OPENING THE DOOR TO OUR YOUTH
At the age of 12 the word “wellness” meant little to me beyond the idea that I was supposed to eat the vegetables, get the exercise, and stay away from the drugs. Being healthful was something that for the most part I did, but wasn’t something I thought about or even took an active role in. If the salad was on the plate, I ate it. Sports were fun so I did them. My family and friends were enjoyable so I spent time with them. I was fortunate enough to have been brought up as I was but wellness was not an intentional act.
Today, via an unplanned and rather circuitous route, I find myself working in the field of wellness with a focus on assisting our young ones in finding deliberate and effective paths to personal wellness. Although I am fairly new to the field I have some ideas about how to begin the cultivation of holistic health in our youth: 1. Discuss more, instruct less; 2. Make it fun.
I have my own theories about what it means to live well but that is not where I start when working with kids. Rather, I ask the kids to map out the aspects in their lives that help them live well, and we start our discussion from there. While the visuals (markers and big paper make everything more fun) may begin simply, and discussion may start with with healthy foods and exercise, with further discussion my clients almost invariably come to a more expansive and nuanced description of what living well means to them.
Recently, my good friend Sage and I held a workshop at Open Door for Girls Leadership Camp. Our aim was to get the girls thinking about and engaging in activities around wellness. We began by posing the following questions and let the girls split off into groups to discuss before coming back together to share.
What does it mean to live well?
What does integrative and holistic health mean to you?
Who are your wellness role models?
What steps are you already taking to live well?
What are 1-3 wellness goals you have for yourself?
What/who holds you back from living well?
The discussion that followed was rich and surpassed our expectations for where we imagined girls of this age could go with the topic. As a group, we came up with several metaphors for holistic health—many buckets, spokes on a wheel, a Venn diagram—and all centered around the idea that optimal health comes via multiple and interconnected avenues.
From our conversation the girls then engaged in several experiential wellness activities including yoga, mindfulness, cooking for the Haven, and, because “fun” is a very important “bucket”, a dance party. Play, collaboration, and engagement were woven throughout the day, and during our closing discussion we were a room of happy, connected, and tired ladies.
For some of the girls the discussions may be but a seed that will stay dormant for a time. For others their wellness goals will be operationalized tomorrow. We cannot predict how our youth process ideas but we can provide them with opportunity to think about and experiment with ideas in their own ways.