What makes up the whole in holistic?

It is better to know the person who has the disease than the disease the person has.
— Hippocrates

If you go to a hospital for care these days, you'll probably lose track of all the doctors you meet during your stay. One doctor might clerk your admission, another might see you about your heart problem, another about your lung problem, another to do a procedure, another to advise on the abnormalities in your blood tests. The conventional medical approach has become increasingly specialised, not just to organ system specialists, but to sub-specialists within one organ system. And, speaking from experience, this often means that the knowledge and familiarity with the rest of the human body goes by the wayside. 

More and more, people are talking about the need for holistic care. We don't like being reduced to a body part. We don't like being moved from specialist to specialist, each prescribing their own set of treatments. We feel caught in the middle, we feel lost in a fragmented body having to navigate an increasingly fragmented medical system.

Holistic care aims to pull the pieces together, to address the whole of you. But what comprises the whole? If you were to close your eyes and imagine what defines you, what would it be? Your past history and experiences? Your place of birth? Your beliefs? Your physical body? The thoughts and feelings that run through you from moment to moment? Your interests? The pets or garden that you nurture? Your greater community of friends, family and coworkers?

The truth is, the whole of you is almost impossible to define. At any given moment, you are greater than the sum of all these things. Moreover, you are ever-changing. You are a dynamic being, continually being influenced by and influencing your environment.

Back when Star Wars was released in cinemas, a scientist called George Engel proposed a biopsychosocial model of health. He was concerned that the prevailing medical model reduced human health to the actions of its biochemical component parts. He disagreed with the dualistic approach which separated body from mind and which placed more importance on the former, it being more 'real' and more worthy of a scientist's attention. He felt this created a cold and impersonal approach that did not address the person who was suffering with the illness.

So here we are now many years (and Star Wars episodes) later, beginning to notice what Engel was aware of long ago.

Engel's biopsychosocial model suggests that health and illness are the result of a dynamic interaction between your biology (genetics, biochemistry etc), your psychology (mood, thoughts, feelings) and your social community (family, culture, etc). 

Little by little, science is catching up with Engel. Studies are showing that we are each a complex being, that our thoughts, feelings and social connections affect our physical health, and in order to be healthy, all these different aspects need to be attended to.

With this in mind, it might be worthwhile having a look at these different domains of yourself and deciding how healthy each of these aspects are and whether they can be improved. The next step is giving some positive attention to each of these areas. As the saying goes "where attention goes, energy flows".

Your body: Each day give some attention to your body. This could be in the way of self-massage, expressing a bit of gratitude to your body and what it does all on its own every day, or simply spending a few minutes simply being aware of how it feels to be in your body. Try to regularly go to the environment your body is happiest: in nature.

Your mind: Your thoughts and feelings are a constant presence and the first step is taking the time to really notice them. Many of them run on autopilot, a steady stream being delivered from your subconscious mind. And whether we are aware of them or not, they are having an impact on our wellbeing. As modern people, we tend to spend most of our time in our heads, so what is that space like? If you find that space somewhat cluttered or overly negative, have you explored meditation or mindfulness

Your community: Start to nurture your surroundings. Who do you spend time with? Is your community supportive of you? Are you supportive of it? Take time each week to give something to your community (and I include your 'natural community' in this category--plants and animals). The more you give to your community, the more it gives to you.

As we aim for a more holistic approach to our health and wellbeing, we can achieve a better balance in ourselves and in the greater environment that surrounds us. The possibilities are endless.


Lucie Wilk