Finding Wellness around the Globe

Jana Stará

There are many ways to sustainability, some of them shorter, some longer. My journey towards wellness took me through several continents, hundreds of books and years of research. Have I arrived yet?

Wellness is an holistic concept of human functioning and flourishing. The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence. As such, the concept is being applied in individual work as well as in families, communities, workplaces and companies, encompassing the overall well-being of a planet. Practices of wellness promotion are grounded in self-determination, person-centred care, authentic relationships and collaboration. For further reference visit the works of John Travis, Donald Ardell, Bill Hettler, Michael Arloski and the numbers of practitioners who have followed their work.

Being a university student of Physical Education and a semi-professional sports woman in the Czech Republic, at times I thought I had understood, learnt about and lived the healthy lifestyle. I had (more than) enough physical activity, the canteen offered averagely nutritious meals and my days were filled with classes, part-time jobs and daily routines with life in the city in the heart of Europe.

I’d been introduced to wellness at the beginning of my master studies when I was abroad in Denmark, for a semester in Gerlev Idraetshojskole. This boarding school had a creative study plan filled with 5-7 hours of movement daily, and many hours of other mainly social programs and activities. Little did I know about the country being supposedly one of the happiest on Earth until the school decided to put this message across to their students. But… I struggled. It was difficult to be playing games all the time, sitting in “family groups” and talking, singing songs in morning assembly, being social in endless activities organized by/for students. It was nothing like my adult life at university, where I could “just” participate in classes, get things done and then go home. Here I had to be joyful.

It was in one morning class I remember clearly, when the headmaster of the school asked us, “What is wellness?” Pathetically enough, this question changed my life. My personal answer was about spa and massage which is the typical European understanding of the term, but that day, I discovered that wellness is rather about the innate joy of living fully in our days.

I discovered that wellness is rather about the innate joy of living fully in our days.

I ended up reading the Wellness Workbook from start to finish and I loved it. I decided to write my master thesis about it, the second thesis also, and finally extended it towards a dissertation research. All this with the intention to understand the concept which I’d never heard of before, and which seemed so distant from the lived and promoted lifestyles I saw around me. I loved the wellness ideas and after some time, I understood the methodologies and reasons why the Danish school worked the way it did. Still, I was leaving my semester there with heavy feelings, yet, I had a strong dedication to live and be well, to figure a way how to achieve it.

Although my personal journey to wellness started in the mind, it was my body who taught me the second lesson. There would be times when I found myself writing my thesis with deep excitement about the topic, but had a strong pain in my back after hours of sitting by my computer. So as a sports person, I would compensate for this sedentary habit by going out running, but as a consequence would end up in bed physically exhausted by the end of the day. Nevertheless I loved it. I seemed to master all the recommendations about living healthily, being effective, following my passions, and at times I would truly feel that excess of joy. Yai! But for most of the time my body would be tired and unwell – I was apparently facing towards the Illness end of the wellness spectrum (see work of John Travis).

I ended up in Turkey for another semester abroad to create some space for work on the theoretical concept of my research. Little did I know that in Turkey I was about to get another life lesson, taught by practice. The lifestyle in that country was (and still is) culturally, socially, politically and spiritually very distant from how people live in central Europe. Moreover, shortly before my arrival, Turkey entered war with Syria and I was worried that such a situation threatened one of the basic needs for security for its people, including me for the given time.

I learnt that in every culture and every country, people have a similar wish. A wish to live a healthy, joyful and satisfying life.

You can only imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the contrary. Months of time there taught me the deepest lessons in the Turkish way of wellness – the tradition of Hamam, taking time to drink tea and reading the future from a coffee cup, slowly savouring every moment with all senses and appreciating life for what it is now. Definitely I didn’t get my ten-thousand steps every day, and eating kebab with ayran daily might not be the most balanced diet, but I never ate in a hurry, always in great company with friends, and that for sure made some deeper parts of me feel incredibly peaceful and more healthy.

That was at the time that I started to realize the profound impact of environment on one’s wellness. From Turkey I moved to Wisconsin, living this cultural shift now imprinted into my days and research. The American approach to wellness and life is a great teacher in conceptualizing and wording topics that in my own culture very often remain unspoken or unrecognized, or just labeled as “weird.” Topics such as emotions, feelings, needs, beliefs, relationships, meditation, silence, nature and many other “softy” subjects. I also learnt that even though wellness in the USA exists, has been studied and practiced for over 40 years, it is still challenging for Americans to live well.

So did I find my own wellness there? In the birthplace of the wellness concept, with all the precious books in local library and loving hosts who had me in their home? I did and I didn’t. I finished the research, concluding that both for American and Czech university students, health means physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being and that the most overlooked dimension is our social health. Data supported my personal conclusion. I felt super-satisfied with the research but deeply lonely on the other end of the planet, far from my family, my partner, my friends, my land, my culture, my future. So, I packed all my learnings and headed back home, finally ready to land, root and practice what I have learnt about the healthy life(style).

Along this wellness journey of mine – which is still unfinished and continues with every new place I visit – I learnt that in every culture and every country, people have a similar wish. A wish to live a healthy, joyful and satisfying life. Each culture has its own recipes for achieving it, every country very different resources to use, different history and many challenges to overcome. Yet if its people are/were feeling well, they do/would treat each other, their families, their guests and the world around them, with kindness.

This is the world I wish to live in.

1. Can you list 4-5 habits or activities that make your days joyful and satisfying?

2. Reflect on the dimensions of health - physical, mental, social and spiritual. Which one of them might need a bit more care for you to feel more well?

3. Is there anything you could do for your friend(s) or community? Do it.

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Inner Pathways
Innovative approaches in learning for Sustainability
Pandora Association Hungary, Budapest, Sasvár utca 99/c.

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