The Atlantic

The Art of Woke Wellness

At an inaugural desert festival of yogis and spirit guides like Russell Brand, an exclusive industry grapples with consumerism, addiction, and the actual meaning of wellness.
Source: Paul Pack / Wanderlust / ImageFlow / New Africa / Shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

I first felt reality shift when, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, there was a line for a class called Body Blast Bootcamp, and I worried that there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone.

The draw to this explicitly not-fun undertaking, others in line told me, was that we would be glad to have done it when it was over. We all made it in, and the workout studio was a carpeted conference room where an Instagram-famous instructor with a microphone headset was waiting to give us high fives. “The hardest step is showing up!”

Once we started working out, a person walked around apparently taking Instagram videos, and people were not bothered by this. Another brought a mini tripod to get some shots of herself in action. There was shouting and a Coldplay house remix. Someone offered me a box of alkaline water, and I drank it because no neutral water was available.

Body blasting was just one of the hundreds of classes, sessions, panels, talks, and silent dance parties at the inaugural Wellspring wellness festival. Last month some 2,000 mannequin-shaped people floated into Palm Springs, California, for what advertisements promised to be “a first-of-its-kind wellness festival, that will feature over 200 transformational workshops, treatments, and fitness across multiple categories.” The goal was to “provide seekers the tools to learn and take action in real time for a healthier mind in a relational platform.” (Relational platform was a new term to me, but people seemed less than pleased when I used the word conference.)

The scene was otherworldly from the first whiff of essential oils on the premises, the palatial Palm Springs Convention Center and an adjacent resort hotel. Almost all of the attendees (seekers) were under 40 years old, and all looked well below it. Many could not be picked out of a lineup of Lululemon models. At least one actually was. There were celebrity speakers lined up to lend their expertise, including Russell Brand, the comedian turned spirit guide whose face is the poster for the event, and Alicia Silverstone, best known for her starring role in Clueless, who currently sells a line of vitamins out of an expressed concern that all other prenatal vitamins on the market can be harmful to fetuses.

The water was in boxes

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