Friday, September 3, 2010

Wellness

What does wellness mean? It's a term that's thrown around quite a bit right now, I've even seen it at the massage place I go to. Is wellness synonymous with health, or are they different things? In medicine today, health is often seen as the absence of disease, as opposed to a total condition of mental and physical balance. I see wellness as a new description for that state: we are sound in body and mind, balanced and whole. Certainly we must be physically free from disease to achieve this state. I think western medicine has that pretty well covered. But how do we get to the next level, where we are truly "well"?

I think there are different routes for different people, but I believe most of us find it comes from an approach that addresses not just the body, but the mind and the heart as well. I've read multiple studies showing the emotional benefits of a spiritual practice of some kind, whether it's prayer, organized religion, or a simple belief in something greater than ourselves. Spirituality in one form or another addresses the heart, and fosters compassion towards others. We realize we aren't alone on this journey, and can recognize a greater purpose.

Use of our minds is the next step. Activities that keep us thinking prevent the decline of memory in older age. They also bring a greater sense of satisfaction than a mindless pursuit such as parking in front of the television. Reading a book, discussing politics with friends, learning something new, all form new connections in our brains, allowing expansion of our mental power. We are not stagnant, we are moving forward and growing, another way to recognize we are well.

Our bodies house our brains and our hearts. We must keep them in good shape as the body is the vessel for the soul, as I have read. Any physical activity is good for the body, walking, dancing, mowing the lawn, and, of course, yoga. Many studies have found yoga to be better than other forms of exercise for improving symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yoga also addresses the other aspects that keep us well: it keeps our minds active with meditation and philosophical lessons, and it opens our hearts to compassion and kindness. I see yoga as one path to wellness, and have felt the effects in my own life.

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