of our medical tradition. In Chinese medicine, we call it “chi” or “qi”, and in Ayurvedic medicine and the yogic tradition, it’s referred to as “prana”. Deficiency of vitality, or qi, or prana, leads first to mild symptoms that we might not even notice and are easy to ignore, and if it continues, then it leads to chronic illness. Think of it like the gas tank on your car (as much as I hate to compare the vital force to fossil fuel!)–when the tank has enough fuel in it, the engine works, when it gets low, the engine sputters, and when it’s empty, the engine doesn’t want to go anymore.
Some of these terms have found their way into Western culture and are now somewhat familiar, although how the concept can be used to help us be healthier and have a higher quality of life has not really come home to us in Western culture yet. We get pieces of it: “eat right”, “exercise” . . . . But as compared to some other cultures, we don’t have any widespread practices that daily support our vitality. For example, in both Germany and Russia, hydrotherapy (predominantly in the form of cold water applications) is used to stimulate vitality–this practice is woven into the fabric of their cultures. Perhaps the absence of such practices is one of the reasons behind the poor overall state of health in the US.
I feel like the main reason US culture doesn’t carry such practices is that we are, generally speaking, cut off from how we are feeling in our bodies. Of course, when we are ill, we may be in touch with a feeling that our vitality is low. There may also be days when our energy is particularly high and everything is going well that we may be in touch with a feeling that our vitality is high. But what about all the spaces in between?
There are lots of ways that we can support our vitality–eating good quality food, breathing fresh air, soaking up sunshine, hydrotherapy, meditation, movement, just to name a few. But how do we know that these things are helping us? The first step is to learn to place attention throughout each day on how we are feeling through our entire being–body, mind and spirit. We might ask: “what am I feeling that might be getting in the way of my complete enjoyment of my life, of doing all the things that I want to do?” With that, or similar, questions, we might then notice the level of our vitality each day–the felt-sense of our vitality–and as we use various types of self-care practices to stimulate our vital force, we can gauge how our vitality is increasing.