The global wellness industry is booming and Australians are well and truly on board. Though almost two-thirds of us work out at least three times a week, according to a recent Sport Australia report, staying active is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are 20 further ways to wellness.
Traditional pilgrim trails such as Camino de Santiago in Spain and the Kumano Kodo in Japan continue to welcome a growing number of visitors despite fewer people considering themselves religious. It may seem counterintuitive but the trails – which often consist of difficult, multi-day journeys – provide a physical and mental challenge, as well as a rare opportunity for slow travel and mindfulness. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that pilgrim sites are often in the world’s most spectacular places.
New kids on the block
Watch out, Bali – there are new wellness destinations set to give you a run for your money. More than 2.3 million people visited Sri Lanka in 2018 with the nation becoming a hotspot for visitors thanks to its natural beauty, rich culture and history. Stunning beaches, a tropical climate and Ayurvedic and yogic traditions all lend themselves to a health-focused holiday – and hoteliers have taken note. Later this year, Harding Boutique Hotels is set to open a six-suite hotel with sea-facing bathtubs in Ahangama in the south, while Sen Wellness Sanctuary, east of Tangalle, frequently appears on yoga best-of lists. Bhutan is also shaping up to be a wellness player, with the recent opening of several Six Senses resorts taking the nation’s luxury offerings to new heights.
If you follow social media, you’ve seen Italy’s Mezzatorre. This 16th century, Moorish-style former watchtower perched above a sapphire ocean has plenty of aesthetic appeal but its natural hot springs have been attracting health-conscious travellers since ancient Roman times. Writer Elena Ferrante’s bestselling Neapolitan novels and spinoff TV series My Brilliant Friend, in which the island features, have boosted tourism to this once-sleepy volcanic outpost. The striped beach umbrellas and ocean-front pool look custom-built for sipping Aperol spritzes but Mezzatore is about balancing indulgence with self-care – natural thermal waters bubble straight up into Mezzatorre’s spa, with the alkaline springs said to assist with everything from respiration to arthritis.
Medical spas may sound very 19th century but this old-school concept is getting a cutting-edge update, especially in established resort towns across Switzerland and other parts of Europe. Sha Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain has brought the concept to the Mediterranean, delivering regenerative medicine, physiotherapy, traditional Chinese medicine and a wide range of complementary health programs in a setting so beautiful, you’ll feel better just gazing out the window.
From Club W, a Sydney-based, women’s-only teahouse, social club and wellness centre, to The Assemblage, a New York coworking club that offers New Age lectures and nature retreats, there is huge growth in the community-based wellness sector. A sense of community helps members stick to their fitness goals, but we also know that social connection plays an important role in overall wellbeing.
If you need proof that wellness is the new self-help, look no further than once-niche wellness festivals. Leading the new wave of blockbuster events is Gwyneth Paltrow’s globetrotting roadshow, the In Goop Health wellness summit, which gives attendees a chance to get involved in talks, panels and “self-care stations” for a mere US$1000 (about $1470) per day. Oprah Winfrey will also host her own event, Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus, which will kick off in Florida on 4 January, promising to help attendees lead “a stronger, healthier, more abundant life”.
Exercise to help you exercise? That’s precisely the idea behind active recovery – exercises that help muscles recover from intensive activity. It could mean Pilates or strengthening workouts that complement your high-intensity cardio or improving flexibility to reduce the chances of injury. Stretch*d and StretchLab are just two of the new American companies getting in on the action, while Australian gyms and fitness studios are also adapting to recovery, such as Sydney’s Flow Athletic, which provides NormaTec compression recovery systems (basically giant massaging sleeping bags) to help boost weary runner’s legs; and the One Hot Yoga group in Sydney and Melbourne which also runs Pilates classes to their menu for more tailored strengthening and recovery workouts.
Getting over a divorce? Writing a novel? Perhaps you want to be a better parent or just a better cook? Whatever the case, there’s a retreat for it. The days of generic weight-loss retreats are well and truly over, with a slew of hyper-specific weekend stays popping up to support a range of experiences and goals.
SEE ALSO: Reboot Your Life: Europe’s Best Retreats
From the renewed popularity of natural hot springs to the resurgence of float tanks and thalassotherapy (Greek for “sea cure”), the health benefits of a good soak have been embraced by myriad cultures. The potential for aquatic wellness to combine relaxation with nature (as with hot springs) or community (as with bathhouses) mean the health benefits are two-fold: no wonder we’re being inspired to hit the water year-round. Whether you opt for a bucket-list geothermal dip, say in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, or something closer to home, it’s time to bathe in the health benefits.
You might already be acquainted with fit-fluencers and celebrity facialists but are you across the latest A-list massage? Flávia Lanini, the Hollywood-based Brazilian masseuse known for her de-bloating lymphatic drainage technique, has become almost as famous as her celebrity clientele (62,000 Instagram followers and counting). She’s a favourite of several Victoria’s Secret models and boasts regulars like Kris and Kendall Jenner, Miranda Kerr and Hailey Bieber. The technique isn’t new – it’s been popular in France since the 1930s and is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. The idea is to stimulate the lymphatic system responsible for moving lymph fluid through the body by using massage, helping it to function more effectively and speeding the loss of “water weight”. There isn’t a huge amount of scientific data but devotees swear by its ability to reduce swelling and improve the appearance of cellulite.
Following in the footsteps of organic eating and eco-friendly home products, the beauty biz is the latest industry to get a non-toxic makeover – and it has some real star power behind it. Naomi Watts co-founded Onda, a clean beauty retailer with a store in Sydney’s Paddington, while Michelle Pffeifer has put the focus on clean perfume with her own fine fragrance label Henry Rose, the first to be verified by America’s Environmental Working Group.
Everyone from holistic healers to Silicon Valley bio-hackers are singing the praises of adaptogens. But what exactly are they? Put simply, they’re any non-toxic, plant-based substance that works to modulate the stress response of the body. Turmeric is one and so is L-Theanine (found in matcha tea). We still don’t know much about them, but the popularity of adaptogenic supplement brands such as California’s Moon Juice indicates they’re not going anywhere soon.
A close relative of adaptogens, nootropics is the generic term given to any kind of cognitive enhancer. Commonly known as smart drugs, they can be synthetic or man-made, available by prescription or over the counter – the key feature is that they increase brain function. Where adaptogens reduce stress, nootropics boost focus and productivity.
Seasonal affective disorder, the depressive state associated with the shorter, darker days of winter, affects up to one in three people in England. Those numbers tend to be much lower in countries with more temperate climates, such as Australia. But even so, the once-experimental “SAD lamp" has become commonplace. Proponents believe that by spending 30 minutes to an hour a day in front of very bright light, we can reset our circadian rhythms. Spa at Ye Olde Bell in Nottinghamshire even offers a light therapy treatment complete with fake beach and deck chairs.
Can a messaging service be as good as a real-life experience? Plenty of start-ups are banking on it. From text-based counselling services to American pharmacies that correspond via text message and post medications to your doorstep, health providers are going online to offer a more streamlined service and better access to information for clients.
After cryotherapy, comes the cryofacial. Briefly exposing the body (or parts of it) to extreme cold was originally designed to accelerate muscle repair in athletes but has been co-opted by the beauty industry as a way of stimulating cell turnover. During treatments, blasts of cold vapour are often combined with light therapy to boost collagen and cell rejuvenation. Proponents say it can be effective in the treatment of everything from eczema to puffiness and fine lines.
Wellness architecture is taking over the hotel scene but plenty of people are looking for ways to make their own houses a little healthier. Whether you’re stocking up on air-purifying house plants (approved by both Instagram and NASA) or switching your synthetic bed linens for breathable and eco-friendly bamboo fibres, little touches can help boost mood. Humidifiers, aromatherapy and even decluttering, à la Marie Kondo, can help create a more comfortable space to wind down in at the end of the day.
RIP late nights
The Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington claims the secret to success is a solid seven to eight hours sleep per night, while Oprah Winfrey aims to be in bed by 10pm each day. Burning the candle at both ends was once a badge of honour but thanks to a growing awareness of exhaustion, today’s high fliers are more likely to be at home with a cup of chamomile tea than out at a glamorous event come evening – especially, if like Apple CEO Tim Cook, they start their day at 3.45am.
Self-care time out
It’s been used to describe everything from elaborate 12-step skincare routines to cancelling plans and staying home with a glass of wine and a good film. But before self-care became a hashtag or a marketing tool, it was a radical idea that marginalised groups – especially those in mental health and social work – needed to take care of themselves before they could take care of others. The self-care industry in America has moved away from its political roots and is today worth in excess of US$10 billion (about $14.7 billion), with millennials spending more on personal improvement than any previous generation. Any action that makes life more manageable – from face masks to gym memberships and meal delivery services – can be considered self-care but there’s no need to spend big. It could be as simple as making time to read a book at the end of the day.
Squats and treadmills may be effective ways to get fit but such activities can all feel, well, a little futile. Exercise that has both a social and a skills-building element, such as boxing or bouldering (rock climbing without a harness), have taken off in the past few years, with aficionados emphasising that neither really feels like a workout. Rather than zoning out, they require a high degree of mental focus, which has a positive effect on the brain as well as the body.