The 4 Keys to Wellness

I live in a larger body and I value health and wellness. However, this path has been difficult because for most of my life, I believed my large body meant that I wasn’t well. I was told this in school, in doctors’ offices, and saw it played out in my family, my friends families, the media.

The message? Fat bodies are unhealthy, lack will-power and don’t deserve compassionate care.

The history of weight-stigma is long and complex and has impacted nearly every single person (big or small), but is especially harmful to larger bodies. There’s so much information, advice, and opinion about what “good” means (this is why diets are so tempting…). Folks living in larger bodies have routinely been dismissed as being OK. Weight stigma is a well being epidemic and unfortunately, has left millions of people feeling confused, uncared for and ashamed. That is the opposite of wellness. And you, me, ALL of us, deserve better.

In my years of working nearly exclusively with larger-bodied folks in health and wellness, a theme comes up: Everyone wants to BE OK. But confusion and frustration forms when we’re unsure HOW.

Thankfully, our society is currently going through a major awakening to redefine what health and wellness looks like. This is why More to Love Yoga exists: to support larger folks in their wellness, no matter their size or experience.

For the past five years, I’ve been teaching yoga and wellness to larger bodies through More to Love Yoga. I’m honored that so many folks have trusted More to Love with their most tender gems, their own body, and I’m constantly trying to bring respectful wellness to more people. As a large person myself with a long history of weight-stigma, I personally understand how vital wellness is. And not just for my skin and bones…right down the core of who I am as a human.

My whole mission is to blend empowering ideas and healthy practices so that you can experience a visceral connection to your own wellness. Though my own journey and teaching thousands, I’ve discovered that wellness is possible when you focus in on four primary areas of your life.

I call them More to Love’s 4 Keys to Wellness.  At the core of More to Love is an understanding that ALL parts of who you are want to feel OK – aka, in harmony – and while not a perfect science, it is possible to have balance while still honoring and being true to your realities.

So, what are the 4 key pieces? Body. Mentality. Heart. Essence.

These are the 4 Keys to Wellness and they guide your life. Focusing in on each and how they interact helps your overall well being. You’re built of complex and interconnected parts, ranging from physical to emotional, and into areas that speak to something “more” than meets the eye.

More to Love believes wellness is holistic and flowing. Sustainable health isn’t a fixed state, but a relationship between the primary parts of you – aka…the 4 Key Wellness areas. 

The neat part? YOU get to define which parts of your 4 keys are valuable to you. Your personal ownership of wellness is driven by YOUR needs and experience. This helps you take what works, and leave the rest without shame or guilt. More to Love’s wellness framework uses yoga, mindfulness and body-positive healing, all of which are teachable and learnable. The 4 Keys to Wellness are designed to be flexible and adaptable, once you understand the basics.

A Brief Overview of Each Key

It’s important to note that there are many ways people, communities, and traditions define and understand well being. There is not ONE path for everyone. Your own personal health is a private matter and More to Love’s perspective does NOT have the authority to override anything you’re doing (including personal beliefs, medical/health professionals, and lived experience.)

You’re the expert on you and the 4 Keys of Wellness are offered as a framework. More to Love isn’t interested in the “average” for all, but the “average” for YOU. This right here is where More to Love separates from traditional diet and health models.

KEY LAYER #1: Body and Breath
More to Love Yogis starting class. Photo taken by Rachel Estapa

Body and breath is your outer most layer. It’s how you physically exist in the world with all your bodily functions and your appearance. Your breathing is like a gauge on how your overall body is doing. Your body receives – through your senses – lots of information from the world and your breath responds accordingly. When you’re calm and content, your breathing is smooth and easy. When you’re scared or agitated, your breath quickens and constricts. Chronic stress and overwhelm keeps you on high-alert, which leads to exhaustion.

Fitness and the movement of your body is a spectrum. Some days you’ll feel more energy and might do “more” – other days, you feel sleepy and want to take it easy. Both and all in between is the balance of listening to your  body and responding. When you’re sore, gentle stretching helps. When you feel stress, practicing breathing techniques helps balance the body. This is what the physical part of yoga helps with.

So much of our personal struggles with body-image emerges from comparison – pitting your body against someone else’s. You were likely raised to believe a “thinner” body is a better body, and took steps to change yourself. While your body is changing all the time, it’s finely attuned to YOUR needs, including lifestyle (which we have some control over), but mostly, genetics (which you don.t’)

Comparing your body to another’s is normal – we all do it – but we’re personally responsible to honor and tend to the body we do have. Learning how to tune in to your body’s signals is the first step to wellness. More to Love Yoga’s online program, called Home Body, is a great first step.

KEY LAYER #2: Mentality
Meet Wendy
More to Love yogi, Wendy C., takes a moment to get centered. Photo by Janelle Leroux.

The next layer down is your mental and emotional world. It’s helpful to think of this layer more like an ocean than a fixed thing because of the nature of the mind. Your mentality colors your life and blends experience, memories, thoughts, and behaviors. It’s also impacted by how your body is doing and vise-versa, so this relationship is important. Like the ocean has waves, your mental and emotional body “flows” within you through varying intensity.

When your mentality is full of “chatter” it’s hard to focus, prioritize, and get a big-picture view of what’s going on. Emotions too can be overwhelming and you may feel at the mercy of your mind and emotions, rather than guided and informed. Your optimal mentality appreciates soft-focus and clarity. Your confidence is connected to your belief (and action) about how you manage situations and challenges before you.

Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of thoughts and emotions without automatically responding and getting caught up in them. It’s a way to tone down the intensity of your mentality. There are many techniques to practice mindfullness, such as meditation, visualizations, journaling and other forms that help offer clarity and shape to your mentality.

With body-image issues, your mentality is home to much of what you may struggle with. Getting professional help is always an act of self-care and I encourage you to explore trusted practitioners in your area. More to Love offers an online workbook, Body Love Boosts, to help you get clear and focused on how to improve your thoughts and attitudes towards your body and self.

KEY LAYER #3: Heart
Meet Rachel
More to Love member Rachel T. shares a sweet moment with her service dog during a More to Love Yoga class. Photo by Janelle Leroux.

The next layer isn’t as well structured as body and mind, but it’s perhaps the keystone to well being. I call this layer heart because it encompasses kindness, compassion, gratitude and healing. Your heart – which governs love – plays an important role in your wellness. Your hearts-voice, sometimes called “intuition” or “gut”, is nonjudgmental and infinitely wise and caring.

Critical voices, such as self-shaming and doubt, block out your heart’s voice. Self-doubt is common and natural, but too much of it takes a toll on you. A “blocked heart” feels nervous, worried and separated from the things you want to enjoy. The heart’s realm is about boundaries, and lacking them or being too rigid affects your well being. Diminishing self-doubt and cultivating self-love is an essential part of living well.

Working in the space of your heart requires patience, time, and gentleness. There is growing evidence from scientific communities that our mind and body responds positively to “heart-based” acts. These include keeping a gratitude journal, regular “meta” or self-compassion practices. Community is also vital, so finding support among friends and social networks is a great idea. More to Love hosts in-person yoga classes and retreats which factor in the need of your heart in wellness.

KEY LAYER #4: Essence
More to Love Yoga members, Laura S. & Wendee A. share in the values of body-love. Photo by Janelle Leroux.

The final layer is also the most special. Your essence is the undeniable, unchanging YOU-ness. The “bigger sum of all your parts” is a good way to look at it. While you cannot clearly define essence like you can a body-part or an emotion, your essence is all encompassing. The things that sparked joy in your life as a child is likely the same as today.

Essence contains aspects of worth, meaning, purpose and that “something bigger” than yourself. When you’re cut off from your essence, life feels empty and hollow. It’s not gone, just muddled out. More to Love considers shame to be the ultimate blocking of your essence.

You don’t have to “work” on your essence – it’s already baked in and perfect –  you simply need to align and adjust the upper layers to make connecting to your essence easier. Once you tap into your essence – even for a short burst – you’re automatically sparked up again. You likely “feel like yourself.”  Tapping into your essence is your wellness in motion. More to Love’s retreats are designed to connect you to your essence.

Final thoughts + more to come

Personally, I’ve been working on understanding these 4 Key Wellness areas for 15 years. They’re stemmed from personal experience via self-growth, lots of education and training, reading and inquiry from established traditions. And honestly, More to Love emerged from my own working of the 4 Keys. As I grow along with More to Love, these 4 Keys will evolve too.

I want to try and make it straightforward for you to feel well, good, whole – or maybe, just a little less “off” than you may feel now. These are not perfect, but they do offer a gentle guide to to examine life. I’ll keep the door open for myself and for you to adapt and adjust wellness.

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