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In Search of Wellness

by Dr Laura Polak, D.C.

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Wellness is a phrase thrown around by doctors, healers, therapists, and spiritual communities. But what does it really mean to be well and how do we evaluate our wellness?

The body is a complex organism that rarely makes mistakes or does things by accident. So what does it mean when we are experiencing "problems"? Does that mean we are well or not well? If someone is diagnosed with high blood pressure, then when the high blood pressure is taken care of, is the person returned to a state of wellness?

Many people on high blood pressure medication know that if they changed their diets, their exercise regimen, and reduced stress, their high blood pressure would be more manageable or cease to be a problem. Yet with a pill the problem also disappears. In both situations the person is returned to a state of previous health. However, one has acted as a catalyst in the person's life to make changes and break out of boxes that may have otherwise impeded their evolution. The other has assisted the person in having a better quality of life now but with little change in the current way that they do things.

Being returned to a symptom-free life is not a measure of wellness. A disease does not determine whether a person is well or ill, and treatment of the "disease" very rarely produces wellness.

In one interesting study, one group of hypertensive stockbrokers were given standard "high blood pressure" medication while another group was given a pet. Those with the pets enjoyed life more, and had at least as significant a lowering of blood pressure as those taking medication!

A person can have a disease such as heart disease, low back disc disease, or cancer and actually be well and never know they are sick. On the other hand there are people who are ill who have no disease or symptoms. An "illness" may be a significant motivating factor in your life, forcing you to look at things you otherwise may never have considered. The more pressing the "illness" the more motivation you may have to change old defeating patterns and break out of old habits. Most people who recover from a serious illness make radical changes in their lives that otherwise they may have never allowed. The "illness" allows the person to do an inventory of their life and see what is real and what is a waste of energy for them.

If disease or lack of disease is not the measure of health than what is wellness? Dr. Donald Epstein, D.C., founder of Network Spinal Analysis defines wellness as:

"A state in which you are relatively invincible, nothing can ruin your day, you feel alive, vital and confident, and experience the highest state of well being. When you experience wellness your circumstances of the moment do not easily upset your internal state."

In this state you may or may not have an "illness." Your relationship to yourself and your surroundings dictates your health, quality of life, and well being. What we think about what we are feeling in our bodies can have a profound influence on our ability to heal.

Case Study

"Several weeks ago I was walking along the river and stepped on a large rock twisting my ankle badly-the pain was excruciating! This was the third time I had sprained this ankle. I knew what the pain meant; pain and difficulty walking for at least a couple of weeks.

This time however, with the help of my partner, I 'reframed' my outlook immediately. I put my hands on my ankle and directed my energy there. I also stopped myself from assuming the worst possible outcome, now or for the weeks ahead. Instead I told myself that my ankle was already healing quickly, was not horribly injured and would be alright. Other than a mild soreness for a few days my ankle was completely fine, despite what the terrible pain told me initially."

— Terry- Guerneville, Califonia

If we look at our societal or cultural assumptions about what we are experiencing they often dictate the reaction we have to any given diagnosis. Starting as children, most parents know that when a baby falls they will look to the adult for a response before they cry or go on playing. If the parents immediately respond with fear, "Oh no!" the child will also respond with fear and begin to cry. If the parents remain neutral or even respond positively to the fall the child will often continue on with what they were doing.

As adults we respond similarly to different health diagnoses. If someone tells you they have the flu, we respond with a certain level of empathy. However if that same person has been diagnosed with brain cancer we respond with fearful, "Oh no!"

The collective myth in the hierarchy of illness is that a brain tumor is something out of our control, so we immediately fear the worst, and assume hopelessness and helplessness. I suggest that a different response can assist ourselves, as well as others, in assessing healing options and experiencing overall wellness. Our ability to view "illness" as a form of communication from the body can assist us in maintaining wellness with or without "disease."

In addition, the term diagnosis often leads people into a place of disempowerment. When an "expert" states something about our health we may relinquish our power to that expert. We even change our dialogue to express the ownership of the new diagnosis: " I have ___."

What if we took the expert's advice as an informed opinion about what is happening in our body in that current moment, and continue to see our body as well?

I am not suggesting that this would cure all conditions. What I am suggesting is that this would helpfully influence how we relate to the rest of the life we are living.

Someone who is sick may also continue to be well with or without the sickness no matter how severe. This is important because most individuals who are diagnosed with an "incurable" disease feel that they have only a certain amount of time to "get their life in order." Many times as they begin to get their life in order — repairing old relationships, achieving life goals, changing their relationship with their bodies and their loved ones — their wellness co-efficient increases.

This is exactly what I suggest we need to do in order to achieve wellness in our day-to-day lives! Stay in constant dialogue with yourself and your relationships, your environment, your body, and spirit. Make sure that this dialogue is your own and not that of prevailing beliefs.

— © Dr. Laura Polak, D.C.

Dr. Laura Polak, D.C. is a chiropractor who specializes in Network Spinal Analysis at The Radiant Health Center in Sebastopol, California. Contact her at,, or call (707) 217-8236.