Self-care for the masses.
Australian brands often enjoy cult appeal Stateside, particularly in the domains of fashion and beauty. And, with the global wellness industry expected to reach $7 trillion by 2025, American curiosity towards self-care practices there is piquing as well. "The wellness scene is really taking off here in Australia," confirms Nina Hargrave, the founder of Serene Body Health, which is based in Melbourne.
As opposed to the United States, Australian celebrity facialist Melanie Grant describes the Aussie wellness movement as being less trend-based and commoditized, and more rooted in lifestyle practices. “The Australian attitude to wellness is very much ingrained in our everyday lives,” she says. “Because of our climate, we have a rather active, outdoor lifestyle and are fortunate to have access to incredible nutrition.” While noting that some trends — like infrared saunas for detox, green juices, and the rise of organic skin care — have taken up residence, treating wellness as a “trend” is simply not the Australian way. “Our approach is a simple one … eating well with friends and family, enjoying daily movement, and taking pleasure in being outdoors is [often] more than enough.”
Belinda Smith, the Australian founder of ST. ROSE, a clean and sustainable luxury fragrance line, seconds this notion of the “fundamental lifestyle approach” to wellness, rooted in themes like interpersonal connection, bodily movement, and time spent outdoors. That said, fresh influences are beginning to reflect global shifts in thinking, such as the de-stigmatization of mental health (which has accelerated over the past few years), the meteoric rise of sexual wellness, and the pivot to a virtual-first approach to overall health and fitness.
“The pandemic wasn’t exactly great for mental health, was it?” muses Australian actor Nick Slater of the on-and-off lockdown’s resulting rise in the popularity of wellness modalities, platforms, and influencers. Though thrilled to see the increase in wellness apps like Calm, he also noticed a social disconnect as the industry moved online. His decision to found the soon-to-launch Becomng, an online wellness platform, seeks to remedy this by fostering genuine dialogue between social media audiences and content-creators.
And that’s just the start of what we can expect to come out of the Aussie wellness space. Ahead, see what’s brewing down under in the health and fitness realms.
The traditional Australian fitness philosophy emphasizes connection to the self and community. Popular classes include Pilates, kickboxing, and spin, but these days, there is a concerted effort to prioritize the mental experience of exercise over body ideals. "Australian fitness is about enjoying the journey of fitness rather than judging how you look," says actor and fitness coach Alex Prange, who works at an Australian gym in Los Angeles called Training Mate. "It’s more community-based, emphasizing fun more so than aesthetics. We want you to leave happier than when you arrived."
Jacqui Kingswell, a celebrity fitness instructor from Australia, whose clients include model Kaia Gerber, agrees. "I don’t like to focus on ideal body types, but rather on [building] strength and mobility," she says. But this was not always the case — for years, prior to the rise of wellness values, she recalls the emphasis on attaining a particular look like the “bikini-ready” body. As for the element of community, this was part of why she created her online fitness platform, The Pilates Class (TPC). "I was inspired to launch The Pilates Class during a period when being outside or in person with your community wasn’t a possibility," she explains of her shift online.
Offered globally but especially popular in the United States and Australia, TPC offers a variety of modalities — Pilates, HIIT, Barre, stretching, etc. — that Kingswell practices while she teaches. This gives you the sense that you are together in a session. The "feel good" component is also a major focus: classes often end with a meditation to help instill a mental shift to carry with you throughout the day.
"I am a big advocate of focusing on what someone feels like after a class," Kingswell says. "Did your class make you feel stronger? Did you leave it feeling more confident and walking a bit taller? Did you carry Pilates principles with you throughout the rest of your day? These are the questions I want them to reflect on when they leave my sessions or finish one of my classes." As Hargrave points out, this is one of the ways that a growing appreciation for the mind-body connection is taking hold and transforming the wellness scene in Australia.
Greater engagement in mind-body practices like meditation, mindfulness, and breathwork has brought about increased awareness to mental health in general. (In case you were wondering, the celebrity-beloved breathwork and ice bath-touting Wim Hof — who created his wellness method following his wife’s struggle with mental health and eventual suicide — is also wildly popular in Australia.) Aussie actor Irena Reedy points out that while the destigmatization of mental health is a much newer trend in Australia than in the States, it is nonetheless undeniable; Reedy and Prange even wrapped a mental health-focused short film Another Story in 2022.
Grant sees this appreciation for emotional well-being through a new prioritization of self-care and for taking time to nourish inner well-being. "[The pandemic] has been the circuit breaker we needed to realize how unsustainable ‘hustle-culture’ is, [putting] enormous strain on our nervous systems, causing burnout, and [impacting] mental health,” Slater explains of the cause. This need was coupled with the digitization of the space that made wellness more accessible, and Slater saw increased demand for digital wellness apps like Calm, online wellness platforms, and wellness influencers on social media. This drastically changed the mental health landscape, especially for Australian men for whom he says “anxiety and depression were so stigmatized that it was rarely talked about” previously.
Yet he also recognized that this new digital frontier of wellness content-creation was lacking in certain ways; namely, a lack of community established between followers and creators. This is precisely why he decided to create Becomng, which is launching in September/October 2022. "I wanted to create an online community where people on a wellness journey can connect, share value, and form friendships [both online and off]," Slater says. "Creators and their communities can now have a genuine two-way conversation." He believes that breaking down these barriers in online communities will help to expose seekers to new modalities and information — like his passion for meditation — while anchoring wellness skills into their lifestyles.
Intuitive astrologer Sanja Kljaic, founder of Stellar Unfolding, who lives in Australia, says Australians are known for their "belief that everyone should be free to express their beliefs, even if you do not necessarily agree with their views." She adds that there is also a deeply-rooted, holistic lineage in the land thanks to the indigenous population of Australia. This has helped to foster the popularity of spiritual-adjacent practices like astrology, energy healing, and manifestation. "What was once known as counterculture is becoming mainstream," says Kljaic. "The culture has taken a distinctly supernatural turn in recent years."
Interest in horoscopes and talk of manifestation are becoming commonplace as younger generations seek out more intentional, empowered ways of living and "co-creating” with the universe. "It seems that more and more of us are turning to astrology and quantum theory, particularly manifestation and visualization, as a guiding force," she continues. "Astrology is well-fitted for Millennials and Gen Z [in] the age of ‘intent,’ [who realize] these practices play a large part in how we process the world and our own feelings."
Smith and Kingswell agree that Australians have always been distinctly outdoorsy thanks to their climate, frequently living near beaches and parks. (Come to think of it, this could be why so many sun care brands come from down under.) Smith points out that their lifestyles are quite active, as well — walking to public transportation, or going on outings in nature. Kingswell reveals that many Australians will rise early, exercise, even taking a swim in the ocean before work.
This affinity for nature is taking root in other ways — how businesses are run, a market preference for organic ingredients, and nutrition-conscious decisions by consumers — and Smith notes that this has especially been the case in the last couple of years. "Since the pandemic, the scene has become more nurturing [of the environment] and nature-focused," explains Juliette Harkness and Emma Nelson, co-founders of the sustainable Australian brand Deiji Studios. "I’m sure something about this has to do with a growing consciousness of our planet’s health. I think Australians are beginning to [want to] live more harmoniously with their natural environment."
Reminiscent of the notion that ‘food is medicine’ — a hallmark of functional medicine — Grant and Kingswell have seen wellness impact their country’s culinary trends. Even mainstream news has reported on how many Aussies are giving up drinking in spite of the country’s notorious drinking culture. Smith assures us that the baseline already favored outdoor grilling, trips to the farmer’s market, and farm-to-table cuisine; all it takes is the phrase “shrimp on the barbie” to realize this rings true.
But decidedly “healthier” swaps are taking place, with Grant pointing out choices for regeneratively farmed meats, and local, organic wines. Some have been opting for antioxidant-rich matcha rather than coffee (in spite of the country’s strong coffee culture), and are incorporating nutrient-dense smoothies and organic, green juices into their diets. This trend has been so popular that Kingswell’s brand added a Nourish Me recipe guide for sharing recipes featuring "fresh, whole foods" with her community.
The bottom line is that, similar to that of the US, the nutritional element of wellness is thriving — and this includes the supplement category. "We are seeing so many emerging brands focused on using natural and organically sourced ingredients," says Hargrave. Supplements, for instance, feature collagen for "beauty from within," and botanical sources of vitamins, like kakadu plum for vitamin C. Less surprising, Manuka honey is a local treasure that is lauded for its medicinal properties, while locally sourced clays, desert salts, and extracts from native plants are being used therapeutically. Even CBD is making an appearance, though not to the same extent as the US.
Wellness in the States is so rooted in action, intentionality, and our consumerist culture that the experience is quite different than the laid-back, lifestyle approach found in Australia. “Wellness as a practice in Los Angeles is far more elaborate and prioritized in a way that isn’t seen in Australia,” Grant says. “Whenever I land at LAX, I head straight into Erewhon. There is always something new and exciting to try that we may not have in Sydney yet.”
But truly reaping the benefits of American wellness culture is dependent on turning your preferred modalities into regular practices that you continue long-term. This is where the Australian mentality can help you thrive with its resourceful and everyday approach. “I do think Australia better creates a foundational environment to support mental health [and wellness] throughout lifestyle and basic entitlements,” Reedy concludes.
What is clear is that the wellness industry was already growing, and the pandemic intensified some of the underlying needs that drive people to seek it out. "The pandemic certainly changed the way we take care of ourselves," reflect Rhiannon Mitchell and Maddy Baldereson, the Aussie founders of Luna Bronze. "Whether that be getting some exercise in, or putting the feet up for an arvo cuppa (that’s ‘a cup of tea enjoyed in the afternoon’ in Australian slang), we’ve learned not to be so hard on ourselves [as] we better understand what wellbeing means to each of us as individuals."
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