Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
If you are an adult you’ve probably heard those famous words from Glinda, the Good Witch at least a hundred times. I know I have. But as I get older the words take on different meaning. I am sure I understood them literally when I first watched The Wizard of Oz as a child. Now I recognize the deeper meaning of the dialogue and how it applies to specific situations in my life. As a doctor who was traditionally educated in our current western style of healthcare I became disillusioned with this practice approach. But it took a journey of introspection and self-understanding for me to ultimately discover my truth—a direction home that has brought me to functional medicine. I don’t know that I would have listened to advice such as, “If you are not happy just stop being a doctor and do something else.” I had to discover the place I call home on my own and then with encouragement I was able to make the decision to change the direction of my career.
Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?
Glinda: She wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
But this is not why today I was reminded of those words and images adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum and played out in Technicolor on the screen. This time it was a nutritional supplement that – according to his marketing pamphlet – was going to change the world as we know it. (One might have thought that the Nobel committee was poised to award this year’s prize in medicine to its developer.) I am not here to bash supplements. But I can tell you that the claims that this hot new supplement was capable of wiping out all disease from Toledo to Timbuktu pressed my buttons. There is always a magic juice, a magic pill, a magic mushroom from the Amazon, a magic…well, you know, and for some reason there is always someone willing to buy it before taking a few common sense steps in life. It seems to be in our nature.
Scarecrow: What have you learned, Dorothy?
When the scandal of Lance Armstrong broke that he had admitted to doping and would be stripped of his Tour de France titles there was the inevitable chatter as to how much the drugs impacted his ability. While Lance admitted he probably could not have won the Tour de France without cheating the overall impact on his performance was small, maybe 5%. But among elite athletes whose abilities are more similar than different, where the difference between winning and losing can sometimes be hundredths of a second, this small difference was enough to put Lance Armstrong up front in the peloton and on top of the podium at the final stage. Here’s the thing: Most of what Lance needed he had already. It was in him. It was part of him. It was the athlete who evolved himself through thoughts, hard work, and determination—performance enhancing drugs aside. Had he not trained hard he could have never used drugs and expected anything but failure (or even death). Make no mistake I am not condoning the use of performance enhancing drugs. I am drawing the analogy that supplements may give us a slight edge or help correct imbalances, but they will never replace the work we need to do to address the basic lifestyle factors.
I know, easier said than done. Having success with a difficult challenge is usually accomplished by the breaking the problem down into manageable sized parts. It’s what the Navy SEALS call ”taking it one evolution at a time.” Start where you are comfortable.
For most people that is food
“Food is medicine. Food is information. Food is energy. Food is connection.” This is from the Institute for Functional Medicine and was one of the first things I was taught at their flagship course, Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice. For all these reasons food has a powerful holistic effect on us, and a lot can be accomplished with food when it comes to healing our bodies and our minds. If you are up for the challenge, consider an Elimination Diet.
Make sure your day includes plenty of movement
functional movement—bending, twisting, lifting, squatting, carrying, pushing, pulling, walking, running—varied movement—and with short periods of higher intensity. For most of us whose jobs are relatively sedentary this means dedicating 30 to 60 minutes in our day to exercise.
Calm your mind, heart, and breathing
Include a practice of mindfulness, deep breathing, or focused contemplation on a thought of gratitude. You may wish to adopt a mantra, if that suits you. Allow the wings of your parasympathetic nervous system, your “rest and digest,” to spread and lift you to a place beyond the hectic adrenaline charged rumble of the day.
Create space for sleep in your life
Turn down or turn off the bright lights. Consider using lighting or glasses that filter out the blue wave length light in the evenings. Sounds in the home should be calming. Take a warm bath. Enjoy some essential oils like chamomile or lavender. Avoid the news or other media that tend to feed into negative thoughts. Consider turning off your phone or answering only in the case of emergency. Avoid caffeine in the evenings and similarly don’t use alcohol as a “night cap.” Read a book you enjoy. Your bed should be for sleep or sex. Prepare. Get quiet. Sleep 7-8 hours a night.
Connect with family and friends
Our need for social connection is wired into our genes. Physical and mental health depends on healthy human connections. When we connect our brains release oxytocin the hormone of love and bonding. When Dan Buettner wrote The Blue Zones, lessons for living longer from the people who lived the longest the examples he shared were tightly knit social groups that emphasized real, nutrient dense food, connection to family and purpose, faith and spirituality, rest, and movement.
I was introduced to the ideas of celebrity motivational coach Tony Robbins in my mid-twenties. In a CD recording of Unleash the Power he says “the surest way to achieve success is to model someone who is already successful. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he says, “simply learn from the best.”
Dorothy: Well, I—I think that it, that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em — and it’s that — if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?
The good news is this: As the world shrinks because information is increasingly available to the average person they will discover that their heart’s desire is almost always right in their own backyard. We can’t help but be bombarded by marketing campaigns that make big promises about the newest juice, pill, or mushroom that we’ve been missing all our lives. But we can decide to be smarter. Difficult as it may be to close our eyes and think of Kansas, we can do it, and we can take the steps that will move us closer to the best that life has to offer.