The new paradigm of wellness
"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." Gustave Flaubert
There has been a paradigm shift in the way Australians live their lives. Gone is the tired cliché of the hard drinking, party loving Aussie larrikin, and in its place is a norm much more focused on health and wellness.
A recent study out of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at Melbourne’s La Trobe University shows Australians below the age of 40 are drinking less, and that the stigma against those who abstain is no longer as prevalent in younger demographics. In fact, young Australian’s are drinking 50 per cent less alcohol than the same age group was 10 years ago.
The recent surge in popularity of wellness travel worldwide echoes this sentiment. As do practices such as forest bathing, yoga, and holiday retreats, not to mention the much older yet similarly as prevalent practices such as onsen and thermal spring bathing. And the central motivation all these activities seem to have? A desire for wellness of mind, body and spirit, and perhaps a yearning to live a simpler life closer to the way nature intended.
All this seems to illustrate a shifting definition of what wellness means, an acceptance that spiritual and mental health are just as integral to the positive human experience as physical health, and a willingness to travel far and wide to improve our overall wellness, whatever that may mean to us as individuals.
In the Northern Rivers of New South Wales of Australia, particularly in the hills around Byron Bay, there is an importance placed on whole mind, body and spiritual wellness that endures from the hippy movement of the late 60s and 70s. In this verdant pocket of paradise, there is an openness to alternative healing and natural remedies distinct to the area and its inhabitants.
The history of alternative healing in Byron Bay and the surrounding area becomes very evident when you spend time there. Growing up there it was just home, but there were signs of how unusual the place truly was and is. My family doctor was a practitioner of both Western and Eastern medicine. He specialises in Chinese medicine and Japanese accupuncture. My family dentist would play soothing music during an appointment, drape a lavender scented eye pillow over your face instead of a mask and administer a jaw massage at the close of each appointment. When I suffered from general ill health I was trundled off to the naturopath, or sent off for a massage. This acceptance of the alternative was commonplace in my childhood, and it is only now as an adult that I can see how remarkable that is.
The area surrounding Byron Bay is also littered with retreats, nestled deep in the hills and vales of the region, of which people come from far and wide to indulge in. They offer anything from yoga and meditation, massage and day spas, to psychological assessment and workshops.
This oasis away from the bustling world is a place unlike any other, and deserves to be preserved in its individuality, if only for its embrace of the spiritual, as much as the physical.
Although I realise the health of our minds, bodies and spirits is interconneted in ways we are only just begining to scracth the surface on, what has always chiefly concerned me is my spiritual health. Distinct to cultures, religion, race, time, place and a veritable smorgasborg of other influencing factors, spiritual wellness has always been an individual endeavour. Yet our search for wholeness and enlightenment often forms us into communities and enclaves without us even realising it, sending us on journeys both physical and esoteric, that we may not understand our need for without the benefit of hindsight.
These communities we belong to make us who we are, and define how our souls draw nourishment and comfort from the people and places around us. There is something magical about meeting a fellow traveller, either on the road or at home, and discovering new worlds through their eyes, and sharing your own. Only another traveller knows your constant daydreams of the next journey, or the reminiscences of the last, and the promordial, all-consuming urge to keep moving. Only another traveller knows why you yearn for the journey more than food, air and water, and why you would leave everything behind for the endless blank slate that is the open road. Only another traveller knows what you are truly searching for, sometimes better than you know yourself.
On the precipice of another adventure, I’ve grown reflective of previous forays and am only now realising how vital to my spiritual health travel is. Not only does my love for it form an integral aspect of my identity, but it gives me something I cannot find anywhere else; an unnamable, wonderful sense of my own insignificance, and a hint of where I may find my small place in this big, beautiful world.
Thinking of heading to Byron Bay for a beach break? Check out our Byron Bay duet for the best that this magical area has to offer.