HAVE YOU JOINED THE WELLNESS CULT?
Yoga retreats, mindfulness apps, superfoods and juices — what started as the alternative lifestyle for hippies is now worth a whopping $3.7 trillion. But has the fad gone too far? Ben Machell investigates.
Has the wellness fad gone too far? Ben Machell investigates.
It’s a hazy Sunday morning in Los Angeles and a group of 30 or so people are hiking through Runyon Canyon, an arid city park that rises steeply into the Hollywood Hills. The hikers are all young and lean and attractive to the point of parody. A good number of the guys are shirtless, all six-packs and pecs, while the girls wear leggings and crop-tops. If many of them seem as if they could be models or actors, then that’s because many of them are, in fact, models or actors. They meet every Sunday morning to hike through Runyon, take beaming group selfies and then post them to Instagram.
But there’s more to it than that. These people form what might best be described as a “wellness collective”. As well as hiking and chatting, these Sunday mornings include meditation, guided breathing exercises and qigong. At one point, halfway up the valley, everyone stands in a circle with their arms outstretched, eyes shut. In the centre is a man in skinny black jeans with a rose tattoo on his temple. He instructs everyone to embrace, rather than resist, the growing discomfort they feel as their arms begin to ache. “What we’re seeing if we can do,” he says slowly, “is if we can place all of our tension in those areas of discomfort and perfectly relax. Release into it.”
This is Bryan Ellis, one of the four founders of the Wildfire Initiative, a quartet of Zen-like alphas on a mission to help us become the best possible versions of ourselves. A yoga instructor and musician, he had the idea for this weekly get-together following a 30-day water fast on Mt Shasta, a potentially active volcano north of San Francisco. He does these water fasts every few months — consuming only water — and raves about the results.
“After seven to 10 days, you feel something you’ve never felt before,” says Ellis. “It’s a clarity and an energy. The scientific explanation is that our digestive system uses up 60 to 70 per cent of our energy at any given time.” (It actually uses about 10 per cent.) “So when it’s no longer running, all of that energy goes to healing and becomes usable. You sleep much less. Your strength is unreal.”
Standing near Ellis with his eyes shut and arms outstretched is Crosby Tailor, another of the Wildfire Initiative co-founders. Tailor is a 32-year-old actor/model who has a sideline producing sugar and gluten-free “fat-burning” desserts for clients including Gigi Hadid.
He is tall, with a smooth, athletic physique. Tailor met Ellis at an organic market and the pair hit it off. Ellis asked Tailor if he had heard of breathwork — controlled breathing exercises — and he said that no, but would love to learn more about it. So Ellis gave him a crash course.
“I never realised how much my breathing controlled my day-to-day levels of stress, anxiety and emotion,” he explains, wide-eyed. “I realised I hold my breath in so many situations. And that clenches you up. And then the stress hormone kicks in. And that’s how we age,” he says. “It’s one of the main ways we age fast. It’s proven science.”
Ellis had a friend called Netic Rebel, another well-toned musician who had already been taking people on hikes through Runyon, engaging them in philosophy and leading them through gratitude rituals. So he became part of the gang. They became a quartet when joined by Abraham Wolke, whom they met back at the organic market. “Abe came up on a bike and started talking about coldplunging. Submerging yourself in ice-cold water for inflammatory and immune system reasons. I was doing cryotherapy at the time, so he sat down and we all started vibing.”
This vibing — followed by Ellis’ water fast epiphany — led them to create their group. I tell Tailor that it all seems really interesting, but I’m not sure it’s for me. I am, I explain, someone who absolutely needs to eat at least three meals a day and who doesn’t look spectacular with his shirt off. “And that’s very okay with us,” he says slowly, reassuringly. “We do not judge. There are no beliefs required in this whole thing.”
Interest is booming. The free Sunday morning sessions are just the start. They are teaming up with wellness brands, including a health drink. They have held events in New York, and there are plans for branded retreats and summits as well as a subscription-based online lifestyle portal, which will feature livestreamed classes, meditation, meal plans and pretty much everything you might need to look and feel as good as Ellis and Tailor and their LA acolytes.
Why is this happening? How is it that a bunch of dudes armed only with Instagram accounts, rock-hard abs and an evangelical enthusiasm for alternative health practices can arrive from nowhere and then, just a short time later, be on the verge of creating an international business model?
It’s a question we can answer in one word: wellness. We live in the age of wellness. Of good health — of mind, of body, of soul — as a full-time lifestyle choice, a form of conspicuous self-improvement that, over the past five years
Bryan Ellis (standing) oversees a breathing exercise at a “wellness”gathering in Runyon Canyon, Los Angeles.
Wildfire Initiative with some co-founder of his followers Crosby Tailor .