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Holistic Approaches to Health

David Schlundt, Ph.D.

We hear more and more each day about holistic health, wellness, alternative therapies, mind-body integration and so forth. What do these words mean and is there anything of value here for the person who is interested in leading a healthy and happy life?

Holistic health or wellness is a recognition that being healthy is more than just being free of symptoms. Good health is not simply the absence of disease. Good health or wellness is a matter of strength and balance. Wellness comes about only through positive, goal-directed efforts to enhance strength and move you life into greater balance. There are many avenues one can pursue to increase strength and balance thereby enhancing wellness.


By improving one's strength, you increase your resistance to disease, you may slow the aging process, you improve your ability to cope with stress and crisis, and you expand the range of activities that are available to you. Physically, strength comes from eating well, getting regular exercise, avoiding substance abuse, and getting a sufficient amount of rest.

Emotionally, we can strengthen ourselves to withstand the stresses and strains of living by developing positive interpersonal relationships, by having realistic goals and expectations, and by making relaxing and stress reducing activities part of our regular routine.

The mind is strengthened by the learning of new knowledge and skills. The more we know, the better prepared we are to cope with stressful and challenging situations. The more we know about staying healthy, the better prepared we are to make sensible choices in what we eat and do. We are all constantly strengthening our minds by learning new skills that help us in our interpersonal, and vocational lives.

Recently, scientists have learned that there is an association between health and one's spiritual life. People who are spiritually active, on the average, have better health, lower risk for many diseases, and live longer. Exploring your beliefs, working to strengthen your faith, and seeking to better understand your relationship to the object of your faith is spiritually strengthening.


The person who tries to do everything perfectly ends up in a bind. There is never enough time to pursue everything with the same level of commitment. This person will not be able to find a healthy balance. One of the main tasks we all face in life is setting our priorities. If we pursue one activity to the exclusion of all others, we get out of balance and this can be detrimental to our health and well being also. Someone who focuses on career skills, or making money to the exclusion of other activities ends up neglecting proper nutrition, becomes sedentary, ends up ill-prepared to cope emotionally with stress, ignores a great deal of information that is important for well-being, and avoids thinking about their spiritual life. Other times, people feel so overwhelmed by it all that they give up and do nothing to improve their health. Perfectionism, single-mindedness, or hopelessness are not the way to pursue holistic health. The way to health is to find balance in your life, to spend time strengthening body, mind, and spirit.

Balance means making choices that contribute to your overall health and well being. Balance means moderation and compromise. It is more a matter of making reasonable choices than trying to do everything perfectly. Eating well, being physically active, getting plenty of rest, controlling the stress in your life, learning new information and skills, and attending to your spiritual needs are all part of a balanced or holistic approach to wellness.


There are many new choices available that can contribute to holistic health and wellness. Some of these activities contribute more to bodily health while others are like vitamins for the mind and spirit. The following is a list of options. Nobody utilizes all of these options. They are presented as a range of possibilities from which one can choose a few avenues towards strength and balance.

1. Nutrition.

The base of healthy eating is to limit your intake of fat and saturated fats and to eat a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. There are many vitamin and mineral supplements available along with options like vegetarianism or macrobiotic diets. There are many who believe you can feel better and strengthen you immune system by dietary manipulations.

2. Exercise.

Any physically active pastime is better than no activity. Choose activities, sports, hobbies, and exercises that get you up out of your chair and moving. There are many choices from walking to swimming to bicycling to aerobics classes that are available as forms of exercise. Don't overlook the fact that walking just to get places, hiking, gardening, hunting, golfing, and many other pastimes are also ways to stay physically active and healthy.

3. Yoga.

Yoga is an ancient practice of stretching and breathing that is becoming very popular these days. In yoga, you learn to stretch the body by coming into different positions or poses. Yoga focuses the mind, stretches the muscles, and is a great stress-relieving activity.

4. Tai-chi.

Tai-Chi is derived from Chinese culture and involves slow rhythmic movements, focused concentration, and breathing. Practitioners describe it as a way to get in touch with the life-force energy, called Chi, which moves through our bodies. Tai-Chi improves flexibility, coordination, and reduces stress.

5. Herbal medicine.

The medical traditions of China, India, and Native Americans have long histories of using various herb and herbal combinations to treat and prevent disease. A variety of herbal blends, herbal teas, and herbal extracts are available through health food stores. Many of these are intended for the treatment of specific ailments, although some are used to promote good health and well-being.

6. Humor.

There is a growing body of evidence that humor and laughter can reduce stress and strengthen the bodies immune system. Having fun is something you can do just about any time and any place. The possibilities for adding humor to your life are endless.

7. Healing touch.

There are a variety of techniques that involve the use of touch, pressure, and massage as a way to heal and strengthen the body while simultaneously relaxing the mind and soothing the emotions. Some techniques, like neuromuscular massage, are modern while others, like laying on of hands, are part of Christian religious traditions, and others, like acupuncture, are based on Eastern traditions.

8. Relaxation.

A variety of techniques can be learned to relax the body and the mind. Progressive muscle relaxation involves alternately tensing and relaxing muscle groups in order to train the body to be able to relax deeply. Other relaxation techniques involve the use of visual imagery. Many audio tapes are available and can be used to learn how to relax.

9. Biofeedback.

Biofeedback involves taking a bodily process that is related to stress or tension and, by using electrophysiological equipment, turning it into a visual or audio signal. Muscle tension, skin resistance, skin temperature, blood flow, and heart rate can all be captured by equipment and made audible or visible. Making the physiological process something you can be aware of allows you to gradually learn how to control it. For example, you can learn to relax the muscles in your forehead by trying to lower the sound of a tone and this will help with the treatment and prevention of tension headaches.

10. Meditation.

There are many forms of meditation, but they are all similar in that they involve a quieting of the mind and the body and a focusing of awareness. Some techniques use counting breathes, other involving repeating a word or phrase over and over again, while the simplest approach is to just sit still and attempt to quiet your mind and body. Most people who meditate report that it leaves them feeling physically relaxed, mentally alert, and emotionally calm.

11. The power of prayer.

Prayer can be done almost any time or any place. It is a matter of talking privately with God, expressing your problems and concerns, and asking for help and guidance. People differ in their ideas about God and about what one should pray for. However, prayer is an integral part of most religious faiths and can become an important part of a person's commitment to holistic health.


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