Time to slow down, one thing we can thank COVID-19 for

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn our attention back to one of the most important things: our own individual well-being. Despite the pandemic having a catastrophic impact for most, it has given the population time to slow down and look to their own individual needs.

Most of the nation are bound to a 9-5 weekday working routine, which often turns into a 7-7 with morning routines and time to commute taken into consideration. When we then factor in family, friends, and other commitments, we rarely have time to slow down and listen to both our physical and mental needs. Many simply do not have time to look to their own wellness, but the pandemic gave us that time to listen to our body’s needs.

When there is an increased demand for products and services, the industry reacts. According to global management firm McKinsey & Company, the wellness industry is estimated to be more than $1.5 million dollars, with 5-10% growth opportunities each year. In the latest research by McKinsey & Company, today’s consumers now view the idea of wellness across six different dimensions. These include the following: improved health, improved fitness, improved nutrition, improved sleep, improved appearance, and improved mindfulness. Each country’s most predominant category varies, so I decided to see what Northern Ireland has to say about our own wellness, and how our economy has reacted to this evolving market.

In a survey undertaken by 100 students and staff from both Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast, I got a glimpse of what wellness looks like within Northern Ireland. When asked what the definition of wellness meant to them, almost every response included an answer such as ‘maintaining a healthy physical and mental state’. Some answers included the idea of ‘feeling good about yourself’ and ‘being happy’ with your own wellbeing.

66% of participants admitted that wellness is either extremely important or very important to them. 58% of participants agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them more aware of their own wellness. 48% carry out some form of activity to benefit their wellness daily, with a further 27% participating in an activity 2-3 times a week.

Many participants in the survey said they would exercise, either in the gym or by walking, and some even partake in yoga, or socialise with friends and family to maintain good physical and mental health. The increasing number of answers that included yoga really caught my eye. Yoga has existed for hundreds of years and is known for being used in practices in Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s hard to pinpoint its exact origin, but it has become increasingly popular over the last few centuries and has been modernized in western society.

Yoga means unity: connecting mind, body and soul. It has a plethora of benefits and contributes to almost every element of the wellness dimensions. Some of these benefits include the following: improved strength, balance and flexibility, stress relief and improved mental health, sleep improvements, enhanced self-esteem and is known for making those who participate in yoga more mindful. These associated benefits contribute towards better fitness, an improved sleep pattern, better health, a better appearance and better mindfulness. With there being this surge for the yoga industry within Northern Ireland, I decided to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a larger demand for yoga practices.

Rachel Overton, a well-known yoga instructor based in Belfast, is one of the few teachers across Northern Ireland who is plays apart in the yoga aspect of the wellness industry. Rachel has practiced yoga since 1994, and has taught in various locations, including London and Belfast. She received her teaching qualification in 2010 and is dedicated to ongoing training to continuously improve her classes. Having now achieved a total of four teaching qualifications, she now offers Iyengar yoga at Maitri studio in East Belfast. Rachel offers a range of classes for those who are just starting out or for those who are more advanced. She also partakes in retreats both in Ireland and abroad, to scope the wider market for possibilities she could bring her to own classes.

Having only taught yoga classes previously in person in the studio, Rachel found herself having to adapt her classes and how they were taught to clients when the pandemic struck. During the three-month lockdown, Rachel offered classes throughout the week via zoom. She warmly commented that it gave people a “sense of belonging” and allowed her students to still interact with one another while sitting behind a computer, or from the yoga mat should I say!

The pandemic allowed Rachel to really think about her students’ needs, both during and after the lockdown.  Many of her students found themselves either still working from home, at the office or a mixture of both. Once restrictions started to ease, others found themselves still wary of COVID-19 and wished to adhere to social distancing. As a result, Rachel has adapted to the market and now offers classes both in person and online. All her in-person classes have been adjusted to meet social distancing requirements and will continue to be taught this way to make all students feel comfortable.

Rachel Overton’s yoga class

Yoga was not the only popular answer from the survey. Many answers included other activities related to improving fitness such as going to the gym or walking. Although gyms weren’t open during the lockdown, some used the opportunity to focus on improving their fitness and taking the time to work on their physical well-being. With so many of us getting caught up in our daily routines, many found themselves with the time they had always desired to achieve both short and long-term goals.

Holly Martin, a graduate from Queen’s University Belfast, saw lockdown as a window of opportunity to really achieve her fitness goals and used many of the services available on the market. Holly was one of many students in the U.K who had to complete their final year of university online. She admits it was “a really difficult time, but I had to remind myself that it wasn’t just me going through all this”. She went on to reflect that “completing my dissertation was hard, I couldn’t go to the library and get in the zone” and it “really did affect me mentally”.

Holly simply started partaking in lockdown fitness challenges such as the couch to 5K. She stated that working out really helped her to “wind down” and “allowed me to have time to myself, without feeling guilty about not finishing off that essay”. She went on to admit that she  “wasn’t always that into fitness” but she is “relieved” that she has gained a passion from lockdown.

Holly advanced on to use workout videos that were free from YouTube users such as Chloe Ting’s ‘Two Week Shred’ or Joe Wick’s daily exercise challenges. After building up her fitness, she began using two popular fitness and health related apps called MyFitnessPal and Strava. MyFitnessPal is a health and nutrition app, used for tracking daily food intakes and is useful for those wanting to make changes to their nutrition such as calorie deficit or  increasing their protein intake. Strava is an app designed for athletes and allows users to record their runs/cycling journeys. The app allows users to record their distance and time. Although these apps are initially free, Holly decided to pay for the extra features to aid her fitness journey.

She claims that “although the apps may seem basic, they have been such a vital tool” in her journey. As a result of her newly found love for fitness, she is now looking for courses to become a personal trainer. Holly admits that “it’s been difficult” to find the right course best suited to her. She told me that “some courses are looking £600 for both Level 2 and Level 3 [PT Qualification]” but others such as PureGym are “looking up to £1,699”. Holly continued to say that she “wants to get the best option for her” and will carry on looking until she finds one that is perfect for her. She admits that despite struggling through the lockdown, she is “relieved” she achieved “something good” as a result.

The pandemic left a lot of us feeling isolated and bound to a lockdown and restrictions, but the wellness industry ensured that we didn’t feel isolated for long. With the market growth increasing each day in Northern Ireland, there are endless opportunities for us to become connected with likeminded people whilst also ensuring our wellbeing stays paramount.

Author profile