Wellness Isn’t About Being In Perfect Health: Author Sujata Kelkar
Sujata Kelkar’s book 99 Not Out! Your Guide to a Long and Healthy Life shares what she calls wellness principles covering the mind, body and spirit. Having been writing a column on wellness for many years, she felt the need to create an anthology of wellness principles – “a single resource that readers can turn to for strengthening their mind, body and spirit rather than having to read several books, or scour the internet in search of answers.”
The biological scientist has described 29 principles in the book and she feels it is up to the readers to choose what works best for them, depending on the principles that resonate with their unique life circumstances.
Kelkar’s interest in wellness stems from the time when she was studying for her PhD and had a close friend who was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She asserts that it is an illness that we don’t know enough about but suffice it to say that it is painful, debilitating and, as its name suggests, exhausting. The research she was doing then investigated what happened inside immune cells – “the idea being that what we learnt at the sub-cellular level would help us understand what happened at the macrocosmic level of the body.”
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was supposed to be mental stress related, or at least mental stress was considered one of its precipitating causes but it manifested itself in the body, rendering my friend in perpetual pain and physical exhaustion. There had to be a mind-body connection that was making this illness manifest.
“Seeing my friend suffer made me wonder if there wasn’t a better way to solve bio-medical problems than tearing everything down to its smallest part and then studying it. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was supposed to be mental stress related, or at least mental stress was considered one of its precipitating causes but it manifested itself in the body, rendering my friend in perpetual pain and physical exhaustion. There had to be a mind-body connection that was making this illness manifest. So I decided to study how immunity – or our body’s ability to fight disease – is impacted by stress, for my post-doctoral work at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, USA.”
That’s how her concept of wellness began to form. Now, 15 years after she finished her post-doctoral work, and thousands of hours of research by hundreds of scientists, she informs – “we have substantial proof to show that stress compromises our immunity and causes the body to become prone to illnesses as diverse as depression, endometriosis, heart disease and cancer. And death.
Today, wellness to me means a person’s conscious and effortful work towards greater physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It is not about being in a state of perfect health, but about making the strength of one’s mind, body and spirit a top priority and aligning one’s lifestyle to that priority.”
We have substantial proof to show that stress compromises our immunity and causes the body to become prone to illnesses as diverse as depression, endometriosis, heart disease and cancer. And death.
Kelkar adds that one of the biggest mistakes that people are prone to committing in an effort to manage their stress is waiting till they fall sick. She says that our mind, body and spirit is extraordinarily resilient and capable of handling a lot. But we push ourselves to the limit without understanding or acknowledging the cost – “Lifestyle diseases like diabetes and depression take a while to take root, and if we look after ourselves, we can prevent most lifestyle diseases. However, we continue to ignore our health until we feel like something is deeply off-kilter. What is the point in waiting till we get older or till illness strikes before we make a change?”
Studies have shown that women are considerably more prone to get stressed than men. But the International Coach Federation-certified life coach says that isn’t because they are more prone to getting stressed, it’s because they have that many more sources of stress. That it takes a village to raise a child, yet today’s modern woman is expected to raise a child with minimal support.
“The modern work place is yet to become woman-friendly, in terms of the HR policies that may be in place (or not), yet the expectations from her are the same as any other employee. If she has to think about her physical safety to and from work, something that men (usually) don’t have to worry about, that recurrent thought is a form of stress. She is expected to juggle housework, office work and child care while managing the expectations of her extended family. There is a lot of work that she needs to pack in the day. This is apart from the expectations she might have of how she is supposed to look while doing it all!”
It is not about being in a state of perfect health, but about making the strength of one’s mind, body and spirit a top priority and aligning one’s lifestyle to that priority.
The author whose book is based on evidence from both, modern-day medicine and Ayurveda says that the one thing that people should keep in mind to become more mindful is to get enough sleep. Because a sleep deficit makes it hard for us to practice mindfulness, and most of us our sleep deprived – “Seven hours is what most of us need. Often, what comes in the way of sleep is excessive visual stimulation from screens: TVs, laptops, iPads, iPhones and other electronic devices. If people can reduce their screen time and find a way to make bedtime a priority, mindfulness will become that much easier.”
Kelkar thinks that it is of paramount importance that we recognize that looking after the health of our mind, body and spirit is imperative. Because we are ageing faster than we should be. And while aging is the one certainty of our lives, we must do a better job of it than we are right now.
“We are living in a polluted world. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat is no longer pure. Our senses – visual and auditory – are under constant assault, thanks to all the media we subject them to. All of this leads to extraordinary amounts of stress and that, in turn, leads to premature ageing. We need to work that much harder at preserving the health of our mind, body and spirit than our forefathers did. The idea of writing this book is to convince readers to commit, so that they may live long and well,” she concludes.
Photo Credit: Shamanth Patil/ Penguin Random House