We must re-centre wellness on POC experiences

category - society
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - health & wellness
type - opinion
The wellness sector must consider historical Black, brown and POC wellness practices and lived experiences. For brands, it begins with listening and learning

Amid the global pandemic, we have realised both the importance of social connections and how to explore solitude. This profound moment in time has made many people realise – more than ever – our need to belong and our capacity for community care. At the same time, Covid-19 has highlighted the profound health and care inequalities for people from marginalised backgrounds.

In the Western world, community care has largely been erased to sell us an individualistic ideal of being ‘well’ built upon Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What Maslow failed to understand was spirituality, ancestral knowledge and multiple dimensions of reality. He didn’t add in the perspective of an individual within the context of community needs.

‘True wellbeing looks at us individually but is never erasing the experiences of people who haven’t got access to that level of support,’ Shuranjeet Singh, founder of Punjabi wellbeing organisation Taraki, explained in the YSM8 wellness zine. ‘It’s constantly working towards a situation where people have equitable access to support to improve their wellbeing without the threat of discrimination, being excluded or being left out of resources.’

Black and people of colour (POC) communities understand wellness is deeply connected to spiritual collectivism and separate from capitalism. Wellness isn’t a luxury and treat that you buy, wellness is within every one of us.

Therefore, when white wellness brands and practitioners extract and exploit ancient practices, medicines, spiritual objects, cultural symbols, theories, and healing rituals – then choose to erase the journey of that culture in the wellness space and filter it through a white lens to make it palatable and profitable – it is extremely harmful.

These brands and practitioners are failing to respect, support or honour the communities that have suffered and created these wisdom traditions. When we overlook lived experiences, we reduce people’s humanity.

Reclaiming the narrative from white-washed wellness, a growing number of individuals and platforms are forming wholesome care spaces that proactively support Black, brown and POC lived experiences. This is giving rise to new wellness communities that are driven to explore spiritual wellbeing and ancient practices from practitioners with lived experiences and rooted in their culture.

In the UK, Taraki works with Punjabi communities to reshape approaches to mental health through awareness, education, support, and research. ‘We need to make sure we are responding to the needs of communities,’ Singh further explains. ‘To what people want rather than expecting them to respond to what we want.’ Among the work Taraki does is offering wellness forums for Punjabi men, women and LGBT+ communities, utilising training, creative workshops, activities and networking.

Published by:

10 May 2021

Author: Poonam Dhuffer

Image: YSM8 by Reform The Funk


YSM8 founded by Poonam Dhuffer

Turning to food to explore wellness is sisterwoman vegan, a plant-based social enterprise that creates space for critical wellness conversations through the means of supper clubs, food education and private catering. Founder Safiya Robinson facilitates this anti-racist, decolonial, anti-capitalist, trans-inclusive, queer friendly, and fat-positive space. ‘As a society, we have aligned wellness with luxury and whiteness,' Robinson states. 'As POC we have to access wellness so differently because we have different lived experiences of being unwell.’

Another organisation reclaiming space and nature-led wellness is birdwatching collective Flock Together, which operates in London, Accra and Toyko. ‘When you see a big group of people of colour in [London’s] Richmond Park, it’s like we’re reclaiming those spaces and demanding access to them,’ says co-founder Ollie Olanipekun. ‘You can see how happy other Black people are to see us. So, we have to be more visible, because we are setting an example for the next generation.’

Self-care and community care aren’t separate, they’re deeply interconnected. Just as human beings are interconnected to each other, our soil and society, we are a part of a whole health system built upon empathy, love and respect. In turn, these communities give us a sense of home. At YSM8, we’re also building care structures where the wellbeing of all people is valued and supported. We are not just choosing to change our own lives, we are working to build a new world driven by kindness, compassion and care.

This new paradigm will mean viewing wellness through an interconnected and intersectional lens. While we are all part of humanity, our lived experiences are richly nuanced and diverse, especially for those who face discrimination on a daily basis. Black, brown and POC communities need to see themselves represented authentically in a way that celebrates our identities within the wellness world, without erasing parts of ourselves.

For wellness brands, the future lies in rethinking how to engage and support communities beyond product sponsorship or marketing. Brands will need to consider how to co-create long-term change with existing and wider communities. Collaborate more closely with POC practitioners of different abilities and focus; stop assuming and start asking the right questions, talking to people about their lived experiences. When we work towards our own healing, while working together to help others have equitable access to support, we heal as a community – with emphasis on ‘unity’.

Poonam Dhuffer, founder of self-awareness and community care platform YSM8, which uses workshops, talks, coaching and events to reframe mindsets and deepen spiritual practices.

‘Brands must stop assuming and start asking the right questions, talking to people about their lived experiences’
Poonam Dhuffer, founder, self-awareness and community care platform YSM8

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