A bone broth bar opens in Cape Town. A sacred Ayahuasca healing ceremony is taking place in Edenvale. Activated charcoal ice cream makes its way into your shopping trolley. Your sister asks for an IV-drip treatment for her birthday. Your CEO insists on bulletproof coffee for everyone in your weekly board meeting.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the screenplay for a trippy movie, but no, no, it’s not. It’s modern-day 2018, and wellness practices and products are finding their way into everyday life at a rapid pace.

The global wellness industry, estimated at an incredible $3.7 trillion currently, is one of the world’s fastest growing markets. So, how exactly do we define wellness? According to The Global Wellness Institute, the 2013 Global Wellness Economy report defines wellness as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing. It goes beyond mere freedom from disease or infirmity, and emphasises the proactive maintenance and improvement of health and wellbeing. Expressed on a continuum that extends from reactive to proactive approaches to health, wellness falls firmly on the proactive side, incorporating attitudes and activities that prevent disease, improve health, enhance quality of life and bring a person to increasingly optimum levels of wellbeing.’

Holistic treatments have been around for many years, as an article by Amy Larocca for Thecut.com notes. ‘Diets, exercise, and various versions of self-care have been around forever: Antecedents are found at an Austrian spa still famous for its enemas, and in 1970s LA, wheatgrass was just as popular as cocaine. In 1978, [a] magazine ran
a cover story on “The Physical Elite”, the new class of people who had quit smoking and devoted themselves to working out. Some were known to make odd food demands,
like requesting that an entire onion be concealed in an omelette. [And] four decades later, wellness is not only a word you hear every day, it’s also a global industry worth [trillions] – one that includes wellness tourism, alternative medicine and anti-ageing treatments.’ 

Enter Goop. Everyone knows Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle empire, which started in 2008 as a ‘peek-in’ to her world (where she ate out, what she thought, how she cooked) and has grown into a one-stop holistic online resource and shop, which now includes its own magazine (launched in September last year). Gwyneth (love or loathe her) made a smart career out of playing on women’s biggest concerns: being too tired, struggling with their weight and being chronically stressed. Ashley Lewis, senior director of wellness at Goop told The Cut, ‘We sold over $100 000 worth of vitamins on day one, and that trajectory has just continued.’

Important to note: everyone is invited to the wellness party – as long as they can afford it. Goop’s vitamins (known as The Protocols and available in four variants, including ‘Why Am I So Effing Tired?’ and ‘The Mother Load’) come at a cool $90 for a month’s supply (around R1 225). 

Wellness is certainly the new luxury. 

Cynthia Patnode, an account supervisor at MFA, a market research and public relations company, notes: ‘Firstly, and perhaps most attractively, [wellness has] become a status symbol. People feel like they’re part of an elite group with common interests and are interacting in class, on the road, or on social media, forming deep bonds not limited by location, age or profession. Additionally, wellness has become brag-worthy: a form of social currency. This lifestyle shift driven by fitness classes, number of weekly workouts, stylish apparel and the latest superfood craze is an extension of indulgent vacations, reservations at hot restaurants, or scoring a limited-edition fashion item. As a result, global brands beyond the “traditional” fitness/wellness sphere are striving to be a part of the conversation.’

And while it’s easy to be sceptical about the shift – and the cost of it – the truth is we’re all buying into it, because we’re all feeling unwell. And not in the traditional sense of the word – it’s not about the common cold or gastro going around the office – we’re feeling sluggish, tired, burned out and out of sync. Modern life is exhausting. We’re connected 24/7, slouching over our iPhones, trying to fit in spending enough time with our kids, maintaining a social life, making time for our partners and working hard – very hard. We’re also living longer; the global life expectancy age is now 71.5, a far cry from previous generations (in 1950 it was 62.9), so we’re all well aware of the fact that we need to take care of ourselves and our health, to enter our glory years in relatively good shape. 

This all comes at a price – the price of yoga, meditation, weekend retreats, juice detoxes, chakra cleansing, matcha lattes or whatever works for each individual. 

‘I think for women in general there’s the expectation that of course you feel like shit – of course!’ Elise Loehnen, the head of content at Goop, told Amy Larocca. ‘For the most part, people are increasingly finding that everyone they know is kind of sick. Their friend’s son might have autism or bad digestion. People are self-identifying as sick a lot more. There are concerns about our food supply, about the rampant use of glycosate. Food used to grow in many feet of loamy soil! I think we’re just depleted. I think there’s a vitamin-D deficiency because we don’t go outside, and when we do, we’re always wearing sunscreen. We’re out of touch with the Earth in general, and I just don’t think this is the way we were intended to live.’

I like to think of myself as a very open-minded person who is interested in and attuned to wellbeing. I have seen my fair share of Netflix health documentaries, I’ve been vegan for over two years and I certainly know my way around Wellness Warehouse (much to my bank account’s dismay). And, as a working mother of two, I concur with Elise’s above sentiments. We’re super stressed out, mentally and physically depleted and struggling to keep head above water, all the while balancing a glass of Chardonnay and trying not to smoke. 

So, as part of my research for this feature, I attempted to find some calm in the chaos; to be more mindful, to introduce some self-care into my daily life, and also, to try out some of the more bizarre wellness products and practices that I’d as yet been a bit cynical towards, to see if I’d notice a difference.

As someone who struggles to drink enough water (coffee in the morning, wine in the evening and not much in between), loading up on more liquids was the first step. I’d initially volunteered to try a five-day juice detox, but my editor was concerned about me fainting during deadline week, so we scrapped that. Armed with an array of Woolies cold-pressed juices, kombucha drinks, alkaline water and Pukka Ginseng Matcha Green tea (the latter three all courtesy of Faithful-to-Nature.co.za), I made sure I was brimming with liquids all week long (excluding my favourite kind: wine).  

I definitely felt better, was not as hangry or pestering my colleagues for snacks come 3pm, my skin looked better at the end of the week, I felt less bloated and my eyes were less bloodshot. 

Next, I tried out Billy The Bee’s Acupressure Energy Mat, which upon first sight looks like some sort of Chinese torture device. The flexible mat is dotted with small plastic spikes to activate acupressure points that stimulate the body to release endorphins and oxytocin (the same ‘feel good’ chemicals released during exercising), which are said to fix all manner of ailments, from improving digestion and sleep to reducing stress and aiding in pain relief. Christelle Wege from Billy The Bee warned me: ‘It’s a little painful when you first start out, so in the beginning place a towel over the mat before lying down – and remember to breathe.’ Ignoring her advice and pretending to be hardcore, I forego the towel, and slowly lower myself on to the mat. I won’t lie, it’s uncomfortable, but when I remember to stop tensing, and to start taking deep breaths, it gets easier. I don’t last the full five minutes that’s suggested for beginners on my first try, but by day five, I last longer, and my sleep definitely improves – which is also possibly linked to the electronic aromatherapy diffuser I’ve been putting on every night before bed. 

The Organico Wood Grain Ultrasonic Diffuser, which comes with a blended ‘Peace and Tranquility’ oil, uses ultrasonic waves (sound waves that you cannot hear) to diffuse negatively charged essential oil ions out into the room, which bond with harmful positively charged ions in the air, helping to purify the space. It all sounds a bit esoteric and ‘trippy’, but I’m sold. (When I put it in my kiddies’ room they also sleep much more soundly.) 

Near the end of my two-week wellness trial, I head to The Jiva Spa at The Taj hotel in Cape Town, to experience the 120-minute VISHUDDI Detox treatment. The purpose of this treatment is to purge toxins that accumulate in the body, due to various reasons (bad diet, alcohol too frequently, stress), which cause cell and tissue damage, leaving you prone to many severe health conditions that can lead to cancer, liver and kidney damage, arthritis, and more. (Scary, but true: stress is said to be the most dangerous toxin of all.) 

While one session wasn’t going to turn me into the epitome of health, I was told I should definitely feel a difference in the coming days – less bloated, more energetic, and revitalised. I drink a cup of detox tea before my treatment starts; then my whole body is expertly exfoliated with silk gloves, then cocooned in an Indian herb wrap, followed by a full-body lymphatic drainage massage. I feel light as a feather afterwards, and devour a fresh fruit platter and another cup of detox tea. I float out of the spa and sleep like a sloth. The following days see me weeing like a racehorse – my body was definitely expelling any water I’d been retaining and on the scale, I was 3kg down (before two vegan brownies). 

It wasn’t quite cryotherapy or ayahuasca, but spending time focusing on self-care and mentally acknowledging how little attention I give to my health and wellness definitely set me on a new path to wellbeing. During the two weeks, I was better able to manage my stress. I slept more soundly, so I woke up refreshed before my alarm went off (instead of in a hazy blur hitting snooze repeatedly), and because I wasn’t bloated (or snacking when I was actually thirsty) I felt better about myself and was more confident, and that also counts. 

There’s definitely something to be said for holistic wellness – and the movement and innovations we’re currently seeing are only the beginning. Wellness tourism is now valued at $563 billion globally, complementary and alternative therapy and medicines at $199 billion, and the fitness and mind-body wellness industry at $542 billion – with the numbers continuing to grow.

As the famous J Stanford quote goes, ‘health is a state of body, wellness is a state of being’ – meaning, wellness is not only about extending the length of our life, but the quality of it too. And who doesn’t want that?

Wellness decoded: 

Activated charcoal Draws toxins out of water and other liquids. 

Ayahuasca An Amazonian brew of two plants with psychedelic properties, and said to be therapeutic, is sipped under the watchful eye of a shaman for ‘enlightenment’.

Bone broth Doctors have dispelled its efficacy, but those into bone broth – said to be full of protein and minerals to fix all manner of ailments – are having none of it.

Bulletproof coffee Said to improve gut health and metabolism, this mix of coffee, unsalted butter and MCT oil (from coconuts) is all the rage.

IV drips Fluids laced with vitamins and minerals (depending on your ailment: stress / flu / hangover) are pumped into your body via IV drip.

Read more wellness stories.