We are the sum of what we think, feel and do. These combined experiences make up our health profile. Every wisp of experience has an impact on our mind-body physiology. Our wellness is an active process of living a fully engaged life at every level of our being. It involves awakening to who we really are to fully engage the healing process.
Understanding authentic wellness is easier when we hone in on Pillars of Wellness, stress management practices meant to be experienced together for optimal well-being. Many wellness organizations, spas and practitioners have
their own versions of the Pillars of Wellness. At the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, we’re guided by Deepak Chopra’s version. Here is my adaptation, focusing on six pillars.
1 Mindfulness and Meditation
Studies on meditation and stress management show that those who practice mindfulness and meditate regularly develop less hypertension, heart disease, neurological disorders, anxiety and other stress-related illnesses.
Research shows that levels of telomerase— an enzyme that controls biological age— increases during meditation. Telomerase replenishes and repairs telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that protect our genes. Longer, intact telomeres equal greater longevity and health.
Lack of sleep disturbs our body’s ability to detoxify, repair and build new tissues. It is associated with cardiovascular disease, a weakened immune system, chronic inflammation, metabolic syndrome, neurologic disorders and even lower life expectancy. Sleep deprivation can fuel cravings, cause imbalanced blood sugar/insulin resistance and yes, even lead to diabetes. If you are experiencing trouble sleeping, assess your sleep hygiene, then work toward changing any sleep denigrating habits. Consult a sleep specialist if needed.
3 Nutrition, Nourishment and Digestion
The key to optimal nutrition is to eat fresh, organic, whole foods, while eliminating processed, refined foods, which are a major source of chronic inflammation, an underlying cause of many serious diseases.
What we eat can almost instantly change the population of our “gut microbiome,” made up of the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that live in our intestinal tract. These bacterial microorganisms are involved in functions necessary to your health and wellbeing.
4 Mindful Movement and Breathwork
The breath is one of the most important safeguards for our well-being, activating our vagus nerve and keeping us in the parasympathetic nervous system’s relax, digest, repair mode.
Benefits of regular mindful movement coupled with diaphragmatic breathing keeps the body feeling young and resilient. It releases stress, improves mood and boosts our brain’s cognitive function. Yoga is a fantastic choice. As you move through the flow of asanas/ postures, you are connecting the mind and the body through your conscious breathing. If you’ve been leading a sedentary life, start slowly. And confer with your physician.
5 Emotional Regulation
Our mind-body physiology is deeply affected by our moods and our emotions. When you feel fear or anxiety, your body responds with the fight-or-flight response, which raises your heart rate and increases the production of cortisol, adrenaline and other so-called stress hormones. Research also shows that emotions like love, joy and gratitude have the opposite effect.
Make a list of healthy emotions and then write down one activity/experience that expands that emotion in your life. Also consider keeping a gratitude journal. In a recent study, heart failure patients keeping a gratitude journal saw their inflammatory markers go down.
6 Tuning into Nature
The rhythms in nature are also in us. By connecting with the Earth, we can reset these rhythms, which is why a barefoot walk on the beach, the earth or the grass, can often have a positive effect on how we feel.
Earthing, grounding and forest bathing are all trending now, when so many are experiencing nature-deficit disorders. Studies show these practices can relieve stress and pain, decrease inflammatory markers, change gene expression, improve circulation and more.
We all have a biofield, which is an electromagnetic field. This electromagnetic energy surrounds us in nature: ultraviolet rays from the sun, discharges of electricity in the air during/after a storm, by a waterfall, or the ocean shore create negatively charged ions that flow into your body to neutralize free radicals you’ve accumulated from living in the modern world and recharge our energy. All you need
to do is take in the natural world as much as you can.