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Wellness. It represents something we’d all like to achieve — feeling great in mind and body. But the last couple years the word has been co-opted to oblivion, used to tout everything from diet food to plastic surgery to cannabis to vacations. It’s overzealous use has made it a subjective part of the modern lexicon, but its essence in health and happiness is ultimately a positive, and it’s here to stay, especially in L.A. Last year saw a whole festival and week dedicated to the concept and more events are coming in 2020. (Search “wellness” on Eventbrite and see for yourself.)

As the wellness, health and beauty markets have grown and melded here, so too have the stereotypes about our city by association. Yes, many Angelenos treat yoga class like it’s church, eat so “clean” their guts practically squeak, and juice to joke-levels. Some meditate like mad, get carried away with crystals, and even try weird stuff like steaming their vaginas (that bougie-boho lifestyle blog told them it was the hot new thing, after all).

Rachael Kester at The Den (Courtesy MindBody)

But for a lot of us, exploring wellness in L.A. isn’t about all that. When it comes down to it, we might all want smooth skin and a sleek physique, but the wellness trend encompasses more, going beyond achieving any one ideal. It’s about personal goals, both internal and external, and in a city so diverse all it takes is a little delving to discover what works for each individual.

As we head into a new year and new decade, many of us are thinking about exactly this (again). What can we do this year to achieve our best selves? In L.A. there are countless options that’s for sure, some more organically driven than others. From gyms to spas, pilates to pointe classes, sound baths to CBD treatments, supplements to sleep pods, cool-sculpting, fat transferring, colonics, fascia blasting, reiki, acupuncture and on and on. Wellness and “health” comes in many forms and price points right now.

“It’s beyond the physical,” says Rachael Kester, fitness influencer and L.A. city manager for MINDBODY, a popular app/portal for finding classes and services in the wellness sphere. “Especially for 2020, we have more of a spiritual focus. Yoga and meditation are more popular than ever, and there’s a more well-rounded approach. It’s about how connected you are to what’s around you, the people around you, the earth around you and how to make yourself better through those dimensions.”

Providing consumers with a central, trustworthy resource for self-improvement since 2001, MINDBODY was founded by Rick Stollmeyer in 2001. The California company connects users from around the world to the latest fitness, beauty and integrative health services. Moreover, the platform’s integrated software and payments system has been a resource for businesses small and large to market to new clients in a centralized way. In Los Angeles alone, MINDBODY books over 190,000 classes and appointments at over 3,000 local businesses every month. The company’s research arm just released its trend forecast for fitness, wellness and beauty based on data and insights from 2019, and L.A. leads the way offerings-wise.

(Courtesy Unplug)


Rachael Kester’s Top
L.A. MINDBODY Picks

  • Camp Yoga: A three-day immersive camp held in various L.A.-adjacent locales with yoga, outdoor activities, wine and more. campyoga.ca/.
  • Up Flying Yoga: Aerial yoga studio offering an “Up Fly Naps” (aerial happing classes) on Friday afternoons. 1101 Ventura Blvd.,  Studio 6., Encino; upflyingyoga.com/.
  • Cienega Med Spa: Spa services that incorporate nap pods. (Two locations) 375 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Grove; 902 Broadway, Santa Monica. cienegaspa.com.
  • Deepen: Offers classes focused on deepening connections with others via group meditations, storytelling dinner parties or a transformational workshops. Various locations, mindbody.io/fitness/studios/deepen.
  • The Den: Venue hosting classes, workshops and retreats centered on topics such as “Break the Norms,” “Happiness” and “Intention.” (Two locations) 360 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park; 12323 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; denmeditation.com/den-meditation-about-los-angeles/.
  • Unplug Meditation: Hosts a range of meditation classes that may include guided imagery, sound baths, breathwork, aromatherapy and crystal healing – they also have their own app. Various locations, unplug.com/.
  • ZenStop: A mobile meditation oasis (book at zenstop.co.)
  • Relational Center: A wellness center based in empathy, they provide classes such as “Self-Understanding & Compassion” and “Breathwork and Meditation.” 2717 S Robertson Blvd., Beverlywood; relationalcenter.org/.
  • HotBox: Infrared sauna studio touting “sweat in style” modern sauna rituals. 835 S Hill St., downtown; hotboxsaunastudio.com/.
  • Oraya Movement: Offers amazing landscapes projections on its walls during pilates, yoga, breathwork classes and sound baths. 8155 Beverly Blvd., Beverly Grove; orayamovement.com.

Sound wellness. (Courtesy The Den)

MINDBODY’s blog also released an overall forecast for what will be popular in the new year. Some top trends include: “Integrative health” (complementary and alternative medicine, aka CAM), “Emotional wellness” (multidimensional self improvement including fitness classes and wellness treatments that incorporate mindfulness and emotional healing), sleep (“2020 is the year of the nap,” and nap bars and nap pods take the idea to a new level), and “experiential wellness” (immersive trips and experiences that go beyond a class or service and encourage human connection).

Thanks to our sunny weather, hiking and outdoor fitness remains popular in L.A., and it always will. But for many, the convenience offered by indoor spaces seems to make them the preferred choice right now. In researching the options, we’ve noted a few other trends beyond MINDBODY’s index too, including: smaller studios over big gyms, music-driven experiences, incorporation of novel amusements (i.e. how goat yoga became a thing), and the end of the cardio craze with a bigger focus on flexibility.

Specialized classes continue to reign beyond basic yoga. S.M. Stretching, for example, opened this year in L.A., providing low impact workouts centered around deep stretching. “Each class helps students tone the body through muscle reshaping and flexibility advancement,” says the studio’s owner Samira Mustafaeva.“I opened S.M. Stretching to help people achieve their lifelong goal of mastering a proper splits and to fill a missing piece in the fitness industry. Our mission is to help people scale their flexibility limits while educating our students on the importance of stretching in fitness as well as an everyday activity.”

Samira Mustafaeva (Courtesy SM Stretching)


L.A. Weekly’s Picks For Wellness Spaces and Cool Workouts

  • Fit & Bendy: 2861 W. Ave. 35, Glassell Park; fitandbendy.com.
  • S.M. Stretching: 111 N La Cienega Blvd, Suite B, Beverly Hills; smstretching.com.
  • The Sweat Spot: Ryan Heffington’s dance space offers a friendly environment and everything from “Gaga” classes (not about the Lady, but geared to gaining knowledge and self-awareness through body movement) to dance church to “Sweaty Sundays.” (Check out the slow jams class for a grindy good time.) 3327 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; thesweatspotla.com.
  • Made in L.A.: Chiropractic care meets fitness at this hip gym founded by fitness vet Andrea Lawent. High energy indoor cycling and hip-hop dance classes push your limits and you’ll love it. 1710 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood; madeinlafitness.com/.
  • Christy Kane Metal Pedal: Kane’s heavy rock and metal–fueled classes feature hill crushing, sprints, jumps and more on stationary bikes, proving wellness can rawk! Various locations; facebook.com/christykanemetalpedal/.
  • Roam LA: This Virgil Village yoga spot offers an inclusive atmosphere and an assortment of alignment based Vinyasa classes plus yin, kirtan and meditation courses all featuring artful, musical and soulful approaches to body and mind work. 650 N. Hoover St., Silver Lake; roamla2020.demo.site/.
  • Monarch Athletic Club: This new flagship facility offers members a gym alternative focused on holistic health, recovery, nutrition and rest. 8730 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; monarchweho.com/.
  • Remedy Place: Touting itself as the first ever “social wellness club,” Dr. Jonathan Leary’s new space offers everything from hyperbaric chambers and cryotherapy to IV treatments and meditation, all based on the “seven elements of balance” – mind, oxygen, movement, nutrients, cold, heat and compression. 8305 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; remedyplace.com/.

Kristina Nekyia is Fit & Bendy. (Dusti Cunningham)

Mustafaeva sees wellness and health as the key to a happy life and a life of longevity, and sees stretching as an essential basis. “There are many benefits,” she enthuses. “In addition to improved flexibility … increased range of motion and mobility, improved blood flow, better posture, [it] helps with back pain and helps reduce stress and calms the mind.”

Touting a similar approach, Fit & Bendy in downtown L.A. is dedicated to teaching flexibility fitness at all levels, decreasing aches and pains of immobility and improving performance in any physical activity one enjoys, “from running to dance to professional contortion,” says owner Kristina Nekyia, a popular local burlesque dancer.

Nekyia says her goal with Fit & Bendy is to create a space where everyone’s fitness journey is celebrated, and clients choose their own destinations. “We just provide some helpful tools along the way,” she explains. “This is particularly important in a city as diverse as Los Angeles. The wellness trend is neither good nor bad in itself, it’s all about the way that it is implemented. There are as many ways to do “wellness” as there are people on this planet, so any wellness program needs to take into account the entire person, who they are, what they want and what works for them. That means that using metrics like weight and body measurements, or how much you can lift, or other arbitrary numbers actually hinders some people from being their most well.”

Despite all the trendy takes out there, classes centered around strength, mobility and breath work are the norm now. “I teach slow controlled movements to provide a counterbalance to our fast-paced, overstimulated world where we spend too much time sitting and not enough time moving,” says L.A. yoga instructor Tiffany Caronia. “My classes move slowly and specifically and address problem areas that go along with working at a desk job. Getting people into their bodies by teaching them to slow down and breathe, move mindfully and learn about how their bodies work, they get more in touch with their specific needs and can make conscious choices as to what works for them.”

Kundalini community. (Courtesy The Den)

Slowing down is important but so is finding something that excites you. National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified celebrity personal trainer, nutritionist and stretching professional Tasha Dixon — says she tries to find a physical activity that her clients used to love — whether it’s dance, hiking, golf, dodgeball, etc. “I train them to fall in love and excel at those physical activities once again,” she says. “It turns exercise from a chore into something that brings joy to their life and lights up their workouts.”

Of course physical activity alone won’t help one achieve goals for looking and feeling their best. What we ingest is just as important if not more. If the goal is weight loss rather than overall wellness, there’s a myriad of approaches to choose from, from low-carb and keto to fasting and good ol’ low-cal diet plans. The options are endless, with meal delivery services and a bounty of books to choose from on the subject.

But to the credit of the current wellness craze, the emphasis right now doesn’t seem to be solely about getting skinny. That mindset, as we’ve seen time and time again, can be dangerous and lead to eating disorders. Mindfulness and connecting with the spirit within is making a real  difference in the self improvement arena, as is the shift towards overall body acceptance in pop culture. Sure, there are still unrealistic ideals to contend with (the surgically enhanced features and curves of the Kardashians, for example) but in general health and beauty has become more individualized.

Projecting wellness at Oraya Movement (Nicole Drakulich)


MINDBODY’S LOOK AT LOS ANGELES’ WELLNESS PATTERNS

  • Los Angeles is ranked as the fifth happiest city — 59 percent say they’re happy most of the time.
  • L.A. has a higher percentage of residents who use integrative medicine/health services than any other top city. 
  • L.A. is the third most spiritually fulfilled city — 58 percent of Angelenos feel spiritually fulfilled. 
  • L.A. has more fun than any other city — 74 percent say they find time for play and having fun. 
  • The city loves its work — more than any other top city (with the exception of Miami). Sixty-four percent say they enjoy their work and day-to-day activities. 
  • L.A. eats more fruits and vegetables than any other U.S. city — 47 percent say they’re getting in the recommended five to nine servings daily. 
  • On average, L.A. spends the most on fitness ($53 a month) and the most on integrative health services ($52 a month).
  • L.A. residents spend an average of $60 a month on beauty and grooming services — more than any other city apart from Miami and Washington, D.C. •L.A. has the highest percentage of residents who work out at least once a week (87 percent). 
  • The City of Angels loves group fitness; 49 percent join fitness classes on a weekly basis.

(Courtesy Up Flying Yoga)

“Wellness is the new black and that’s OK with me, it’s better than heroin chic for all of us,” notes Rynda Laurel, a holistic mental health and recovery advocate and founder of VRYeveryday, a line of all-natural mood balancing supplements for mental health and wellbeing. “There is a lot of attention paid to yoga, fitness, meditation and fad diets, but it’s really important to understand nutrition’s role in overall wellness and mental states. We are what we eat, but also what we absorb and what is happening within our own biochemistry.”

Laurel stresses that paying attention to our own “mental health nutrition” and how that supports all other forms of wellness is a key component to achieving our best selves. She also notes something often left out of the wellness conversation, the fact that it can often be costly. After all, we can’t all afford trainers, intimate studio classes, spas or retreats, not to mention the kinds of procedures and services that make Los Angeles in particular, the beauty capital of the world.

“In L.A. and across the country, I’d like to see a trend of more affordable wellness offerings for people so it doesn’t become something only those with money can strive for,” Laurel points out.

Plugged into UnPlug (Emily Young)

Indeed, in today’s world when making ends meet is a daily  challenge for many of us, choosing the best yoga class or sound bath might seem less than important. Luckily, apps like MINDBODY and Groupon offer deals that enable even budget-minded folks to try what’s out there or purchase packages for the stuff we like. You don’t have to be rich, just ready and willing to work at it. Classes and/or training and even beauty treatments create confidence and can serve to kickstart a personal wellness journey that also includes less costly stuff such as exercising at home via apps or videos, eating right and self-guided meditation. According to the experts we spoke to, a combination of these things will work best for most. We must take the motivation that comes with a new year (and new decade) and make it stick with repetition and resolve over the long haul, sans expectations for a quick fix.

“Find a wellness routine that works for you in the long run,” advises Nekai. “When January comes around, everyone wants to ‘get in shape’ and there is some idea that you need to “fix” your body by hitting it hard…people sign up for a gym or a workout program, go too hard too fast, burn out, get injured or tired, then quit. If you approach fitness/wellness with the idea that there is nothing to fix and you are doing things that you enjoy, then you are less likely to get hurt or burn out. This can become a lifelong practice that gives you joy and health. That is true wellness.”