Holistics Integral Framework

Holistics – Theoretical Framework

I teach an integral exercise class called Holistics that involves elements of martial arts, psychology, meditation, somatics (the study of the body experienced from within), cooperative games and other disciplines. I advertise it as “exercise for body, mind and spirit”, and emotional elements are also critical. Holistics is concerned with who you are as a person, your model of the world and how you relate to other people, as well as more conventional physical aspects like stretching and strengthening. Further, the integration of the various elements mentioned is key, with one “side” being used to examine and develop others. The aim of Holistics is health, personal growth and to teach practical transferable skills – relaxing under pressure at work or when the kids are screaming for example.

I find having a theoretical framework to hold the Holistics collage together useful and the main model I use for this is Integral Theory, as exposed by philosopher Ken Wilber. In this article I’d like to introduce this model using my activities as an example.


There are four basic ways of looking at anything. These correspond to the words” I”, “we”, “it” and “its”. They can be labelled internal singular, internal plural, external singular and external plural respectively. Most ways of looking at the world use only one of these “quadrants.” Science and the modern exercise industry for example looks at the “it” of the body – the objective, physical perspective of the body as machine. I add to this elements of mindfulness and depth psychology which concern themselves with subjective personal experience. Somatics deals with the crossover – how mental states directly affect the body and how the body affects the mind. This is the area where Holistics really excels compared to many other exercise forms. In Holistics students work on, with and through the body*, and also with the mind, specifically with imagination, intention and attention. The ways in which the objective and subjective realms cross over – e.g. emotions, which are both bodily and experiential states – are of particular interest to Holistics. Descartes classic mind-body split diving the I and it quadrants and upon which so much of culture rests, can seem like an artificial distinction after a few classes.
The “Its” quadrant covers the structural and organisational elements of life, and adds such questions in relation to exercise as how readily available are classes, can everyone afford them and how widely advertised they are.
The “its” elements of Holistics brings attention to things like, if people can afford the classes, the space I use, if people can get to the classes after work, getting flyers and other advertising out…that kind of thing.

The “we” quadrant concerns culture and ethics within society. In the realm of exercise relevant “we” questions are things like what constitutes a bodily ideal, is yoga just for hippies and is exercise a good thing or just hard work? The “we” element of Holistics is the culture, community and ethic I try to encourage to facilitate health and growth. I am influenced by and employ elements of Non-Violent Communication in this regard. NVC is also a good tool for distinguishing quadrants – e.g. separating observations (it) from evaluations (I/we).
I encourage students to consider all quadrants by making movements “good” (as in kind/ethical), “beautiful” (aesthetic and enjoyable) and “true” (useful, effective) which correspond to “we”, “i” and “it/s” domains respectively. I also sometimes suggest students make movements “compassionate, committed and curious” – as suggested by dancer Laurie Booth. The culture and values of Holistics that I try to encourage can be summed up in the following nine areas:

Individualism /community

Levels of Development

Research across cultures has consistently shown that people develop through distinct stages of development**. In the same way that a child will start out thinking, using language and morality in one way, and develop through distinct levels as they grow up, adults can also develop. Different levels have been identified in a system called Spiral Dynamics. People operate from one level most of the time though can go up and down, and levels can be both healthy and unhealthy. Here are these levels (which are labelled with colours) and how they crop up in Holistics:

Beige – instinctive. The lowest level, only normally seen in babies, the mentally ill and the senile.
Individuals operating from a beige level would not be able to, or be interested in following an Holistics class, though we sometimes dip into beige to see our underlying reactions in Holistics, e.g. the distress response.

Purple – Tribal/magical – At this level the tribe is all important and the magic and superstitions common as the self is not clearly differentiated from the world.

Holistics as a post conventional practice can be confused with this pre conventional level as many new-age chakra-hugging rainbow crystal healing hippies are prone too. My job in Holistics is sometimes to help people distinguish between pre rational and integral post rational ways of operating, and understanding phenomena that can at first seem magical.
Red – Impulsive – At red the individual ego emerge with a vengeance, with getting what you want through power over others key.

Most people in Holistics have moved well beyond this stage. I am on the look-out for people operating psychopathically and using the tools of Holistics for red ends, though mostly they would not be able to see the value of or be able to use Holistics methods.
People under pressure can revert to a red level of operating, and this is explored in Holistics. When I more than a brief moment of red behaviour developing in myself or others I ease off and provide space to relax.
Blue – Conformist – At the blue level life has meaning given by an orthodoxy (e.g. old-school religion). Roles, rules and conformity are central.

Blue needs to be told the “right” and “wrong” way of doing Holistics, and I need to be careful I don’t present it in a way that clashes with their orthodox worldview (this is true of all colours but particularly blue). Blue tends to like the disciplined, committed aspects of Holistics and clear student teacher boundaries.

I operate on a blue level where safety issues are concerned, e.g. “be sure to keep the knee over the foot” or “always check your partner is ok to continue” and sometimes with complete beginners who want lots of guidance.
Orange – Rational – At the orange achievement and logic are central.

When talking to orange level students I emphasise the measurable practical elements of Holistics – e.g. it will help you be better at X. I am influenced by Paul Linden whose Being in Movement is super-rational with all concepts operationalised and theories tested.
I come across orange most frequently in my business work and in running Holistics as a business I’ve needed to develop and operate from this stage myself.
Green – Sensitive – At green level diversity, sensitivity to others, creativity and care are emphasised.

Holistics is primarily marketed at green folks and many of my students are at this level. My guess is that Brighton where I have chosen to work has a higher percentage of green than almost any other city in the world. The respect for diversity, emphasis on sensitivity and relationship of Holistics is particularly appealing to this level. What I need to be careful of with green is saying one thing is better than another (even when it is). If you’re worrying about the labelling and hierarchical nature of this colour scheme that’s your green meme being tweaked.

I work from green level in Holistics in taking everyone’s needs and individual differences into account and in constantly checking that I have consent for exercises and no one is being endangered.
Yellow and Above – Integral. As the first “second tier” level, yellow can appreciate all the other levels (who tend to see each other as just plain wrong) and also integrates diversity with discernment (e.g. evolution is more true than creationism which is also true on a lower level).

This is where I am aiming to operate from and bring students too in Holistics – integrating parts of self, ways of knowing (e.g. sensing, intuiting, feeling and rational thinking) and see the strengths and weaknesses of different ways of being.

Needs Hierarchy

Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced the theory of needs hierarchies, which states that until lower needs like food and shelter are met, we are unlikely to worry about esteem, social, aesthetic or spiritual needs which ascend in that order. Non Violent Communication which is needs based, was influenced by humanistic psychology. I’m looking to meet different needs for people in my Holistics classes including simple exercise, social interaction, play, learning and personal growth. Different people get radically different things from classes.

Lines of development

People are good at different things, so while one person may have a high level of cognitive functioning, they may have a low moral or emotional development.
In Holistics I help people balance aspects of themselves, celebrating what is strong and developing “lines” that needs work. Because Holistics is an exercise form that appeals to thoughtful people, it is often a matter of getting “into the body” and working on the kinaesthetic and sensational lines; although the mindfulness aspects mean that the contemplative line is also stimulated. Emotional work and developing the imaginative line through imagery and play is also key, with moral functioning always present. The partner exercises develop the social/interactional line in ways yoga for example does not.
One way of looking at different lines is Wendy Palmer’s system of three “centres” – head, heart and hara (belly, corresponding to mental, emotional and intuitive aspects. By moving from these centres Holistics students find a straight forward and accessible way to connect with different parts of themselves.
The ready availability of the body as both an “it”, “I” and “we” quadrant, combined with the fact that culturally many people are more comfortable accessing deeper aspects of the “I” quadrant though the body (e.g. “I don’t want talk about my feelings but I can see I flinched there” is one reason Holistics has something to offer. Also central is the fact that it stimulates so many lines at once, which has a multiplying rather than additional effect on growth…kinda why I put Holistics together.


We have different states daily – waking, dreaming, deep sleeping, as well as more unusual states like peak experiences and altered states (whether induced by meditation, drugs or fever).
Mindfulness, “centring” and attentional work are all core aspects of Holistics, that can lead to altered states. Simply being present in the body for an hour and half is a profound experience for many people and I regularly hear people describing altered states in class such as, “spaced out” “as if I was far away looking at myself” and “one with my partner.” Because of the emphasises on contact, both physical, mental and emotional, altered interpersonal perceptions of unity are quite common. For me, this is showing people a temporary glimpse of higher levels of operating – e.g. a universal consciousness and morality superseding ego distinctions and tribal “us and them” morality.


There are ways of grouping people that turn out to be important. People all over the word for example have noticed that there are men and women, and not just people.
I often ask students to work with types. E.g. “What would be a masculine or feminine way of doing this movement? Express the archetypes of Jester, Warrior and Sage in this exercise. What would be an extrovert or introvert way of doing it?”

As a teacher I try and take into account different types in classes. Introverts may for example find the social exercises less enjoyable or be keen to do exercises with their eyes closed, while extroverts will tend towards the opposite. I ask people to look at their habits and if they wish develop balancing tendencies.


I have already mentioned Paul Linden and Non Violent Communication. The former has been a major influence in my work and his method of teaching by comparison and experiment is core to Holistics. NVC influences Holistics in both the emphahis on feeling and needs, and in my teaching method, which is involves eradicating “should” by replacing demands with requests and an emphasis on empathic listening.

From aikido I draw the notions of asking students to “steal” the work (i.e. student learning over teaching), confluence, the importance of direct experience as well as observational learning. From cooperative games I bring the importance of fun and creativity, as while primarily educational and developmental, Holistics is nothing if not enjoyed.


In many ways I’m not much of one for theory and know that no battle plan survives the first shot. I have however found the all quadrants, lines, levels, states and types approach of the integral eggheads useful, which for me is the test. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little introduction to Holistics and the Integral model.

*A distinction I learnt from Richard Strozzi Heckler
** See for example “A Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber