07/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Getting By With A Little Help From Yourself

A review of Quantum Wellness (Weinstein Books 2008)

You know that iconic advertisement for a popular vegetable drink in which one of the actors slaps the top of his head and exclaims, "I could have had a V8!"? Readers may very well find themselves experiencing that "Well, yeah" moment many times while perusing Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness by Kathy Freston. The author isn't a doctor, a fact that works to the reader's advantage. Without preaching or physician-speak, Freston conducts a one-on-one conversation that encourages readers to do a self-exam of what makes themselves tick and to formulate a plan for making life a meaningful and rewarding journey.

Freston explains early on that the title is inspired by the physics definition of "quantum" as in a tiny particle of radiant energy, which, she writes, "brings to mind a sudden leap from one virtual state into a new manifest state," and applying that principle to wellness is about "adding things here and there to the thrust and taking baby steps toward the changes we want to achieve."

Those baby steps (or "Eight Pillars of Wellness," as she calls them) are meditation, visualization, fun activities, conscious eating, exercise, self-work, spiritual practice and service. Some of these steps seem self-evident, but Freston fleshes out each suggested pillar with firsthand accounts followed by analysis and exercises that the reader can try at home at his or her own pace. For instance, she explains that visualization is necessary to "shake loose your mindset. If you want to change the way you are feeling, you have to repattern your energy and literally create a new neurocircuitry."

Along with mind-cleansing, body-cleansing is a big part of Freston's plan for overall wellness. She makes a compelling argument for eliminating all animal products from the diet. Freston is a vegan herself but explains how she became one by reading about how food goes from farm to table and realizing that many lives (both human and nonhuman) were affected adversely by current farming practices. But she understands how radical the move to veganism may be for some people and suggests, instead, to start off by giving up "the little animals first" (fish and chickens) or going meatless one or two days per week. There's also an appendix offering recipes and a review of vitamins and supplements.

In addition, Freston tackles possible detours on the way to wellness, including dealing with personal crises, suggesting that there is much that can be done individually to prevent disease or misfortune by "tapping into the capability -- not the culpability -- of the Healer within each and every one of us." She also devotes a chapter to addiction, using a layperson's language to encourage the reader to get past the fear of admitting the need for help. "Living by rote" is another roadblock that many readers will likely connect with: the perpetuation of family traditions or behaviors that might cause someone to "sleepwalk through our opportunities, ... doing and living without authentic thought, feeling or clarity, ... a sure recipe for a life of quiet desperation."

Amid the abundance of self-help books on the shelves, Freston's guide to wellness is one that lives up to its title: It is indeed practical and offers spiritual guidance regardless of the reader's religion. A few head-slapping "Well, duh!" moments are overshadowed by the wealth of useful information and serviceable, life-improving exercises that should serve the reader well long after finishing the book.