You have heard it over and over again when it comes to health these days.  I’m talking about the catch phrase “mind, body and spirit” which is tossed around just about as commonly as a football on Sunday afternoons.  It even seems like the “in” thing to be touted by healthcare clinics, conventional and complementary alike.

Before we go too far into addressing what mind, body and spirit mean to me as a doctor, let’s address the elephant in the room.  The word “spirit” can strongly repel or attract a person when it comes to the realm of healing.  When I refer to “spirit” I am not defining it within any religious or spiritual connotation specifically, but rather as a quality that is unique to each individual and to be interpreted by the reader as whatever “spirit” means to him or her.  While the definition of what spirit means to each individual will vary from person to person, the spirit’s involvement in health and healing remains essentially the same.

For me as a doctor and for the purposes of applying it to health and healing, spirit relates to the concept of living life in accordance with your own value system and in alignment with your life passions.  In other words, what does your intuition tell you about the best method of healthcare for your specific health concern at that juncture in time?  Also, what in your life makes your ears perk up and induces tail wagging?  Some may also compare spirit to one’s vital force.  What gets you up in the morning?  What flows through your body that drives you to live your life in a meaningful way?

So what does “mind, body and spirit” REALLY, truly mean when it comes to achieving health?  Sometimes the phrase is meant to grab the healthcare consumer who is into such seemingly whimsical things.  At other times, it may seem more concrete and scientifically driven.  Either way, in general, the phrase suggests that mind, body and spirit are all aspects of a person to consider when addressing the person as a whole.  That’s all well and good.  However, it suggests that the mind, body and spirit are separate from one another and in that way, still operates within the reductionist way of thinking of which our healthcare system has fallen prey.

What do I mean by the reductionist way of thinking of our health care system?  I mean that in general our current thinking when it comes to health separates each cell, each organ, each hormonal gland, each nerve cell, etc, from the rest of the system.  In reality, each and every cell, organ, hormonal gland and nerve cell work harmoniously together (that is the inherent goal anyway) and they are not all separate from each other.

For the same reason, addressing the mind, body and spirit is inherent within a true healing process because they are not separate.  Furthermore, the phrase “mind, body and spirit” leaves out other aspects of one’s health that is intertwined in mind, body and spirit.  For example, I like to expand the phrase to include mental and emotional health.   With that in mind, the phrase could be expanded to include “physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.”

So how does this apply to addressing a healthcare concern?  When a patient presents with a chief complaint, the chief complaint can usually be categorized as belonging to the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual realm.  However, no matter its categorization, to truly find healing, all involved aspects must be considered and addressed appropriately.

For example, consider a seemingly obvious physical complaint such as tennis elbow (tendonitis of the elbow).  While it certainly does present as a physical symptom, it likely will involve the digestive system as well as the mental/emotional health of the patient.  That is because soft tissues like tendons require proper nutrients to heal.  If the patient’s digestion is weak, the patient will not have proper nutrients available to heal the injury.  Furthermore, what often creates digestive weakness is emotional strain and mental over-exertion.  However, one person’s tendonitis will certainly vary from the next person’s as the background health information of each individual will different stories.  From there, a different and unique health plan is required for each and every patient for optimal healing to occur.

To risk sounding cliché, mind, body and spirit are ONE.  Our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of health are ONE. To live a fully healthy and spirited life, each and every aspect of our health must operate in a balanced way.  Our bodies are designed to live as a harmoniously functioning system; it sometimes just needs a little guidance.  Proper guidance requires thinking about health in this connected way.