Dr. Halbert L. Dunn, father of the "wellness movement," defined it as "an integrated method of functioning, which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable." I am not the industry's ideal consumer. Like trash in a stream, I tend to go with the flow, and as long as I can stay afloat I will chalk it up as a success. But what would happen if I immersed myself in the accoutrements of maximized living—of wellness? Would they be wasted on me, or would I ascend to some higher plane of mindful health? Over the course of one very long day, I aimed to find out by embracing as many wellness treatments as possible. I planned to freeze, puncture, and pickle my body throughout a gauntlet of ancient treatments, modern fads, and dubious remedies. I did this in an attempt to simply feel better. It may have been too much to ask.
7 AM - Oil Pulling
I prefer to err on the side of modernity when it comes to dentistry. Oil pulling marks a departure for me in this regard, as the oral health treatment is some 3,000 years old. The instructions are simple: On an empty stomach, swish a teaspoon of natural oil (usually coconut or sesame) in your mouth for 20 full minutes. According to blogger the Wellness Mama, years of oil pulling have resulted in "increased oral health (no plaque) and less sensitive (and whiter!) teeth" for her.
The oil seemed to expand in my mouth as I swished it around. To pass the time, I scrolled through Twitter, which gave me terrible anxiety as it always does. I accidentally swallowed some of the oil, which every guide I had read online strongly advised to avoid. My panic was replaced with low-level dread, however, when I checked my timer and saw that only three minutes had transpired.
Seventeen minutes later, I spat the viscous remedy onto the street while walking my dog, and a neighbor gave me a thumbs-up. Like the oil pulling itself, I found this gesture to be mildly unsettling.
7:15 AM - Cold Shower
Used for centuries as a way to cure boners, cold showers have become popular wellness treatment in recent years. They are said to increase blood circulation and boost productivity, and I figured it would be a great way to kick off a day of maximized potential.
Unless you are a delicate child of Versailles, you know what a cold shower feels like. I won't bore you with the details, but it was a miserable yet effective way to knock out the cobwebs. I look forward to taking hot showers for the rest of my life.
7:45 AM - Bulletproof Coffee
In any other part of the country, having just a cup of coffee for breakfast is known as "skipping breakfast"; in Silicon Valley, it's called "biohacking," because Johnny Mnemonic cosplay has become a very serious way of life there.
This particular "hack" has been monetized and labeled as "Bulletproof Coffee." According to its website, Bulletproof Coffee is "a high-performance drink that has a massive impact on your energy and cognitive function." You make it at home by blending coffee with a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter from grass-fed cows, and something called "Brain Octane Oil," (though simple MCT oil do). Bulletproof brand BOO sells on its site for around $25.
Subbing the morning meal with Bulletproof Coffee is supposed to be a time-saver, but because it requires the use of a French press and blender, it takes longer to make a cup than it does to prepare most non-Benedict breakfast. It came out frothy and tasted pretty good, but, like the oil pulling, left a treacly feeling in my mouth. Wellness, like Formula One racing, seems to require the consumption of copious amounts of oil. It wasn't even 8 AM yet, and I already had to brush my teeth two separate times.
8:15 AM - Alternate Nostril Breathing
In her book What Happened, Hillary Clinton lists the methods she used to cope with losing the election. "Tried alternate nostril breathing," she writes of the practice, which has its roots in yoga. "I highly recommend it. It kind of calms you down."
It's pretty simple: You inhale through one nostril, hold, and exhale out the other nostril. You then reverse the order and repeat. I could feel my heartbeat slow with each focused inhalation and exhalation. Sadly, it did not help me cope with the results of the 2016 presidential election.
8:30 AM - Toilet Time
The Bulletproof Coffee was working.
9 AM - Guided Meditation
Meditation is like Pepto-Bismol in that it always works as advertised and yet totally surprises me when it does. For 40 minutes, I listened the Anthony Hopkins–like voice of Mark Williams tell me how to sit, and it was absolutely fantastic. He concluded by gently instructing that I "ground [myself]" in an attempt to "bring [me back in touch with a sense of [myself] as complete and whole." Unbeknownst to me, I had accidentally dragged that meditation track into an existing Spotify playlist, and when it ended on that loving mantra, "Hot for Teacher" blared from my headphones. Needless to say, I felt pretty damn whole. Meditation kicks ass.
11 AM - Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is a form of intense cold immersion, and its boosters claim an extensive list of benefits, including improved blood circulation, metabolism, and collagen levels. The FDA, meanwhile, says the treatment "lacks evidence" and "poses risks." How risky can freezing yourself be?
The spa I chose for my Cryotherapy session is pretty swanky (its website features videos of Golden State Warriors superstar Steph Curry using the facilities). Inside, it looked like a Hype Williams video, and when I donned the gloves, socks, slippers, and face mask required for the cryo chamber, I felt as if I was in an REI-sponsored remake of Belly.
When the cryo pod filled with gasified nitrogen, the existing atmosphere inside froze and sounded like snow crinkling under winter boots. The woman controlling the operation via touchscreen said it would be around negative 170 degrees Fahrenheit in the chamber, though when I stepped inside it felt like a balmy minus 160 degrees.
This may be the Chicagoan in me, but I can't justify paying $45 to stand in the cold for three minutes. I simply didn't feel any different or better by the end of the session. My nipple hair did freeze, however.
Noon - Sensory Deprivation Float Tank
The same spa also offers float therapy, and after my brief cryo-freeze, I reserved a tank for an hour-long sensory-deprivation experience. The tanks are filled with highly salinated water warmed to skin temperature, and you float naked in total silence and absolute darkness. It's the closest you can get to not existing, meaning its benefits are too many and great to list here. The feeling is supposedly womb-like, and I realize a few minutes into my float why expectant mothers are advised to avoid coffee. I felt like a cranked-up fetus, and brief moments of calm and clarity were interrupted by jolts of panic and flustered thought. I felt caught between needing to escape and wanting ever so dearly to stay inside the tank forever. After an hour, a pre-recorded voice informed me that my session was over, and I emerged from the pod naked and covered in salt. I hadn't achieved enlightenment, but I did transcend into a pickle-like state of being.
2 PM - Juice
The Bulletproof Coffee didn't keep hunger at bay, and my stomach had been grumbling for hours. You are required to shower both before and after you use the float tank, which resulted in me taking three showers before lunchtime, and I feverishly scratched my dried-out skin as I headed to a nearby juice bar. The minimalist establishment was started by an acupuncturist who for a time ran fashionable wellness retreats. The sign outside said "Food Is Healing," though inside there was very little actual food for sale.
"Do you sell anything that will make me feel good?" I asked a stylish man behind the counter, who worked up a cup of something based on how I told him I felt—"jittery." He handed me a beet root juice called "After Party" that tasted like Clamato. It swished around my stomach the whole way home. I hated it. I felt like crap.
4 PM - Cupping and Acupuncture
When Dr. Judy asked me why I had come to see her, I didn't have an answer ready. Her office is in Chinatown, in a large and almost completely empty old building. I did not want to be there.
Acupuncture is an effective treatment for lots of ailments—back pain, insomnia, digestive blockage—but I couldn't claim any of these. I was in pursuit of some abstract sense of wellness, which, her question had made me realize, is a very privileged position to be in.
"Anxiety," I finally answered. It wasn't a lie.
She asked me to change into a pair of hospital pants and lie on my stomach. While acupuncture's effectiveness has been clinically proven, cupping remains dubious as a procedure. Nonetheless, the world's best swimmers appear at the Summer Olympics with telltale hickies across their broad backs, and this questionable wellness treatment reestablishes itself in the public's consciousness every four years, like clockwork. Luckily, Dr. Judy does both treatments at once, and I didn't have to choose between them.
She flicked the needles into my flesh, and I could feel their bizarre wobbling gravity tug at the skin. I heard a pumping sound, and a cup formed a seal against the back of my knee as it began its suction. As she continued her work across my body, she never stopped asking questions and seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being after I mentioned work anxieties. "One day at a time! You put too much pressure on yourself," she said as she inserted three needles above each of my eyelids. I started to feel better, and by the end of the 90-minute session we were laughing, pin cushion and seamstress, together as one.
"Wellness" literally means "the opposite of illness," though the word is tasked with much heavier lifting these days. Dr. Judy got me thinking: Maybe simply feeling OK is enough. Every time I found myself in a state of OK-ness during my pursuit of wellness, I quickly moved to a new thing that would ultimately undo any progress I had made. I'm unqualified, both in the mysteries of spiritual health and as a writer, to determine if this is an apt metaphor for the wellness industry in general, but it's worth thinking about.
If something makes you feel nice, it might be a good idea to just leave it at that. Dr. Judy's treatment may have left marks all over my body, but she also gave me the confidence to call it quits for the day. I am forever in her debt for this, as the next treatment I had scheduled was a Gwyneth Paltrow–approved genital steam.
Sometimes, the avoidance of wellness can be the best way to achieve it.
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