You Are An Experiment
The Health Warrior Way started with a question: could I use non-medical interventions to avoid the potentially life-altering side effects of the surgery that was recommended to treat my prostate cancer until less invasive treatment options were available?
The more I read and the more people I talked to (including my doctor, Geovanni Espinosa) the more I came to believe that this was possible. There were diet interventions that could reduce inflammation, stimulate cell regeneration and help me shed body fat; I could exercise and meditate, to strengthen my body, mind and spirit; and there were vitamin, mineral and nutrient supplements (including medicinal cannabis oil) that could help fortify my immune system with antioxidants and healing phytochemicals.
So that’s what I did. All of it. I was going to leave no stone unturned in the quest to regain my health.
But it was a gamble, an experiment. While there was lots of great advice and anecdotal information there was no “prescription”: do this/eat this, for this long, in this quantity, at this frequency to stop the spread of disease.
As I have written elsewhere I came to rely on data to provide me with the feedback to tell me I was on the right track. I had my PSA tested regularly to keep tabs on the health of my prostate; I use a smart scale to monitor key biometric data (weight, body fat % and Basal Metabolic Rate) to make sure that my physical health was trending in the right direction, that I was getting healthier; and I used a wrist-based activity tracker to ensure that I was moving as much as possible despite my desk-bound knowledge-worker lifestyle (I was particularly interested in calories burned, resting heart rate and intensity minutes). Since I couldn’t see my prostate and the tumor within I had no observable means of tracking the progression of my disease; this data was all I had to go on.
The experiment paid immediate dividends. I Iost 30 lbs., mostly by eliminating animal protein, sugar and processed foods from my diet, my PSA stabilized after ticking upward over the past year, and the skin tags on my eyelids disappeared. By controlling what was going into my body and complementing my diet with exercise and stress management interventions like meditation and yoga I was essentially hacking my body chemistry in an effort to make my internal terrain inhospitable to cancer growth. I focused on the soil rather than the seed.
This experimental approach is only possible with what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck writes that “people with the growth mindset take charge of the processes that bring success.” Contrast this with the fixed mindset attitude, in which people focus on outcomes and believe that their natural talent and skill, not effort or the trial and error of the learning process, are all that’s required.
People with a fixed mindset believe that success should be effortless, a referendum on their talent, that they should get everything right the first time they try it, and they feel shame at setbacks or at not reaching their goals immediately. To someone with a fixed mindset, a setback is proof they’re not worthy; they believe this is just “the way things are.” They don’t believe change is possible, no matter how hard they work or how much effort they apply.
Only a mindset that believes growth is possible – that we are not limited by our past, or even our present – can approach life like the grand experiment that it is. A growth mindset is the price of admission to the Health Warrior Way. Believing you can heal yourself is the first step in healing yourself.
You have to believe, truly believe, that the success of your mission is possible, whatever your mission is. That you can lose that 10, 20, even 100 pounds. That you can get off the medication your doctor told you you’d be dependent on for the rest of your life. That you can reverse your prostate cancer diagnosis without chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. Because this belief will enable you to endure all the challenges you’ll face as you begin to experiment with your body and your mind.
This belief will help you quit the foods that you know are no longer serving you. This belief will get you up early in the morning to meditate or lift weights or get out on your bike. This belief will give you the stamina to search for answers to questions you thought you already knew the answers to.
After several years of my own experiment (I started in early 2014, shortly after my diagnosis) I’ve developed an intimacy with my body that I never had, a kind of “body clairvoyance.” I still track some important health KPIs but I’m now much better at listening to my body. It tells me, sometimes very clearly, if it doesn’t like something I’ve eaten, if I’m not getting enough sleep, and when it’s time to move or be still and tune into my breath.
I’ve also, after an intense period of self-study of muscular anatomy, become pretty adept at diagnosing my various joint mobility issues. This has enabled me to develop a self-care regimen designed to restore full range of motion to my trouble spots, without the help of a physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist. Since I’m now familiar (I’m still learning and am by no means an expert -- yet) with how the muscles interact with each other to animate the joints I can now peer “inside” my body to see what the various muscles are doing and where there might be impingements or limitations in range of motion. This body clairvoyance helps me maintain correct positioning and alignment when, for example, I’m stretching my chronically tight hip flexors and quadriceps in any lunge pose variation (Anjaneyasana, Virabhadrasana I, Virabhadrasana II, High Lunge). I know that to maximize the extension of my psoas and quadriceps I need to square my hips by pulling the side that’s being stretched back (rather than opening up the hips, which is the tendency when you’re tight).
This level of intuition – this ability to “listen” to the body, to “see” inside it – is the ultimate goal. If you pay attention, your body will tell you which foods it doesn’t like (by making you bloated and gassy). You’ll be able to attain mastery over your parasympathetic nervous system in order to tamp down your “fight or flight” response before a big meeting or when you’re faced with a seemingly overwhelming situation. You’ll learn how to self-diagnose and treat small aches and pains to improve functional mobility and enhance quality of life as you age.
This won’t happen overnight. In takes training and it takes awareness (and even training in awareness). In my case it’s taken years of training. Years of resisting the urge to do things as I’d always done them, years of asking questions and doggedly searching for answers. Years of living my life as if it were a grand experiment.
What question do you have? And which experiments could you undertake to try to answer that question?
Let me know with a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!