What is Wellness?

Peaceful lakeview1024

Peaceful lakeview1024 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you well?

I used to think I was well. I could still fit into my high school clothes even though I was on the far side of 30. I exercised more days than not and had become a decent runner. I ate a pretty healthy vegetarian diet. I avoided most chronic disease and only visited the doctor on the occasions when my body could not fight off some invading microorganism. I even managed to sneak in some meditation and yoga on occasion.

I thought I was well.

But I wasn’t.

It turns out that wellness is not measured by the number of miles that you run. Or the amount of broccoli that you eat. Or even the number on the scale.

It’s great to be fit and to eat healthy, but that is only a small piece of the wellness pie. Wellness is as much about what happens inside your mind as it is what happens to your body.

So, what is wellness?

Wellness is Acceptance

Wellness begins by accepting what is. If you constantly fight against some truth, you cannot win and you cannot be well.

Wellness is Balance

If you focus too much one way, you will automatically neglect something else. Wellness is centered. Wellness doesn’t play favorites.

Wellness is Attention

If you close your eyes to the truth, you are the embodiment of a lie. Rather than turning your gaze away from those areas where you struggle, turn towards them and let your attention focus.

Wellness is Perseverance

It is easier to be sick than to be well. Wellness takes effort. You may fail. That’s okay, failure is not inconsistent with wellness. A lack of trying is.

Wellness is Personalization

Wellness is not what works for your neighbor. It is not what the media dictates to you. Your wellness needs to be custom tailored for you.

Wellness is Freedom

Wellness, at its most basic, is freedom from disease. But it is also freedom from addiction. From fixation. From fear. From discontent.

Wellness is Ongoing

You may be well in one moment and not in the next. That doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It means you’re human. Unlike a turkey, wellness is never done.

Perhaps we should measure wellness by the number of smiles as well as the number of miles. The amount of true friends as well as the amount of broccoli. The number of hours slept and the number on the scale.

Perhaps the best way to recognize wellness is by its corollary: peace. When you are well, you are at peace.




The Four Agreements in Wellness

As a homework assignment for my recent girl’s weekend, I was asked to read The Four Agreements. I was fully willing, but somewhat skeptical, since as the only child of a counselor, I was raised on a steady diet of self-help. I think I overdosed.

After the first few pages, my skepticism was replaced with excitement and understanding. This was one book that made sense to me.

The premise is simple: four agreements that, if followed, will change your life. The book is short and the agreements are extremely simple but nowhere near easy. They are applicable to every area of life and manage to be general and still useful all at once. They are interconnected; one always leads to another.

As part of my own work with The Four Agreements, I am drilling down and applying them to various areas of life. Here is my take on The Four Agreements in wellness:

Be Impeccable With Your Word

This agreement, as it relates to wellness, is perhaps more often related to our internal dialog than our external discourse. We have a tendency to belittle ourselves, subjecting our inner selves to a constant barrage of “You’re not good enoughs.” That is not being impeccable with your word; the message does not match the underlying intent (“I am afraid that I am not good enough”) and the nature of the repeating message will cause it to be internalized and believed. An example of this is the person who thinks, “I’m too weak to stick to a diet” whenever he or she is interested in making a change. The truth is not that the person is too weak but that they are afraid of trying to change and failing.

Additionally, you are not being impeccable if your interpret a behavior as a critical flaw in your character. This message takes a simple action and turns it into something inherent and insurmountable. Just because you neglected to meditate today does not mean that you can never commit to anything. It only means that you did not do it today.

Another way that we often fail to be impeccable with our word to ourselves is that we make promises that we cannot keep. Do not commit to running every day if you have only been running once a week. It is not a realistic goal and will only cause you to have to break your promise. A promise to yourself is an important bind; only make it if you can keep it.

Do you blame others for your situation? Are you overweight because of your genes or out of shape because you are too busy to work out? Do you claim that you cannot possibly eat healthy because it is too time consuming or expensive? You guessed it, that’s not being impeccable.

Finally, be impeccable with your words towards others. Do not put them down only to elevate yourself.

I have failed to be impeccable with my word towards myself when it comes to yoga I have told myself for years that I am inflexible. The message was repeated until it was believed. Once I recognized that I was reinforcing my tight hamstrings and hips with my words, I chose to alter my internal dialog from “I am not flexible” to “I am working on becoming more flexible.” Apparently, my hips believed me, because they now can do things I never thought possible.

Be careful of what you say. You are listening.

Don’t Take it Personally

I don’t know about you, but my ego likes to tag along in the gym or in every class I take. It wants to lift more, go faster or bend further than anyone else just to prove it can.

But it’s not about ego.

It’s about making me the best I can be at that moment.

It doesn’t matter what others can do. It doesn’t matter what the readout on the treadmill says. It doesn’t matter what number is engraved on the side of the dumbbell.

None of those things say anything about you.

If someone criticizes the choices on your plate or the number imprinted on the tag on your pants, that is their ego talking. They are expressing their own struggles. It’s not about you.

Don’t Make Assumptions

We are our own worst enemies and assumptions are our biggest weapons.

I was that sickly kid who never managed to run the mile. I would end up wheezing and limping to the office to retrieve my inhaler after only a few short yards. I assumed that I couldn’t run. Even as I outgrew the asthma and became more and more fitness oriented, I assumed I couldn’t run.

Until I pretended that I could. Less than five years later, I completed a marathon.

We have tendency to assume that how we are now is how we will be. We prefer to relax with these beliefs rather than challenge them, for doing so means that we have the responsibility for our own well being.

Your own assumptions are your biggest barrier.

Turn it around. Try assuming that you can. And see what happens.

Always Do Your Best

This agreement is the reminder that we are human. We will falter and we will fail. Be gentle with yourself when you make a mistake and then recommit to doing your best.

Don’t let a small mistake become a pattern of missteps. One cookie (or even a box of cookies!) does not mean that your healthy diet is out the window. Acknowledge it, forgive it and move on.

Yoga is a wonderful teacher of this premise. It calls for you to be fully aware and accepting of who you are on the mat on that day. In that moment. It doesn’t matter what you could do yesterday or what you may be able to achieve tomorrow. Just do your best today.

These four agreements can help you achieve a more balanced and healthy life, regardless of your own wellness challenges. Be honest with yourself, don’t allow your assumptions to limit your potential, let your ego take a back seat and give yourself a pat on the back for your efforts. You deserve the best that you can offer:)

The Four Agreements in Marriage

The Four Agreements in Divorce

Key to Success: Always Have a Backup Plan

We are scheduled to run the Peachtree Road Race tomorrow, a 10 K run that is an Atlanta institution. The good news? The normal highs in the 90s have been replaced with temperatures in the 70s. The bad news? It may be more of a swim than a run.

As long as the race is not canceled, we will be there. We’ll adjust to the weather by wearing our Vibrams that don’t get soggy and making sure that we bring hats made of quick dry fabric to try to keep the downpour out of our eyes. In this case, the backup plan is to continue with the race just modify our clothing.

Whenever I’m asked for the keys to succeeding in any health or wellness initiative, having a backup plan is always the first strategy that comes to mind. It’s easy to make promises to yourself:

I’m going to walk at least 3 miles every day.

I’m going to eliminate all sugar from my diet.

I’m going to do an hour of yoga every day.

I’m going to prepare all my meals for the week on Sunday.

But what happens when life intervenes?

I’m going to walk at least 3 miles every day.

There’s a thunderstorm during your walking hour.

I’m going to eliminate all sugar from my diet.

You’re invited to a birthday party.

I’m going to do an hour of yoga every day.

You’re sick and the thought of down dog makes you nauseous.

I’m going to prepare all my meals for the week on Sunday.

You went on a weekend trip and didn’t come back until Sunday night.

Without a backup plan, these speed bumps become stop signs. In the moment, it is easy to allow yourself to become derailed and discouraged. If, however, you think ahead and brainstorm (okay, maybe not the best word with the current weather situation in the SE!) potential roadblocks and their solutions, it makes it easier to adjust on the fly.

I’m going to walk at least 3 miles every day.

There’s a thunderstorm during your walking hour.

Possible backup plans: do an exercise video, go to the gym, walk the hallways at the mall, locate an indoor track, go to an indoor trampoline park

I’m going to eliminate all sugar from my diet.

You’re invited to a birthday party.

Possible backup plans: eat beforehand so that you’re not hungry, bring a dish to share that also meets your needs, only attend for the non-food portion of the festivities

I’m going to do an hour of yoga every day.

You’re sick and the thought of down dog makes you nauseous.

Possible backup plans: do a restorative yoga session that uses props and gentle poses, meditate instead, take to time to locate a new yoga class or video and commit to it on the day you feel better (i.e. cue the video or make a reservation for the class)

I’m going to prepare all my meals for the week on Sunday.

You went on a weekend trip and didn’t come back until Sunday night.

Possible backup plans: prepare meals the week before that can be frozen and thawed, trade cooking duties for the week with a friend, choose very easy recipes with nonperishable items that can be purchased beforehand

Of course, there will always be times when something will not work, no matter how many backup ideas you have. That’s okay. The idea is to think outside the box so that you don’t give up when you can go around. The more backup plans you have, the more likely you will be to establish a new, healthy habit in your life.

As for me, I plan to run the Peachtree tomorrow. Now, I need to plan what I’ll do if the lightening or flooding puts a halt to the event. Maybe snorkel instead?:)

English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot

English: 2007 peachtree road race crowd shot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)