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Issue 17 Out Now

Ho, Ho, Holistic Health and Wellness

5 Things to Remember as You Start Your Holistic Health Journey

Holistic medicine takes ROOT— Jamaica Observer, 2014

In the bitter winter of 2015, my junior year of high school, I visited the doctor’s office for a routine check up. After my physical examination concluded, the doctor gently suggested I take a flu shot since the upcoming flu season was already proving to be very dangerous. About 3 days later, I went back to the doctor’s office with symptoms of a common cold and frequent nosebleeds. As The nurse took my vital signs and quickly walked out of the room to consult with the doctor. After the unnerving nurse returned with the doctor, I was told my blood pressure was abnormally high and there was little to no evidence in my medical records of any previous abnormal readings. After a week of documenting my blood pressure with the school nurse, it was confirmed that I indeed had hypertension.

Naturally, I thought the flu shot was the culprit of this new health problem. I was assured the flu shot could not have caused hypertension, underwent months of testing, and was ultimately told that I’d likely be on blood pressure medication for the rest of my life! I was not offered any other approaches to healing outside of a prescription. I ate healthily, exercised regularly, and did not identify any abnormal stressors. For all intents and purposes, I was a healthy 17 year old.

Through the years, I have changed insurance plans and primary doctors quite a few times. Each time I disclose my diagnosis, doctors are surprised but have no incentive or are simply reluctant to pursue any treatment plans outside of prescriptions…that come with costly side effects, oftentimes requiring more prescriptions that come with more side effects that require more prescriptions. Since 2015, I have adopted many holistic health practices to regulate blood pressure like apple cider vinegar and herbs . As a result, my blood pressure is consistently normal, has not affected any other parts of my body, and I no longer need to take any medication.

Editorial Cartoon by Bob Englehart, Cagle, 2017

My experience with the healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry is not completely unique to me. Health and wellness in many western countries, like the United States, tends to focus on prescriptive methods of treatment as opposed to holistic methods of care.

With the prevalence of the pharmaceutical industry — often referred to as “Big Pharma” — in healthcare, and its targeted aim at poor, minority communities, many Black families are increasingly opting for holistic approaches to physical and mental health. As the name suggests, holistic health considers the whole person — mind, body, and spirit. It is no secret that the medical industry has made it profitable for persons to remain unwell in mind, in body, and in spirit. Holistic medicine challenges this notion and asks us to consider the interconnectedness and interdependence of our whole selves and its impact on our overall health and wellness.

As Black communities divest from western health, it is important that we are both honest and responsible with our expectations and practices. Whether you are a veteran in holistic health or just want to give it a shot, you’ll want to remember these 5 things as you take on the holistic health journey.

1. Holistic wellness prioritizes healthcare — not “sick care”.

On many levels, traditional western medicine focuses on treating sick individuals by relying on medical professionals to prescribe drugs that may or may not offer healing. In a brutally capitalist country like the United States, this often means the profit of the prescription is more important than the healing of the person. On the contrary, a holistic health approach focuses more heavily on prevention, ongoing wellness, and whole-body health. Holistic medicine is not just something you search on google when you’re sick and are distrustful of or cannot afford to visit the doctor’s office. Holistic medicine demands that we be aware of and maintain equilibrium in our whole body in times of wellness just as we would in times of illness.

2. Holistic health encourages a healthy skepticism to western medicine.

While holistic medicine decenters western medicine, it does not totally disregard these traditional health approaches. So no, choosing a holistic lifestyle does not mean you should rush home to empty your medicine cabinet, stop taking your prescriptions, and vow to never purchase an OTC drug again. Instead, holistic medicine considers the complete range of treatment resources available. Somewhere between Dr. Sebi’s quest to naturally cure all of the world’s ailments and America’s profitable prescription culture, true holistic health and wellness can be found.

Still, there is much merit in any Black person’s decision to completely disregard western medicine. From the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment to J. Marion Sims’ use of Black women as torture test subjects, Black people are justified in distrusting western medicine. However, with limited access to natural resources, the negative stigmas associated with alternative medicine, and the hyper-prevalence of food deserts in urban areas, many Black families feel they simply cannot afford to take a chance on holistic medicine. Whether you divest completely or find a healthy balance of traditional and alternative approaches like holistic medicine, skepticism of western medicine is merited.

3. Holistic health is equal parts physical, spiritual, and mental.

While mental health remains a taboo issue within Black communities, holistic medicine cannot afford such an approach to mental health.

In every approach to health and wellness there is an inherent reliance on faith as one must believe whatever treatment plan taken can — and more importantly, will — offer healing and health. Since holistic health is not a traditional health approach, one must rely even more heavily on faith as many of the remedies used do not have the scientific backing or extensive research like more accessible western treatments. Any holistic medical professional or guide that does not consider equally the balance of one’s mind, body, and spirit, should not be trusted.

4. Holistic health is communal.

The Ghanaian word ubuntu means a person is a person because of people or I am because we are. In the context of holistic health, this means that true holistic health and wellness is informed by and responsive to the larger health and wellness of the communities to which one belongs. After all, one’s whole self is a culmination of the environment where you are born and its unique history and culture, the socioeconomic status of your community, and the genetic makeup of your family. In short, holistic health and medicine is political. As we incorporate holistic medicine to help us become our best selves, we must invite others to do the same and challenge systems of oppression that create barriers to Black health.

5. Holistic health is a lifestyle, not a hobby.

The most effective holistic health journeys are not those that arise out of a reactive moment of medical emergency, but rather those that stem from a place of lifestyle change and commitment. One meditation session is not likely to offer you the same results as making meditation a daily habit. More plainly put, holistic medicine will give to you according to what you give to her.


As the Trump administration continues to promise a COVID-19 vaccine by (will have to revisit this before publishing), it is important now more than ever that our approach to health is holistic. Wherever you are on your health and wellness journey, there is always room at the holistic medicine table. Pull up a chair; just remember, bring your whole self.

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