These past couple of years have been rough on the whole world, the environment, and society, but also on us as individuals. Our reality as we knew it has been shaken up by the upcoming of a virus that took up all the online and offline space, leaving us confined to our own four walls. This forced us to assess everything we knew and adjust, innovate, and, most importantly, rethink the way we take care of ourselves.
Whereas the COVID-19 period was an era of self-discovery, the post-COVID era is a time of intentionally shifting the focus to ourselves, our inner connection our bodies and the self, and the importance of nurturing the relationship between body and mind. Involuntarily, this set us on the path to a collective renaissance, changing drastically the way we look at well-being. So, there’s no wonder that the most searched topic in 2022 was change.
What is holistic health?
So what changed exactly? This big shift was not only realizing just how important it is to take care of our bodies first, perpetually and intentionally, but also how other aspects play an essential role in our general well-being.
Well-being is an interconnected network of physiological, social, spiritual, emotional and environmental components.
What different ancient healing systems were asserting for thousands of years, we were just now beginning to dabble in. Ayurveda, for instance, is a complete way of life, and looks at all these factors as a whole, acknowledging that everything around and within us is connected. This philosophy views the person as a whole and focuses on prevention rather than treatment. According to Ayurveda, the way to long-term well-being is finding the balance between mind, body, spirit, and the environment.
The 5 Pillars of Holistic Health
If you take away just one thing from this article, let it be this: well-being is not one-size-fits-all. Every one of us has a unique constitution that we must honour in order to achieve our well-being goals. Therefore, look at these pillars of holistic health as a guide to optimize your well-being and by no means as a set-in-stone recipe for success.
When considering your overall health and wellness, it’s important to take into account your unique constitution – your predominant dosha(s) – and what may bring these to a state of imbalance. According to Ayurveda, the universe is made up of 5 elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. And so are our bodies. Various external and internal factors have a great impact on the balance between these doshas, all of which find themselves in the 5 pillars of holistic health: physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental.
Physical health relates directly to your body and its processes. The body is in its own an ecosystem, and in order to maintain its general health, we first need to understand how to best support the body’s natural processes. That means that we need more than exercise and diet to ensure physical wellness. Sleep and hygiene, often overlooked in the big scheme of things, also play an important role. Think here about the quality of your sleep, and the duration of it, but also about your personal and home hygiene.
Let’s break it down a bit, as this is one of the most comprehensive pillars of holistic health. This is where it all starts – the body. Ayurveda looks at the body as a sum of systems, comprised of five constituent parts, called pancha mahābūta, seven body tissues, or dhātus, and three regulating qualities, or doshas. The doshas are the ones governing individual well-being and the key to longevity and health is keeping these in balance.
Imbalances appear when the proper functioning of these systems is affected by toxin formation, or ama, which is seen as the base pool where disease forms. And, let me tell you, the list of possible culprits of toxin formation is long. Most of the time it starts in the gut and it includes incompatible food combinations, overeating, excessive cold foods and drinks, unprocessed negative feelings, or suppressed natural reflex impulses. “Unprocessed negative emotions as part of the gut environment?” – I hear you thinking. The gut-brain connection has been receiving a lot of spotlight lately, with many scholars just now aligning with what Ayurveda has been saying for millennia: well-being starts in the gut.
Tips to maintain physical health?
- Maintain an appropriate diet. While diet should be tailored to our individual needs, the main guiding rule in maintaining physical wellness is quite upfront: diversify your meals and favour fresh produce over processed foods, while being mindful of the foods that inhibit the good functioning of your digestive system.
- Exercise. I can already hear 2-3 excuses spontaneously popping up in your head: “I don’t have time to hit the gym”, “I’m too tired after work”, “I am too tired before work”, “It’s full moon once a month” – I get it. But exercising doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights every day, or even being in the gym to do it. You can take a quick walk in nature, or do some light stretches before you start your day. Basically, anything that works for you and your routine, and keeps your body moving and supple.
- Keep proper personal and home hygiene. It’s no surprise by now that we are surrounded by bacteria. Bacteria even live on our skin, however, through our evolution, we managed to find a symbiotic way of living with these microorganisms. Generally, bacteria are harmless, and sometimes even helpful. However, you also have the occasional bad ones that lead to different infections. While your body has the ability to fight these infections, you don’t want to overload its processes. That’s where proper personal hygiene comes in (you know, the recommended wash your hands and body regularly advice), but also your home hygiene. Living in a clean, dust- and mold-free environment is vital to our well-being.
- Listen to your body. If you don’t know where to start and it’s all too much information for you to digest, start here: actively and intentionally tune in to your body and listen to what it’s telling you. Do you think that being tired is normal? Do you think that rash is a sign from the divine or that bloating and indigestion are part of it? These are all imbalances in our bodies and a sign of toxin overload. Do a body scan starting from your toes and work your way up to the top of your hand and really focus on what is going on within.
- Get enough sleep. This can mean different things for different people, but the duration and the quality of sleep are essential to our well-being. If you find it difficult to fall asleep, try to set some time aside to wind down without any screens, scribble down all those intrusive thoughts that usually keep you up at night, or simply, do some yoga to clear your head and release tension.
Emotional and Mental Health
When talking about well-being, emotional wellness is a very important part of the equation. Toxins also form as a result of unprocessed feelings, so being able to identify and assess what you are feeling is a crucial part of the process. Closely related to emotional health is mental health, which includes everything related to the brain’s processes and our ability to understand and process both internal and external information.
There’s a deep connection between emotional and mental health – mental health has to do with our ability to learn, grow and adapt, while our emotions help us experience the world around us beyond its physical properties. Without strong mental health that helps support the regulation and filtering through of our emotions, we would be left in an emotional turmoil we wouldn’t quite know how to handle.
Tips to keep emotional and mental health in check
- Practice mindfulness. Most of the time, our daily lives are busy and rushed. And so, it’s important to ground ourselves and try to live in the present, consciously and with intention. Practicing mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and stress, and helps us tune in to what is going on in our minds and bodies.
- Constantly stimulate your intellect. Read, listen to podcasts, and look for new perspectives. In short, keep learning. This will help your mind stay engaged and active.
- Be open about your feelings. Talking about your feelings makes everything seem less heavy. Remember: when they’re out, that means they are no longer festering inside. Confide in the people you trust or look for a counselor or a therapist that can help you navigate your emotions.
- Nurture your body. The connection between mind and body is a strong one, and the way we take care of our bodies reflects on our minds. And vice versa.
While the first two pillars were straightforward and easier to pinpoint, this aspect of holistic health is more difficult to assess. Social health looks at our ability to form and nurture meaningful relationships with the people around us, and that differs so much from person to person. While some people like to keep their social circle small and intimate, others enjoy bigger crowds. However it may be, we all need social contact to thrive.
The social connections we make are, in fact, support systems that we can turn to when it gets tough. Humans are not solitary creatures, and knowing that you are not alone through life’s struggles has a powerful impact on our well-being. The power of your social circle is not only useful through hardships; finding your people helps you lead healthier and happier lives.
Tips for a healthy social health
- Find your tribe. Look for the people that enrich your life and that share similar values, people that give you energy when you’re around them, and that allow you to fully be yourself.
- Be wary of your energy. Be selective with who gets access to you. Make sure that the people you surround yourself with are lifting you up and creating space for you to be unapologetically authentic. Setting boundaries is essential in creating healthy relationships.
- Put in the work. Meaningful relationships don’t just happen, they need work and nurturing to evolve. Keep your people close, check in on them, and support them when they need to – don’t hold back from putting in the work.
Whether you believe in a greater power or your strong connection is with nature and humanity, spiritual health is a quintessential part of holistic health. Spiritual wellness is based on the desire to contribute to a greater good, looking for a sense of purpose or a specific direction, and it looks different for all of us. Spiritual well-being is creating your own path, a personalized journey that inspires you.
Spirituality is a broad spectrum and can mean different things to different people. How you choose to tend to your spiritual wellness is up to you.
Tips to strengthen your spiritual health
- Live with intention. Live your life with purpose and align your actions to that purpose. Finding your purpose will give you a greater sense of fulfillment and well-being. Set your intentions as guidance for the life you want to live and check in regularly to keep you on track.
- Connect to nature and/or a higher power. Do this by setting time aside to spend time in nature, reflect, meditate, or pray. Use different methods to ground yourself, turn inwards, and assess your progress. Whatever your belief system is, nurturing that connection to it is a very important part of spiritual health.
The fifth pillar of holistic well-being is your surrounding space. This includes your immediate surroundings, like your living space, as well as the community we live in. All of this makes up our environment, and even if we don’t think much of it, it all has a great impact on our health. A balanced community, a clean environment, and an uplifting living space, all influence our general well-being. Caring for our natural and built environments ensure, in turn, greater support and sustenance of our daily lives.
Tips to maintain environmental health
- Keep your personal space clean and tidy. Keeping your house tidy promotes creativity and increases productivity.
- Personalize your living space. Decorate it with things that represent you and really make it your own. Let your predominant dosha guide you in the process of creating the perfect personal space for you that boosts your well-being. For example, Vata types benefit from whites and warm, earthy tones, and comfy furnishing. Pitta types, on the other hand, should go for cool tones of blue, green, and greys, as these counteract its fiery nature. For Kapha, choose bright, warm colours with gold and copper accents.
- Create a supportive natural environment. Whether it is at work or in your home communities, always promote a supportive and welcoming environment.
- Reduce waste. It’s no news that our planet is suffering so why not lend a helping hand by trying to reduce your carbon footprint in any way you can? This will ultimately create a safer and more enjoyable natural environment, one that can positively influence your well-being.
Nowadays, holistic health is sold as a luxury that not many of us can afford, or as an “alternative” to our reality. The truth of the matter is, holistic health is consciously bringing together all the factors that we already consider in our daily life and realizing their impact on our wellness.