Updated: Jun 2, 2019
It has no true definition.
It's relative, fluid, subjective. Wellness one day may mean hitting it hard on a bike ride, and another day it may mean laying on the couch all day being lazy. Wellness is about taking true care of yourself in any given moment, and in order to do that, we have to learn to listen to our bodies.
Joe and I have been watching a lot of Cesar 911 recently as we prepare to adopt a dog. If you've never seen the show, expert dog trainer Cesar Millan goes to the homes of people with problem pups to help correct the dog's behavior issues. The fascinating thing is that 100% of the time, the "problem behavior" of the dog is actually caused by a problem behavior of the human.
For example, when Cesar encounters an aggressive dog, he sees the human pulling hard on the leash. He's nervous and usually positioned behind his dog. Cesar takes control, giving the pup a firm tap or pulling sharply on his collar just for a second to snap the dog out of it. He stresses to the owner that the dog can feel the tension from the leash when it's taught and can sense the owner's nervous energy, causing him to respond defensively.
Two things strike me about this.
1) Dogs are so much more intuitive than we give them credit for. We may feel most connected to them when they look us in the eye, but in reality they are always sensing and responding to our energy, even when they're not looking at us. (Are we so different?)
2) His lessons usually take some reiteration because the human has no idea they're exhibiting these behaviors. They see Cesar instantly change the dog's behavior and think he's some kind of magician.
We're hugely unaware of our behavior so much of the time, meaning we're unaware of how we're projecting onto others. And if we're not aware of all that, how can we possibly be aware of what we're communicating to ourselves?
I love dogs not just because they're cute and playful and I can win their affection with treats, but also because they just exist. Their entire lives center around their wellness in the present moment. Doggo's tired? He takes a nap. Doggo's hot? He lays down and pants in the shade. Doggo feels like his owner is threatened? He lunges at the threat and barks like crazy.
There's no pretense, no post-action analysis of whether he did the right thing or barked the right way. He's living in each present moment.
As one of my yoga teachers often says, "Do downward dog like a dog waking up from a nap. He doesn't think about the pose, he doesn't care about the pose. And most importantly, he doesn't compare himself to other dogs doing the pose." This gets a laugh every time because it's such an absurd image. Can you imagine Frank the Lab looking and Lulu the Schnauzer and thinking, "How come her heels are all the way down and mine are so high off the ground?"
I think making the decision to do what's best for ourselves follows the same principle: we have to disconnect from judgement (including comparing ourselves to what everyone else is doing) and focus internally. For me, that means putting the phone away and doing some kind of stretch to check in with how my body is feeling. If my sacrum is feeling a little unstable, my body wants to stop sitting and move around or work standing up for a while. If my spine feels stiff, my body is craving a yoga class.
Admittedly, I find these decisions much easier to make than ones that benefit my mental wellness. I can be kind of an asshole to myself sometimes.... Even when I know full well that journaling will make me feel less anxious, sometimes I make the conscious decision to not do it.
Why?! Why on earth would I not do the thing that will instantly make me feel better?!
I may never know. But the point is that I've learned to listen to myself well enough to identify when and why I'm feeling anxious. And I know I have it in my power to change my state.
Actually doing the action that facilitates that change is another challenge for another day. And maybe another dog analogy.