The term holistic health has been around for many years, but what does it actually mean? In this article I explore what the term holistic health means and share our approach here at La Crisalida Retreats.
What is holistic health?
Holistic health is an approach to health that considers the person as a whole, one interconnected being.
There are generally five elements that we consider when talking about holistic health:
- Mental / intellectual
All of these elements influence and shape our health and wellbeing. So, to create and maintain health, we need to consider all of these elements together. As an inter-connected being, if one part of our system is out of kilter, then it has a knock-on effect to another.
For example, when we are under stress or feeling anxious (emotion), it impacts upon our physical body (tight shoulders, tension headaches, tummy aches etc), it can lead to less sleep (which can directly affect our mental ability), it might change our social behaviour (we might avoid noisy places) and lead to us feeling disconnected with ourselves (spiritual). All of this can reinforce our emotional instability.
In holistic health, rather than focusing on an illness or specific parts of the body, we focus on the whole person, the whole life experience. In the example of stress, taking a massage can help to relieve the physical tension in your body, which can interrupt the pattern or knock-on effect of stress. Mindful breathing might also be an option, again directly affecting our physical body, but also interrupting the mind-chatter and enabling us to reconnect inside. We might also look to reduce or change the source of our stress.
Taking a whole person approach to health means that there is not a “one size fits all” – what works for one person might not work for another. For example, people experiencing depression might be told by health professionals that deep breathing or mindfulness can help to reduce or relieve their depression. Yet for some people, mindfulness can make them even more aware of their emotions, to the point that it feels overwhelming and they feel worse. This individualised approach to health and wellbeing can seem challenging, akin to trial and error, and perhaps like hard work! This we can call a lifestyle approach.
What do I mean by lifestyle approach?
By lifestyle, I mean everything that we do in our life – our diet, exercise, environment, sleep patterns, thoughts and attitudes, how we live and who we share our lives with.
Some people become interested in holistic health and explore different lifestyle options following a diagnosis of ill-health, a life changing event or they develop a chronic condition, i.e. there is a specific trigger. However, we think holistic health and taking a lifestyle approach to our health is something that we can do right now, or any time we choose.
It means consciously developing a way of living that will help to create, maintain or sustain our health.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that when I am tired or have been working hard on the computer, I tend to have less energy for exercise or feel less like making healthy food to eat (the temptation to order a take-away increases!). However, I also know that these two items, when I do them, help me to sleep better and regain my energy more quickly.
Western medicine – is it holistic?
Modern Western medicine tends to approach disease by reducing it to biochemistry and/or mechanics. It tends to emphasise specific approaches to healing disease or ill-health, rather than creating an environment for overall health and wellbeing. There is a high degree of focus on science, and the physical body, with little attention to the other elements (like emotional, social and spiritual).
A doctor might identify a physical health problem and a tablet or surgery is prescribed to deal with that specific physical health problem. For example, someone with a heart problem might be given warfarin tablets, to thin their blood and prevent blood clots forming (preventing most strokes and heart attacks and saving their life). The patient is normally told to reduce the quantity of green vegetables that they eat and avoid specific food items as they interfere with the effects of warfarin. However, other lifestyle changes could support this person, such as broader dietary changes (to reduce cholesterol or boost their nutritional intake), taking appropriate exercise on a regular basis and other lifestyle approaches. We know there are many health practitioners around the world who do take a wider, more holistic approach and this is welcomed.
Having the ability to combine Western medicine, with lifestyle and/or “natural” methods, such as alternative and complementary therapies can really bring benefits to our overall health.
When I was diagnosed with endometriosis, the doctor immediately ordered surgery – I was told that it was my only and best option. After that he prescribed tablets to block my hormones, followed by another round of (even more extreme and equally unsuccessful) surgery. During that time, I took the decision to make changes to my diet, started yoga, saw a reflexologist, took regular massage with a wonderful therapist close to home and started exploring the mindset around health, to explore and clear out some limiting beliefs and release stuck emotions. I also saw an acupuncturist and had my energy cleansed and balanced. Over the years, many of these things became an integral part of my lifestyle (plus other things like meditation) and it is the actions I took personally that I believe cured my endometriosis. If I feel ill, then I will see my doctor, but I also take it as a reminder from my body to check out my lifestyle and make sure it is working for my best health.
Alternative and complementary therapies
There are many therapies available, grouped together under a broad heading called alternative and complementary therapies. This can include for example, massage, acupuncture, energy balancing, aromatherapy, homeopathy, hypnotherapy, reflexology and much more. It is anything that is not Westernised medicine. Some of these are ancient medical practices, for example Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, and others are more recent developments.
Many of these alternative therapies can support us to maintain good health and can be a great addition to our everyday life. For example, taking a regular massage can help our physical body to release tension. One hour relaxing Yin class can also do wonders for our mental health and our connection to self.
Some people wish to heal their health problem using only “natural” methods, which is of course their choice. However, we would suggest considering all the elements of holistic health – lifestyle and western medicine.
The individual is responsible for their own health
Another important concept at La Crisalida Retreats (and in holistic health) is that the individual takes responsibility for their own health.
To us this responsibility is making informed decisions about what is best for my health, personally. It means exploring options and looking at a whole range of actions, not just one. This does not mean ignoring advice from specialised others, quite the opposite. We might decide to “delegate” responsibility for a treatment to a specialised person, such as a doctor. However, at the same time we might change our diet, take more exercise (in a form that we enjoy), get regular massage (from a specialist), explore energy treatments or chakra balancing, learn to meditate and so on.
There are many actions you can take in your own life to bring about health. Some actions are easier than others, but the effort is usually worthwhile.
Holistic health at La Crisalida Retreats
Here at La Crisalida Retreats, we provide a holistic programme, to create, support and enhance health and wellbeing. There are eight inter-connected parts to the programme, and believe that all eight parts are needed to create optimal health and wellbeing:
- Exercise – daily walks, yoga, rebounding, exercise classes
- Physiology and breath – meditation, yoga, diet
- Mindset – life makeover workshops, approaches to food
- Connection – with self, others and the environment
- Rest – sleep and relaxation time, we care for you
- Nutrition and hydration – plant-based food, juices and water
- Environment – calm, welcoming and friendly, time in nature and sea
- Education – learning and exploring
Each of these areas influence the five elements (physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual).
You can read more about each of these elements and how they are integrated into the holistic La Crisalida programme here.
You can create your own health and wellbeing by educating yourself about your options, whether through experiencing things directly on retreat with us, trying the plant-based food or bringing other elements into your life, like mindset workshops, meditation, regular yoga practice and more.
Come on a holistic retreat
Our health and wellbeing retreats are the ideal environment in which to get into healthy habits and start to create the lifestyle that will support your health, over the longer term. You can stay at the retreat for as long as you want. Some people come for one month to give themselves a solid base from which to return home. Other guests choose to come two or three times each year for a shorter period of time, as a regular “top-up”. Send us a booking enquiry now if you want to check availability or if you have any questions.
I hope this article has inspired you to take a fresh look at your health and the lifestyle that you have. To your health and wellbeing, Lisa.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).