There are multiple definitions of health. The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity". René Dubos said that “health is primarily a measure of each person's ability to do and become what he wants to become”. Other people think that health is a measure of our ability as human beings to adapt and self-manage physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social challenges. To me it means all of these and more. It means to function optimally, without restrain, easily adapting through day to day changes. Some people believe that optimal health cannot be achieved and that the level of health we can experience is found in a scale between optimal health and death. To this, I disagree, I believe that optimal health can be achieved, perhaps not maintained but certainly experienced even if it is only for a moment.
The Multiple Dimensions of Health
Health has many levels and many dimensions. According to my holistic health model there are a number of key components that add up to what I call holistic health. My model is known to be more inclusive than most, and it contains not only the typical dimensions of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, but also the dimensions of social and environmental health. This last one, environmental health has not been included in most holistic health models yet I see it as an essential component of true health. Now days most people realize that we and our environment are part of the same thing, we breathe the air around us and step on the earth beneath our feet. It is impossible to be healthy if we are breathing polluted air, drinking dirty water and stepping on trash.
Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental health are the six main dimensions of health that I perceive. I am also aware that there are other dimensions of health such as financial health but these are relative to the previously mentioned components. As you may know, many gurus and sages across cultures and time have proven to live healthy lives without making or having a dime.
The Different Levels of Health
In addition to the dimensions of health we have the different levels of health, this describe the amount of health we can have in each dimension. These levels can be expressed on a line where on one end we have an absolute lack of health and on the other we have the highest possible amount of health. As I said before, some people believe that optimal health is impossible but I disagree, as a matter of fact, I believe it is quite achievable for many people in our modern world. The key lies on education, intention and resource management, along with a certain degree of luck.
The lack or surplus of health in each dimension can be expressed in an infinite number of ways. Lack of health in the physical body can mean death, extreme pain or inability to perform basic physical functions such as breathing, eating and secretion. On the emotional dimension the extreme lack of health can manifest as chronic intense depression (which tends to include continuous suicidal thoughts) or extreme anxiety, these can also be considered mental health illnesses, depending on the approach use to diagnose the patient. Other patterns that show lack of mental health can include amnesia or diseases that are caused through brain damage, The absence of spiritual health is one of the most subjective components but it is often associated with a lack of love, hope, faith or connection with our divine nature and appreciation for life. Lack of social health can be expressed through seclusion, aggressiveness or extreme discomfort in social situations. Lack of environmental health can be seen in places that have been polluted, deforested or contaminated through the use of chemicals and other substances.
On the other side of the spectrum we have the levels of optimal health. These are also associated to each dimension of health. This is where many people disagree with me, stating that optimal levels of health in any and all dimensions in unattainable, from my perspective, they are wrong J. Optimal physical health can be seen in individuals who lack any physical illness or diseases. This does not mean that they need to be ultra-marathon runners or top level athletes. This simply means that their bodies are functioning as efficiently as possible, with all the physical systems properly carrying about their functions. Optimal physical health can be noticed by observing the function of all internal and external organs. If they are doing their work, then you are in optimal physical health. Mental health is a little trickier to explain and can be more subjective, but it does include the same lack of illness and disease. Optimal mental health is distinguished by a stable and sharp intellect, and an ability to control our mind and thoughts. This does not require absolute stillness of mind, or the ability to move objects with our thoughts. This simply means a controlled mental environment where balance is possible. Optimal emotional health is even trickier to point out, still it is possible. There are books written about emotional health, such as the famous book called “Emotional Intelligence” these books are great for explaining what a balanced emotional state looks and feels like. As we move into the subtler dimensions our definitions gets even more subjective, but we are still able to distinguish optimal spiritual health. To some, this is considered the state of enlightenment, or ultimate spiritual realization where the individual understands and experiences the mysteries of the universe and our relationship to God. In Daoism there is no higher level of spiritual attainment than the merging of the individual with the eternal Dao, when this happens, the individual is said to disappear and only oneness prevails, for the sake of my argument, I will allow optimal spiritual health to be reached even at the level prior to this one, in which the individual is able to dissolve into and experience oneness while keeping a minimal degree of individuality. Optimal social health is simply marked by the ability to have clean and clear interactions with all individuals across cultures, ages groups, sexes and all other demographic characteristics. This does not mean that you need to like or be liked by every single person, it simply means that you can relate and interact with them in a healthy way. In this case we need to not that relationships are made of two (or more people) and for the optimal relationship to manifest both individuals need to embody their greatest social potential. The last dimension on our list is environmental health. To define this one we need to first create a boundary to our environment. The limits of this boundary will dictate the possibility of achieving optimal environmental health. Clearly it is easier to achieve optimal environmental health within a room than within the whole planet. The image of the Garden of Eden is a great example of what optimal environmental health looks like, some people believe such place is utopic and cannot be experienced in our modern world, I like to differ and believe our planet still contains multiple places that resemble this ideal.
How to Achieve Optimal Holistic Health
According to my understanding of the holistic health model, when one part of the system becomes ill, then other parts will become ill as well. This means that a decrease in physical health will be correlated with a decrease in emotional, mental, spiritual, social and/or environmental health. On the bright side, this means that by improving one or any of the dimensions of our health we can improve all others. It is important to note that in some cases an improvement in one dimension of health can signify a decrease of health in another dimension. We can refer to these as negative side effects from a healthy action. When it comes to our behavior and movement towards health, this is where we take note that there are good things we can do for our health, and there are better things we can do for our health (the better ones tending to have less negative side effects than the good ones). You can learn more about this theory on my future article called “coming soon” where I dive deeper into answering the question of “How to Achieve Optimal Holistic Health”.