Your health and wellness is about much more than just the condition of your body. Take your health into your own hands with a holistic approach to your life. We will show you the wisdom behind holistic healing, why we need it, and how to incorporate holistic healing into our daily lives.
What is Holistic Healing? A Holistic Healing Definition
First, let’s look at the root of it: what is holistic? Holism or holistic is the concept of emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.
So, what is holistic healing? Holistic Healing is the practice of health and wellness that considers the entire person and all of the internal and external factors affecting them.
Holistic healing seeks to maintain or restore balance among (and within) the various dimensions of the individual. Rather than focusing on a specific condition or even an illness, holistic healing addresses all parts of the individual and their life.
Holistic healing considers the whole person by including their mind, body, spirit, and heart in treatment considerations. As such, holistic healing can be used to describe many different types of interventions or practices, as long as they hold this perspective.
Another way of looking at it is that holistic healing or holistic medicine is the actions we take to promote holistic health.
Holistic Healing for Holistic Health
What is holistic health? Holistic health is an approach to life. It is living in ways that emphasize the interconnected nature of the mind, body, and spirit.
Holistic health is the perspective that our health and wellness are a function of all aspects that we are – and how we interact with our environment. It is also about empowerment. Holistic health means we take responsibility for our own well-being. As such, it is the sum of all of your choices you make and actions you take every day.
Finally, holistic healing is ancient. It evolved as we evolved as a people. Holistic healing is part of our origin story. And it is the origin story of all medicine.
The Ancient Roots of Holistic Healing
The roots of all medicine are holistic. In fact, the challenge today is to reunite modern conventional medicine with its holistic roots.
The principles of holistic healing can be summarized into three properties: the whole person, natural elements, and personal empowerment. Ancient thinkers and healers recognized the importance of these perspectives thousands of years ago.
“…the part can never be well unless the whole is well.” – Socrates
Socrates, the Greek philosopher and a founder of western philosophy, recognized the value of thinking holistically. He also understood that health was our responsibility. His famous pronouncement of “an unexamined life is not worth living” was his final testament to the value of self knowledge.
In 400 B.C., Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, emphasized the healing power of nature in his Hippocratic School of Medicine. He was also a proponent of self-healing. He believed that the body could heal itself of most illnesses, if properly encouraged.
Even before Hippocrates’ western medicine would take hold, holistic healing was the foundational principle of all ancient healthcare. Three of the most notable ancient medical traditions based on holistic healing include: Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Western Herbalism or Traditional European Medicine.
Traditional Chinese medicine and holistic health
Chinese medicine has been around for almost 5,000 years. Over the eons it has evolved into a complex diagnostic and treatment system. Many of the methods are still practiced today. Chinese medicine views the human body as a small universe of interconnected systems. These systems interact according to both physical elements and subtle energies. The balance of energies such as “qi,” or life force, and “shen,” or spirit, is essential in maintaining health.
Ayurvedic medicine and holistic healing
Ayurveda is the ancient medical tradition practiced by the cultures of India. The origins of Ayurveda date back to a 6th century B.C. text written by Sushruta, the “father of Surgery.”
The holistic healing practice of Ayurveda is founded in the beliefs that there are five great elements of the universe, seven primary elements of the body, and three “doshas,” or biological energies. Like Chinese Medicine, the interconnectedness and balance of these internal and external elements is the key to wellness.
Ayurvedic medicine is organized into a system of eight treatment disciplines, called “branches” or “limbs.” The eight limbs are as follows:
- Kayachikitsa (Internal Medicine)
- Shalya Tantra (Surgery)
- Shalakya tantra (Treatment of the eyes)
- Kaumarabhritya (Gynecology and Pediatrics)
- Agada tantra (Toxicology)
- Bhuta Vidya (Psychiatry)
- Rasayana (Rejuvenation and anti-aging)
- Vajikarana (Reproductive and enhancing sexual power)
Practitioners of Ayurvedic holistic health guide their patients through these eight limbs toward balance and moderation.
Herbal medicine & traditional European (or German) medicine for holistic health
Herbal medicine is the oldest form of health care known to mankind. Every culture on earth evolved along with their environments. Accordingly, their healing practices relied on the natural plants available to them.
Herbal medicine is an essential part of folk medicine and the traditional medicinal practices of Europe. Using the medicinal properties of plants for healing has a very long history. In fact, herbalism is also a central element of TCM and Ayurveda.
Hildegard of Bingen was a practitioner and pioneer of traditional German medicine. Her work in the middle ages was instrumental in advancing monastic medicine as well as herbal healing through her work Physica.
In fact, her work in herbal medicine was so significant that a branch of traditional German medicine called Hildegard Medicine is still practiced today.
Modern medicine leaves holistic healing behind
Hippocrates’ belief in natural, holistic, self-healing would eventually be overtaken by science. The discovery of germs thrust western medicine into a practice of focused intervention.
Soon, most diseases and illnesses could be treated by medicines such as penicillin. As a result, physicians paid less attention to the whole patient. Instead, they focused on improving the various interventions to deliver drugs or remove or repair damaged parts.
The holistic view of the patient became a secondary consideration, if at all. The emphasis was squarely on symptoms and syndromes. As this modern approach to healing became institutionalized, the patient-doctor relationship also suffered.
Patients were alienated from their own health care and began to rely on medicine to “fix” them. But medicines couldn’t solve everything. And many medicines caused other problems. The intervention mentality, coupled with the modern lifestyle of poor diet, inactivity, and stress, would eventually expose the limits of conventional medicine.
Eventually, people began to seek alternative forms of medicine. A renewed interest in holistic health arose in the 1970’s and is growing stronger every year.
Holistic healing methods: The past as a way forward
The holistic healing approach is needed now more than ever. We don’t have the control or empowerment over our health we need in order to thrive. The natural connection to our environment is strained – and getting worse. Conventional medicine has abandoned its holistic roots. We need to take them back.
Natural alternatives to conventional medicine are in high demand. For good reason, conventional medicine is failing us. As a result, more people are demanding natural alternatives and are actively seeking better options for their wellness.
As a result, the wellness industry is growing. Medical research and development is following suit. Modern medicine is slowly turning back toward its holistic beginnings. But we have a long way to go before holistic healing is the standard.
In the meantime, we can empower ourselves to live a life of holistic healing and wellness. To this end, let’s look at how holistic healing is making its way back into conventional medicine. So you can choose the best way to invite holistic healing into your life for good.
The Evolution of Holistic Healing in Modern Medicine
The ancient properties of holistic healing are slowly making their way back into conventional medicine. Still, the acceptance of holistic healing within the medical community has been slow. This will likely continue. But holistic healing is making progress. In no small part because medical practitioners are recognizing that there is vast untapped potential. Holistic healing offers both immediate and long-term benefits that need to be explored.
In general, the relationship between holistic healing and conventional medicine can be grouped into three main areas of practice: alternative medicine, complementary medicine, and integrative medicine. The main difference between the areas is the level of acceptance within conventional medicine.
Alternative medicine is an area of holistic healing that focuses heavily on the natural aspects of health and healing. These practices are deemed “alternative” for two main reasons. First, they are not widely accepted as being safe, effective, and proven according to the modern scientific community. Second, these techniques are often performed instead of conventional treatments.
Alternative medicine treatments are drawn from all three of the dominant ancient holistic healing doctrines. Not all treatments are purely “alternative”, however, as they may be included in the next two categories. Alternative medicine can be divided into three general categories: mind/body, natural products, and alternative practice areas. Examples include:
Mind/Body techniques for holistic health
- Yoga, Tai chi, Qi Gong
- Progressive Relaxation
- Guided Imagery
- Cold water therapy
- Rolfing Structural Integration
- Osteopathic manipulation
Natural products for holistic health
- Herbs & Botanicals
- Dietary supplements
Natural products include anything found in nature. Examples of herbs and botanicals include galangal, fennel, caraway, ginseng, ginkgo and echinacea; examples of dietary supplements include selenium, glucosamine and SAMe. These substances can be in the form of teas, oils, powders, capsules, syrups, lotions, and tinctures.
Practice areas for holistic healing
- Energy Healing
- Spiritual Healing
Complementary medicine is the category of holistic healing techniques that are occasionally accepted within conventional medicine. These may include some alternative medicine practices that some medical practitioners believe may provide relief for a limited range of symptoms or side-effects of conventional treatments.
This category is defined as those things that are used in addition to conventional medical practices. A typical complementary treatment would be herbal supplements to ease nausea or increase appetite; massage in addition to physical therapy; and acupuncture in addition to fertility drugs.
Integrative medicine is an approach to patient care that puts the patient at the center. It addresses the full range of conditions that may influence a persons health and wellness, including:
Integrative medical practitioners use a personalized strategy that considers the patient’s unique conditions, needs, and circumstances. Interventions are carefully considered with an eye toward balance and holistic health outcomes.
Integrative medicine is a relatively new approach to conventional medicine. It is the area of conventional medicine that is the most progressive when it comes to incorporating alternative therapies. It is also the only practice of conventional medicine with a formalized relationship with some of the alternative holistic healing techniques
This holistic treatment approach is slightly different from complementary medicine. Integrative medicine views both “alternative” and conventional treatments as valid techniques to address the whole individual. Not all alternative treatments, however, are considered. Integrative medicine still largely relies on scientific data to instruct treatment protocols.
The National Institute of Health uses the term “complementary health approaches” when considering practices and products of non-mainstream origin. It uses “integrative health” when they actually incorporate complementary approaches into mainstream health care.
The main practice area of integrative medicine is called naturopathy, though it can be incorporated into most conventional medical practices.
Naturopathy is an official practice area of conventional medicine that focuses on noninvasive treatments. Naturopathic doctors rely on the integrative approach to help your body do its own healing. They use a variety of practices, including acupuncture, herbal treatments, massage, and exercise and lifestyle counseling.
God’s Hotel & Slow Medicine
One of the more powerful and inspiring stories of holistic healing making its way back into modern medicine is by Dr. Victoria Sweet. See our reviews of her two books: Gods Hotel and Slow Medicine. There are some passionate physicians and healers who are working hard to return modern medicine to its holistic healing roots.
How to Manage Your Own Holistic Healing
In ancient times, holistic healing was based on the doctrine of healing harmony, a far-reaching principle dating back to the 6th Century BC with the physician, Alcmaeon. Hildegard of Bingen also emphasized harmony as a central theme in her work.
We’ve laid out how you can live for holistic health every day. You should view the practice of holistic healing and holistic health with the goal of harmony and balance. When in doubt, seek out moderation in all things.
Finding Your Balance with Holistic Healing
Hildegard saw health and disease as the balance or imbalance of bodily fluids, or “juices”, as she called them. She also stressed the importance of our connection with the natural world. Living well meant embracing the healing power of plants as food and medicine, recognizing the expression of the divine in nature, and honoring the interconnectivity of all life.
The Dimensions of Holistic Healing
We’ve categorized holistic healing into six primary considerations. The conscious practice of observing balance among these categories is essential to prevent disease, accelerate recovery, and to thrive. Though centuries old, these rules remain as relevant today as when they were first conceived.
To pursue a life of holistic health or to use holistic healing to recover from illness or injury, consider the following:
- Environment: consider your exposure to natural light and fresh air, pay special attention to the effect of seasonal changes;
- Nutrition: evaluate your relationship with eating and drinking, pay special attention to stimulants and depressants, as well as noting where habits override actual needs;
- Exercise: incorporate exercise with recuperation, strike the right balance to find a rhythm of relaxation to reduce stress and tension;
- Sleep: observe sleep hygiene practices, taking into account the time of day and length of productive sleep cycles;
- Excretion: manage an efficient digestive process to preserve the balance of bodily fluids, or “juices”;
- Passions: engage in your passions without being controlled by them.
The earlier in life that we’re able to implement a harmonious balance in life, the better we can prevent disease in old age. There’s no time like the present to realign our thinking.
Chronobiology is the examination of biological rhythms in living organisms and their adaptation to solar- and lunar-related rhythms. We are deeply affected by biological rhythms. Just like any other plant or animal. Biological rhythms also apply on large scale, including weeks, months, seasons and years.
Our modern constructed environment with all matter of comforts tends to alienate us from these basic rhythms. Artificial light turns the night into day and climate control maintains a constant comfortable temperature. But these comforts and conveniences can actually disrupt our ability to feel connected with our environment, to read the cues of the external world, and align our internal world accordingly.
Recognize the Rhythms of Nature
Comfort is important, but so is appreciation for our place in the natural world. Take the time to enjoy the seasons. Stay attuned to the ways in which the natural world and our inner world are aligned. Recognizing our connection to the natural environment and the corresponding cyclical flow is an important part of maintaining harmony in our lives.
Historically, the human experience is marked by periods of famine. In some periods food supplies dwindled for protracted periods, while in other cases food shortages were regular – but limited to certain seasons. Today, most cultures experience a permanent abundance of food.
Ironically, in most advanced, industrialized cultures, this abundance poses a significant threat to overall health. The so-called lifestyle-related diseases have become major public health challenges, particularly over the past 50 years.
Some of the most common afflictions of western civilization include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other diet-related diseases. Often these illnesses present in clusters such that the responses from modern medicine can’t effectively manage the multiple symptoms.
Hildegard believed that nutrition, which also included healing foods and herbs, was the foundation of overall wellness. A healthy diet of mostly plants and a moderate amount of walking was the best medicine available. She stressed the importance of moderation in all things, but most importantly with regard to food. Unfortunately, the simple notion of moderation has seemingly been lost in the bounty of modern living.
Fasting for holistic healing: Calorie restriction improves longevity
There is mounting evidence that restricting our caloric intake improves health and retards aging. Periodic fasting and overall caloric reduction – particularly later in life – is an area of growing promise relating to avoiding chronic conditions and diseases. Modern research lends evidence to support Hildegard’s thesis that our diets promote certain types of cancer. In one study, a high fat diet leads to changes in intestinal stem cells, resulting in a higher risk of colon cancer.
Eat whole foods for holistic healing
Hildegard believed in a predominantly vegetable-based diet to ensure a full gut, ample intake of fiber, and the unique healing properties of plants. Modern science generally supports her belief. Feed your body with nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits.
A diet dominated by fruits and vegetables also contains fewer calories, less fat and cholesterol, and more fiber than a diet of processed foods. The “modern American” diet is low in fiber and very high in animal-derived fats. Modern processed foods are also high in refined sugars and salt. All of which is a recipe for ill-health.
Use herbs for holistic healing
Healing spices, plants and herbs also play an important role in Hildegard’s philosophy around a healthy diet. Leeks, garlic, and chives enhance the flavor of foods, but also protect against pathogenic fungi and arteriosclerosis. Those same common foods also have germicidal effects, help the body metabolize fat, and can lower blood pressure.
In the Hildegard kitchen, she finds anise, ginger, mint, licorice or cinnamon indispensable. She also recommends fennel, watercress, cumin, mugwort, dandelion, rosemary, sage or juniper berries to further refine the taste of foods and provide the micro-nutrients and healing properties unique to plants.
Seek moderation and balance
Finding the path to healthy nutrition is an on-going process involving healing harmony and balance. As we strive for proper nutrition and good health, we celebrate our accomplishments with certain exceptions, recognizing that moderation still rules the day.
Hildegard’s fasting guidelines are regarded, by those who practice them as a moderate way to achieve the benefits of periodic caloric reduction while maintaining a sense of wellness and fulfillment. Ideally, all of Hildegard’s three healthy fasts have less to do with weight reduction than achieving a natural equilibrium such that the body and spirit can heal, restore, and re-energize.
3. Exercise as part of holistic health
Despite seemingly endless stream of new opportunities to improve fitness, the number of people with persistent physical problems continues to increase. Arguably, this problem has more to do with diet than exercise, but this also means that exercise is more important than ever.
It’s no surprise to most of us that a lack of exercise leads to a host of medical conditions such as diabetes, circulatory disorders, heart disease, and cancer. Yet much like the challenge of the modern diet, modern living seems to leave little room for physical activity.
Build a routine of regular and repetitive movement
The desire for an instant-fix is usually an expensive way to avoid working on your foundation. There is no one way, no quick fix, and no way to realize change without effort. But the silver lining of modernity is that there really are a multitude of ways to incorporate activity into your life in ways that fit with your abilities, interest, and schedule.
We believe that good exercise is any exercise that you do regularly. Even moderate physical activity on occasion will net you better results than starting and then abandoning some intense regimen a few times a year.
It is also important to remember that exercise should consist of both activity and rest. Your body requires rest and recovery; this is when you receive the benefits of your hard work.
Basic activity for holistic health
Regular exercise is a pillar holistic health as it provides synergistic benefits that extend well beyond muscle groups or even strength or endurance. Regular exercise will:
- Strengthen the bones;
- Strengthen the lungs and heart with increased oxygen intake;
- Improve management and elimination of stress hormones;
- Improve muscle coordination, which strengthens our brains and improves concentration;
- Stimulate metabolism, including the elimination and detoxification of internal organs.
- Improve mood
- Increase energy
- Improve sleep
Regular aerobic exercise, three to four times a week, for 30 minutes in your optimal pulse range, is an important pillar for both physical and mental health. Activities such as running, cycling, swimming, walking, or hiking are particularly effective.
Hildegard believed a life without structure increases emotional stress, physical pain and the modern phenomena of burn-out. Without some formula and schedule, life leaves no room for managing our conscious state and processing emotions. This is particularly important as it relates to relaxation and sleep.
According to Hildegard of Bingen medicine, and the tenants of monastic medicine, it makes sense to plan each day with some semblance of structure. We all know the value of finding processes to organize our lives when it comes to work. The same philosophy is equally important when it comes to scheduling enough time to rest each evening, or at the end of each week.
Good sleep is essential for holistic healing
Allocate time each day for peaceful reading or pleasant conversation. A welcome break might include a cup of lemon balm tea or the calming aroma of lavender oil on a fragrance lamp. The practice of reserving space and time for meditation or prayer is also an important way to maintain healing harmony of body and spirit. Take a break to appreciate the things that really matter, like good friends and family, new ideas, and time.
Integrating these habits and sleep secrets into your daily routine will pay dividends when you sleep. Sleep should not be something that gives way to everything else. Sleep is essential. You should take it as seriously as diet and exercise. Without proper sleep, all else will suffer.
The doctrine of humoral medicine associates the elements of air, water, fire and earth with corresponding subtleties. These subtleties include: “warm”, “dry”, “cold”, or ‘wet’. The basic elemental doctrine was applied to the human body and reflected in Hildegard of Bingen’s system of four humors or juices. Hildegard believed that harmony among the four juices was necessary for good health. She also believed that digestive harmony is closely related to overall harmony.
What, when, and how people ate directly impacted their sense of well-being – and eventually their overall physical wellness. Hildegard’s focus on nutrition was comprehensive in that it viewed nutrition through the entire digestive process – from taste to waste.
Holistic healing through digestive health
Through the lens of the four humors and the healing power of nature, Hildegard naturally viewed digestion as the path to healing harmony. This makes sense, as digestion is one of the most observable mechanisms of the human body. For her time, Hildegard had advanced knowledge of digestion. Even today, many of her ideas on digestion remain relevant. Gut health is becoming an area of renewed interest. Research continues to uncover the many links between gut health and overall health.
Heeding the signals of your tummy and increasing your awareness of the nutritional and digestive properties of your food will help you become more attuned with your own unique digestive health, an important step toward overall wellness.
Hildegard was a Benedictine nun who spent much of her life in solitude. While she understood the value of solitude, she also promoted engagement and relationships with others. People with strong bonds to others enjoy longer life expectancies. The widespread ideal of rogue individuality and self-realization is not necessarily a path to happiness and healing harmony. On the contrary, it can lead to lack of motivation, loneliness, and addiction.
Loneliness leads to physical illness and accelerates a cycle of isolation. Conversely mutual support and community assistance boosts our self-esteem. Regular communication is part of a healthy regimen. One of the best ways to connect with others is through cultivating your passion and sharing it with others. As Aristotle said “man is a social being”.
Seek Interconnectivity for Holistic Healing
Communication includes contemplating oneself and one’s place in the universe. Or, as Hildegard would say, each of us is a part of the whole, and the whole universe is within of each of us. But the contemplative phase should be part of the process to unlock your passion and drive it into the light.
Holistic health requires that we participate in the world around us. It is not enough to just manage our diet, our exercise regimen, or our physical environment, we must engage through purposeful action in something that acknowledges a passion of ours.
Our passion needn’t be all we do or what we do for a living but we must include ways to explore and pursue our passion. After all, what good is all that good health for, if not for making you better at sharing your gift with the world.