What does it mean to achieve wellness? The Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as: “​the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” The key phrase being “the active pursuit of activities.” But for many, activities that promote our health are out of reach either monetarily or socially, and can make achieving a state of wellness feel inaccessible.

Although we live in an age of information, and have more access than ever to alternative medicine and wellness knowledge, this knowledge is not included in our current medical system. On average, four out of ten adults in the US go outside traditional healthcare in search of natural therapies and alternative modalities.It’s also estimated that Americans spend $30 billion out of pocket for non-traditional care. M​any of these wellness practices are unsubsidized and too expensive to afford to do routinely. As a nation, this puts us in a gray area, where we can neither afford nor find wellness practices within our medical system.

This gray area has led to the privatization and commercialization of wellness. Since 2015, wellness has exploded, expanding from a $3.7 trillion to $4.5 trillion industry. Where is this boom in wellness coming from? One theory is the increase in chronic diseases related to sedentary lifestyles and hectic schedules. As people are diagnosed with a range of mental and physical conditions, they turn to a host of modalities such as acupuncture studios, adaptogens, and sound baths. These alternative methods can help them naturally feel better, alleviate their symptoms, and create new lifestyles to help reverse long-term illness. Yet, while the list of services and providers in this space is growing, many of these remain inaccessible to parts of the population either geographically or financially.

In looking at the wellness disparity in the US, it’s clear the commercialization of wellbeing, rather than the integration of wellbeing, plays a huge role in the divide. People may have an intention to add more yoga to their life but if the average cost of a $20 class is too much for a person’s budget, other expenses take higher priority.

Equally, sauna prices can range anywhere from $80-200 dollars, and even meditation has a cost with in-person sessions and apps. In this way, wellness quickly becomes seen as an expense, an add-on to life, rather than being integrated into US culture.

This is in stark contrast to other countries where wellness activities are cultural practices, meaning they are ingrained into daily life. For example, in India, yoga is a part of spirituality often performed for preparation of prayer, rather than as a way simply to tone up or increase flexibility. In Morocco, hammams (traditional bathhouses) are a monthly ritual among women and men in the community. Tibetans perform sound baths using singing bowls to promote relaxation. In this way, wellness practices are routinely integrated into the community and are usually free of charge or priced in a way that is accessible to many.

So moving back home, how can we begin to incorporate wellness into our culture in inclusive ways? Perhaps it’s structural financial support from a government level, or maybe sponsorship of community wellness activities from the private sector. How can we begin to increase wellbeing education in schools to inspire healthier choices at a younger age? America’s road to a holistic health system is a long one, but a very important path to build. One of the first steps will be our role in actively dismantling wellness as a sole profit model, and reframing it as an essential part of community and culture.

Monica Kraeger is a writer, designer and artist. With a background in design and sustainability, she’s fascinated by human behavior and the future of how we interact with our environment. As an independent recording artist she hopes to explore these ideas in multiple mediums. Follow her on Instagram for more at @itsmomomona.

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