How can we encourage wellness lifestyles even in countries where the wellness profession is not yet established? How to build upon the current resources in our communities and create a space where both the facilitators and participants or clients can learn and feel connected?
In this article we share our approach and experiences from a year-long series of Wellness Councils.
There can be moments when you realize that you are longing for a change. And moments when your life just doesn't seem right and your daily routine doesn't serve your needs. You may feel you need to slow down, move more, take a deep breath, eat healthier food, or just need a hug. Yet it seems difficult to do something about it. In moments like that, it's good to have someone by your side to share your wishes, expectations and worries. To encourage each other and to make commitments that will keep you motivated until you meet again.
Do they sound like reasons to engage a wellness coach? Definitely, but since wellness coaching as a profession is not yet established in the Czech Republic, we struck on the idea of Wellness Councils. With the intention to build upon the current resources in local community, we commenced by calling together a circle of people who cared about their own wellbeing and were open to sharing with peers once a month..
What is a Wellness Council?
Wellness Council is based on our belief that we can live every day genuinely, with contentment and honesty. According to the wellness philosophy, there is often but little change needed to make our lives more vivid, exciting, happier and healthy. Our council is an open space for exploring what good and healthy life means for each of us specifically, space for sharing, inspiring and motivation.
Putting wellness and councils together in a framework of monthly meetings dedicated to each of the 12 wellness dimensions, based on the work of Jack Travis, gives a year-long opportunity to kindly observe one’s own state of wellness, to feel inspired by thoughts and experiences of others and receive a little push and support to change for better.
Each event is open to public and everybody is invited to join the group, which always creates a vibrant palette of age groups, backgrounds, life experiences and so on. This reach out to more distant social networks created space for sharing with different, yet likeminded people, who felt that they needed to take first steps towards change or those who were already on their wellness journey. This can be very supporting especially in moments when one lacks support in the closest circles. We can hardly count on help from a demanding boss or family members who live an unhealthy lifestyle.
What is happening in a Wellness Council?
Every session consists of an activity allowing us to explore more about the given topic - both practically (interview, exercise, drama improvisation, brainstorming, drawing, relaxation etc) and theoretically (sharing bits of up-to-date knowledge). We are offering simple ways how everyone of us can be more attentive, relaxed, active etc.
With these small steps the program encourages us to review our current needs and to bring awareness to them during our daily life. There is always an optional “homework” component - simple guidance, instruction for every day of the forthcoming month. For example: Close your eyes for a moment while eating. Take a deep breath when you notice the sky. Find a moment when you are experiencing something beautiful and acknowledge it.
And in every Wellness Council, there is time for stories, too. Sharing stories in a safe way that allows us to revisit our priorities, map our personal history and experience, inspire and call for action.
The power of sharing stories in a Council
Having experience with the Way of Council, we felt that its intentions (speaking from the heart, non-judgmental listening from the heart, being spontaneous, speaking the essence, confidentiality and sharing what servers me, the circle and higher good) encourage honest and compassionate expression and can be more than helpful in creating the safe environment for personal stories on wellbeing.
Note: Wellness Council (in the Czech Republic) can (sometimes) look like this. (author Jana Stará)
In council we use a “talking piece” to focus the attention on the person who is sharing their story and there is no one else speaking at the time. The others do not ask questions; do not give advice or comment in any way. During council we share our personal experiences, our own stories through which we can learn from one another and get the sense of belonging to one humankind, the members of which lives are the “same but different.”
The Wellness lessons from stories shared
Every day begins the same way for all. No matter who we are. We all do wake up.
Not so for the stories we tell and hear – these are very different. You can be say a wellness coach and know general principles of how our bodies and days function. Yet it's always fascinating to remain still and listen to the stories of the days of others. No matter what the rules and advice, when it comes to the joys and struggles of everyday life our human nature and wisdom are being awakened.
Thanks to the stories and council, wellness professionals can constantly learn (just as storytellers, listeners or facilitators would do). Learn a lot about others and maybe even more about ourselves. Learn what it really takes to live well. We strongly believe that empathy, one of the principles of council, is essential not only for sharing safely, but especially for our feeling of being well and grounded in our daily lives.
Eva Dittingerová is an educator, drama teacher, project manager and facilitator who is interested in education through art and nature. “Drama led me to psychosomatically oriented approach to dramatic culture and creation and my interest in stories and it's potential brought me to The Way of Council.”
Jana Stará, PhD, is a wellness promoter who dedicated her research and lecturing practice to promoting the concept of wellness in her country. She seeks ways to develop and implement wellness programs with respect to different cultural environment and traditions in Europe. She teaches at the university, empowers individuals, consults companies and believes that better times for European wellness are yet to come.