The concept of holism is the idea that systems and their parts should be viewed as a whole, not as individual collective parts, and that the person is more than just a physical body, that the ‘whole’ person must be looked at for the attainment of good health – not just the malady. This concept of holism also extends to the practice of making people feel better; when alternative medicines are mixed with orthodox medicine the result is ‘holistic’ or ‘integrative’ medicine.
Holistic philosophy upholds the belief that all aspects of peoples’ needs (including psychological, physical and social) should be taken into account. The person is seen entirely as a mental/physical/spiritual entity (‘mind, body, spirit’), and while some alternative therapists focus on the more social and interpersonal aspects of life as the key to solving malady, it is true that whatever the approach, the defining characteristics of the holistic attitude are its comprehensiveness with regards to health and well-being.
Holistic health is actually an approach to life, which encompasses a diverse field of alternative medicines and practices, applying the concept of holism to the well-being of the ‘whole’ person; the emotional needs of a person just as important as the physical. Humans are recognised as dynamic beings, and ‘health’ is more than just the absence of disease.
Balance and harmony are important concepts in holistic health; harmony is a condition that is brought about when all parts of life (eg. physical and emotional well-being, financial stability, intelligence, personal goals, and social structure) are in balance with each other, and the world around us. In Ayurveda, disease and sickness are the result of living outside harmony, and the patient must rejuvenate their natural mental and physical balance.
Taoism is the ancient Chinese philosophy of balance and harmony. All phenomena are from the same origin (The Tao, or the Way) and we are seen as part of the natural world. All things are naturally polarised, and as a result our surrounding environment affects us. The complimentary opposites (Yin and Yang) create reality and flow of energy. This energy is the language through which life communicates, and must be kept in balance. In terms of holistic health, an imbalance of this energy is believed to cause ill health and disease.
The environment around us has a huge impact on our health and must be taken into account when trying to attain (or restore) balance and harmony. Environmental factors that affect us range from air quality, water quality, diet, exposure to sunlight, and the land we live on. With adequate exposure, certain contaminants can produce an array of adverse health effects, and social and economic factors - such as poverty, lack of education in the importance of diet and exercise, and financial restrictions - can affect this balance, and our well-being, further.
Taoism has developed rich and varied manifestations in Chinese culture, which has spread to other cultures, most noticeably in the development of medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine is a set of interventions designed to bring balance to human beings, and its philosophies underpin many of the complementary therapies that are available to us today.
With an estimated one in five Britons spending a total of £450m on complementary therapies a year in the UK, and the NHS part-funding some surgeries to employ alternative therapists, attitudes towards holism are certainly changing.