Explore the many ways to grow physically, spiritually and mentally in the new year
By: Michael Jacobs
While wellness never goes out of style, the concept of well-being is showing up in every aspect of our lives. If you are looking for the latest approaches to being your best self, look no further. From pickleball to rituals, alternative therapies and everything in between, try something new this year to improve your physical, mental and emotional wellness—you won’t regret it!
Why is physical wellness important?
All of the other elements of wellness are built upon your physical wellness. Your mental, emotional and spiritual wellness all hinge upon how you take care of yourself and your life force. Life force is an ancient term recently popularized by the new Netflix documentary Stutz. In the film, acclaimed actor Jonah Hill interviews his therapist Dr. Phil Stutz who outlines what he believes is fundamental for living a healthy, happy and fulfilled life.
“The only way to find out what you should be doing and who you are is to activate your life force. Your life force is the only part of you that is capable of guiding you when you are lost,” Stutz explains. The base and most important part of the pyramid that makes up this life force is your relationship with your physical body. “All you got to do is get your body working better. It always works. The most classic thing is that they’re not exercising, diet is another one and sleeping,” Stutz says. In fact, Stutz believes that 85 percent of what makes you feel better at the start of any personal journey is related to physical wellness changes.
How can I look at physical wellness in a new light?
During the documentary, Hill, who has struggled with his weight throughout his life, is quick to note that growing up, diet and exercise were always framed to him as “there’s something wrong with the way you look.” But, this narrow-minded aesthetic outlook is slowly shifting into something focused more on mental health.
When you come at your physical wellness from the perspective of “I am going to work out because this will improve my mental health” or “I will eat better so I can feel better and stay around longer for the people I love,” your motivation becomes rooted in positive forward thinking that will help you outlast obstacles and stick to your goals.
How can I get started on my physical wellness journey?
There are several gyms and athletic clubs across Atlanta that have made it their mission to cater to your holistic physical wellness. STAT Wellness, for example, combines classic group workout classes with functional medicine consultations from medical providers where you can walk through your whole body health, from potential hormonal imbalances to issues with dehydration. The wellness club also provides services like IV drips and injections to get your body to a healthy and balanced place.
Why alternative therapy?
If you feel like Western medicine is coming up short alternative therapies may be for you. Rather than focusing on pharmaceuticals to fix symptoms, alternative therapies try to dig deep to find cures and keep you healthy from the get-go. Alex Coleman, co-founder of Energy Works ATL in Sandy Springs, embraces Eastern practices and new techniques in a holistic approach to balance body, mind and spirit.
What are some popular alternative therapies?
Sound baths are growing rapidly in popularity and combine the elements of body, mind and spirit Coleman center her healing on. Rather than soak in water, you recline and soak in sounds and vibrations created with gongs, bells and metal bowls, as well as sounds from nature. Deep breathing and crystals enhance the effects to promote natural healing.
“The vibrations connect with the frequencies of bodily fluids,” Coleman says. The internal benefits are the same whether you stay awake or fall asleep, as many people do. Some emerge completely relaxed, she says, while others are bursting with energy.
Coleman says moms love to bring teenagers because sound baths boost their mood. “It’s fantastic to see how they go in and come out.”
If you are looking for even deeper body relaxation, Coleman suggests expanding your standard deep tissue, Swedish and hot stone massage with forms of energy healing, including reiki, a gentle-touch Japanese technique meant to ease stress and promote relaxation. She has developed her own approach to energy healing to address the stagnant body energy associated with chronic pain. The energy work grounds people to the physical forces of the earth and the universe to cleanse them. The result, she says, feels like the perfect massage.
A simple but vital therapeutic technique is mindful breathing, which Coleman calls the “emergency brake for the nervous system.” Just learning to close your eyes, visualize health benefits and breathe deeply can teach your body it’s ok to disengage from the world.
How can I identify the right alternative therapy for me?
With expanding varieties of therapies, you need patience and a willingness to experiment to find what’s right for you, sometimes starting with figuring out the cause of your pain, stress or other problems. Not everything works for everybody, Coleman says, so try free workshops with an open mind, and don’t expect immediate benefits.
Holistic health is a process, not a magic trick, she says. “You won’t come out of here with the winning numbers of the lottery but in time you’ll hopefully find a greater sense of renewed health and self.”
How is the way we think about relationship maintenance changing?
Relationship therapist Mikaela Corlette, proprietor of the Relationship Wellness Center in Brookhaven, says relationship wellness should be like medical or dental wellness. Don’t wait until your relationship is on the brink of a breakup to seek therapy, just as you don’t wait until your teeth are falling out to see a dentist. Instead, meet with a therapist for a relationship check-in every six or 12 months to clear any grievances, recalibrate your communication and set shared goals for the next year or two or five, whatever you both agree to.
What can I do to set up my relationships for success?
The important thing is to be on the same page, Corlette says. Be proactive with the health of your relationship. Before taking a step such as moving in together or marrying, meet with a therapist to get an assessment, develop communication tools, establish boundaries and search for any underlying traumas that could be relationship time bombs.
Those hidden traumas from the past are the sources of most unhealthy relationships, Corlette says. She targets those traumas at the subconscious level through hypnotherapy and approaches based on eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, a technique that the Cleveland Clinic says has proved effective at rapidly resolving trauma. Within a few sessions, Corlette says, couples usually can move beyond the trauma and focus on skills such as healthy communication and productive conflict resolution. “Therapy does work, but it’s important to finish,” Corlette says.
Keep up the good work
Practice the skills you learn in therapy and understand that while relationship therapy is health care and requires the checkup schedule of other care, it does differ from going to a doctor or dentist. You can’t just have your appendix removed or a cavity filled and be back to normal. Corlette says you have to put in time and effort to resolve any problems, and sometimes you need to try several therapists to find the right one.
“If therapy didn’t work because the therapist wasn’t aligned, keep trying,” Corlette says, adding that it makes sense to interview two or three therapists before picking one. “It’s a very personal kind of service, and it has to feel right.”
How is workplace wellness growing and changing?
Employers and employees are embracing healthier habits and spaces at the office.
Employers are looking for locations that have fitness centers, outdoor amenities and access to spaces where employees can work out, get some fresh air or simply escape for a few minutes, says Erinn Cerreta, the vice president of workplace strategy for commercial real estate company JLL in Atlanta. JLL’s Workforce Preference Barometer in June found that 59% of workers expect their employers to support their health and well-being. Only quality of life is a higher priority for employees; salary is No. 3.
What are some workplace wellness essentials?
A must-have feature in offices, Cerreta says, is the wellness room, a space as small as 25 square feet where a person can be alone to meditate, rest, nurse a baby or simply retreat. A typical setup includes a reclining chair, low light and comforting music.
Employers are making offices fun places and building community. JLL has a social hub with a barista on duty daily, a happy hour every Thursday and a steady schedule of events to create a vibe, Cerreta says.
Many employers hold yoga retreats on-site, she says, in part to meet the wellness demands of health insurers. “It’s becoming almost human nature: There’s a health challenge every weekend to keep up with your insurance discount.” Such events are better attended when they’re organized by an employee group or emphasize a social aspect rather than wellness, Cerreta says. Pickleball, for example, provides physical and social benefits that fit corporate wellness. But John Rebol, who offers business events through his pickleball program at the Concourse Athletic Club, says companies and their employees are more interested in pickleball for team building and leadership development than for wellness.
How can I establish better healthy work habits?
Employees can take wellness into their own hands by focusing on the ergonomics of their space, standing up as much as possible, looking away from the computer screen every few minutes, moving around to escape harsh lighting and going outside.
Technology can also help: Fitness apps can tell you when you’ve gone too long without changing position or getting fresh air.
What is animal wellness?
Pet health care once meant getting rabies shots and other vaccinations and otherwise waiting for signs of illness, but wellness is proactive now, says veterinarian Bonny Willhite, the owner and chief medical officer of Animal Wellness Clinic in Milton.
How can I stay ahead of potential problems?
Willhite likes to see pets every six months for wellness visits. Annual blood work starts as young as age 1 to check on kidney and liver function and blood sugar levels. Allergy testing is routine because Georgia is the most allergenic state. The clinic also tests for C-reactive proteins as markers of inflammation that could indicate autoimmune diseases.
Senior pets (age 7 for most pets, as young as 5 for giant dog breeds) have blood pressure checks and X-rays of their chests and abdomens every six to 12 months.
All that testing is meant to catch problems early, both because pets are good at hiding illness and because their lifespans, much shorter than humans’, allow diseases to emerge and do serious damage much more quickly, Willhite says.
Willhite emphasizes not to always expect annual shots for your pets, though. Animals follow a three-year cycle for the rabies vaccination, and the clinic holds off on other shots as long as the levels of protective antigens they produce are high enough in the blood.
What are some of the latest treatments to keep my pet happy and healthy?
Many treatments developed for humans help pets live longer and better, including monoclonal antibodies for osteoarthritis and itching, cold laser therapy to improve circulation and speed healing for ligament and muscle strains, acupuncture, chiropractic, underwater treadmills and immunotherapy for cancer.
“All of the wonderful things that are available to improve quality of life and longevity in humans thankfully are available for veterinarians too,” Willhite says.
Companies such as Zoetis, formerly part of Pfizer, are pushing ahead with animal-focused medications. Nutraceuticals such as turmeric, omega-3 fish oils and hyaluronic acid reduce inflammation in pets with no side effects, addressing, for example, skin, liver and joint problems.
Another anti-inflammatory, CBD, has shown effectiveness at preventing cancer and treating osteoarthritis and can be a game-changer for pets, Willhite says. But there’s a twist: Vets can’t talk about CBD until pet owners ask them about it.
Why are people increasingly focusing on detoxing?
It’s easy to absorb toxins in daily life, from the physical (drugs, alcohol, microplastics) to the mental (toxic relationships and workplaces) to the digital (social media). People are increasingly detoxing to strip out those negative substances and forces, with benefits ranging from more energy, a stronger immune system and weight loss to better concentration and a more positive outlook.
What are some different ways to detox?
“It’s all intersectional,” Mikaela Corlette, a therapist who owns the Relationship Wellness Center, says about toxins afflicting mind, body and spirit. “If you’re not feeling the best physically, it’s all integrated.” She says it’s helpful to spend time off the grid and away from everything, especially digital devices that expose you to online negativity and keep you connected to stressful work.
Alex Coleman, co-founder of Energy Works ATL, is a proponent of ionic foot detoxes. Putting your feet in a basin of water with a negatively charged current pulls the toxins out of your organs, she says, adding that the water changes color as the detox works. Different colors represent different toxins. Epsom salt baths force out the toxins as the body absorbs beneficial minerals, she says. Simply drinking lots of water also flushes out toxins, just as guided meditation can cleanse the mind of emotional debris.
Poorvi Chardia, co-owner of Atlanta tea merchant Herbs & Kettles, says that the polyphenols in tea flush out toxins and that tea plays a part in the ancient Indian health science of Ayurveda, which emphasizes cleansing and detoxing. She has curated a selection of teas to assist with detoxing.
How to detox safely
Extreme approaches to physical detoxing risk cleansing good nutrients with the bad stuff, so avoid harsh laxatives and diuretics. You can fast to kick off a detox, but a balanced diet that includes carbs, fats and proteins is necessary for long-term health and the proper function of the body’s detox organs: the liver, kidneys and intestines.
Other healthy steps support detoxing and long- term health, from reducing alcohol, salt, sugar and processed foods to sleeping and exercising more.
What are wellness rituals and why are they important?
A wellness ritual can be anything that helps you consistently escape the stresses of the day and focus on yourself and the things that make your life better. Intention can transform the routine into a ritual.
Acclaimed author, speaker and wellness industry pioneer Bija Bennett says that a wellness ritual involves four key steps:
- Geometry, the special space and objects involved
- Structure, how you start and end
- Rhythm, how you prepare, progress and finish to set the ritual apart from the rest of the day
- Intent, your focus and purpose
What are some popular wellness rituals?
Everything from journaling to an elaborate skincare routine can be made into a wellness ritual. One gaining in popularity—tea rituals.
Drinking tea can be a thoughtless routine of boiling water, steeping a tea bag for a random period and gulping down the hot liquid for a caffeine boost. But be intentional in your selection of a tea with certain flavors and beneficial ingredients, select special teaware, focus on the ideal steeping time for your particular tea and set aside the time and place each day to slow down and enjoy losing yourself in the tea, and you elevate the experience into a ritual.
Poorvi Chordia, a Grady Hospital physician who also is a tea sommelier and owns Indian tea shop Herbs & Kettles with her husband, says tea’s mix of caffeine with the amino acid L-theanine, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols, provides a focused calm that avoids the jolts and crashes of coffee. As a result, it helps with stress and anxiety and fits into the practice of integrative health, holistic living and the ancient health science Ayurveda.
How to create your own wellness ritual
Create your own wellness ritual by picking a space and a time, whether first thing in the morning, last thing before bed or midday when you need to slow down and re-center. Choose something you find calming, which could be exercise, meditation or poetry reading. Decide how the ritual should make your day better. And be intentional, determined and unashamed in setting aside that daily time for yourself.
What is a wellness retreat?
Sometimes your wellness efforts need a boost you can’t get at home. A wellness retreat could be an opportunity to detox without distractions or a time to learn techniques to make life better back home. “I recommend that clients or anyone find something that works for them and do it,” Relationship Wellness Center owner Mikaela Corlette says about retreats. The Wellness Tourism Association says a wellness retreat has one or more facilitators guiding an intention- driven, multiday program with activities such as meditation, healthy eating, yoga and nature walks.
How to choose the right retreat for you
When choosing a wellness retreat destination, think about how stylishly you like to travel, how far you want to go, what you want to accomplish, what accommodations and food you expect, what you can spend and the activities and treatments that can help you meet your goals. A remote destination might fit your desire for a digital detox, but if you also want to lose weight, skip that resort if it’s known for rich gourmet food.
What are some great wellness retreats to check out here and around the world?
- Portal offers the services of the Spa at Serenbe in Chattahoochee Hills, of which it is an extension. Portal provides a six-bedroom house and offers four signature weekends or customized retreats that can include infrared saunas, sound baths and detox rituals. www.portalserenbe.com, www.spaatserenbe.com
- Elohee Center in Sautee Nacoochee in the north Georgia mountains remains fresh with a schedule of wellness retreats through 2023 and the opportunity for groups to plan their own retreats. The 2023 retreats include yoga, energy medicine, detox, couples and multicultural women. www.elohee.org
- Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has been refreshed under the new ownership of Australia’s Baillie Lodges but remains a place to disconnect while glamping. The options include a full menu of massages, energy work, saunas and other treatments at the Healing Grounds Spa. www.clayoquotwildernesslodge.com
- The Well at Hacienda AltaGracia in Costa Rica’s Talamanca Mountains applies a holistic approach rooted in Mother Earth. In addition to massages, aromatherapy and a sauna, The Well offers purification rituals and treatments developed in Central America. www.aubergeresorts.com/altagracia/wellness/the- well, www.wellnesstourismassociation.org