What Letting Go of ‘Wellness’ Talk Did for Me

Quite recently, I realized that my life over the past two seasons has been positively void of something. There have been no talks of cleanses, fasts, hype workouts, programs, or other touted means of slimming, boosting, de-aging, toning, or all-around just “bettering” the human form. These conversations have come to a halt.

This is, of course, because of our limited ability to see people face-to-face. The need to social distance has required unprecedented change for the generations of now. A drastic chasm breaking our lives into two chapters—before-pandemic and during-pandemic. There have been grave losses because of it, on individual, society, and global levels. But there have also been revelations. For me, the lack of hyped wellness talk has been one.

These conversations used to come up everywhere. At lunch. Dinner. Meetings. Train rides. I couldn’t escape them. My friends and colleagues couldn’t escape them. It almost seemed, at times, that these words had to be spoken, and these protocols had to be considered—all in the name of being a wellness-focused woman today.

 

I voluntarily followed some of these diets and added to the conversations. I would tear myself apart with others. I’d go on about the pounds I couldn’t shed. How I often felt tired. And when some sparkling fad came along—The unicorn diet! All you do is think about rainbows for five days and you lose twenty pounds!—I would try it. Inevitably, every regimen would close with the same deep resentment. A depression over the hours lost and nothing gained. It was a vicious and sometimes violent cycle.

These conversations are unhealthy. I’ve always known this. Based on society conditioning us to despise our bodies, and capitalism’s call to get us to continuously desire things we don’t need, they don’t truly serve us. And being someone who lives with an eating disorder, I knew ever more clearly, that it wasn’t bettering my life to treat my body like a ping pong ball, tossing it back and forth at the whim of “wellness.”

This understanding is what led me to the most thorough shift in how I approach my wellness. After years and years of playing Tetris with my body, trying to fit it into other people’s molds, I had enough. My eating disorder was taking over and I was tired. I had always been curious about Ayurveda, about the holistic science that has been in existence for millennia. Ayurveda seemed warm and doable, like a hug after a good cry. Determined to learn more, and to make a perceptible change, I emailed Sheila at Rasa Veda Healing.  

What ensued was a waterfall of wisdom. Sheila showed me possibility. She opened the world of Ayurveda to me and along with it came a realization: I didn’t need to keep doing what I was doing, running up and breaking myself against a metaphorical brick wall. I could have joy with food, heal with herbs, and truly be well in the sense that you’re giving your body what it needs, not taking from it.

Ayurveda has been around for more than 5000 years, but it has seen a sort of Renaissance in the modern lexicon. Maybe this is because people—mostly women, I am guessing—are starting to question the systems that have for so long damaged and depleted us. Maybe we’re starting to really see how some ideas, fasts, protocols, and fads aren’t designed to help but rather to exploit us, so we keep coming back for more. Maybe we’re seeing how life and all its challenges and inequitableness, and beauty and potential requires us to be strong and nourished by real food and supportive thoughts.

I had sought counsel about my eating disorder and yearning for wellness before, but every well-intentioned therapist told me the same thing: You need to re-frame your relationship with food. That was fair and true, but it didn’t help me. Sheila had a different approach. She talked first about taking care of my heart and mind, and about honoring my soul. She grounded me fresh Triphala and other beautiful herbs, and gave me Ayurvedic elixirs to rub into my skin. She listened to my past and inquired about how I was feeling. The onus wasn’t on ridding the eating disorder, it was on embracing what made me feel good and whole. From there, eventually, I would learn to shed the things that weren’t serving me.

Now, well over a year into practicing Ayurveda, I feel stable. I feel steady on my two feet. I feel free and genuinely okay. I don’t worry about restricting things here so I can indulge over there. I listen to how I feel, I eat the foods that are complementary to my constitution, and I generally don’t obsess. Some days, when I am stressed or anxious, I do fixate on something—a few pounds, an extra few pieces of chocolate I ate, a celebrity photo making me feel less than. And that’s okay. I let it go. Sometimes it takes longer to do so than others, and that is okay. But ultimately, I let it go. Ayurveda has helped me to stop putting any moral value on a wellness image or certain foods. I value the things that make me feel like myself. Whole and steady.

There is also a beautiful, malleable ritual component to Ayurveda. Our world needs more rituals. Rather than vapid, fleeting, intense blasts of protocols that last two weeks, a steady practice of herbs and movement and touch is more alluring—and way kinder. When I feel down on myself, I will take an extra few minutes to give myself a self-massage. The raw experience of stretching and squeezing your muscles and skin is a reminder of the wonder of what our bodies do for us every day. Or if I feel tired, depleted, overworked, I’ll take extra time to run the Kansa Wand over my face, its cooling copper helps to drain the lymph and relieve puffiness. I can’t lie and say these acts instantly make me love every curve and detail of my body. That would be a falsity. But they do quickly remind me to respect my body, and to know that it is all I have to shepherd me through this world. My body is not a commodity for others to define. It is mine, and it is up to me to care for it. That, in itself, leads me to love it more.

I believe we need to fight back against these stories that we’ve been told. What has been and continues to be marketed as “wellness” really isn’t wellness at all. It is a cacophony of patriarchal standards, of limiting ideas against which we contort and hurt ourselves. As an able-bodied White woman privileged with health and access to “wellness,” my pain of not feeling enough is absolutely nothing compared to the pain that other women from marginalized communities experience. The idea of wellness caters to those who are privileged. This is wrong. Unjust. Every person deserves access to wellness. It is, and should be, accessible to all.

For these reasons, I have grown to not only love Ayurveda, but to also deeply respect the practice. It is equitable and unbiased. The entry point is personal and unique to everyone. It can come from seeking counsel from a practitioner, garnering inspiration from an Ayurvedic kit, or reading about its origins from a book. Or it can start with a moment of silence and listening to your body. Whatever feels right is the right place to start. Unlike mainstream wellness protocols, programs, fasts, and diets, which often can make women feel as though they are not capable conductors of their own health and lives, Ayurveda allows us to trust ourselves. Only we know what is best for us. Only I know what is best for myself.

Which is why I am happy that I have not heard all the wellness chatter these last few months. I didn’t realize until now how the talk of wellness was still affecting me. I have done a lot of meaningful work, but I still needed some quiet, a little reprieve, to understand that my decisions are enough. Perhaps when we are able to quite casually all gather in person again, when we can sit in large(ish) groups and chat, we can rid the talk of deprivation and protocols and hacks. Instead, we can talk about other things—our health, our need for inclusivity, our ability to transcend, our resilience, kindness, how we can embrace more folly and fun.

This may seem like a subtle shift, but, in truth, it will be a giant act of wellness in the truest sense.  

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