Wellness & Inclusion: Is wellness the new members only club?

We are more knowledgeable and diligent about caring for our minds, bodies, and spirits. However, the commercialization of health and wellness has inadvertently excluded many communities - leading to a lack of diversity in representation and limited access for those that may need it most. How do we get back to basics and reclaim the true essence of wellness?

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As we move beyond the summer solstice, thoughts of outdoor fun, making time to relax and rejuvenate, and holding gatherings with family and friends fill my imagination (and even my calendar!). However, I’m still enmeshed in an internal conversation about the themes I’ve recently explored in my work and in my writing – how the wellness industry can be so exclusive and what this means for all kinds of communities.

My younger daughter attended a college that, among its many wonderful features, had several-day breaks every month during which students were encouraged to travel, explore nature, volunteer, and hit reset in whatever way made sense. This is great…if you can afford it and if you were brought up to value these things. What about students without the resources (financial and otherwise) to take advantage of this opportunity? Doesn’t feel very inclusive, and actually could be rather stressful and the source of feeling less-than. Ditto all the focus on self-care right now, with an emphasis on taking time and treating oneself to lovely mind/body therapies. While I love all of these things, it strikes me as something available to those of us with the time, funds, seniority, and access to such wonderful comforts.

As I noted in my conversation with the CNN Health reporter (Does GOOP need science when it has Gwyneth Paltrow?”) it is worrisome when we conflate wellness with spending money. The basic principles and tenets of wellness are, by nature, accessible to everyone. Access to the tools needed to live a healthy life is, in my opinion, a human right. However, the explosive growth of the wellness industry and the commercialization of health (in general) have created an environment where the prevailing philosophy is that we can buy whatever we need to make ourselves feel good, supported and whole. It’s imperative that we resist the trends that paint an image of exclusivity – marginalizing those with lesser means or different values – and take intentional steps to remind ourselves of the countless ways we ALL can participate in healthier living.

So, as summer dawns, below are a couple of my favorite FREE (or almost free) things to do to support physical and mental health, commune with nature and people, and build a deep sense of peace and an abundance of energy:

  • Attend a free concert in your town. They’re everywhere, and all you need is a blanket, food from the fridge and the cooperation of the weather gods.
  • Organize a pot-luck picnic (another clean out the icebox opportunity!) and use it as an opportunity to play games (Games R Us), share stories, or gaze at constellations.
  • Stop by the side of the road and pick wildflowers (just don’t say I sent you)
  • Swim in a lake, river or pond. State parks are ideal places to find great watering holes if you can’t find one off the beaten path – literally – and generally have only a small parking or facility fee (bathrooms!)
  • Make facial masks, hair masks, body scrubs and sachets of fruits, vegetables and herbs you can find at the farmers’ market, the local deli or your yard.
  • Look for community theater activities – Shakespeare in the Park, the garage, the abandoned lot…
  • Read a library book. Heck, read a stack.
  • Hike. Anywhere.
  • Make ice pops from any beverage, adult or otherwise. Share, or don’t.
  • Attend a ranger talk at a local wildlife center or government park.
  • Invite friends over and have a karaoke night of camp or childhood favorite songs.

And, while we’re at it, see if you might include people who you don’t generally hang out with – new friends, neighbors, colleagues. Celebrate what they offer to the mix: the sun is out for a while, and we have wonderful opportunities to expand our horizons!

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