Leafing through the ‘Yoga Journal’ squatting on the throne a number of weeks ago – yes, I squat these days, it’s the only way – I was startled to how an ostensibly ‘spiritual’ magazine had been infiltrated by so much advertising and product placement. An array of everything from yoga ‘essentials’ to support your practice, to courses aimed at personal development, to the proper gear to make you all the rage in class. Granted, said ads were interspersed with a few principled and erudite reflections on the practice – but nevertheless the gloss was spattered with the kind of materialism and narcissism that seemed out of place back to back with the principles of Patanjali’s Sutras.
Of course, the counter to this argument might be of the regressive realist sort; that the fracturing of our principles is by default required in our market economy, to ensure audiences can be reached, expanded and supported in their own ‘spiritual development’. But I suspect more often than not, such space given over to commodity and materialism hardly raises an eyebrow – health consumerism is in a different league after all.
What is health consumerism if not an attempt to realize our human potential, physically, emotionally and spiritually?
A fair assessment of our readership might be the politically aware and ecologically conscious kind – with those values expressed in their choices as consumers. Quality food is probably a high priority for you and perhaps a portion of your budget is spent on ‘getting well’ or maintaining wellness – you have acupuncture, get a massage, buy herbs, supplements, have therapy etc.
In the context of consumerism, many of these choices are seen as ‘right choices’, or at least better ones – well meaning and informed by an eco-intelligence; with a desire to realize some potential, be the best we can be in our lives and tread lightly whilst we’re at it. It’s the poor, uninitiated and reckless that whittles away their dosh on pork scratchings and jaeger bombs anyway, isn’t it?
But how do we discern when our health consumerism is out of control? And to what ends does it serve? In fact, are we prepared to even consider ‘investing’ in our health as consumerism at all?
Waking up to health as just another market isn’t an easy thing – it elides detection as an avenue for zombie-like consumerism, because it seems to operate in a different realm. The health commodity is not always as substantial in the material sense, appearing to transcend such crudity via the romantic ecological or spiritual narratives that support their production. That, or their affinity with the impulse to seek ‘health and wellbeing’, which has become the holy grail of our contemporary society, renders them not only legitimate and worthwhile, but essential criteria of our modern lifestyles.
Most of our waking hours are spent wading the swamp of conflicting advice and information around health – with State guidelines merely reflecting the regurgitated tripe of shadowy corporate lobbyists, with an exasperating array of regimes, diets, interventions and products all claiming some essential truth of human health and vitality. We are pushed violently into a state of neurotic self-surveillance and continuous work on our bodies via a means of the different ‘technologies’, disciplines and compounds on offer. No sooner have we seen the bottom of our multi-vitamin and mineral bottle, we’re reaching for a new formula – in spray form, that self-initiates as vapour from the bedside table.
Yet, chomping on our stale kale crisps, will we let ourselves ask if it’s all worth it? Or indeed, whether it’s the right path? Reclined and pinned (literally) to the massage couch – is this where relief is? Is your vitamin-D deficiency real – or does the impulse to supplement come from a place you’re unwilling to explore?
Our modern lifestyles and concentrated urbanism are already a source of chronic anxiety – the call to health and its pursuance delivers us into a state of hyper-anxiety; wading through mounds of processed shit to source the ever-illusive ether for our ills.
Working with my ‘spiritual accountant’ recently (my definition, not theirs), we discussed the impulses behind my own health consumerism. Which tied in beautifully with some previous grappling (with the aid of another very wise guide) with my personal conception of healing.
It seems a neat trick of our neoliberal architecture, the biomedical worldview and perhaps the narcissism of our times, that healing can be so reduced to that which we can consume. Of course, in the context of the very real conditions and maladies induced by the toxicity of our environments and milieu, consumption can be a matter of life and death. But the impulse to consume for consumptions sake, to attain this advertisement of perfection rolled out to keep us rolling, is surely a distraction from the kind of fulfillment that is an authentic prerequisite to ‘feeling well’.
Like my intelligent guide said, in not so many words – true healing is a collective, not an individual endeavor. A sense of deep connection; to each other, our communities and our environment, primes the terrain of the body to the kind of equilibrium that makes us content, resilient and open to embracing the new ways of being and thinking that gives real basis to fulfillment and the individual and collective foundations for health.
Perhaps it’s time to step from behind the convenience of a ‘limited holism’, perpetuated by the market of ‘health and wellbeing’, to be brave enough to say – ‘no, I’m not okay, and a mountain of quinoa crisps and wheatgrass shots won’t make it any better’. And to encourage a healthy solidarity in demanding the kind of radical social change that means our communities and our environments become our general panacea.
Or perhaps it’s time for another green tea. I’ll put the kettle on.