"Wellness" And "Health" Are Not The Same... Not Always, At Any Rate
On July 9, 2019, Maty Ezraty, a renowned Yoga teacher and co-founder of YogaWorks, passed away suddenly while teaching a class in Japan. She was only 55 years old. The cause of her death is unknown.
Even as someone who has been a keen observer of the world of wellness, and on the periphery of the world of Yoga, her passing has come as a shock to me. Given that there are no reports of any history of health issues, her untimely death has left many in the Yoga world shocked. After all, 55 is middle-age. Speculations and assumptions aside, her unexpected passing has left this writer contemplating on the remarkable difference between health and wellness.
For most of us, health and wellness go hand-in-hand: "health & wellness". We - and I have been guilty of it, too - believe that practices such as yoga and meditation, clean eating and deep breathing, is all there is to living a healthy life. Owing to the surge of wellness trends, escalated by avocado spreads and desi ghee replacing refined oils, the definition of 'health' has been lost in translation. While body awareness and mindfulness are non-negotiable skills for a wellness seeker, is it justified to regard them as credible enough to give insight into the inner workings of the body? Is "feeling healthy" the same as being healthy - biologically and psychologically, and not just spiritually?
Consider the case of Hot Yoga - a subtype of yoga inspired by Bikram Yoga which was started by the controversial Bikram Chaudhary. This style of yoga which is designed to emulate the climatic conditions of Kolkata, the hometown of its founder, has garnered much popularity, especially in the colder cities in western countries. What not too many know, though, about this fashionable practice, is that it poses the risk of stroke and injuries. Injuries are a part and parcel of any athletes life, and this includes yogis.
While athletic fitness practices have been brought to the mainstream in the last few years, whether that's Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga, or deadlifts and sprints, or HIIT, there has not been enough focus on educating fitness enthusiasts about the significant gap between 'health' and 'wellness'.
In simple terms, then, wellness is what makes you feel good - a yoga session, a massage session, a run, a swim, maybe even the pumped up feeling after you lift weights; to each their own. Wellness is the "feel good" factor of these activities. Health, on the other hand, is your medical state, whether that's based on modern medicine, or traditional or eastern medicine. Health is quantifiable by tests and numbers.
Health and wellness often intersect - a work out session will likely make you feel good, and also, improve your medical health measurable by metrics such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, lung capacity, so on and so forth.
That said, to assume that one guarantees the other is a grave mistake. Consider the case of my friend, Vee, whose blood pressure shot up after a session of Kapalbhati and Suryanamaskars, two practices considered to be the holy grail of yoga. If these practices are so revered, then why did they not work for my friend? Because she suffers from hypertension, and both Kapalbhati and Suryanamaskar tend to increase blood pressure. Similarly, for someone with a week knee and inflexible hips, Padmasana, or the lotus pose, considered by many as the epitome of meditative state, can exacerbate discomfort, and even cause knee injury.
While it is wonderful that wellness practices are finding their way into the daily lives of many people, it is important to keep in mind that "one-size-fits-all" is not the mantra to follow in your wellness journey.
The same can be said for food - a vegan diet may be great, but may not work for everyone; plant-based diet is coveted for many reasons, but may not offer enough protein; fruits are excellent foods to include in one's diet, but what of fruits that have high sugar content?
Again, figuring out what kind of a diet would work best for someone mandates a health checkup. What is your goal? To cut down cholesterol? To increase your protein intake? To keep your sugar levels in check? How will you know if you don't also pay attention to your health, and not just wellness?
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