The Wellness Movement

Words by Michelle Robinson
Peter Florence Peter Florence

A proactive approach to maintaining physical and mental health — or wellbeing — had been gaining popularity even without a global pandemic. Now local wellness providers are struggling to keep up with demand, Michelle Robinson reports.

Integrated gym and physio space Body Logic used to incorporate a team of four practitioners. Today they have 10 more and can’t keep up with demand.

The team of physiotherapists, acupuncturists, osteopaths and pilates instructors are in more demand than ever. Not necessarily because people are injuring themselves more, but because people are more proactive about maintaining strength so they are less prone to injury.

It’s a sign of an increasing focus on wellness of the body and mind which is being taken up both on an individual and corporate level.

A job search for ‘physiotherapist’ returns about 420 listings nationwide.

“We need more team members,” Body Logic practice manager Aimee Baldwin puts it plainly. 

“There’s a shortage of osteos and physios due to the growth in awareness and demand for health and wellbeing around the country.”

Lydia Radich, owner of New Plymouth Physiotherapy agrees. 

“There is a real drive in the health and wellbeing space with people becoming more aware of the importance of physical and mental health.

“During the first lockdown there seemed to be a large number of people who turned to running for physical and mental health. This brought with it a wave of issues,” Lydia adds.

“There was a huge growth in online exercise classes, but it was also refreshing to see that there was a lot of great advice and suggestions coming from a range of health care professionals. 

“On the whole I think for a large number of people the lockdowns have been an opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate what is important and allowed people to start or get back into some regular exercise.”

Lydia also noticed a surge of work-related injuries from home-office set ups involving beds and couches.

“There was a demand for guidance around correct home desk set-up and tips and tricks on how to make your own stand-up desks.

“People are very creative,” she smiles.

“A lot of workplaces have been supportive in directing their employees to get advice around their home work station as it helps improve productivity and can avoid creating pain and long-term problems.”

“Most issues seemed to have come about from needing reminders to take regular breaks and having to juggle children while at home or not getting distracted by making another banana loaf.”   

Stress and poor breathing patterns can be a big driver of pain and contribute to poor health, Lydia adds, with 1 in 10 New Zealanders experiencing some form of breathing disorder. 

“Breathing is one of the best and easily accessible defence mechanisms available to you. The Bradcliff technique we offer is a wonderful assessment and treatment technique used to look at breathing pattern, the nose, sleep hygiene and history of symptoms and triggers.   

“It is designed to break the cycle and restore efficient breathing patterns, improve energy and general health and wellbeing.”

Covid has been nothing but a cog in the works of the global wellness machine, the economy of which is worth $4.5 trillion and incorporates personal care, mental health, physical fitness, and nutrition.

The four states of wellbeing as traditionally recognised by Maori, Te Whare Tapa Wha, embraces the idea that spirituality, family, physical, mental, and emotional health, need to be in sync for a person to be considered well.

Everything from climate change, to health messages to combat obesity, to Covid19, is highlighting the need to get back to basics and care for both our physical and mental states, or wellness.

Taranaki businesses are no exception.

Sanctuary Hill Yoga retreats are running to capacity this year, with double the number of enquiries on previous years, co-founder Bhavani Davies says.

Corporate groups are booking retreats for their staff, involving three-hour fundamental wellbeing workshops, yoga stretching and breathing sessions along with nourishing plant-based meals.

What’s most popular this year is the desire to learn and share knowledge which can be applied in the workplace or home. That and the food.

“People are booking on recommendations from friends about the food, they really appreciate it,” Bhavani says.

Plant-based recipes are prepared by husband and co-founder Ram, whose sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free desserts are among the more popular menu items.

“He does an orange chocolate dome, which is chocolate filled with an orange cashew cream blend, and served with berries and activated figs, which is very fulfilling. He’s really creative.”

Guests are often surprised by how fuss-free and tasty the plant-based food is, with mushroom brews, raw noodle soups, alternative sushi and green juices among offerings.

Bhavani and Ram, who have been running wellness retreats for 11 years, say their focus is on nature, diet, positive thinking, exercise and breathing.

“We do a lot of nature walks in the nearby reserve or sometimes on the Pouakai Trail,” Bhavani says.

“But often in winter people are tired and want a restorative weekend to combat stress. That’s always been a feature and hasn’t changed.”

The idea of food as medicine for both body and soul has been around since Hippocrates apparently declared “Let food be thy medicine” back around 400BC.

Empowered Eating coach and author, Michelle Yandle has had her work cut out for her with clients’ lockdown eating habits. 

“My clients have done diet after diet and they are over it! They really struggle with maintaining healthy habits, constantly struggling with feeling out of control around food and overeating,” the Waitara-based nutrition coach says. 

“Many of my clients have begun to fear certain foods once deemed as healthy because they fear it will make them unwell or gain weight.”

Michelle, whose work has featured on news programmes, in Ted X Talks and in magazines, focuses on encouraging a positive relationship with food — treats included. 

Her most popular recipes include granola, cookie dough caramel bites and carrot and cashew soup.

Lockdown saw a well-documented rise in emotional eating and decrease in self-care as people battled job uncertainty, isolation from family, and parents juggled work with childcare at home.

“I had my first male client specifically looking for support with his relationship with food and he was concerned it had become disordered and was tired of struggling with it,” Michelle says.

“Mental health and stress are also triggering a lot of these issues and affecting how people take care of themselves.”

Sadly, and most shockingly, there has been a rise in eating disorders among children and teenagers since Covid arrived here last year. The pandemic lead to a global spike in eating disorders, due to increased levels of anxiety, uncertainty, and isolation.

Mental health services have been slammed, with hospital admissions for eating disorders in young people aged 15 and under more than doubling in recent years.

Covid has no doubt played a role, Girls Minds Matter creator and empowerment coach Sorcha Wolnik says.

“Anything that affects the nervous system has an impact on digestion. 

“We had high numbers beforehand but it’s increasing, with issues like the global pandemic and the rise of social media contributing to panic, angst and arguing among families.”

Michelle Yandle’s upcoming Brave Bodies programme aims to address this from a preventative approach.

“Brave Bodies will provide a comfortable, non-judgemental space for individuals to explore their personal issues with beauty, health and identity,” Michelle says.

“Brave Bodies’ communities will become places where people come together without comparison, or judgement of self or others, which allows for true connection and healing.”

The nutrition coach and educator hopes to receive funding to run events in school communities.

If any good has come out of the pandemic, it’s that it’s become more acceptable to openly discuss and seek help for stress, anxiety, and mental wellbeing.

“People seem more aware of their own challenges and are looking for ways to improve their wellbeing that perhaps they haven’t tried before,” says Pearl Wellness health coach Angela Byelich.

The introduction of health coaches into primary healthcare in New Zealand reflects acceptance of the need for a more holistic approach to lifestyle-related health issues.

“I’m seeing more interest from businesses too. Employers are looking for meaningful wellbeing initiatives for their teams but are perhaps not sure how to go about it — they might be afraid of getting it ‘wrong’. I’m able to support local businesses through this process.”

The level of interest in health coaching services has been steadily increasing, with both male and female clients. 

“From what I’m seeing, men and women are struggling with similar wellbeing challenges,” Ange says.

“My clients are typically high-performing during the day, but it’s coming at a cost at night. Stress and sleep — the two are closely intertwined. What we’re really talking about is prevention or recovery from exhaustion or ‘burnout’. 

“When somebody reaches out to me, they are unsure of what else could help — there seem to be no workable solutions, life is stressful and busy, and they’ve tried so many different things already. As well as health concerns like insomnia, headaches or chronic fatigue,  relationships and quality of life may be suffering.”

Gone are the days where you had to “suck it up and get on with it” or be told to simply go kick a ball around if you felt depressed or stressed.

Thank goodness, says the J Word mental health and wellness blogger, Jenna Brown.

“The work-life balance has tipped from work focused to lifestyle-focused, with people preferring flexible work environments and reduced working hours.

“We have seen an increase in people leaving their “stable” jobs to pursue their passion projects via self-employment, many of which are in the health and wellness industry.

“Learning to be a little more compassionate, caring and understanding while navigating our lives is a way we can all move forward together.”

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