Wellness

Today, the words “wellness” and “vacation” are spoken in the same breath with unprecedented frequency. Over the past decade, this type of vacation has become incredibly diverse and democratized - Irene S Levine

Wellness

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Lewis is lucky that those early Chautauquans didn’t have smartphones. The wellness vacation in its current form is all the easier to mock: As has ever before been the case, spirituality plus money makes for an open target, but add in the fact that nothing really counts today unless everyone witnesses it. If an enlightenment retreat happens in a forest and nobody’s there to Instagram the sunrise, does it even exist? Our idea of spirituality and mindfulness also includes the attempt to project these ideas by distilling them to images of fitness-wear, multihued cold-pressed juices and toned women striking poses in silhouette against stunning natural backdrops.

If this projection is a mark of sophistication and privilege, so much the better. The humanist founders of Esalen were genuinely dedicated to the expansion of consciousness; that the Big Sur retreat should become a byword for trendy spiritual day-trippers (and an ambivalent punch line on “Mad Men”) is a sign of its importance. As ideas, like the “Pray” portion of Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular book, move into the cultural mainstream and lose their purity — as they become inextricably tied up with capitalism, really — it’s easy for us, Lewis-style, to sneer.

I, however, get the appeal. For all the spiritual work, and all the hikes, and all the sunrise yoga, and all the gut-cleansing, once you get there, as with my childhood sanitarium fantasy, you don’t have to make many decisions. Wellness vacations are planned for you, companions allocated, menus chosen. Even your breathing is dictated. We crave direction; helplessness is truly the ultimate luxury, a philosophy that has by now entered the mainstream. And yet, read another way, the point is to pay people to wait on you, while feeling great about it.

But why should anyone be blamed for wanting to, quite literally, better themselves? Karl Lagerfeld counts exercise and vacations as two of the many things he despises. More mysteriously, I once heard Werner Herzog give a talk in which he dismissed the notion of yoga practice, saying definitively, “It’s not my culture.” Clearly, to the elderly German director, there is something inherently distasteful in the notion that you could take up an ancient practice, throw in some expensive leggings and call yourself evolved. Then again, the Germans gave us the “The Magic Mountain,” and the resort on which Mann based his fictional sanitarium now houses participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Source: Sadie Stein, The End of Relaxation, The New York Times Style Magazine, November 7, 2016.

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Last Updated : Thursday, October 15, 2020