How "well" is wellness?

To hear a deep dive into this and other provocative topics, you can listen to my interview on the Yoga Moves You podcast. 

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Wellness, with a capital “W”, has grown to be one of the most profitable industries in the world, breaking the trillion dollar mark.  It is valued as three times as profitable as the pharmaceutical industry. According to Susie Ellis, the CEO of the Global Wellness Institute, there “has been a seismic shift in the way we work, live,and play.” Businesses, consumers, and even western governments are recognizing the importance of taking care of our health as a preventative form of care. 

On one hand, the growth of an industry centered around self-care means that there are more options for people to support their physical, emotional, and mental health. With the open source internet, access to tools and information is easier than ever. The barrier to entry is lower than ever as more people offer information on how to live a healthier and more content existence. Especially in major cities, boutique fitness studios are becoming the Starbucks of the millennial generation, with a new trending offer seemingly on every block. 

The downside, is that too much of anything can create an imbalance. With so much information, one can not help but find contradictory advice. As exemplified with the perspective on fat content in foods, there was once a period when the healthiest thing one could do, according to influential wellness sources at the time, was to eliminate fat from one’s diet. Today, the current standing on fats is that they are not only essential, but increasing the healthy fats in one’s diet can lead to weight loss, healthier digestion, increased energy, and increased ability for the body to absorb nutrients. Whereas some health experts still swear that fat is a leading cause of disease in the body, others are outspoken in favor of full fat diets.

Not only is there contradictory information circulating, but social media has given access to an overwhelming amount of information from both experts and peers. The question then is how much wellness is too much? Pulling up Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook - the major marketing tools of the modern day - one who is interested in their health will be bombarded with images of what it means to be healthy.”Health” has become correlated with youth, the size and shape of the physical body, advantageous resources, and overall popularity. What we see is not the full representation of any one person or circumstance, yet it is all too easy to take the images we see as the entire truth. The epidemic spurred by social media is the plague of comparison. 

Measuring oneself against the filtered and curated view of someone else’s life inevitably leads to suffering. Even if we feel we have an advantage to those with whom we are comparing ourselves, the act of comparing in and of itself sets us up for disappointment, shame, frustration, despair, or the all-too-common conviction that there is something lacking about us or our life. Thus, social media platforms are a  fertile ground to grow an industry that speaks to the desire of human beings to be loved and accepted. We search for it in superfoods and fitness classes, and as consumers we spend our money on those things which we hope will bring us closer to contentment. 

Especially when it comes to the wellness space as is portrayed on social media, there are far too many people who seem to have figured out the “perfect” way of being. The facade put on the screen does not allow for honest connection between the posting party and she/he who is looking at the post. What is offered at face value tends to be that which will gain approval, and not necessarily that which is truly healthy or of support to those consuming the media. There are, of course, plenty of people working to disrupt the perfection model in favor of authenticity, but we need to be asking ourselves if the majority of what we consume on a day-to-day in the name of “Wellness” is in fact well. 

 

The panacea to the never-ending spiral of self-questioning and judgement that both social media and access to endless information can cause, is the decision to shut off the screen, get quiet, and truly listen to what it is we need. There is no one who is going to tell us anything of more value about how we feel or what will make us thrive than ourselves. Wellness, as an individuals search for contentment and well-being, is a transcendent ever-evolving state that each one of us has the ability to access. Our physical bodies, minds, emotional bodies, and energetic bodies are completely unique to each one of us. While there are truths that apply to us all, i.e. our bodies are meant to be moved, processed food and smoking do harm to our health, etc,  the concoction of foods, practices, and experiences that will lead us to the most optimal version of ourselves is impossible for anyone else to know let alone prescribe. The solution to the overwhelming amount of information and stimuli branded as #Wellness is to listen to what the body, mind, and spirit are asking for in any given moment and to take the information we receive and run it through a personal filter of what works and does not work for each of us. We make the commitment to notice when we are dipping toes into the fetid pool of comparison and release the attachment to someone else’s way of being. 

By taking the agency to conduct our own research into what wellness means on an individual level, we are stepping into empowerment, rather than disenfranchised by believing we need more or something different than what we already have. We give ourselves permission to embrace the body and mind that we have been given, and make choices in the name of personal growth and development. If true wellness is our goal, we must commit to doing the work to figure out what helps us to feel whole, at peace, and in love with life, and then we must courageously follow that path. That is an industry worth supporting.