Even if you don't know the difference between rose quartz and ylang-ylang, a foam roller and a Flywheel, and have never eaten a piece of avocado toast or downed an apple cider vinegar shot, you still want to feel better, right? Read on, as some of the UAE's leading figures in fitness and wellness outline the trends to watch out for and explore this year.
"Everything is about mobility," says Margie Cordon, co-owner of YogaOne, a year-old studio in the heart of Abu Dhabi. While Cordon has noticed yoga moves incorporated into some of the regular CrossFit endurance classes she does, she has encouraged a steady stream of male CrossFit coaches and clients to stretch it out in YogaOne classes, and they keep coming back. "They feel better, they lift better, they just hurt less," she says. "Being able to move without pain is important."
Mobility is a buzzword around the world these days, whether because people have limited movement or are in pain – as a result of inactivity, injuries, strenuous workouts or being desk-bound. Foam rolling, tension balls and other functional fitness-style workouts are increasingly being offered. In February, the studio will launch a Yoga with Functional Movement class, incorporating elements of Budokon (BDK), Cameron Shayne's mixed-movement workout that melds martial arts and yoga. Teacher Mina Lee, who trained with Shayne for three weeks in Miami late last year, says the workout is "strength and therapeutic at the same time".
People are beginning to understand the benefits of balancing their high-intensity interval training with calmer and deeper body- work, as well as the importance of connecting with other people outside of their workouts, says Anissa Lickrish, an instructor at Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi. “Spending time with other women helps to increase serotonin – the feel-good neurotransmitter,” she suggests.
The self-care concept extends to working on individual mental health in other ways, says Soniyaa Kiran Punjabi, founder of Illuminations well-being centre in Dubai. "We recently witnessed the [British] royal family opening up about depression, and the importance of mental wellness and confronting their emotions, which was once considered inappropriate," Punjabi explains. "People are now beginning to realise that changing one's mindset, attitude and beliefs, about how they view themselves and their bodies, is the major key to long-term success and happiness."
The gut is often called the body’s second brain, and that’s because when the balance of microbes – which break down parts of our meals and release their own byproducts in the process – is off, our physical and mental health can be too.
Suzan Terzian, a nutrition and wellness consultant at Bodytree Studio, says there are a number of factors that contribute to the health of the gut microbiome, including environment, exercise, sleep and stress. “However, the number one factor that determines what microbes live in your gut, and which ones die off, is your diet,” she says. “The multiple functions of the gut interact with each other, and with the food you eat, to regulate your nutrition, metabolism, mental function, weight, energy and your susceptibility to illness.” Terzian recommends eating bone broth and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, as well as digestive enzymes, to boost gut health.
Dr Nas Al Jafari, family medicine consultant at Intercare Wellness in Abu Dhabi, recommends taking probiotics and prebiotics, eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding antibiotics whenever possible. "What people don't realise is most of your immune system is behind your gut wall," he says. "So anytime you ingest anything, whether that be food, toxins or microbes, that's all triggering an immune reaction, and that reaction is having a knock-on effect on the rest of your body."
Fast Company magazine has just dubbed it "the shroom boom", and it looks as though the medicinal-mushroom trend is making its way to the UAE. At the new Raw by Nolu's in Abu Dhabi's Al Seef Village Mall, a combination of reishi mushroom powder, maca, coconut oil and almond milk is on the Supercharged Lattes menu, alongside beetroot, blue algae and turmeric varieties.
Online shop Biohack.ae offers mushrooms by Four Sigmatic Foods in powder form – cordyceps, reishi and chaga – as well as mushroom coffee and hot chocolate. Fans are attracted by studies showing medicinal mushrooms can help the body adapt to stress, boosting energy and focus.
"I would rather have something that's scientifically proven, that's fact-based, than a fad," says Alex Azzi, who launched Biohack.ae a year ago. Azzi takes lion's mane mushroom and has also replaced his Bulletproof brand of coffee with mushroom coffee. Is it doing anything? He takes so many things, he can't be sure. "But I always feel good and I never get sick," he says.
"The whole direction I see for this year is that it's the year to heal," says Asma Lootah, owner of The Hundred Wellness Centre in Dubai. "There is an emphasis on sleep and how important sleep is, especially living in such a busy, crazy city. Now I think they are realising the effect of social media, how it affects your brain." As a result, people are seeking more face-to-face interactions and cutting down dramatically on smartphone use, she says.
People are so disconnected that Life'n One centre founder Eda Grungor offers meditation classes that focus on sound healing, which helps calm the subconscious mind and seems to work better with harried students. Our minds can't process all the information we take in every day, and our bodies can't keep up, she says, with many people not even realising they are in physical pain because they aren't present in their bodies.
Healing is also a buzzword when it comes to food, with a recent trend towards "nourishment" gaining traction over dieting and counting calories. "We have the power to promote the proper balance of this beautiful ecosystem living inside of us, by adjusting our lifestyle and eating habits," advises Terzian.