Five years ago if you were to ask me what the word wellness meant I probably wouldn't be able to tell you. Fast forward a few years, and the concept has gone from fringe to mainstream, and the catchall phrase for anything remotely related to fitness or health. While I pride myself on living an active life, and setting time to nurture my mind and spirit, so many of the Black women close to me do not; and for good reason.
The bombardment of contradictory messages can leave you incredibly confused, especially if you're new to the world of wellness. Too many of us choose to sit on the sidelines of wellness, which is extremely problematic, because, now more than ever, we need to be intentional about caring for ourselves.
In order to help us wrap our head around what it means to be well, we spoke with with four amazing Black women who share a profound love for wellness: Lauren Ash, founder of Black Girl in Om, Dr. Tiffany Lester, medical director of Parsley Health San Francisco, Michelle Marques, who's a certified personal trainer, and reiki master teacher Courtney Cobbs.
When most people hear the word wellness they may automatically think of slender and incredibly fit Caucasian women, fresh from a yoga class, sipping a green juice, clad in Lululemon.
"I believe there has been an unfortunate 'whitewashing' in wellness and it's been portrayed to only look a certain way," Dr. Lester tells ESSENCE. "The irony is that these ancient healing traditions often originated in indigenous communities and are now being monetized by individuals who are the opposite."
This lack of representation and diversity in the wellness space is exactly why Lauren Ash decide to start Black Girl in Om and create the space for Black women to breathe easier. As her site reads, "we learn and share wellness practices with one another, and through this work cultivate richer understandings of what it means to be healthy and beautiful from the inside out."
Courtney Cobbs, who got into the space back in 2014 after a near death experience and breakup, defines wellness as "operating at your most optimum state on all levels-physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and even financial."
Dr. Lester agrees, "true wellness is being in tune with what you need in every given moment — emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It's also different for each of us and there is no cookie-cutter approach to wellness." So green juices and yoga clases are not the only ways to be well.
A few weeks ago, a post from Michelle Marques stopped me cold on Instagram.
""The lack of representation and diversity can leave us feeling like we don't belong," says Ash. "Who you see standing in the front of you at a yoga studio matters because what we see is oftentimes what we believe we can or cannot do."
Financial access is another very real reason why many Black women don't actively participate in wellness practices.
"Unfortunately the wellness industry isn't always the most financially accessible community to enter into and that can limit folks' participation," Marques explains. "I am heartened to see more folks of color enter this field and seek to make it more financially accessible."
And while both these real, and perceived, costs were once a determent, they no longer are. As each of these women explained to via email, wellness can take many shapes and forms that are affordable or even free.
Prioritizing sleep, going on short walks, creating a relaxation ritual or even cutting toxic people out of your life are all wellness practices that can be implemented into our lives immediately.
"Consider the activities that give you a sense of inner peace or the feeling, "I can lose myself in this!" Those activities are so important," Cobb adds.
As Black women we must take care of ourselves, and each other, every single day because, quite literally, our lives, and those of our mothers, sisters and friends, depend on it. So start a weekly walking group with your friends, try mediation, finally take that yoga class. Whatever you do, do it frequently and know that Black women in wellness do in fact exist.