04/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Daily Ups and Downs

Folks have been asking lately why they continue to catch cold or come down with a flu now and then even when they're really doing their best to live properly. They watch their diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly, monitor their stress levels, try not to worry too much, even practice meditation or a mind/body discipline. Some may imagine, I suppose, that the human's natural state of being is eternal optimal health. Always feeling good, always energetic, always full of zip and zoom. They seem to think that "healthy" is a static condition that can be quantified, an idea which they fall short of while wondering what they are doing wrong.

The truth is that health is a plastic condition. It depends upon age, genetics, circumstances, attitude and habits. Ideally it is as flexible as a yogi and as tough as dirt, but it is never rigid and fixed, never the same day in and day out over any span of time. Like the water in a river, it has currents and ebb and flow. Some days we feel great; some days we feel less so. Some nights we sleep well; some nights we don't. Some days we digest our food without complaint; other days we suffer for choosing the wrong meal or even eating too much of the right one.

In experiencing the ebb and flow of health, we are in good company even with the most disciplined and restrained practitioners of mind body arts--the great meditators, famous yogis, tai chi masters and so on. While all of those practices reduce the amplitude of the "sickness/wellness curve" they don't turn it into a straight line. While mind/body practice can indeed improve our health as it deepens our life experience, conditions our mind and helps us integrate our emotions, such a practice is only one piece of the larger picture of who and what we are. No matter what you do there are some hard realities you may not be able to control. If you live in Minnesota a daily swim in the ocean to flush your sinuses is not really feasible. If you've made some bad decisions you may have to pay for them for a while.

You have genetic predispositions as well, a reality that at least for the time being may make perfect health difficult. Sports icon Jim Fixx, took up running when he was 35, overweight, and a two pack-a-day smoker. He discovered the joy of running, lost 60 pounds and stopped smoking. His books and media appearances were a source of inspiration to many folks who got out on the road, addressed their sedentary lifestyles and changed their lives for the better. When he suffered a massive heart attack at 52, some people said Fixx's premature end proved that running was a bad thing. What those critics failed to recognize was that Fixx had a family history of cardiovascular disease. His father suffered a heart attack at 35 and died of one at 42. Were Fixx's ten extra years worth the effort? He would probably say yes.

We all go through cycles of sickness and health. These cycles represent our body coping with assaults from the outside, and dealing with our stress at life's challenges. If we always felt perfectly well, our body's defense mechanisms would have no practice dealing with adversaries. We'd do great until one day we just dropped dead from a mosquito bite. The up and down of our every day energy level is normal. The goal is to narrow the amplitude of the curve, the wave, the cycle so that we never feel really badly, and the big afflictions do not strike us.

Go ahead and be more careful with your diet. Go ahead and get a bit more exercise. Go ahead and watch that stress and be mindful of your habits -- including your own tendency to obsess or judge or take life twists and turns to heart. Go ahead and take your mind/body practice up a notch too if you like. Do all that, but be happy too. Enjoy life, even those perfectly natural daily ups and downs.