Holistic Living / Living Holistically – What it Means & What it Entails

Holistic Living and Living Holistically - What It Means and What It Entails - Whole-istic Living

Given the name of my nutrition practice is “Whole-istic Living”, it was only a matter of time before I’d finally write an article about ”holistic living” (also often referred to as “living holistically”)! 🙂 

If you’re reading this, you’re likely wondering – what does holistic living actually look like in real life? What does living holistically entail?

Since “holistic” has become a bit of a buzzword in my world of nutrition and health, let’s start there.

What does holistic mean?

“Holistic” can have different meanings, depending on the context!

If you type “holistic meaning” into Google-search, you’ll likely find a definition for the philosophical context as well as for the medical context:

  • According to Google, the philosophical meaning of holistic is “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole”.
    • In other words, holistic is a philosophy and understanding that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • The medical definition of holistic (per Google dictionary) is “characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.”
    • Holistic in this sense could also be described as a multidimensional approach to health and wellbeing.

While both of these definitions are correct, I’d like to take the holistic living meaning even further!

What can holistic living look like?

When some people hear “holistic living”, they might envision a monk meditating on top of a mountain; others might picture a yogi drinking green juice from a local juicery.  

Or perhaps you might imagine someone taking a bunch of vitamins and herbal supplements…

While none of those stereotypical examples are wrong per say, there’s still SO much more to living holistically! Holistic living is infinite and on a spectrum. And it doesn’t need to be extreme (like the monk meditating on the mountain) – although it can be, if that’s your cup of tea! 😉

Let’s dive in and unpack the different qualities and attributes of a truly holistic lifestyle.

Qualities and attributes of holistic living

First off, let’s clarify that holistic living is not a type of diet – it’s a way of living (go figure!) which transcends far beyond just nutrition.

Although I’m a functional dietitian-nutritionist by trade, and functional nutrition is the primary focus of my practice, I chose to name my company “Whole-istic Living” because it felt like a more quintessential representation of the ways I teach and embody holistic lifestyle practices, which integrate multiple dimensions of health and wellbeing!

Holistic living is about truly understanding, supporting, and honoring the interconnectedness, uniqueness and overall well-being of the WHOLE person from all angles, on all levels – physically, mentally/emotionally, socially, and spiritually/energetically.

Living holistically is also about finding your own ways to THRIVE and live OPTIMALLY based on who you are and what you really want/need at the core level. 

  • This can happen naturally over time (at your own pace) through the process of building, establishing, and implementing regular lifestyle habits which will ultimately help you to be and feel exponentially more nourished, energized, whole, and revitalized (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually), on a regular basis.  

It’s a long game to say the least! We must practice delayed gratification to reap the return on investment from living holistically.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” World Health Organization (WHO)

Embodying holistic living as a way of being

Holistic living is just as much about BEING (embodying the most authentic, empowered version of you) as it is about DOING (taking aligned, strategic, mindful actions with good intentions) and HAVING (reaping the fruits of your labor – aka getting  results, and feeling amazing!).  

Ideally, the interventions and lifestyle changes that make up your “holistic” lifestyle should BE and FEEL:

  • Multi-dimensional (supporting you from all angles)
  • Preventive
  • Root-cause oriented
  • Realistic (doable, accessible)
  • Sustainable
  • Customized
  • Balanced 
  • Enjoyable
  • Aligned with nature & with your true north
  • Integrative
  • Inclusive 
  • Flexible (not too rigid)
  • Infinite (on a spectrum, versus “all or nothing”)

Key Elements of Living Holistically

Dimensions of living holistically

In order to truly embody holistic living, it can be helpful to acknowledge and honor your mental/emotional needs, as well as the needs of your body (physical health), and spirit (energetic and spiritual wellbeing) through each of the following branches (dimensions):

  1. Nutrition and hydration
  2. Healthy digestion & elimination 
  3. Holistic movement/fitness
  4. Herbal medicine and supplements
  5. Sleep
  6. Stress management
  7. Spirituality & energetics

Within each dimension of holistic living, there are core principles and philosophies which could be helpful to you to refer back to.

Dimensions of Holistic Living

Nutrition and hydration

It’s no secret – what we eat and drink (or don’t) will have a PROFOUND impact on how we think and feel!  

While there are no specific lists of foods or dietary rules to follow, I encourage you to try to incorporate a variety of whole, minimally processed and naturally nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods (such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats and proteins!) into your lifestyle.

  • How much fiber is best for you will depend on your gut. 
  • Whether you have your fruits/veggies cooked or fresh, juiced or steamed, is up to you – it depends on your constitution and personal preferences!
  • Whether or not you choose to go vegan/vegetarian, eat meat or not, eat grains or not, is up to you.
  • The types of fruit/veggies, whole grains and proteins that are the “best” or “healthiest” options will also be unique to you! 

Regardless of which paths you choose, it’s still important to practice what I refer to as the “nutrition fundamentals”.  

  • This means still finding ways to eat BALANCED and get what you need from food (from a nutrient standpoint), supplementing as needed, while also being mindful of the quality of what you put in your body.

Below is a general ratio of what a balanced plate can look like for most healthy adults. (Of course not all meals are going to look like this, and that’s totally fine! There’s no such thing as “perfect” eating.)

Holistic living - the balanced plate by Jenna Volpe of Whole-istic Living

Hydration 

Generally speaking, drinking plenty of fluids (mostly spring or filtered water versus tap) and delving into herbal tea for extra support are great ways to support your body holistically.

  • In my household we use a Berkey filter, like the one below. 
    • I like these types of filters because they remove the most heavy metals including fluoride.  (I’m an affiliate for Berkey filters, which means if you make a purchase using one of my links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!)

Big Berkey Water FilterWhile there are infinite ways to eat “healthy” and stay hydrated, the most important thing to keep in mind is that your choices are nourishing, balancing, realistic, sustainable and enjoyable. 

  • If you’d like to learn more about what I refer to as the “nutrition fundamentals” from a holistic perspective, I invite you to check out my online course, Kitchen Alchemy, where we journey through each of the food groups in-depth and then tie everything together with meal planning and mindful eating!  

No matter how healthy you eat, those foods need to be well-tolerated (properly digested and absorbed) by YOUR body!  Which leads me to healthy digestion and elimination. 😉 

Healthy digestion and elimination

We are NOT what we eat – we are what we digest and absorb!  

A healthy diet and ideal supplement protocol won’t be very useful if your gut isn’t working properly – because you need a healthy digestive tract to be able to break down and absorb all the vital nutrients and goodness from your food.

The status of your gut lining (the digestive wall that separates the inside of your body from the outside world) and your microbiome (the ecosystem of microbes that live in the human body, outnumbering human cells by ~10:1) can make-or-break not just your nutritional status but also your energy levels, mood/mental health, immunity, metabolism, hormonal harmony, and more. 

Holistic movement/fitness

It’s well-established that movement releases special endorphins which benefit our mental health, attention/focus, cardiac health, sleep, digestion, detoxification, stress reduction, and more!  

Finding a healthy way to move energy through and out your body regularly (whether daily or a few times a week) will help you on so many levels.

Just like nutrition, there are infinite ways to move! There’s no right or wrong way to stay active – it’s all about figuring out what works best for YOU, and then doing that regularly.  

  • In the grand scheme of things, people tend to hyper-focus on the bells and whistles (“should I do cardio or strength training? Should I workout in the morning or evening?” and they lose track of the bigger picture, which is CONSISTENCY!

I often teach and encourage my clients to try out something I refer to as “Exercise Energetics” which is the practice of choosing an activity that balances out your “constitutional” state.  

  • For example: if you’re working a 9-5 job sitting at a desk all day, going for a run or doing some cardio will help you to better process and release the stagnant energy and stress from your day.  
  • On the other hand, if you’re someone who is very scattered and energetically “dispersed” (more like me!) – you’ll likely feel more grounded and centered from a hike, strength training, or a barre/yoga class – or even a walk around the block.

Most importantly, you’ll want to choose a routine or practice that is realistic, sustainable, effective, and ENJOYABLE for you!

  • If you’d like to studio hop and explore a bunch of different options either locally or virtually, for a special discounted rate, I invite you to join me on ClassPass (this is my affiliate link which offers both of us $30 off our membership if you enroll through there).

Herbal medicine and supplements

Herbal medicine can support the mind, body and spirit holistically.  The right herbs will help not just by treating symptoms but also by bringing you more into balance and synergy based on your constitution (energetic patterns/tendencies) physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For example: 

  • If a person has tendencies towards dryness (dry skin, constipation, frequent thirst, etc.) at baseline, there are “mucilaginous” sweet, hydrating herbs that can go a long way to increase a person’s water element (the four elements of earth, water, air and fire should be in a state of balance within us) in ways that drinking more water cannot.
  • For a person who has “fiery” tendencies in the mind/body (i.e. excess heat in the form of heartburn, rashes, frequent anger, frustration, and/or higher body temperature at baseline), there are cooling herbs which can help to temper this fire element throughout the person’s being, bringing him/her more into balance elementally.

Herbs vs. pharmaceuticals

From a holistic health standpoint, speaking as a clinical herbalist, I prefer to work with herbs over pharmaceuticals whenever possible because herbs offer many similar benefits to medication, but without the “collateral damage”.  (“Collateral damage” in this context is referring to the slew of unwanted side effects often caused by pharmaceuticals which disrupt our natural biochemistry.)

Herbs are not “uppers” or “downers”; their mechanisms seem to have their own intelligence and synergy with the human body.

For example:

  • Adaptogens (a class of herbs which support people with stress and immunity) will reduce an overactive immune system (such as in cases of allergies or autoimmune disorders), while also amplifying immune activity in a person with a weakened, under-active immune system.
  • The pads of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) taken in powdered form are shown to reduce blood sugar by modulating the insulin response and reducing blood sugar levels in a person with type 2 diabetes, but someone with healthy blood sugar levels won’t experience a drop in blood sugar because it’s not necessary. How cool is that?!

I personally believe herbal medicine is not taught in medical school primarily because drugs are 1000x more profitable in that industry, and 50% of funds that go to medical schools are actually provided by pharmaceutical companies (1).  (Coincidence or conflict of interest? You decide!)

Herbs bring us more into alignment with nature

Lastly, I believe when we live in ways that are more aligned with nature, things tend to “work” and operate the way they’re meant to!  

Finding and incorporating the right herbs for YOU (aka your “herbal allies” or “plant allies”) is one of my personal favorite ways to live in ways that are in sync with nature.  

When we choose to partner with herbs for the sake of enhancing our wellbeing, it’s a way of tapping into gifts that are quietly bestowed upon us by Mother Nature. (The way herbs work with the human body isn’t random or coincidental, friends! Humans and plants are more connected and have more in common than you might realize.)

  • If you’re interested in identifying and incorporating your own best herbal allies into your regimen, I strongly recommend working 1:1 with a clinical herbalist for an herbal energetics health consultation.

Sleep

There are entire programs, companies, apps and blogs dedicated just to sleep!  And for good reason.

Sleep is fundamental to every aspect of health, from energy to mood to stress management to blood sugar, natural detoxification, hunger/fullness cues, metabolism, immunity, hormone regulation, and more.

  • Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep most nights is recommended for most people. Of course there are always exceptions (some people, like my fiance, need less sleep to live optimally)!  
    • I’ve also found based on my clinical practice and case experiences that women tend to require more sleep than men.
  • An evening routine to wind down can go a long way!  
    • Rise Science, an app dedicated to helping you get better sleep, shares some pretty solid bedtime routine tips (and the science of sleep) here.

Since everything is interconnected, you’ll likely find that when you sleep better, you have more energetic bandwidth to make food choices that are balanced and nourishing, and to exercise more regularly.  Getting enough sleep is also a game changer when it comes to stress management.

On the flipside, you’ll probably also notice that when you make healthy food choices and move your body regularly, and when you’re managing stress through a practice that works well for you,  you’ll sleep MUCH better! 🙂 

Stress management

When we’re stressed, our nervous system and entire body are essentially behaving as if we’re in danger and need to run from a lion, tiger or bear. (Shoutout to all my fellow Wizard of Oz fans!) 😉 

Nowadays, although most of us don’t need to worry anymore about getting eaten by wild animals, we’re facing a new epidemic in which we’re spending the majority of our time in this “fight or flight” stress response regardless. (Totally not ideal!)

While stress is inevitable and unavoidable as long as we’re alive, and there are no “quick fix” antidotes, there’s a plethora of resources available to potentially help you to better manage stress!  It’s just a matter of understanding and utilizing/tapping into these resources.

But first…

  • It’s important to keep in mind that managing stress is an ongoing, dynamic process with no real start or end (much like nutrition and fitness practices). 
  • There are no “right” or “wrong” ways for you to manage your own stress! It’s really all on a spectrum and all about finding what works best for YOU!
  • Less is more. It’s better to pick just ONE or TWO modalities to try out and commit to, versus trying out a bunch of different approaches sporadically –  trying to do too many things at once is overwhelming and it won’t get you much traction. 
    • Keep things SIMPLE & CONSISTENT! More is not better. 😉 

Remember you don’t have to do anything on this list! The examples I share are just suggestions. Feel free to take what you need, and leave the rest. 🙂

Therapy or coaching

I personally believe everyone should have a coach or therapist if possible!  There’s nothing quite like a neutral sounding board to help you to better understand yourself and the underlying patterns going on in your life.  

  • Working with a holistic-minded coach or therapist who resonates with you can make a BIG positive difference in the way day-to-day events impact you, as therapy and coaching can allow you to see and navigate challenges from a more insightful and empowering lens!

Meditation

It’s no longer a secret that meditation WORKS – when practiced!  It doesn’t take much more than a little consistency and commitment.

  • 10 minutes a day of meditation can do wonders!  And the best part is you don’t need to travel halfway across the world or attend expensive classes/retreats in order to meditate.  

If meditation is something you’d like to explore as a component of your holistic lifestyle, here are a few easy options for beginners:

Yoga

Much like meditation, there is a ton of research to back the many benefits of yoga for stress reduction (2). 

It can be restorative or prana, hot yoga or vinyasa flow, ashtanga or power yoga. You can’t go wrong! 

Earthing/grounding

Research confirms that living in ways that are disconnected from nature (spending too much time indoors, glued to electronics) can lead us down a path of misalignment, thus increasing feelings of anxiety and stress internally (3).

Fortunately there is an easy way to remedy this, quickly!  Have you heard of “earthing” for stress management? It’s free, effective, and I highly recommend giving it a try if you haven’t already.

All you need to do to practice earthing (or “grounding”)  is to get your bare feet into some earth.  This could be any of the following:

  • Grass
  • Dirt
  • Sand on a beach
  • Gravel in a driveway/sidewalk
  • Your backyard
  • Your front yard

Of course your ability to “earth” is location-dependent and weather-dependent, but either way it’s something to consider!

For my city-dwelling readers who are living in a concrete jungle with limited access to natural “earth”, you may want to consider an earthing mat which can be just as effective (4)!

Reiki

Reiki is a stress reduction modality near and dear to my heart! Speaking first-hand as a Jikiden Reiki practitioner and someone who has benefited from Reiki for over a decade now, Reiki WORKS for stress reduction (5)!

This unique energy-healing modality can be done in-person or remotely.

Emotional freedom technique (tapping)

Emotional freedom technique (aka “EFT”), is a set of tapping exercises derived from a similar practice referred to as thought field therapy (“TFT”).

  • Thought field therapy was founded by the late Dr. Roger Callahan, an acupuncturist who discovered that we can store trapped emotions in our meridians (12 energetic currents throughout the body).
    • In the 1990’s, TFT evolved into EFT which is more universal and easier to practice.  

While the EFT tapping protocols for stress reduction are a bit bizarre (my EFT clients and I often laugh during our sessions)… EFT works very FAST! 

  • Studies confirm that EFT doesn’t just reduce subjective symptoms of anxiety and depression but it also resulted in healthier cortisol (stress hormone) levels among participants (6).

Feel free to learn more about my virtual EFT stress-reduction services here if it resonates with you!

Spirituality

Contrary to what many people assume, integrating “spirituality” into your holistic lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be religious (unless that’s your thing). Religion is just one of many avenues of spirituality!

Spirituality means finding your own way to connect to source, divinity, our creator, or a higher power (i.e.  “God” / “the universe”), so that you can better understand and navigate your life path, challenges, and life purpose with more ease and flow. 

Should you start to bring spirituality into your holistic lifestyle, you’ll come to realize that things often happen FOR us, not TO us!

  • Your spiritual practice could be a particular religion or belief system that resonates with you, certain rituals, prayers, etc. (You do you!)
    •  Spirituality is infinite! There’s no “right” or “wrong” – no dogma that you must follow.  Dig deep to determine what resonates most with you at your core –  your inner compass; your true north.

Holistically speaking, the bottom line is that once you’re able to tune in, plug in, and connect the dots from a spiritual lens (the perspective of God/source/universe/creator, etc.), everything happening in the physical plane will start to make more sense and align more synergistically. 

Struggles and challenges you face on the physical plane might suddenly be seen as part of a grander obstacle course that was designed to help you evolve at the soul level, so you can learn and become the best version of you in this lifetime.

Benefits of holistic living

Anyone can and should be able to reap the benefits of holistic living, since it’s all on a spectrum.  When you live holistically, you get the opportunity to show up more often as the best and brightest version of YOU.  (You may have heard this being referred to as “living your best life”.) 😎

Your return on investment (ROI) from living holistically can show up in a multitude of ways unique to you, and will transcend into every facet of your life over time!  

A few examples of what your ROI can look like include (but are certainly not limited to)…

  • Having more freedom and energy to really enjoy life
  • Feeling younger and more vibrant in your body
  • Experiencing better moods with more joy and less stress
  • Finding more clarity and connection to purpose
  • Healthier perspectives
  • Feeling more fulfillment and personal empowerment
  • Healthier relationships
  • Having a stronger connection to your “inner compass”
  • And more!

Holistic living:  Final thoughts

Remember there’s no specific “right” or “wrong” way to live holistically!  One size doesn’t fit all. There are infinite ways to do this. The list of resources, modalities and recommendations I provided in this article is not exhaustive. There’s a lot more where that came from! This article serves to give you a glimpse the tip iceberg when it comes to holistic living.

Everyone is unique, so whatever works for some people (whether it be a certain way of eating, a spiritual outlook,  specific herbal supplements, an amount of sleep per night, a way to manage stress, or a type of exercise regimen) may or may not work for others.

“The enjoyment of the highest attainabe standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” – World Health Organization 

One of the many reasons I chose to write about holistic living and similar topics on my blog is so that many people can have access to my expertise around this information for free. 🙂

With that said, if you found this helpful, please make sure to share this article with someone you know and love who may benefit from reading it!

References

  1. Brody, Howard. “Pharmaceutical industry financial support for medical education: benefit, or undue influence?.” The Journal of law, medicine & ethics : a journal of the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics vol. 37,3 (2009): 451-60, 396. doi:10.1111/j.1748-720X.2009.00406.x
  2. Maddux, Rachel E et al. “The effects of yoga on stress and psychological health among employees: an 8- and 16-week intervention study.” Anxiety, stress, and coping vol. 31,2 (2018): 121-134. doi:10.1080/10615806.2017.1405261
  3. Chevalier, Gaétan et al. “Earthing: health implications of reconnecting the human body to the Earth’s surface electrons.” Journal of environmental and public health vol. 2012 (2012): 291541. doi:10.1155/2012/291541
  4. Ghaly, Maurice, and Dale Teplitz. “The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 10,5 (2004): 767-76. doi:10.1089/acm.2004.10.767
  5. Díaz-Rodríguez, Lourdes et al. “Immediate effects of reiki on heart rate variability, cortisol levels, and body temperature in health care professionals with burnout.” Biological research for nursing vol. 13,4 (2011): 376-82. doi:10.1177/1099800410389166
  6. Church, Dawson et al. “The effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: a randomized controlled trial.” The Journal of nervous and mental disease vol. 200,10 (2012): 891-6. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31826b9fc1

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