The concept of holism is a well-established tenet in classical Āyurveda which has been recognized as a core principle of the science since its earliest records.
According to the New World Encyclopedia:
“Holism (from ὅλος holos, a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by the sum of its component parts alone. Instead, the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave.”
When applied to healthcare, holism entails approaching each client and their health as a complete system, constituted of various parts functioning interdependently. The EURACT considers that the ‘core competency’ of ‘holistic modelling’ is defined as ‘the ability to use a biopsychosocial model taking into account cultural and existential dimensions’. This could be understood as the more common notion of dealing with health problems in terms of body, mind and soul. In addition, as a holistic approach is very centered around the individual, even therapies or interventions offered to the client can have specific contextual meanings to different people.
Classical Āyurvedic medical texts offer many examples of holism through functions of nature and the human body. Traditional scholars and practitioners explored, analyzed and documented these principles and their effects over large periods of time. Their work greatly advanced the understanding of connections between the external world and the inner workings of the human body.
Although the holistic approach in principle can be found to some extent in biomedicine, especially in the practice of family medicine, the general direction western healthcare has taken in the past decades is that of super specialization and reductionism. Reductionism focuses on studying and treating each part of a system as isolated entities. This type of approach has been very successful in treating symptoms and developing drugs, vaccines, vitamins, etc. as well as unraveling how the human body functions, be it digestively, metabolically, or genetically.
Lately, there has been a resurgence in demand for holistic healthcare due to the prevalence of chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, depression, etc. which represent complex disorders that have proven to respond in a more positive manner when treated from various different fronts.
The science of Āyurveda is built on a web of interconnected factors which traverse all life on earth. In advanced studies of Āyurveda, these interconnected principles continue to expand. As they become more complex, they function in a multifactorial manner to provide a framework for highly personalized and highly specified individual assessment, diagnosis and treatment.
The Āyurvedic approach to healthcare, although complex in its theory and framework, in practice can provide solutions that are simple, accessible and readily available to most individuals. Changes in diet and activity, the use of herbal formulations with few side effects and non-invasive, low-stress procedures are just a few of the main tools Āyurveda utilizes to manage health with great success.