Heal Thyself: The Wisdom of the Jungle Physician

We all need health professionals at times – for diagnosis, treatment, prescription reviews, and scans, as well as in times of acute illness or injury. We are grateful for their skills and dedication, while also being aware of the limitations of biomedicine and the lack of resources in the health system. For large numbers of people living with chronic health conditions, it can be challenging to find the right kind of support. Shopping around from practitioner to practitioner is not only a costly exercise, it can be disheartening and disempowering to always be looking outside oneself for relief from suffering. So what can you do to help yourself? Is there a path to active self-management that reduces the burden on the public health system, saves you money on private practitioners, and keeps you safe from unscrupulous operators? We think so! Read on to understand more about our perspective on health, healing, and living well with chronic illness.

Chronic conditions, ranging from diabetes and heart disease to the profound challenges of living with metastatic cancer, touch the lives of millions. According to recent statistics, nearly half of Australians are reported to have at least one chronic condition, a staggering figure that underscores the pervasive nature of these long-term health challenges. Amidst this widespread prevalence, there exists a community often overlooked in mainstream healthcare narratives – those who identify as ‘spoonies’. This term, born from Christine Miserandino’s ‘Spoon Theory’, has become a badge of resilience and solidarity among those managing their energy and health on a daily basis. It represents the finite energy resources they possess, likened to a limited number of spoons, and the constant balancing act of allocating these ‘spoons’ to various daily activities.

However, despite their significant numbers, spoonies often find themselves navigating a healthcare system that can be disempowering and alienating. Biomedical approaches, while crucial, sometimes fall short in addressing the holistic, psycho-social and spiritual needs of those with chronic illnesses. This gap in care has led many to seek alternative paths to wellness and empowerment. Enter the realm of yoga and mind-body medicine – disciplines that offer more than just physical relief; they provide a sense of agency and self-care in a journey often marked by uncertainty and dependency.

I know in my own experience navigating healthcare, there have been times where I have desperately wanted to opt out, to run away, to retreat to the forest where there are no bright lights, beeping machines, scalpels, toxic pharmaceuticals, or expensive specialists. It is through yoga that I have found a self-healing path, that does not necessarily remove all suffering, but gives a greater emotional and neural bandwidth to step into suffering, explore, get courageous, and find peace. There’s a mantra which is traditionally chanted to start an ashtanga vinyasa practice which reminds me that my body-mind-heart is indeed a pharmacy, capable of change, growth, and alchemical transformations of suffering into wisdom.

The term ‘jungle physician’ finds its roots in the Ashtanga yoga tradition, a practice steeped in ancient wisdom and discipline. This opening mantra sets the intention for the practice and connects the practitioner to a deeper lineage of yoga. The chant pays homage to the sage Patanjali, often considered the father of modern yoga, and invokes the healing energy of the practice. In the context of this chant, the ‘jungle physician’ is a metaphor for the healing powers inherent in nature and within ourselves. It is believed to refer to Dhanvantari, an avatar of Vishnu in Hindu tradition, who is regarded as the god of Ayurveda and healing. This concept resonates deeply with the idea that within the natural world, and inherently within us, lies the potential for healing and balance.

In today’s fast-paced world, where chronic illness is prevalent, the idea of the ‘jungle physician’ becomes increasingly significant. It represents a shift from external medical interventions to internal healing processes, emphasizing the body’s innate ability to heal and the power of natural remedies. This ancient wisdom, when applied in the context of modern chronic illnesses, offers a refreshing perspective on health and wellness.

Yoga for Chronic Illness Management

Yoga, with its holistic approach to integrating mind and body, offers numerous benefits for individuals managing chronic illnesses. Research has shown that yoga can significantly improve quality of life, reduce stress, and alleviate pain and fatigue in chronic illness patients. As an examplet, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that yoga helped improve physical function and reduced fatigue in cancer survivors (Cramer et al., 2017).

Yoga Poses and Practices

Restorative yoga poses and practices are particularly beneficial for those experiencing fatigue. Gentle poses like Balasana (Child’s Pose) and Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose) can be soothing and nurturing. Once you are familiar with yoga postures, the pace, repetition, mental focus, and duration can be modified to suit your changing needs. It is often possible to rebuild strength, stamina, and mobility with regular practice, allowing scope for more vigorous yoga where suitable. Practices like pranayama (breath control) and meditation can also play a crucial role in managing stress and improving mental well-being. It has been established in the scientific literature that yoga works on a dose-response relationship – the more frequently you get to your mat, the greater the benefits, however that doesn’t mean you need a vigorous physical practice every day, you can choose your own adventure!

The stories of individuals who have turned to yoga in their journey with chronic illness are both inspiring and illuminating. For example, a study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy highlighted the positive impact of yoga on women with metastatic breast cancer, noting improvements in emotional well-being and coping strategies (Danhauer et al., 2009).

How We Work

Here at Surya Health, we want to empower you to be your own kind of jungle physician. We can help you develop and nurture the skills of self-healing that are yours forever. We are not interested in making you dependant on us, in fact we want you to absorb whatever knowledge you find useful, then fire us as practitioners as soon as possible!

You can choose to see either or both Satyam Brown and Chandrika Gibson for individualised support. Satyam holds space for counselling, and will guide you in using mindfulness-based interventions appropriate to your situation. Chandrika can support you to develop a wellness plan using her vast naturopathic knowledge and personalised yoga practices. Of course, time spent in 1:1 consultation carries a cost, however we have tried to make this as accessible as possible. Medicare, DVA and private health funds subsidise counselling with Satyam. Satyam is also a provider for the Cancer Council’s network and if you are impacted by cancer (yourself or as a carer) you are eligible for up to six sessions free of charge.

In order to foster a supportive community, and keep you feeling inspired, motivated, and informed, our small group yoga classes run in term blocks. Regular yoga is a relatively affordable way to maintain your wellness lifestyle and our multi-class passes are great value. For times when you can’t get to class, we have also shared a lot of free resources online. We hope you will find our youtube channel, insight timer app, blogs, and social media pages useful in your journey to being a jungle physician.