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12 Dimensions of Wellness

Twelve dimensions form the basis of the Wellness Inventory, the original wellness assessment, developed by wellness pioneer John W. Travis, MD, MPH in the 1970s.

This dynamic whole person model, formally referred to as the Wellness Energy System, is comprised of the 12 fundamental life processes that interact with one another to shape our life experience and our state of personal wellbeing.

Click on a dimension to learn how it impacts your wellness or scroll below the wheel.


Self-Responsibility & Love

"He not busy being born is busy dying."
— Bob Dylan

Wellness is like a bridge supported by two piers. Each pier is crucial to the bridge's integrity just as the two principles of self-responsibility and love are fundamental to the process of wellness. In each case, the piers support a connection between two separate places, allowing for movement back and forth. This freedom to move between different places or attitudes, rather than rigid attachment to any particular one, is the hallmark of wellness.

Self-responsibility and love are primary expressions of life energy. Together, they form the foundations of wellness, and encourage the free flow of all other types of energy. If either principle (or pier) is weakened, living harmoniously (or traversing the bridge) becomes more difficult. When both are strong, energy dances back and forth, and the crossing is easy.

Self-Responsibility Means:
  • Discovering your real needs, and finding ways to meet them directly
  • Realizing that you are unique and the expert about yourself, and
  • Expressing yourself, both your ideas and feelings, in ways that effectively communicate to other people who you are, what you need, and what you know.
Love Means:
  • Listening to your own heart--treasuring your uniqueness and your inner wisdom
  • Experiencing yourself as your own best friend, and remaining faithful to yourself, especially in the rough times, and
  • Realizing your connectedness with all things.

With love and self-responsibility as the foundations of our being, living and wellness are synonymous.

Wellness is a dynamic process because there are seeming contradictions to be resolved, apparent oppositions to be integrated, infinite shades of gray from which to choose. Even though you are connected with everyone else, you are also very much alone, and singularly must make your own life and death decisions. This section explores how to live your life with self-responsibility and love, so that any burdens can be transformed into opportunities, and questions become the impetus for experimentation, for learning, for trusting, and for loving this magnificent and paradoxical creation--yourself.


"Air is the first food of the newborn."
— Edward Rosenfeld

The human body is remarkably adaptive and resilient. Human beings can survive for many weeks without food, and for several days without water, but without air, life ceases in only a matter of minutes. The fact is that every cell in the organism requires a continuous charge of oxygen in order to carry out its assigned function. The job of breathing is to supply this energy to the bloodstream, but since it has been happening automatically for every moment of your life, you've probably given very little attention to it. Yet without it, everything stops.

When the air is clear, your lungs strong, your body relaxed, and your mind at peace, you experience total wellbeing. Unfortunately, this ideal is seldom realized. In the language of the Wellness Energy System, the input source, the air, may be polluted in some way. Or perhaps there just isn't enough of it available. High altitude climbers must carry their own oxygen, or risk light-headedness and even death around 24,000 feet. Being in an overcrowded room without proper ventilation will have a similar effect. The channel (which is you) may have breakages (poorly functioning organs, illness, accident), or be blocked by foreign objects, by the restriction of muscles created from emotions such as fear, anger, and grief, by tight clothing, or by chronically poor posture. The poisons of nicotine and tar accumulated in lung tissues may also contaminate it.

This section looks at how these factors affect your output--or general metabolism. Your ability to work, play, and communicate with others depends upon how effectively your energy is used.


"Without music, life would be a mistake."
— Nietzche

It is through the senses--seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, tasting--that we come to know and enjoy the world. Our abilities to work, to feel pleasure, to communicate with others, and to impact the world are directly related to our abilities to appreciate and use our sensory input efficiently and creatively.

Everywhere there is evidence that many of us have "lost our senses." You probably know people who sunburn their skin, allow it to blister and peel, and then go back for more in an attempt to look "healthy" and "sexy" in their summer clothes. The noise of dishwashers, air conditioners, power tools, trucks, and loud music surrounds us, frequently leaving us irritable, angry, listless, or unable to sleep. Loud sounds from machinery and rock music can actually damage our delicate hearing mechanisms and cause headaches and hearing loss. When it comes to tasting, lots of us tax our digestive systems constantly with food that is too hot and beverages that are too cold, ending up with burnt tongues and stomach pains.

We move apathetically through an environment filled with chemical pollutants, and hope that we're not absorbing too much nuclear radiation from the power plant upwind. The more we abuse our senses with these types of over stimulation, the more we dull ourselves to their subtle warning signals--the body's cries for help, for balance.

The other side of this overstimulation is our withdrawal from sensory stimulation. Our fears cause us to freeze up when we are being touched. With depression and boredom we turn inward and often neglect the necessity for sunlight and fresh air. With grief we numb ourselves to the outside world as we attempt to cope with a loss. Studies with young mammals clearly indicate that early sensory deprivation results in lowered activity, incomplete physical development, and many failures in sexual functioning.

Your senses are marvelous instruments that require vigilance to keep them in top condition. This section is about becoming skilled in their care and creative use.


"Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food."
— Hippocrates

Most Americans' eating patterns represent a public health crisis. If a new disease erupted that was one tenth as destructive as most people's diets, there would be a massive public outcry to find the cure.

The way many people eat is the result of a lifestyle that glorifies immediate satisfaction and neglects the long-term consequences.

Many Americans are malnourished, and/or overweight, and/or dying in increasing numbers from conditions linked with dietary patterns, particularly heart disease, cancer, and stroke. We also suffer tooth decay, indigestion, constipation, allergies, headaches, hyperactivity, lethargy, skin disorders, and poor nails and hair--all diet-related.

Basically we have lost touch with ourselves and therefore our diets and eating habits are unbalanced. We lack information about nutrition, we are stressed, and most of the foods available to us are grown with pesticides, heavily processed, and devoid of many needed nutrients due to poor soils. Besides these problems, many use food to try to relieve emotional and physical pain. In addition to having problems with food, many people are addicted to drugs: caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and a wide variety of pharmaceuticals.

The situation is a vicious circle in which each unbalanced factor leads to another and then turns back to reinforce itself. The more stressed you are, the more you may tend to eat in an attempt to relieve your pain. The more you eat, the more pain you may create through increased weight or compounded guilt. The more pain you create, the more you may want to eat to relieve it. Round and round you go. It makes no difference at what point on the circle you jump in. Anywhere you turn, you lose. This section explores how to break this cycle--to leap into another circle altogether.


"It's no fun... It's for athletes... I'm too busy, etc…"
— Anonymous Couch Potato

Everything in us is moving. The heart pumps, blood flows, lungs expand and contract, eyes roll, eardrums vibrate. To be alive is to be moving. Inhibit the movement and you create illness. Stop movement and you are dead. Allow it fully and you realize wellness.

Because of this movement, everything is changing from moment to moment. To block movement therefore is to block change. The unmoving water becomes the stagnant pool. The moving river cleanses itself. The unmoving body becomes a home for infection and depression. The moving body freely channels the energy of life.

Close your eyes for a moment and create a mental picture of an unhealthy person. Your image may include a colorless and drooping face, an overweight body, possibly seated in a chair, or a tired form sluggishly climbing a flight of stairs, puffing at every step.

Now, imagine the opposite. See a person at the peak of health. Chances are you have pictured a pink-cheeked complexion, and a trim beautiful body in motion--running, or jumping with arms reaching out, or making love, or dancing. Dancing is a great metaphor for living--for being--in harmony, since the whole universe, the sum total of energy, moves as in a dance. The person dancing is the person at one with the universe. The person dancing is fully alive.

Without movement you have no dance, no work, and no play either. It's that elementary. Movement changes both the inner world and the outer world. Moving encourages movement. The more you move, the better you move. In this section we explore how energy creates energy--in a continuous, circling process--a constant dance.


"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones."
— Proverbs 17:22

We experience feelings and emotions from well before the event of our birth. They can be intense, or frightening, or wonderful. They can also be the most misunderstood, and consequently mistreated, gifts we have as human beings. We judge them, repress them, discount them, drug them, worship them, and run from them. Yet, what a bore to be without them! Life fully lived is life filled with feeling!

Feelings here means emotions. The physical experience of heat or cold or hunger are sensations, covered in the section on Sensing. Feelings are not the same as thoughts, even though we commonly hear them being interchanged. Actually, thinking and feeling are experienced in quite different areas of the brain. The limbic system, deep within the brain, is the source of emotions, while thoughts occur in the neo-cortex, or gray matter, which is the surface of the brain, and is a rather recent development in the evolution of mammals.

For any given event, we respond by both feeling and thinking. Yet most of us give priority to our thoughts about a subject and sometimes ignore the feelings.

For every new situation we have feelings instantaneously, even though we may have learned to suppress them. This section is about becoming more aware of the marvelous gift of feelings.


"The greatest discovery of any generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of their minds."
— Albert Schweitzer

Thoughts and feelings are the art and the craft of the human brain. Similar to the lungs, heart, and stomach, the brain works to transform energy. We feed the brain with nutrients drawn from the food that we eat, with the energy of great ideas that we harvest from people, with the sights, sounds, and movement around us, and with the information in books and other media. Some of this energy is filed away in the brain as data to be drawn on at some appropriate time in the future. The rest is available for daily functioning, for making plans, solving problems, for incubating dreams, and for making connections.

Scientific research demonstrates the energy use of the thinking brain. When a person is connected to an EEG (a machine that measures brain activity), the various patterns of thinking or non-thinking reveal different electrical impulses. Think "hard"--and there is an increase in brainwave frequency. Think "soft"—and see that the brain waves slow down. After a day of headwork you will feel physically tired, because thinking takes energy.

This section focuses on the power of thinking. It relates thinking to physical and mental health, and offers some creative options for using thinking to improve your wellbeing.

Playing & Working

"It takes one a long time to become young."
— Pablo Picasso

Most of our daily life falls under one of these two categories. For us adults, the majority of time is usually spent focused on work with far too little time allowed for play. What passes for play for most adults is more likely to be escape activities--distraction from the responsibilities of work. Many people turn to the entertainment industry instead of engaging in the joyful, creative, spontaneous play that is vital to our wellbeing.

Until schooling begins, children usually spend most of their time playing--a crucial activity for their development. The same activity may be considered to be work or play, depending on whether or not the activity is goal-directed. When we are really playing, we lose touch with all concern about performance or accomplishment and become totally absorbed in our activity. There is no sense of "should." Whatever we do is OK. We are in "the flow."

This section is about recapturing the spirit of play that can bring balance into our lives when we feel burdened with work and responsibilities.


"You think it's a secret, but everybody knows."
— Fortune cookie

Human communication is the exchange of information, verbal or nonverbal, between a sender and a receiver (a rather cold description for what could be poetry or lovemaking). Because we humans are so fantastically complex, despite what you may have experienced from your high school biology teacher, it is virtually impossible for us to communicate isolated bits of data.

Every time you speak to (or write to, or look at) someone you are revealing yourself. You can't avoid it. Your tone of voice, selection of words, facial expression, even the clothes you wear and the way you comb your hair, are all messages in themselves, messages about you.

Furthermore, the people you are addressing interpret what you share in the light of their own beliefs and values. Sometimes there are so many variables, so many hidden messages, that the original information is deeply buried, and a map is required to recover it.

When you are not busy communicating with someone or something else, you are carrying on a running conversation with yourself, even though you may not be aware of it. These internal conversations are as vulnerable to distortions and misrepresentations as any other conversation. Because internal conversations direct the way you view the world and the way you view yourself, they have momentous impact on your health and happiness. If you tell yourself enough times that the world is a vicious rat race, if you tell yourself enough times that you are weak and susceptible, then very likely your reality will be just that.

This section focuses almost exclusively on verbal communication, exploring the dynamics of how people talk to themselves and one another. It also looks at the breakdowns in communication that can occur. As you come to understand and appreciate this process, you may simultaneously understand and appreciate yourself. The clearer the channel (you), the better the possibilities for a meaningful encounter—a dynamic energy exchange.


"Genuine intimacy, achieved only in a state of high trust, is a calming state because risk of hurt is minimized. If risks are present, they loom small relative to the rewards of intimacy. "
— Jack Gibb

There are many kinds of intimacy, ranging from a close friendship or family tie to a long-term marriage. Whatever the relationship, intimacy is an essential component to high level wellness.

Does this kind of intimate relationship mean that we have no conflicts? Not hardly. In fact, we now know that nearly 70% of relational conflicts are not resolvable. Differences in family-of-origin and cultural rules, personality, lifestyle, or personal values often preclude a permanent resolution. But we can actually build trust and intimacy with our loved-ones depending on how we deal with conflicts.

Learning to respond to each other with appreciation, respect, and friendship is the key. Being aware of how our loved ones attempt to connect with us and how we respond can make a huge difference in how we feel about each other. Sometimes those attempts can be indirect and even negative. By being aware of the attempt to connect and choosing to respond positively can make all the difference in the quality of a relationship.

Respecting our intimates' boundaries (invisible line which defines the limits of each individual in the relationship) is essential in building trust and emotional safety. This is particularly true in sexual relationships. Knowing our own limits, clearly asserting them, and having them respected is a fundamental requirement in a healthy relationship.

Long-term relationships, whether sexual or platonic, can be an ever-growing adventure.

How we connect with others makes all the difference in the quality of our lives. Forming a secure, loving bond with another person requires a certain self-understanding and insight into our own mind as well as the ability to understand and empathize with the other person's experience. The more we know ourselves, the better we can understand others, and the more deeply we know others, the better we know ourselves.

Finding Meaning

"Also there is the fear that there is an afterlife, but no one will know where it's being held."
— Woody Allen

Finding meaning appears to be a unique human need. It is one of the most complex uses of energy in that it involves almost all of the previous energy forms.

Since the beginning of time philosophers have asked these basic questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What do I want? What is real? What is true? Regardless of whether these questions are addressed on a conscious or subconscious level, all life activity and all other energy expressions are colored by our responses (or lack of responses) to these fundamental questions.

Contemplating (and living with) these questions is a major accomplishment in itself. Such contemplations can bring deeper meaning into the actions and activities of our everyday life, which is all too often on "automatic pilot" - living on the surface.

By learning and experiencing more deeply who we are and what is meaningful and important in our lives, we are able to live more fully as human beings. This section encourages you to find a deeper meaning in your life that can provide a powerful focus for directing your life-energy.


"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious."
— Albert Einstein

Transcending has many faces including the experience of peak performance, of flow, of "being in the zone"—an experience of being fully awake and engaged in the present moment.

It is the moment of overcoming, crossing the invisible barrier from protecting to learning, from contracting to expanding, from saying no to life to saying yes.

Transcending is the dimension of faith and spirituality, and of experiencing our connection to something greater than our selves.

This knowledge and experience inspires both love and self-responsibility, which takes us full circle, back to the first dimension of the wellness wheel, in the never-ending spiral of wellness.


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