If you have a nagging feeling that something is wrong – with your health, your job or a relationship – you’re likely right. And it will eventually take a toll on your health, according to the principles of holistic health.
Holistic medicine considers and emphasizes the whole person and the connection of mind, body, spirit and emotions. It treats the mind-body-spirit as an integrative unit, not as separate systems operating in isolation. Pain, dis-ease, anxiety, insomnia, illness or an uneasy gut feeling can be signals from the body that something is out of balance.
Other principles of holistic medicine include the following:
- True health involves the “whole” person; it’s not just the absence of disease but a positive state of being.
- Mind and body are integrated and inseparable and emotional well-being can impact overall health.
- The body contains an energy system that underlies and enlivens the physical body.
- The body has an innate power to heal itself under the right conditions – health is linked to balance in this living energy system.
- When there are energy blocks, it can interfere with bodily processes, reduce organ function and comprise health.
- Healing takes a team approach involving the patient and doctor, and addresses all aspects of a person’s life using natural and preventative approaches to health.
- Wellness involves finding and addressing the root cause of the condition, not just alleviating the symptoms, and encompasses mind-body-spirit.
- Each person has a responsibility for his/her own health and must be an active participant in his/her own healing.
Holistic health has roots in ancient healing traditions, dating back 5,000 years ago in India and China, which stress living in harmony with nature. Socrates warned against treating only one part of the body, “for the part can never be well unless the whole is well.” Similarly, Hippocrates said “Let medicine be thy food and let food be thy medicine.”
Holistic medicine emphasizes the interaction between an individual and environment and encourages a patient to examine what factors promote or prevent health and well-being. Harmony in these interactions promotes wellness, while disharmony and imbalance results in disease.
Therefore, if the body is made up of interdependent parts and one part is comprised or not working at its optimal level, all the other parts will be affected. In addition, holistic medicine takes into consideration other external factors. If people have imbalances – physical, emotional, or spiritual – in their lives, it can negatively impact their overall health.
This can include addictions, social isolation, depression, overeating, suppressing emotions, chronic health problems, chronic stress, poor sleep habits, poor coping skills, personal and financial problems and one’s spiritual practices and beliefs – or lack of them. Holding onto negative emotions such as grief, anger and resentment or unresolved trauma also can contribute to illness.
Holistic practitioners may use a variety of treatment options, from conventional medication to alternative therapies, to restore a patient’s health and suggest lifestyle modifications to encourage balance.
Holistic medicine is more an approach to life and an ongoing process. As a lifestyle, it means committing to healthy habits that optimize well-being. But no matter your current health status, you can make changes to improve your health and reverse bad habits.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the key factors influencing an individual’s state of health have not changed significantly over the past 20 years, according to an article on at the American Holistic Health Association. Quality of medical care is only 10 percent. Heredity accounts for 18 percent and environment is 19 percent. Everyday lifestyle choices are 53 percent, meaning the decisions people make about their life and habits are the largest factor in determining their state of wellness.
Rather than treating symptoms or focusing on illness in one part of the body, this ancient philosophy takes into account the whole person and other factors that could be negatively affecting one’s health. It encourages being loving, kind and gentle to one’s self, as well as empowering patients to be responsible for their own health – mental, physical and emotional – and general sense of peace and well-being.
Practitioners use a variety of approaches and techniques to help their patients take responsibility for their health. This includes patient education on lifestyle changes and self-care strategies, which may include diet changes, regular exercise, smoking cessation, psychotherapy, relationship and spiritual counseling, and addressing financial, family and work problems.
Western medicine tends to focus on diagnosing and treating symptoms or recommending surgery and drug therapy. Holistic health is not only concerned with the absence of disease, but asks patients to consider their overall happiness, life satisfaction, spiritual connection, emotional state and energy and vitality.
Alternative therapies also may be recommended, including chiropractic care, dietary supplements, essential oils, herbalism, acupuncture, massage, meditation, physical therapy, Reiki, reflexology, homeopathy, naturopathy and other Eastern practices such as Ayurvedic medicine.
Holistic providers can be medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, homeopaths and Ayurvedic physicians. Find out as much as you can about their training, credentials, experience, specialty, and association with professional organizations and hospital affiliations.
It’s important to find a practitioner whom you trust and can build a good rapport because they should ask questions about your diet, exercise, sleep, emotional state, relationships, use of drugs, alcohol and smoking, and religious and spiritual practices to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
Make sure you feel comfortable and respected and are honest about your various concerns. A practitioner with a holistic approach should examine all lifestyle factors, along with medical factors that could be contributing to your illness, and make recommendations beyond medication.
Above all, pay attention to warning signals your body, mind and spirit are sending and listen!