The Colors of Wellness

A burgeoning movement works to diversify the wellness industry

Posted Dec 14, 2018

Mario Gough/Unspalsh
Source: Mario Gough/Unspalsh

The idea of diversity in wellness is a topic that is near and dear to me and, in my view, does not garner nearly as much attention as it should. Although there have been some studies, it is difficult to have an objective discussion, because of sparse data. The anecdotal accounts, however, are abundant. Wellness, as we understand it today, was introduced in 1959 by Halbert Dunn’s article “High-Level Wellness for Man & Society.” Dunn’s writing, from over 50 years ago, began to appreciate the idea that health is more than the eradication of disease, but also the pursuit of long-term and sustainable health. 

Unfortunately, wellness campaigns are quick to grace their magazine covers with images that at times neglect the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity that makes our country beautiful. This may serve as a barrier to racial and ethnic minority groups accessing and benefiting from wellness practices like yoga. Salma Haidrani writes eloquently about her experiences being the only woman of color while visiting her local yoga studio, and how reading through wellness magazines on display in the studio exacerbated feeling ostracized. A recent sequence of covers for Yoga Journal's popular magazine portrays a middle-aged, African American man and a woman in military attire, which I admit were different than what I was used to seeing. Although people of color have been featured on the cover before, it was still beautiful to see.

I recently spoke with Nityda Gessel, founder of the Trauma-Informed Yoga Institute for my podcast “This is Mental Health,” who when asked about the portrayal of yoga in the media suggested that “…it’s a reflection of privilege in our society . . . and it’s sending a message of who is deserving of these practices.” Additionally, Gessel's ideas on yoga and social justice lend boldly to her philosophy that Martin Luther King Jr.'s work in advocacy were in line with that of a Bhakti yogi, which offers a stark contrast from the image of modern yoga that some may observe. These types of discussions provide rhetoric that serve as an invitation to share various forms of wellness with each other, despite our background or appearance. 

Other studies have shown that among African Americans, prayer is one of the most commonly utilized complementary and alternative treatments in an individual wellness approach (Barner). Are there indeed colors of wellness? Maybe, but I think that together we can change that. I have been inspired by an increasing number of organizations, like the Melanin Yoga Project, a Houston-based non-profit that targets this quandary head-on by offering yoga teacher trainings, seminars, and support for people of color within the yoga community. And a New York Times article published recently highlights the work of Annya Santana's company Menos Mas, which directs organic, locally sourced beauty products with African American and Latinx consumers in mind. Products like these broaden the scope of wellness offerings by inviting people who would otherwise feel marginalized by an industry that may seem as though it doesn't have much to offer them.

As a wellness advocate, and mental health professional, I consider that wellness nurtures mental health, and I am bold to say that without wellness, mental health is very difficult to achieve. I believe we can blend the apparent colors of wellness in time with ongoing discussions that invite all to pursue wellness in its various forms, making yoga, nutrition, prayer, spirituality, and mindfulness available to anyone who wants it. 

References

Barner, J. et al. "Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Treatment among African-Americans: A Multivariate Analysis." Res Social Adm Pharm. 2010 Sep; 6(3): 196-208