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Breaking the cycle is a phrase used to describe personal challenges and journeys of various sorts. It is the goal of people across a range of pursuits. This includes natural health practitioners, who seek to break limiting cycles that inhibit our health and vitality.
You may have heard others talk about “breaking cycles” before. A common use is in addiction counseling, describing the prospect of triumph over a physical or psychological dependency. This use is actually quite close to how HumanaNatura uses the phrase, which we do within a general health practice called natural living. What is different is that, in natural living, we attempt to break not a single cycle or instance of addiction, but a series of personal and cultural limitations – in an ongoing, life-long, and individualized movement toward our full potential for health.
Another common use of the phrase, breaking the cycle, is within eastern religious traditions, where it refers to a mystical experience, our release from the circular bondage of karma. The word karma describes the cycle of action in the world, and breaking this cycle – to achieve awareness apart from the world of action – is the focus of many eastern traditions. In the practice of natural living, natural health practitioners don’t use the phrase to describe a mystical experience, though we often refer transcendental ones, so there is again similarity. If this seems confusing or contradictory, I’ll explain.
For HumanaNatura and natural health practitioners, breaking cycles is the process of our transitioning from unhealthy but familiar and persistent habits to new, more natural, and beneficial physiological patterns, through practical changes in our daily lives. But because this pursuit of new health almost always involves basic personal issues and choices, what might start as a practical endeavor often transcends to a spiritual one. Health-promoting changes, in single instances or as they compound over time, work to alter our values, perspective, and even identity as people. I’ll come back to this aspect of cycle breaking a little later.
To shed light on the cycle-breaking of natural health practitioners, engaged in natural living, let’s explore one very practical and then some more transcendental ways in which you can break limiting cycles through your own pursuit of natural health. Our goal in this exploration is to give you ideas you can use right away to see and then live beyond persistent, limiting cycles in your life, now and over time.
The Original Cycle
For HumanaNatura, our original use of the phrase, breaking the cycle, was in the context of restoring our diet to a more natural one. Here, breaking the cycle refers to gaining freedom from harmful, but pleasurable and therefore self-perpetuating cycles of unnatural food consumption, especially from carbohydrate-rich junk foods that have become an all too prevalent part of our modern diets.
Carbohydrate-rich diets of course have dominated in society for many centuries, since the advent of agriculture at the dawn of civilization. In recent decades, however, this trend has accelerated with the industrialization of our food supply and as we have become wealthier and as eating has become progressively viewed as a source of entertainment. Whether we would prefer it or not, attacking carbohydrate-rich diets and eating as entertainment are the humble starting points from where most of us begin our journey to higher and more natural states of health. It is unfortunately also where some of us end our quest for health too, so strong are the pressures and pleasures of our time.
Strange as this may sound, we learn early on in our exploration of our natural health that carbohydrate-rich foods actually make us hungry. This increased hunger usually takes a few hours to occur and, since people often spend their lives eating frequent meals of carbohydrate-rich foods, the connection is usually not made between their frequent eating, their frequently returning and pressing hunger, and the foods they eat.
As a consequence, many of us spend our days and lives cycling between meals, alternately consuming excesses of carbohydrates in our meals, whether large and small ones, and later experiencing urgent food cravings for still more carbohydrates. Since these foods are sweet and pleasurable to eat, we generally take this eating cycle as natural and inevitable, as the way people normally are, when the opposite is actually true. After all, carbohydrate-rich food is only a small part of a natural human diet, exclusively in the form of fruit, and people in nature often ate far less frequently than today.
In our physiology, this health-limiting and self-perpetuating carbohydrate cycle is rooted in an imbalance in our blood sugar. As you may know already, the rapid infusion of sugars that comes from eating carbohydrate-rich meals causes our bodies to respond with high amounts of the chemical insulin to process this sugar. Rapidly heightened insulin levels, in turn, depress our natural blood sugars. Lowered blood sugars make us then feel sluggish or restless, and trigger cravings for more sugars – we feel hungry again. And so we cycle and cycle each day.
If the only effect of our carbohydrate cycle was increased food consumption, of frequent and comfortable eating, it might not be cause for alarm. It would be a small deception, we would be only slightly diminished through this dependency, and probably it would be an untroubling boon for food producers and advertising executives. Unfortunately, the carbohydrate cycle has many negative and far-reaching implications for our health and well-being. Only the most obvious examples are the widespread obesity and other direct effects of chronic insulin overproduction we see in the world today.
In fact, the carbohydrate-rich food cycle distorts our natural human biochemistry and significantly reduces our health below natural levels. It creates multiple, cascading chemical reactions in our bodies that promote the familiar diseases of modernity – diabetes, circulatory impairment, and cancers –reducing the quality and length of our lives. The carbohydrate cycle also perpetuates a chronic sense of psychological dependence in our daily lives that is equally unnatural and unhealthy. Many of us spend our days pre-occupied with our need for food and the logistics of frequent eating – to the point of distracting us from needed longer-term focus on important issues in our lives, and even diminishing our natural sense of human freedom and autonomy.
Our heath and even our experience of daily life are very different on a natural diet, one free of unnatural and disproportionate amounts of carbohydrate foods and in harmony with the way human eating once occurred in wild nature, before settled, civilized, and now industrial life. With a natural diet, we rarely if ever experience urgent food cravings, and are far more apt to eat out of need than want. On a natural diet, we do not cycle from meal to meal, and find that high levels of energy and attention are easy to maintain between our meals. We normally eat less frequently and particularly at times of our choosing, rather than as a reaction to feelings of hunger or physical discomfort.
On a natural diet, we even eat less food overall and can go long periods of time without eating, if need be, without compromising our sense of physical or psychological composure. We enjoy feelings of emotional balance and mental clarity throughout the day, literally creating a natural high for ourselves. As a result, we feel freer and more natural and grounded as people – less in need of food urgently or as recreation, and more in control of our bodies, priorities, and lives.
Through this change in the way we eat, we break a cycle and create a pattern of eating that directly promotes our health and well-being. In doing this, and seeing the many benefits that come from this change, we then begin to see more around us that is just as limiting, unnatural, persistent, and cyclical as our earlier approach to food.
Breaking Other Cycles
The often transformational changes in our health and experience of life, which can come from the simple transition to a natural diet, are often unexpected and a source of learning and inspiration for us. With clear impacts from simple dietary changes comes a dawning personal realization that other aspects of our lives may be equally unhealthy, habitual and cyclical, and limiting to us. We may also realize that many limiting dimensions of our lives are ones we can change though new priorities and personal choices.
In this growing awareness of familiar but limiting cycles in our lives, practical consideration of our requirements for health transcends to create new feelings and invoke the spirituality of our natural well-being, as I suggested before. What appears quite simple – eating naturally – becomes a larger and instructive process, rich with possibilities for us. From our breaking of comforting but unnatural food cycles, our new diet and way of eating become a catalyst and metaphor, encouraging and allowing us to pursue and overcome other cycles of limiting beliefs and behavior in our lives.
As I mentioned earlier, HumanaNatura refers to this breaking of unhealthy and often unconscious cycles in our lives, and their replacement with healthy, consciously-chosen, and often equally self-reinforcing patterns, as the practice of natural living. Natural living begins with and is enabled by both natural diet and natural exercise, but its scope is much larger than this. Natural living is an ongoing exploration and restructuring of our daily lives for increased health, vitality, and well-being, in the fullest sense of these words. Natural living takes on different and highly individualized expressions for each of us, but its direction is always the same: toward freedom from personal limitation, toward greater understanding and new growth, toward our health and full potential for vital life.
Through the conscious and consciousness-raising practice of natural living – looking for and living beyond our own health-limiting behaviors and attitudes – our individual breaking of cycles can occur in many ways and at many different levels. Some cycle-breaking may be less significant and life-altering, while the overcoming of other cycles can substantially impact our lives, values, and priorities. Very often, such breakthroughs involve the very difficult task of confronting socially-imposed norms that are familiar and even revered, but detrimental to our health and well-being, and to our freedom to be natural and ourselves.
These many possible constraints on our health can include patterns in our daily life and work, our values and longer-term personal goals, the way we view and relate to others, and how we think about and accept society as it is today. As a learning opportunity, I would encourage you right now to identify the three least healthy aspects of your life as it is today, leaving aside your diet and exercise patterns for now. This short list should just take a minute or two for you to formulate and will give you insight as you consider the practical, individualized, and life-long nature of natural living.
A foundational issue in this process of cycle-breaking is our own willingness and courage to confront ourselves, our values and beliefs, and especially the choices we make each day (really each minute) of our lives. Most of us of want to believe that we and our choices are rational and optimal, that there is an inevitability to our lives, and that we are generally making the most of the life circumstances we have been given or have created ourselves. But this is usually not the case, and never completely so. After all, what person do you know that cannot improve at least one important aspect of their lives?
The truth of our human condition is that most of us have not chosen the majority our values, beliefs, and behaviors. We each have been pre-scripted to varying degrees by our basic nature, by our nurturing and early experiences, by society generally, and by the horizons of our unique life situations specifically. Some of this may be positive and beneficial to us. But without a deliberate assessment and an openness to change, few of our behaviors are made truly conscious and self-affirmed as optimal and healthy. Unless we take control of our lives in this way, we very likely remain caught in a web of unconscious and limiting cycles that we simply cannot see or sense. We are controlled by cycles, habits, and norms around and within us, and are not the in-control people we want to be.
In my work as a health advocate and counselor, I have found that natural living’s core approach of evaluating our beliefs and behaviors against the standard of our health can greatly accelerate the process of self-examination and more optimal choice in our lives. I have written about this elsewhere and believe the approach of health-directed and health-affirming choice is a powerful alternative to traditional counseling practices. The approach of natural living is much less likely to leave us in idiosyncratic but not self-optimizing exploration and change. Natural living and the quest for health leads directly to persistent cycles and patterns, and motivates us to transcend them.
The iterative path of personal discovery that is natural living, which concurrently encourages us to work to more deeply understand our own individual definition of and potential for health, allows us to often quickly discover much that is unhealthy in our lives, areas we are hard-pressed to justify if we are honest with ourselves. With these insights, and the standard of our health as our guide, practitioners can achieve transformative new steps to personal vitality, to lives of perpetual and accelerating cycle breaking, to more energized lives of ever increasing health.
Unlike mystics seeking nirvana but in many ways like people struggling with obvious dependencies, those of us pursuing natural health are and must be realists and practical people. Even the ideal of our health is a practical and worldly challenge, not just at the start and intermediate phases but throughout our lives. Coupling new and clearer standards of natural health and well-being to our basic human desire for personal development, HumanaNatura and the task of natural living offer a more effective way to catalyze both immediate and long-lasting insight and personal change.
And yet, there is always a transcendental dimension to our health and to all cycle breaking. There always remains more that we can see and be, here in this world while we are alive. There remains always greater health, vitality, creativity, openness – greater human life, if we have the strength.
And with our health, there is always strength, always the potential for new freedom from the cycles that bind us.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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