If someone asked you to define “wellness” what would you say? Would you say that it’s strictly about being in good health? Would you say that it refers to whether or not you exercise regularly or eat a healthy diet? Would you say it’s what you strive for every day or would you maybe give a big old eye-roll and say it’s simply an overblown industry that people are exploiting for a payday.
First of all, let me say that I have a bias: after all, I am a wellness coach. But I’m also an ex-New Yorker which means I have a healthy dose of cynicism that activates my “bullsh*t meter” on the regular. So I get how there could be suspicion and scoffing about an industry that touts steaming your vajayjay and drinking charcoal lemonade (although I’m personally behind activated charcoal and curious about steaming, but more on that another time). The fact is that we are living through an era where the healthcare industry is, itself, wildly overblown, arguably broken and ridiculously expensive, not to mention the fact that chronic illness can literally bankrupt a person. So, with that in mind, I believe that doing everything we can to stay well is imperative.
But staying well is not just about physical health; staying well, or wellness, is about well-being. Everything we eat, think, feel and do ultimately has an impact on our well-being. Wellness is rooted in every form of self-care.
My personal definition of wellness is very much in alignment with that of the National Wellness Institute which defines wellness as "a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential." My favorite part of that sentence is the "conscious" part. Paying attention to the choices we make (or don't make) and how they make us feel is literally half of the wellness equation, in my opinion. When we pause and notice how what we do (or don't do) can energize us, or deplete us, we suddenly have a compass to help us move forward in the best way possible. In my experience as a coach, it’s the pausing and noticing part that people often skip over. We often skip over any kind of regular pausing because we’re too busy or distracted and, instead of consciously listening to our own needs, we get way too caught up in things like “shoulds” and “need tos.”
The part in the statement about wellness being "self-directed" means that it's totally up to the individual to decide what they want and need on their journey to "achieving full potential." There are no blanket prescriptions here. We are bio-individuals who move at our own paces. The idea is to keep growing and moving forward instead of feeling like we’re running in place and never getting anywhere. Again, being self-directed involves pausing and tuning in on a regular basis so that the self, our selves, are a conscious part of the decision making process.
The word "evolving" means that our needs are dynamic. They are constantly changing. What worked for us in our twenties might not work for us in our thirties or forties. And that's neither bad nor good - it's just an adjustment. Wellness is an ongoing pursuit and one that does not end until we do. Plus, there is a fluid and unlimited amount of possibilities available to us at any given time. Science is growing and expanding as new possibilities are uncovered every day. These days, the idea of precision or personalized medicine, based on our genetic markers, is actually becoming a reality. That was not the case even 20 years ago.
"Full potential" means that we are continually aiming for a place of clear focus, good energy, genuine presence and a feeling of optimal possibility. In other words, we are aiming to live the lives we desire - body, mind & spirit. That is the ultimate goal.
Wellness is about our lifestyle choices. Across the board we can say that things like eating less C.R.A.P (Carbonated beverages, Refined sugar, Artificial sweeteners, Processed foods), moving our bodies on a regular basis, staying hydrated, learning how to chill the F out and getting enough sleep are the foundation of wellness for the majority of us. Beyond that, prescriptions start to vary. Currently, my preferred paths to wellness include practicing self-compassion, eating a ton of vegetables and writing in my journal. But that’s probably not the case for others. Some people might choose travel, knitting, running marathons and a plant-based diet while others could opt for meditation, petting their cat, weight-lifting and going Keto.
Often, when we think about wellness, it’s food or diet that first comes to mind because what we eat plays a huge role in how we feel and how our bodies function. According to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, wellness is as much about what they refer to as primary food as it is about secondary food. Primary food is more than what is on your plate. Healthy relationships, regular physical activity, a fulfilling career and a spiritual practice can fill your soul and satisfy your hunger for life. When primary food is balanced and satiating, your life feeds you, making what you eat secondary. And when you eat mindfully and healthfully (for your body) you have more energy and enthusiasm to participate in the primary food that feeds your life. Now THAT is the kind of wellness that speaks to me. What about you?