What is the Wellness Wheel?

The wellness wheel provides a visual representation of the concept of wellness that demonstrates the need for “balanced” or “well-rounded” lives. To attain and maintain harmony and balance in our lives, we must pay attention to each of the four dimensions of wellness. To neglect or over-emphasize any of the four dimensions will result in an out-of-balance (out-of-round) wellness wheel.

Imagine the wellness wheel as a tire made up of four separate air chambers – each one representing a dimension of wellness. If one or more of these air chambers is either over-inflated or under-inflated, the wheel will be unbalanced and the road of life will be a bumpy one. We roll along through life more smoothly when our lives are “well-rounded” or balanced. These ideas are represented visually through the three following graphics:

Balanced/Round Wellness Wheel

wellness wheel

This wellness wheel belongs to a person who takes responsibility for achieving balance in his/her life. As a result, this person is rolling along smoothly through life – for whom everything is going “just right”.

Out-of-balance/Out-of-round Wellness Wheel #1

out of balance wellness wheel #1

This wheel could represent a person who is overly concerned with having fun and socializing (social dimension), and neglects the physical dimension (e.g., has a low level of physical fitness, and/or is overweight, and/or does not have a healthy diet, etc.).

Out-of-balance/Out-of-round Wellness Wheel #2

out of balance wellness wheel #2

This wellness wheel is that of a person who is obsessed with the physical dimension of wellness. He or she engages in physical activity for so many hours each day that there is no time for attending to elements of wellness in the other dimensions (e.g., meaningful relationships, reading).

Aboriginal Medicine Wheel

Aboriginal Wellness Wheel

The Medicine Wheel is an ancient holistic approach to healing ailments of the mind, body, and spirit that explains illness as springing from an imbalance of being. The Medicine Wheel is a complex network of ideas, symbols, and philosophies depicted within a metaphorical circle. The Wheel is divided into north, south, east, and west doors, each associated with thoughts, feelings, time periods, and sacred elements.

A holistic approach to life where all things are connected is central to the Aboriginal world view. Illness is explained as an imbalance in life and restoring balance and harmony is achieved by examining the elements of one’s life represented by the Medicine Wheel .

Understanding the Medicine Wheel is a challenge because the prevailing worldview of mainstream society, with its emphasis on measuring and quantifying, runs contrary to the holistic and esoteric principles on which the Medicine Wheel is based. In fact, some proponents of Medicine Wheel teaching are cautious about even discussing the Wheel because they are concerned that people will misinterpret the Wheel and start using it without really understanding what they are doing. Communities and individuals seeking healing usually look to respected Elders and facilitators, who have mastered the Medicine Wheel over many years. For more information you may wish to consult The Sacred Tree (1985) by Phil Lane, Jr., Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown, and elders.

Illness-Wellness Continuum

illness-wellness continuum

Wellness is not merely the absence of illness. The Illness-Wellness Continuum illustrates that there are many degrees of wellness, just as there are many degrees of illness. Moving from the center of the continuum to the left shows a progressively worsening state of health. It depicts a wellness wheel that is becoming less balanced (less round). Moving to the right of the center of the continuum indicates an increasing level of wellness. It shows a wellness wheel that is becoming more balanced (round).

“Adapted, with permission, from _Wellness Workbook_, 3rd edition, by John W. Travis, MD, and Regina Sara Ryan, Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA. © 1981, 1988, 2004 by John W. Travis. www.wellnessworkbook.com