How to succeed at wellness without really trying

By Christine Schuster Special to The Bridge

At the start of many yoga classes, the instructor often suggests that students set an intention for the practice: a positive goal – big or small – on which to focus and carry through practice and the rest of the day. It is a way of strengthening the mind-body connection. 

The beginning of a new year is a time that many people use as a starting point for their goals, resolving to make positive lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising more and eating better. Resolutions, however, often set us up for failure and/or guilt when we break them or don’t achieve the desired results. It can be frustrating. Even worse, something that started out positively may have unintended negative consequences.   

We are, as health care providers and as a society, more aware than ever of the importance of self-care, mental health and the significance of the mind-body connection. It is important to recognize that wellness is not a one-size-fits-all concept, and the path we follow to achieve wellness is unique to each one of us.

At Emerson Hospital’s Steinberg Wellness Center for Mind and Body, we see this recognition reflected in the increasing popularity of complementary and alternative medicine programming such as the gentle martial arts of Tai-Chi and Qigong (pronounced “chee guhng”), “Freedom from Emotional Eating” workshops and “DizzyFit” classes to improve balance and mobility and reduce the risk of falls. The demand for these activities, as well as others like yoga, nutrition and exercise, or grief management, tell us that people are looking for natural ways to get fit, reduce stress and gain control of their health.

But how do you find something that works, and then stick to it? First of all, forget the resolutions. Consider instead ways to set yourself up for success in 2023 by setting intentions to focus on and achieve. Here are four tips on finding your unique path to wellness in the new year:  

Choose something new. There’s more to exercise than going for a run or riding an exercise bike and there’s more to dieting than eating less. Dancing is exercise. Yoga is exercise. Qigong is exercise. If it makes you move and makes you feel good, it is contributing to your health and wellness. Community organizations like ours are offering a wider choice of activities and programs than ever, and many are designed to be inclusive of people of all abilities and levels. Some are designed specifically for people with limited mobility or other challenges to increase accessibility and participation. Many activities are also offered virtually, making it easy to try something new in the privacy of your own home or to participate even when you can’t make it to the studio.

Make a connection. After nearly three years of varying degrees of social distancing and isolation, people are telling us they want to be together. Whether it is being a part of a group, taking a regular class with a friend or forging a bond with a specific instructor, the social connection can be a major factor in sticking with an activity or program to meet your wellness goals.      

Redefine “success.” Consider: You take a nutrition and exercise workshop or try acupuncture to help you lose weight. You don’t shed any pounds, but maybe your blood pressure is lower, your joints are less achy, your stress is reduced or your diabetes is becoming manageable through diet rather than medication. Is that a failure or a success? Often, when we set goals but don’t meet them, we tend to overlook what has actually been achieved. Don’t let your mind overrule your body. It’s important to recognize (and celebrate) accomplishments and continue to build upon them.    

Don’t give up. Just because one class or group or instructor wasn’t a good fit for you, it’s not a reason to quit. There are so many exciting and engaging ways to improve your physical and mental health and wellness – both traditional and non-traditional – it’s a matter of exploring them to find your own unique path.  Do it with intention.

Christine Schuster is president & CEO of Emerson Health in Concord.