A Holistic Life
16 January 2023
The term holistic seems to be appearing more and more but what does it actually mean?
The dictionary defines it as
“characterized by the belief that the parts of something are interconnected and can be explained only by reference to the whole.”
With an additional note about holistic medicine:
“characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of an illness.”
We have so many parts that make up our whole:
- Emotional wellbeing
- Energetic body
- Spiritual health
In addition to all the parts that make up “us”, we are also part of a bigger whole, we are part of:
- Our environment
To ensure we keep our whole selves healthy and balanced we need to look at every aspect of our lives, after all no part of us exists in isolation. We need to be aware of the effect of the things we consume on our wellbeing as well as how we live our lives. This is the first step to preventing illness and imbalance from creeping in. However, quite often it is only when we are unwell that we get the wake up call that things need to change.
Healing holistically involves looking at the causes of the illness. Symptoms are just the body’s way of letting us know something isn’t right and giving us a clue as to what that may be but just trying to ease the symptoms is likely to just bring short term relief whereas looking at the cause and treating that will provide long term relief.
This is a different way of thinking to conventional Western medicine that traditionally will deal just with symptoms; giving medication to mask the symptoms rather than looking at all the parts that are causing them. Quite often at the risk of creating other problems elsewhere. Obviously quick relief means we can get back to our lives but what happens if for some reason we have to stop the medication or would like to? If we haven't also tackled the cause then the symptoms will most likely return.
Holistic treatments are also natural which means that the healing will not be creating other problems elsewhere.
Prevention Rather Than Cure
If we take steps to live more holistically, then the risk of getting illness or any kind of imbalance is reduced so why don’t more of us do this?
Here in the UK, we are extremely lucky to have the NHS rather than have potentially enormous medical bills as in other countries. This can make us complacent. After all, if the threat of a huge medical bill was looming over our heads, maybe we would be a bit more conscientious about avoiding that happening.
However, I personally feel uneasy about assuming that great medical care will be on hand anytime I need it. I would much rather do everything in my power to keep myself out of the doctors surgery or hospital. There’s no guarantee that I will never need to go there at some point in my life and it’s good to know that it’s there if I do need it but by being conscious about how I lead my life, I hope to reduce the risk of it being a necessity. Afterall, despite the wonderful job that doctors, nurses and paramedics do, we are constantly hearing about how overwhelmed they are and how hospitals are struggling to cope.
Imagine if everyone took responsibility for their health and wellbeing all the time… fewer people would need medical aid meaning that those that do, get better care and the staff would also have less stress, leading to better lives for them too.
Attitude to Aging
What do you consider old? We are often led to believe that it is inevitable that our health will deteriorate rapidly as we get older. We take it as a given that we will get ill and become more prone to injury as the years pass. And we perceive ourselves as ‘getting old’ very young! I regularly hear people say they are getting old and ‘things like this are likely to happen at their age’, even when they are younger than me. I’m certainly not old and don’t plan to be for a very long time, if ever!
Insurance premiums for life, travel or income being hiked up each time a birthday comes around also give the impression we are prematurely geriatric. TV adverts saying everyone over the age of 40 needs a particular skin cream or shampoo or being sent chair lift ads once you reach your 50s also make us start to consider ourselves old, which in turn causes us to age prematurely. Convincing us we are getting old is a profitable industry.
In Ayurveda, we are not considered to have reached old age until around 80 - 85 years of age and this is a mindset we should have.
What’s Stopping You?
People used to live holistically and in tune with nature once-upon-a-time with knowledge being passed down through the generations and some communities around the world still live this way. However, modern, Western lifestyles are making us more and more disconnected from others, our environment and our own bodies... and it is time to change that.
Wouldn’t it be great if being healthy had a higher priority in everyone's life? I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to be healthy - we all want that, right? But different things can get in the way (usually our mind and ingrained ideas!). Common reasons given for not changing life for the better:
- It's expensive
- I don’t have the time
- No idea where to start
You don’t need to buy a load of stuff to live holistically. In fact, the opposite is often true. By simplifying your life, the quality will naturally begin to improve. And if you do have some costs, don’t forget savings too. For example by walking rather than taking your car for shorter journeys, you save money on petrol as well as getting some free exercise.
Where there are costs, weigh up the pros and cons and see if there is also a cheaper option. For example, buying organic food is more expensive than non-organic but how about buying a few seeds for veg you eat a lot of and see if you can grow some of your own.
If you feel it would benefit going to see a holistic therapist to get you started, that will mean spending money on one or more appointments but it does mean you will get expert advice tailored specifically for you, potentially saving you time and money in the long run.
Following a natural healthy lifestyle can bring savings too… ones that could balance out costs or even save you money, as well as improving your health and wellbeing. For example, unless you are exempt, prescriptions are expensive as are over the counter remedies. Also if you are self employed, you lose money if you are unable to work due to illness or even if you just need to go and see your GP.
Again simplicity often frees up time. We all have the same amount of time to play with, it’s what we choose to do with it that differs. You may have to spend some time thinking about how you would like to change things in your life to bring improvements but that’s no different to spending time thinking about what you would like to do on your next holiday.
Where do I start?
Not knowing where to begin is understandable. Having access to so much information is amazing but we are all suffering from information overload. I have included some steps below to help get you started.
Food and Drink
Eating seasonal local produce is always the best option so pay attention to where your food is coming from. Eating organic also reduces the amount of chemicals that we put into the body. Be aware of what you eat and drink and the effect it has on you; we are all different and one person’s poison is another’s medicine (and vice versa).
Be mindful of what you choose to watch or listen to as this has an impact on your health. For example, I rarely look at the news anymore as I know that has a negative impact on my mental wellbeing and I know I am not alone. Equally, being aware of how different programs and films affect you. How do you feel after watching them? And make a conscious choice about what you choose to look at on Social Media.
Cosmetics and Body Care Products
Our skin is an organ of digestion so nothing should be put on your skin that you wouldn't put in your mouth. This one is the one I find the trickiest personally but it’s all a work in progress.
The best way to keep the body healthy is to move it in the way it was designed to move. Walk or cycle to destinations rather than automatically grabbing the car keys. Sit on the floor to watch TV rather than the comfy sofa - you will automatically move and adjust often and there is the movement required to get up and down off the floor. Obviously yoga is a great way to get the body moving in all directions so take the time to find a class that is right for you.
The right amount of good quality sleep at night is essential. The right amount of sleep differs per person so find out what is right for you. Avoid naps unless you have an acute illness (for example, flu, covid, stomach bug), are pregnant or over the age of 80.
Connect with Nature
This is the way we were meant to live so get outdoors in nature as it is good for the soul. This can be by taking a walk in the countryside or your local park.
Gardening even if all you have is a windowsill still allows you to connect to the natural world and if you are lucky enough to have a garden, enjoy it! Perception is key. If you view it as hard work, it will be. If you give yourself time to potter around and see it as a space for peace and to create something beautiful, then that is what it will become. It doesn’t need to be immaculate, it just needs to be yours.
Technology and the Internet are amazing. It allows us to do so many things without ever leaving our home. But we need social interaction. Humans are social animals. This is why depression and anxiety became so prevalent during the covid lockdowns. Without it we feel something is missing even those of us that are introverts.
It is important to find a community that appeals to you. Some may like active discussion groups and social gatherings. Others may be quieter and although like having people nearby will be less comfortable with conversations and close interactions so pick something that you are comfortable with. Some ideas could be:
- Book club
- Yoga or fitness class
- Community garden
- Craft Clubs
Trying to make loads of changes all at once can be overwhelming and you are far less likely to stick to it. Build good habits slowly by introducing small changes. I’m certainly still working on mine. And if you are introducing movement after a more sedentary lifestyle it is a good idea to gradually bring it in so you don't cause injury by doing too much too quickly.