The general theme for my holiday gift list this year is holistic health. Obviously, there is lots of stuff out there about the traditional notion of holistic health as a “mind/body/spirit” approach to taking care of yourself. The core idea behind this notion of holistic is that you can’t separate and treat your physical body and its needs as something separate from your mental, emotional, social, and spiritual life. Whether your concern is losing weight, getting more fit, improving your appearance, extending your life span, or managing various medical conditions, your success will depend on addressing all of your needs as a whole person, rather than relying on pills, gimmicks, diets, or any other one-dimensional approach.
Like most people who have struggled with weight and eating issues for a long time, I’m totally convinced that this holistic approach makes the most sense. I know that the real problem, for me, was never just what or how much I ate—it was why I used food and eating the way I did. And changing that meant changing the way I felt and thought about myself, other people, the world around me, and what really matters to me. Once I started working on these things directly, my relationship with food, eating and exercise was very much easier to manage.
But one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is that it’s very easy to get caught up in an extremely individualistic approach to being holistic, focusing entirely on individual needs and what’s good for us as individuals. That's pretty much the focus of most commercial products, services, and information on the subject.
But the whole in holistic doesn’t stop at the edge of your skin, and I think that many of my past and present emotional and practical problems have a lot to do with being disconnected from the natural world, and with social relationships that are more dehumanizing than growth enhancing. As the Taoists like to say, "As above, so below." If your external connections aren't in good shape, what's going on inside your skin won't be either.
So, several of the items on my list are books that I’ve found very helpful in trying to understand these “external” connections and their role in a healthy lifestyle better, and open myself up to new ways of actually being in the world. Some are “theoretical” (but not overly academic or technical), and some are poetry or literature that evocatively convey something about what’s possible for humans to achieve, if we give ourselves the right opportunities and keep our eyes and minds open.
And, of course, there are also a few books for the foodies and exercise enthusiasts on your shopping list, and as always, something for the person who already has everything.
A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote
A beautifully written, very short story/memoir about how the simple experiences that people share can be meaningful far beyond their practical import.
The Tao Te Ching, translated by Jane Edwards
An elegant, illustrated version of this ancient Chinese classic of naturalistic wisdom, with my favorite English translation.
The Spell of the Sensuous, by David Abram
A great, lyrically written account of how our relationship with the natural world shapes our language and our thoughts—and how things begin to go badly when this relationship breaks down.
Nature and Madness, by Paul Shepard
Similar to the above book, except that the focus is more historical and anthropological. This book looks at how modern Western cultures have been progressively shaped by technologies, cities, and lifestyles that create a growing distance between us and the natural world, and how this has had very negative effects on the normal processes of human emotional and cognitive development at every stage of our lifespan, leading to many of the social problems we currently have. Very high on my personal list of favorite non-fiction books!
I and Thou, by Martin Buber
Probably the philosophical/ethical classic on what makes human relationships human and enhancing. Short, but not a real easy read, and if you’re not religious in the Judeo-Christian tradition, you may need to work on seing through some of the religious language to get to the universal human message underneath it, but well worth the effort. This translation makes the book quite a bit easier to read than some previous versions.
Hope’s Edge/Grub/Getting a Grip
This is a trio of books from Frances Moore Lappe (of Diet for a Small Planet fame) and her daughter that update and extend her thinking about socially/ecologically responsible eating and living. Grub is a good source of recipes and practical tips for implementing these ideas in your own kitchen/home.
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve plugged this book several times already this year. Enough said. Read it, spread it around.
Chi Walking, by Danny Dreyer
This book offers 5 techniques for “mindful” walking that will help improve your physical technique for maximum benefit and minimal injury, and also help you focus your attention while walking to practice mindfulness. There’s also a companion book on Chi Running, as well as various videos, etc.
Mindless Eating, by Brian Wasnik
A very interesting and helpful account of how social settings and other “external” factors trigger mindless overeating, and how you can manage these cues. Great for people who tend to go into "autopilot" mode when food is around.
SparkPeople Monthly Tracking Calendar
Of course, to fit all this reading into a busy schedule, you and/or your gift recipient is going to need a good way to plan some reading time. Keep track of appointments and healthy lifestyle goals with the new Tracking Calendar from SparkPeople.
Finally, for the person who has (and can afford) everything, here’s one thing they probably don’t have—and one they may need if they plan to increase their reading time. The Treadwall is a stand-alone climbing wall with a moving surface, manufactured by one of the leading climbing wall companies. You control your own speed, and can set the climbing foot and hand holds where you like. It’s a great full-body strength and cardio workout! You’ll need at least 10 foot ceilings, a fair amount of floor space, and fairly deep pockets, though.
P.S. I almost forgot... Here's a link to the Treehugger website, where you'll find both a link to The Groovy Mind website and some discount codes to use there. The Groovy Mind has some great stuff to make your reading time more pleasant: organic, gourmet teas, coffees, nuts, dark chocolate, and other such stuff. And it's even politically correct! Enjoy....
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