When I taught Yoga I and Exercise and Stress Management at HACC, we talked about the concept of “wellness” rather than “health.” “Health” is often viewed as the absence of disease – chronic or otherwise. “Wellness,” a concept adopted by the World Health Organization, is a holistic view of human beings. The concept of wellness refers not only to physical wellness, but also to intellectual, emotional, social, environmental, and spiritual wellness and recognizes their interdependence in the well-being of a person. Moreover, our wellness depends not on our genetic inheritance, which is a given, but rather on the choices we make in our life.
The yoga classes I taught at HACC met twice a week for fifteen weeks. In that time students grew in their awareness of their behavior and reported seeing areas of their lives where their choices were not supporting their wellness. Many students started to make changes as a result – stopping smoking, choosing healthier foods, letting go of depleting relationships, and making changes in how they responded to others.
Once they came to realize that wellness was attainable, not because of their genetic luck, but rather because of their choices, many felt empowered to make change.
In the January, 2014 issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, the writer looked at a concept – salutogenesis – which means “the origin of health.” He goes on to suggest that this idea is critical when we look at “healthy aging.” “It shifts attention to what supports health and well-being – what creates “health” – rather than what causes disease. This concept of “health” is very much like that of “wellness.”
Our perception of our own health is very subjective. This article mentions studies in which older adults are asked to assess whether they have “aged successfully.” “One study of 205 older adults with physical illnesses or disabilities found that most considered themselves to be aging successfully.” In another study of 1,900 women over 60, most rated themselves as aging successfully even though physically they would not meet “objective standards for having good physical health.”
Many of us see members of our family or our friends experiencing serious illnesses, and many of us have lost people close to us. Some of us are dealing with a chronic condition or illness right now in our own lives. This can lead us to have negative expectations as to what we will experience as we grow older, perhaps even leading to a sense of helplessness.
But I believe most of us hope to age gracefully. Embracing the concept of “wellness” and an appropriate practice of yoga can help us live with grace. As a holistic practice, yoga can support physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wellness. The awareness it brings to our behaviors and relationships with other beings and the earth can support social and environmental wellness. Yoga teaches us awareness so we can live the only life we have, which is in this present moment. Focusing on the concept of wellness, despite what ailments or chronic conditions we may face, can help us to have a more balanced perspective on our lives. It helps us to see we can make choices that support us, whether we are 18 or 80, and that is empowering.