Guys are supposed to be "tough." We've been taught since we were kids to "hang in there" and gloss over pain. But how many of us actually feel good? Doctors describe "health" as absence from pain. The author, a family practice physician for 15 years, found in his own life that this was not enough. He was a chronic sufferer from sinusitis, which, like arthritis, high blood pressure and heart disease, is "incurable." One learns to live with it. The author cured himself by concentrating on the whole body/mind and my making major changes in his life. The book he wrote about this approach, Sinus Survival, became a best-seller. Similarly, the co-author, cured himself from epilepsy. One of the things that makes this book so powerful is that it grows out of these authors' own experiences--they "walk the walk" and are much healthier now than they have ever been.
What is health? It's more than just absence of disease and pain. Your physical exam showed no problems, but you still feel lousy and have no energy. The scoring chart for the book's "Thriving self-test" says it all. The categories are:
- I'm Hangin' in here,
- I'm getting by,
- I'm not sick,
- I'm OK,
- I feel great, and Thriving.
The book gets into many of the same points as does Jed Diamond in his book Male Menopause. As we "Baby Boomers" move through middle-age and male menopause, we often feel that here is something missing in our lives. This was true for Dr. Ivker, as well. He knew that we spend more on health care per capita than any other nation, yet American men rank only 15th in longevity. "... statistics show that American men have experienced--much more than American women--a steady decline in both physical and emotional health." Life expectancy is seven years shorter, 80% of all suicides are men, the death rate for prostate cancer has grown almost twice as fast as from breast cancer, in 1993 over 100,000 men contracted lung disease and 80% are expected to die (50,000 men died in Viet Nam), 80% of serious drug addicts are men, men are three times as likely to be alcoholics and seven times as likely to be arrested for drunk driving, and men are 25 times as likely to end up in prison. But that's "those guys," not "us." What happened to Dr. Ivker when he reached 40 was that he realized he had a thriving practice and all the accouterments of "success," but that he was emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. He knew he couldn't keep running on the same treadmill. He had all the symptoms of midlife crisis, which he had seen in hundreds of his male patients. For some reason, he observes, men in their late thirties and forties run up against an invisible wall that makes them question many of their lifelong assumptions. So he gave up his practice and set out to find out what optimal health was. Step one, as I mentioned, was to cure his own chronic sinusitis. "I as about to reinvent myself as a physician and a man. I was going to revisit Hippocrates' command to all doctors: 'Physician, heal thyself.' But this time I would take it to heart." So, in this sense Dr. Ivker's wise advice to all men, in this book, comes from his personal experience and from his heart.
The authors point out that there is a big difference between what your doctor calls "healthy" and the way you can and should be feeling. Optimal, or holistic, health is a state of well-being that encompasses body, mind and spirit. The body involves physical and environmental health. Mental and emotional health relate to the mind, and spiritual and social health relate to the spirit. These can overlap and strongly effect one another. The best way to describe optimal health is one word: thriving. Learning to thrive will make you feel better and function with more energy and clarity than you ever knew before. But there are no shortcuts, pills or magic potions. It requires a commitment to change, a willingness to explore both physical and emotional pain, a desire to connect with the power that comes from working through these reactions, ad an openness to the harmony with which you let your life unfold in dynamic, new directions.
This paradigm (commitment, pain, power and harmony in the areas of physical, environmental, mental, emotional, spiritual and social health) governs the structure of the book. This is readily apparent in the "Thriving self-test" I mentioned before. The authors invite you to take this test, put the book's precepts into practice, and then re-take the self-test in two to three months. The authors guarantee that you will feel much better and you will be well on your way to thriving.
Part One of the book outlines the program to get you there. It concentrates as much on as it does on physical remedies like diet and drinking lots of water. It lays out a systematic method for developing a greater awareness of the body, mind and spirit. The authors tell you that you will not only learn to see yourself and your world differently, you will quickly see positive changes in the way you feel. Your mind will be calmer and more creative. You will become more in touch with your spirit and feel more alive than ever before. But if you are resistant to letting go of your current habits, beliefs and limited understanding of life's potential, then this book is not for you. As the authors found out in their own lives, thriving requires a willigness to change.
Part Two discusses the holistic medical treatment for the most common chronic diseases that afflict men. Each section is brief, very well laid-out, and easy to grasp. For each condition they describe the traditional medical treatment, risk factors and causes, and holistic treatments. These are not limited to herbs and acupuncture. The "treatment" is just as likely to include meditation or relaxation techniques, body work, counseling to deal with stress factors, or the importance of loving family relationships.
This book has two major advantages over many "holistic health" books. First, it is free from the New Age jargon of which many men are skeptical. There is nothing about crystals or herbal immersion baths in here. Second, it does not plug any one particular herb, remedy, or approach. Rather, it presents in crisp, practical and easily-understood terms many of the basic concepts. For example, there is a discussion of ki or chi, the vital life-force energy we've heard so much about. The book points out that Western medicine doesn't even recognize the existence of this vital life-energy, and Western religions only vaguely define it as "spirit." How do the authors approach the topic? First, they describe the "peak experience" that so many men can relate to through sports--either their own experiences or seeing a captivating moment on TV where the athlete was "in the zone," like Bill Mazuroski's bottom-of-the-ninth homer in the 1960 World Series. They then remind us that the word "play" comes from the Dutch pleien, or "to dance, leap for joy and rejoice." They then recite the Wordsworth poem
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
So it was when my life began;
So it is now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old
The Child is father of the man.
So what is a holistic approach? Dr. Ivker is quick to point out that it is not "alternative" medicine, since it works with conventional medical approaches. In his words, "In addition to focusing on treating symptoms as conventional medicine does, holistic medicine addresses the underlying physical, mental and spiritual causes of disease." He believes the term "complimentary medicine" is much more accurate.
And he presents good scientific evidence that it works. The purest form of "life energy," he points out, is love. Dr. Bernard Siegel says the same thing, of course, in Love, Medicine and Miracles. The key, he thinks, is the research that, in the 1980s, provided a revolutionary understanding of the immune system and generated a whole new area of study called psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI. "Messenger molecules" called neuropeptides carry the messages of thoughts, beliefs and attitudes through the blood and to every cell in our body.These can originate, not only in the brain, but from any organ in the body. Self-rejection and loss, then, can result in a variety of chronic diseases. Feelings of exhilaration and joy can produce measurable amounts of neuropeptides identical to interleuken-2, a powerful anticancer drug that costs $40,000 per injection. Feelings of peace and tranquility have been shown to produce a chemical nearly identical to Valium.
This is one book I can heartily recommend. It seems to make a lot of sense.