Shannon Sodano Heffernan is an accomplished corporate wellness trainer, nutrition educator and yoga instructor who is passionate about spreading health into organizations and communities. She is active in community wellness initiatives and does healthy food demonstrations and yoga classes in and around her own neighborhood. She is currently finishing up coursework for the New York Botanical Garden's Horticultural Therapy Certificate program and working with children at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to teach well-being through guided interactions with plants and nature.
The Wizard of Oz is a story many of us are familiar with. Dorothy gets swept away from Kansas during a tornado and goes on a journey in search of how to get back home. Along the way, she meets an endearing group of characters who are all searching for something of their own. The Scarecrow is in need of a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart and the Lion is looking for courage. The Wizard of Oz claims to have everything they are looking for, yet he turns out to be a regular person without any magical powers to help solve the characters' problems. What at first seems disappointing turns out to be an empowering lesson: Dorothy and her crew don't need anyone to give them what they're looking for; they've already had it within themselves.
I encountered my own fair share of wizards when I was eagerly seeking a cure to an injury that ended my collegiate running career prematurely. My injury stopped me from doing what I so badly wanted to do – keep running – which was the very thing that had gotten me injured in the first place. I sought out countless doctors and therapists, each of whom claimed his or her method would make me run again. I became frustrated as I turned from one authority to another, gaining neither peace of mind nor more physical mobility. Eventually, as I got more and more disheartened, I began to realize that no one could fix my body for me. This was something I needed to do myself.
Fortunately, I was also able to see my situation from the perspective of a health authority as I studied nutrition at my university. My classmates and I spent four years delving into the details of what to feed the body and when, only to uncover more contradictions with more education. In one of our very last classes, we learned that the same people who sourced our health information were those who produced many of the foods that the government recommended we eat every day. We not only needed to take what we had learned with a grain of salt, but we had to question whether or not we would choose to follow the guidance of these authorities.
Collectively, today, we are getting our health information from sources that claim to have the "one and only" answer for lasting health. We have been led to believe that without magazines, government guidelines, private trainers and nutritionists, our health cannot sustain itself. When new health advice emerges, we tend to forget about prior ideas and approaches, wanting to accept the new idea as our one and final answer to myriad health challenges. With new and often contradictory health information emerging rapidly via modern mainstream media, how do we know what to believe?
Putting our trust in these authorities can leave us feeling discouraged, confused, guilty and intimidated. This needs to change. This change can only happen when we acknowledge that, like the heroes of the Wizard of Oz, the answers lie within us. In truly listening to the needs of our bodies, we become the source of our own authority. Our bodies know what's best; the key is that we become sensitive to what they're telling us.
This is easier to do than we think. Spending time moving our bodies, surrounding ourselves by nature and practicing some form of meditation makes us feel fully present and connects us with our physical health. Additionally, a health guide can be a positive force in our lives if he or she encourages us to partake in physical activities that bring us joy and strengthen our health as a positive byproduct. This approach transcends ideas of what is considered "right" and "wrong" for our health and empowers us to be our own health authority. For health that will last a lifetime, let's remember we've had access to it all along.