Self-healing: did we forget how to?

I’m going to let you in on a secret that is not spoken about enough: your body knows exactly how to heal itself. You are living in one of the most intelligent pieces of creation.

Think about it for a moment.

You literally came pre-programmed with a million self-repair mechanisms, that our medical world and scientists have tried to fully comprehend, but still haven’t fully grasped.

To truly understand the self-healing powers we hold within us, it is important to know what happens at the cellular level. We are made up of trillions of cells, and within each one of these cells lives an intelligence that is ready to go to work for you, around the clock. You entered this world fully geared up for health.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you are struggling with your health right now, this may sound like a bad joke, but I’m hoping that this article will leave you a little more hopeful. My goal is to undo some of the wrong programming we have received throughout our lives with regard to our bodies and health, and to move you from a perspective of fearing disease and poor health to a place of empowerment and trusting your body again. I find the biggest power is in knowledge and understanding, so let me shed some light on how pain gets stuck, so we understand how to release it.

The Sickness Protocol

First things first – let’s start with our most common programming. What’s the first thing we do when we get sick? Most of us do the following: we call in sick at work, make an appointment at the doctor (which in many cases is even mandatory), then we go see the doctor, wait for instructions, and follow their instructions, which in the majority of cases includes rest and a form of medication to heal quicker. Having done this for so many years, it is hard to think that we might have other options available to us, that put us in the director’s seat of our health.

Let’s pause for a second and consider that much of this healing would occur, whether we went to the doctor or not.

Here’s an example: When your body identifies the presence of an infection, it automatically raises its temperature to burn that infection out. A fever is an incredible example of the self-healing mechanisms your body came equipped with. It might feel uncomfortable, or as something bad, to avoid. But if you didn’t have this beautiful capability to burn out an infection that pathogen could overtake your body and you could die. Instead, your body launches this automatic process without you having to think about it. The intelligence inside you heals it for you, all we need to do is rest and let it do its thing.

Chronic Sickness

When it comes to chronic illnesses it becomes a little more complicated. Most people dealing with chronic pain, have started to believe that their bodies are somehow broken, unable to heal anymore.

What if I told you the opposite is true?

That, even in this case, your body is still functioning properly, and the symptoms are just a natural response to the unnatural circumstances.

Much of chronic illness has to do with stress, and triggers, and how these are processed. Stress itself is natural, we have always encountered some form of stress. That’s why our body came equipped with a system for this too: our autonomic nervous system. It is a system that balances itself naturally, between stress, and relaxation. However, when we don’t complete the stress cycle and get stuck mid-way, this is where our pain can get stuck too.

Photo by Liza Summer

Stress Cycle: Unfinished Business

How does it work? When we face a challenge or threat, the body launches a process known as the fight or flight response, which puts in motion a series of physical responses. Sometimes we face a situation that is too overwhelming for us to fight or flee. In this case, we experience what’s called the freeze response, immobilising us.

Whether they are going through a fight, flight or freeze response, animals instinctively go into the next phase after such events, the discharge phase, which can look like shaking, trembling, sweating and other physiological responses, before returning to baseline. This discharges the compressed energy that has built up during a threat, restoring the balance and returning to homeostasis. ¹

Unfortunately, when humans go through a stress response, we often fail to complete the cycle.

Our faculties of higher cognition, helpful as they are, can distract us from being aware of the bodily sensations associated with this built-up energy. On top of that, our social conditioning has led us to control our behaviour, trying to stoically hold ourselves together, instead of letting the energy stored in our body run its course and release itself. Consequently, we store this unreleased energy in our nervous system and body tissues. This creates a state of unresolved stress that can affect us for years or even decades, thus becoming chronic. It affects our nervous system and brain in profound ways, and can hold us in a state of either:

  • Hyper-arousal: when we are constantly on edge anxious, restless, irritable, or angry.
  • Hypo-arousal: when we are chronically depressed, lethargic, or numb.

Both states are unhealthy and prevent us from living fully and authentically, but it’s where most of us live.

Quick Fixes and Expert Advice

Nowadays we are programmed to look for anything in our external environment to fix us back to health. We turn to medical professionals for answers, and our default is to take the shortest route, such as through pills, or other treatments, rather than the most effective one. I am not saying to not operate on cancer, if it is your best chance of survival, there are scenarios where external measures are in fact the most effective path. I am talking about the majority of cases where they are not.

In most cases, the pills we take, or the parts we cut out, don’t really solve our problems. They either numb the pain, so you can push through, or lead to temporary relief, only to come back worse later on. Yet, there is a reason for our pain, our anxiety, our discomfort, it doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to silencing our inner wisdom, and assume we know nothing about our own body or health.

What I am advocating for is to stop numbing and looking for quick fixes, and to slow down and start listening to our body. Self-healing is possible when we listen to signs from both our mind and body, and instead of fearing or judging our weakness, recognise our system’s attempt to help us.

Photo by Michelle Leman

Self-healing Modalities

The following modalities can help you reconnect with the body and improve your overall sense of well-being. What we often tend to do is to focus on the separate areas, whereas you will find they are all connected. Working on one will help improve the other, and by doing a little in each area you will see it creates more harmony in the entire system, naturally restoring your health:

  • Breathwork: this might be one of the most accessible tools to help you improve your health. We underestimate how much our breath impacts us, because it is something that happens automatically, yet, becoming conscious of your breathing and developing a daily practice, will trickle down to all areas. Two easy things you can start doing are: 1) start focusing on breathing deeply through your nose, and 2) to calm down the nervous system, focus on breathing out longer than you breathe in. ²
  • Grounding is a simple practice where you take off your shoes and you walk around barefoot outside in the grass, on the beach, or even just in your own home. This may sound very hippie-dippie, but there is now research backing up the beneficial effects. Research has found that “Emerging evidence shows that contact with the Earth—whether being outside barefoot or indoors connected to grounded conductive systems—may be a simple, natural, and yet profoundly effective environmental strategy against chronic stress, nervous system dysfunction, inflammation, pain, poor sleep, …”. So, try to spend time in nature, and when you can, take off your shoes.³, ⁴
  • Feeling safe in the body. What a dysregulated nervous system needs, is for you to feel safe again. Breathwork is one way to get there, but also pay attention to your thoughts. Become aware of any unhelpful thoughts and question whether or not these are actually true. Your brain will believe what you feed it, so become aware of what is going in, and how this is impacting you. Make changes accordingly. You can literally remind your brain that you are safe (if this is indeed the case), by saying it out loud or repeating it mentally.
  • Somatic experiences, a body-centric approach to reconnect the mind and the body to help release stored tension that is held in the body. This can be done through easy movement and bringing awareness to painful areas, and instead of resisting it and wanting it to go away, going within, taking stock of everything you feel physically and emotionally. This awareness and acknowledgement can help us release it.⁵
  • Meditation can help us reconnect mind and body and get in touch again with that lost inner wisdom. On top of that, research shows that meditation helps people manage stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, and improves sleep quality.⁶ Specifically for chronic pain, mindfulness meditations have been found to significantly help reduce pain levels even within a week of practice.⁷

These self-healing modalities are effective in not only helping you heal but also illness prevention in the future. It will allow us to befriend our inner bodily experiences with curiosity and compassion and restore the nervous system’s capacity for regulation. In doing so we repattern neural pathways of fear and dissociation into ones of groundedness and integration.

Photo by Oleg Illarionov on Unsplash

Published on: Health & Wellbeing Magazine


  1. Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity To Transform Overwhelming Experiences, Levine, Peter A. & Frederick, A., (1997), Berkeley, California, North Atlantic Books
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