Takinga holistic approach to our health and wellbeing helpsus connect with our soul, says Chandrika Gibson
During the last 40 years, it has been increasinglycommon in natural health to hear the catchphrase "body,mind and soul". The idea of a soul is generallyaccepted, but when it comes to details about how thevarious treatments work on the soul level, details tendto be sketchy. This is probably because while most peoplesense they have a soul, it is difficult to explain ina world still caught up in logical explanations anddouble blind experiments.
Does holistic health need to have an understandingof the soul? Perhaps it is not necessary for peopleto conceptualise the soul in order to benefit from ahealthy lifestyle. Plenty of people live happily withoutconsidering these questions at all. But when you immerseyourself in holistic thinking, the soul perspectivemakes everything else make sense. Without it, thereis no reason not to just eat, drink and be merry. Practitionersand therapists in holistic modalities find their intuitionincreasing as they work with people towards true wellbeing.In seeking a state of health that goes far beyond theabsence of disease (and which may, in fact, includea less than perfect physical body), the soul level isthe viewing platform which provides the holistic perspective.
Holistic health practitioners come in a rainbow ofcolours covering the full spectrum of physical, mental,emotional and spiritual healing. At one end are thescientifically minded, biochemically focused nutritionistsand naturopaths who analyse their clients' health, particularlytheir diets, on a physical level and are able to treatdeficiencies and diseases with detailed nutritionalprotocols using evidence based supplements. This canbe wonderfully effective and certainly is part of anygood natural health care.
Close to them on the spectrum are some of the practitionerswho use isolated herbal supplements. These deliver ameasurable dose of active constituents derived fromplants. Due to the long history of herbal medicine,many of the properties of herbs have been studied extensivelyand, while folklore and traditional use are respectedby most herbalists, there have been more recent doubleblind, controlled experiments using the scientific model.The scientific findings largely support the age-oldwisdom.
Yet there is something the modern scientists cannotdetect about herbs. They cannot fully explain how theherb contains more than the sum of its parts. The synergisticactions of the various constituents are what make wholeplants (and the tinctures herbalists make from them)so effective and generally safer than their manufactureddrug counterparts. While some 25 per cent of prescriptiondrugs contain ingredients isolated from plants (Murray& Pizzorno, Encyclopaedia Of Natural Medicine 1990),holistic thinkers would consider the "soul"or "essence" of the plant has been removed.As such, the drug can only treat the crudest level ofthe human being, the physical body.
Utilising the subtle properties of natural thingsfor healing is the domain of homoeopathy. On a similarlysubtle level are the essences of shells, crystals andflowers, which are used extensively to treat all levelsof the human organism, with remarkable success in manycases. Of course, the active ingredients in these vibrationalmedicines are too subtle for material scientific instrumentsto detect. Despite the lack of tangible proof, sensitivepeople need no convincing of their efficacy.
Many practitioners and lay healers using the toolsof natural healing have an intuitive understanding ofthe deeper healing that physical cleansing, appropriatenourishment and subtle remedies can promote. Also onthe spectrum of holistic healing are the ancient andcomplex Chinese and Indian energetic modalities of TCM(including herbs, diet and acupuncture), and Ayurveda(including nutrition, herbs, massage, panchakarma cleansingand lifestyle). These are both arts and sciences thatrequire the practitioner to develop a deep understandingof their philosophy. It is through the detailed philosophicalunderpinnings that effective treatment protocols forindividual cases can be developed. In these, as withall truly holistic treatments, the person is understoodto be a unique combination of influences and experienceson the levels of body, mind and soul.
Yoga, the sister science of Ayurveda, calls the individualsoul, Atma. The goal of yoga is to merge the Atma withthe Paratma or Supreme Soul, also known as Cosmic Consciousness.In fact, there is no difference between Atma and Paratma,only the layers of the human mind that can distort theperception and leave one feeling separate from the vastand loving universe. The practices of yoga, particularlydedicated practice of spiritual meditation (dhyana),sharpens the tool of the mind. The Agryabuddhi, meaning"pointed intellect", becomes the instrumentto allow deeper perception, just as a powerful microscopeallows the scientist to see tiny molecules and atomsinvisible to the naked eye.
The ancient text Kathopanisad of the Yajurveda describesthe existence of an Atman (soul) and Brahma: "TheSupreme Self lies hidden deep within every object. Itis impossible for the crude organs to see or understandthis deeply caverned entity. Take ether for instance.Akashatattva or ether lies hidden in the molecules andatoms of every object. This truth can only be perceivedthrough agryabuddhi (pointed intellect). Develop agryabuddhiwith complete devotion and zeal." (translated byPR Sarkar)
Yogic science and many other spiritual traditionsconsider the soul as the immortal, indestructible, indivisible,divine nature that goes on through many lifetimes, duringwhich it learns from the various experiences of themind and body, and carries with it a kind of imprintedwisdom and desires that drive reincarnation.
Yoga sees the Atma as the witnessing part of the person,neither body, mind nor intellect, but a witnessing,subjective entity, which sees the metamorphosis of itsobject, sometimes into another finite form or body,sometimes into an infinite form.
Subject and object become One when the soul mergesinto Brahma. This happens when there is no base to embodyit. Caught as we usually are in our "I" centredthoughts, it is easy to feel that the soul is the objectand the personality is the subject. However, the personality,like the body, does not last; it changes all the timeand disappears with the death of the physical form.Hence it is the witnessing soul that is the subjectand the changing forms, the object. By taking this soulperspective, we are able to choose our path in lifewith the wisdom of one who has seen fortune come andgo, who has experienced the joys and pains of humanexistence enough to know they matter little in the schemeof things. When we are in touch with this soul level,the material world seems less important, and the innerworlds can open up to show their treasure trove of accumulatedwisdom.
Holistic healing, then, is really seeking to enablepeople to get in touch with their own souls, and ultimatelyto merge with the Supreme Soul. But there are so manylevels on which to begin the process. Certainly thephysical body, while it may be merely a vehicle to carryus through this lifetime, also has huge potential forhelping or hindering the evolutionary journey of thesoul.
If the yogis are correct, the way to be in touch withthe soul is to sharpen the aspect of mind called Agryabuddhi.This is done by spiritual meditation. Sounds so simpleand yet for those who have taken up a meditation practiceonly to drop it when times were tough, too busy or interestwaned, it can be harder than it sounds. If that deep,internal state of mind is always there, how come itcan be so elusive? The yogis say that while it is difficultto attain Atma, it is certainly possible, with dedicatedpractice and deep unwavering devotion. It helps to getenjoyment from the process, to feel oneself as the objectof Brahma's affection, being wrapped in a golden hugin which the "I" disappears and the objectand subject become One.
Along the way to that blissful state of union, thereare many health and lifestyle practices that make theway clearer. In caring for the body appropriately, neverforgetting that you are a soul but recognising yourembodiment, the cellular structure can be refined toallow a clearer view of reality. Like a mirror, eachcell has a reflecting plate for the soul. The mirrorcan be grimy and warped, or polished to give a truereflection. The cleansing practices common to holistichealthcare regimes (including yoga and Ayurveda) aredesigned to polish the mirrors. By making the cellsas sattvik (the quality of clarity) as possible, meditationbecomes easier. According to the teachings of yoga (manysages have agreed, in slightly different terms but withthe same inference), every unit cell has a mind. Itis largely an instinctive mind, which tells the cellto perform its duty for the welfare of the collective(body). These cells are made by the food and drink weconsume: we can regulate the human mind by regulatingthe human diet.
So while it can be said that the soul influences theform and vitality of the body, the reverse is also true.The body influences the mind, which has an impact onthe soul level. Hence, true holistic lifestyles incorporatecare of the body, the mind and the soul.
Chandrika Gibson NB is a holistic yoga teacher andnaturopath