I believe there is a great deal of misinformation and stereotyping around holistic practice, especially holistic medicine. Many people, often Westerners, dismiss the concept before “holistically” (haha) learning about the practice. It’s viewed as “hocus-pocus,” or “new-age nonsense,” or as a friend of mine so fondly states, “that hippy-dippy [stuff].”
The reality is that Western medicine and behavior really needs to take a closer look at holistic practices because we’re often treating symptoms, and not disease. The paradigms of our illnesses, whether they are physical, mental, or a combination, are often rooted in various aspects of our lives.
According to WebMD, “Holistic medicine is a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit, and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness. According to the holistic medicine philosophy, one can achieve optimal health — the primary goal of holistic medicine practice — by gaining proper balance in life.” The key words here are whole person – body, mind, spirit, and emotions. When we approach our overall health, we have to consider all aspects of a person’s life. For example, if you find yourself getting colds quite often, have you changed your diet? Are you under a lot more stress? It’s not necessarily always a bug floating around, because there will always be bugs floating around, but what is making us vulnerable.
In yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, and ancient Hindu practices, our whole self is centered around “chakra,” which in Sanskrit literally means “wheel” or “disc.” Our chakras are aligned to seven centers around our body, starting with the spine. The idea of the “wheel” implies that the whole being of self is inter-connected. The Chopra Center uses the bathtub drain as an example for how chakras work:
“These swirling wheels of energy correspond to massive nerve centers in the body. Each of the seven main chakras contains bundles of nerves and major organs as well as our psychological, emotional, and spiritual states of being. Since everything is moving, it’s essential that our seven main chakras stay open, aligned, and fluid. If there is a blockage, energy cannot flow. Think of something as simple as your bathtub drain. If you allow too much hair to go into the drain, the bathtub will back up with water, stagnate and eventually bacteria and mold will grow. So is too with our bodies and the chakras.”
Traditional Chinese Medicine bears a similar philosophy. Taoism helped form the philosophy that our “gi” (vital energy), blood, and body fluids are the material basis for all body functions, and that if one aspect of the system in unaligned, either spiritually or physically, it may manifest itself in different ways.
So, how do we apply holistic practices in our Western culture? Firstly, it’s still imperative that you receive (at the very least) a yearly physical from your medical doctor. As much as I love the ideas of holistic medicine, it doesn’t completely replace hard scientific facts that a physician can declare through blood-work and routine examination. In short, if you’re feeling ill, definitely see a doctor, but there are ways to approach a better well-being through holistic practices:
- Consider your diet. If you’ve been feeling tired, moody, bloated, constipated, etc., have you recently changed your diet? Is your diet filled with nutritional foods like nuts, lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits?
- Hydration levels. Moodiness, oily skin, and cramps can often be a result of dehydration.
- Stress levels. Stress is a huge trigger for so many physical maladies such as nausea, headaches, indigestion, moodiness, and depression. If you’re feeling overly stressed, consider some time to reflect and meditate. This could be taking a walk, writing, yoga, or taking a bath – just some time for you to think about what is causing you stress and/or anxiety. Then consider ways to eliminate stresses in your life – Is the stress trigger something you can control? If not, how can you let it go? If so, how can you work to change it?
- Depression levels. So many more people are depressed than we realize. Depression can manifest itself as listlessness, exhaustion, over-indulgence, headaches, substance abuse, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, and more. While I always recommend seeking the help of a professional for long-term or clinical depression, it also helps to meditate on what may be triggering depression. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance, which would require the treatment of a professional psychiatrist or physician, but sometimes it’s a life-trigger that we can slowly work to change.
Whatever one’s malady may be, the important point to take-away from holistic practice is to look at the whole. What may appear to be simply physical may actually have underlying roots and causes.
If you feel like the help you need may be outside of your own realm of solution, here are some resources:
Wishing you all good health and wellness. Namaste.