Holistic Healing and all that it includes is a wide and vast space. It’s nearly impossible to study all of it in- depth. Usually, a practitioner will pick one area of focus, or perhaps assemble complimentary areas to bring together in their studies and practice. Today I want to provide for you a loose overview of some very old Holistic Healing traditions from around the world. My hope is that it starts to give you an idea of what the heck holistic healing is.
Beginning with Western Europe, Hippocrates was a key player in the holistic healing traditions, going back to about 460-375 BC. He’s been dubbed the father of medicine. He was a physician in ancient Greece that believed the body had an innate ability to heal itself. He believed that the body could do this by keeping the four humors in balance. The humors, according to Hippocrates, are: blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. When at least one of these humors was out of balance, the entire body would fall ill. Treatment was of the individual not the disease, and the treatment was of the whole body, not of any one part of it.
The role of physician was to assist nature in its own natural healing process, rather than get in its way by directing this process. Hippocrates believed that diet was the physician’s main tool to assist nature in the restoration of balance in the body. More directive means of assisting were used, but seldom. Should diet fail, drugs and surgery were last resorts. He also believed in the practice of “rubbing” or what is now called massage. He has been quoted as saying, “that the physician must be experienced in many things but assuredly
Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle back in 380-287 BC, was the father of botany. He was the first known author in Europe to classify plant life with added commentary about their medicinal properties. However, he wasn’t the one who made herbalism classic medicine. That was left to an ancient Greek soldier named Dioscorides (40-90 AD) who traveled far and beyond with Nero’s army. All during his travels he wrote extensively on the herbs and plants.
Now, it’s important to note that much of Hippocrates’ work was influenced by and came from Ancient Egyptian healing practices. Ancient Egypt had an excellent reputation in its time. In fact, rulers of other empires would ask Egyptian pharaohs to send them their best physician to treat their loved ones. What Ancient Egyptians did was to blend magic and religion into their everyday life. There really wasn’t a clear distinction between the calling of a priest and physician. The supernatural was thought to be responsible for many ailments. Treatments involved a supernatural element, such as an appeal to a deity. They also used herbal remedies and practiced massage. They advised patients to look after their diet and to mind their hygiene. Surgery was a rare part of treatment. Healer Physicians were highly specialized in that each one treated a particular aspect of the body, i.e. eyes, teeth, stomach. Ingrained in their practices was the belief that magic is effective together with medicine [and] Medicine is effective together with magic (From the Ebers Papyrus).
In Asia, Traditional Chinese Medicine has been around for thousands of years. It includes a range of practices that are considered mainstream medical care in East Asia. Some of these practices include herbal medicine, acupuncture, diet therapy, and as far as the body work it incorporates Tui na and Shiatsu massage. Physical exercises that are associated with TCM are Qigong and TaiChi. The philosophy of classical Chinese medicine derives from the same place that Taoist and Buddhist thoughts come from which are spiritual philosophies. TCM also reflects classical Chinese belief that the lives of human beings (physical, mental and emotional) are closely connected with nature and that this relationship is healthy when it is harmonious. Should this relationship get off balance it is no longer in harmony. This could lead to ailments or illness. TCM works to restore balance of the body’s five elements – water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Balance is necessary in order for the individual to retain good health.
Possibly even older than TCM is India’s Traditional Medicine – Ayurveda. Ayurveda may have even influenced traditional Chinese medicine. It literally means the science of life and is considered to be the oldest holistic health system today. It includes writings of ancient wisdom on themes such as: health (diseases, injuries, fertility, mental – health), astrology and spiritual living. It also includes discussions on herbs that cure, diet, and like in Chinese medicine, includes 5 natural elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether. Ayurveda is not limited to knowledge of the body or physical symptoms; it provides thorough wisdom regarding spiritual, mental and emotional aspects. The system bases itself on balancing the body, mind and soul. It offers a holistic blend of science and philosophy that encourages the balancing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components of the individual that are key to health.
Native American medicine is based upon a spiritual view of life. For example, most tribes have healing traditions that root from the specific tribe’s beliefs about how the individual fits into the whole web of life. The individual, tribe, humanity, nature and universe are all considered to be interconnected. Health exists when there is harmony within the web. Healing focuses on the person as a whole rather than the symptoms. Health exists when there is a balance of life energy in the body, balance of ethical and just behavior, and balanced relationships with family, community and nature. Healers receive their teachings often through initiation, visions, stories, and dreams, which are passed down from generation to generation. Their practices are rarely written down. Their traditions have been passed down through thousands of years by word of mouth. Healing sessions are never the same, because no one person is the same. Such tools as: herbs, smudging, chanting, prayer, counseling, massage, sweat lodging, imagery, or vision questing (shamanic journeying) may be employed but more important than the tools is the healer’s intuition, sensitivity, and spiritual power.
This is just a brief overview for you to begin to get an idea of what holistic health is and what it includes. You should be able to see that all of these very old traditions address much more than symptoms of disease or illness. They all address a spiritual aspect of a person and of nature itself. They consider the individual as a whole person, not only a person who is ill. This is holistic healing and it may also be referred to as holistic health. Don’t forget though that this is just touching one general aspect of it; the world of holistic healing is wide and vast.
[i] The History of Massage, Robert Noah Calvert