Books: Reading for Health

I must be some sort of kin to Rudyard Kipling’s Elephant’s Child, the one who, you may recall, got in trouble by asking too many questions. I’m pretty much an omnivore when it comes to information. As my mother once said, my mind is like a garbage can: it takes in whatever comes along. (She now denies describing me that way, but I have witnesses!) Richard and I have a habit of reading to each other over meals, especially lunch. Since I eat fast and finish first, and he savors his food in a leisurely fashion, I tend to be the reader.

Lately our reading has focused on health-related subjects (surprise, surprise), with particular emphasis on books that might shed insight into the nature of healing and/or staying healthy. Here are capsule reviews of three we’ve found especially inspiring, in very different ways.

Anticancer First, Dr. David Servain-Schreiber’s AntiCancer, A New Way of Life, the book that inspired us both to take seriously our longtime commitment to eating and living healthfully. This eminently readable and well-researched book was written by a physician and brain researcher who has survived brain cancer, including two surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. Servain-Schreiber looks at a wide range of research about why when all of us carry cells with the mutations that cause cancer, only some of us get cancer while others don’t. The book’s got specific, practical recommendations for diet, exercise, and maintaining mental, emotional and spiritual health, all based on medical research. Despite being a bestseller, it’s not a lightweight book. As a writer, I’m impressed also by Servain-Schreiber’s fluency in English (he’s French) and in translating medical research for an average reading audience. (Many thanks to Nancy and Dave for the recommendation.)

Instanthealing Then there’s Instant Healing, by Serge Kahili King, PhD, which despite its “pop psych” title, is an illuninating look at a range of visualizations and other exercises any of us can do to engage our body’s natural abililty to heal. The author, trained in western psychology and Hawaiian traditional healing, takes a refreshingly humble and humorous approach to the techniques he explains. My only complaint is that Kahili King–or his editors–sometimes gets too cute and too funny, presumably in order to not to put off readers who might be skeptical about the non-traditional practices. But Kahili King grounds the book in practical explanations of how healing works and the effect of stress on our bodies, leading the reader to the techniques in a logical way. (Thanks to Anna for the gift of Instant Healing–both the book and its ideas.)

Most recently, we’ve been delving into a book I’ve just reviewed for Story Circle Book Reviews, Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being, by Dr. Esther Sternberg, a physician who is also a quite lyrical writer and interpreter of science. In the book’s opening chapter, Sternberg describes the “turning point” in the healing process when you go “from the dark side to the light, when your interest in the world revives and when despair gives way to hope.” That impulse toward healing, she notes, comes from within. “But do our surroundings, in turn, have an effect on us? Can the spaces around us help us heal?”

Healingspaces This intensely informative book answers those questions, and along the way, gives animated descriptions of our immune system mobilizing to heal a wound, our eyes taking in information about what we see and transmitting those images to our brains. Sternberg describes how we hear, smell, taste and feel, and then how these senses work with the brain in healing—the actual physiological “belief response”—and with the biology of the hormones that promote healing. She also looks at architecture, and how it directly affects our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Healing Spaces is not a light read, but it is compelling. This is a book to savor: read a bit, let it digest, and then read more. You’ll reach the end understanding yourself more fully, inside and out, and with a richer sense of the ways you and your environment interact and how these interactions affect your life and health. (Read the full review on Story Circle Book Reviews.)

Richard and I are motivated to read all three of these books because we’re looking for ways to keep us both healthy in his journey with brain cancer. But I’d recomend any of these books to any reader, no matter where you are in your life. All three in very different ways illuminate how to live our ordinary lives in more healthy, mindful, and yes, happy ways.