What is Wellness?
Recently, there has been a shift in thinking around health and healthcare. Suddenly, it seems, the focus is on wellness; a word that has already become commonplace in conversation, it implies active patient engagement and less reliance on late-stage interventions. Wellness medicine is not only preventive medicine, although this is indeed a part, it is also a shift in the place where well-being is sourced. Further understanding and taking to heart the intention and implications of what is meant by this new language around health and well-being is crucial if this paradigm shift is to have lasting meaning.
Many people are aware that wellness means addressing not only the physical, but also the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of one’s self. It assumes a dynamic wholism between the way we move our bodies, the nourishment we give our bodies, our relationship to our thoughts, our ability to be present, and a sense of positive purpose in our lives.
What is perhaps less known is that wellness medicine calls for an ever-present awareness, or a cultivated observer of what choices engender health for the individual and the integrity to make choices in alignment with that knowledge. The active role of the patient is crucial, and while it may seem obvious, it is often underestimated. This is a departure from the model of healthcare that alleviates a symptom with little expectation of further inquiry on the part of the patient. As a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, one expression of wellness-based care, I can say that the role of the provider is to make interventions that will impart greater health, but a crucial aspect of lasting wellness lies within the patient’s responsibility lies and his or her intent to follow through and nurture what has been set in motion by treatment.
The culture we are all steeped in often wants to push past what are seen as limitations, sleeping less, eating processed foods quickly for convenience, or suppressing a headache or heartburn with a pill so that no natural sign of distress interrupts the progress of the day. But by ignoring our body’s wisdom, what are we losing? How would our lives show up differently if we were consistently well rested, and nourished, at ease in our minds, having taken the time meditate, authentically connect with others and ourselves, and at ease in our bodies, having allowed time to move physically? What does overriding our body’s signs do to the quality of our lives and ultimately, our potential to achieve meaningful purpose? If we are meant to be and not only do, what kind of environment are we creating for those around us? What is the example being set for the generation to come?
Ultimately, to pursue wellness is to better know one’s self. This takes deep introspection and examining where habituated ways of being come from, and discarding the ones that do not support authentically support your higher aspirations. This does not have to be drudgery in the process, or even difficult, if one’s intention is to evolve throughout life. It’s not a half-bad way to spend your time.
You’ll find, then, that wellness medicine focuses a great deal on education, which is always a dialogue between practitioner and patient, unique to each circumstance. What is needed in term of maintaining or achieving balance differs greatly from person to person. Beyond this ongoing evolving conversation of health is what I see as one of the greatest strengths of the wellness module: its ability to support the will and intention of the patient in making positive changes and progress becomes evident and greater ease becomes more readily attainable. It is one thing to make changes on your own, quite another to have the support of a system capable that is simultaneously encouraging your continued progress. The goal of course, is that over time the patient relies less heavily on interventions from a source outside of one’s self to return to a state of balance. Treatment assists in removing the blocks to alignment, which, in the best-case scenario, is what the patient seeks. The goal of the wellness provider is patient empowerment at its best. It is my intention as a practitioner of wellness medicine to practice this philosophy in my own life, and inspire those who I see in the treatment room to do the same.