The word holistic has come to refer to everything from organic food and massage therapy to herbal supplements and Eastern healing practices, all of which are undeniably valuable and evidence of a growing consciousness that earlier generations only dreamed of. I define holistic in its original sense – as related to wholeness. Wholeness is the union of mind, body and spirit.
It means that you are a totality, not the sum of countless moving parts. In wholeness, you aren’t divided against yourself, and the choices you make benefit you at every level. Just as the quality of your food, water and exercise directly affects the health of your body and mind, so the energy and information you take in through your mind and sensory organs influence your body and spirit.
There is a growing body of research establishing the inextricable connection of the mind, body and spirit – and the value of health practices that encompass all three aspects.
The following guide to holistic health won’t tell you what kind of diet to follow or whether you need to take vitamins. It will instead help you experience your own innate wholeness – and your own inextricable connection to the universe – as you nurture your mind, body and spirit.
The body is a flowing river
Your body is not a structure; it is a river that never stays the same. In every moment, your body is changing, continuously exchanging its atoms and molecules with the rest of the universe. right now hundreds of thousands of chemical changes are taking place at the cellular level, transforming your body faster than you can change your clothes. These changes aren’t random but are focused on serving the purpose of moving life forward and preserving what’s best from the past.
Yet change is also a choice. Your body has an infinite number of unknown possibilities, but it looks to you for direction. When you introduce an intention, your body finds a way, on its own, to adapt to anything you want even to experience what most people would describe as “spiritual.”
For example, researchers have known for the past twenty years that the brain is “plastic” that it isn’t fixed at birth as previously believed but adapts to change. They have found that simple daily activity can quickly create new neural networks. even more remarkably, studies are now showing that mental activity alone can alter the brain. With the cooperation of his holiness the Dalai Lama, a group of brain researchers conducted a study of Tibetan Buddhist monks who had been meditating regularly for between fifteen and forty years. In a laboratory, the monks were hooked up to a functional MRI, a brain scan that can monitor changes in real time. When the monks meditated on compassion, the scans showed that their brains generated the most intense gamma waves ever seen in a normal brain. Gamma waves are associated with keeping the brain functioning as a whole and with higher cognitive processes.
The monks displayed the most intense area of activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with happiness and positive thoughts. This study was remarkable because it was the first time that anyone had been able to show conclusively that mental activity alone can alter the brain. We now have evidence that a mere intention or desire (in this case, the desire to be compassionate) can train the brain to adapt.
Exercise: Taking Subtle Action
While gross actions involve direct contact with the physical world, subtle actions involve only the mind. Subtle action comes naturally to all of us, but it can be easier to apply when you break it down into the following steps:
Enter a state of restful awareness (through practices such as meditation and yoga) and make your intention known.
Believe in getting results.
How with the process of change, letting go of resistance.
At this point, the body will shift effortlessly at the physical level. Then you can repeat your subtle action until you have experienced the change you desire.
Discover your true nature
Our authentic true self is pure, unconditioned consciousness. Until we remember that, however, we tend to accept the illusion that we are our ego. The ego is essentially a gatekeeper. It allows in certain experiences, which become “mine,” and rejects other experiences. The ego is fundamentally insecure and defensive because it believes that it is separate from the world and therefore must struggle to survive.
The ego’s perspective inevitably leads us to experience unnecessary suffering, stress, and often even illness. But what can we do? This tendency to accept and reject comes naturally to the ego, for its job is to define “I,” and you can’t be everything to everybody you must define yourself as “I” in some way.
I have never favored trying to defeat, kill, or discipline the ego. My reasoning is that if life isn’t meant to be a struggle, then it isn’t meant to be a struggle against the ego, either.
Befriending the Ego
Instead of simply trying to get rid of the ego, which only puts it on the defensive; it is more effective to apply yourself to discovering your real essence, your foundation of being.
This is most effectively experienced through meditation or other mindfulness practices. as you meditate, the presence of your deepest self will radiate its own truth to every cell in your body. It may display its quality as peace or joyfulness. For others, it may have more of a flavor of universal love and compassion. Still others may experience the presence as divine light, creativity, or intelligence. as self-awareness dawns, the ego no longer has to be a worried gatekeeper, a defender of the status quo.
Listen to your body’s wisdom
Without a sense of the rhythms and intelligence inherent in our physiology and consciousness, we ignore the critical signals that our body has been cultured over eons to express in order to maintain balance. We neglect to sleep and exercise, indulge beyond our capacities, go to bed too late, and then arise when the sun is well aloft, wondering why we feel out of sync. We sabotage the delicate harmony and order encoded in our chromosomes, our genetic gift of longevity that comes from keeping our tissues free from plaque and debris. a little imbalance in time becomes a disorder and then a disease, bringing on more stress and neglect.
On the other hand, when we flow in harmony with our body’s natural rhythms, getting restful sleep, feeding our senses with experiences, tastes, touch, aromas, sounds and sights that uplift and nourish us, we usually experience a greater state of health and well-being.
Such a life promotes an integrated interaction of our brain’s one trillion neurons, allowing us to be present to the multitude of perceptions that incessantly bombard us, to enjoy them for their beauty, to process them into creative action, and to intuit the future and our role within it.
How do you make choices that keep you in harmony with your inner intelligence and rhythms? By tuning into your body’s messages. The body always expresses itself through signals of comfort and discomfort.
When choosing a certain path or behavior, ask your body, “How do you feel about this?” If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress, pay attention and consider a different choice. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, you may proceed. Whereas the mind lives in the past and the future, the body resides in the now and never doubts itself. It knows the truth and will guide you toward the most evolutionary choices.
Take Time to Be Silent
The silent witness within each of us is the light of our pure consciousness. It is present at all times, in every experience. Interestingly, Agni, the Vedic god of fire, is also known as the eternal witness. In ayurvedic physiology, the eight agnis are the fires of digestion, which must all be functioning properly for our body to extract the full essence and benefits of the food, experiences, and sensory impressions we ingest. If these are not fully digested, a metabolic residue or toxin known as ama remains in the body and can impair our health.
When the light of our consciousness is awakened, our silent witness is fully present in every moment. That light of witnessing completely metabolizes whatever experience we are having, whether pain or pleasure. It also prevents the experience from becoming a future source of attachment, suffering, or delusion. The silent witness keeps us in the present, unencumbered from our past conditioning or fear of the future.
The Inner Quiet of Meditation
When you meditate, your internal dialogue becomes quiet. In silence, you experience the light of pure consciousness. There are many ways to meditate. one such is primordial Sound Meditation, which is a form of mantra meditation. The mantra is selected based on your Vedic astrology chart. a mantra is a sound that has no history or meaning associated with it, which allows you to bypass the mind’s natural tendency to get wrapped up in stories and thoughts.
Exercise: The I Am Meditation
If you don’t have a mantra, another meditation technique you can use is to close your eyes and simply repeat I am silently to yourself. remember that when Moses went to the burning bush and asked God his name, God said, “I am that I am.” I am represents infinite possibilities. There is no baggage attached to it. In Sanskrit, the word aham refers to this same concept.
Start with five minutes of meditation, then gradually build up to longer meditation periods. You’ll notice that when you introduce the repetition of I am into your consciousness, it competes with your other thoughts until gradually both your thoughts and the words I am become vague and abstract. Ultimately you’ll experience no thought and no repetition… just the silence and peace of pure consciousness.
Self-referral is identifying with your inner self – the unchanging essence of your soul. This state has certain characteristics, including an internal sense of joy or well-being regardless of what is happening in the exterior world.
In self-referral, you are not attached to outcome or obsessed with power, money, or control; you are in touch with your feelings and you feel what you feel. You are not easily offended and you don’t feel superior or inferior. In self-referral you have infinite freedom and are able to make spontaneous evolutionary choices. You are not anticipating a response and you are not victimized by memory. You are literally in the flow of the evolutionary impulse of the universe.
Exercise: The Fire in Your Eyes
Conscious inner dialogue is a powerful tool for expanding the state of self-referral. Whenever you look in the mirror, even if just for a few seconds, make eye contact with yourself and silently repeat the three principles of self-referral:
I am totally independent of the good or bad opinion of others.
I am beneath no one, and no one is beneath me.
I am fearless in the face of any and all challenges.
Look into your eyes to see these attitudes reflected back at you. Look just at your eyes, not at your facial expression. Look for the shine in your eyes that reflects the fire in your soul. If you do this exercise for a few minutes every day, it can create profound shifts in your life.
Be Generous of Spirit
Wholeness is generous because it feels no lack. No matter how much you give, if you give freely, more will come to you. On the other hand, if you feel a pinch of lack underneath, it won’t be easy to give and you won’t experience the joy of giving and receiving.
Generosity begins at the level of the soul, which has an inexhaustible source of the two things that are vital to life: energy and awareness. When you know at the deepest levels that you can never run short of these two things, you will become generous of spirit and giving on any level will feel natural and easy.
Here are the major gifts we all can give when we’re generous of spirit:
Offer yourself first. This means sharing the real you instead of the false self that most people offer the world. The false self is something we develop to fit into society’s expectations and win external approval, while the real self is open and vulnerable. It doesn’t feel a division between one soul and another. While social conditioning can make it feel frightening to offer the real you, remember that fear often gives false counsel. When you offer the real you, you become stronger, stripping off the flimsy suit of armor that was an illusion all along. When you share your true self, you offer your wholeness of spirit.
Don’t withhold the truth. Whatever is false blocks spirit and prevents the flow of energy and awareness. every time you speak your truth, you establish your own wholeness and evolution. This isn’t about standing up for “absolute truths” but about being authentic and honest on the most intimate scale. In families where someone has an alcohol or drug addiction and the other family members keep silent, they feel a sense of helplessness and the problems fester. Speaking the truth opens up options and empowers. It shows caring.
Be a force for harmony and coherence. Wholeness is a state of harmony, while fragmentation is a state of conflict. The soul is a harmonizing influence that can transform any situation if you stay aware and focus your intentions. In the face of conflict, you can act as a peaceful influence, whether silently or speaking up if that is needed.
Place your trust in abundance. Since wholeness contains everything, it draws on the infinite resources of spirit. Trust that there will always be enough of what your soul has to give – enough love, compassion, caring, intelligence, creativity, and attention. abundance is about trusting the flow, knowing that wholeness doesn’t have holes in it and never leaves a void. You can be generous with all the gifts of the soul and more will flow in.
Release Grievances and Forgive
The best way to understand forgiveness is to realize that to forgive and to ask for forgiveness is the best use of one’s energy and also one of the most important paths to selfhealing. The absence of forgiveness is holding a grievance or resentment and also a subtle desire to seek vengeance. In short, it is hostility. Many studies have shown that although anger can be a healthy release of pent-up energy, hostility is not healthy, and it is the number one emotional risk factor for premature death from cardiovascular incidents (stroke and heart attack).
Learning how to let go of toxic emotions, such as hostility, is the essence of learning how to forgive, because forgiveness is about releasing your attachment or identification with a conditioned response.
In the end, to forgive another is to forgive our self. What we think we are forgiving in another is an act of freedom for our own soul. every situation that calls for forgiveness is a step in our own evolution to higher consciousness.
Practice the law of least effort
The Law of Least effort is the principle of doing less to accomplish more. This involves a shift in awareness more than anything else. Sometimes hard work, exacting plans, and driving ambitions will allow you to accomplish goals in the material domain, yet at a huge cost because of the massive stress involved. You are relying on your own individual mind and efforts, which are tiny in comparison with the infinite intelligence of the universe. By tapping into intelligence of the universe rather than relying on your ego’s limited strength, life becomes much easier.
Spiritual flow is effortless, spontaneous; it is full of flexibility and creativity. It’s a realm where you learn to let go, detach from the outcome, and experience life-centered present moment awareness. and it’s so joyful that it can’t even be described. It seems like you and the universe are dancing together. There’s a song in your heart and you don’t really care who is listening or what they think. You just want to sing that song and you want to move in tandem with the impulse of evolution which we call dharma.
The more time you spend in silence and meditation, the easier it becomes to align yourself with the natural harmony of the universe. There are also three useful steps you can take to benefit from the Law of Least effort in your life:
1. Practice Acceptance. each day, have the intention to accept situations and events as they occur. know that this moment is as it should be because the universe is as it should be.
2. Take responsibility. once you’ve accepted things as they are, take responsibility for all those situations you may see as problems. This doesn’t mean blaming yourself or others, but taking whatever steps you can to transform circumstances into a greater benefit.
3. Establish your awareness in defenselessness. Let go of the need to defend your point of view. Stay open to all perspectives without being rigidly attached to any of them.
Nurture your intentions
Daily life presents many unexpected demands and challenges, and it’s easy to fall into the grip of our ego’s fears, demands, and confusion. It’s important to remind yourself of your intentions and spiritual purpose. Some people find it helpful to write down their intentions and review them each day; for others, periods of regular meditation and prayer are invaluable.
Spend time in silence, connect to your infinite nature, and center your intention inside yourself. Intend for everything to work out as it should, and then let go and allow opportunities and openings to come your way.
Practicing the above steps will help you experience your innate wholeness. When that happens, you will feel subtle changes in feelings and thoughts, including a sense that all is well. You will feel lightness in your body, deep peace, and the realization that your internal dialogue has become quieter.
You may experience healing on a physical or emotional level. You may also notice that you’re acting out of complete integrity and synchronicities and unexpected opportunities are becoming more abundant in your life. These are all signs that you are connecting to your true nature, which is whole, infinite, and unbounded.
Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization. chopra.com