By Liza Horan, Editor
Society is continuing to shift attitudes and behaviours toward holistic wellness, and just-released evidence shows it’s both a bottom-up and top-down movement. Concepts and practices previously juxtaposed as incongruous – such as Eastern and Western medical practices, the interplay between mind and matter, science versus spirituality, or modern technology and ancient wisdom – are increasingly being embraced by the public and the health establishment as compatible approaches to wellness.
On the popular culture side, Dictionary.com announced The Word of the Year 2019 was “existential.” This was based on searches trending on the reference site throughout the year, and it lent itself to different contexts and current socio-political issues. “It captures a sense of grappling with the survival—literally and figuratively—of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life … existential also inspires us to ask big questions about who we are and what our purpose is in the face of our various challenges,” the announcement says. “And it reminds us that we can make choices about our lives in how we answer those questions.”
Astrology, the ancient discipline that formed part of medical practice until the 1700s has an increasing hold over Millennials and Gen Z, according to a piece written this week by Barbara McMahon of The Times (UK). Astrology has millennials hooked. Why? is a snapshot of California astrologer Chani Nicholas, whose book “You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance” flew off the shelves in Los Angeles and drew waiting lists at UK book shops. No surprise, perhaps, considering astrology is just one element of the “mystical services” industry estimated to be worth $2.1 billion.
More ancient practices are coming to the fore, according to the just-released report, The Future of Wellness 2020 by the Global Wellness Summit, which is the flagship event by the Global Wellness Institute. It outlines 10 trends that are dominated by natural solutions for improved health and wellbeing. Many fall within mind-body-spirit* disciplines, like sound therapy and energy healing.
This report conveys that the medical and scientific establishments are focused on better understanding how our minds and bodies are built to perform. Once we understand these natural processes, we can adapt our lifestyles to maximise efficiency and reduce harm, such as stress, anxiety and other conditions. It seems to be a time of revisiting old “technologies” and combining them with new innovations in today’s tech and modern culture. This report also marks the increased awareness and proactive discussion and care around mental health, fertility and aging.
Living aligned to our circadian rhythms is one trend. While much focus has been on the importance of sleep, the “rest” stage is only part of the equation, and the wellness conversation will open to the greater context of understanding our body’s natural pacing.
“Our magnificent, internal, light-timed circadian rhythms control almost every system in our bodies: from our sleep/wake cycles to our immune and metabolic systems,” the report says. “We predict a major shift in wellness: less focus on solutions targeting sleep/fatigue and a new focus on circadian health optimization, not only so we can sleep but to boost the brain/body systems controlled by the circadian clock.”
Pacing to our daily circadian rhythms is part of the equation, and this report also calls out the rise of the weeks-long wellness sabbatical. It’s not the traditional spa escape or silent retreat, but a combination of working and rejuvenation each day at a purpose-built destination to “jumpstart lasting lifestyle changes and for a true mental reset,” the report says, noting that spa and wellness vacation holidays will be reformatting their offerings along these lines. “Transformation comes from longer wellness experiences, but most of us have jobs. That’s the heartbeat of the wellness sabbatical, a concept we think will hit hundreds of destinations—and could shake up the future of travel, wellness and work.”
Another natural solution and ancient healing method is sound therapy, and both current scientific research and technology are making waves toward wellness.
“Humans are hardwired for music; no other stimulus positively activates so many brain regions; and stringent studies show its dramatic impact on mood, anxiety and pain,” states the report. “There’s a big uptick in scientific research identifying how music’s structural properties (such as beat, key, chord progression, etc.) specifically impact the brain and biometrics such as heart rate and sleep patterns—so evidence-based music and soundscapes can be developed as precision medicine.” It is: The National Institutes of Health in the U.S. are devoting $20 million to research the interplay between music and the brain to treat conditions from autism to PTSD, among others.
The potential goes beyond therapy for conditions. For those curious about the spiritual, mystical or just ‘out there’ experiences shared by adventurers in the growing ayahuasca or mushroom scene, there’s another alternative on the way: “Music that simulates psychedelic experiences will rise,” the report says.
Energy medicine is earmarked for growth, according to The Future of Wellness 2020.
“Scientific researchers are discovering that the human body is indeed a complex biofield of electromagnetic frequencies and light waves … and that we’re also immersed in other complex environmental electromagnetic fields that change human cells,” says the report, which also calls into question the potential effects by 5G networks on health. “Energy medicine is at a pivotal moment, with the medical world and ‘ancient wellness’ finding some common—at least in principle—theoretical ground. Common ground leads to new conversations and solutions.
“The future is the medical AND wellness worlds innovating new tools and technologies to optimize human energy fields to prevent illness and boost health. Frequency therapies are crucial here: electromagnetic, light and sound interventions.”
Another trend that seems a step toward a holistic human experience is that traditional faith centres are increasingly including wellness programming for their communities, ranging from physical activity to mindfulness and yoga.
“Congregations no longer want to separate their physical and spiritual needs but instead, hope to fuse them together in novel new ways. This ranges from aerobic fitness classes to meditative retreats, all reworked with religious liturgy and biblical references. There are now boutique fitness studios solely devoted to worship or which cater to religious constraints. We see Ramadan bootcamps, Jewish Sabbath service hikes, Christian wellness retreats, Catholic Pilates classes and Muslim fitness YouTube channels,” the report says. “Many institutions now start to see health and wellness initiatives as a crucial part of tending to parishioners’ wellbeing.”
Finally, the credibility of wellness information will become a bigger issue. That’s nothing new in this $4.5 trillion market of largely unregulated practices, but this is an era of fake news.
“We’re in a wider cultural crisis now over fact and fiction; science and belief; and shrill opinion versus collective, consensual notions of reality and truth,” the report says, adding that because wellness is “a hyper-consumer, largely unregulated, $4.5 trillion market, there’s been a storm of baseless claims about pseudo-scientific products and Instagram and celeb ‘wellness influencers’ for hire. It’s one thing when a wellness approach has little benefit but does no harm—but when a ‘flat tummy tea’ loaded with laxatives does real harm, the situation is serious.”
In this climate, there may be more scrutiny and more cynicism. Government may not have a great deal of intervention because many practices are unregulated, so there may be a place for professional associations, consumers and brands to activate here.
“We hope truth makes a comeback, and in wellness, more watchdogs will help.”
Beyond circadian rhythms, music therapy, energy medicine, faith communities’ wellness, and wellness sabbaticals, the other trends pointed to:
– increased investment in technology to support mental health
– creating niche products and services for the growing aging-yet-active population
– J-Wellness, which describes the Japanese culture’s approach to holistic wellness, which is very much about nature and spirituality as it is the ultra-modern lifestyle. The Future of Wellness 2020 describes it as, “an ever-evolving culture of ancient-meets-hyper-modern approaches, products and solutions for wellbeing.”
The future looks bright
For all of the Global Wellness Summit’s fortune-telling, a few things are clear: Ancient healing therapies are gaining acceptance, there’s a growing understanding and respect for natural processes of mind and body through stages of life, faith and wellness are compatible, and tech innovations can help us adapt our lifestyles for improved wellness.
*“Mind-body-spirit” on Mindstream refers to complementary, alternative and natural health practices, and spiritual disciplines that are considered holistic as they may affect the whole human system (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) in ways that are not fully understood or yet fully proven clinically.