I Teach Pilates. Does that make me a Wellness Practitioner?

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that the wellness industry tends to do well in a recession, and as a result, hopefully,  my Pilates business should be ok during and after the Covid crisis

It got me thinking though:

Am I in the Wellness Industry?

You might well ask why I care.  The reason is that I feel really squeamish about it.

Wellness is a state of being, as opposed to illness.   It is also an Industry.  This is ok and there is no point in me being funny or embarassed about that fact that I am selling something: Pilates classes, tuition etc.  My issue stems from the fact that Wellness is used to sell everything from exercise, skin creams, food, to meditation apps.  Aspects of life have been revamped and rebranded  and we’re sold stuff to enhance every element of life as a form of Wellness.

However, what right have I got to make a judgement about my contribution to wellness, as opposed to someone else’s?  I have no right whatsoever and if that is the only problem I have with being a wellness practitioner then I should simply accept it and move on.

Mind you, I  don’t like the word Wellness. There is something rather limp about.

History of Wellness

The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’

This is a definition that dates from the inception of the WHO in 1948 and is interesting because it is starting to talk about the ideal state of health as being more than just not being ill.

So far so good.

What do we now understand by the term Wellness?

The Global Wellness Institute, based in Florida, US defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health”

They have some interesting things to say about Wellness and you can find out more here

This is what TheGoodSpaGuide has to say on the matter

“Wellness from a spa perspective is a more integrated way of feeling fabulous. Spas that focus on wellness often employ a team of experts to help you design your own personal package, from nutritionists to look at your diet to life coaches and therapists to explore lifestyle options. Or they may just run yoga and meditation classes on top of being more environmentally, and nutritionally, aware.

What is really different about the wellness trend, as opposed to a standard detox, is the concept that spas aren’t just places where you escape the stresses and strains of everyday life, but where you can begin to make changes that will help you manage those stresses beyond your visit”

The WHO and the Global Wellness Institute define wellness as a state of being.  It  was this ideal that was pursued, in 1960s California with a new found interest in meditation, yoga, and food choices, which has then spread world wide and then Wellness morphed from a state of being into an industry.

Have another read of what the Good Spa guide says: Wellness from a spa perspective is a more integrated way of feeling fabulous.   For starters of course, that statement is gilt edged BS but also it utterly devalues the notion of wellness.  If  a spa visit is required for wellness then we are all doomed

What do regular Yorkshire folk think Wellness is?

I asked this question on Facebook and got back answers that are probably biased by who likes my business page and the age of the respondents.  All are over 30 and most are between 50 and 75

This came up

  • looking after mind and body
  • healthy eating
  • plenty of sleep
  • energy for life
  • inner calm
  • positive thoughts about oneself

Reassuringly these aspects aren’t particularly monetised

True wellness vs what we understand by the term wellness

If you google “aspects of wellness”, then amusingly, you get back hits that describe between from 6 and 12 elements, which is quite a contrast!   Between  7 and  8 is the average and here is an example of how Wellness is currently codified.   Note the Environmental aspect.  Naively I thought that this pertained to our relationship with the environment and climate change etc but of course it means ones personal environment

Wellness Wheel. 7 elements - spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, social , environmental, financial

 

Where does Pilates fit in?

Helping with Physical Wellness I suppose

Interestingly one often thinks of Pilates as a system to nourish mind and body and that essential element of Pilates  is absent from the Wheel above.  Leaving that aside,  if Pilates delivers Physical wellbeing why am I still not happy?

For two reasons.  The industrialisation and monetisation of wellness and the inevitable divide (or at best, interface) of wellness vs illness.  Wellness is something that you have to work at, and increasingly we are told it costs money.  At this interface are to be found profound health inequalities between people who can pursue wellness and people who are struggling to prevent illness

 

Woo, BS & the pursuit of the body beautiful

Things we never really knew we needed.   Cellulite Cream,  Pedicures, Chia Seed smoothies, Collagen Drinks.  Believe it or not paid exercise that isn’t sport is a very new concept indeed

Things that we previously took for granted but now have to pay for: for example, look no further than good old water.  Remember that stuff? In the UK we have the good fortune to have clean, safe water from taps but now it is normal to have water transported  from another country and sold to us in a single use plastic disposable bottle.

Super foods: Arghh don’t get me started!

The word Super food is up there with Natural : semantically bankrupt,  following a sustained period of hyperinflation.     Broccoli, Chia Seeds, Acai Berries, Chocolate.  Practically the only leaf left off the list is Tobacco.

Detox: Humans have organs of detox: The Liver and the Kidneys.   If you eat a decent diet, drink enough water and sleep for 7  or 8 hours a day then for most people, they will deliver the goods.   Some people have serious problems such as renal failure as a result of Diabetes, Liver failure as a result of chronic alcoholism.  These are the kind of people who need need help, they might need to detox, they definitely need to be careful.     I could write another paragraph on the bogus concept of toxins.  I won’t but can you see what I am getting at?  Pseudo scientific nonsense has been hijacked by the Wellness Industry so they can sell us a cure

Body Perfection : Has wellness morphed from something as imagined by the WHO, to a 4th dimension of existence for millenials?  Something to aspire to. which of course is just going to make you stressed out.  Being healthy can feel like a full time job these days.  Depressingly the notion of health is now synonymous with Body beautiful,  thinness, looking young.  Virtues, goals, cause of daily upset, (take your pick), the attainment of which is guaranteed to separate us from our hard earned cash

Healthy eating.  As if healthy eating wasn’t already beset with obfuscation and confusion, it now has an evil twin: Clean Eating.  At best, utter crap with no evidence base.  At worst, a smokescreen for eating disorders.  There is even word for it now: orthorexia: an obsessive avoidance of certain foods considered harmful.

Imagery: try googling Pilates or Yoga and it appears that they are both something done to extremes by thin, young white women, generally whilst half naked.  This isn’t wellness.  It some kind of bodily nirvana that we are supposed to attain, mostly by paying for it and for many is simply a fast track to misery.

Woo or, new age BS with no evidence base.  The scientist in me riles at this.   The honest blogger in me feels compelled to inform you that the evidence base for Pilates isn’t that strong.  Pilates as opposed to other forms of movement that is.  The evidence for the benefits of Movement, as preserver and improver of health is incontrovertible

How about this:

“Yoni eggs harness the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice. Insert the egg into your vagina and feel the connection with your body by squeezing and releasing the egg.

More on how to use:

  • Step one: Wash your egg with soap and water. After, place it in hot (i.e. recently boiled) water for about 10 minutes. Let it cool.
  • Step two: Gently insert the egg into your vagina—like you would a tampon—the slightly larger side of the egg first. Work your pelvic floor—and feel the connection with your body—by squeezing and releasing the egg. You might begin with a 10-15 minute session, if comfortable. Build up a practice if it brings joy and well-being to you.
  • Until next time: Clean your egg after use and before using again. Keep it in or on a space that is sacred to you or has good vibes”

This is from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site.   Want one? Only £60

How about Pilates with Kegel-like physical practice? I can give you that, and even better, you don’t need to keep your mat in a space that is sacred to you.

Who gets to achieve wellness?

It is a bitter  irony that wellness is only available to the people who probably least need it.  What makes people ill, in the UK and elsewhere is, often Poverty.

It makes you ill because you have less financial security, less access to good housing, less ability to make balanced choices about everything you do.    You are less likely to be able to take a holiday, afford a gym membership, choose the best foods. Your job is probably one where you have less say, less power, less prestige.    Post Covid you are less likely to even have a job if you are poor.

You have more stress your life and less time to think about you wellness because you are just trying to get by.  Maybe you feed your kids crap food because it tastes nice and it is the only treat that you can afford to give them.  Maybe most of your cash pays the rent.  Maybe your benefits barely cover your outgoings.

People who invest in their Wellness do so because they have time, opportunity and money.

Just as ironic is the fact that some of the foundational things that deliver wellness come for free: sleeping for long enough each night, keeping moving (as opposed to exercising which could be costly) and eating a basic healthy diet.   Family, friends, community isn’t particularly dictated by money either.   By commodetising Wellness we’re taking it away from everyone and given it to the chosen few.

This is the very crux of my problem with being a Wellness practitioner.   I am part of the elite and dealing with the elite and that makes me very uncomfortable indeed.   I am driving health inequality     I have a background in Nursing and maybe this drives my anxiety, having been part of the NHS which is at least attempting to deliver the same care to everyone regardless of ability to pay.   This whole matter feeds my anxieties about pricing of classes and sessions.

Can Pilates be “just ” Exercise?

Can I simply  call myself a Fitness Instructor?  Or  are we Pilates instructors offering something more holistic?   Something to nourish the the mind, promote calm and deliver good movement for the body

arghhh.  That sounds like wellness practice to me!

Plus, other exercise delivers those things too so maybe  Exercise isn’t ever “just ” exercise.   Your Zumba class is, after all, far more than just the body movements.    A work out in the gym, if done correctly should be a cognitive challenge as well as a physical one.  In reality it might just be a mindless work out but it shouldn’t be, and I’ve talked about this in another post

Conclusion

Wellness needs work, in order to reach a stage that is more than simply the absence of illness.   Inevitably and reasonably Pilates is part of how we promote our wellness.    I need to own this, and proudly.  At the same time however, I have a profound discomfort borne out of the fact that promoting wellness increases inequalities in health and they are already significant in the UK.  Post Covid-19 crisis they are set to increase.      Poverty and unemployment are set to increase thus widening the illness/wellness gap between the relatively poor and the relatively rich.

There isn’t a huge amount I can do really but on the other hand it isn’t nothing either.  I can take Pilates to where it might be needed but where it is too expensive.  Or I can use some of the profits of the business and spend them wisely.

A final note on the health continuum

I was reminded of a scene from the classic film Withnail & I , where the I of the title  “drifts into the area of the unwell”, in 1969.   Clearly they should have chosen a spa break and not to go on holiday by mistake.


4 thoughts on “I Teach Pilates. Does that make me a Wellness Practitioner?

    • hi there Linda and thank you for your comments. I nearly didn’t post because I was worrried it was too political but then I thought “what the hell” because I had taken the time to write it!

  1. So well written and expressed. A great piece of prose. As a qualified dietitian, 2 phrases that drive me to distraction are : detox and super foods ! Neither necessary, unless you know you have an addiction and need to enter a rehab unit.
    I fully support the whole article and am glad to be 57 years old and not involved with any social media platform, to provide my image or discuss my thoughts / opinions on so much trash that is produced by popular media. Very glad I’m not a teenager !
    Yes, I do feel that so much simply boils down to financial security and personal level of education. So those of us who have a bit of both should appreciate that position fully.

    • thanks for your feedback and reply Annette. I suppose teenagers have nothing to compare it to. It is SM all the way. My kids seem to use Instagram mostly which of course is all images. I can understand your frustration as a Dietician. One of the programmes I found on my A-Z search of the I player was a programme about Orthorexia and the Clean Eating craze and it talked about how easy it is to become a Nutritionist. Literally a few hours of online training. Scary. Not regulated at all, but that is like the Fitness Industry.

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