Spas, sex and psychedelics: the history of the wellness industry

Two new volumes explore the origins of wellness, painting a fascinating picture of the origins of a new quasi-religion

01 November 2020 - 19:44 By Beatrice Hodgkin

Pre-pandemic, the wellness economy was worth $4.2-trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute. It’s a contemporary obsession now addressed by two British writers, each of whom has set out to explore the origins of wellness. Their two journeys share a vast breadth of historical scope, though their cultural coordinates differ wildly. As bookends for a curious investigation, they make compelling counterparts.

In Health, Hedonism & Hypochondria, academic and theologian Ian Bradley focuses his gaze on spas, the “pioneers of the vast modern wellness industry”. He begins with Greek and Roman thermal mineral springs, and ends with a rather sad tour of the one-time pinnacles of European spa grandeur (now eclipsed by beach resorts in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean). Building these temples to physical health, Bradley posits, also laid a foundation for a broader social and cultural understanding of wellbeing...

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