When you hear people talk about holistic health, what do you think of? A lot of people’s minds would drift to alternative medicine or naturopathy. Others would think of herbal supplements, massage, or energy healing. If the words “holistic health” conjure up any of these things for you, you’d be on the right track — but you might want to think a little more broadly.
While holistic health usually includes at least some of the things mentioned above, they aren’t the main idea. At its core, holistic health honors the mind-spirit-body connection, using a variety of holistic practices and clinically-proven therapies to do so. Like many forms of alternative medicine, holistic health is focused on prevention and overall wellness — not just addressing symptoms or even treating disease. But holistic health is really a different, more comprehensive way of thinking about and facilitating wellness for every part of the person. It encompases physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.
According to the American Holistic Health Association (AHHA): “Rather than focusing on illness or specific parts of the body, this ancient approach to health considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment. It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit. The goal is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning the very best that is possible.”
Holistic health is based on the understanding that all four of these areas affect your overall health and wellness. Advocates of holistic health would probably tell that each area (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) affects the others.
One prime example of how one area might affect the others is stress. Feeling stressed is a psychological response to what might be going on in your life, but stress may cause very real physical symptoms, such as insomnia, appetite changes, upset stomach, dry mouth, and muscle pain. And have you ever felt anxious, sad, disconnected, or even angry along with a physical illness?
There are other examples of how one area of wellness might affect the others. If you’re feeling poorly on an emotional level, it could affect you physically in a variety of ways. You might not sleep well, feel fatigued, or even physical discomfort. If you’re feeling spiritually disconnected, it might affect your emotional state, and so on.
These examples are obviously less desirable. But the opposite can also occur. Case in point, research shows that spirituality may boost both your mental and physical wellness, specifically including less hypertension (or high blood pressure) and reduced stress.
When you visit a holistic physician, these are just some of the reasons why you may be asked about more than your physical symptoms. He or she may also be concerned about your overall well being, emotional or mental state, and quality of life. Having all this information can help a holistic health practitioner make recommendations that treat all these areas for more well-rounded results.
Holistic Health Care Practices
Holistic health practitioners use a wide variety of methods to address different health concerns, including nutritional or dietary changes, some pharmaceuticals, exercise, spiritual and psychological counseling, energy healing, and evidence-based alternative practices such as yoga, acupuncture, massage, and more. If you have physical injury, a holistic physician may recommend you have any necessary repair surgery or prescribe pain medication, but also instruct you in exercise to naturally increase endorphins. They may discuss your diet and inflammatory versus anti-inflammatory foods. Mindful meditation or counseling could be recommended to help you manage stress and emotional health. Massage therapy or acupuncture may be prescribed to help you deal with discomfort.
A holistic physician will strive to treat you as a whole person instead of simply addressing a condition. Any appropriate tool they have at their disposal may be recommended as part of a well-rounded treatment plan. While holistic health care may incorporate some appropriate treatments used by mainstream health care, drugs and surgery are not usually the default. Some of the primary methods used in holistic medicine may include:
- Diet modifications
- Nutritionals and/or herbal supplements
- Exercise, such as yoga
- Environmental measures (such as eliminating potential toxins or chemicals)
- Attitude and behavior modifications
- Relationship and spiritual counseling
- Energy healing practices like The Emotion Code® and others
Holistic health care usually focuses on lifestyle changes, noninvasive remedies and improving energy flow. All of these things are aimed at helping the body to heal itself the way it was designed to do.
There are also a number of practices that live under the umbrella of holistic health. These come from many ancient traditions around the world. Some of these practices require the use of a trained practitioner, while others can be learned on your own. Here are a few examples of holistic health practices you may encounter.
This ancient form of medicine from India has evolved over thousands of years, and is now in use all over the globe. As a medical system that includes physical, psychological, philosophical, ethical, and spiritual health, Ayurveda supports the self-healing of body, mind, and soul, along with the use of herbal remedies to soothe specific ailments and conditions.
Developed in China more than 3,000 years, acupuncture is a big part of traditional Chinese medicine. It is based on the body’s meridians — or energy highways — where qi (or energy) flows. It is thought that these energy highways or channels provide access to the different systems of the body.
Acupuncture uses tiny needles, suction cups, and pressure points in specified points of the body to activate and strengthen these meridians for different purposes. Research is ongoing, but many users swear by acupuncture as an effective method for easing health issues and types of discomfort.
Using controlled pressure and specific training, a chiropractor uses joint and soft tissue manipulation, physical rehabilitation, and home care and activity to support the reduction of discomfort, inflammation, and joint pressure. Nerve function may also be improved through chiropractic care. You may seek out a chiropractor if you have discomfort in your back, neck, or extremities. Chiropractors often recommend other changes to diet, supplements, exercise, and stress management.
As a holistic health practice, aromatherapy uses natural plant extracts in the form of oils, deployed via diffusers or applied topically to elevate wellness, enhance mood, reduce stress, and more. Specific aromatics from these oils are used for different physical, emotional, or spiritual purposes. For example, oregano oil is thought to support immunity, and chamomile oil is used topically to reduce stress.
Mindful meditation is one of the most widely used holistic health practices. While you may seek guidance from a recording or personal guide, you can easily practice it on your own, in the comfort of your own home. There are many different kinds of meditation for spiritual growth, progressive relaxation, stress management, focus, etc. Many people embrace meditation as a mind-body approach to holistic health. Research shows meditation may have a positive impact on things like high blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and inflammation.
The term energy healing is used to describe a variety of holistic healing techniques that use the natural mind-body connection to promote emotional and physical wellbeing. By accessing, channeling, balancing, and manipulating the body’s natural energy centers, energy healing processes may help support health.
Energy healing is based on connecting the subconscious and conscious, engaging the whole person to promote health and wellbeing. Unlike the prescription medications and invasive surgeries of conventional medical practices, energy healing combines powerful physical, mental, and spiritual aspects to enable the body’s natural healing ability. The Emotion Code® and The Body Code™ are two excellent examples of energy healing practices that are made accessible and simple to anyone who wants to use them. You can use both modalities in the Discover Healing app.
The Benefits of Living Holistically
Holistic health care is more of a lifestyle than an event. Holistic living shouldn’t start when you walk into a practitioner’s office and stop when you leave. For good or bad, your daily habits and activities all affect your mind, body and spirit and how they function individually and as a whole.
While few “alternative” methods of holistic health care are well researched and studied, most would agree that they are generally safe. To diminish any personal risk, you should consider speaking to your health care provider before pursuing holistic practices. Herbals and other supplements, for example, could interact with medications you’re already taking.
That said, many people opt for holistic health care because it helps them feel more proactive and empowered in their own health care on a day-to-day basis. Rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then relying on drugs to work or surgery to fix these problems, holistic-minded people would rather take measures to enhance their own well being by the way they eat, move, think, and believe. By taking this proactive approach to wellness, they often experience fewer health problems because they’ve prevented them through a healthy approach to living.