Produced by Joanne Ross, Meta-Health Academy
The Two Phases: Our Natural Rhythm of Health
Have you noticed that symptoms seem to worsen in the evening? Why do people get ill whenever they go on holiday? Why do we crave sugary foods when busy? The answers lie in the body’s innate intelligence and our natural cycles
Balance or decline?
Many ancient traditions contain wisdom about the flow of life and the rhythms of nature. The Yin Yang symbol, for example, shows the two aspects of life – the masculine, active and positive, and the feminine, passive and negative. Yet it also depicts the interdependence and intertwined nature of these two opposing elements. Both are necessary in equal measure to maintain harmony and balance.
Eastern and Western philosophical traditions, including Ancient Greek, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Buddhist teachings, describe the interconnectedness of our being and the primacy of the spiritual and mental planes over the body of matter.
Yet when it comes to health, and particularly health challenges, current thinking is influenced predominantly by modern medicine. Two ideas that counter the early philosophies have shaped modern medicine:
The Descartian idea that mind and body are two entities that must be studied and addressed separately
The modernist theory of linear growth and ‘steady forward progress’
In terms of health, this has led to the widely-held disempowering beliefs that:
Health issues have a purely biomechanical or biochemical cause
We are destined to suffer a steady forward decline, as ageing brings inevitable health degeneration
Health issues are fixed states, rather than part of a broader, meaningful process of change
META-Health gives us a new perspective on ancient wisdom and empowers us to make sense of our daily lives, by explaining the meaningful rhythm and balance of our health and symptoms.
The Two Phases of Health
Many aspects of nature can be viewed as having two opposite and complementary forces that together form the balanced whole: day-night, male-female, light-dark, hot-cold, active-passive and so on, as depicted by the Yin-Yang symbol.
This balance is mirrored in our physiology by the activity of the autonomous nervous system and its two subsystems: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems have generally opposing functions, yet it is precisely this polarity which enables them to work in synergy to modulate our vital functions and maintain homeostasis.
The sympathetic-parasympathetic balance forms the basis for understanding the Two Phases and our natural cycle. In order to improve our health, we want to achieve and maintain an energetic balance between active ‘doing’ and passive ‘being’.
Phase 1: ‘Fight or Flight’: The Sympathetic Nervous System
The first part of our natural rhythm is the sympathetic state. Sympathetic activity switches on during the daytime (6am-8pm) to generate energy for our daily functions and tasks and deal with stressors.
Typical symptoms of this phase include:
Increased heart rate
Increased blood flow to the skeletal muscles and lungs
Decreased digestive activity
Secretion of adrenaline and glucagon
Pupil dilation (enabling better far vision)
Restricted blood flow to the skin, resulting in cold hands and feet
On a mental level we experience a high level of activity, mainly focused on problem situations in our life. This is accompanied by emotions such as worry, anxiety, anger or frustration, so although we have higher levels of energy, we tend to feel a lack of overall wellbeing.
The Stress Response
The sympathetic reaction, while naturally active during the day, is heightened by stress. Human stressors can be virtual as well as actual, and internally-generated as well as externally-perceived. We often unconsciously react with flight-or-flight to non life-threatening situations, such as getting stuck in traffic, being late for an appointment, or thinking about our problems.
This overuse of the stress response is a key underlying cause of the low levels of resilience and prevalence of illness in modern society.
Our stress levels are further increased by stimulants, including caffeine and sugary foods, continuous cardiovascular exercise and many legal and illegal drugs, as well as constant busyness and information overload. Many of these stressors can be addictive, as we gain a temporary high from being in Phase 1. Yet temporary is the key word: if we are in Phase 1 for too long or too often, it has a detrimental impact on our overall level of health.
Signs of Stress
The results of an overactive Phase 1 include high levels of anxiety, worry and nervousness, a busy, overactive mind, difficulty in relaxing or being still, trouble sleeping or wakefulness at night, a suppressed appetite and loss of weight.
If you recognise any of these signs in yourself or clients – and they are extremely common – it is highly beneficial to engage in more parasympathetic-inducing activities.
Phase 2: ‘Eat and Sleep’: The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The second part of our natural cycle is the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ state. It switches on at night (8pm-6am) to enable us to recover from our daily work, regenerate and rebuild our resources.
Typical symptoms of this phase include:
Decreased heart rate and dilation of many blood vessels
Increased blood flow to the digestive tract, increased peristalsis to aid digestion and increased appetite
Pupil constriction (enabling better close vision)
Normalisation of glucagon use and secretion of insulin
Restoration of blood flow to the skin, resulting in warm hands and feet
During the regeneration phase, we have a lower level of mental activity and can experience difficulty in thinking clearly (a fuzzy head), as energy drops from the mental plane into the body for healing. Emotionally, we feel more relaxed and less anxious about the problematic situations in our life.
Illness or Regeneration?
Many of the symptoms that are conventionally labelled as illnesses occur during Phase 2, including musculoskeletal aches and pains, inflammation and active bacterial and viral infections.
If you’ve ever noticed that symptoms such as a blocked nose or sore throat diminish during the day and worsen at night, this is precisely because these are symptoms of regeneration, and the regeneration phase switches on more strongly at night.
Many people wonder why they regularly fall ill on holiday. This is also part of the Two Phase pattern: a holiday can be the only time we allow ourselves to take a complete break from our everyday stressors and ‘treat’ ourselves to rest and relaxation!
A New View of Symptoms
This understanding of our natural Two Phase balance changes our view of symptoms from being the problem to being part of a much larger, more comprehensive and intelligent system designed to maintain balance.
When we experience strong or ongoing symptoms in the regeneration phase, this indicates that there has been an intense or prolonged stress phase from which the body needs to recover.
The specific organ in which a symptom develops reveals the specific nature of the preceding stress – for example, a viral infection such as the common cold is part of the recovery phase from a period of socially-triggered irritation or annoyance. Our META-Health courses explain the specific connections between symptoms and our experiences, emotions and thoughts.
Getting into Balance: From Stress to Regeneration
Contrary to popular belief, avoiding symptoms is not the way to health and balance! As most of us are generally over-stressed, a more sustainable goal is to release stress, which may result in temporary symptoms.
If you’ve ever given or received a therapeutic treatment that has resulted in tiredness, temporary aches and pains or cold-like symptoms, you’ll know that these are signs of a successful intervention; it has brought the recipient out of stress and into regeneration!