The Cycle of Healing

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I have worked with a great many people since starting practice in 1989 and, despite that the majority of them came in with a chronic health problem that was not getting better by itself, I can say, hand on heart, that people clearly have the capacity to heal from just about anything.

I emphatically do not put this down to any special knowledge or ability on my part. In this long and interesting journey, I have come to truly appreciate something that anyone can see for themselves, if they only look at it, which is that healing, marvellously enough, just happens, not because we make it happen, but because it can happen.

Except for when it doesn't, and it has been a life-long enquiry for me to understand why that remarkable self-healing intelligence that lives within us, as it does in all living things, does or doesn't work. What follows comes directly from this enquiry, it is original material but I hope that the experienced reader will find much here that they recognise simply because it makes good, intuitive sense.

As well as this writing, and especially for practitioners or people who, for their own personal needs, have had to develop a deeper level of understanding into their health, I have written an article for my colleagues in the quarterly health magazine Avena that goes into this subject in depth in some different ways, you can see this in PDF format here.

Overview of the Cycle

When a person is sick and not getting better by themselves I have come to see that there is always a key blockage in their self-healing process that is centred on a primary need within them for either cleansing, activation, nourishment or relaxation. At this point it might help to get an overview from the teaching chart that I've used to share some of this material with my colleagues (image shown below).

A more detailed version of this same chart is found here.

You can see in this chart how certain herbs relate to different body parts or systems within each phase of the cycle of healing. Whoever you are, if you have a health problem that is not resolving itself then I urge you to let Nature take the first step with one or more of these safe, great, herbal allies. You may need to simultaneously work with such vital matters as your diet or your mental and emotional health but even just the one right herb, taken in the right way and in the right dose, can be an extraordinary catalyst to help a stuck cycle of healing to start moving forwards again...

Summary of the Cycle

Cleansing includes the actual physical process of eliminating wastes from the inside and getting your body clean on the outside, but it also encompasses that part of your conscious and subconscious existence where you process things that have happened so that you can make sense of them and let them go.

Activation is the process of getting going and engaging with your work, study, home or family life but it is also the way in which we get ourselves 'up'. Lifting our heart rate and/or lifting our mental processing can achieve the same result; we switch-on, become 'activated'.

Everyone instinctively understands the vital importance of nourishment and it obviously includes the essential acts of taking in food and water but it equally extends to how we meet our mental, emotional and spiritual needs within our world and the life that surrounds us.

This phases is centred around the quality and quantity of our sleep but it also includes relaxation, those things that do not require us to be especially 'up' but rather allow us to be quite happily 'down'. People usually know what will make them relax but the more stressed they are the less likely they are to do it!


The Only Constant...

"Change is the only constant in life" (Heraclites) and it is very important, if you will understand the cycle of healing, to know that we are all of us continually moving through these phases of cleansing, activation, nourishment and rest in our everyday life. It is only when one or more of the phases is out of balance with the others that a problem that would normally have resolved itself becomes stuck, chronic.

We all need balance in our lives to be healthy and happy. Too much activation is as unhealthy as too much rest and too much nourishment is as bad as too much cleansing. Equally it can be seen that too little cleansing is as bad as too little nourishment and too little rest is as bad as too little activity...

In the course of any normal day, there are periods when each of the four phases comes to the fore and takes precedence over the others. If you give this process some attention you will notice how your own cycle tends to move in one direction at some times and then the other direction at other times, as shown by the two-way arrows in the chart above.

If you a person who is in relatively good health but just have some minor problems that come and go then you will probably find that some attention into the right phase of your healing cycle will see positive changes happening very quickly. However, if you have been sick for a long time and your system has become badly stuck, then it is more likely that you will need to restore balance over a longer time frame in one or other of the key areas.

Healing occurs by itself when we attend to what has been obstructing it. As we achieve a better balance where it was most lacking it is common, and a very good sign, for the next most important area to then come to the fore, this usually happens through a change of symptoms or feelings, for example the main thing that was bothering you improves but an old issue comes back. Symptoms and feelings are how our bodies and our own innate intelligence talk to us because it simply, unconditionally, wants us to be well; our job is to learn how to listen.


Where do you begin?

The longer someone has been sick the more important it is to focus the therapeutic work into the right phase of the healing cycle, both to get the fastest possible positive responses as well as to not risk putting the person into further imbalance! The following section is intended to be a guide to knowing where to begin but I realise that you might read the following and think that all of it could apply to you!

Don't worry if this happens to you, it is normal, especially if you have become unwell, for all the phases of the healing cycle to need at least some attention. The key point to getting the best and fastest results is knowing where to start and I am sure that if you allow this question to remain open that you will get a lot of insights into your own body and health and the initial answer will soon enough become clear...


I want to start by briefly mentioning that some people can get into trouble from an over-functioning cleaning process, usually from their being on an overly restrictive diet or from taking cleansing medicines for too long. Such people inevitably become weakened and depleted and in this case they must stop cleansing or over-worrying about restricting too many foods and instead start attending to their needs in the life-giving 'nourishment' phase.

More commonly, when cleansing is an issue that is blocking healing, the system is under-functioning and we need to help turn the cycle with a cleansing diet and a few key herbs. Cleansing can be a hugely powerful way to move a stuck healing cycle and, if it is the key area that needs attention, it can be a transformative process to undertake.

If you are able to work with a person or a practitioner who can use your pulse to test how you respond to a cleansing remedy (as described in the Avena article linked just above) then that may be of great help to know if this truly what your body wants and needs right now. Another equally honest method is to closely observe your own tongue once or twice each day in a mirror as you go through a week in your life. Whatever kind of health problems you have, your symptoms will assuredly go through periods of worsening and improving. If you can see that your tongue gets notably more coated, congested and coloured when your symptoms are worsening and, vice versa, that it becomes obviously more clear and clean looking when you are doing better then you are tuning into one of the best barometers of our internal health, the tongue, and it may well show you exactly when you need to pay more attention to your system's need for internal cleansing.

You are the best expert in the world on you. You alone know how you feel and you know a great deal about what makes you feel better and what makes you feel worse. If you already suspect that you have an issue with excess toxicity, then you may already know that this is where you have to start. In this case, just as important as knowing when you need to cleanse is how to best do it. There are some reliably simple, inexpensive and effective steps that will ensure that a strong cleanse actually happens but, rather than get into that here, because it is much too important to oversimplify in a summary, there is an article that goes into the subject in depth found here.


I again want to start by briefly discussing what happens when a person has become 'over-activated', in other words when this phase of the self-healing cycle has become excessive rather than deficient. Over-activation is a more common cause of chronic health problems than people realise because, by definition, it means that there is an inadequate amount of rest happening on a regular basis. People who are in over-activation are always very tense and will usually acknowledge that they feel 'driven', they often have poor sleep, they often experience excess wear and tear in their bodies, or they get infections that don't heal or keep coming back. The remedy for over-activation is to focus on rest and relaxation in the healing cycle.

Most commonly, when this is the key area that needs attention, is that there is a lack of 'activation' happening. Under-activation is particularly a problem for people who have been sick for some time and the right kind of attention into this area can be the pivotal point that determines if a person returns to health or remains somewhat sick.

Again, you are the best person to know how much of a problem this is for you. 'Activation' includes both your mind and your body so, if you are willing, ask yourself honestly, without judgement and without comparison to anyone else, how fit you yourself feel, both mentally and physically. If you know that you are terribly unfit then you should assume that this area of your health will at least eventually need some care, you are the best person to know if it needs the primary care.

Incidentally, on this exact subject, you may find it helpful to read the 'moving well' sections that relate to each of the four individual constitutions (the base introduction page for this is here). Different people respond much better to different kinds of exercise, both mental and physical, and this is an area where, whatever you do, you need to relate well to it in order for it to be a lasting success.

Activation is not limited to fitness, it includes how good your immune system is, how well your heart pumps blood, how healthy your appetite and digestion is and how lively your hormones of reproduction and metabolism are. There are a number of herbal medicines that work in all these areas that can be of great help to a person who needs activation and the individual notes on each of these allies is found in the Herbal A-Z here.


First of all, over-nourishment can be the key imbalance in a person's health and this can manifest in different ways. It can be physical, whereby a person is overweight from too much food or heading towards diabetes from too much sugar, it can be about substances, whereby a person is taking in too much drugs or alcohol, or it can be about a life that is filled with excess everything and has become stuffed to overflowing! In any case, the remedy to get balance back is to focus on the cleansing phase of the cycle; shedding the excess, clearing out, letting go.

Equally common, but often not so obvious, is where a lack of nourishment is the key obstacle to healing a chronic problem. Physically, our bodies will usually try to tell us when we are not getting the nourishment we need, particularly through our skin, hair and nails and how they are weathering the world. In my early years of practice, I used to use a lot of nutritional supplements (which mostly work at this level in the healing cycle) I do still use these kinds of medicines but nowadays I am even more likely to give herbs to help improve digestion whereupon, so long as the diet is ok, you can see a lasting turn-around in the person's level of nutritional health. That said, some people just don't eat well and there can be no doubt that nutrition is vital to health, more about what 'good nutrition' actually means here.

Mental and emotional nourishment is equally as important as anything on the physical level. This is similar, but not the same, to the need for the kind of 'switching-on' that I was talking about in the activation phase above. Nourishment for the heart and mind is choosing to see the beauty that's always there somewhere. If you are depleted, and it extends to more than just your food, then let goodness come in other ways too; good books, good movies, good food, good company...


A person who has gone into excess in this phase of the cycle, i.e. they are resting too much, can start to experience something called 'anergic depression'. They lose the motivation to do anything, old interests or hobbies seem like chores and they still feel tired no matter how much they rest or sleep. This condition effects a lot more people than they themselves realise but, even if they do think something is wrong and seek help, it is often misdiagnosed and treated as 'depression' even though it is tiredness that is the predominant symptom rather than sadness or anxiety. The remedy for being out of balance in this way is to increase the 'activation' phase. Use activating herbs and start making achievable, daily steps towards getting the mind and body up and going.

That said, it is the simple lack of rest and relaxation that is by far one of the greatest issues in modern life. We are working harder, our children are being pushed harder, and life is overflowing with more information and stimulation than it ever has been in human history. Anyone who works with people in health care for any length of time eventually comes to the same conclusion, which is that excess stress and tension is a leading cause of chronic illness. What is harder to work out is exactly what to do about it, especially given the observable fact that the more stressed a person is the less likely they are to do anything that relaxes them!

It can be a big challenge to our ego to accept that we have become too tense, and there is little you can do if a person is just not ready to accept it as their core issue. Compounding this there is the further difficulty that if we do take it on ourselves to 'try' to relax we just end up making matters worse. The answer is to start with a little humility and let Nature take the first step...

The relaxation phase is, in equal first-place along with the cleansing phase, the one I most often have to work with in the beginning to get a really stuck healing cycle moving forwards. Herbs are fantastic allies in this area and, used in the right way, can start making a difference from day one. Equally, there are some very practical and do-able strategies that are seen to work very reliably when they are put into action.

This is vital work and, similar to the notes linked about cleansing, rather than over-simplify this important subject in a quick summary here I will refer you to the article on anxiety & tension here, or if more appropriate the related article on insomnia here, or perhaps of some further help the page that has some relaxation commentaries on it here.


The Emotional Body

Emotions are very physical things, whilst we may process them in our heads and talk about them in an abstract way, they are actually very real, tangible phenomenon and nothing 'matters,' to any of us, more than how we feel. When we get stuck into negative emotional states there often develops a correlating pattern within our bodies that can contribute to, or even cause, illness if it becomes sufficiently entrenched.

I have to make a few generalisations here in order to share my observations but, be assured, I am deeply cognizant of how very individual we are when it comes to our inner, emotional health. That said, patterns I have repeatedly noticed include:

People who especially get stuck in the cleansing phase often have excess rigidity or pain in their necks. Emotionally, in whichever way best works for them, they need to 'let-go' of negative feelings involving past relationships or bad experiences and so regain a kind of flexibility, or open-ness, which can be essential to going forwards with the kind of change that is necessary for health and happiness.

People needing the activation phase often get a characteristic constriction in their thoracic spine, especially between their shoulder blades. Emotionally, this especially relates to the person needing to move, to open their heart and to feel more joy in their lives. The challenge to actually get this happening can sometimes best be met by asking the question 'what, for me, is fun?'

A person who is not getting their needs met in the nourishment phase of healing will often have a kind of instability in their low backs, their lumbar spine. Emotionally this relates to the need to feel nurtured and supported. It can be a transformative healing process to learn how, as an adult, we firstly have to extend kindness to ourselves before we can look to receive it from other people. After that, acknowledging vulnerability, asking for help and then actually letting it in can be the pivotal shift that may be required in the emotional aspect of this phase of the healing cycle.

A person who especially needs to heal in the relaxation phase will often have a somewhat hidden but 'there if you look for it' kind of curled-up tension in the base of their spine; the sacrum and/or coccyx. This can be wound so tight for so long that it just feels normal but it can create a kind of tension that stops a person from fully letting go and getting the deep rest and relaxation their system craves. Emotionally this mostly relates to trust and, when a person finally meets this most basic need, it leads to a rather wonderful sense of renewal.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!







© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd