Mar 202010

The last divine member of Apollon’s family that I’ll introduce in this series is his granddaughter Hygeia. She was (and is) often worshiped along side Her father, Asclepios. Hygeia does not heal people, she helps patients with prevention of sickness and the continuation of existing sound physical and mental health. She also encourages good sanitation practices, which is where we get the word hygiene.

Hygeian medicine: anything that affects the physical and mental well-being of people.

On an individual level this includes food, water, sleep, personal  cleanliness, waste disposal, and proper socializing.

Having clean, safe water to drink is our governments greatest and most costly contribution to health care in this country.   Since 1990, we have spent approximately $1 trillion on ensuring drinking water supply and waste water treatment and disposal.  Most of us take for granted the clean water piped right into our homes, businesses, and public places.   Until a toilet backs up, we don’t think twice about how important waste removal is.  Cholera, dysentery, and typhoid are not diseases we worry about getting from our water supply. Diarrheal disease from unsafe water causes just over 1.5 million deaths around the world each year.

Because we take it for granted, we no longer invest the needed tax dollars to repair, update and add on to our water and sanitation systems. We don’t fund needed research and development.  Even common sense technologies are not employed. For example, building codes do not require the use of greywater systems and many cities and states still prohibit the use of them.  15% of all drinking water used in the US goes to water lawns and landscaping.   Just over 7,000,000,000 gallons of drinking water are used every day to flush toilets.  If greywater was used to water yard and landscaping and was also used to flush toilets, we would automatically use 57,000,000,000 fewer gallons of water per day.

We, as citizens, can help ensure our drinking water stays clean. We can work to change building codes to allow or mandate greywater systems in all new buildings and homes, we can be vigilant against polluting our fresh water systems, and we can reduce the strain we put on our water and sanitation systems. Just shutting the water off while you brush your teeth uses 3 gallons of water less per person per day.  You could install a greywater system in your home. Water your plants with water from your washing machine or rainwater. Live by “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.” Some even advocate peeing in the shower instead of the toilet.   If you do that in my home, though, I will kick your ass.

Mental health – water and mental health intersected with Hygeia during two customs in Greece, the baths in the gymnasia and at the healing temples’ springs and baths.  Both men and women (separately) spent time in the loutron showering, washing, rubbing, scraping their skin with strigils, and anointing each other with oil.  Not only did this cleanliness promote good physical hygiene, it promoted mental hygiene as well.  Humans are social creatures.  We like to be touched and cared for.  We crave physical contact. Group bathing and non-sexual touching sooth away anxiety, reduces the strain of interpersonal conflicts.  This is one custom, caring and non-sexual touching, I wish we would bring into our modern culture.

Sleep is a way to stay physically and mentally healthy and is a sacred conduit for communication with the Gods. Gods used dreams to communicate and send messages to humans.  Problems were uncovered and treatments revealed when patients slept in the the temples of Asclepios.  Today, mental health care professionals see this more as the unconscious mind revealing itself to us and use dreams and other altered states as a way to address trauma and unresolved issues from our past.

Some recent studies are linking lack of sleep to a variety of major illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.  It certainly doesn’t hurt our physical or mental health to get enough sleep, but few of us do.  70% of Americans say they are not getting enough sleep.  We claim we are too busy doing more important things like work, playing video games and watching TV or are to stressed to sleep.  We brag about how little sleep we get, as if it is a badge of honor.  Treating sleep with the respect it deserves is something most of us could easily do and it would positively affect our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

I hope, in the past four blog posts, I have either reminded you of things you already knew, or encouraged you to think about how your religion and health interacts.  To realize that you control more of your health care than you may have thought and that your actions can cut costs more effectively than any act of Congress.  Perhaps to view or think up different possibilities for how government, health care professionals, and citizens can work together to create healthier communities.

I’m going to ask a huge favor of you – if you do have ideas and opinions for how government, health care professionals, and citizens can work together to create healthier communities, please share them here, with your friends and family, and with your elected officials.

Mar 172010

Much of the conversation regarding health care in our country revolves around cost and what the government’s responsibility is towards the citizens in providing health care.  Sprinkled throughout are bits about greedy doctors, litigious lawyers, and rich taxpayers.  Very little is said about the role that you and I play in maintaining our health.  We are looked at as helpless consumers, too immature to do or understand simple things to keep ourselves healthy.  If we are unwilling to take even the most basic of steps to maintain our health, how we can we castigate doctors and government for not doing enough to help us?  Just as I look to Hellenismos for inspiration on how to manage my finances, I’ve also found wisdom in how to be an active partner in maintaining my health.

In Hellenismos there are several gods that attend to health and wellness because it is such a complex and interconnected issue. Apollon could bring plagues or avert them.  Young men spent hours at the gymnasia, exercising as a devotional offering to Apollon, honing the body along with the intellect.  Healer-priests and physician descendants of Asclepios, such as Hippocrates of the temple at Cos, used the arts of surgery, medicine, prayer, dreams, diet, mineral baths, and songs to heal patients.  Asclepiops’ temples were the first hospitals.  I won’t name all of Asclepios’ divine children, but Hygeia was often worshiped along side Her father.  Hygeia helped patients with prevention of sickness and the continuation of sound physical and mental health.  She encouraged good sanitation practices.

Basic sanitation, surgery, preventative care, diet, medicines, mental health, exercise, prayer and divine intercession, public health initiatives, and what we call alternative medicine are related and interconnected through Apollon’s divine family.  Government, Doctors and Healer Priests, and Citizens all had roles they were expected to play.  Back then, more of the burden was shouldered by individual citizens than by doctors or the government.  Today, almost none of the burden lays with the citizen.  Perhaps it’s time to combine the best of the old with the best of the new?

Apollonian Medicine: Immunizations and Exercise
Immunization: The government should offer free immunizations to all citizens.  Health professionals can either be employed or reimbursed by the government to administer the immunization.  Citizens have a responsibility to get the immunization.

Exercise: This, along with diet, is the number 1 area that Americans need to work on to improve their health and it’s not something that the government or doctors bear much responsibility for.  It’s all on us. Even walking for 15 minutes just 3 days a week can yield remarkable benefits and costs us nothing. How many of us do even that little bit to manage our health? How can we ask others – such as the government, fellow taxpayers, and health care professionals – to spend time, money, and skill to help us when we show almost no desire to help ourselves.   As Nick said in a comment to my previous post about health care, “healthy eating and frequent exercise cost less, and do more good, [than] heart transplants.”

Seven out of ten Americans don’t exercise regularly.  We know the benefits of regular exercise to both our physical and mental health we just don’t do it.  To name a few of those benefits:

Lack of regular exercise not only hurts our health, it hurts our pocketbooks. Physical inactivity, overweight, and obesity were associated with 23% of health plan health care charges and 27% of national health care charges.  In 2000 an estimated $117 billion in health care spending in the USA was due to inactivity and obesity.  To bring it to a personal level, the average active 75 year old female with no physical limitations spends just over $1900 per year on health care costs. The average inactive 75 year old female with no physical limitations spends just over $3,200 per year on health care costs. That’s a difference of $1300 per person per year.

I have a confession to make.  I hate to exercise.  After I got out of the military I swore that the only way I would ever run again would be if someone was chasing me with a knife.  But I do stay active.  I see it as part of my duty to myself, my family, to my community, and to the Gods to stay fit.  Most every morning, I do 12 Sun Salutations while chanting prayers to Helios.  That’s not a huge effort in time or energy, but it it does the job.  Like my coreligionists from long ago, I dedicate this exercise as a devotional offering.  Also like them, reciprocation plays a large role in how I live.  I give so that I may receive.  I receive improved mental health from some quiet, meditative time before the chaos of the day starts along with improved physical health.  I certainly receive more than I give.  But first, I have to be willing to give.  We all have to be willing to give.

Hail Apollon Akesios!

Next blog post: Asclepios Medicine – Combining Traditional and Alternative medicine with a spiritual component.