There can have been no clearer demonstration of the foothold wellness has in the mainstream than the arrival of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix series Goop at the beginning of the year, promising a journey to the ‘optimisation of self’.
Now an industry worth $4.5 trillion (£3.6 trillion), according to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness covers everything from fitness fads to astrology and reiki.
But as we navigate times that the best divinators would have struggled to predict, even the more inflexible amongst us are finding ways to incorporate yoga and other less traditional healthcare into our quarantine routines.
There was even a Royal endorsement when the Queen suggested in her national address to pause and reflect in meditation. It is almost as if we’ve entered an even Goopier new age.
As we come to terms with life under lockdown some practitioners have reported a definite uptick in demand for their services.
Tarot reader and astrologer Kerry Ward, who offers online readings via her Etsy shop Tarotbella, says that while more people are coming to her for guidance, the topics have changed.
‘It’s less about looking for love and more job-related queries, seeking reassurance about job security, and specific questions about family and current relationships,’ Kerry tells Metro.co.uk. ‘It’s more about dealing with life in the here and now than seeking a distant, rosy future ideal.
‘It’s been seen over and over in history… Shattering world events make people look for answers, for meaning, and for hope.
‘Hardship focuses the mind and makes people question stuff in their life that they previously took for granted, assumed was just the way it is, or realise that they want to change.’
Sarah Negus, who started working as The Modern Day Shaman after leaving her career in investment banking has noticed a similar trend.
Sarah says: ‘When everything changes the only thing in our power is our response to that change. My clients know that they get to choose whether to be afraid or to be hopeful.
‘My work is about letting go of predictability, and leaning into possibility and potential, and taking a wider perspective of what is happening at large.’
This is something that one of her clients, Lenka Lutonska, 39, can attest to. Losing her first business five years ago was ‘an earthquake’ in Lenka’s life, leaving her feeling stressed and anxious.
‘It was a very sobering and uncomfortable experience, but it also helped me to start looking inwards and find the strength from within, rather than looking for it on the outside – through financial security, and nice things,’ she says.
‘I would use whatever professional help I could find and could afford – from a Chinese healer, through to a Reiki Master, and card readers. Anything that would help me to release some of the stress and bring more hope into my situation, which I needed badly at that time.’
Many of these practices have moved online. Lisa Phillips, a 49-year-old confidence coach, has been tuning into live streamed sound baths – a meditative experience whereby participants ‘bathe’ in sounds produced by gongs, chimes and bowls. She finds it easier on her own at home, versus lying next to a stranger like at sessions she’s previously attended.
‘Being self-employed, I was really worried once the pandemic started,’ she explains.
‘I really had to take control of my own self-care as I felt I was rushing around too much helping other people to cope and forgetting to take care of myself.
‘The gongs really make me relax plus have a positive impact on my emotional wellbeing. I listen to them several times a week and always feel really relaxed and balanced.’
While it may be easy to write off some of these practices as at best airy fairy psychobabble and at worst a particularly dangerous brand of snake oil, it seems there may be something to the wellness movement.
For example, a 2017 review of 13 different studies found that reiki – an energy healing treatment – works better than placebo for pain, relaxation and anxiety. There’s a lot to be said for the placebo effect too, as it may be more powerful than you think.
Ted Kaptchuk, Director of Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School conducted a study of 262 irritable bowel disease symptoms in which 61% of those who received sham acupuncture (fake needles that don’t pierce the skin) along with a lot of attention from their practitioner said they had significant symptom relief.
‘The magnitude of effect was better than the best drug on the market, and it wasn’t even real acupuncture,’ Kaptchuk told WebMD.
Does it really matter if something is ‘real’ if people are seeing their mental health benefit?
Some remain sceptical.
‘The most dangerous aspect of these practices isn’t necessarily the potential for physical or mental harm but the impact of lost time, misplaced trust, dashed hopes and wasted money,’ says Charles Linden, an anxiety recovery expert and director of Linden Tree Education.
‘The key factor in deciding whether to start or continue with an alternative treatment such as meditation, hypnotherapy, distance healing or reiki is to first research whether there are real and valid testimonials.
‘If you then go ahead with the treatment and it makes you feel worse or doesn’t produce real recovery or significant relief within two or three sessions, then my advice is to stop.’
More people are opting for a combined approach in managing their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, has had more clients seeking help from hypnotherapists and other spiritual healers as well as her expertise.
‘Alternative therapies can offer approaches to healing that we are unable to, for example using touch.
‘Occasionally, talking isn’t enough to facilitate change and in these cases, alternative therapies might offer a different route.
‘However, many of these alternative therapies are very unregulated which means that there is often a lot of variability in skill. I would always advise someone to be cautious in choosing a practitioner, and I would generally advise those with severe mental and emotional difficulties to steer clear.’
And in case you’re wondering if the universe has any particular message for us right now, Kerry says The High Priestess keeps appearing, representing hidden knowledge, intuition and emerging new truths, while Sarah says it’s a time to think about the energy you put into the world.
‘Choose to show up as your best self, choose to be kind, choose to love, choose to offer help and choose to resource yourself.’
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