Understanding physiology – understanding health

understanding physiology health wellbeing holistic

Physiology and health is one of the eight pillars of La Crisalida’s holistic health and wellbeing programme. In this introductory article, I will explore why we have included this element in our programme, to explain why it is important for understanding our own health. I’ll share my own experience of ill-health to help illustrate why having a holistic approach to any illness or disease can help each of us to find healing and a way back to health.

What is physiology?

The definition of physiology is simply “the knowledge of nature”. Essentially, it seeks to understand and explain the normal functioning of a living organism, like a person, animal or plant, and all its component parts, including all the physical and chemical processes.

The origins of physiology date back to Hippocrates (460-377 BCE) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE). In fact, Hippocrates is said to have use the term physiology to mean the healing power of nature.

In recent decades, Science has tended to break things down into smaller and smaller components, deconstructing our body, processes and health or disease. Of course, understanding the genome or how viruses work for example is important, however the body works and interacts in a complex way, it is not exactly a linear relationship. Even if we understand each individual component, we are more than the sum of all the individual components. For example, how does one explain emotion, intelligence or even brain function, just by looking at the cell, or atom? Taking a physiological approach therefore seeks to encompass the whole.

To us here at La Crisalida, this means that if we understand our physiology, our body, we can understand and therefore start to influence our health. Read on to find out why!

Physiology and health

When you look at the definition of physiology, it is clear that physiology is health. Physiology has two essential parts when looking at our body and health (or disease):

  • understanding the WHY. This looks at function – why does something work the way it does? This is a teleological approach
  • understanding the HOW. This looks at mechanism – how does it work? and takes a mechanistic approach

This can seem like a lot to understand, which it is if you want to understand everything about our body! However, if or when you experience ill health, starting to delve a little deeper into the function and mechanism of the body system(s) affected, can help us to take a role in creating our health. We can take actions or steps to support our body as it works to bring itself back to health.

What is homeostasis?

Homeostasis is an important concept when talking about health and wellbeing.

Homeo – means like or similar

Stasis – means condition

So essentially, homeostasis means a state of maintaining a similar condition. It does not mean keeping it the same all the time (homo means same).

Our bodies are always changing, things fluctuate. For example, our body temperature moves up and down around a “normal” point. Our hormones change – by hour and day (e.g. cortisol) and over the years (e.g. oestrogen and testosterone), all around a “normal” point.

The body monitors its internal state and takes action to correct disruptions that threaten its normal function. This is the essence of homeostasis and it is why we believe that our body is always looking for a way to return to health – to normal functioning. By understanding this, it means we can make different decisions about what we do and how we live our lives. We can make decisions and take actions that create health and wellbeing.

What causes ill-health?

When the normal function of the body and its systems are disrupted, particularly over a longer period, this can lead to ill-health.

Disruption can come from two places:

  • from the outside – an external source, such as virus, bacteria, toxic chemicals, trauma etc.
  • from the inside, for example autoimmune, cancer (malfunction of normal cell behaviour) or from an inherited condition.

So lets say, there is a disruption to our normal bodily function, caused by our decision to drink alcohol. Our body attempts to deal with the alcohol, to remove it from our body, as soon as possible. Our liver seeks to process and remove, kidneys aim to excrete, and our lungs clear ethanol from the blood (which is why one can smell alcohol on someone´s breath). One or two drinks, the body can usually successfully clear the alcohol and normal functioning resumes relatively quickly, and we remain well. With repeated drinking, over a sustained period of time, the body starts to fail in dealing with the disruption, which ultimately can lead to illness or disease.

When I was diagnosed with endometriosis many years ago, the doctors gave me a clear description of the disease state in my body (using scans, including MRI). However, there was little explanation of why this had happened and there was also much uncertainty about how (the mechanism by which) it had developed. The doctors explained that certain hormones were “not normal” (some low, some elevated) and that these unbalanced hormonal results supported their diagnosis. Surgery and pills (both of which are mechanisms to disrupt the process) were the only options available and I took both over the years. Despite this, I remained in a great deal of pain for many years. It was only when I started to explore the effects of diet, and made changes to my diet, did I experience a reduction in the pain. I took up yoga and regular massage, prioritizing time to exercise, have time in nature, and to relax. I explored mindset – using neurolinguistic programming (NLP) to rebalance and let go of some unhelpful beliefs. I found meditation particularly helpful and after a vipassana meditation found my pain symptoms gone for good. (Read more about this here – can meditation heal). 

Through my own experience, I could see that external change leads to internal change.

La Crisalida Retreats and Physiology

Here at the retreat we like to talk a lot about balance. Balance is not going to an extreme, but finding that middle place. In some of our workshops we talk about the 80:20 rule as a guide for finding a healthy balance that works for you. For food, this might mean that 80% of the time you follow a plant-based diet, focusing on lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, pluses and legumes, nuts and seeds. And for the other 20% you might have some other items in your diet, for example meat, dairy, sugar, alcohol, cakes, and/or processed food. Every one of us is different, so its about listening to your body and responding. Some of us might tolerate dairy and some of us (like me) do not.

The retreat space provides a relaxing and stress-free environment, with nutritious plant-based food and/or juices (reducing the items that cause our bodies more stress), with exercise to get our body moving (focusing on aerobic rather than anaerobic exercise), and space to rest and sleep. Coming away from your usual routine, work, friends, relatives and all the joys and challenges that can bring, gives your body a chance to reset. Together, this supports our body to make the internal changes needed to return to homeostasis – to return to health and wellbeing.

Physiology is in integral part of our holistic programme for health and wellbeing. As such it comes into everything that we do – it might not be obvious at first glance but it is there.

In our daily lives we might choose to focus our attention on one part or one system (e.g. our digestive system) at a time, in response to an episode of ill-health. As everything is inter-related, a change in one area can influence and change another system or area.

I hope this brief introduction has inspired you to take a new approach if you have experiencing ill-health at the moment. We are fortunate that there is a great deal of information available at our finger-tips now. Use all the technology and experience available to you, including the medical profession and get curious about things. Start to explore inside. Keep a diary and as you make external changes to lifestyle, whether it is diet, environment, exercise, sleep, working on your mindset, notice any changes that may occur, no matter how big or small. Your body wants to find that place of balance, that place of health and wellbeing.

Much love


About the author

Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).