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Taking the ‘Western’ out of Wellness Trends

Over the last decade, wellness, and the general desire to find ways to look after our wellbeing, has greatly increased. Our methods of achieving this, results in the incorporation of products and practices that become highly popularised through social media, so much so that they tend to lose their own histories and become heavily westernised. Whilst I believe it’s great that we have all these items at our disposal, I also think it’s important to try and educate ourselves on where these products come from and from which cultures they are derived. 


This article will give a brief description of the origins of 4 popular wellness trends in order to emphasise their histories. Whilst my research did show me that often there are discrepancies in origin stories, the main intention of this article is to draw attention to the fact that so many of the wellness trends available to us in the western world, have very non-western roots. 


1. Gua Sha


Gua Sha is a practice that has gain prominence recently, and I’m sure, that like me, you’ve seen it all over tiktok! Most often I’ve seen it used as part of facial massage routines, but I was fortunate enough to be introduced to it by a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who uses it all over the body, to bring warmth and energy to areas that require healing. 


Gua Sha is first and foremost a healing procedure taken from traditional East Asian medicine. It has been used by the ancient Chinese for centuries, with its first recorded use occurring around 700 years ago during the era of the Ming Dynasty. However, some records show it dates back as far as the Paleolithic Age where materials such as coins or stones would be used to massage the parts of the body in order to relieve symptoms of illness.


2. Turmeric


This vibrant spice is much loved for its supposed anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and gut healing benefits. It is the backbone of the popular turmeric latte and features within many popular dishes. It also forms part of holistic medicine and can be bought in capsule form.


Turmeric is a product of a plant name Curcuma longa which is native to tropical South Asia. It reached the coast of China in 700 and reached East Africa 100 years later, where Arab traders were instrumental in popularising it all over the European continent in 13th century. I have been informed by South Asian friends that the turmeric latte has been a popular healing drink within South Asian culture long before its introduction in the cafes of the UK.


3. Kefir


Sticking with gut health, kefir is a fermented milk drink, which is high in nutrients and probiotics, and thus supports digestion and promotes a healthy gut. 


The drink is said to originate from the North Caucasus and was a closely-guarded secret of this former Russian region. The kefir grains that were added to fresh milk to came to the attention of Russian immunologists around the 1900s, who eventually obtained them from the tribes in the Caucasus mountains. It has been a staple in the cultures of Eastern Europe since, and has even been used in hospitals in this region.




4. Aromatherapy


Aromatherapy is a type of holistic healing treatments that uses plant extracts, which are used to produce essential oils and work to improve the health of the mind and body. Aromatherapy works through several methods including through smell, which connects to parts of the brain and can trigger emotional responses or through inhalation and subsequent absorption of essential oils, which release their antibacterial and antiviral properties within the respiratory system.


Aromatic plants have been utilised in the resins, balms and oils of ancient Chinese, Indian and Egyptian cultures, for both medicinal and religious purposes. The Ancient Greeks obtained much of their knowledge of plants from the Egyptians. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, herbs and plants that form the basis of essential oils became staples in apothecaries. Then, in 1910, a French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse was working in his laboratory when he burnt his hand and stuck it in a vat of lavender oil and rediscovered the healing properties of lavender oil. He continued his research and reported his findings in a scientific paper in 1928, where the term ‘Aromatherapy’ was first used.




I hope this article has given you an insight into how truly global wellness can be and serves as a reminder to us all to appreciate and respect the cultures that inspire us in this way. There are of course so many other trends out there whose origins are worth exploring. Given that this article has been incredibly enjoyable to research and write for, I’d encourage anyone who encounters any other wellness trend to spend a little time looking into its origins!

Hi, I'm Amelia, and I'm a second year History student who loves to write :)
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