One of the things I appreciate most the wellness topics I cover is that they often lend themselves to self-evaluation and self-improvement, if not transformation. When I write about nutrition, yoga, meditation, and spirituality, I not only have the opportunity to turn inward and assess my own life, but also to apply what I’ve learned.
This article provides a particularly rich opportunity, because the topic is so all-encompassing: human flourishing. It’s something we all want—to thrive rather than settle or simply get by. While we might have an intellectual grasp on what we need to do to live happily and to the fullest—cultivate our natural gifts and talents, focus on the positive in ourselves and others, take risks when it counts, practice nonjudgment and forgiveness (to name a few)—we don’t always know how to do these things, practically speaking. In other words, we don’t know how to embody a more positive, openhearted, can-do approach to life.
“Cognitive understanding and knowing are not the same as realizing, living, and experiencing,” says Megan McDonough, my Kripalu Perspectives podcast guest and the CEO and cofounder of Wholebeing Institute. She says that, when we combine intellectual understanding with mindful attention to the body, we begin to embody Positive Psychology, and that’s when we’re more apt to thrive. “Embodied Positive Psychology engages the body in the kinesthetic experience of living the science of flourishing,” Megan explains, adding that there’s a difference between an intellectual understanding of gratitude and “the full-body richness of what openhearted appreciation feels like.”
So, if we want to flourish, we can’t just think ourselves there. We need to become a walking expression of what we want to experience by engaging our bodies in the pursuit. If we’d like to be less rigid, for example, yoga is a fabulous choice. It’s a surefire way to increase physical flexibility, which affects mental flexibility. “There’s an intimate link between the movement of the body and the thoughts of the mind,” Megan notes. Furthermore, if we want to be less scattered and more present, it’s wise to cultivate mindfulness through the body by focusing on the breath, which anchors our attention in the present.
The path to creating an inspired life obviously looks different for each of us, but Megan says that five elements are required to achieve whole-person well-being, the Wholebeing Institute’s definition of happiness.
“We believe that in order to flourish, to have the greatest level of well-being, the whole must be taken into account,” Megan says. If you pay attention to your fitness and nutrition, but your most important relationships are disintegrating, you’re not flourishing. Likewise, if your spiritual life is rich, but you hate your job, your well-being is going to suffer.
“When you understand the five perspectives that create the whole of your well-being, you see more clearly how you’re doing—how you’re really doing—in each aspect of life,” Megan says. The perspectives she’s referring to can be found in SPIRE, the Wholebeing Institute’s acronym for those five areas of life that, when nourished, help us create rich and fulfilling lives.
S stands for Spiritual—leading a meaningful life and mindfully savoring the present. If you want to enhance your spiritual life, try these practices:
- Meditate: Pay attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out.
- Notice your thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
- Identify what brings meaning to your life and invest time there.
P stands for Physical—caring for the body and tapping into the mind-body connection. Here are three ways to enhance your physical life:
- Go for a walk or a jog; swim, dance, or ski.
- Prepare and consume a healthy meal.
- Take a nap when you’re tired.
I stands for Intellectual, which means engaging in deep learning and opening yourself to new experiences. To enhance your intellectual life,
- Observe art in a museum
- Read a poem or a piece of literature
- Take a class in something you know nothing about.
R stands for Relational—nurturing a constructive relationship with yourself and others. Try these ways to enhance your relational life:
- Embrace someone you love with your full attention.
- Tell people you care about what you appreciate about them; notice what you appreciate about yourself.
- Attend a community event or volunteer.
E stands for Emotional—feeling all your emotions (the good and the bad) while reaching toward resilience and optimism. Here are three practices for enhancing your emotional life:
- Accept your emotions—all of them.
- Recall times when you successfully overcame difficulties.
- Ask yourself, “What will increase my joy now?” and don’t forget to smile!
Megan suggests doing a regular check-in to review the five aspects of whole-person well-being. Here’s how: Make five columns side by side and label each one with one aspect of well-being (S, P, I, R, E). Then draw a line on the column that represents how you’re doing in each aspect. The higher up you are, the more positive the rating. “This is your best guess of where you think you are in this moment, on this day, in each aspect of SPIRE,” Megan says.
Next, look at your check-in and notice how the various aspects affect one another. How is your physical well-being affecting your emotional well-being? What role does your emotional well-being play in your relationships?
Finally, ask yourself, “What action would raise my overall sense of well-being?” Megan says the aspect that receives the lowest mark might not always be the one that requires action. “It could be that the highest rating is driving the others lower, and that’s where you need to place your focus.”
When I did my own check-in, it was clear that my relational well-being strongly affects my emotional well-being, and vice-versa. It was also clear that, even though my physical well-being is currently high, I’m still longing for more intellectual stimulation. Where I want to put my focus today, though, is on my spiritual well-being. A peaceful room, dimly lit with candles, a journal for reflection, and a cushion for some meditation and inward focus feel most nourishing to me right now.
If I can heighten my connection to spirit, my whole person will experience greater well-being. I’ll be more apt to thrive because I won’t just be thinking about enhancing that connection—I’ll be embodying it. Then I’ll be closer, Megan says, to living what she calls “an inSPIREd life.”
Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health