Modern western medicine is often thought of in terms of treating disease or sickness. Its focus is often on curing one particular ailment or alleviating specific symptoms.
Holistic medicine, on the other hand, considers wellness from a much broader perspective. It focuses less on curing specific ailments or easing symptoms and more on helping the body reach a natural state of homeostatic balance. Holistic health practitioners look at how all the body’s systems work together and try to bring all those systems into harmony.
Instead of just taking care of the physical body, holistic wellness works to understand how emotional, mental, spiritual and social health work together with physical health to promote wellness and prevent illness and disease before they have the chance to get a foothold.
Holistic health incorporates a range of complementary therapies and alternative healthcare practices including:
- Energy work (reiki)
- Yoga & meditation
- Physical therapy
- General western medicine
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Personal training
Using these and other therapies and practices, natural health practitioners focus on bringing the five pillars of holistic health into balance. So, let’s have a look at the pillars.
- Physical Health
Physical health is the primary focus of traditional western medicine. It presents the most visible symptoms and manifests the most immediately debilitating ailments. However, in general, mainstream medicine largely treats physical health only when there is something wrong, diagnosing and treating illness or pharmaceutically medicating symptoms.
Holistic medicine takes a preventative approach, working to strengthen and balance the body’s physical systems to prevent illness. It focuses on a range of factors including lifestyle, predisposition and susceptibility, nutrition, sleep health and exercise.
A holistic health practitioner will generally provide an in-depth assessment of your lifestyle, medical and family history to determine what kind of ailments you may be predisposed to. A physical health plan can then be drawn up to return the body to a healthy balance and help maintain that balance.
- Emotional Health
Emotional health is incredibly important when it comes to overall health. Poor emotional health can affect the immune system and manifest itself physically in a range of ways. It can also lead to bad habits and crutches that can affect health, like overeating, smoking, alcohol or drug dependency.
Your emotional health is also closely linked to your mental health, which means that not managing emotional health can lead to or exacerbate mental conditions like depression and anxiety.
A key facet of holistic health is making sure that you are emotionally healthy, something that is rarely considered by modern western medicine.
Emotional health can be naturally managed using a range of therapies and practices including talking therapy, yoga and meditation and through mindfulness techniques.
- Social Health
Research has shown that having a strong network of close friends and family is vital for one’s happiness and wellbeing. Poor social health can have seriously detrimental effects on your overall health. Loneliness and alienation, for example, can dramatically affect your emotional and mental health, intensifying depression and anxiety and increasing the likelihood of addictive and self-destructive behaviours.
Social health is not just about making sure you have people around you, but ensuring that you have healthy social outlets. Spending a lot of time around high-maintenance or extremely negative people can be bad for you. Addictive social activities can also be bad for you. For example, for some people going to the pub or the gym after work may be healthy social behaviour, while for others it can become addictive behaviour that comes to dominate your social life.
Holistic health practitioners will explore your social life and activities to determine whether any of these activities could be contributing to poor health. It may be emotionally stressful relationships, an unhealthy work environment, or physically damaging social activities like excessive high-intensity workouts or binge drinking.
- Spiritual Health
Spirituality does not necessarily refer to religion. For people who are religiously inclined, it will be a large part of their spiritual health. But for people with no religious faith, spiritual health may refer to things like a sense of purpose, direction or meaning, your relationship to the world around you, your connection to nature and even your ethical and moral values.
Maintaining spiritual wellness will look different for everyone. Some people meditate, others pray. It’s important to remember that it doesn’t require specific religious or spiritual practices to maintain spiritual wellness. For some people it may be as simple as making time to relax and reflect or getting out into nature.
- Mental Health
Besides physical health, mental health is the only other pillar of holistic health that receives regular and serious attention from the mainstream medical community.
While emotional health refers specifically to our emotions, mental health focuses on brain function. And since the brain is running the whole show, your mental health has a huge impact on your physical and emotional health.
On the flipside, your physical, emotional, social and spiritual health can significantly affect your mental health. As we’ve already mentioned, poor social health (i.e. loneliness and alienation) can intensify pre-existing mental conditions like depression and anxiety. When it comes to physical health, proper nutrition and exercise can help to manage and reduce the severity of some mental illnesses.
By looking at the pillars of holistic health, it becomes clear how each of the different pillars interact and can affect your overall health. Unlike modern western medicine, a holistic health practitioner will look at all these aspects of your health to determine where improvements can be made.
The aim is to promote a balanced and healthy life via natural preventative therapies without chemical or surgical intervention.