Why we need a Slow Healing Movement

Is time really the greatest healer? Perhaps not, but change can’t happen without it.

Everyone’s heard of the Slow Food Movement: eating for people who realise the good things in life can take time. Well the same applies to healing. We all want to get healthy quickly, but the truth is Mother Nature can’t be rushed.

It is possible to make changes to the body very quickly and mistake that for healing. In much the same way you can buy plants in pots, put them in the yard and imagine it is gardening. But the lasting changes in nature happen at the rate things grow, and according to certain rhythms and cycles. Real gardening involves preparation, and it can be a long time before there is anything to show for the work. Cut too many corners and nothing will flourish. Buying in turf on a lorry will get things looking green very quickly. But the turf only becomes a lawn when the roots establish themselves.

The difference is structural change. Healing, like gardening, requires growth, renewal and integration, and the job of the healer is to create the conditions. We might not be aware of the role of structure in a supposedly ‘metabolic’ problem: in fact modern medicine ignores it almost entirely. But from the smallest molecule to the largest society, structure is vital to who we are and how we function. A broken leg is a metabolic problem as much as a structural one: and an inflamed organ is one that is undergoing change in its composition. Both are affected by the properties of the blood and the strength of the arteries that bring it, and by the stresses and strains upon the body.

Benefit is not the same as health.

We can feel benefit if we go on a detox, eat some nutrients or take some exercise. But if we then return to the same sets of stresses and strains, in a few days we will be right back where we started, or worse. A visit to the gym can get us pumped: it fires up the circulation and makes us alert. But actual fitness is something else, something that one training session can’t provide.

Vitamin C gives immediate benefits, that last as long as it is in our systems. If we keep taking it over time, then the body will actually grow physically stronger and more resilient in every way. And it is this strength and resilience that signifies the real healing, not the temporary support of the vitamin itself. We cannot store the vitamin but we can store some of the changes it enables.

‘Adrenal support’ can help a fatigued person to keep going. But it is ‘keeping going’ that has got them into the mess they are in. Burnout can take many years to get over properly, and shortcuts used carelessly can lead to real setbacks.

Every osteopath knows that if a joint is subject to stress it will become rigid. And if the stress on a joint is reduced, in time the joint will become mobile once more. And so the job of the osteopath is NOT to loosen the tight parts, but to reduce the stress upon them. Loosening the tight parts alone is no better than giving drugs, and it can be damaging over the long term.

Hence I have never healed anybody in my life, and this is what I tell my patients. What I do is treatment, and healing is what their body does afterwards.

And so real healing is not about a quick change in signs and symptoms but a much deeper process of nourishment, growth, elimination, regeneration; and the building up of reserves. The body actually restructures itself continually. Some parts change very rapidly, others much more slowly. Even the bones remodel, and it is thought that after many years we have a new skeleton. Some say that teeth can regenerate to an extent under the right conditions, although not very many of us have ever put this to the test. These processes cannot easily be rushed or controlled, but they can be supported.

Healing also involves learning, and the healing person will often develop new habits, appetites and interests. Their environment can even seem to change around them.

Slow Healing does not mean taking longer than necessary to get well, but doing a thorough job.

Slow Healing means doing the necessary groundwork, addressing the causes, and appreciating the importance of change. Ironically, Slow Healing done well can bring pleasant improvement very quickly indeed. I have seen Slow Healing resolve infections faster than antibiotics, fix joints faster than intensive physiotherapy, bring down blood pressure faster than drugs, solve many problems that were supposedly not solvable at all, and keep various people out of hospital, including yours truly. And so the principles do not only apply to chronic situations, once we understand the relationship between chronic and acute.

What it isn’t, is accelerating recovery in a way that might leave one worse off in the longer term. I’m afraid that ‘natural’ therapies can just as easily be quick fixes as pharmaceuticals, and when used without vision they can also worsen health. For example, many forms of therapy can make a single headache go away, but it is only healing if the person stops getting regular headaches.

Safety First

I do not advocate leaving life-threatening problems without the necessary care. This is what hospitals are very good for.

That said, where the line is drawn can be a moot point. Hospitals tend to treat most acute problems in the same sorts of ways, whether or not the body can actually cope on its own. It was not always so. Remember the doctors of earlier times, who used to say ‘come back in a few days if it isn’t getting better’? Of course they didn’t always get this right, but by being generally more aggressive with situations they still don’t. The job of the GP used to be protecting the patient from a diagnosis and keeping them out of hospital, because they recognised medicine is dangerous. Not only that, a natural recovery can leave you a lot stronger, with permanent resistence to future threats.

Whether or not the ’emergency’ has been well managed, once out of danger is when the important and sometimes painstaking process of getting strong again actually begins.

Slow Healing is inherently natural healing, and follows a few important principles:

  • The human body can be trusted to know what it is doing
  • Drugs are poisons. They may save a life but only nutrients can heal
  • Natural immunity is by far the best kind of immunity. It has no downside and it lasts a lifetime
  • Health is a reflection of the structure, and vice versa
  • The body seeks health as surely as water seeks the lowest point, and it only stops because of obstacles
  • Symptoms are usually healing processes, and seldom malfunctions. The body will sometimes deviate massively from ‘normal’ in order to survive
  • A person is a complex system, like the weather; and not a machine, like a car or a computer. The effect of tampering with its functions can be highly unpredictable, and forcing change can easily backfire
  • Causation of disease is a multifactorial, non-linear problem with no limits, where things both small and large, near and far, can matter
  • Often the very best medicine is to leave well alone and let nature take its course. The skill of the practitioner is in making that judgment
  • How we are in a day matters less than how we are in a year
  • Getting people better is not the highest priority. Doing no harm is

Ok, if that looks a little bit like Slow Healing means doing nothing, that is because I haven’t said anything yet about how we go about it. That subject is huge. But when we talk about working with nature, with the body not against it and so on, that means giving all the support the person can use, but not forcing the recovery or controlling the direction it takes. It means treating predispositions to disease rather than disease itself, and going after factors that can be changed, instead of getting hung up on factors that cannot be changed. And again, where the lines are drawn is a moot point.

Spontaneous Recovery is not a derogatory term: it is by far the sharpest tool in the box.

During my contact with many practitioners over the years I have gravitated to the ones who value lasting results over flashy displays of technique and instant fixes. Healing at its best is really mundane.

As a patient there have been times I have left the session wondering why the therapist had not done much with the problem areas: and then failing to notice the problems melting quietly away on their own. Some might call this coincidence, and put it down to ‘spontaneous recovery’. Experienced healers see these ‘coincidences’ rather often, and prize them very highly.

Of course, like anyone, I am impressed with quick results and skillful intervention. But I have also acquired a huge trust in the ability of the body to recover, once it is given a chance: and joined the increasing ranks of those with a general distrust of any new rocket science that is supposed to do the fixing for us.

Whether Slow Healing is what you want depends on whether you want to be back playing sport in time for Saturday’s game, or whether you want to live to 100 with all your faculties intact and still enjoying life. It if turned out we couldn’t have both, which would you go for?

Just remember that it takes over six months to build a Rolls Royce, and only 13 hours to build a Toyota.

Good health!

Copyright 2016 Kuno van der Post