What is wellness?
I think wellness as a definition is an extremely subjective concept. We are all running at varying baselines of ‘wellness’ all be it physical, mental or spiritual wellness, and therefore our thresholds for imagining ourselves living with ‘wellness’ or ‘being our best’ are wildly different. Its definitely a contextual concept that means something very different today (with the rise of popular trends of ‘eating green’ and ‘yoga/fitness madness’) than 40 odd years ago, shall we say, where wellness was possibly deemed a state of ‘having no physical illness or disease’.
For me, wellness embodies all that we can be. It is the interplay of our physical and our mental, our psychological and our spiritual, all entwined within our core values. It’s balancing out our yin and our yang, if you like. My feeling is that, to be in a state of wellness, and I do believe it is a state (physical and mental), these factors all need to be in equilibrium of each other. A state that makes you feel happy, content and at peace with where you are. Each element has an impact on our overall wellness and when you have the ability to reflect and have insight into your own being, you can start to appreciate what you need for your version of ‘wellness’ and adapt and adjust your lifestyle and choices to reach ‘wellness’. It’s about setting up some internal coping mechanisms and innate responses to what life throws at you to keep your ducks in a row.
Why do we need to be well?
Of course, in an ideal world everyone would like to be well. It’s hard to define; however, it’s something we can all feel. Being in the medical profession, I am inundated with people who are not physically well, and at times not mentally well either. Instead of looking at the patient’s ailment as something we need to fix, we are taught to look at the patient as a whole and take as holistic approach as we can. That’s because every aspect of what makes us human are intrinsically interlinked, and we can’t separate one from another when thinking about wellness.
Our physical health impacts on our mental health and our mental health impacts on our physical. That, we know, is true. That, we know, is something us as a society needs to work on and it’s amazing to see a movement in society happening that takes our health as a whole seriously and is enhancing and transformed peoples everyday lives. This is where my yoga journey and medical career met. I was enticed into yoga for a physical practice to get stronger and more flexible a few years back. Today I have made the full transformation into using yoga as a spiritual daily ritual, which is my release and space, from the stresses and pressures of the medical world. One without the other would not have such an impact on my own ‘wellbeing’. However together, gives the perfect balance and allows me to seek the highest ‘wellness’ I can find. And after all, how can we look after others if we are not looking after ourselves?
Is Wellness a choice?
From the medical point of view, wellness is often not a choice. However, how we deal with our state of wellness or less well state is a choice. If we are given the tools and personal skills to deal with our situations and own lives, I believe it can be the most empowering state of being. To be able to make your own choices, to improve your own wellness, even when you have been dealt a crap hand is an amazing concept, albeit challenging.
Why do some people choose not to be well?
As humans, we tend to shy away from things that scare us or put us out our comfort zone. In the context of ‘wellbeing’ we may avoid joining a gym or attending a yoga class as a beginner, out of fear of being judged by others or probably most often even if we aren’t aware of this, fear of judgement from ourselves. Its human nature to take the easy road where possibly and live within our limits. Why change my diet to a plant-based diet when I am perfectly happy having meat 3x daily as I have been doing this all my life kind of attitude. We are habitual creatures, that is built in our hardware. In my experience, habits are incredibly hard to break, and if you have got yourself into negative habits it is extremely challenging to change. A example of how to combat this is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), literally changing your programming, and re-wiring your mindset to enhance your ‘wellbeing’. The point is, although it is a choice which superficially, seems easy enough to not chose, its more complex than that, and when we begin to appreciate this, only then can we really truly make changes and choices to enhance and importantly sustain a state of physical and mental wellbeing.
How does yoga and or meditation help promote wellness? (Daily life)
Looking at the evidence out there, for which there is plenty, it isn’t rocket science to know that yoga and meditation are brilliant for our physical and mental health. It reduces our risk of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes while reducing stress, depression and improving sleep and concentration. The benefits are endless objectively. However, on a personal level, for me yoga and meditation (on a lesser scale) allow me to connect my extremely busy mind with my physical body. They slow me down and ground me in the midst of a very busy day to day life. They help me organize my thoughts and allow me to check in with all aspects of myself. If I feel I am neglecting an aspect – yoga and breathing practices helps me identify this for which I can adjust. They are incredibly powerful tools of wellbeing.
Can a vacation or yoga retreat increase my wellness?
Of course going away can increase wellness. Everyone needs a break, some space from daily life. Why? In order to revive what’s possibly been depleted. A vacation and especially a restful one (like a yoga retreat) gives you a physical environment to think and to reflect. Having been on a few yoga treats they have done wonders for me in terms of addressing old habits I want to kick and learning and fostering new ones to increase my wellness.
Is having a spa membership, gym, or yoga membership going to ensure my wellbeing?
While it won’t give you wellness alone, it should give you an incentive to go, ie. Spending lots of money and therefore needing to justify this. However, unless you enjoy it and go consistently it won’t be a sustainable solution for wellbeing and it is much more effective to build simpler foundations such as getting outdoors more (which is free!) and starting off with home yoga or meditation to create a consistent routine with these things. There really is no need to spend lots of money on these things; however that said, it does create a space where you can meet likeminded individuals and seek advice and tips of others on the road to wellness as such.
What can I do now to increase my wellness in my day to day life?
There is a multitude of things out there now, from bloggers and fitness guru’s and just general advice online of ways to increase your wellness. It can actually be quite overwhelming sometimes, and we tend to give ourselves challenging and unrealistic goals when on a bit of a drive to seek wellbeing. My advice stresses to keep things simple. Make achievable habits and the most important part is to try and stick to them. However, have flexibility that if you don’t for whatever reason. That.is.ok.
Try and engage with the day ahead – don’t worry about your 2 month goal or diet plans or body goals as such, just engage with the diet and activities of that day and be mindful of what you’re putting in your body and how you are reacting to situations. This will have a huge improvement on day to day wellness and as a knock on effect overall wellness. Take yourself offline as much as possible and tune in to yourself and the community around you.
Finally, I see so often with patients with low mood and anxiety that they lack drive and motivation. They have lost interest and disconnected from what fulfills their values and makes them happy. So Have passions, re-engage with these and pursue them. Becoming a yoga teacher while at medical school was always a dream of mine, and with a bit of will and determination it happened! These things aren’t rocket science!
Vix Cook is a 200hr certified yoga instructor and junior doctor who lives in the United Kingdom. You can usually find her wandering about with her best friends traveling and celebrating life to the fullest!
Follow her journey for all things yoga and medicine combined.