There has been a resurgence of interest in alternative, holistic, integrative, functional, and natural medicine in America. From Instagram to the Mayo Clinic, there has been a wave of popularity in unconventional approaches to health. But why and why now? What does it even mean for something to be holistic or natural? The current healthcare environment is vague, confusing, and overwhelming at times. To understand modern healthcare, it is important to understand where ideas about health came from.
A Holistic View on the Mind, Body, and Spirit
The philosopher Descartes asserted nearly 400 years ago that, “I think therefore I am” or “I am a thinking thing”. This led to a dualistic ideal that the mind and the body are separate. This continues to influence Western cultures in the present day. Most neuroscientists view the mind as a collection of “things that think”, specifically neurons and anatomical structures in the brain. This has led some scientists to the conclusion that the mind may not even exist. Traditional systems of world medicine like Ayurvedic medicine, Yoga, and Chinese medicine make little distinction between mind, body, and often the spirit as well. This is a holistic view. Holism also regards the health and the existence of individuals as intimately connected to the health of others and the environment. Rather than a “thinking thing” or a “thing that thinks”, traditional medicine believes simply that “I am”. I am a person, a family member, a community member, a part of the environment, and a part of the biosphere.
In the West, mental health and physical health developed as separate disciplines based on this philosophical bias. Since science deals with the material aspects of existence, most research concerns the physical over the psychological. This material bias has led to great strides in life expectancy in America, but our mental health has been left far behind. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four adult Americans now experiences a mental health condition. The general population recognizes that the current system is incomplete and is often looking to alternatives for answers and solutions to our current health crises. The ‘western’ worldview makes it difficult to see that the body does as much to affect the mind as vice versa. Our physical senses set the stage and guide every mental process. The more that someone ‘gets caught up in their head’ and dissociates from what the body is telling them, the more likely they are to experience anxiety, depression, and other poor health outcomes.
How Naturopathic Medicine Treats the Whole Person
I am a Naturopathic Doctor who seeks to ‘treat the whole person’. I do not treat a person as a collection of parts or even the sum of those parts. The mind and the body are a two-way street which affect each other at every level, at all times. During a biofeedback session, I show patients that an anxious thought instantly causes a change in heart rate, respiratory rate, skin temperature, etc. I also show them that simple physical exercises and tools can profoundly influence the state of the nervous system and even the state of minds. I also look at the ‘determinants of health’ in an individual’s lived environment and the influence they have on personal health at every level. In a complex system, small, targeted changes lead to ripple effects which can lead to big results.
The need for new solutions has never been greater. Holistic approaches are opening new avenues for health and healing in a time of crisis. Rather than trusting in the fads, gimmicks, and schemes that flourish in the media, seek out trained and experienced holistic providers in your community to be part of your care team.
To learn more about naturopathic medicine make an appointment with Dr. Ryan Phillips at 303-884-7557.
Goessl, V., Curtiss, J., & Hofmann, S. (2017). The effect of heart rate variability biofeedback training on stress and anxiety: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 47(15), 2578-2586. doi:10.1017/S0033291717001003
Lake, James, Chanel Helgason, and Jerome Sarris. “Integrative Mental Health (IMH): paradigm, research, and clinical practice.” Explore 8.1 (2012): 50-57.