Holistic Health for the Body
In a holistic approach to physical health we may speak of internal and external factors that influence our bodies.
The internal factors have to do with the degree of body awareness that we have, and our ability to be embodied. Being embodied and aware of the body, means that we can rest deeply into our bodies, experiencing them for all that they are, without mental constructs, judgements and thought patterns interfering with being fully present in body awareness.
Having body awareness overlaps with psychology and forms the basis of mind-body practices. In mind-body cultivation methods, a fundamental practice is to bring attention and mindfulness to the body. This may be done through breathing techniques, movement and meditation. By cultivating greater body awareness we develop the ability to listen to our bodies and their needs, be more present in our bodies, and be better informed about how to best care for them.
Often when we make decisions for our physical health, we fill our heads with information and make the decisions according to what are minds determine are best. This is frequently done with diets, as when one reads all about some new or fad diet, and decides to try it based on the information acquired. Seldom, do people actually check in with their body, and ask it how that particular diet feels to their body. When dietary decisions are made solely on mental information, even if it is backed up by knowledge, the body may not find the diet appropriate to its particular needs. For this reason, dietary choices should be made not only with mental information and knowledge, but also with body awareness according to how the body itself feels and responds to the diet. A similar thing could be said for exercise and other things we do for our physical health. When we are embodied, and cultivate a high degree of body awareness, we can acquire deep and intimate connections with our bodies, that make it easy to nourish and move them in the most enjoyable and beneficial ways.
The second major consideration for our physical bodies in a holistic health paradigm, is understanding how various external modalities like massage, supplements, bodywork, alternative treatments, drugs and surgery affect us. This includes all the physical treatments, including diet and exercise, that we use to optimize, nourish and support our bodies. In many books on holistic health there is an emphasis on complimentary and alternative treatments that take a holistic perspective on health and disease. While many alternative and complimentary medicines speak of a holistic approach, many of them rely on physical modalities for treatment, and are actually better suited for physical ailments and conditions. Although there is awareness of the mind-body unity and human spirit in alternative medicine, some of these practices are still primarily based in methods that work best on the physical level. Since there is an intimate connection and unity between the mind and body, holistic health approaches can sometimes get confused with the level at which particular treatment styles work best. For instance, treatments like massage and bodywork primarily target the physical body, but may also provide stress relief and emotional release on the mental-emotional levels. However, since massage works with physical pressure applied to the body, and is not necessarily the best kind of treatment for resolving mental and emotional disorders, we will classify massage as primarily being a physical treatment method.
Having said this, it is important to acknowledge the profound role that massage and manual therapies can play in releasing emotion held in the body. A gentle touch can have an amazing affect on our emotions, and provide warm comfort, help us to release grief and tears, or liberate long held emotions. With these powerful affects of massage, or other manual therapies, we may begin to think that these therapies can help us to resolve emotional issues. However, the point I want to make is that while these treatments may help us to resolve emotional tension held in the body, they do not address the underlying psychological and behavioral patterns that are related to our emotions. To effectively address the mind and emotional patterns, treatments like counseling, CBT, coaching, or other psychological methods are necessary. In conclusion, a truly holistic approach should consider the role of manual therapies in releasing emotion held in the body, and the necessity of other forms of therapy for addressing any root disharmonies in the mind and emotions.