Definition of Holistic Health and Wellness

By Val Silver

While researching the definition of holistic health, I discovered that there a variety of explanations of what it means to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Many sources on-line confuse the definition of holistic health with healing and Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) which includes all healing modalities except conventional modern medicine. They explain the hows of health and healing, but fail to include the overall conditions of body and mind that equal true health.

What is the definition of holistic health?

The well-being of the whole self is what the complete definition of holistic health is based on.  It explores answers to the following questions:

  1. What do you mean by holistic?
  2. What is holistic health? 
  3. What are the five components of holistic health?
  4. How do you achieve and maintain improved levels of whole self wellness?

Borrowing from a variety of holistic health definitions, including the biopsychosocial model, I created a definition that encompasses all areas of your life, including body mind health.

Holistic health is your overall state of wellness on all levels of your being: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It encompasses the health of your entire being and extends to everyone and everything that interacts with you in any way. That includes your resources, your environment, and your relationships.

What do You Mean by Holistic?

Although the modern medical model has accustomed us to deal with the mind, body, and spirit separately, the word holistic implies the condition of the whole of our being and experiences. In reality, body, mind and spirit are completely intertwined aspects of the whole. They are not separate entities and cannot be separated. When you affect one level, either positively or negatively, to some extent you affect the whole person.

What is Holistic Health? 5 aspects of Wellness

The five aspects of holistic health incorporate mental/emotional, physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual well-being. This includes the health of your body, your sense of emotional well-being, intellectual stimulation, stress levels around work, finances, relationships, your social life, and your spiritual life. 


  • Physical well-being - the health of your body, cleanliness, your weight, eating habits, sleep, exercise, and vitality.
  • Mental/emotional well-being - stress and anxiety levels, resilience, capacity and skills for handling distress, intellectual stimulation, satisfaction with work, finances, home environment, happiness, life purpose.
  • Social - the quality of relationships in the family, at work, among friends - levels of support, challenges, enjoyment.
  • Spiritual wellness - your sense of connection to the universe, higher self, and/or a Supreme Being. Spiritual practices, such as prayer, gratitude, forgiveness, unconditional love and acceptance of self and others. 

The World Health Organization states the holistic health definition this way:

what is holistic health definition according to WHO

The Biopsychosocial Model of Holistic Health

For a deeper understanding of the definition of holistic health and wellness, it is helpful to look at the work of American psychiatrist, Dr. George Engel. Dr Engel rejected the medical approach of separating body as machine from the emotional makeup of patients in favor of an integrated approach.

He believed it was important to examine all areas of life, including  body mind health, interactions with your environment and others. These interactions are important measures of well-being on all levels.

George Engel named his method of determining an individual's current state of health the biopsychosocial model. It helps you assess your level of holistic wellness now and in the future as you make changes.

Dr. Engel considered wellness to be based on many factors interacting together to create a whole picture of health. These factors include biological, environmental, psychological, and aspects of life. 

definition of holistic, mind body spirit diagram

Measures of wellness include:

  • How many hours do you sleep each night?
  • How well do you get along with others? 
  • Do you have unresolved relationship issues?
  • Are you regularly around toxic chemicals in work or at home?
  • How much fresh food do you eat each day?
  • What is your exercise routine?
  • Are you happy with your job and financial status?
  • Do you have a social support system?

This view is contrary to the model embraced by the modern allopathic medical system, but I dare say in view of recent research about epigenetics (what is over the genes and influences them), the line is beginning to blur. Still, modern medicine mostly operates from the viewpoint that we are our genes. It is our genes that primarily determine how long we live, our mental outlook, and whether or not we eventually succumb to heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer and other conditions. It is us and the medical establishment versus our genes.

Recent research into the field of epigenetics is proving Dr. Engel correct. This is good news. It proves that we have a great deal more influence over our health and well-being than we were led to believe.

A Shamanic Meaning of Health

In her book Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine, Dr. Jeanne Achterberg offers a more spiritual definition of holistic health:
The function of any society's health system is ultimately tied to the philosophical convictions that the members hold regarding the purpose of life itself. For the shamanic cultures, that purpose is spiritual development. Health is being in harmony with the world view. Health is an intuitive perception of the universe and all its inhabitants as being of one fabric. Health is maintaining communication with the plants and animals and minerals and stars. It is knowing death and life and seeing no difference. It is blending and melding, seeking solitude and companionship to understand one's many selves... Health is seeking out all of the experiences of Creation and turning them over and over, feeling their texture and multiple meanings. Health is expanding beyond one's singular state of consciousness to experience the ripples and waves of the Universe.

Dr. Achterberg spoke of a healthy person as one who has "an intuitive perception of the universe and all its inhabitants as being of one fabric." Health is being connected to Source and being connected with all that is. True health and healing restores vibratory frequencies, creates harmony, awakens the spirit, and releases you from an ego-centric, finite perspective of who we are and why we are here. 

How Does the Definition of Holistic Health Impact You? 

What does the definition of holistic health have to do with you?

Understanding that holistic health is your state of overall well-being right now is a dynamic, an ever-changing state of whole self being helps you make lifestyle and health choices that impact every area of your life. It is the sum total of all the choices you make and the actions you take each and every moment in every area of your life. The choices you make in those moments will be a major influence of your physical and mental welfare in the future. 

It is helpful to think of health and well-being as a continuum. What you think, how and when you eat, sleep, exercise and relate to others moves you either further on the continuum toward good health or away from it.

Once you truly grasp the importance of the mind body spirit relationship, and address your personal welfare in each of those levels, the more likely you are to see an improvement in your quality of life. 

Do you believe better health is within reach? 

I hope you said "Yes" because it is possible and can even be fun. Start by taking this quick self-assessment that will guide you where to start and which steps to take. This is just one of the gifts you get when you subscribe to the newsletter today.

Related Links:

Source: The Biopsychosocial Model 25 Years Later: Principles, Practice, and Scientific Inquiry

Definition of Holistic Health and Wellness page updated 12/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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