The benefits of returning to a natural state of health—without the consumerism, trendiness and technology that pervade the so-called wellness industry

yoga

In our modern, technology-driven society, fast always feels better; more is always more.

Social media and 24-hour news channels provide the instant gratification of knowing something now. 

The Internet, which can be accessed not only from the computers in our homes, but the phones in our hands, can bring us copious amounts of information with the mere swipe of the index finger.

But has it made us better, more truly knowledgeable? 

And what has it done to both our bodies and our minds, our overall sense of wellness?

“Generally, I think as a society, we are more aware of the term ‘wellness’ and maybe even what it is,” said Derek Marks, Saint Mary’s professor of kinesiology. “But I also believe we are still in the dark about how to achieve a certain state of wellness.”

What we think we know about eating well, being fit and looking our best has morphed into things like misguided diets; hyper-rigorous exercise regimens that increase, rather than decrease, stress on the body; and chemical-rich personal care products—all of which may, in fact, be having the opposite impact on our health. We may indeed be less well as a result of our efforts to achieve wellness.

“I believe we are bombarded with the idea that wellness can be bought or achieved over a weekend,” Marks said. “It is a way of living and not a quick fix, or one-size-fits-all approach to health.”

That’s why Marks initiated the De-Evolution of Wellness colloquium on campus last June, a four-day series of presentations that explored how our wellness habits have ‘over-evolved’ into making us sick, in some cases, and how de-volving will help reverse this trend.

“I believe we are bombarded with the idea that wellness can be bought or achieved over a weekend.” – Derek Marks, Saint Mary’s professor of kinesiology.

The lecture topics covered material such as myths about nutrition and fat loss; how advancements in technology add dangerous toxins to our food, environment and personal care products; how to restore optimal hormonal balance through lifestyle modification; differences in Western versus Eastern stress management techniques; and how the fitness industry has strayed away from real-world functional movements.

Marks said the impetus for the discussion was his observation of a changing tide, that “in many aspects of wellness, the trends seem to be turning back the clock to mimic life the way it was before technology played a major role in it.”

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In simpler terms, it seemed to be time to get back to basics when it comes to diet and exercise, even the products we buy in the name of health and beauty, and the way we view the food on our plate and our reactions to stress.

“Several books on diet, exercise and lifestyle are popping up with the same message,” Marks said. “We have over-evolved and our new habits are not better than the old (ancient) ones.”

Thus, the idea of “de-evolution”, moving backward in a sense to a more natural state of health and away from the advances that have been made in the name of technology—from genetically engineered foods, to body-stressing fitness machines, to personal care products.

Saint Mary’s senior Nathalie Lambrecht, a health science major and member of the Gaels women’s rowing team, has been studying nutrition since she was 13 years old and pushing her body as an athlete for nearly as long. Lambrecht has found that there is no lack of information about how to achieve a state of wellness, but not all of it is valuable. In fact, some of it can be harmful. And it can be difficult to sort out, even for those with the best intentions.

“People are kind of lost,” Lambrecht said. “They are so bombarded with information, but they don’t know what to do with it. Where did our ideas come from about food and exercise? Are they actually valid?”

Lambrecht posed these questions to Marks as a student in one of his nutrition classes and recommended an e-book that she read by nutritionist Sean Croxton. Marks began teaching from Croxton’s book in his class, and the idea for the colloquium was born.

“Most people want to be healthy, But they don’t know what a healthy lifestyle looks like. They are just unaware of the facts.” – Nathan Brammeier, Nutrition and health practitioner.

Nathan Brammeier was one of the colloquium presenters, who talked about nutrition and fitness, and the myths that pervade our culture about both.

“Most people want to be healthy,” Brammeier said. “But they don’t know what a healthy lifestyle looks like. They are just unaware of the facts.”

Lakshmi Angela Norwood, a yoga instructor who teaches in Walnut Creek and San Francisco, also said she has seen people “lose their ability to be self-directed and self-guided” when it comes to their approach to wellness.

Norwood sees people with good intentions about their health, struggling to find the right information and practices.

“It’s a natural part of our drive to have an elevated experience, and there are things that get in the way of that,” Norwood said.

Namely, the big-money business of the fitness industry.

“Yoga has become big money, for example; the clothing costs money; the mats cost money; the retreats cost money. It’s a commercial enterprise. People in India look at us like we are crazy, the way we get together in these big classes, in $95 leggings, jumping around to music. We need to educate people, teachers even, how to have a full and satisfying experience."

Consumerism often drives the conversation about wellness, frequently in the wrong direction. Companies, for example, jump on the organic bandwagon, not because they think it’s right for their customers, but because they think it will sell product. And there’s the matter of a supplements industry selling products to consumers who could easily be getting the same nutritional benefits from a more thoughtful diet, Brammeier said. Dietary supplements generated sales of more than $11.5 billion in 2012, according to Packaged Facts, a leading market researcher for consumer goods.

“The problem is money, and that’s always a difficult one to solve because as long as people are making money, they don’t want to change their thinking,” Brammeier said. “Health and fitness has become a big business for a lot of people.” Wellness coach Tomasa Macapinlac, who runs a practice in Pleasant Hill, called it a “mask,” disguising the desire to build a business as a path to wellness.

“They are doing it because it’s what people want; it’s the new fad,” Macapinlac said. “I’d rather they do it because it’s good for people and for Mother Earth.”

Marks agreed that some companies are making money spreading information that plays into a standard of instant gratification.

“I believe because our society has become so reliant on quick fixes for so many things, we expect wellness to fall under the same trend. One of the most common, and occasionally annoying, articles that I come across is the ‘top lists’ for super foods, or other super wellness products or ideas. They are not necessarily real articles with any research information in them. I am sure everyone has read at least one. It’s not that the information in them isn’t good. It is. But I see what people do with the information they get from reading a 30-second piece.”

Macapinlac founded a website called The Self-Care Queendom and conducts workshops and web presentations nationally. She said that too many people see their wellness efforts “as an outside job, rather than an inside job.” “Wellness is about wanting to take care of yourself,” Macapinlac said. “It’s a desire that really comes from loving yourself. It comes from the heart, not what society thinks it should be.”

Macapinlac believes too many people approach nutrition and exercise as a means solely to improve their appearance.

“It’s about image,” Macapinlac said. “People diet because they want to look good on the outside. Entertainers, for example—a lot of them do it for image. It’s not really heart-centered. It’s about how they appear to people.”

Brammeier said he sees too much equating of health and wellness with weight, in particular.

“It’s an easy measure, but it’s not the only measure, and that has to change,” Brammeier said. “People need to focus on having a healthier lifestyle overall.”

Brammeier advocates for good sleeping habits—including getting to bed by 10–10:30 p.m. to maximize production of regenerating human growth hormone, as well as important dietary tips, such as making sure each meal includes a protein, fat and carbohydrate. He is also a huge advocate of eating seasonally, when food is at its natural best.

“I believe because our society has become so reliant on quick fixes for so many things, we expect wellness to fall under the same trend.” – Tomasa Macapinlac, wellness coach.

Macapinlac, whose work is based on Chinese medicine, said she would like people to take a more holistic approach to their wellness and to educate themselves beyond what they are exposed to in commercial mediums.

“Commercial is fine in a way, because it hits people, and we need to impact them somehow. We all have to start from somewhere,” Macapinlac said. “But I’m interested in a more holistic approach. It’s all a matter of how deep you want to take it and finding a system that works for you.”

Brammeier concurred about the need for better education.

“We need to teach people how to be healthy,” Brammeier said. “People are starting to ask questions about the information they are receiving. I see pockets of resistance now to some of the established ideas. And I love that.”

The solution, it would seem, lies in simplicity and a fundamental approach to food, exercise and overall health.

Diets that consist of real food, that is natural, not processed. Exercise regimens that have restorative impact on the body such as yoga and tai chi, that rely on natural movement, rather than machines. An approach to stress management that doesn’t feed stress, and a conscious choice to avoid products that rely heavily on chemicals and have the potential to do more harm than good.

Wellness is a conscious choice, Macapinlac said, one that requires a new kind of conversation, like the one that took place at the June colloquium.

“True wellness not only impacts you but everybody around you. It’s so deep.”

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