We were made for times like these

I have been asked to do a video of this blog – if you’d like to view the video please click on this link.

Humans have been on this earth for over 200 000 years. It’s an undisputed fact. In those 200 000 years we have faced countless plagues, outbreaks, epidemics and viruses. By the very virtue of the fact that we are alive today, we know that our ancestors were the survivors. Our very own ancestors are the ones who survived long enough to have offspring, who had offspring, who had us. One thing I know and believe absolutely (and it’s what I teach too) is that our bodies are designed to self-heal and repair when we are in good health.

Good health isn’t always easy to achieve. We are affected enormously by environmental stressors, toxins in our environment, previous trauma experienced by us (and even by our parents and grandparents – it is the incredible work of epigenetics that allows us to understand this), as well as by what we eat, how we exercise (or don’t), and how we manage our stress and our mind, which is so powerful, but can sometimes run away with us on a train ride of fears and fantasies. These are just some of the factors that influence us “being in good health”. Being in good health has been shown not to be how much we clean and sterilise our home and bodies. In fact, in September 2016, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) banned companies from making and marketing anti-bacterial soaps because these so negatively affect our “good bacteria” which form an integral part of our immune system, gut microbe, hormones, and our immune resistance – part of this is because we are seeing the alarming development of multi drug resistant bacteria. This two minute video explains it well. Handwashing with normal soap and water has been shown to be just as effective, and without the detrimental effect on our body.

Which brings me to this incredible level of sanitisation we are seeing all around us. We are spraying our hands with alcohol based sanitisers many times a day. Shops, offices and public spaces are being sterilised every night. I went to Sandton City in Jo’burg for the first time on Monday in search of some birthday presents for our daughter’s birthday this week. I went into 4 different shops and was asked to sanitise my hands 8 times in that hour of shopping.  Again, there are many articles and studies on Pubmed, the medical research library, like this one, questioning the long term safety of this for our bodies and particularly the safety of it for pregnant women and children (like this one mentions).

But that is not what we will be discussing today. As a physiotherapist I am fully aware of how “crutches” are so helpful in a time of need, to allow us to get through it and to heal. There are times we need crutches and braces to support us and our bodies, and this time is a time like this, when rigorous hand and surface cleaning supports us. But all physiotherapists are also aware of the long-term downside of crutches and braces. They allow us to become dependent on them, to think that our bodies cannot cope without them, to be fearful if we don’t have them. This is why, as physios, our goal is to limit the time our patients spend on crutches, or in a brace, to as little time as possible. We want them to use the crutches or brace for long enough to allow time for healing (the rest they provide is very important), but we also want people to have faith in their own bodies, and to get their bodies back to full strength as soon as possible too. There is an important window for this, and if we use the brace or crutch for too long, our muscles will waste and we will struggle with long term muscular atrophy and weakness, as well as loss of confidence and fear – long term issues patients must face.

And it is the same for us at this time. Our hand sanitisers, and masks, and social distancing, are “crutches” to help us get through this time. To slow the spread of this virus. To allow our hospitals to prepare. To help protect our vulnerable people and communities. But they should not be used long term. Our greatest risk is that we become dependent on them and our own immune systems become weakened. We will be fearful if we don’t have them. We will think that our bodies can’t cope without them. Even now we think back to times of gathering and shudder. 500 snotty children in a school hall in the middle of winter, all coughing and sneezing and infecting each other. Yet they survived. Trips in taxis, buses, on public transport, and in crowded lifts all feel unimaginable. My children’s obsession with touching everything – handrails, escalator handrails, other people’s hands and faces, buttons on lifts. I always cautioned them to avoid touching everything and to wash their hands, but now the thought makes even me (someone with huge confidence in the health, and strength of my own, and their bodies) cringe. I can almost feel my heart racing at the thought. In just 2 months, my perception of “what is safe” has changed enormously and I feel far more vulnerable. I walk around shops with my heart pounding, looking over my shoulder, not standing too close. Feeling fear.

But is this right? I’m like the hundreds of patients I have helped to wean off crutches after their knee operations – fearful of the first steps, not trusting the strength of their knee, scared of the pain. But within a day or two of practicing and seeing that their body is strong and resilient, they have a new found confidence and independence, and they no longer need their crutches to the same extent. Eventually, one day, they will put them down and charge forward without them. And so it should be with us. One day, and I hope it is soon, we can slowly start to put down these “crutches” and have faith that our bodies are designed to face viruses and flu. There may be some of us who need these crutches for longer. There’s no disputing that. People who are immune compromised. Have chronic lung disease. Diabetics. People with serious heart conditions. The elderly. The CDC discusses who is at higher risk here 

There is no doubt that these people may need to use their crutches for longer and may need to be “protected” and isolated more. But I also wonder why we are not doing more to support these people so that this time next year they, and all off us, will find ourselves in better health than we are today? Many of these conditions are lifestyle diseases or could be improved by making lifestyle changes. This is the ideal time for our governments and our doctors to be educating us on this. I’m imagining TV programmes on SABC 1, 2 and 3, as well as many other channels, educating us on healthy eating and home cooking. Our vulnerable populations are very dependent on low nutrition, high carbohydrate food. Why is there not more education on what fruits and vegetables help us to thrive? Those high in vitamin C, zinc, and other vitamins and minerals. What are our cheaper, most accessible options? And how do we cook them at home? So that they’re tasty and delicious and we enjoy eating them. We’ve done an online cooking course with our kids during this lockdown, and suddenly I find our children far more keen to eat the soups and stews because they’ve helped cut the vegetables and prepare the food. It’s been interesting and exciting to see.

And what about exercise classes? Again, we’ve done a fabulous half hour session “PE with Joe” every day. We do it “live”, online on YouTube at 10am. It’s been fun and good for us. And he’s thrown in quizzes so we also learn interesting facts every day. But YouTube isn’t accessible to a lot of our population, so what about having classes like this on our mainstream TV? To get kids and parents exercising? And what about Breathwork classes? I’m a breathwork coach. I teach people specific breaths and breathwork tools to help manage stress, boost immunity, build lung capacity and so much more. The importance of nose breathing is highlighted more than ever at this time. Our nose is our natural filter. It’s got a mucous membrane, fine hairs and warmth that help to filter dust, germs and other “nasties”, and to stop these entering our bodies and lungs. So, our best defense against catching anything is to nose breathe. Now and going forward. This is a crucial time to be learning these skills so that our children, when they’re back at school, don’t sit in classrooms with their mouths open “catching flies” and allowing the germs of their friend coughing next to them into their body through their open mouths, which has no filter. The Buteyko method is an incredible breathwork tool that helps to build lung capacity and encourages nose breathing. This is enormously helpful for people struggling with asthma and other chronic lung diseases, children with concentration issues (breath and concentration are profoundly linked), for athletes who want to take their performance to the next level, for insomniacs and for the general population. I have always been a heavy “mouth breather” and our children default to it often too. And as I’ve studied breathing and breathwork I’ve realised the very negative effects of this and have sought to correct it. This lockdown we have also been doing the free online course for children offered by the Buteyko Clinic at this link. Again this is something that could so easily be taught and offered on our main stream media. One of my breathwork teachers is Dr Ela Manga of Breathwork Africa. Breathwork Africa run amazing courses for adults, children, teachers and the general community on breathwork and breathing. Yesterday Dr Ela wrote this insightful article on wearing masks – addressing our concerns, possible symptoms, oxygen flow while wearing a mask and more. It’s worth reading to answer questions you may have, as we are all required to wear a mask at this time.

So along with healthy eating, exercise, proper and effective breathing techniques, mindfulness and mediation practices have also been shown in multiple research studies to boost immune system, relieve stress and to help us to cope. Laughter, connection, prayer, walking outside, fresh air, dance breaks, gratitude and love have also all been shown to do the same. (I have references for each of these but too many to reference here – please contact me if you’d like to know more). We are actually herd mammals, tribal people – something that has never been more evident than it is now, as we struggle with our disconnection from each other (the tribe) and the lack of other’s physical presence in our lives, the lack of physical closeness and touch. Especially for those who are isolating on their own. It has been an enormously difficult and stressful time. So, we realise the value of physical touch in decreasing our stress and in boosting our immune systems. All these activities are things we can adopt into our daily lives, and habits to help us to cope both now and going forward. So that this time next year we can all be happier and healthier.

Yet these are not the messages we are getting from our mainstream media, are they? We are being told to stay home, stay away, be fearful, feel vulnerable, that our only hope of surviving this is with a vaccine. Our bodies aren’t strong enough. We aren’t well enough. We must all be protected and saved. In fact, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a press conference recently that “a vaccine may be the only tool that can return the world to a sense of ‘normalcy’”. What about the other countless viruses that the world and our ancestors have seen? And what about the countless viruses that we will still see? Covid-19 is not the last. There will be many more to come. Will our solution to all to be a global retreat and lockdown? A vaccine? Is this sustainable? And why are these the messages we’re getting? Why not the messages empowering us to create healthier habits and bodies, and lives in which we can thrive? What about hearing the stories of many thousands of people who have healed from chronic lifestyle diseases, and even cancers, by changing their diet, exercise, habits and thoughts? The Radical Remission Project has many hundreds of stories, written by people who have overcome their diagnosis and thrived. It’s an incredible and powerful resource, and I encourage you to have a look at it for hope, encouragement, insight and tools.

So, why, and from whom, are we getting these messages? Is there another agenda? Are there in fact, sectors and people who benefit from keeping us sick, vulnerable, fearful, dependent? Every part of me prays this is not the case. I see the good in people and in the world. I focus on the light and how I can help. But this time has had me questioning and searching for answers and I encourage you to do the same. History is filled with terrible events because people didn’t question their leaders, and instead followed them blindly, and despite their own better judgment, into wars based on events and “facts” which were later disproved – into reporting neighbours, turning on each other, sacrificing lives for the agenda and benefit of their leaders, and little else. Germany in pre-World War II is a glaring example of this. Iraq. Vietnam. The list goes on. We didn’t have the full story.

Not for one moment am I suggesting that the measures that we have in place of social distancing, masks, and sanitisers, are not needed at this time. They very much are, and they are our crutches to help us navigate THROUGH this time and not to get stuck IN it. Our President was wise and brave in initiating a lockdown when he did. He bought us time to prepare, assess, slow the spread. That has proved to have been effective and helpful. But we cannot get stuck in fear and stay on our crutches forever. Our bodies are built for times like these. We are built to thrive.

The views in this email are entirely my own and do not represent the views of any professional body I am a member of.

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