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.