Holistic or holistic is philosophy of well-being that considers the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of life as closely interconnected and balanced. To clearly understand the meaning of holistic health we must first understand the meaning of health as well as the meaning of wellness.
Health is defined as the functional and/or metabolic efficiency of an organism, at any moment in time, at both the cellular and global levels. In any organism, health is the ability to efficiently respond to challenges (stressors) and effectively restore and sustain a “state of balance,” known as homeostasis. Illness is merely the absence of health. All organisms, from the simplest to the most complex, reside on a spectrum between 100% health and 0% health.
So, what does this mean to you and I? We can define healthy as a state of balance and unhealthy as a state of imbalance. Healthy is individual and is considered the optimum state of wellness for a given person based on their potential.
In other words an 80 year old man may be just as healthy as a 25 year old man, although the 25 year old man may be stronger, faster or have more stamina, but this does not mean the 80 year man is unhealthy. An 80 year old man may be free of illness and for his given potential be functioning optimally at 100%.
To understand holistic, we must define the word holism. Holism can be viewed in metaphysical terms as the concept that all the properties of a given system or organism cannot be determined or explained by the sum of its component parts alone. Instead, the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave. Aristotle best summarises this as “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.
Defining Holistic Health
Applying he concept of holism to health we understand that the essential aspects of our being; physical, mental/motional and spiritual are not separate but are interwoven and so closely interrelated as to form one, which is our essential being. Each aspect of our essential being operates as a finely tuned system, one dependent on the other, each affecting the other in health or illness.
The triangle is used for visualization of holism, which is an equilateral triangle and the positioning of each aspect is relative as all are equal and optimal health represents a balance of the three essential aspects of physical, mental, spiritual.
Although each essential aspect of our being is interrelated to understand them we must define them individually. What is the meaning of physical health, mental health and spiritual health? According to the definition of holism, to be unbalanced or unhealthy in any essential aspect of our being causes illness of the self as a whole. Generally the
state of holistic balance can be referred to as wellness as health often refers to the physical but can also be applied to our emotional and spiritual components.
When defining physical health we refer to the state of our physical body, that which is tangible, our biological, physiological being. Physical health is strictly an organic concept which is focused on intensely by allopathic medicine such as western physicians and medical providers.
The human body and accompanying physiology (how it works) is a miraculous, self repairing and highly complex system. Specialist in the medical sciences, doctors, nurses and professional therapists study in depth the many aspects and systems of the physical body and how it may become ill and be brought back to wellness through science.
The mindset of the past is slowly changing as people are realizing that prevention of illness is the key is wellness, not waiting for illness to strike then seeking a doctor. Prevention of physical illness has become a major industry as more and more people seek ways of staying healthy through nutrition and exercise. The majority of illnesses which effect our population day such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and stroke are related to unhealthy lifestyle choices and lack of prevention.
Emotional/mental wellness is based on our own personal sense of self, of who we are. Self worth involves our sense of self esteem or how valuable we feel we are to ourselves and others. Emotional wellness involves our ability to feel joy and happiness in life on a consistent basis as well as our ability to cope with and move beyond emotional stress, pain and loss. This is not to say that during period of sadness, we are unhealthy, but it is our ability to recover from these states which determines emotional wellness.
Emotional/mental wellness also involves our awareness of our own individual emotions, the ability to identify what we are feeling and the awareness of how it affects our lives, relationships and those around us. This includes happiness, joy and anger, fear and sadness, an emotionally healthy individual has the ability to consciously recognize
a negative or destructive emotion and cope with it in a manner which prevents illness or difficulty for them.
Spirituality is often defined as ones personal connection with the divine or with humanity as a whole. Spirituality is also an intensely personal issue and may mean many different things to different people. Spirituality is closely related to aspects of love, the ability to love and to be loved as well as the ability to spiritually nourish and give to others.
The concept of “divine” may also be defined differently by many people; divine refers to a force, power or entity that is transcendent. Exactly what is divine may indefinable but is a concept present in all spiritual traditions, religions and disciplines. Transcendent means a power which is greater than we are and most often considered benevolent or a source of strength and support.
Less traditional religious belief systems refer to divine as the connection to all life that exists or a connection with life force energy in the universe. Monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Catholicism assign specific identities to what is divine such as God, Jesus, Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary. Greek mythology, a pantheistic belief system, also assigns identities to what is divine in the form of multiple gods and goddesses.
Although we have separated and defined each essential aspect of our holistic being, remember that each aspect is one, not separated. Imagine that you have three glasses of water from three different oceans, each represents the body, mind and spirit and then you pour all three into one vessel, they then mix together to the point where it is impossible to determine which ocean each came from or separate them, yet they are each made up of unique and distinct aspects.
Practicing Holistic Health
Practicing holistic health is primarily focused on the prevention of illness and maintenance of balance with an awareness of the essential aspects of our being. Practicing holistic wellness becomes a way of life a way of being in which we are mindful of behaviors and actions which nourish and support the wellbeing of our body, mind and spirit. Everyone may develop a unique and individual way of being that suits them and their uniqueness, one that is healthy and balanced.
An Example of Holism in Daily Life
A good example of a practice which promotes holistic wellness is a ritual of mealtime. Although this may not always be possible it is an example of a practice which nourishes all aspects of our being.
Selecting healthy and nutritious foods for our meal nourishes our physical self, if possible spend some time eating this meal with people you love and care about such as friends and family or maybe someone who is less fortunate than yourself and does not have the company of others, before we begin to eat, give thanks for the food we have, that we are fortunate to have this food.
Depending on our individual spiritual beliefs we may thank what is divine or transcendent to us. In sharing ourselves and our food and recognizing our good fortune we are nourishing ourselves and hopefully others emotionally and spiritually.
There are also many practices such as Yoga or T’ai Chi which encompass mental and spiritual components, but any activity can really become a holistic practice such a running and swimming if we use our imagination and stay mindful of our essential aspect of self.
By: → Garland Valley RN, BSN