Reflecting on the Un-Wellness of Wellness Culture

WARNING: A lot of this post is personal reflection. If you aren’t feeling that today, save it for another time!

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A calming lavender photo. (C) Rosh Jaypalan

Culturally, wellness is marketed as a routine to mold your body, adjust your mind and pump you full of vitamins and nutrients. Wellness is bout living the good life- or at least looking like you are. Our cultures define how we see the world. This process happens early on in our development, and we don’t have say in it. One reason I love traveling is that it consistently challenges my worldview, and it ultimately makes me a better person.

Shoving 8 zucchinis, a pinch of spirulina and charcoal into your smoothie bowl will not make you a better person. It may even make you feel more stressed out about your life.

I lived in India for 10 weeks, working a contract job and required a lot of my attention. I was surprised that, despite my stressful and sometimes hectic schedule, I kept a really regular yoga practice. I also wasn’t obsessed with what I was eating- I tried to find a mindful balance. But I certainly wasn’t counting calories and weighing up the amount of macro minerals I should be consuming. And you know what? My body felt good. My mind felt good. And then I came home.

I immediately went to the grocery store and stocked up on produce, chia seeds, peanut butter, vegan yogurt, cereal, and almonds. I realized that I bought so much produce that I would need to strategize exactly how to use it without it rotting away in the kitchen. Enter: Stress over food due to too much choice.

I have to admit that I get a bit too intense about food. Green smoothies packed with spinach, chia, yogurt and fruit? Yep. Green soup pack with 7 veggies? Nailed it. Cookies made from chickpeas? I go there too! The bottom line is that I pay a lot of attention to what I put in my system- maybe too much attention. I realized that a great thing about living abroad is that I didn’t worry about food. I ate when I was hungry, and I made due with the choices I was given. Although I do love cooking, this lifted a huge amount of stress away from me deciding what I was going to eat and how much “wellness” I could pack into it. And the focus away from wellness, but rather on just living, made me feel more relaxed, focused and grounded. Life lesson: Exploring the culinary adventures that health food offers is great, but focusing too much on eating said healthy food is actually unhealthy. Release the obsession with “healthy” food, and eat moderately.

I also noticed that as soon as I came home, I began to generate “to-do” lists in my head. Suddenly, social events I was looking forward to and calls with friends seemed like chores. Why?

As I stepped back into my home culture, the expectations to be productive immediately stepped into my own mind. I realized that while traveling and living abroad, I was able to release this invisible cultural pressure of always looking busy, looking forward and being as productive as a robot on the factory line. I also realized that operating in this way sucks the joy out of what life is really about: people, love, connection, learning, and maintain relationships.

I also noticed that I preferred to do only one activity at a time, versus about five. At home, I often run while listening to music. When I came back, I observed a strong inclination to run without music. Just to run, enjoy the environment, and relax. I didn’t want to do two things at once: I just wanted to stay present in one.

Shoving 8 zucchinis, a pinch of spirulina and charcoal into your smoothie bowl will not make you a better person. It may even make you feel more stressed out about your life. Let’s be real here: we live in a competitive society, where appearance (physical and social) carry heavy weight. There is an underlying theme of looking busy, staying busy, and therefore somehow being successful. Planning ahead to the point of where your mind is consistently in the future and not in the present does do make you happy. Staying in the present, appreciating what is there, and ultimately releasing control over a situation is what made me feel happier. It just so happened that I had to travel to another culture to realize it.

Wellness culture and the culture of productivity are not the rules of life. Follow your own rules and find your balance.

 

So what if you aren’t traveling away and may have a hard time identifying these things?

Stay mindful, and be aware that culture is a powerful thing. Wellness culture and the culture of productivity are not the rules of life. Follow your own rules and find your balance.

Are you a traveler? What have you learned about yourself?