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When I asked my friend—a social worker with no real consistent mindfulness practice—to define what wellness meant to her, she immediately responded that it meant self-care. Her answer pointed to a revelation that’s been kicking around in my head lately: Are we living in a self-love and self-care revolution? I know I’ve seen enough articles on the perfect bubble bath and how to silence negative self talk for every yoga teacher in America to have authored at least one. But when it comes to defining what wellness really is, it’s not enough to limit it to what we eat or how we treat ourselves, though that’s a big part of it. It’s also about how we engage with the world around us, and how we work to bring our personal practices outward.
We’ve all heard that the number three is magic, or sacred, or at least of some marginal import in many cultures. In China, the word for three sounds like “luck,” and is such considered a lucky number. Christianity has the holy trinity, and there are three gunas in Hindu philosophy. Ayurveda—often called the sister science to yoga—is organized around three mind-body types called doshas. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the cadre of boundary-pushing physicists who a few years ago proved the bizarre theory that trios of particles can rearrange themselves ad infinitum, in a sort of nesting doll configuration. Magic.
If luck and God and life science and even physics can then be broken down into a rule of three, why not wellness? In this context, the definition—and application—of wellness can be broken down into three pillars: Personal, Social, and Global. What does that mean and how can you participate in each? Read on.
If you’ve ever stepped foot into a yoga studio, you’ve likely heard someone assert that “you can’t serve from an empty well.” In this context, personal wellness is the commitment to keep your own well filled, so you can continue to serve others. Taking care of your body through exercise and healthy nutrition is the easiest way to come into a place of personal wellness. We can also do this by treating ourselves (back to the bubble baths or other mindful ways to indulge), by checking the way we actually treat ourselves—ie: keeping the nasty internal voice at bay, and by applying the yogic sutra Ahimsa to the way we look at our body (You. Are. Beautiful.).
Taking care of your body through exercise and healthy nutrition is the easiest way to come into a place of personal wellness.
According to renowned wellness teacher and best-selling author Elena Brower, personal wellness is when we’ve developed ourselves enough to stay steady and calm, even as the world around us crumbles. “Wellness,” she says, “is your capacity to let the events of your life in and through you.” This sense of core then allows us to face the darkness in our lives with a sense of peace and calm. “When we freely get to know what it is that keeps us in the dark and holds us back,” says Elena, “we allow what brings us into the light to shine equally. That’s when we come into a space of wellness.”
What’s the point of keeping your well filled if you’re not planning to serve others? We are, after all, social creatures, and the people around us matter. Most of us have, sadly, been in the situation where we’ve had an argument with a loved one, or lost a good friend, and felt empty or hollow in its wake. To embody social wellness is to apply the same principles of personal wellness to our relationships with others—relationships of all types: Personal, romantic, familial, professional. It’s when we’re able to take our practice of self-love, mind-body connection, and a sense of inner calm (as Elena would put it, “our ability to respond rather than to react”) and apply it to both those whom we love and those whom we meet.
Radha Agrawal, CEO and co-founder of the sober dance party Daybreaker, has built a career around providing safe space for this kind of mindful community building. “Community,” says Radha, “is the backbone to all of our journeys toward wellness.” Without each other to lift one another up, our path can become mired in shadow—learning from others is as important as trusting our own intuition. “When we trust in our community, we learn from and teach each other to be well,” says Radha.
In today’s highly-politicized and polarized world, the idea of global wellness may seem like a pipe dream—but chances are you engage in practices that contribute to global wellness every day, in ways big and small. Do you toss your recycling into the correct container? Do you try to purchase food grown sustainably as often as possible? Do you take to the streets to protest when political policy doesn’t align with your personal compass? You’re engaging in global wellness. This pillar applies the policies of personal and social wellness and applies them outward: Off the mat, out of the studio, and into the world.
For Kerri Kelly, founder of CTZNWELL and wellness advocate and activist, the pillars go hand in hand. She believes that if you’re a person who is passionate about wellness, there’s both an “opportunity and a responsibility do the work on ourselves personally, of healing our wounds, and of taking responsibility for our privilege and power.” But for Kerri, it’s also about “engaging in the world and taking responsibility of the ways we work in our communities… also in the way we get political.” What’s the point of working toward wellness both within ourselves and interpersonally if we don’t learn how to bring those healing principles to the world at large?
Bringing it All Together
When we look at our bodies and minds, our community, and our environment, we begin to see the holistic makeup of the human experience. None of these exist in a vacuum. Only when we examine each as a unique component of an interdependent system can we truly begin to create a blueprint for a kind of care and love revolution that extends beyond bubble baths.
How do you work toward creating that blueprint? Not sure where to begin? No matter where you are on your journey, join us at Wellspring to come together with like-minded experts, students, leaders, organizers, and people passionate about wellness. Let’s create it together.
Lisette Cheresson is a writer, storyteller, yoga teacher, and adventuress who is an avid vagabond, homechef, dirt-collector, and dreamer. When she’s not playing with words, it’s a safe bet that she’s either hopping a plane, dancing, cooking, or hiking. She received her Level II Reiki Attunement and attended a 4-day intensive discourse with the Dalai Lama in India, and received her RYT200 in Brooklyn. She is currently the Director of Content at Wanderlust Festival. You can find her on Instagram @lisetteileen.