by Caitlin Evans: How would you define health and wellbeing? Do you consider yourself a healthy person?
Conventional Western medicine presents the normative approach to healthcare in most countries, and undoubtedly, its role is important. But, as we’ve all grown accustomed to this way of treatment, we’ve also widely accepted its definition of health: health is the absence of disease inside a body, which functions as a machine. Each part of the machine needs to “work” properly within certain parameters in order for the body to be considered healthy. When something is not functioning well, the disease needs to be fought until the symptoms are eradicated so that it can perform as it did before – or at least the best it can, given the changed conditions.
However, we seem to be collectively acknowledging that we’re not feeling all too well very often, despite us being considered “healthy” by conventional standards. The ailments of the modern world – stress, hypersensitivity, anxiety, depression, the general feeling that something is missing in our lives – have led a wide number of people to a more holistic approach to health. People worldwide are not feeling content with the conventional definition, finding it somewhat blinkered – and rightfully so.
The fluidity of wellbeing
The holistic approach is characteristic of traditional Eastern medicine, which observes the human body as a garden rather than a machine. It is organic and adaptable, each system inside the body influencing all the others. Because everything is intertwined, it is impossible not to observe the body as an intricate whole – and treat it that way. Therefore, health is not just the absence of a disease; health is integrity, adaptability, and continuity of the body and mind. It is a state whose balance needs to be cultivated throughout your entire life, thus enhancing your body’s capacity for self-regulation. We call this state – wellbeing.
How is this garden, or the state of wellbeing, to be cultivated?
Since it’s clear by now that the mind and body are so intimately connected, we can agree that all external factors, by extension, play a role in a person’s overall wellness. All areas of life – our social interactions, workplace environment, spirituality, intellectual drive and emotional states – everything is inseparable from our wellbeing. Everything has an impact on the functioning of the body and mind.
Ancient practices such as Ayurveda are founded on holistic principles. Ayurveda seeks to enhance the quality of life and bring health to the entire system, starting with calming the mind. Likewise, Qigong, a basic exercise system within Chinese medicine, seeks not to combat illness once it arises but rather to maintain good health. This is done by creating a state of mental and physical calmness, thus balancing energy so the entire system can function efficiently.
People enrich their lives in various ways, led by holistic principles. They look for ways to naturally boost dopamine when they’re feeling listless, they meditate to balance the body and mind, they look for exercises which help them relieve negative energy and harbour positivity, they seek nature to reconnect with their inner selves. People worldwide are becoming more cautious about what they eat and how nutrition affects their overall wellbeing. Many are using supplements to make up for what their diet lacks because we have finally acknowledged that many of our illnesses are, in fact, symptoms of unhealthy lifestyle choices. Perhaps stress is the strongest example of an external force that wreaks havoc internally, and it has pointed us in this direction.
For a long time in the modern era, people didn’t pay much attention to their lifestyle choices, believing that they could get away with anything because medicine would fix any problems that may arise. But as we’ve grown into an overmedicated, overcaffeinated, and somewhat lethargic society, the lifestyle of holistic health is becoming growingly popular. Everything points to a simple conclusion: essentially, a holistic approach to health aims for the deeper aspects – the higher levels of wellness.
The vitality of the physical body, the feeling of purpose and contribution to others, cultivating the mind and the spirit, the quality of our relationships with others, finding meaning in the things we do…those are all aspects of our health and wellbeing. And we each deserve to seek improvement in every field, thus cultivating our metaphorical garden. For a life well-lived.
Caitlin is a bookworm, photographer and dancer. She is also a medical student in love with science and nutrition. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Caitlin is researching and writing about various health-related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu and long walks.