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.

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

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 .

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