*characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
*characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.
It felt appropriate to start this post by referencing the definitions of the word holistic, which are often times misunderstood or not understood at all. From this we can begin our exploration of the word and what it really means.
I am a very Type A, “by the book” kind of person and have always felt that whenever a doctor or medical professional asked me about my personal life, that they were only doing it out of kindness or just because they wanted to be social. I had the belief for most of my life, that their job was limited to understanding your symptoms and ailments and provide solutions for them; nothing more. In fact, it felt a little weird and even invasive of my privacy when someone dared to ask; “how are things at home?”. Until some years back, when I really started observing and understanding the correlation between our environment, social interactions, mind, emotions and even our own unique nature and how all of this has a direct effect on our well-being or dis-eases in general.
I had never broken any bones before, until a few years ago when I broke both feet. Twice. In a row. They were stress fractures and it happened while running. Mind you, I am a person that exercises vigorously on a daily basis and nothing even remotely similar had ever happened to me before. I was not doing anything new or crazy and still, my feet kept “breaking”. I went to an excellent orthopedist both times and after learning that the fracture would resolve on its own, I could not believe that he never thought of asking me about my life; what was going on, if I was doing ok or even inquire about my diet and calcium intake. To him, I was just a broken bone and nothing else mattered. Or at least, that’s how I felt. I just don’t understand why he didn’t see the importance of going beyond a physical symptom or occurrence when treating me, especially after having this happen one time after another.
After seeing him, I went to see a fellow herbalist –my teacher at that time- and her prescriptions were, aside from vitamin D and calcium, massages, therapy, calm environments and meditation. She came to these conclusions after we had a long conversation about what was going on in my life at that point, and sure enough, we discovered that these fractures had an energetic meaning that had little to do with the actual exercise that I was performing. They had more to do with the place where I was emotionally and so her prescriptions also went beyond the medical and scientific field. We explored together the different factors that could be contributing to the fractures and worked on a plan of action. I must say it did feel great to be treated like a whole person and not just like a broken foot. Aside from feeling understood and cared for, it just made more sense to analyze all the factors that could be contributing to my fractures and that to me, seemed inexplicable.
I want to make it very clear that in writing this post, my intention is not to imply that western doctors are doing it all wrong. On the contrary, I admire their work and I am always in awe of their vast knowledge and perceptiveness. I am also in awe of the wonderful and mind-blowing advancements of modern medicine. I am merely pointing out the importance of thinking holistically, and this responsibility lies not only on the doctor or medical professional, but on the patient as well. Especially in these times where information is readily available to us at the touch of a screen. Knowledge is power, and we should take as active a role in our health management as the professionals that are treating us, because no one knows us better than, well, us. And no one knows the reality of our environment, situation, emotional state and condition better than us.
This reminds me of an old Disney cartoon clip, where a driver -Goofy- gets behind the wheel, and as soon as he does, he transforms into a bright red, angered monster with a severe case of road rage. And in the middle of his crazy driving adventure, he pops almost an entire bottle of what are sure to be, antacids for his stomach pain. I am sure that almost every single viewer understood the connection between anger and the physical symptoms that usually manifest in the stomach. Why would it be weird then, for the doctor to ask Goofy about his life and situations that could be triggering his rage? We already know intuitively that there is a connection there, and that we are not independent beings or independent body parts. Why not start treating ourselves as such? I always thought that the rest of this clip should include a part where Goofy decides to take action and visits the doctor for his stomach issues. In his consult of course, they discuss his road rage and stress and with this information, they both come up with a plan of action that includes, aside from medication and diet recommendations, anger management techniques and relaxation tools. The doctor, ironically, is Donald Duck.
Another important aspect that comes to mind when I think of the word holistic is the fact that there always seems to be a fad or trend towards health management. Lately this craze is focused on herbs, natural medicine and alternative treatments, health enthusiasts, diet trends, exercise frenzies and more. And this being the great capitalist culture that it is, it takes little to no time before several different products emerge on the market that promise results, nothing short of miraculous with ingredients or routines that “fit all” individuals. A wonderful new diet that works on everyone or a miraculous herb that everyone should take. And because the marketing is so awesome, we buy into it, without even analyzing if it’s something that we, as unique individuals, can benefit from. I do it sometimes, I must admit. Because it sounds wonderful, because it saves me time from doing any type of research and because if it works for everyone else, it must work for me too. I don’t take the time to think that maybe doing crazy exercise routines are not the best thing for my unique metabolism or body type, or even for my age. I am too busy to stop and analyze that maybe gluten is not bad for me at all. I never would have considered if I was not an herbalist, that maybe, the famous herb that promises anti-inflammatory miracles might not be the best one for my unique constitution. Do we even know what “anti-inflammatory” really means in different settings? In most cases, one size doesn’t fit all. According to the ancient teachings of Ayurveda for example, everyone has a unique constitution or Prakruti, and dis-ease comes when the doshas, or energies in our bodies come out of balance. These three energies or doshas vary in predominance from one person to another and one must follow a lifestyle that will maintain good balance between these unique combinations. And so, we cannot expect the energy of a single herb, to be the solution for everyone, because individual constitutions, or energy predominance vary. Simply put, if I tend to have a warm to hot constitution, consuming herbs that are energetically warm or hot in excess, will only aggravate my hot constitution and bring me out of balance, instead of benefiting me in any way. Again, I must emphasize that I think we give away some of our power when it comes to our own health if we stop observing and listening to our bodies and our intuition and our surroundings.
I believe that nutrition and a natural healthy lifestyle are our best defense against dis-ease and as so, it is also an important factor to consider. An example of this is the reason for buying local; it’s not just a nice, cool thing to do. Think about honey for instance; you are probably familiar with the fact that honey is beneficial, amongst many other things, in treating seasonal allergies. But did you know that only local honey will really help with this issue? This is because when you consume local honey, you are ingesting local pollen, and overtime it could help you develop immunity to it. Think about it; how will you benefit from being immune to the pollen in New Zealand when you live in the United States? The same principle applies when eating local fruits and vegetables and focusing on trying to use as much as possible, herbs that are naturally found in the environment where you live. There is a reason why they grow where they grow. They provide you with the nutrients and constituents that you need for that particular climate, altitude, conditions and environment, and even season of the year. Also, when you buy local, you have more control over what you consume as you can inquire about it with your local farmer or vendor. You also help improve your local economy while developing community connections and you help create less environmental impact. And all of this comes from thinking holistically. From analyzing everything as a whole and acting based on these simple yet important considerations.
In conclusion and after reflecting on the word alluded, I dare to recommend that we all become more familiar with the concept of living holistically. That we all become more proactive when it comes to notions such as holistic health, natural living, community, environment, body-mind connection and many more. Because by doing this we benefit not only ourselves, but the people and environment around us. I hope that after reading this post you are more convinced that in our interconnectedness and in our own special uniqueness and individuality, it becomes ever more vital to think and act holistically. For a healthier you, a thriving community, a happy and content Mother Earth and a better tomorrow for all of us.