Holistic Health and The Wellness Wheel
“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” – B.K.S. Iyengar
We all know that living a healthy life goes beyond the foods we put in our body and how often we exercise, but what other components contribute to our health and well-being? Holistic health is a way of addressing our health and well-being by taking into consideration the whole person. Holistic health looks at body, mind, spirit, and community when addressing the health needs of each individual. Conventional medicine focuses on disease and approaches health from a reductionistic perspective while holistic medicine focuses on the whole person beyond their disease. There’s a place for both conventional and holistic health and some of the best treatments are ones that involve both modalities.
Now that we have a better understanding of holistic health let’s dive further into some of the key components of the Wellness Wheel. The Wellness Wheel is a fundamental tool used by many holistic healthcare practitioners because it embodies the notion that health is multifaceted. It is built on seven key components that contribute to a person's overall health and well-being. They are intellectual, social, physical, spiritual, financial, emotional, and environmental health. Let’s dive into each a little further!
Intellectual health is all about the little things you do and are involved in that foster a sense of curiosity and personal growth. This includes activities such as reading, engaging in political and social issues, enrolling in a class, or learning a new language. Taking time to challenge the mind and fostering personal growth is important for our mental health. Not only does it help our brain stay physically healthy, but it also keeps us mentally healthy as well.
Social health is all about our connection to others. Numerous studies speak to the importance of social connection and its benefits on our health. There is no doubt that to live a healthy life we need to foster our communities and connections to others. This could be as simple as calling or texting a friend to gathering with your family every Sunday for dinner. As busy as life can get and as immersed as we’ve become in our jobs, social media, and technology, it’s important to make time to connect with people face-to-face. Physical touch and sharing space with others does wonders for both our mental and physical well-being.
This is the one category we are all very familiar with because when we think of living a healthy life we think of exercise. Physical health goes beyond exercise though, it also includes what we eat, our sleep quality, stress levels, and sexual health. Physical health is anything that has to do with your body's physical well-being. So while exercise contributes to your physical health so does meditation, annual exams, and massage.
In our current society, there isn’t much emphasis put on spiritual health. When you visit the doctor because you’re not feeling well he/she doesn’t ask you what you believe in, if you pray or if you have a spiritual practice. Spiritual health is integral to our overall health and well-being and can have a profound impact on both the body and the mind. Developing a spiritual practice, asking yourself what you believe in, holding on to core values and beliefs helps cultivate a deeper connection to our soul and our self. Remember, holistic health looks at the body, mind, and soul and in order to keep our soul healthy and happy we need to foster a spiritual connection to something greater than ourselves.
Financial health is all about having a healthy relationship with money, living within your means, budgeting and financially planning for your future. You may be wondering why financial health is included in the wellness wheel and this is because money and finances play a large role in different factors that contribute to our health. For example, how much we earn is dependent on where we work which depends on where we live. If we have a healthy relationship with money we can afford to live in a good neighborhood, give our children better access to education, drive safer cars, and have access to better health care and resources. It all starts with learning and teaching others how to manage their money.
Emotional health is very closely linked with mental health. The state of our emotions determines the state of our body and our mind. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed it’s going to affect your ability to function both mentally and physically. Some basic things we can do to manage our emotional health are to ensure we are getting enough sleep, manage our stress levels, and seek out therapy. Our emotions dictate our health; think about the last time you were sad or depressed. How did you feel mentally and physically? It’s important to take time to tune in with our emotions, make sure we are addressing them, and seeking out help and support when needed.
Environmental health comes down to taking care of our environment at a global level, community level, and personal level. We’ve all heard how our environment can have an impact on how we feel, right? We’ve heard how certain colors can induce certain moods and how messy spaces lead to messy minds. We know that climate change-- fossil fuels being released into the atmosphere and the pollution from our cars, planes, and trains-- impact our physical health. Start by making a change in your immediate environment first. Make sure that the place you spend most of your time is organized, pleasant, and enjoyable. Decorate your home in a way that makes you feel good, keep your workspace neat and surround yourself with lots of nature and plants. Take it a step further and ensure that your outside space is beautiful. Plant lots of trees and flowers or even grow a vegetable garden. Take it even further and lower your carbon footprint by opting to walk or ride your bike when you can, living closer to work if possible, and using your own bags when grocery shopping. There are small things we can do every single day to make our world and our environment a better place to live and better for our health.
If there’s one piece of information I want you to walk away with it’s that being healthy is made up of several components, not just diet and exercise. To live a healthy life we need to look at the important areas in our lives that contribute to our health and happiness. Keep in mind that there are different iterations of the wellness wheel; I encourage you to even make your own. Finally, health is not linear, it’s ever-changing. We never ‘achieve’ health and stay there, rather we ebb and flow in and out of feeling healthy throughout our lives. The key is to keep striving towards living your healthiest and fullest life. Remember, that looks different from person to person so tap into what health means and looks like for you, your body, your mind, and your soul.