Your Body is a Garden - Cultivating a Sustainable Healthcare System by Rob Singer
The medical system in our country is ailing. Healthcare costs are rising, fewer and fewer people have health insurance, and the quality of care is impersonal and incomplete. The future of our healthcare system is looking bleak as more people are unable to access the care they need, and are increasingly dissatisfied with the care they do receive. Something needs to change in the way that our culture provides for its own wellbeing.
The change I’m suggesting is simple yet profound: we need a change in perspective. Our current system of Western (allopathic) medicine takes a mechanistic and reductionist view of the body. It is often compared to a machine—if it breaks down just replace the broken part. In this metaphor the doctor becomes a glorified mechanic tinkering under your hood. Instead, if we were to look at the body as a garden and the doctor as the gardener, it would radically alter our approach to healing.
Historically, there are many similarities between medicine and agriculture. About the time when we began to grow our crops using pesticides to control insects on our crops, we began to use pharmaceutical drugs to treat disease in our bodies. Likewise, the development of large heavy machinery to till and harvest our fields coincides with the application of expensive, complex machines to diagnose and treat our ailments.
In the last few decades though, there has been a shift towards more sustainable, organic methods of agriculture that work with nature rather than against it. Instead of using pesticides to kill bugs, farmers have the option to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to attract birds and beneficial insects to eat their pests. Instead of using noisy gas guzzling mowers to clear their fields, they can return to using sheep to eat the tall plants, and then use the manure to nourish the soil instead of applying chemical fertilizers.
A similar shift needs to happen in our healthcare system. We don’t have to look very far, there are already several healing disciplines that take a natural approach to wellness. Naturopathic Doctors, for instance, are trained physicians, but instead of using drugs to treat disease, they utilize herbs, vitamins and homeopathic remedies. Chiropractors and Massage Therapists gently manipulate the body to relieve pain and repair injury instead of using invasive surgical procedures. And too, there is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a complete system of healing that’s been around three thousand years longer than any HMO. Developed during a period of human history when there was no x-rays or microscopes, it is an approach in which an experienced acupuncturist can accurately assess your health just by feeling your pulse or looking at your tongue.
All these natural therapies are wonderful alternatives, but there is still the issue of access. Most people can’t afford conventional healthcare much less alternative medicine! This economic disparity is the primary obstacle to creating sustainable care for everyone. Organic agriculture has faced similar economic challenges and by examining their creative solutions, we can glean ideas about how to transform the business of healthcare.
Have you ever wondered why organic food is more expensive than crops grown with costly pesticides? The answer is government subsidies. Agro-chemical agriculture is heavily subsidized by our tax dollars, whereas organic farming receives no subsidies at all. This makes it almost impossible to offer competitive prices in the marketplace. There is a way to make organic food more affordable, though—change the marketplace! A small farm can charge affordable prices simply by eliminating the middle-man (in this case, the grocery retailer). The best example of this can be seen at local farmer’s markets or natural food co-ops. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) takes it one step further. In a CSA, a group of people each buy shares in a local farm and receive a part of the harvest in return. The consumer has a direct relationship with the producer and it allows a small family farm to prosper while still charging an affordable price.
The middle-man in healthcare is the insurance industry. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year to fuel a bureaucratic process that limits the choice of care we can receive, dictates what treatments a doctor can or cannot provide and ultimately profits from our illness. We could cut out the middleman and eliminate the need for insurance companies by modeling our healthcare system after CSA’s. The money used to pay insurance premiums could buy a share in a small clinic run by the doctors themselves. The consumer would have the freedom to choose their care provider (conventional or alternative) and the doctor would have more autonomy and job satisfaction by having a direct relationship to their patients.
This is currently being done to some degree by acupuncturists around the country who have created a CSA of their own—Community Supported Acupuncture! The movement was sparked by Working Class Acupuncture in Portland, Oregon. By treating clients in a group setting, this acupuncture service is able to offer treatments at just a fraction of the cost of a private session. It is a radical business model that provides the community with access to quality alternative healthcare at a reasonable price while still supporting the financial needs of the practitioner.
Positive shifts in our healthcare system are beginning to happen little by little but we need to take matters into our own hands if we are going to change cultural perceptions. By viewing the body as a garden we all become gardeners of health. Anyone can plant seeds and tend a garden and I believe that everyone has the equal ability to be a healer as well. Just as a garden needs to be watered regularly and cared for in order to flourish, our health needs its own regime of daily care and maintenance. By making informed healthcare choices that benefit our wellness, we can more reliably prevent serious illness.
In fact, prevention is the best health insurance there is, plus it’s more affordable! Health is free, it’s the disease that will cost you. It’s ironic that our healthcare system pays little attention to promoting good health or prevention of illness—maybe it should be called “disease-care” instead. Luckily, humans have been caring for themselves for millennia by using what was available to them in nature. Eating a balanced diet of organic whole foods, collecting or cultivating medicinal herbs, and practicing Yoga and Tai Chi are simple daily ways to maintain health for those with limited resources.
We could take a lesson from community gardens where vacant lots are reclaimed and transformed into green, living spaces. When many people garden in the same space they can share the land & tools, as well as give each other advice about natural growing techniques. The best aspect of working together, though, is sharing the fruits of your labor, literally. In the same way, if we pool our collective knowledge of healing by sharing folk remedies, cooking healthy meals for our friends, or even just massaging a loved one’s shoulders, we reclaim our bodies and share the harvest of health with the community at large.
By working with nature rather than against it, we can cultivate a sustainable healthcare system. By utilizing natural healing modalities we can enjoy optimal wellness without dependence upon pharmaceutical drugs or invasive surgery. In turn, reducing the bureaucracy and simplifying the economics of healthcare allows access to everyone while improving the quality of care. Most importantly, though, is the concept of prevention and self-care. Learning to care for our own health and sharing that knowledge with others improves the wellbeing of those around us and creates a community of healers. We are all gardeners of health and we are planting the seeds of change—it is up to each of us to help them grow into something profound.
I am very passionate about Chinese Medicine and I enjoy sharing that passion with others. When I started practicing I found that people were excited about what I did until they found out what it cost. It seemed that most of the people that I knew couldn’t afford healthcare much less alternative healthcare. It pains me to think that acupuncture began as a folk medicine available to everybody in the community, but now it’s often relegated to fancy spas and people wealthy enough to afford it.
This got me thinking about creative ways to make acupuncture more accessible. Before I became an acupuncturist I was involved in some interesting businesses. I worked at a collectively run recycling center, a community centered natural foods co-op, a car sharing organization, and a worker-owned & operated massage cooperative. It is amazing what people can accomplish just by working together for a common goal. It is possible to have a healthy business, empower the workers and create a community that promotes positive social change.
That is what I had in mind when I created ACUPUNCTURE for the PEOPLE. I didn’t become an acupuncturist to make lots of money, I chose this path because I love the medicine and I want to help people to achieve optimum wellness. By practicing in a group setting I can have a rewarding business that cares for the health of the individual and benefits the greater community as well.
As the principles of sustainability become more rooted in our individual and collective actions, we keep inventing or discovering ways to care for ourselves and each other better. Just as each one of us depends on our own individual health to make our way in the world, our healthcare system is essential to us all collectively. Thank you for supporting the kind of healthcare that is as beneficial to the community as it is for the individual.
Rob Singer is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in Eugene, Oregon. He received his 4 year Master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Seattle, WA. He has a wide range of clinical experience including geriatrics at Mt. St. Vincent retirement community, treating homeless youth at the 45th Street clinic, as well as specialty clinics with menopausal women and pediatrics. He is also certified in Acutonics, a type of sound healing that involves the application of tuning forks to the acupuncture points. Rob can be reached at: www.AcupunctureForThePeople.org, 541-521-6285, [email protected]