Hi, my name is Libby Proctor. I am a licensed acupuncturist, practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the Holistic Health Expert for Chicago Fitness Report. Over the next several months, I will be providing several tools to help optimize your whole health and happiness.
I have two objectives with this series. The first is to show you what “living holistically” actually looks like. The second is to provide practical advice on how to do it.
What is Holistic Health?
Holistic Health is a term used to describe methods of care that fall outside of conventional Western medicine. I am specifically trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is the foundation for many types of alternative treatments. These include meditation, massage, acupuncture, and more.
Whereas Western Medicine often focuses on the treatment of symptoms, TCM has a much broader approach. That being said, the philosophies are not mutually exclusive. In fact, many elite universities and hospital systems use them together as a form of “integrative medicine”. Examples include:
- Northwestern Memorial
- Harvard Medical
- Stanford Hospital
- Duke University Health System
- Johns Hopkins Medicine
I chose a career in Traditional Chinese Medicine because I believe it offers the most complete, comprehensive, holistic approach. When assessing your health, TCM practitioners take all factors into consideration. These include not only the physical symptoms, but also the mental and emotional stressors, home and work environment, and more. Further, we incorporate preventative techniques designed to stop illness before it even starts. These include a healthy diet, exercise, etc.
Living holistically (often called holistic living) simply means that you are taking a broad-based approach to your own health. In other words, you are maintaining a healthy environment, getting proper nourishment, and employing preventative forms of care.
What We Can Learn From Trees
Throughout this series, I will be using the analogy of a tree to demonstrate how to live holistically (and non-holistically, for that matter). Before we dive in, let’s first discuss two types of trees.
A Healthy Tree
Picture a large, healthy tree. It has a vast, complex root system that grows deeply into the earth, serving as the tree’s foundation and starting point for its health. The tree’s branches expand upward from the trunk, each carrying vibrant leaves and fruit.
The health of this tree is dependent on several factors. The soil is pure and provides ample nutrients for the tree. It also gets adequate sunshine and fresh water. It receives an appropriate amount of wind and other resistance, which helps it grow stronger. Due to its optimal health, it has the ability to defend against bugs and disease, and recuperates easily from the occasional environmental stressor.
Any onlooker will notice that this is a particularly healthy, robust tree. It is “doing it right”; it is a happy tree.
A Miserable TREE
Now picture a different type of tree, one that didn’t have as much luck in life. Maybe its seeds happened to fall near a cluster of factories, with toxic, low-nutrient soil. The water supply is low and polluted. Sunshine is reduced by the smog and wind is blocked by the factories. In other words, the environment is harsh, stale, and stagnant.
It’s no surprise that this tree is small and sickly. It did not grow to its full height or best health. Its too weak to produce leaves or fruit. It will eventually succumb to bugs, disease, and premature death.
Which are You?
Now imagine yourself as a tree.
Do you see yourself as the healthy tree? Are your roots being fed with nutritious soil and purified water? Are you filtering toxins from your environment? Do you have adequate exposure to the elements? Are you happy?
If so, you are likely the type of person that radiates beauty and vitality. Your skin glows, you have a healthy libido, healthy relationships, and probably love your job. You spend time outside and are exposed to healthy stressors such as exercise and engaging mental work. As a result, you recuperate easily from illness and are consistently happy. If you are this person, thumbs up. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Or do you see yourself as the miserable tree? Are you stuck in a toxic environment, perhaps surrounded by poor relationships and a job that stifles your creativity? Do you “nourish” yourself with soda, chemicals, drugs, and alcohol? Are you deprived of healthy stressors such as exercise?
If so, I bet I can guess what you look like. You’re tired, don’t sleep well, and have dark circles under your eyes. You have a pattern of toxic people and relationships rotating in and out of your life. You may suffer from allergies, skin issues, and frequent aches and pains. You have a consistent, vague feeling that something is missing from your life.
Most of us are somewhere in between. We have good days and we have bad days. We eat some fresh produce, but sometimes indulge in fast food. We sit at our desks for eight hours a day, but workout 30-60 minutes to “offset” it. We feel pretty good about life, but still have a sense of uneasiness, like something is missing.
The good news is that this can be fixed. I’ll help you make several changes to your environment and outlook, which well help you transform from a “not-so-fabulous” tree into an “absolutely-stunning-specimen” of a tree. But it takes WORK, dedication, practice, will power, and patience.
The Game Plan for Living Holistically
Now that you have an idea of what your “tree” looks like, let’s talk about what goes into the care of it.
As we discussed earlier, the vitality of a tree is directly related to the health of its roots. Humans are no different.
I typically divide these “roots” into three interrelated categories.
- Your Mind reflects your intellect, personality, and outlook. It can provide the guidance and motivation needed to enhance your Body and Soul. It has the ability to turn negativity into positivity, and vice versa. Its health depends on stimulation, mindfulness, perspective, and meditation.
- Your Body reflects your ability to perform physical tasks, which has a direct impact on the performance of your Mind and Soul. It has the ability to sustain and enhance your life. Its health depends on movement, sleep, food, and water.
- Your Soul reflects your passion and appreciation for life. It works closely with your Mind to form your overall outlook. For some, it is closely tied to spirituality. For others, it is a reflection of social connections and relationships. This category is unique to the needs of each person.
The achievement of “whole health” depends on the performance of all of these components. Positive growth in one area will likely benefit the others. Conversely, a deficit in one will likely lead to a deficit in another.
The Golden Rule
Balance is a key theme in my practice. I’ve found that the best results are not through dramatic, short-term change, but rather through the culmination of several small improvements. This “everything in moderation” approach has helped my clients create sustainable lifestyles in which they’re comfortable and happy.
The 80/20 rule is a key part of this. This means that you should be eating and living healthily for 80% of the time, but always leave room for your grandmother’s cookies or a beer with a friend. If something truly feeds your Soul, then it’s perfectly acceptable to indulge every now and again.
I know this is a lot to think about. But that’s what I want you to do at first. Just think about it!
Remember, the goal is small, sustainable changes, rather than a drastic transformation. Start with baby steps. I’ve been practicing for seven years and I’m still trying things out and making small improvements. It’s important to maintain flexibility as you go through this process.
Ultimately, I want you to remember that everything you eat, drink, do, think, and say has an impact on your health and vitality.
Stayed tuned for future articles, in which I will provide you with practical advice to enhance your Mind, Body, and Soul. By the end of the series, you will have the tools you need to cut toxicity from your life and grow big, strong, and happy (just like that tree).
About the Author
Libby is State Licensed and Board Certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She has a Bachelor of Science from Northwestern University and Master of Science in Traditional Medicine from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Read her bio, visit Azara Health & Wellness, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.