Updated: Dec 20, 2017
Originally written for Wellscene Magazine...
I love running with my dog. He sprints, he walks, he stops to investigate who knows what and he could give two shits about pace. Literally, he stops a minimum of two times to unload whatever is weighing him down. He has no idea if I am pushing for distance or time goals and no illusions of grandeur. His life is one of living, of process, and complete disregard for external expectations. He eats healthy but doesn't hesitate to try new things. He prioritizes his pack above all else, and knows how to take one for the team. He loves to run and jump and is a master of rest. Pancho, my big hunk of a lab, is nourished, present, creative, and relishes relaxation – he is my wellness hero.
Wellness is a practice, a process that is dynamic and must be reevaluated frequently. There is no fixed place that is wellness. It’s not like Paris or the end of next month. There is no destination or timeline for it. If we try to give it parameters they would change daily. Wellness fluctuates, undulates, and spins in response to our context, our responsibilities and our needs.
Our Bodies and hearts play in a balance of supporting and depleting - tension and ease. One isn't better than the other and both are necessary to wellness. After we meet our basic needs of food, water, and shelter for "optimal health" we need to put effort in to building and maintaining strength, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, as well as make time for sleep. I can do all of that, have the perfect BMI, and still be unwell in so many ways.
So what is wellness? How do I tap into my inner Pancho and live a healthy, content life? Working toward optimal health without regard for emotional and mental health sabotages many well-intentioned goals. There is a natural intelligence to the human heart, body, and mind. To be well we need to get out of the way and allow those innate processes to take over. Ask yourself these few simple questions regularly, with out judgment or fear and give yourself permission to expand your possibilities and participate in the practice of wellness.
Am I Nourished?
I’m not talking about proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Diet is important, but highly individual. Vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, smaller portions; they all seem to work. Nourishment is less about what we take in and more about the intention in which we ingest. Any whole food diet will feed you but you have to give it space and permission to nourish you. Pause before eating and take a moment, a breath, to let your body and heart know it is allowed to be nourished.
Am I Awake?
Dullness is insidious. It creeps in and is incredibly comfortable. Dullness also often seems like where the modern world wants us to be. In its extreme we call it addiction or laziness vilifying those who succumb to it, but anyone who has binge watched an online series or could not resist the lure of a screen while driving has surrendered to it. However, connection is the cure. Embracing and participating in our context, especially when we don’t want to, creates a feeling of vibrancy that resonates from the experience. When I run on a treadmill watching an episode of whatever; there is no difference in the before or after. In contrast, when I run across Payne’s Prairie I feel every cell in my body tingle. I breathe fuller, my skin glows, and frankly, my family likes me much better. Connection to context keeps my mind and body from feeling stagnant and builds upon it self. When we honor that need for connection the ability to be present, to be awake, is amplified.
Am I Creating?
Being in community, productive and contributing is deeply rooted in human nature. Frankly, watching Pancho, I think it is a cornerstone of many species. Making, producing and even chores are sweet for the soul – dare I say, “nourishing!” Giving your time and energy to something is a completely selfish and selfless thing to do. This gets challenging in a world where our work is so often virtual and ongoing. It can seem to lack tangibility, but again it comes back to intention and perspective. Start small, approach the dishes with a vision of how lovely a clean sink looks and feels in the kitchen. Let it grow from there. The next thing you know you may be working on the novel that has been spinning through you head.
Do I Allow Myself A Chance to Restore?
Pancho is masterful at this. He will always take one for the team and go further than he ever wanted but when its time to chill he really gets down to business. Culturally, this is our most neglected tenant of wellness and it can be especially elusive when responsibilities, expectations, and screens surround us. Turn off the onslaught of TV, Internet, radio and phones. Sit or lay down and do nothing, I mean nothing, for 15 minutes a day. If that seems too overwhelming, then start by taking five breaths and see what happens. Anything is possible.
Nourish, awaken, create, and restore are practices that can trickle in and out as you play up and down the path to wellness. Let fear and judgment know that they are uninvited guests and forget about pushing to only go forward. Sometimes moving backwards or in circles is more effective and meandering will expose all the richness that a path has to offer.