In our modern digital age, coupled with millennial mindfulness and the constant efforts to be more conscious, wellness trends are traveling faster than ever right into every facet of our daily lives. Wellness is all-encompassing and can serve as an elixir to some of our biggest first-world problems. Easily digestible wellness habits, packaged as self-care, have bridged the gap into how to be mindful of our mental health and normalize things like therapy or anxiety.
Once a new wellness trend hits the mainstream, the easily accessible products are seamlessly featured everywhere, like that time Courtney Cox was rubbing her face with a jade roller at an NYC restaurant or Kim Kardashian’s CBD-themed baby shower. While the wellness movement can be good for our mental health, grounding, and peace of mind, the exhaustive production to meet the mass Western demand can damage communities and sacred practices, and have negative impacts on local environments.
Is there a way to integrate our favorite wellness routines in our lives without hurting local livelihoods? Absolutely—the two are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes our wellness habits can actually benefit the environment. Being mindful of our consumer habits allows for these self-care trends to be a part of our lives while simultaneously promoting sustainability, social equity, and respect for long-standing traditions from which they originate.
When wellness is mass-produced and commercialized, a lot of the origin and reason for practice gets lost in the messaging. Take palo santo, my favorite aroma of all time. Palo Santo is a tree species found in Central and South America. While it is not technically endangered at an international level, some local palo santo habitats are destroyed for commercial use. Palo santo was originally harvested from dead trees that had fallen naturally and part of native spiritual practice. Now since demand exceeds the supply of the natural life cycle of palo santo trees, they are often illegally cut down in order to harvest the wood and sell for commercial use. Palo santo is now accessible through large retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Goop, and even Amazon.
Burning White Sage
Burning sage, or “smudging,” is an ancient practice of Indigenous tribes here in North America. It’s meant to clear a space of negative energies and is known to serve a multitude of medicinal purposes. Once again, because of increased demand, white sage is often over-harvested, not to mention harvested in a way that goes against the native practice. Traditionally, white sage is picked, leaving the root and saying a prayer to the Earth for gifting the plant. This demand has caused an imbalance in the local ecosystems where the sage grows. It’s being planted and harvested in higher volumes, disrupting the local biodiversity.
It’s a complex debate whether burning sage is cultural appropriation. Some Indigenous folks say it should only be used if it is gifted to you by an Indigenous person. Others say that one should only source sage from Indigenous-owned shops because it offers peace of mind in the practice and it was harvested properly. This varies from person to person, but in my findings, it’s generally viewed as cultural appropriation by Indigenous folks. This is because as white people practicing wellness, we have deconstructed the practice into a simplified convenience culture care package, leaving out many important aspects. Manifested in Indigenous communities all over the world from native tribes in North America to Aboriginals in Australia are the understanding of a circular system and devoted connection to the land—a coexistence. Buying sage from a disconnected commercial retailer, like Urban Outfitters, removes that collective responsibility and understanding.
Gems & Crystals
We have all bought crystals from a cute shop purely for aesthetics or because we believe in their healing nature. But rarely, if ever, do we think about where they come from. To be honest, I didn’t think about it much until recently. Crystals are mined, they are a natural resource, and just another in a long list of gifts from the Earth. They often lack transparency with sourcing, and most of the biggest and even smallest suppliers don’t know where their crystal supply comes from.
This often isn’t intentional, but since crystals make their way through the supply chain before arriving at their final destination, it’s hard to keep track of the origin. Something we do know though is that while we make it part of our wellness routines or meditation, wellness crystals, like jade, quartz, etc., often come from countries that have very relaxed environmental regulations and blurred labor laws. Furthermore, some of the biggest miners in the U.S. affect the local communities by contaminating the groundwater as a byproduct of their operation. While gem mining operations at an individual or small scale have a minimal environmental impact, the lack of overall transparency in the crystal and gem mining sector can be detrimental to local environments and livelihoods.
So, What Can We Do?
Check our sources: It almost seems counterproductive to consume these products and rituals in the name of health and wellness while it damages other people and places. Where does our palo santo come from? Is it sourced from somewhere that pays living wages or supports regenerative farming? According to those at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, palo santo trees and the demand attached to them can actually benefit local environments and promote biodiversity in native areas that have previously been cleared for things like agriculture. Fortunately, in Arizona, there are individuals or small-scale operations for gem mining. You can find their shops or at farmers’ markets across the state. Overall, make an effort to determine where your favorite wellness products are sourced from and ensure that there is transparency into the ethical practices.
Burn herbs that are connected to our own ancestry: I spoke with an Indigenous woman with a prominent social media presence when researching this topic, and she brought up looking into holistic practices from our own line of ancestry. Different groups spanning thousands of years have burned a variety of herbs for ceremonial and medicinal rituals. I am of European descent, so upon looking into the practices of my own lineage, I found it was common to burn herbs like mugwort (which lives in the same family as a sage). The practice dates back to the Middle Ages and was used as a spiritual protector. Also common are plants such as juniper, rosemary, lavender, and countless others.
Grab the root, not the fruit: Knowing the origins, practice, history, and meaning behind something viewed as sacred to specific groups. This offers clarity and good practice for wellness. It also allows us to deep dive into the unique and authentic culture. As with sage, it’s important to remember that English settlers pushed Chrisitan ideology onto Native Americans as far back as the early 1800s, and it wasn’t until 1978 that Native Americans could legally practice their own traditions and ceremonies without being hindered by the U.S. government. Awareness for this part of history allows a deeper understanding of historic precedent to ensure mindful practice and respect of these traditions in the present and future.
Be a mindful consumer: Studies show that the millennial generation is easily the most conscious and sustainable generation to exist, and that is apparent in our consumer behavior trends and our awareness of our mental and physical health. After all, that’s why wellness has become so popular, right? Millennial consumerism is what drives trends, making it easier than ever to be conscious about what we buy. Find companies that offer transparency, ask questions, and be aware of greenwashing (misleading information used to make a product seem more eco-friendly in order to sell more).
Wellness is as trendy as it is because we want to be better for ourselves and the planet we inhabit. But as 2020 lifted the veil on so many things that aren’t properly managed in our world, I took a deep dive into some of my own practices. Wellness and exploitation shouldn’t go in the same sentence. As a consumer and someone who has benefited from convenience culture and repackaged wellness meant to deconstruct and simplify the original practice, I have unlearned and relearned.
If you’re someone like me, who for a long time didn’t understand the impact of my consumer behavior, don’t feel guilty. If you are reading this while you’re burning sage and have never thought twice about where it came from or the rituals behind it, that’s okay. All we can do is grow more aware of the social and environmental impact of our consumer trends and establish a connection to the local communities, biodiversity, and practice of our favorite wellness rituals.