The Ways to Wellness
How to be your best self
Illustrations by Chad Crowe
Advice about health and fitness is everywhere. Increasingly, the same is true for a new-old buzzword, wellness. Some of it is straightforward and full of moderate common sense, while some of it is a big bucket of balderdash with a sprinkle of silliness on top. Things become a little more complex when asked the question, “What makes a person well?” It’s a balancing act, and it’s multi-dimensional and inter-related.
There are six official dimensions of wellness set forth by Dr. Bill Hettler, a co-founder of the National Wellness Institute (NWI): emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual and spiritual. When they are correctly managed, a person feels content, calm and happy. According to the NWI, wellness is a “conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. Wellness is positive and affirming.”
Fortunately, none of it is rocket science, and most of it requires nothing but a little focus, self-awareness and consistency.
Admittedly, emotional wellness can be complicated. In many instances, brain chemistry goes awry, but counseling combined with medication can provide relief. In other cases, working to reduce stress and modify the way we react to stress can make life nicer. Integris Medical Center takes a less-traditional approach to helping people emotionally, which, in turn, helps them physically – by employing meditation, exercise and ancient techniques such as acupuncture, along with offering lectures and classes.
Molly Ross Fuhrman, executive director for Integris’ James L. Hall Center for Mind, Body and Spirit, has a favorite motto: Where the mind goes, the body will follow. “Nothing is exclusive. Every piece works together. That’s what we teach people here. We’ve found, through offering classes and lectures about different mind-body modalities, that people are craving these practices and this information,” she says.
“At the center, we provide educational opportunities and a resource center that is open to the public. Our goal is to offer people the tools to become empowered in the way they interact with, and react to, situations in their lives that are difficult or stressful. Studies show that 80 percent of hospital visits have a stress-related component.
“Our theme this year is resiliency. Our Women’s Health Forum, which we do in October, is focused on fostering resilience. It’s hardiness, grit or the will to survive,” she says. “Resilient people have the ability to bounce back from adversity. How we respond to adversity is something we do have control over. Resilient people also heal faster, both physically and mentally.”
Less traditional modalities for managing our mental states are explored in monthly lectures and classes at the center. Topics range from meditation and reflexology to integrative medicine, yoga and essential oils.
Being happy or unhappy at work will affect all of the other parts of your life. That’s the view of James Farris, founder of James Farris Associates, an HR consulting, search and outplacement firm in Oklahoma City.
“If you don’t enjoy your work, that’s a red flag. That flag becomes a brighter red when you find yourself not even wanting to go to work. The next thing that occurs, generally, is that you’ll start to bring those problems home, and that will start infecting your relationships,” Farris says. “People will stick with a job out of fear of the unknown, or for the benefits or because of a good salary. However, unhappiness on the job will affect job performance.” In turn, that can lead to the ultimate kick in the pants: being fired from a job you hate.
Over the decades, Farris has helped thousands of people reimagine and reinvent their work lives, which often also transforms their personal lives. His approach is equal parts compassion and “suck it up, buttercup.” He has a message for people paralyzed by fear, while mired in a lackluster job: “When you choose not to decide to make a change or explore your options, you have made a decision. Failing to decide to leave is deciding to stay.
“A big part of what I do is to help people understand that they have options, and that all of the skills and qualities that got them the job they have still exist – and there is another organization that needs them,” Farris says. “The odds are immensely favorable. In all my years of doing this, I’d say more than 85 percent of the people I’ve worked with have come out ahead. That may not mean you are making more money immediately, but what that does mean is that you are more in control and feel happier.”
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times. Eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep. That’s because the health benefits of doing those three simple but unsexy things are unparalleled. “Good sleep reduces the risk for developing some medical problems, specifically coronary heart problems, hypertension and diabetes, to name a few,” says Dr. Elwood Williams Jr., sleep medicine specialist.
Williams runs the Oklahoma Sleep Institute Clinic in OKC, and explains that poor or insufficient sleep can also lead to decreased cognitive function, obesity and issues with memory or mood. “The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was associated with sleep deprivation, and so was the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” Williams says.
Most people need six to eight hours a night. “I’ve met very few people who can get by with fewer than six hours a night, and usually when they say they can, they’re proven wrong in a sleep study,” Williams says. Sleep science wasn’t even a thing until a few decades ago, and there are still mysteries about exactly what happens during REM sleep. “Before the 1960s, it was thought that the most important functions of the body happened during the day, but it’s not the case.”
Scott Bartel, head chef at Provision Kitchen, the fast-healthy spot in Nichols Hills Plaza, is also a yoga instructor with a growing and loyal following, teaching at This Land Yoga, Hidden Dragon Yoga and Yoga Theorem. “Health-forward food choices will make you feel better in the moment, and will also improve your health in the long run,” he says.
“Ideally, we should eat a green vegetable at every meal. We are adults, we can do that. Easy, fast, go-to meals at my house include a protein, a starch and a vegetable. Simply prepared pasture-raised, organic chicken, grass-fed beef or fish, plus a grain, plus a green vegetable. Roast your vegetables on a sheet pan.
When you do, use the smallest possible drizzle of oil on the pan and toss the vegetables with your hands to coat them evenly,” Bartel says. Make your week smoother by roasting a big batch on Sunday and pairing with meals through the week, he suggested, adding that a teaspoon of oil will work in any recipe that asks for a tablespoon.
If improving your diet seems daunting, Bartel suggests using a meal delivery service such as Purple Carrot, or ordering healthy meals from a local eatery. “I use a meal service myself, and I am a chef. It’s a great way to take the shopping and planning off of your to-do list. The key to making it work for me is to do all the chopping and prep at once,” he says. “I get my boxes on Tuesdays, and so on Tuesday evening I go through the recipes and prep, so when I am ready to cook, it’s all ready. Doing this also greatly improves the probability that my husband will cook. For easy, healthy lunches, we offer grab-and-go meals at Provision Kitchen, which you can buy for the week, and then you don’t even have to think about it, you know you’ve got healthy meals ready to go.”
Bartel is also a huge proponent of exercise, especially yoga. He and his husband, Braden Hisey, moved back to their home state of Oklahoma a few years ago, and Bartel decided to make some changes. He altered his career path completely, and loves that his work is all about helping people be healthier and feel better. “I took my first yoga class three years ago. A year ago, I started teaching,” he says. “Now, yoga is the only exercise I do. Before, I ran and lifted weights, which is fine, but yoga gave me a different perspective. All of my training became useful.”
Yoga is considered to be a functional exercise; that means it’s designed to produce the most enhanced version of yourself by gradually increasing your natural abilities. To put it another way, you’ll be able to reach for a can on a high shelf, get up and down off the floor and have better balance as you age when you do things that work your body like yoga does.
“I have students of every age, every fitness level and every body type in my classes,” Bartel says. “I tell everyone this about yoga, which can be intimidating for some at first: As long as you are breathing, you are doing everything right. I don’t care if you lie on your back and breathe for the entire class, you’d be doing it right. Everything else will come.”
There is an organization in Oklahoma entirely dedicated to celebrating the life of the mind, which it has been doing since the 1960s. It’s called Oklahoma Humanities, and the intellectual wellness of everyone in our state is its concern.
Ann Thompson, its “new” executive director, has been on the job since 2005. She is only the third in the agency’s five decades, and as she shares some of the language from the 1965 document authorizing the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanities, it’s clear that the findings outlined within it are as relevant today as they ever were – maybe more so. Articles 1-4 ring especially true: The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.
The encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the humanities and arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative, are also appropriate matters of concern for the federal government.
An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present and a better view of the future.
Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.
Oklahoma ranks 42nd in the nation for the share of its population with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The Oklahoma Humanities Council brings its programming – which includes reading-and-discussion groups and exhibits produced by the agency – as well as its its grants, which allow communities to dream up their own humanities programming, to all the far-flung (and near-flung) reaches of our state.
“Reading, or exploring humanities programming, matters because those things improve the quality of life for the individual,” Thompson says. “They are enriching. People feel that they are a part of the larger human experience, and by association become more reflective of their lives. People say things to us constantly after our reading program like, ‘I felt I was alone until I read that book,’ and that kind of connection just makes people happier.”
The other important things that happen when people engage in the sharing of thoughts and ideas are heightened civility, empathy and tolerance. Again, the more the merrier.
The takeaway? Join a book club, attend a lecture or just read. Like you are now.
Scott Bartel’s Top Three Reasons to Try Yoga
It’s beneficial for your mind. The No. 1 rule in yoga is to breathe. Remembering to breathe is helpful on and off your mat. If you take a few deep breaths while sitting at your desk, that’s yoga.
Yoga helps us feel our power. The movements of yoga, called asanas, take our breath and pair the inhales and exhales with movement. This allows us to literally open up to the world. Our hips open, our shoulders open and we breathe power into our bodies.
If you do other sports, yoga will make you better at them. If you run, for example, yoga is a great addition because it will help loosen up the hamstrings, which shorten and tighten while running. If you like to lift weights, yoga will enhance your flexibility and give you better balance.
►Try Something New
Looking to up your grit game? Attend an upcoming free lecture at the James L. Hall Jr. Center for Mind, Body & Spirit at Integris. View the entire calendar at integrisok.com/mbs.
July 24, 6 p.m.
Ellen Mercer will lead the group in learning about the fun, innovative wellness and resilience tool dubbed Laughter Yoga. This practice incorporates a technique called intentional laughing, which when combined with breathing exercises will oxygenate the body, move your muscles, alleviate stress and boost your intrinsic joy. Bold claims! This will be followed by a six-week laughter yoga workshop beginning in August.
Aug. 28, 6 p.m.
An Evening of Acupuncture
Led by Seneca Dewbre, MAOM, L.Ac., this event explores one of the oldest, most common medical practices in the world. Based on ancient Chinese medicine dating back thousands of years, acupuncture has been used to diagnose, treat and prevent illnesses. In conjunction with standard Western medicine practices, acupuncture can help maximize the effectiveness of medicine and reduce potential side effects.
Social wellness is the ability to interact with people around you. It involves using good communications skills, having meaningful relationships, respecting yourself and others and creating a support system that includes family members and friends.
Bob Spinks, Ed.D., is the director of the nonprofit leadership program, and professor of sociology and justice studies, at Oklahoma City University. Before that, he was the president and chief executive officer for United Way of Central Oklahoma, and before that he served as executive director of the Community Council of Central Oklahoma, the regional research and planning organization for the nonprofit community. He also worked for the Boy Scouts for years.
All of which is to say that this man has made a career out of bettering Oklahomans’ lives, and he believes unequivocally that social wellness is crucial to the well-being of individuals, and by extension, communities. “Social wellness is a person’s framework,” Spinks says. “Wellness used to be thought of as just medical. Now we know that there are many factors that, together, equal a well person. One of those is having people and social structures in your life.”
For some, a social network starts with their family. For others, it may be church or nonprofit work, perhaps work colleagues. People whose social networks – meaning actual, in-person interactions – are robust and healthier, mentally and physically, than those whose are less robust.
“Volunteering is an excellent way to interact with a group of people with similar interests, and it also helps our nonprofits, many of whom struggle to provide programming which is designed to make our lives, social and otherwise, healthier and happier,” Spinks says.
On the whole, Spinks thinks our social wellness is on the decline. “I don’t think it’s any one thing, but a variety. You walk into any restaurant, and whole families or groups of people are sitting at the same table, but nobody is interacting. They are looking at their phones. Some of the institutions that used to be our social anchors are also in decline. Church attendance is down. Houses aren’t built with front porches, which means you’re less likely to chat with your neighbor,” he says. “The benefits of social relationships, in addition to making life more pleasant, are that you gain empathy and concern for others.”
Rabbi Vered L. Harris, who became the spiritual leader of Oklahoma City’s Temple B’Nai Israel in 2012, defines spiritual wellness this way: “It’s an internal wholeness. Religion and spirituality are different. Religion is the system, the action we take according to our beliefs. Religions have, almost, a checklist. When you do them regularly, you are practicing the religion. Spirituality is the intention we put into our practice, the goal of which is to access that which is bigger than ourselves. Spiritual wellness means having the intention of justice, mercy and love.”
Harris’ rabbinical path was born of a natural curiosity. Her undergraduate degree from California State University, Northridge, was in liberal studies with a focus on the ethnic child, and a minor in Jewish studies. “I was finishing college, and had decided to go to grad school to pursue Jewish studies. It was during my senior year of college when I realized I wanted to learn what rabbis know, and as I was finishing my master’s degree work, I figured out that I would be ordained,” she says.
She received her master’s degree in Hebrew Letters and her rabbinic ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), and her Master of Arts degree in Jewish education from the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at HUC-JIR. In 2002, Rabbi Harris was awarded the title of Reform Jewish Educator from the National Association of Temple Educators. Before coming to Oklahoma City, Harris spent 12 years as the education rabbi at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, Kansas.
Her joyful, curious nature is evident in the way she ponders and answers questions. She laughs as she thinks, and patiently brings all of her answers back to the concept she believes to be key to achieving spiritual wellness, regardless of an individual’s religion. It comes down to one concept: intention.
“To me, it is an intentionality that goes outside myself. I can work on my mental, or intellectual, wellness because it’s good for me, in an internal way. I can work on my physical wellness, which is also good for me. The difference is that spiritual wellness connects me to a power and a greatness that is outside myself, which is good for me, but because of that external connection, it allows me to remain calm and compassionate,” she says. “Intentional people tend to be the most at peace with themselves, and live their lives calmly and with humility.”
Rabbi Harris’ Top Three Tips for Maintaining Spiritual Wellness
Develop a daily practice of prayer or intentional words and thoughts to connect yourself to something bigger, whether you call it God or something else. Listen for the voice of the eternal while you are in stillness. In Judaism, there are traditional morning prayers, first thing in the morning, before eating breakfast.
Find the thing that reminds you that you are connected to something larger than yourself. For some, it’s religion. For others, it’s running, studying, being in nature or yoga. While doing these things, add the intention of connecting. You could start by saying to yourself, “may this be for all the right reasons.”
Try to have courage in being humble. When we truly believe in something bigger, we must have the courage to allow ourselves to be humble before God. Rabbi Mark Borovitz, who heads up the Los Angeles based Beit T’Shuvah residential addiction and treatment center, calls this being “right sized.” That means to not make yourself so small that you lose a sense of self-worth, while also not becoming so big that you take up more space than you are due. Be as bold as you are worthy and as humble as you should be. “Women especially tend to diminish or demure from our worth. Remember that there is a right size,” Harris says.
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