Wellness Isn’t One-Dimensional OR Stagnant: If I See One More Yoga Pose Photo or Gimic- I WILL SCREAM
For those of you that don’t know me, I have been a public health professional for the past six years. Currently, I am the director of wellness services at a prestigious college in the Northeast and a wellness consultant for colleges, businesses and startups. Contrary to popular belief, one does not become a wellness director, by getting a degree in eating kale, and/or reaching the heights of nirvana. Wellness programming has a basis in public health theory and is and should always be based in evidence, not the most current fad.
In my department, we pride ourselves in being holistic; integrating both eastern and western wellness practices into our health service. We have acupuncture, nutrition services, yoga, and we also provide health education for young people to learn how to make their own decisions about their health. We also conduct institutional research that informs policy and decision-making for the institution. However, anytime someone asks me what I do and I tell them I am a professional wellness person, they automatically assume that I’m a yoga doing, smoothie drinking, pizza- hating chick; which is the farthest from the truth.
When did the concept of wellness become so pidgin-holed, so commercial, so acculturated and main stream?
Every time I try to design marketing material for a new campaign, I type in #wellness and scroll through the first 100 photos on Instagram and/or Google photos to see the newest images. The images are always the same:
White chicks doing yoga, Bros lifting weight, acai berry yogurts, protein shakes, salads galore, supplement ads, and before and after weight loss pictures. Gross! & Incredibly Predictable!
NEWSFLASH PEOPLE: FITNESS AND NUTRITION ARE NOT WELLNESS!
Fitness and nutrition are components of wellness, but they do not define the wellness field.
Guess what else? Wellness is inherently intersectional because every individual defines wellness for themselves and has the right to choose the practices that best fits their lifestyle, culture and beliefs. Some of the oldest facets of wellness practice, such as meditation and yoga, are integral to cultures that are a part of the global majority. So why is it that when I type yoga into google images: the first 50–60 images are of white women?
Due to the lack of representation of Persons of Color in the wellness field, I often encounter students and/or clients of color that feel that wellness is inaccessible to them for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are as follows:
- Practicing wellness or self care is selfish
- Practicing wellness or self care is a luxury that people of color cannot afford. (It’s expensive or takes away time from self improvement such as work or school.)
Tribe, wellness is for everyone. Putting your body and mind first is the key to a successful career and a long, healthful life.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Wellness as: the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.
My favorite definition of Wellness is by John Valenty (CEO of wellness.com):
“Wellness is the result of personal initiative, seeking a more optimal, holistic and balanced state of health and well-being across multiple dimensions.”
This definition is pretty broad if you ask me and honestly, if you break the definition down, there is nothing lazy about wellness.
No one achieves wellness, if they are not SEEKING a more BALANCED STATE OF HEALTH AND WELL-BEING.
Wellness is an action, and it is a state of being that we work towards. We should always be seeking to improve our state of wellness that, as we ourselves grow, change and develop.
WELLNESS IS NOT STAGNANT because we as individuals are ever changing.
In reality, we should all be working towards wholeness in addition to wellness because being whole encompasses our physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. It gives room for people to pursue what brings joy and fulfillment into their lives, instead of focusing solely on how to change or maintain outward appearances based on the opinions or sales tactics of the commercial world.
Wholeness, in addition to wellness, should be the state that we are all actively working to maintain every day, physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
Physical wholeness does not have to have anything to do with sculpted abs and legs. Instead it means:
- Do I feel good in my body every day?
- Am I getting enough sleep?
- Am I taking the necessary preventative measures to insure that my body is operating at optimal performance?
- Am I utilizing my voice and agency over my body in relationships, sexual or otherwise?
Mental Wholeness is defined by the World Health Organization, as:
“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
- Do you have a personal philosophy? Are you living it on a daily basis? Does living this philosophy help you feel fulfilled?
- Is your mental space a healthy one, that allows you 100% learning aptitude and memory retention?
- Do you wake up proud of who you are and what you’ve accomplished or will accomplish?
- Do you take time for yourself and do things that make you happy?
- How do you handle stress?
These everyday forms of wellness are not sexy. A picture of me or you sleeping soundly, probably won’t get many likes. Sleeping is a mundane, everyday activity. But, I would love to wake up one morning, and realize that the definition of wellness has shifted in the United States. I would love to type wellness into google images and get pictures of diverse groups of people or individuals doing everyday wellness things: walking, playing with a baby, resting, playing board or video games, having a dance party in their dorm rooms, throwing water balloons or eating ice-cream cones.
All of these activities are wellness because they allow our brains to rest and to smile. No two bodies need the same type of wellness in their lives, but everyone does need a few things: a little bit of daily movement, food in proportion, time to breathe and relax, healthy sleep, companionship and time to have fun.
Research shows that engaging in leisure activities, on a consistent basis, is beneficial to your health by reducing Cortisol in the Body.
It is imperative to engage in wellness activities that fulfill both the body’s need to relax and to reduce the build up of every day stress.
The Moral of the story is: The wellness field is ginormous and is not limited to any one component but instead, encompasses the whole body: mind, body and soul.
Wellness is diverse. It is global and it is respectful of people, culture and beliefs.
Stop limiting wellness to your crunchy, fitness and body shaming definitions. Expand it to include activities that make you happy and optimizes your definition of a happy, healthy lifestyle. All things in moderation of course. Eating a perfectly baked chocolate chip cookie might make you happy, but ten might be pushing it out of the wellness zone into an unhealthy one.
Finally, it does not matter who you are, what your waist size is, or what color skin you my have: Each and every one of you is WORTHY OF FEELING WHOLE, PRACTICING SELF-CARE & BEING PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY AND SPIRITUALLY WELL.
GO out, LIVE your life, ENJOY good food! Be Happy in ways that make sense to you.