When you think about holistic health, what comes to mind? Visions of a room filled with incense, maybe some chanting, and a lot of talk about inner peace?
Unlike many of the stereotypes associated with holistic health, the practice itself is actually very simple: Treat the whole person, not just his or her symptoms. While the Western model of conventional medicine focuses on treating the individual parts and systems of a person, such as the digestive system or the heart, holistic health practitioners treat the person as a whole. For example, if a person has high blood pressure, a doctor practicing Western medicine may treat it by trying to lower the patient’s blood pressure with medication. Using a holistic health approach, however, a practitioner may look at sleep habits and potential sources of stress as reasons why the person’s blood pressure may be high, and recommend diet, lifestyle, and exercise changes.
Note: All holistic health practitioners encourage you to consult with your primary care physician before adopting any of these integrative practices.
When it comes to holistic health, nutrition is everything. “Every cell in our body is affected by what we put in it,” says Kiran Shrestha, RD. “In terms of holistic health, you cannot achieve optimum health emotionally, spiritually,
or physically if you are lacking good nutrition sense.”
Shrestha, a registered dietitian in Bay City, explains that holistic health practitioners see good nutrition as a basic tool to fuel the body and keep it healthy. “Foods that we eat have the ability to fight off illness through the nutrients they contain,” she says. “Every aspect of [your] body functioning depends on the fuel you put in it.”
Kim Palka, ND, owner of WellSpring Naturopathic Health Services & Studio in Midland, became interested in the practice of holistic health after her own experiences with a chronic health condition that she treated with a combination of natural remedies, including a change in her diet. “It was a huge eye-opener for me [when I realized] that I had some control over my health,” Palka says. “For many chronic problems, changes in diet and other lifestyle habits can make a difference in [your] health.”
Dixie Salogar, a physical trainer and nutritionist, also became a holistic health practitioner after using its practices to help her body heal following a motor vehicle accident. She credits a whole food, plant-based diet as one of the methods that has helped her stay healthy. “One of the easiest ways to begin a lifestyle that promotes your best health, helps you avoid chronic disease, and encourages longevity is to eat a variety of whole vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, leafy plants, and whole grains,” Salogar says.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies and vitamins can help treat illness and restore the body to a state of health, which holistic health practitioners believe is the body’s natural state. Palka says that the key to using safe herbal remedies as a treatment option is finding trained professionals who would be aware of any potential dangers.
The bottom line is that in holistic health or Western medicine, good nutrition is always key. “There’s nothing nutrition can’t work with,” says Palka. “Good nutrition is never going to be a bad thing to happen.”
Like nutrition, exercise is a key component of holistic health. “The human body was made to move,” says Palka. “When we move, we are being healthy. Movement is one of the things that tells us we are alive—it’s foundational to health and well-being.”
Nichole Bartel, MA, a certified Ageless Grace educator, runs Revitalize Yourself in Bay City with her mother, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and has witnessed the benefits that fitness programs such as Ageless Grace can have on one’s health. Because Ageless Grace is a fitness program performed from a chair, people of all ages and abilities can practice the purposeful movement. The program was designed to combat some of the effects of aging on the body as well as promote the three R’s of lifelong comfort and ease: the ability to react, respond, and recover safely, says Bartel.
The key in using movement to stay healthy as we age, Bartel explains, happens at a very basic cellular level. “As we engage in non-habitual movements, rather than just repetitive exercise, we create new neural pathways in our brains,” she says. “And it’s that resulting neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain and nervous system to change structurally and functionally) that is vital to active aging and youthful function.”
The brain-body connection that Bartel refers to is what has driven Jim Bush to teach tai chi and qigong in the region for the last 30 years. “Holistic exercise—[incorporating] body, mind, and spirit—is necessary to keep and maintain good health,” says Bush. Not only does purposeful movement, such as tai chi, help focus the mind, challenge the body, and improve the flow of energy, according to Bush it can also help alleviate health conditions, improve balance, and support heart health.
Combined with good nutrition, purposeful movement and exercise are part of the holistic health philosophy to healing the body and supporting wellness from the ground up. With a holistic health approach, there are no quick fixes, fad diets, or exercise routines that promise instantaneous results. Instead, it’s about looking at all facets that may be affecting an individual’s health. “A complete lifestyle change, which is often required for a holistic health approach, simply takes more time to see measurable effects,” explains Salogar.
While many of us may think of getting a massage as a luxury, in holistic health, it’s a form of therapy and self-care. “Adding massages and/or acupuncture to your wellness routine is highly beneficial for flushing toxins and ridding your body of stagnant waste,” says Salogar. Palka also recommends massage therapy for general relaxation and to target different issues, such as helping with pain, rehabilitation, circulation, and clearing the lymphatic system.
In addition to massages, acupuncture is also used in holistic health and is being recognized more in conventional medicine as well. Julie Botimer, MS, a board-certified acupuncturist with MidMichigan Acupuncture & Wellness in Bay City, explains that acupuncture is an ancient healing tradition that has been practiced for more than 2,000 years.
Botimer describes how an acupuncturist places fine, sterile needles superficially at specific acupoints on the body. This activates Qi (pronounced “chee”), thought to be the body’s life force or energy source. Holistic health practitioners who use acupuncture believe that when the body’s Qi is blocked because of stress, trauma, lack of physical activity, or diet, the whole body suffers. Acupuncture works to “unblock” the disrupted Qi.
Another holistic health remedy is hydrotherapy, which is any therapy performed with water. Examples of hydrotherapy include alternating hot and cold water to help stimulate blood circulation and vitality in the body, or using baths and soaks at home.
But no matter what proponents of holistic health you may practice, the most important aspect may be as simple as discovering what makes you happy. “One of the greatest things you can do to rebalance yourself after getting off track is to indulge your being in what makes you happiest,” Salogar says. That might just mean that now would be a perfect time to schedule that massage.