The four pillars of well-being

Beyond rippling biceps and flat abs is a goal that is much harder to attain: holistic fitness. Photo: K Murali Kumar  

The word ‘holistic’ has made its way into common vocabulary, especially in the health and wellness industry. What does it mean?

It’s a basic and intuitive concept on which our very existence should rest, not just health and fitness. It is a multidimensional web of our foundational pillars and their interconnections. There is an Indian proverb that says that everyone is a house with four rooms — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but we need to go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired.

So, holistic fitness includes physical, emotional, mental and spiritual fitness. It should be clear that a lacuna in one is bound to affect the whole chain and strip ‘holistic’ of its meaning. A whole can be viewed as a sum of its parts. But it would be flawed to not recognise that it’s not just the adding up that delivers a functional equation. The health of each part will impact the health of the whole.

Physical fitness: Human beings are designed for movement. The advent of modern lifestyle with increasing dependence on automation and reduced physical labour has coincided with the rapid growth of several illnesses. Physical activity is an important aspect of health and one should target at least 30 minutes of meaningful, challenging activity everyday and follow a progressive approach since the body keeps getting used to regular efforts. Just focussing on diet is not enough. The medical fraternity realises and routinely prescribes physical fitness as a prescription to combat ill health. Not without reason.

Emotional fitness: Perhaps the toughest to attain and appreciate, given its role in the spectrum of holistic fitness and life, in general. It is the ability to cope with what life throws your way, loving yourself for who you are, understanding and accepting your weaknesses, and being able to reach out to those around. It does not imply false bravado. True emotional fitness requires one to be accepting of one’s self and those around and realising that controlling negative emotions and building positive ones require reflection and work.

Mental fitness: The brain, like the body, needs constant challenge to remain sharp and active. As we age, this need becomes even greater — to keep the neurons firing and retain cognitive and inferencing abilities. Taking active interest in the world around us, solving puzzles, engaging in mentally stimulating challenges and brain teasers are some ways of keeping the brain activated. These help arrest age-related slowdown and keep us tuned to everything around us. Physical activity is known to complement and enhance mental agility. Our emotional state too has a direct bearing on our mental ability to retain information and experiences, process them, and perform accordingly.

Spiritual fitness: This refers to developing the ability to understand and experience the interconnection of the self with the universe. It does not simply mean religion (though religion can be a part if it). It includes inculcating and polishing all the innate qualities that allow one to feel a better communion with a higher sense of being. This could be through several channels including prayer, good deeds, compassion, and meditation. A stable mind and body are a strong foundation to spiritual health. The state of our emotional health is often the trigger to seeking it. Each of the three components in turn gets enriched by spiritual health.

Holistic fitness needs to equally address all these aspects. If we think about it, all these elements define our true state at any point in life. One or more elements are usually missing because we become caught up in chasing a part. It means we are not living to our full potential. You must seek and cater to each component. For most people, this realisation dawns late, but there is always a good time to correct your course. And that time is now. It’s certainly true that one may only experience some elements better as one get older by virtue of accumulated life experiences, but there is no reason for not pursuing whatever can be addressed now.

Vani B. Pahwa is an exercise and rehab specialist, corporate wellness coach, and foot and gait analyst.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 1:43:31 PM |

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