Woo-Woo Wellness Has Gone Mainstream and It Looks Like It’s Here to Stay

Photo: Stocksy / Nadine Greeff

Sound baths, crystal healing, Reiki—back in 2010, spiritual healing practices like these were still way out on the fringes of the wellness scene. Maybe you'd hear about them at a particularly progressive yoga studio or from your friend who went to Burning Man, but they certainly weren't widely embraced by mainstream audiences.

Flash forward 10 years, however, and people in all corners of the country are filling their homes with rose quartz and balancing their chakras with the help of energy healers. So-called "woo-woo" modalities are now just as integral to the wellness mix as avocados and boutique fitness classes, and all signs point to the fact that they're not just a passing fad.

If you ask Reiki healer and Wellness Official founder Millana Snow, the turning point came around 2012, when meditation and yoga were just starting to take hold in a big way. "I think in 2012, there was a lot of hype around the Mayan calendar [which people inaccurately claimed predicted the end of the world], but at the same time, people became aware of a larger narrative around consciousness," she says. Soon after, that story started to spread outside of the burgeoning wellness world. "In 2013, my company and our practitioner partners were doing angel card readings and Reiki for Alexander Wang’s corporate team the week of New York Fashion Week," Snow recalls. "The next year, we lead Samsung’s first ever yoga class for the public. Those two things, to me, were signs that things were shifting."

Also in 2013, the Maha Rose Center for Healing opened in Brooklyn with a treatment menu that featured things like acupuncture, sound baths, breathwork, and Reiki—one of the first destinations (outside of luxe wellness properties like Canyon Ranch and Miraval) nationally to offer such a wide range of spiritual healing modalities under one roof. "The early days were just friends, and then friends-of-friends," says Maha Rose founder Lisa Levine. "It was really that winter of 2013 to 2014 that things began to shift and more interest in healing and wellness was building. Older institutions like the Open Center and the Edgar Cayce Center existed, but I think we were the first of this wave of a younger generation of New Yorkers to get interested in healing."

One reason for the rapid ascent of spiritual healing? We're living in tense times. Feelings of anger, stress, and worry are the highest they've been in a decade, and one in five people is currently at risk of work-related burnout. Given the climate crisis, the messy political landscape, and the constant barrage of smartphone pings we receive each day, it's no wonder that people are being drawn to ancient wellness practices that soothe their emotions and spirits while tuning up their minds and bodies.

"I believe people can heal themselves when they feel safe." —Jill Blakeway, DACM, LAc

Jill Blakeway—doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, author of Energy Medicine, and founder of The Yinova Center in New York City—is one healer who believes that a need for nurturing has led to increased interest in a holistic approach to health. She first started seeing increased demand for her services after 9/11, when New Yorkers began experiencing physical problems connected to their shock and grief. "I believe people can heal themselves when they feel safe," Blakeway says. "A whole-body approach, which takes into account a patient's emotional state as well as their physical health, makes patients feel supported in a way that is healing."

Snow, too, attributes the popularity of spiritual healing to the challenges of modern life. "People are hungry for a slower pace," she says. "We have been given so many quick fixes by our culture, the medical community, and our own families—I think people are really ready for a coming home to themselves, their bodies, and their own interpretation of truth." She notes that many of the most searched-for wellness modalities today—including Reiki and massage—are practices that encourage us to pause and deeply rest while we connect with our inner selves.

On the more mystical end of the spectrum, practices like astrology and tarot have also exploded in popularity in recent years—a phenomenon that's happening as a growing number of people are turning away from organized religion. Today, 26 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any particular religion, up from 17 percent in 2009.  "People are looking to alternative ways of connecting to the divine and to themselves," says Levine. "We know there is more out there than this 3-D reality, and we want and need that [spiritual] connection to feel...grounded, connected, and whole."

Even the medical community is beginning to embrace certain holistic health modalities in a way that was unheard of at the turn of the 2000s, which is bringing these practices to new audiences. "When I started [as an acupuncturist], my patients were reluctant to tell their doctors they were seeing me, fearing their disapproval," says Blakeway, who opened The Yinova Center in 1999. "Along the way, we've earned the respect of the orthodox medical community. These days, most of our referrals come from MDs."

Indeed, doctors wary of prescribing opioids are now starting to recommend acupuncture over pills—after all, a large body of research has confirmed its pain-relief potential—while yoga therapy, Reiki, and essential oils are on offer at a growing number of hospitals. Functional medicine, too, has undergone a boom in the 2010s. One of the biggest success stories is Parsley Health, a functional medicine clinic focused on treating the root causes of health issues through diet and lifestyle modifications. Only three years old, the company recently closed a $26 million Series B funding round, following a $10 million Series A in 2018.

"Now that wellness is becoming so mainstream and so necessary, there is more demand than there ever has been for healers who represent the diverse population looking for support." —Millana Snow

As we move into the 2020s, Blakeway is particularly interested in seeing where the burgeoning plant medicine movement goes. Medicinal mushrooms and cannabis have both been legalized in a number of states over the course of the decade, and some thought leaders such as Ayelet Waldman and Michael Pollan are promoting the potential of substances like LSD as mental health aids. "Another development that has been noticeable has been the rise in ayahuasca as a way of accelerating emotional and spiritual growth," Blakeway says. (These last few, in particular, are understudied and can be dangerous to use.)

The digital and holistic health worlds are also likely to come together in a bigger way—after all, we can now follow shamans on Instagram and book spiritual healing sessions through our smartphones, using tools like Snow's soon-to-launch Wellness Official platform. "With so much access to information, we [now] have the ability to learn about and connect to the support that we need," Snow says. She believes this ease of access will ultimately open holistic healing up to a broader audience, and will likely encourage a wider array of people to become healers themselves. "Now that wellness is becoming so mainstream and so necessary, there is more demand than there ever has been for healers who represent the diverse population looking for support."

One thing's for sure: In our quest to feel good, we now have more options than ever to explore. Given that healing isn't one-size-fits-all, this can only be a good thing—and in Levine's opinion, at least, we've only scratched the surface of what's possible in the holistic healing world. "As creative beings, we are always discovering more modalities and inventing new ones," she says. "I think [wellness] is just going to get weirder and broader."

Want to take another look back over the last decade? Here's why the calorie is officially done. And 5,000 years later, yoga is still unstoppable.

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