You may have heard of holistic health, as it is a lifestyle approach that is becoming more popular. Interestingly, the majority of holistic health practices are traditional and ancient medicine that have been around for centuries.
What Is Holistic Health?
Holistic health takes a whole-person approach to health and healing that includes body, mind, and soul as well as environmental qualities of everyday living. A holistic approach reminds you that the whole is made up of many interdependent parts. In the case of the individual, when one part is out of balance or neglected, it affects the other parts.
Holistic health puts the majority of health in the hands of the individual, through mindful and informed choices, self-study, education, and a way of life that is in harmony with nature. Holistic health practitioners and modalities are constructed to support the individual in a whole-person healthy way of living.
Health and healing take personal choice, observation, and commitment—learning to tune into your experience and learn what works, what exacerbates symptoms, and what nourishes your whole being.
Learning the basics of holistic health may help you navigate your health and healing with mindfulness and inspiration to strongly guide you on your quest. Keep reading for a beginners guide to holistic health!
Benefits of Holistic Health
There are many benefits to integrating holistic health practices into your daily life:
- Treating the common cold
- Decreasing inflammation in the body
- Alleviating daily stress
- Adding in supplements, foods, or daily practices that are helpful additions to accelerate feeling your best
For example, zinc and elderberry, two natural remedies, have been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold. Turmeric, a well-known root, has been shown to lower systemic inflammation and symptoms in patients with arthritis. Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective treatment for chronic pain. Aromatherapy has been shown to support healthy sleep and reduce levels of anxiety of cardio stent insertion patients in an ICU.
There are a wide variety of holistic health treatments and protocols from many traditions around the world. Finding a modality that works for you and that works with any other medical treatment or medication you are taking is surely worth looking into.
Many folks choose to add in holistic living practices along with more conventional treatments—this is known as complementary or integrative medicine. In many cases, some of the more ancient holistic health practices have even been incorporated into standard medical care.
Some holistic health modalities require a trained practitioner, while others can be self-taught mind-body practices to explore on your own—such as meditation or yoga. Here are a few holistic healthcare modalities for you to explore.
Functional medicine is a science-based approach that targets identifying and managing the root cause of disease. Each symptom and diagnosis may be one of many contributing factors to an individual’s overall health and wellness.
Functional medicine practitioners often compile scientific testing—such as blood work—to identify and prioritize a treatment plan. Over the course of working with a functional medicine practitioner, you will often be given dietary and lifestyle recommendations in the form of healthy eating, professional supplement regimens, sleep support, stress management, exercise protocols, hormonal health strategies, and mind-body practices.
For example, one study looked at a functional medicine approach to improving stress, energy, fatigue, digestive issues, and quality of life in middle-aged women for 28 weeks. The study confirmed improvements in areas of stress, fatigue, and quality-of-life capacities. This study discussed that functional medicine is a powerful and practical approach to a variety of health concerns—from stress-management to gastrointestinal distress.
Ayurveda is the ancient medicine that comes from India and is considered one of the oldest medicines in the world. Over many thousands of years, Ayurveda has evolved and is now widespread in countries all around the world. Ayurveda is considered a complementary medicine looking at the whole person through many lenses of health.
Ayurveda is known for its ability to treat many conditions such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and asthma. Ayurveda is a medical system that includes physical, psychological, philosophical, ethical, and spiritual health. Ayurveda supports the many self-healing aspects of the body through a body, mind, and soul approach as well as the use of herbal remedies to treat specific ailments and conditions.
While there is still a lot of research needed to scientifically prove many aspects of Ayurveda as a holistic healing approach, a lot of progress has been made in the deeper understanding of how Ayurveda works and its effectiveness with many of today’s most common health issues.
Acupuncture originated in China more than 3,000 years ago as part of traditional Chinese medicine that is and was practiced there. Acupuncture is based on the complex body of meridians—energy highways of the body—where qi (or energy) should flow. The meridians are often spoken of as pathways or channels throughout the body that access different systems of the body carrying blood and bodily fluids around the body.
According to one study: “Although the meridians have not been identified reliably as actual anatomical structures, they appear to serve as a road map to identify the location of various acupoints. Research has shown that acupoints overlie major neuronal bundles.”
Acupuncture primarily uses needles, suction cups, and pressure points at specific meridian locations on the body to activate and strengthen the meridians leading to more health and vitality. While more research is needed, there have been many positive results with acupuncture being an effective treatment for certain health issues such as pain and headaches.
Nutritional medicine is a holistic health modality that emphasizes the importance of food and nutrition in your overall health and wellness. Like the well-known quote by Hippocrates says: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” nutritional therapies emphasize food as medicine.
Nutritional medicine practitioners also look specifically at the individual and design an eating plan to match exactly what it is that is uniquely suited to the current health status and bio-individuality of the patient—the unique and specific nutritional needs based on many important factors and variables, including climate, genetic lineage, environmental stressors, and daily life rhythms.
Research in this field is growing and primarily shows that food is integral to the health of the individual. Notably, nutrition is a relatively inexpensive approach and complement to the prevention and treatment of many common health issues such as diabetes and many of the associated conditions (weight gain, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure).
The most well-known chiropractic treatment is when a chiropractor does spinal manipulation, also known as a chiropractic adjustment. With controlled pressure moving and releasing the joints, a chiropractor most often uses joint manipulation, soft tissue manipulation, physical rehabilitation or home care and activity support to reduce pain and inflammation, improve nerve function, and/or relieve built-up pressure on joints.
Chiropractic can be intimidating at first, as there is a level of vulnerability that happens with physical adjustments, but a good chiropractic adjustment can feel like quite a relief.
Research shows that the most common reasons for seeking chiropractic care are low back pain, neck pain, and extremity problems. Chiropractors often include other aspects of health such as diet, supplements, home movement therapies, and stress management.
Aromatherapy (often called essential oil therapy) is a holistic health modality that uses natural plant extracts in the form of oils to elevate health and well-being. Aromatherapy uses a wide variety of aromatic essential oils medicinally (topically, internally, and aromatically) to improve body, mind, and spirit health. Aromatherapy is said to enhance both physical and emotional health.
For example, oregano oil is often used internally to boost immunity, while chamomile oil is used topically to reduce stress. There are a plethora of different plant-based essential oils to explore and match up with the many different aspects of your health and well-being.
By simply sitting quietly, slowing down your breath, and creating a one-pointed focus such as a mantra or an affirmation, you can achieve a deep state of inner tranquility that impacts many aspects of your being.
Once you learn the basics, meditation is a holistic health practice that you can practice on your own, in the comfort of your own home, and on your own schedule.
There are many types and styles of meditation—including spiritual, internal or external focused, and progressive muscular relaxation—that originate from a variety of cultures around the world. Finding a style that fits your needs is a good place to start.
While more research is needed, various studies do confirm that meditation is a wonderful way to engage in a mind-body approach to healing. Research shows that meditation may positively affect health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and inflammation.
Many beginners enjoy guided meditation at first to learn the basics and get comfortable with meditation. You may also enjoy seeking out a meditation teacher or group in your community or online.
Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that originated in ancient India 3,000 years ago. Yoga includes a heavy focus on the mind-body connection through intentional movement and postures (asana) as well as breathwork and focused attention. Yoga can also include a scholarly component, such as the famous text called The Yoga Sutras describing the philosophy of yoga, originally translated from one of the well-known sages from India, Patanjali.
Multiple studies have confirmed that yoga can be useful as both a prevention and treatment for many of today’s most common health issues such as blood glucose levels, musculoskeletal ailments, and a healthy cardiovascular system. Yoga has also been confirmed to support health, including lowering the level of anxiety, boosting positive emotions, and increasing mental focus.
If you are new to yoga, be sure to start slow, and learn the foundational elements so that you can build on them over time. Most yoga studios host beginner or foundations classes to get you started.
Safety and Efficacy of Holistic Health
Few alternative treatments have been well researched and studied. While holistic health treatments are generally safe and effective, it is important to do your research. One way to diminish any risks of holistic health is to talk to your health care practitioner before adding such treatments to your health regimen.
Notably, herbal and nutritional supplements can be strong and can interact with medications or other natural remedies.
How to Find a Holistic Health Practitioner
With the internet an arms-reach away, you should be able to find a holistic health care practitioner swiftly. Here are some things to consider in your search:
- Credentials: Looking into credibility, longevity, and the diversity that a holistic health care practitioner has is a good place to start. This will help inform you of what to expect and assess the level of practitioner you are considering.
- Modality: There are many holistic health modalities to learn about. Finding a holistic healthcare modality that aligns with your needs, beliefs, and values is an important aspect of supporting your whole health and success.
- Availability: Be sure the holistic health care practitioner you choose works with your schedule and location. Often, consistency and accountability make all the difference in your whole health support and success.
- Reviews: Usually you can access reviews and testimonials on the website of your potential holistic healthcare practitioner. Reviews can ensure you that you are going to get top-quality care.
A holistic health approach is a wonderful way to enhance your health and your life. You may feel more balanced, integrated, and engaged in your own health and healing than before. Holistic health is a topic worth exploring and it could have life-changing effects with how you feel in many aspects of daily living.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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