This Was the Decade Boston Went All in on Wellness

One writer's reflections on the past decade of wellness in Boston, and where she hopes we go in the future.

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The 2010s wasn’t merely “a” decade “in” wellness. It was the decade of wellness—a period of time during which Bostonians grew from a people who maybe liked to work out and eat vegetables to a culture that made eating kale a competitive sport and athleisure its defining fashion trend. Wellness influences every aspect of life, from newsfeeds to fridges, from how we socialize to how stocks perform. It is no longer a niche interest; it is how we live.

In many cases, our chosen wellness pursuit is the activity in our week that most resembles spiritual community, whether it’s the workout we live for or the one we dread (but still kinda live for). Like the individual transformations this trend has inspired, much of this cultural evolution has been for the better, but occasionally things fell short. Without further ado, here’s how the highs and lows shook out from 2010-2019 in Boston and where I hope we go in the years ahead.

The Highs

Accessibility. With the proliferation of social media (Instagram launched in 2010), video, and apps, wellness became more visible and accessible. We still have a long way to go, but online innovation made it easier to connect with health and fitness resources across a range of activities. Locally, this benefit occurred offline, too. Boston’s free fitness battle cry was born in 2011 with the November Project. For Trillfit, raising heart rates and social consciousness are a natural combination. Its founder Heather White launched the fitness collective with a focus on diversity and inclusion in 2018.

Specialization. Two words: boutique fitness. Yoga and cycling led the way, with Crossfit, barre, Barry’s Bootcamp, and so many others to follow that if I try to name them, we will all be here longer than the line at Sweetgreen after a Soul Cycle class. This mega trend translates to greater convenience, variety, and quality. Boxing has been my favorite boutique addition, helping me survive the 2016 election and pregnancy (both utterly nauseating). George Foreman III taught me how to roll with the punches; his boxing gym, Everybody Fights, entered the ring in Boston in 2014.

Culture. I fell in love with yoga at the age of 16 in the 1990s. Yoga was not cool or popular. We didn’t even have yoga pants. Only pants. Now, yoga (and its pants) are everywhere. Ditto wellness culture, including workplaces where some employers incentivize employee health.

Speaking of falling in love, I got married halfway through this decade. My husband, Dan Fitzgerald, is the co-founder and co-owner of Heartbreak Hill Running Company, which launched in 2009. Today, the brand has three Boston locations and their all-levels running club, the Heartbreakers, now boasts more than 1,000 members. It’s a perfect example of the mini cultures our wellness routines create. Our one saving grace during this decade that made burnout a phenomena is that healthy ways to cope have become cool in Boston and beyond.

Recovery. The newest trend is recovery because, wait for it: We are exhausted from being overworked, overscheduled, and stressed out. I would be remiss not to mention Tom Brady’s new recovery gym, TB12, but we are all exhausted by hearing too much about this already.

The Lows

Prioritizing “Influence” Over Expertise. Being an influencer on social media is not the same as possessing demonstrated expertise. Which doesn’t mean influencers are “bad.” It means we shouldn’t entrust them with our health in the same way we should medical professionals, registered dietitians, health journalists, and trainers, to name a few.

Data Dependence. When I hear the wellness tech term quantified self, I can’t help but think “existential crisis.” All that measuring and tracking and scorekeeping—no wonder we’re anxious. Wearable devices are useful tools for tracking fitness. I wear a Garmin to run. But devices do not exceed the value of listening to your body. Do you really need a beep-boop-beep to tell you you’re not getting enough sleep?

Corporate Takeovers. My favorite independently owned yoga studio in the Cambridge/Boston area closed earlier this year. (O2 Yoga—thankfully, a Somerville outpost remains.) Boston’s sky-high commercial real estate market and the necessity for a robust online backend to support software behemoths such as Mind-Body and ClassPass make it exceedingly difficult for small businesses to be lucrative. Fortunately, some corporate giants foster strong local communities. YogaWorks and Equinox, of which I am a part, come to mind. Still, it’s sad to see one-time fixtures now departed, including but not limited to: Prana, Karma, Back Bay Yoga, Inner Strength, and Sadhana. Our first cycling studio, not the Big Apple imports of Flywheel or Soul Cycle, but Boston-born Recycle, also shuttered this year.

Sexism. We can’t talk about an industry predominantly driven by women without talking about sexism, without talking about #MeToo, without talking about all the revelations of abuse in the yoga world, in particular, over the past decade. Unfortunately, Boston is no exception. What we can do is support women-owned businesses and teachers, men who are clear and consistent allies, and environments of all kinds that prioritize the safety, equality, and success of everyone.

Where I Hope We Go in the Future

As we look ahead to 2020, hope and anxiety loom. Society is unwell. We’re more politically divided than ever, which causes us more stress. We work more and sleep less—if work-life balance used to be an honest question; it now feels like a practical joke. Social media is doing a number on our happiness, and the climate crisis threatens our very existence. Democracy, which we assumed could flex all day like a gym bro taking a selfie, is flagging and vulnerable. We have a lot to think about in the decade ahead. Where does mind-body health fit in and how can it help? What should we be thinking about heading into the next decade?

First: breathe. Our fitness routines won’t save us, but tending to our mental, physical, and emotional health will strengthen us for the road ahead. The things we lack in the bigger picture are elements of opportunity in the world of wellness. We need to slow down and pay attention. Look for mindfulness and meditation offerings to expand in the years to come.

Second, we need to actively support what we want to see more of. If you don’t want your neighborhood to become a sanitized constellation of Starbucks and banks, patronize its wellness businesses, especially those locally- and/or minority-owned or operated. Remember, diversity always makes things better, including wellness. Wellness is an industry, yes. But it’s also a form of self-care and community. In other words, it’s up to us to be the wellness we want to see in the world.

Read more: The 2010s: A Decade in Review

Rebecca Pacheco is the author of Do Your Om Thing: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life and the forthcoming Still Life. She lives in Roslindale. You can follow her at @omgal.