February 2, 2014

WTF is Wellness, Anyway? ~ Chara Caruthers


Excuse my French but I’m suffering from “Wellness Anxiety” overload!

You too?

With all the diets (excuse me: “lifestyles”), workouts, books, blenders and endlessly tanned, toned and yoga-posed “results,” the whole idea of what wellness actually means is getting lost in the process of translating it from Pinterest to our day-to-day struggles to be happy and healthy.

So what exactly is wellness then? The answer is actually pretty simple but something that nobody talks about.

That’s mainly because they’re too busy trying to sell us their “Wellness Solution” and we’re too busy beating ourselves up over not being “well” enough.

Most of us either don’t know or barely remember what wellness actually feels like. We get wellness flashbacks—glimpses and snippets of a time when things were simpler: a teenager who could eat anything we wanted, or that time in college when we hiked the Grand Canyon; the days before having kids or how ’bout way back when our “skinny” jeans were just our “jeans”?

Thanks to the “wellness industry,” wellness is one of those crazy concepts that’s got a nostalgic, yet in-your-face quality.

Our memories of it are just reminders of how far away it is from where we are right now. Which means for most of us, wellness actually feels unattainable (I mean who hasn’t been on the road to wellness for like forever?!) And just like the truth about the magazine-perfect models and the celebrity life-styles, the real truth about wellness is—shall we say, not quite as well-lit, gleaming and air brushed as the façade.

The secret is, it’s ridiculously empowering—let me explain.

“A doctor knows the human body better, but he can never know my body better than me.”
~ Shubhra Krishnan, “Essential Ayurveda”

When most of us think about wellness we rarely think of ourselves; we think of ourselves as compared to our “wellness idols” (we all have them), and we inevitably come up short.

But that kind of thinking won’t get us very far.

The truth about wellness can pretty much be summed up as follows—(pay attention!)

  • It’s all in your head – According to Ayurveda (India’s 5000 year old system of health and healing) all dis-ease or illness (lack of wellness) starts in the mind. Simple idea, powerful message. What it comes down to is this: how you think about wellness is how you experience wellness.

How well do you think you are? And more importantly, where do your ideas of what wellness is actually come from?

These days even the details about what wellness feels like come from outside of us: media messages, wellness gurus (bless their hearts) depict wellness in ways that are great for them but often unattainable (or not even suitable) for us. Old school wisdom says that our ability to achieve wellness starts in our mind way before we ever put on those Nikes or take that first sip of green juice.

  • It changes—seriously. Throughout the day, the month, the year and from year to year as you age, our state of wellness fluctuates like a roller coaster. Get used to it. Accept it. No, even better: embrace it, because we’re already strapped into the wellness coaster and our options for riding it are eyes open, front car (if we’re that way inclined), aware and acknowledging each hill and dip (with a few screams thrown in for good measure), or eyes shut tight, freaked out and wondering when the next drop is coming.
  •  It’s all about you and YOU alone—okay, so no matter what anyone tells you, your wellness is your wellness and yours alone. There is no one else out there with the same combination of physical, mental, and emotional awesomeness that you have (but you knew that).

We each look, walk, talk, think and experience life differently than every one of the other six hundred and whatever billion people on the planet. I get that comparing ourselves to others is what we do, but for the sake of our own health and happiness, we should just stop it.

  • We’ve already achieved it, sorta. The fact that we’ve managed to stay alive this long (and that we’re still reading this) means that we’re basically doing something right! (Cue high-five.)

That feeling that we’re just a five-day smoothie detox and a 200-squat challenge (or three) away from really experiencing wellness is just the wellness industry talking. The truth to this whole wellness thing is that we can and do experience it every day to some degree.

The key is to pay attention, to everything (except that voice in our head that calls us thunder thighs and thinks it’s a good idea to have a Krispy Kreme burger). Yogis call it being mindful. I like to call it: “Shut up and feel”.

The simple fact is if we don’t pay attention we won’t recognize or really experience wellness.

“Just because it’s not what you were expecting, doesn’t mean it’s not everything you’ve been waiting for.“
~ Unknown

So the dirty little secret about wellness is out: it’s not as glossy, nor elusive as they make it look, nor would we want it to be. It’s ours and it’s something that we’re already doing a little (or a lot of) everyday. So what now?

Now we take action. We stop listening and comparing and wishing and giving up, and we own our wellness!

Recognize what it looks, feels, smells, sounds and tastes like, for us, right now (not 10 years ago). Tune in to how it changes throughout the day, month and year and stop freaking out.

Take the time to learn your body’s language and signals, make friends with your mind and feed your soul, because they will pay you back in bliss.

Stop following and start leading your own wellness revolution and don’t let anyone tell you different. Including me.

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Assistant Ed: Bronwyn Petry/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Life Mental Health, Flickr Creative Commons

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Chara Caruthers