My idea of what health is can be summed up by the Australian Aboriginal people’s beautifully defined belief that health goes beyond just the physical well-being of the individual to the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural well-being of the whole community.
Modern definitions of health speak of prevention of disease or illness. Some others including more holistic practitioners will refer to physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. A few cultures would include the spiritual dimension. The idea of the well-being of the community being intrinsic to an individual’s health is not a popular idea. Coming from a relatively more collectivist culture, I see health as a function of my community (be that my extended family, neighbours, relatives), but I also see the community as a determinant of health. Personally, I am healthier when I live in a larger community of people than when I’m by myself or just with my husband. The social aspect then, is a sizeable contributor to my health. This includes factors like cooking and eating together, sharing or exchanging meals with neighbours, the conversation and bonding over a dinner table, the comfort of mom’s cooking, and the security of feeling like you’re a part of a bigger whole. This also extends to illness, where being unwell results in being looked after by family & friends, where more often than not your grandmother will have a passed-down-through-the-generations herbal concoction as an answer to your condition, and where once again, the feeling of security comes from the safety in numbers and the knowledge that almost anything you need is a phone call away You’re never really alone.
It follows naturally then that the health of my relationships is vitally important. The ability to have strong, loving relationships with open communication is incredibly important, as is the time to nurture them. If I had to choose, I would pick an emotionally wrought confrontation over peace-keeping suppression of resentments.
Work has been another crucial element of health. Being engaged in work that inspires, challenges and evokes passion does a great deal more for my immunity and sense of well-being than most extraneous factors. I know this simply from having experienced both sides. As an actress, I’ve worked hours and in conditions that were stressful and far from ‘healthy’. Sleep depriving shoot schedules, erratic eating hours, unhealthy set food, exposure to extreme weather and frequent travel should have been a surefire recipe for illness and it sometimes is. However, the period marking my move to a new country where I couldn’t work for almost a year and a half, saw the beginning of ill-health. During this time, my immunity was non-existent, and although some of it can be attributed to the move, I’d also lived in enough new places to know that lack of engagement with something I loved doing and the corresponding sense of fulfillment, was the prime reason. It couldn’t have been clearer than when most of my health problems disappeared just as I started at ITP.
As a result of my profession, my view of health is intertwined with physical fitness. Diet and exercise have a sizeable role to play here and there are direct correlations for me between lack of fitness, fatigue and mild depression. If there’s one thing I would choose to work on, it would be my attitude to exercise. I have never been able to make exercising a part of who I am, having seen it mainly as a weight loss tool. I enjoy weight training and am bored by cardio, though of late have found interval training to be interest sustaining and challenging. I would love to be able to do Yoga regularly, and athough I do different classes from Pilates to Zumba to Salsa, I’ve yet to develop an attitude where I exercise for its own sake.
To the list, I would add Spirituality (the ability to believe in something larger than yourself whatever that may be, but this is personal) and Purpose. The latter is more along the lines of Dan Dennett’s definition that the secret of happiness is to find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it. It involves a sense of contribution and connection.
I believe in Growth, the ability and the importance of pushing beyond our boundaries, of identifying and confronting our fears, to prevent complacency and to actively seek out opportunities to grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
I’ve started reflecting a lot on friendships. The quality of friendships have been shown to have a profound impact on health, weight and behaviour.
Visualizing stress levels-both yours and your partner’s
Funnily enough, I’ve been working on this concept (without knowing it was called exformation) in one of my classes called Product Poetry. In that class, the attempt is to create a device that would allow couples to tune in to each other’s emotional and mental lives in a more meaningful way. One of the ways my partner and I chose to work this concept was to design a device (in the form of a watch/bracelet/other such wearable that is in contact with the body) that measures a person’s rate of breathing and visualize that back for that person and also on their partner’s device. One of the main factors in stress reduction is that we are rarely aware when our breathing is off-kilter and the ability to have that visualized could evoke that awareness. The next step would be for your partner (who is not in the same physical location) to be able to ‘see’ your increased breath rate/ stress and affect it by breathing slowly himself. This would change the visualization of his breathing on your device and allow you to calm down through the act of syncing your breath rate with his.
This is a loose conceptual video of the idea that we made for the Product Poetry class to show the concept:
2. An extension of that idea is related to Rapport. Connect with another person, especially a stranger or someone you haven’t known very long calls for rapport which is unconsciously created when two people are in sync. For eg, when two people are in sync, one person will tend to unconsciously mirror the other’s subtler actions, like folding their hands when the other person does, play with their hair etc.
Mirroring can also help facilitate that rapport. Something as small as being aware of your pace of speech or tone vis a vis the person your talking to can help in modulating this behaviour. For, eg, I’ve noticed that I talk faster than a lot of people and when I’m talking to someone who speaks slowly and softly, we’re not connecting as well. Changing my pace and tone to match theirs has had a positive effect. So in this regard, having a device that could visualize certain factors like pace, tone, breath rate, of both people could be very interesting. Apart from feedback in that immediate moment, there would be some useful information to be gleaned about the emotional tenor of our conversations and even our relationships. What if a couple’s conversations/discussions/fights etc could be visualized on a larger projection and could be seen over time? In a study, Dr John Gottman developed a model to predict which newlywed couples will remain married and which will divorce four to six years later. His models employed Paul Eckman’s method of analyzing human emotion and microexpressions. He argued that an excess of sentiments such as disgust, contempt etc that came through the voice and expression were corrosive & boded badly for the relationship of the couple under observation, while outbursts of anger without these nuances were still healthy. In that regard, being able to see the interplay of emotions between you and your partner, or any other relationship could create the necessary awareness needed to change and improve the health of the relationship.
I realized from last week’s project that I needed to get my idea to be even simpler. I went from trying to get my mother to take Omega 3’s and walk and meditate, to get a few friends just tracking their exercise. I added myself to this as it’s something I’ve been tracking the last few weeks. At first I just started with 1 friend. I didn’t mention that this was for class, but instead it just became something that we decided to do together to motivate each other. In the beginning, it was much more complex. I made a spreadsheet where we were supposed to write whether we had exercised that day, what we had eaten, how many glasses of water we drank. The motivation was high for her, mainly because she was ready to make the change, but also because I was part of it too. I thought the ability was low; she checked her emails everyday and Google spreadsheets was only a click away. Or so I thought. After a few days, she was not tracking as regularly, even as I gave her sms triggers. When I asked her why, she said that although it probably didn’t take that long to fill it out, it still felt like a lot of work. She was right. I remembered from my own experiences the number of times I’ve got on to livestrong/daily plate and other food tracking services only to stop because it was so cumbersome to keep entering everything I ate, no matter how much they tried to keep simplifying it.
I’ve now changed it to just exercise tracking. I also added 3 more friends to it. Although the sms trigger seems to work well, I’m counting on people to be on their computers or have google spreadsheet access on their mobiles when I send that trigger. I feel that this is still not as low ability as it can be.
I also realize that I need some positive reinforcements. I feel like the spreadsheet system where people can see others’ entry acts as a positive and negative reinforcement automatically (for eg, realizing that others are tracking regularly while im not, or even that others are exercising regularly and I’m only doing so sporadically has been very powerful)
Context : Have been trying to get my mother to take Omega3 supplements and exercise regularly. She has high BP, and previous attempts to evoke family history, use threats, emotional blackmail etc have been futile.
Lessons learned : Specifics are important. Asking her “to please exercise” was too vague. Also asking her to join Yoga didnt work because her ability was low. It involved too many steps: Research yoga classes, make appointment, reschedule work, drive there.
To make exercise high in ability for her, I specified : 30 mins of walking a day
There is credence to the fact that self-experimentation can lead valuable information about the field that you find yourself in, esp one that relies on always analyzing others. It’s interesting that behavioural psychologists at the end of the day, turn out to be as fallible as anyone else, given that their work aims to bring into awareness and thus facilitate behaviour change.
Actors are all about self-experimentation. For many, the instinct to observe, not just others but also themselves leads to many a fascinating discovery about human nature. My acting teacher was well known for his LSD ‘trips’. Many actors who used claimed that it made them better actors.
The issues that he brings up with regard to why self experimentation is complicated seem to be losing ground in this age. Time and social norms may still hold true and self quantification might still have a way to go before it moves from early adopters to the mainstream, but the idea of tracking yourself and sharing it has already made headway with platforms like Foursqaure and status updates that urge you to think about and share how you ‘feel’.
My only question is whether the insights gleaned through self-experimentation are always for the better or if it could take us towards increased paranoia and competition. Like everything, moderation is the predictable answer here, but we humans are rarely interested in the grey. 23 & Me can be a great guide and aid or it can be a cause of fear and constant anxiety. I wonder if in the future, self measurement statistics will become a normal component of a Match.com profile, a health insurance prerequisite and a job determinant.