First of all, What is Wellness?
Lexico defines wellness as “a state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal” and it’s the ‘actively pursued goal’ bit that’s wearing me out. As I lay atop a colon hydrotherapy machine with water filling my insides last week, it suddenly dawned upon me that there would be no end to my active pursuit of wellness. That my array of herbal supplements would only keep growing and that I would always have the nagging feeling (accompanied by a fat dollop of guilt) that I could and should be doing MORE.
Are We Being Neurotic About Wellness?
Hot yoga four times a week instead of two. Running thrice a week. Doing away with sugar and gluten (even if I’m not allergic, I feel certain going gluten-free will boost my energy). A ginger shot after every meal. Jade roller massages for my face. Oh, and subscribing to a food logging app to log and track every morsel that passes my lips. I tell myself, these are simply the basics, aren’t they? Isn’t this what everyone does?
If it is, our obsessive-compulsiveness about wellness is the antithesis of the balanced calm Ayurveda is all about. The trouble is that it’s so easy to fall into a vortex of inadequacy and guilt and become neurotic about the one thing that requires the opposite impetus. You know why? Because a neurotic active pursuit of ‘wellness’ is both counterproductive and unsustainable. The inevitable I-am-failing-at-taking-care-of-myself guilt makes us feel worse about ourselves and gangs up with the other piles of guilt we’re carrying around every day to create even more epic lows. And that’s not worth actively pursuing, is it?
Why We’re Thinking about Wellness All Wrong
I blame both the wellness industrial complex and its mass distributor, social media (full disclosure - I actively partake in both). A combination of products, services and drop-dead gorgeous wellness gurus have led mere mortals like myself to believe that there is a wellness nirvana out there. And that if I just try harder, drink more golden milk, give up caffeine, detox every month, yoga all my spare time away, that one day, someday… I will attain this elusive nirvana. And when I do, not only will I be incandescent and lean and sinewy, but my ‘wellness’ will then be on autopilot. It will simply flow effortlessly. There will be no sugar cravings. No yielding to temptation. Hell, there will be no temptation at all! I’ll finally be on whatever plane those incredibly dewy-skinned, long limbed yoga beauties are on. And it will take no effort to stay there. Right? Wrong.
The Ugly Truth Is: There is No Wellness Nirvana Just a Wellness Equilibrium
The reality is that there is no wellness nirvana. There’s just life. Life with its ups and downs. A sick kid. An unsympathetic boss. A travelling spouse. Aging parents. The mortgage. Work issues that never get resolved. 5pm meetings that achieve nothing. Life’s basic unpredictability and tendency to mess with your plans is (unfortunately) never going to go away. And so never mind attaining nirvana, keeping your equilibrium through life’s highs and lows and staying calm, balanced and physically strong and healthy through it all is what true wellness boils down to, not the latest fad of juicing or spiralizing.
So, how do you do Wellness Right? Here are our 5 guiding principles:
Start with acceptance and love for the status quo
- Actively try to not judge yourself or those around you (easier said than done, but try)
- Strip and look at yourself in the mirror – with love and acceptance
- Talk positively to yourself – as Mandy Ingber says in her book Yogalosophy: “the voice that used to tell me “it’s not good enough” or “it used to be better” was replaced with a coach that would breathe and take it one encouraging moment at a time”
Keep your wellness lifestyle simple (and real)
- Wellness is not about the latest fad, it’s about what works for you, and by that we mean what works for your body, mind AND schedule.
- Take it one step at a time (don’t try and incorporate more than one wellness change at a time) but commit to that one step and see it through.
- Don’t fall into the trap of trying the newest, coolest wellness gizmo because it looks good – go back to your list of what can work for you and build on that. For example, intermittent fasting and hot yoga once or twice a week (in addition to my daily tongue scraping and oil pulling and my weekly hair and scalp pre-shampoo oil treatment) are about all I can manage right now, and that’s okay. I would love to also add daily meditation and affirmations to the list, but I know that’s probably unrealistic and that I would be setting myself up for failure.
Make your wellness rituals a habit
- Boil your wellness lifestyle down to a few elements you can commit to and then turn them into habits
- Habits work in loops. First comes the cue, which triggers automatic action, then comes routine, and finally there is a reward that tells our brains whether or not this loop is worth remembering.
- Create such loops around your wellness rituals so that over time, the loop becomes automatic. Which means it plays itself out without much intervention from the brain, which refrains from decision-making and diverts itself elsewhere when the habit loop is in play – in fact, habits exist because our brain is looking for ways to save effort.
Expect a wellness lifestyle to always take some effort and willpower
- Even if you succeed in making your wellness ritual a habit, life will find a way of throwing you off course – mentally prepare yourself for that eventuality
- Work travel or an indulgent holiday, a sick child, a travelling spouse, any number of variables might be altered such that your carefully constructed trigger and reward loops around your wellness habits might break down. Fully expect this to happen and know there will be a moment when effort and willpower will be called forth. Anticipating these moments as far in advance as possible will allow you to muster up what it takes to stick to your wellness commitments
- This is the most important guiding principle of them all
- It’s okay to slip up! It’s okay to indulge once in a while! It does not mean you’ve failed. It does not mean you can’t get back on track. Look forward. Don’t cry over spilled milk. You’re human. And lovable regardless of whether you stuck to a plan or not. At the end of the day, what matters is your emotional and physical health and self-flagellation is much worse for both than a bar of chocolate could ever be. Move on. Quickly.
As Lottie Winter, Vogue journalist writes in her article Are You Suffering From Wellness Fatigue- “the whole point of wellness was that it should become so ubiquitous that you forget about pursuing it; that living a positive and healthy lifestyle becomes a given rather than something singled out as spectacular and worth applauding on Instagram.”
And that's our wish for you. That ‘wellness’ becomes such a seamless part of your lifestyle that you don’t even think about it as wellness but simply as – life!