Body and Mind

Who Is Wellness For?

Fariha Róisín shares the necessary ingredients for positive participation.

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IT IS UNSEASONABLY gray out as I make my way to downtown Brooklyn. The air is thick, the clouds threaten rain, and pedestrians are on edge, rushing to avoid the impending storm. It starts pouring just as I reach the Ace Hotel, where I duck inside to wait for the poet and interdisciplinary artist Fariha Róisín, her latest book tucked under my arm. As I prepare to meet Róisín, who cofounded Studio Ānanda — an organization that describes itself as “a resource for global, post-capitalist healing” — I am apprehensive.

As a yoga and meditation teacher myself, and the creator of a line of mindful tools, I worry that Róisín might dismiss my participation in the wellness industry as another unwelcome example of the commodification of well-being. What if the truest answer to the question posed by the very title of her book, “Who Is Wellness For?,” is one that excludes people like myself (half-white and privileged) despite a deep-seated reverence and gratitude for these teachings?

When Róisín arrives, she hugs me and apologizes for being late: “I hate making people wait. It’s so disrespectful.” Her warmth and concern for my convenience, as well as that of our servers and the other patrons sitting nearby, is disarming. “It’s been really intense,” Róisín shares about her book launch, currently packing her schedule beyond its limits. “Putting something that’s so deeply personal out there is brutal … it’s awkward and I’m so sensitive, but I also know that this is my life’s purpose.”

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In her first work of nonfiction, Róisín uses her own trials and tribulations as a tool to elicit the same kind of honest reflection in her readers. Her book, “Who Is Wellness For? An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind” is part memoir, part call to action, as Róisín pairs personal and often painful stories with unapologetic cultural critique. She takes to task a now billion-dollar industry that has often relied on appropriation and other forms of exploitation. But her thesis is far from the exclusionary hard line in the sand I had feared. Instead, the book is an invitation to participate consciously and constructively in the dismantling of a system that often excludes the very people who originated these sacred practices. Róisín writes, “Wellness is a revolution — of communal support, of liberation. But this requires healing one’s self to be of better service to society.” In “Who Is Wellness For?,” Róisín recounts the emotional and physical abuse she endured as a child, and illustrates how self-care can be a means of survival. “I’ve come to view trauma as a gateway to beauty,” she says, a sentiment that calls to mind one of the late Mary Oliver’s most famous verses: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” As someone who lost her mother at a young age, I found Róisín’s interpretation of spiritual pursuits as a means of re-parenting oneself to be a salve. In contrast to the ubiquitous displays of well-being on social media, Róisín highlights the pain and suffering that is integral to the human experience, citing her connection to “God or a higher power” as the ultimate catalyst for her honesty in all that she creates. When asked to describe her relationship with God she says, “I see God in everything. In nature, in love, and in loss. The writing that came forward for this book … was all channeled in service to the promise I made to God. This is the purpose I’m trying to fulfill during my short time on this earth.”

Expansion of the mind happens in a myriad of ways, and I welcome any chance for enlightenment.

In terms of Róisín’s personal rituals for staying grounded, her morning routine is vital: “I’m an introvert, so starting my day slow and in solitude is really important for me. I try to avoid my phone for the first few hours of the day and instead I meditate, pray, pull tarot, and then usually consume some sort of media — like the books, films, and television shows I’m currently inhaling. I wake up with a sort of readied eagerness for the day and art reorients me completely.” As someone who’s always abided by a nondogmatic view of mindfulness, it’s liberating to learn that Róisín counts watching a film as an acceptable form of self-care.

“I’ve recently been rewatching a lot of Hayao Miyazaki,” she continues, “and I find that watching something where I get to be a part of the audience, the reader, and the one who is consuming art, is a really helpful ritual to ready me for the rest of my day, where I often have to be the one speaking, teaching, or creating. Miyazaki is one of my heroes and such an example of how I wish to make work.” It’s easy to see the parallels, as the Japanese animator’s work features recurring themes of environmentalism, feminism, and love. “I’m all about slow practice,” Róisín adds. “The first word in the Quran is ‘read,’ so it’s always made sense to me that even something like reading is a spiritual practice. Expansion of the mind happens in a myriad of ways, and I welcome any chance for enlightenment.”


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Róisín cites Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and bell hooks as the authors of the books that changed her life. They each wrote about the inextricable link between activism and self-care — which is the solution Róisín proposes to the flawed construct of wellness she outlines. Self-care often starts as a means to better understand ourselves but she, like Lorde and hooks, whom Róisín cites throughout her book, urges us to move past individual gains and toward a collective mindset. “Capitalism tricks us into believing that we don’t need each other,” says Róisín. “We’ve come to view relying on others — like your neighbors — as a weakness, and yet, we see people with immense amounts of money who are addicted and suffering and in pain.” As Lorde famously said, “Without community, there is no liberation.”

The problem is apparent. We, as a nation, are more divided than ever. There is a global climate crisis, and the Western notion of community, as Róisín outlines in her book, has been co-opted by capitalism. “Wellness is not an individual pursuit,” Róisín cautions. “We need to do this work together and from the ground up. We have to be very honest, especially white folks, as to the ways we’ve been complicit in the colonization of wellness.” When I ask for an example, she is quick to point to the wellness industry, which earns over $9 billion in annual revenue in the U.S. “If you’re a yoga student, for example,” says Róisín, “you need to reconcile how much you’ve benefited from these practices with how much you’ve given back to the Indigenous communities where they originated.”

Wellness is a revolution — of communal support, of liberation. But this requires healing one’s self to be of better service to society.

I confide in Róisín that I had preconceived notions about her stance on the wellness industry at large, worrying she would dissuade me from continuing to create modern tools from ancient techniques. “The fact that you’re even questioning your involvement means you’re doing the work,” she replies. “So long as you acknowledge the shoulders you stand upon when you share a different ritual or practice, make your offering as inclusive as possible, and give back to those less fortunate, you can be right with wellness.” I’ve since adopted these pillars — cultural context, inclusivity, and philanthropy — as necessary ingredients for any wellness brand that I partner with or support monetarily. “Think of the earliest Vedic scholars,” says Róisín. “They didn’t codify this wisdom to keep it for themselves; they wanted to disseminate it and make it accessible so that more people could participate.” So who is wellness for? Anyone who is willing to participate responsibly. Because ultimately, “no one can be well unless everyone is,” says Róisín.

When I ask what gives Róisín hope for the future, she gently taps the table and says, “Conversations like this. The fact that people are even reading my book and willing to do the work. The extraordinariness of love gives me a lot of hope, the earth and nature give me a lot of hope. I fight for the earth and that’s what gives me resolve — I feel immense hope in the folds of this beautiful planet.” In one passage, Róisín writes, “We deserve to have each other’s love and care. We deserve that kind of holistic liberation.”

By the time we wrap up, the sun had burned through all the clouds. Three hours passed in what felt like 30 minutes. I thank Róisín for shining a spotlight on the paradoxical nature of the wellness industry — one I’ve spent many years trying to reconcile — and for providing actionable ways to collectively right the wrongs of the past while contributing to a more equitable and sustainable future.

How to Respectfully Engage in Wellness

Róisín’s tips for conscious participation.

Reading List

Watch List

  • “Life and Debt” by Stephanie Black

    Watch “Life and Debt” by Stephanie Black, to understand the plight of farmers and agriculture around the world, as well as the way the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank profit off of the resources of the Global South.

  • Anything Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

    According to Róisín, watching a Miyazaki film is a spiritual practice in itself, akin to meditation as the viewer gets transported to another world.

  • “Life and Debt” by Stephanie Black

    Watch “Life and Debt” by Stephanie Black, to understand the plight of farmers and agriculture around the world, as well as the way the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank profit off of the resources of the Global South.

  • Anything Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

    According to Róisín, watching a Miyazaki film is a spiritual practice in itself, akin to meditation as the viewer gets transported to another world.

Research & Support

  • Follow the Slow Factory and Studio Ānanda

    Follow organizations like the Slow Factory and Studio Ānanda that are working to make wellness tools, climate justice resources, and other educational materials accessible to the global majority.

  • Hold Companies Accountable

    Hold companies accountable for the ways in which they give back to the Indigenous communities they extract from.

  • Donate to Land Back Movements

    Donate to Sogorea Te' Land Trust and other Land Back movements that are prioritizing giving land back to Indigenous custodians.

  • Assess Your Own Wellness Practices

    Ensure your own wellness offering provides cultural context, is inclusive, and is philanthropic.

  • Follow the Slow Factory and Studio Ānanda

    Follow organizations like the Slow Factory and Studio Ānanda that are working to make wellness tools, climate justice resources, and other educational materials accessible to the global majority.

  • Donate to Land Back Movements

    Donate to Sogorea Te' Land Trust and other Land Back movements that are prioritizing giving land back to Indigenous custodians.

  • Hold Companies Accountable

    Hold companies accountable for the ways in which they give back to the Indigenous communities they extract from.

  • Assess Your Own Wellness Practices

    Ensure your own wellness offering provides cultural context, is inclusive, and is philanthropic.

Our Contributors

Jenn Tardif Writer

Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.

Sunny Shokrae Photographer

Sunny Shokrae is a photographer currently living and working in New York City. Published in both editorial and commercial media, her work touches on moments of stillness and flux, demonstrating an ease and fluidity that is both current and timeless. When not working, she can be found spending time with her young family and working on personal projects.

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