How I’m Fighting The Commodification Of Self-Care With My Wellness Routine
Do your research.
In his book Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, Cedric J Robinson posits the term racial capitalism as a way to understand the extraction of economic and social value from non-white people by systems of white supremacy. These systems include imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Racism and capitalism mutually construct harmful conditions that rely on the exploitation of other cultures, and one does not have to look beyond the multi-billion-dollar modern wellness industry to prove it. From the corporatization of mindfulness, jade rollers, turmeric lattes, to overharvested sage, the wellness industry is complicit in the commodification of numerous ancient, culturally based healing practices. Ultimately, the commodification of wellness detaches it from the ultimate goal of holistic spiritual health, where there is no ethical consumption or production through capitalism. Wellness is nothing if not holistically ethical.
As a queer, South Asian woman attempting to repair the wounds of childhood sexual abuse, my journey to healing began with a deep understanding that I could not participate in wellness that was white-washed and colonized. The concepts of individualism, greed, and scarcity that are ingrained in all systems of capitalism are exactly what I was trying to heal from. Participating in the wellness economy would thus make me complacent. I soon realized that the commodification of wellness attempted to skip past the pain of healing to ultimately maintain the status quo and a distorted perception of reality. A decolonized lifestyle means internally acknowledging my own shadow and light, and externally moving towards collective healing as opposed to individual momentary satisfaction. This understanding allowed me to better integrate and build on my relationship with Indigenous wellness practices. Currently, my wellness routine includes therapies founded in both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda.
Living with the chronic condition, vaginismus (the involuntary tensing or contracting of vaginal muscles), to alleviate the trauma stored in my pelvic floor, I attend regular TCM-based acupuncture sessions to move stagnant qi around my psoas area. Similarly, tui-na, remedial massage, releases tension in the rest of my body and helps with my insomnia and stress. As an over-thinker and multitasker with anxiety, I often experience congestion in my forehead. I use gua sha to stimulate the lymph nodes in my face and regulate the blood flow around my head area.
Ayurveda is the ancient system of alternative medicine Indigenous to India. From yoga in the mornings and evening meditations to the drinking of herbal teas and a diet that caters to my doshas, my daily wellness practice is heavily influenced by Ayurvedic principles. Despite growing up in a Tamil Christian culture that fervently rejected Ayurvedic notions, I made my way back to my ancestral practices when I became deeply invested in my own healing.
Developing my relationship with Indigenous and alternative healing modalities brings with it a huge responsibility. Concerned with integrity, it is necessary for me to acknowledge that my position as an educated woman of color allows me the resources to participate in healing to begin with. It is necessary to check one’s ego with the realization that many partake in the modern wellness industry due to the distractions imposed by the modern world. For those of us who are informed and up-to-date, it is our responsibility to both educate ourselves on where one’s healing practice stems from, and redistribute the tools and resources that allow us to be well.
Centering on the notion that one is always a learner and always expanding and growing is crucial in treating Indigenous practices with respect. For me, this looked like hours of research on the core tenets of the history of a practice I am interested in, and seeking out elders in the community who come from the lineages of these systems of healing. Along my journey, I have given up my participation in several wellness practices that no longer feel authentic to my commitment to decolonization. While I have always sought out South Asian yoga practitioners, today, I consciously avoid any practice that is led by a yogi who is not vocal about the way the traditional yoga system upholds caste and propagates violence against lower caste communities throughout the subcontinent.
I am also intentional about the sourcing of herbs I use in my daily prayers and diet, including turmeric, ashwagandha, and tulsi and ensure that the manufacturers and producers of the herbs I purchase are not infringing on Indigenous sovereignty. I also steer clear from meditation practices that focus on alleviating individual, momentary tension rather than encouraging deep reflection and consistent contemplation. Where mindfulness stems from the Buddhist teachings of Vipassana, understanding how today’s mindful culture has been corporatized to maintain high levels of productivity and efficiency, I avoid popular meditation apps that profit from the Eastern tradition with no mention of the actual traditional practices themselves.
When my curiosity is sparked in a new practice, I try to learn as much about the origins of the ritual before I begin practicing myself. This looks like deep diving into practitioners who have popularized the ritual and getting a better understanding of their training and backgrounds. Usually, looking into practitioners and organizations that specialize in a particular ritual sheds light on the origins of the very practice. I then check to see if space is made for the original tradition in the contemporary practicing of it. If no, I tend to avoid engaging with the ritual and go to the root instead.
Recently, I discovered yoni mapping as made mainstream by Australian sexologist, Bonnie Bliss. The practice seemed perfect for me as someone who has a lot of stored trauma in my vaginal area. Being located in Sydney, it created an added excitement element that I could practice directly at the source. It only took me a few clicks to register that the practice takes from tantra, the South Asian system of energetic healing. Preferring a non-compartmentalized, non-Westernized, and non-whitewashed approach to my healing, I have decided instead to learn more about traditional forms of tantra for a holistic approach to my sexual healing.
If your wellness regime exists through the exploitation of labor, values, and ideas of communities of color, and you are interested in pivoting to a fully holistic approach to healing, divesting from wellness spaces that are dominated by whiteness is imperative. Seek out healers of color who are committed to ancestral healing and uplift marginal voices. Dedicate time to investigate how the objects and tools involved in your practice are made, and support the economies of local healers and artisans. Most importantly, unsubscribing from a one-size-fits-all form of wellness and self-care that is marketed to you. Healing is non-linear, it does not look the same for all of us, and often we must pull from various frameworks to develop a practice that fully works for us.