Dana Bender and Lisa MedleyBy: Lisa Medley

“This conference is life-changing,” was a popular refrain from the 2019 National Wellness Conference held the first week of October in Kissimmee, Florida. In its 44th year, this gathering brings together experts with decades of experience, those shifting gears to create more meaning in their lives and those they serve, as well as brand-new wellness professionals.

The conference theme was The Key to Thriving: Six Dimensions of Wellness. Things kicked off Monday afternoon with a warm welcome from members of the board, staff, and Heart-to-Heart Committee along with a chance to unlock the Keys to Thriving Treasure Chest and win prizes donated by sponsors, exhibitors, and presenters. After registration, conferees enjoyed the Exhibit Hall Grand Opening that included a range of sponsors and exhibitors that supported all Six Dimensions of Wellness and more! There were opportunities to learn more about your genes, your brain, the brain in your heart, pain reduction remedies, innovative technological solutions, and financial wellness. Educational, coaching, wellness-based insurance companies, and healing centers were also present to offer missing pieces to traditional models and support the wellness movement.

After an evening of making new connections and reconnecting with treasured friends, Tuesday morning began with hugs—lots of them! Ken Nwadike of the Free Hugs Project shared stories of de-escalating intense confrontations on the frontlines of riots and protests. His efforts in “Restoring Civility in America” show the vital importance to be more supportive and respectful toward one another and celebrate the hope that peacekeeping is possible, even amidst uprisings. In addition to his powerful stories, he invited us to hug a neighbor, cheer on four conferees in a race to win Free Hugs T-shirts and, at the conclusion of his presentation, receive hugs from Ken himself. The line was long, lasted nearly an hour, and embodied the whole-person approach of the National Wellness Institute.

Then there were rabbits. Wednesday’s keynote was delivered by Dr. Kelli Harding, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, who shared “The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness.” (The presentation shares the name of her recently released book.) She explored the science of surprising hidden factors, such as kindness and connection in our day-to-day lives, that can have profound impacts on our overall health beyond visits to the doctor’s office. The Rabbit Effect was referring to a study that showed the significant growth and development of a group of rabbits who were not only fed, also but held in the arms of a researcher. Shortly after setting the stage for her stories and research discoveries, she invited us to greet one another with kindness and remarked that “this group doesn’t need to be told twice.”

Arkansas Dept. of Health employees completed Certificate of Worksite Wellness Specialist

On Thursday morning, we were treated to a robust panel discussion: Thriving in Today’s Environment. Moderated by Jane Ellery of Ball State University, the panel included: DeAnne Aussem, Managing Director & U.S. Leadership Coaching Center Center CoE Leader at Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC); Colin Bullen, Founder and Director of BRATLAB Limited; and Curtis Watkins, Owner of Watkins & Associates Executive and Team Development. These three inspiring professionals come from different avenues of wellness and have a shared vision: helping others to thrive in their everyday place.

The panelists offered ingredients for successful thriving and addressed myths that limit progress. One key to thriving is integration, so that wellness practices are applied by all, including leadership, and woven in throughout the day. Examples include nap pods, prayer rooms, 1-minute meditations at the beginning of meetings, rooms for teaming and collaborating, and walking meetings. The overarching theme was redefining the way work gets done.

Another key that was echoed by the panelists was the importance of a clear vision of what it means to thrive. Aspiration is worthy and it needs to be connected to the underlying rationale both on the professional and personal level. When it comes to day-to-day practice, patience is required, as well as the acceptance that thriving is a journey of continuous steps.

What happens when even though there is vision, something is still amiss? The panelists gave voice to many myths that may impede progress. The myth that education is enough was debunked. This is the case for rewards and incentives as well. Although changes may occur initially, they will not stick in the long-term. Sometimes it is a matter of not circling back to programs to see what is working and what is not; more often there is lack of intrinsic motivation.

A remedy offered is ensuring the internal and external environments are supportive for ongoing success. For example, is someone’s inner landscape being driven by a belief of, “I can’t” regarding the change they would like to make or are presented with? In this case, asking questions, sometimes many, provides an opportunity for people to share their stories rather than being stopped by assumptions. In addition, it is important that the focus is on “Who are you?” not just what you do. To humanize workplaces and communities, it is necessary to honor that we are one human being; not someone at work and someone else at home.

Intrinsic motivation is ultimately strengthened by increased self-awareness. All the panelists offered a variety of tools and practices to support this process. These include: meditation; emotional literacy, including befriending those emotions that may be in the “shadows”; somatic awareness (paying attention to what you are sensing below the neck); engaging in practices to feed all of you—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; and being willing to be vulnerable.

Recognizing the impact of the external environment is also key. Internal shifts will be more sustainable if the outer world is supportive. For example, if there is encouragement to move/exercise, is there actually time to do it? When people are having breaks, to what extent are they using it to restore themselves or are they getting lost in technological overstimulation? Are those in leadership being active role models? Is there nonjudgment for ideas and emotions? In other words, is it safe enough to let your guard down and be authentic? Is there a focus on the collective and collaboration or is the myth of separation or a “lone ranger” mentality present?

Parting thoughts included celebrating that every single person has value and is part of the whole to create a world of contributors, not just consumers. In addition, getting to know your inner landscape with simple queries like, “What is important to me?” is essential. The wisdom of Victor Frankl was also shared who taught that in between a stimulus and response we all have the power to choose. When we create the time and space to practice being in that space, we can expand our choices to be well while being efficient with our energy. This is a powerful recipe for greater liberation, which can truly make the world a better place to live and thrive!

When we weren’t being inspired by this amazing group of keynotes and panelists, the wellness horizon was being expanded by a plethora of presentations. One of the cornerstones of the National Wellness Conference is an opportunity to engage both the personal and the professional. There were a variety of continuing education credits to be earned, and a rich selection of strategies, tools, and techniques. Conferees could explore their spirituality and body wisdom, increase their emotional repertoire, become more mindful, map their heart, and get to know the brain in the gut. The Coaching Academy, Worksite Academy, and Multicultural Competency Academy all offered immersions in their respective areas. A range of populations were represented, from engaging with youth to retirement as well as worksites, schools, diversity and inclusion, integrative health, and international representation from ten different countries. There was also delicious food, a kazoo band, waving to alligators from a distance, and social time to eat, drink, and be merry.

It is an exciting time to be in the wonderful world of wellness! To celebrate the continued evolution of this field, next year’s conference theme is: Reimagine Wellness. Save the dates for July 20-22, 2020, and join us at Orlando World Center Marriott. In the meantime, dive into the rich resources that the National Wellness Institute provides all year long to reinforce the powerful currency of connection.

Lisa MedleyLisa Medley, MA, CMT serves as a Wellbeing and Body Intelligence Expert. She supports her clients to cultivate positive relationships with their body for sustainable inside-out wellbeing. Lisa believes in reintegrating the body and its wisdom to support the evolution of our divine human potential. Learn more at SoulisticArts.com. Check out her new Instagram page as well: @soulisticarts.