Slow Medicine, Good Gardening: Who is the Remarkable Dr. Sweet?
My love affair with Lifestyle Medicine began in 1983 when I began practicing yoga at Grinnell College in Iowa.
After college, I moved to San Francisco, a city that helped pioneer Lifestyle Medicine. With the support of countless San Franciscans I evolved from being a 2-3 packs-a-day smoker into a world-class breather. At age 54, my VO2 Max tested at 47 mi/kg/min which is off the charts great for my age group and gender. Each year I continue to blossom more fully with the help of the San Francisco Dolphin Club swimming and rowing community.
Many San Franciscans taught me about lifestyle medicine. In this blog, I’ll highlight Dr. Victoria Sweet, the author of God’s Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. In her book, Sweet discusses her brand of “slow medicine” that I consider a great example of Lifestyle Medicine.
Sweet developed the concept of slow medicine while working at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the last almshouse in the United States. Even though it’s municipally funded, Laguna Honda is a throwback to medieval times when Catholic nuns ran hospitals in Europe. Hildegard of Bingen profoundly influenced Sweet. Hildegard was a nun, German mystic, musical composer, and practicing physician in the twelfth century.
Sweet incorporated Hildegard’s notion that good medicine is akin to good gardening.
Hildegard’s central doctrine is veriditas, literally greening. Hildegard’s idea of veriditas means “the power of plants to put forth leaves, flowers, and fruits; and she also used it for the analogous power of human beings to grow, to give birth, and to heal” (page 86). Hildegard inspired Sweet to regard good physicians as good gardeners. Just as wise farmers create the conditions for plants to thrive and withstand weeds, pests, and poor weather conditions, good doctors inspire patients to thrive and endure the insults of stress, illness, trauma, and injuries by practicing slow medicine. Sweet highlights in her book that the passage of time is an ingredient necessary for plants to grow as well as patients to heal.
While working at Laguna Honda hospital, Sweet realized her job as a “doctor-gardener” was to honor her patients’ innate veriditas. She noticed her patients healed more easily when this innate ability to heal was not obstructed by lack of rest or overmedication.
After reading God’s Hotel I realized that Lifestyle Medicine shares the same premise of veriditas. We all have the ability to heal ourselves when we adopt habits that fortify our veriditas. I am a doctor of physical therapy and certified yoga and Pilates instructor so I highlight breathing, postural, and movement habits. However, any aspect of our lifestyle can be used as the focus of Lifestyle Medicine including diet, artistic expression, sleep, and downtime.
I highly recommend reading God’s Hotel. I predict it will inspire you to practice Lifestyle Medicine, if you don’t already do so.
If you’re looking for more ways to reconnect to your breath and integrate Lifestyle Medicine in your life, please see my book Rescued by my Breath, now available on Amazon. If you are interested in learning more about Lifestyle Medicine, please take a moment to visit my website here.