Integral Health – A "How To" Guide to Gauging Health Improvements


When it comes to healing techniques that involve subtle energies there tends to be quite a bit of skepticism in gauging what is actually happening and rightly so. A good dose of skepticism allows us to use our own judgment in determining efficacy. So how do we know if it is really working? Holistic  health  means we are looking at the  health  of an individual, not only through the specific symptoms they present with, but as a dynamic, integral unit, not one ailment separate from the entirety of the individual. The phrase holistic  health  has its roots in the term “holon”, coined by Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost and the Machine 1 and popularized by the great integral philosopher Ken Wilber.

Wilber maintains that a holon is an object that is simultaneously a whole as well as a part of something more complex. 2 For example, an atom is a part of a molecule is a part of a cell is a part of an organism. Each part exists alone as well as part of the organism. So from the standpoint of  health , if one is to gauge progress we must look at the entirety of the change in the individual, in addition to the improvement of any one symptom or habit. As an acupuncturist this is a very important concept. Let’s look at a case study to clarify the point.

Case Jane Doe was a 46 year old woman who came to me for low back and hip pain. She was moderately overweight (30 – 35 pounds), had a strained marriage evidenced by her position that weekly fighting was a “normal” part of marriage, was a working mother of 2 who did not have time to exercise or cook as much as she wanted, and was often anxious, “for no apparent reason.” From my position as an acupuncturist there was obviously quite a bit more going on here then low back and hip pain. In my opinion there are 2 common mistakes that we as healthcare practitioners make in this situation. The first is to reduce all of the issues Jane is having to her pain, meaning as long as we heal the hip pain the other life issues will miraculously improve because the pain is the  health  issue. This perspective is called reductionism in that it reduces the  health  of the individual down to one obvious symptom and assumes job completion if this symptom clears. The second mistake is to extrapolate all of the other issues into the pain.

For example, she must be “holding her stress in her hip” which has caused this pain and if we remove the stress the pain will miraculously clear. This perspective is called conflation and merges all issues into the cause of the main complaint. Whether treating the pain alone or any psychological factor that may have some effect on the pain, in both scenarios the goal is simply to reduce pain. Now let’s take another approach at Jane’s situation. In order to affect Jane’s  health  in an integral or holistic way, we consider what would impact her entire self and create lasting change that would best prevent future illness and create a dynamically improving healthy individual. This required looking at 4 major areas of consideration to integrate her  health , also known as the 4 Quadrants. 3 These quadrants represent the interior and the exterior dimensions of  health  and can be briefly summarized in relation to  health  as follows:

I Self Sense

clarity of purpose in life




II Quality of Relationships

deeper care in relationship

healthy boundaries

relationships that mutually support

III Measurable Improvements

pain reduction

weight loss

lower cholesterol

reduced need for medication

IV Structures/Habits

lifestyle changes, i.e. meditation 30 min/day

exercise 45 min – 4x/wk

stopped eating sweets

stopped smoking

Treatment and Recommendations

From an integral perspective (4 Quadrants) there was quite a bit to consider. Jane’s pain reduction in her hip was her first priority. I recommended an acupuncture program of 2 sessions per week for 3 weeks, followed by 1 session per week and eventually 1 session per month. Her pain level reduced from a 9 to a 2 during this period. Jane was also overweight, but was not exercising or cooking regularly due to a perceived lack of time.

This was our next area of attention. There was an exercise bike in the finished basement of Jane’s home which had not been used for over 2 years. There was also a television and upon questioning what her evenings entailed we discovered that there was at least 5 hours per week that she was watching television in the evenings. I recommended that for 30 minutes, 5 times per week she ride the bike, while watching her programs which was half of the allotted television time. She was given a Chinese herbal supplement to take daily as well as a high quality multivitamin, calcium supplement and digestive enzymes.

In addition, I recommended that she try 2 new recipes per week using a list of ingredients provided. Fruits and vegetables for the week were to be purchased, washed, sliced and packed in the fridge on Sunday when she had more free time, and I asked her to commit to this task for 2 3 hours every Sunday. This can save an incredible amount of time and stress during a busy work week. Jane lost 15 pounds in the first 3 months, her confidence began to grow, and it was important at this point for her to begin to define what her life would look like as a healthy individual. She considered which traits were not serving her well, which traits were positive and how to spend more time focusing on those that were positive. At this point I recommended 20 minutes of meditation, 3 days per week and 20 minutes of contemplation, 3 days per week.

Meditation allows the mind to empty and create space, while contemplation is planning, analyzing and deeply thinking about what matters most in life and how to incorporate more of that into one’s lifestyle. Jane did not think she had time for this, but I told her it was the most important recommendation I had made to her thus far and asked her to wake up 30 minutes earlier than normal in order to complete this task. She took me seriously and really worked at this. Within one month she became less anxious, more curious and better organized. She defined life goals and began to express interest in church based programs to serve the less fortunate and eventually a leadership position on the committee. Her passion led to eventual family involvement in the church and even in cooking preparations, and she reported that her marriage had never been better. There was deeper communication, less arguing, and more focus on what they could accomplish together.


Deeper connection with who she was and what she wanted to contribute (Quadrant I)

Improved relationship with husband, family and church members (Quadrant II)

Pain reduction from 9 to 2, lost 15 pounds in first 3 months of care (Quadrant III)

20 min/day on Purpose Drivers, 2.5 hours/wk exercise, improved nutrition routine

and choices, daily supplements, 2x/wk acupuncture initially, now 1x/month (Quadrant IV)


 Health  is not simply removing pain, fixing an ailment or relief from anxiety and stress. Integral  health  is a dynamic, engaging and creative relationship to self and life that shifts one’s perspective to what is possible. True  health  from an Integral perspective requires time, effort and serious dedication from patient and practitioner alike. Here’s to a truly dynamic, engaging and healthy lifestyle!

Source by Ryan Diener

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