What Is Holistic Medicine Anyway?

Phrases like “Holistic Medicine” and “Body, Mind and Spirit” are thrown around a lot these days, and they can mean a lot of different things, from eating organic food or attending yoga classes to wearing hemp clothing or contacting your Spirit Guide. Somebody once told me hot dogs were holistic because they’re made from the entire animal. Clearly when it comes to holism, we’ve got a variety of different perspectives. So I’ll dive in and share my two cents on what holism means.


We know the shinbone is connected to the ankle bone, but did you know the hand is connected to the back? Judging from the looks of shock and amazement on many of my patients’ faces when I put a needle in their hand and their back pain vanishes, many of us are not quite as comfortable with the idea of interconnectedness as we might think. I mean, it’s a nice idea, but we don’t actually expect it to work!

But healing people’s backs by acupuncturing their hands is just the tip of the iceberg. All of the parts of the body are connected to every other part. But beyond that, all aspects of a human being are connected. The mind is connected to the emotions, the emotions are connected to the body, the body is connected to the mind. What we call “Spirit” runs through all of it. It’s all one thing.


Qi is a Chinese medicine term that’s often translated as energy, but that’s actually missing the point. Qi doesn’t just mean energy, because in Chinese medicine they never really went through the conceptual split that we in the west did. The split that divided “matter” as being that dense stuff that hurts when you bump into it, and “energy” that nebulous stuff that we can’t quite get a grip on, but you know it when you stick your finger in a light socket.

Of course Einstein and contemporary physics has already shown us, beginning with E=MC2, that matter and energy are not two fundamentally different things, they are the same thing in different states. Matter is just really really dense energy is one way to put it. Or, if you take a whole lot of “energy” and you pack it up really really tightly together, you get something that hurts when you stub your toe on it.

So, back to Chinese Medicine then, we have Qi, which is the name we give to this stuff that is both matter and energy and all the fluctuations between. When movements of Qi become really dense they form the physical structures of the body, the organs and so on. The word Qi can also be used to refer to the functionality of those organs. So for example we can talk about the Liver Qi as what the Liver does as opposed to our traditional western understanding of the Liver as a structure, what the Liver is. Of course we know that what the Liver does as a function, and what it is as a structure are intimately related. That’s the point!

So everything that happens in a person is a movement of Qi, whether we’re talking about the formation of an organ, or the functioning of that organ, or the blood circulation or nervous system activities. Even our emotions and our thoughts are all more or less dense manifestations of Qi. Pretty holistic, eh?


Where this stuff gets really interesting is when we start to notice that imbalances tend to present not just as one or two isolated symptoms, but in largely predictable patterns. For example, a person who suffers from a Liver imbalance from a Chinese Medicine perspective will likely present with a variety of different symptoms on different levels. Physically, for instance, they may suffer from headaches, migraines or dizziness, or have issues with their eyesight or digestion. Often their muscles and tendons will be tight and they may have stiffness in the joints. Emotionally they will tend to feel stressed, frustrated, angry, or depressed, and mentally they may have difficulty with being either too stubborn or too flexible in their visions, plans, ideas and decisions. All of this is mediated by the Liver.

And the amazing news here is that, when we treat holistically with acupuncture and herbal medicine, we can find all of these symptoms all getting better at the same time. When the Liver becomes healthier, a person becomes more flexible, fluid and strong – physically, mentally and emotionally. And when the Qi flows free, the Spirit shines!


There’s lots more to say about holistic medicine and how Chinese medicine works. In future articles I’ll be discussing how the 5 elements can give us a more nuanced holistic view of a person, and how fractals and holograms relate to the practice of acupuncture (among many other things). Sign up below to subscribe!

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