Living a healthy life

17 April 2021

Our CEO Ewan Aitken writes for our blog on the importance of taking a holistic view to health and wellbeing

The pandemic has not afforded me much chance to do new things as many have done but the one thing I have achieved is attending regular online Pilates class. It’s now a wee oasis in my week to lie on a mat and have someone tell me to do the tiniest of movement which then seem to hurt like hell despite their simplicity. But I do feel good afterward and I can feel the tension of being too long at the screen and not enough movement begin to disappear. I was explaining this to a friend (on zoom of course!) and said I feel healthier but somehow it didn’t seem quite true.

I realised I was confusing health and fitness – of course they are entirely connected but they aren’t necessarily the same thing or probably more accurately, there is more to being healthy than fitness levels. What do we mean by “living a healthy life”. It is not just how fit our bodies are, it is our minds and, in the broadest sense of the word (i.e. not simply in the religious sense) our souls. It’s the combination of all three and the synergies this creates by the choices it opens to us which will give a true indication of how healthy we are

When I was a teenager I was very fit; playing rugby, volleyball and athletics on a regular basis. But I now realise my mental and emotional states were not just undeveloped but struggling, probably damaged because of some things I had experienced earlier in life. Which meant I might have been the 1979 Fife Schools under 17 800m champion, but overall, I wasn’t actually very healthy in the fullest sense of the word.

I became vegetarian in 1980 and started working in youth work in Glasgow. I was eating well and had a greater sense of purpose which meant I was emotionally much happier. But I was doing very little sport and so quite quickly became unfit. My mind was healthier but my body was less so.

Covid might mean more people are cycling and walking. I have lost over stone in weight and was able to do election leafleting last week, up and down stairs without breaking sweat. But I, like so many others, have found the loss of regular connection with colleagues, friends and family difficult and the constant low-level anxiety about becoming infected exhausting. I am fitter again but wouldn’t say I am living the healthy life I would like. My body is in better shape but I have more to do on my mind and spirit yet. It’s the balance of all three, body, mind and spirit, giving time for all three, letting all three become the “sum of the parts” which brings the fullest sense of a healthy life.

At Cyrenians we take a holistic view to our work. We seek to see not just the “presenting issue” but the person with whom we will journey for a while, whatever the reason they came to us in the first place. If we simply focus on “fixing the problem” we fail the person. If we get beside the person and help them discover in themselves the courage and capacity to change and flourish, the chances of them being more able to make healthy choices for themselves and those around them are far greater. If Covid has taught us anything we need also to “get beside” ourselves too and see our health holistically – we may never run the 800 meters in record time again but nurturing our bodies, minds and spirt well will mean coming out of this tough year healthier which wouldn’t be a bad legacy from a tough year.

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