Whole Health: An Unconventional Lesson in Making Your Goals a Reality

Whole health implies something more than just a functional mind and body. To us, it includes the ability to successfully bring our potential into the world. 
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In our holistic healthcare practices, we’ve seen many people over the years whose challenges didn’t fall within the range of what you’d typically see a doctor for. For example: a sense that one’s life is always out of balance; difficulty setting and achieving goals; feeling that one’s work isn’t aligned with their life purpose or doesn’t enable them to use their talents.

As we addressed these issues within the bigger picture of each client’s overall health and environment, we recognized the need for an expanded definition of health. Whole health implies something more than just a functional mind and body. To us, it includes the ability to successfully bring our potential into the world. The ability to balance our many activities and obligations. The ability to access an experience of lightness even when we’re working hard. The ability to forge supportive and loving relationships. The ability to set and achieve goals. And much more.

Over the years, we’ve developed a number of approaches – some scientific, others more poetic – for teaching people how to hone these abilities and bring wellness into every facet of their lives. Peter’s background is in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Briana’s is in Ayurveda – two systems with a strong foundation in the elements and metaphors of the natural world. As we guide our clients through this process, we often draw on these metaphors because we believe it’s a language that everyone innately understands.

When it comes to setting and achieving goals it’s often helpful to look at how plants do it. In Chinese Five Element philosophy all plant life is encompassed in the concept of the wood element. Each element has a connection with a certain sense organ and wood relates to the eyes – and the vision that’s instrumental in setting a goal and making a plan.

Vision is instrumental in setting a goal and making a plan.

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If you’re interested in becoming more effective at making your goals a reality, we encourage you first to develop a clear vision of how you’d like your life to look. A vision that hasn’t been dictated by your family or community, but comes instead from your own values and purpose, from what inspires and delights you.

In terms of the wood metaphor, this vision is something like the phenomenon of phototropism – the ability of plants to sense light and grow toward it. And it’s the vision born in every seed – of knowing where it’s headed (the sun) and the plan to get there. Plants are rooted in the earth and grow upward toward the sun; their lives abide by this plan and never waver. Human lives aren’t much different – we’re grounded in our bodies, our tangible surroundings, and our material needs – yet we grow and aspire toward something less tangible, toward our own source of light and accomplishment. That’s our version of following the plan.

Each element is also associated with a certain internal organ – in the case of wood, it’s the liver – and each organ has a position among the society of all our organs. The liver is considered The General. The general should be an expert planner and strategist, possessing keen vision and the ability to efficiently lead a campaign to victory. Your inner general can best serve you in achieving goals if you possess the virtues of healthy wood, such as tenacity, flexibility, and perspective.


When a plant is healthy and strong, it can break through frozen soil. It can get trampled, nibbled, even chopped to the ground, and still rise up with new shoots. It knows where it wants to go and it’s determined to get there. When it encounters an obstacle, a healthy plant doesn’t break down and get upset about how the obstacle shouldn’t be there. It finds a way to grow around it. We urge you to do the same. Don’t see obstacles as injustices; see them as a reason to grow. Perspective and flexibility make this easier.


The vision associated with the wood element provides the perspective to see clearly where we are, our destination, and what’s in the way. Eventually, it’s like the perspective from the top of the tallest, oldest tree in the forest. This noble view, achieved through years of experience, lets us see our obstacles as part of the big picture of our life path – and helps us avoid needless suffering and confusion. It also shows us that our plan and everyone else’s can all coexist harmoniously.


The wind may blow it and snow may weigh on its branches, but a healthy plant bends without snapping, and in this way it preserves its ability to pursue its plan. If you’re rigid around every detail, you become brittle and more apt to snap under life’s demands. Likewise, fixed attitudes and resistance are a clear indication that you’re fighting the organic nature of life rather than dancing with it. Flexibility around your plan allows you to stay light and loose, open to new possibilities and novel solutions.

As a supplement to what we’ve written here, we encourage you to take a lesson from nature itself. Go spend some time outdoors, observe the elements, and let yourself be inspired with organic solutions to life’s challenges.

Be well!

Peter earned his master’s and doctorate in acupuncture and Oriental medicine at Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM), where he also became a certified Qi Gong instructor under Professor Huixian Chen. Briana opened The Dragontree Spa at the age of 23 and then went on to become a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. Her healthcare practice and the ongoing expansion of The Dragontree stoked her deepening passion for assisting others to reach their full potential. She has since opened four spas, written extensively on personal development, developed a wellness product line, and created several magazines, books, and online programs to help people achieve their dreams and live extraordinary, healthy lives. Peter and Briana live in Boulder, Colorado with their two daughters, Sabina and Sailor. Connect with the Bortens at @brianaborten and @thedragontree.