What is Holistic Health and How Does it Impact Your Wellness and Vitality?

What is Holistic Health and How Does it Impact Your Wellness and Vitality?

Holistic health is proving to be a more important subject as emerging science shows how interconnected all of our body systems are. Our mental, emotional, and physical health share important relationships with each other. Holistic health is a way of approaching overall wellness with an understanding of the interplay between these systems.

Western medicine is beginning to incorporate more of a holistic approach to health and wellness, but it may not be changing quickly enough. Taking your health into your own hands can be empowering. For me, I have found that living a holistic lifestyle is an important and lifelong journey - not a destination.

For most of my life, I trusted my primary care physicians to know what was best for me. I trusted they would do no harm. However, when I endured traumatic events in my own life, I had to search for answers my primary care physicians could not provide.

This search was the beginning of my journey into learning more about how I could take a holistic approach to my physical, mental, and even spiritual health.

Evolving at an intuitive pace into a lifestyle of holistic health for balanced well-being will promote it. Through my own journey I have found that when we seek perfection, we can damage our mental health, and that balance we search for can be knocked off kilter. I am careful to be patient and gentle with myself as I make changes that I know will benefit me in the long term.

Personal experience often motivates us to learn more about our bodies and how we can heal from illness or stress and trauma. For myself, I wanted to uncover ways to evolve beyond my negative habits and patterns that were causing me stress and burnout.

Holistic health encompasses not only good nutrition, but a balanced way of living that includes our mental, spiritual, and physical health.

Spiritual wellness needn’t be tied to religion, or even God, although it can be. Spiritual wellness from this perspective can be seen by some authors and researchers as a way to derive meaning from life’s inherent struggles.

As Richard Dawkins puts it in his book Unweaving the Rainbow, humans have an "appetite for wonder," an appetite for evoking the positive emotional states that are linked to our deepest existential questions.

Spirituality means feeling significance as a human, a unity with nature and others. It signifies awe in our existence, the right to feel joy, acceptance. This lends itself to a sense of consolation in hard times.  

I found that developing a spiritual practice strengthened my mental health, which in turn gave me the strength and self-belief I needed to improve my physical health.

Five Ways to Improve Spiritual Wellness:

  1. Practice daily meditation. 
  2. Study consciousness, religion, or philosophy. 
  3. Vacation alone or attend a silent retreat to deepen your connection to yourself. 
  4. Spend time in nature. 
  5. Examine philosophies that teach ‘unconditional love’ and practice those philosophies with others and yourself. 

It should be noted that some research even shows that during meditation, those individuals who maintained a spiritual practice experienced a reduction in depression and anxiety as opposed to those who meditated without such a spiritual practice. This leads me to talk about the importance of mental health and wellness. 

The American Psychological Association suggests, “our bodies and brains are connected. Stress can take a toll on our physical health, while physical challenges can also bring new stress into our lives. By understanding how stress impacts our health and what steps we can take to stay emotionally balanced, we can lay the foundation for complete wellness.” Living holistically brings more stability to mental wellness.  

Eight Ways to Improve Mental Wellness:

  1. Discuss with a therapist possible “thinking errors,” or negative thought processes that could be interfering with your ability to heal from past hurts or future worries. 
  2. Self-reflect (journal about your daily experiences).
  3. Set goals based on your self-reflections. 
  4. Practice forgiveness for yourself and others.
  5. Deepen your connection with those people in your life who offer reciprocal integrity, kindness, and compassion.
  6. Spend time cultivating gratitude for the gifts and opportunities you’ve been given.
  7. Practice Mental and Emotional release techniques. 
  8. Eliminate unnecessary stressors from your life.

Eating right and exercising are crucial to being your fittest, but there are other things that are helpful to consider.

Five Ways to Improve Physical Wellness: 

  1. Movement (practice strengthening, lengthening, and balancing). 
  2. Get plenty of restful sleep.
  3. Receive regular massages.
  4. Prepare fresh, balanced organic meals and pre-plan for healthy away-from-home snacks.
  5. Research ways to integrate complementary alternative medicine like herbal remedies or holistic medicine as prevention against illness or disease.  

Take time to carefully tend to yourself as a whole being. This “tuning-in” and responding to your body, mind, and spirit is the true meaning of living a holistic lifestyle. 

Eating healthy stimulates the production of the correct neurotransmitters, which are created in the gut, and are necessary for a healthy brain and body. This is an example of how the mind-brain connection works. 

Consumption of prebiotics and probiotics, for example, stimulate the ideal gut environment to regulate metabolic processes. A healthy gut reduces painful inflammation and promotes the production of hormones that promote health. 

A deeper dive into holistic health also includes integrating preventative holistic medicine into your regimen.  

Benefits of Directing Your Focus to Holistic Medicine

Integrating holistic medicine will support your journey to feeling your best. Some holistic medicines are called superfoods. Superfoods and other natural herbs such as ashwagandha help to prevent illness, boost your energy, and reduce inflammation caused by daily stressors. 

Many holistic remedies are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in foods such as green leafy vegetables like spinach, many types of root vegetables like ginger root, and fruits like tart cherries.

The reason antioxidants are so crucial to living holistically is that stress and inflammation caused by daily life is an ‘oxidative’ process. Antioxidants eradicate damaging, oxidative chemicals released by the body. These oxidative chemicals that are released are caused by stress (including emotional and mental stress), lack of sleep, aging, eating unhealthy foods, and addictive habits like smoking. Herbal medicines can balance these deficiencies to help you reach optimal health.

In my own experience, I developed prolonged stress when I became a single mother. I was also working to support myself and my children while completing a Master’s degree in mental health counseling. All the stress and anxiety I was experiencing mounted and I was diagnosed with painful, inflammatory gastritis. 

This was my body telling me to make changes. I knew I needed to implement a lifestyle where I chose better eating habits and incorporated spiritual practices including meditation to ease my stress. I took control of my health and avoided getting painful ulcers that would have required invasive surgery. 

Healing modalities from different cultures and traditions are also considered “holistic medicine” such as acupuncture and massage therapy. 

Four Interesting Facts About Popular Holistic Health and Wellness Techniques : 

  1. Yoga: Coming from the Sanskrit language meaning union, yoga is over 5000 years old and one of the oldest physical disciplines in the world and was introduced to America in the 18th century.
  2. Qigong: Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, holistic practitioners of Qigong promote it for stress reduction and its ability to improve mobility and concentration. It is believed that there are over 3,000 forms of Qigong and can be recognized by many as slow moving exercises and deep breathing. ‘Qi’ means “breath.”  
  3. Acupuncture: One of the oldest forms of healing, acupuncture is a practice believed to be around 5,000 years old. The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed acupuncture as a therapy for over 200 ailments including low back pain, headache, and anxiety and depression.
  4. Reiki: A spiritual practice from Japan, Reiki and its theories suggest the emotional, physical, and mental bodies are one energetic system. By using Ki “energy” (spirit energy), practitioners believe they can manipulate “Ki” to heal emotional, mental, and physical ailments, and prevent further disease.

In addition to considering these complementary alternative medicines, there is more to consider. Many of us in the west suffer from diseases that could have been prevented by living a more physically active lifestyle.

What is the Role of Physical Fitness in Holistic Living?

With the advent of many modern technologies, we don’t need to struggle to survive like our ancestors once did. Our bodies evolved to be active like our primitive ancestors -- hunters and gatherers. Today, we have a far better understanding that living a modern sedentary lifestyle can cause illness and disease. 

Good health is much more than just the absence of disease. Physical fitness is crucial to maintaining overall health and well-being. 

Exactly How Does Physical Fitness Positively Impact Mental and Emotional Health?

Sometimes these benefits are immediate. Regular physical activity increases productivity and stimulates positive emotions. It also promotes concentration and creativity. By releasing “feel good” chemicals, exercise heightens productivity, concentration, and creativity which could positively impact your work and personal relationships. These feel good chemicals means you are also likely to have better self-esteem and feel better about how you look. 

Physical fitness decreases negative emotions. Other research suggests regular exercise remedies depression and anxiety just as well as other treatments, and with only positive side effects. Certain mental health conditions, like anxiety respond best to aerobic exercise, while depression responds best to intense workouts several times per week. 

Reduction in inflammation. Another health benefit of exercise is the reduction of oxidative stress hormones. Quick and intense exercise regimens like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can quickly reduce stress hormones that cause inflammation and disease

Stress and inflammation are culprits that cause many mental, emotional, and physical illnesses. Adaptogenic herbs are herbal and plant remedies known to also reduce systemic inflammation.