Holistic is a term that is often misunderstood. Over the years, it may have even gotten a bad rap. Many only associate the term holistic with non-mainstream health practices, or with non-traditional and/or non-scientific principles, rather than as a useful concept and healing approach that can actually help to solve many of life’s problems, including health.
Holistic, as a concept, originates from the term holism, coined by Jan Christiaan Smuts (May 24, 1870 – September 11, 1950) in Holism and Evolution. The term holism originates from the Greek word holos, meaning all or whole. It is the idea that everything ought to be looked at as a whole, and not just as individual parts of a whole.
Holistic and alternative health practitioners share a common approach which aims to treat both the mind and the body, and understands that healing is most effective when you take into account the whole person and the environment, rather than just the symptoms of a disease or illness. A holistic approach to health and healing looks at the inter-relationship and inter-connection of parts that make up the whole of who we are. We are multi-dimensional beings with physical, mental, socio-emotional, and spiritual parts.
Holistic thinking does not just apply to health. It can apply to every aspect of life. Imagine if we looked at every system holistically – economics, ecology, government, legal, education, environment, social, etc. Some of today's problems are growing at an alarming rate that they seem almost impossible to solve adequately without utilizing holistic thinking. Holistic thinking is a way to address many of those problems because it takes into account how everyone and everything affects the other, including the environment. Since we are all connected and sharing this planet with 7.4+ billion others, and since some of those problems cannot be solved unless we take a different approach, it would seem logical to find a way to bridge the gap between mainstream thought and holistic thought. Reductionist thinking is the most prevalent cognitive style in our world. Whereas reductionist thinking breaks components down into smaller parts, holistic thinking connects those parts to help us see the bigger picture. Somewhere in the middle lies a solution that is far more reaching than either on its own could ever be.
Much like the way we are coming to realize that the left and right brain actually work together, we are also better able to see how the left and right brain can solve problems together. Researchers are now discovering that it is the connections among all brain regions that allow us to engage in both analytical and creative thinking. It is a misconception that being analytical is confined to only one side of the brain, while being creative is confined to the other side.
So while it is easier for us to categorize left brain (logical, sequential, rational, analytical, objective, reductionist) and right brain (random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, subjective, big picture) so that we all understand what that means, it isn’t useful to limit our understanding by perpetuating black and white thinking. Most of us have a distinct preference for one of these styles of thinking; however, it doesn’t mean that we cannot become more whole brain in our thinking. How do we do that? One way is through incorporating and combining more right brain activities (metaphors, analogies, seeing and sensing patterns, using visuals, and movement) while engaging in left brain activities. Being more right brain does not imply that one is less rational. It merely implies that one is inclined to be more intuitive. One can be both analytical and holistic. Being more right brain helps us to better understand the importance of how something feels, not only to oneself, but also to others.
Consider someone with a chronic health condition. When you take into account the whole person using a holistic approach, understanding how they think and feel is equally important as understanding the nature of their health condition. On an individual level, you may discover that this person has a genetic marker predisposing him or her to this condition; brain-imaging might pinpoint the exact region of the brain that is fueling the symptoms so that treatment can be targeted; and, once this person understands their own mind-body, they might more easily be able to manage their symptoms and find ways to help themselves feel better. On a social and societal level, this person will feel supported because there is a prevalent culture of healing rather than a culture of shame and stigma. There is emotional support available because everyone knows that it is integral to heal. This applies to every health condition. What is important is that this person now has a whole picture of their own health profile that can help to empower them to find ways to heal and feel better.
A purely reductionist approach does not adequately address the whole human being that is suffering from a health condition. A holistic approach can synthesize a person’s experiences to better understand and help them to heal. Left brain or right brain – which is more useful? An even better way forward is to foster the integration of both so that we can utilize our whole brain in solving life’s problems, helping people to heal, and creating a better world for everyone – one that is measured and modulated by both kindness and compassion. This can really only be achieved by adopting a holistic approach.
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