Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love it because it's a holiday that brings my friends and family together with food and gratitude. It begins the holiday season and reminds me that this is a time of year for giving back to others and counting my blessings. And gratitude is so good for us! In psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, savor good experiences, improve their physical health, improve sleep, cope with adversity better, and build stronger relationships. With gratitude, people acknowledge the good in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, being grateful also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals - whether to other people, nature, or a higher power. This is a technique used in addiction recovery programs and the like.
However, Thanksgiving is not a day of celebration for all. For some, this time of year can bring up emotions that aren't as joyful and it can be difficult to cope. Not everyone has family, loved ones, traditions, or even access to food and clean water. For those individuals, my heart goes out to you and I'm sending you love. For others, such as Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning and protest since it commemorates the arrival of settlers in North America and the centuries of oppression and genocide that followed. We can not change this past but we can honor these people's lives. Native American philosophy, spirituality, and views on health are a fundamental part of naturopathic medicine so I'd like to take a moment to celebrate them as we celebrate another Thanksgiving holiday.
Native Americans used and still use herbs, plants, diet, spirituality, community, lifestyle, music, mindfulness, and laughter as medicine. Similarly, naturopathic doctors use a variety of these evidence-based and non-invasive therapies to support the body's natural ability to heal itself. Both practices get to the root of health issues which are typically emotional, environmental, and spiritual in nature.
Many Native Americans, like all holistic practitioners, believe in a holistic approach to health, aligning harmony of the mind, body, and spirit. In this tradition, illness implies an imbalance between the person, their spirit, and their universe. Balance is a very important concept in both this tradition and in naturopathic medicine. If you don't feel balanced in your life or heart, this leads to imbalance within your body, affecting hormones, inflammation, digestion, and immunity. This holistic approach includes appreciation and respect for the earth because all forms of life depend on all others. The concept that all life forms depend on all others is the foundation of holistic medicine and the basis for Native American spirituality. The spirit impacts the mind, the mind impacts our actions, and actions impact the body. Psychoneuroimmunology, epigenetics, ecotherapy, biochemistry, and quantum physics are just some of the fields that explore these connections.
Respecting and connecting with nature has been thought to alleviate mental and physical illness in Native American culture and in many cultures around the world. Science is finally catching up to this ancient and intuitive wisdom. Ecotherapy or nature-related techniques such as forest bathing, earthing, getting fresh air, and sunshine in the eyes have been shown to be effective in numerous medical and mental health disorders. Naturopathic doctors encourage practices like this because they are effective and non-invasive. These nature based practices have always been a staple in the Native American culture, a culture of gratitude.
Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis in your own life:
Count your blessings. Pick a time every week to sit down and write about your blessings, reflecting on what went right or what you are grateful for. When you focus on the good you have, you attract more of it.
Say thank you. Say thank you to each new day, to your food, to people who help you, to your body, to everything that deserves it, and especially to yourself.
Write a thank-you note expressing your enjoyment and appreciation for someone's impact on your life. Once in a while, write one to yourself.
Shift your focus. If you focus on the negative aspects of life, focus on the positives. What is the good here? What is the best that can happen? What am I learning here?
Connect with nature. Go for a walk, feel the wind, feel the sunshine on your skin, notice the birds, pick up litter, and notice the life around you.
Thank someone mentally. Think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank the individual.
Keep a gratitude journal. Make it a habit to write down or share what you're grateful for each day.
Pray. Thank your higher power for the goodness in your life and ask to be open to receive more.
Meditate and breathe. Focus your attention on what you're grateful for while sitting still and breathing.
As you feast on turkey, pumpkin pie, and stuffing today, take a moment to raise your glass for a toast to appreciate your food, the earth, the people around you, your body, your ancestors, and your higher power. Take a moment to honor the Native Americans and their grateful and earth loving way of living as they continue to teach us and pave the way forward in natural health and healing. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you for being a part of this holistic and natural medicine community.
Dr. Cresencia Felty