Natalie Hughes chats to Culture Trip's Wellness Editor Esme Benjamin about how to cultivate a mindful digital presence, wellness trends and shamanic closet cleanses.
I’m considering renaming this series ‘Cool People I Met Online’. My friendship with editor and yogi Esme Benjamin started with a mutual Twitter follow; I loved Esme’s writing and blog, which she’d founded while working for Grazia’s Editor-at-Large, Melanie Rickey. Serendipitously, Esme enquired about openings at SheerLuxe.com, where I was working. I was leaving my role, suggested Esme apply, and, as they say, the rest is history. After spending a few days together at SheerLuxe, I knew this girl was going to be a friend for life.
Esme moved to New York with her now-husband in 2013, and trained as a yoga teacher. ‘I was raised a vegetarian’, Esme says, ‘And my father is an ordained Buddhist who used to import Ayurvedic personal care products from India, so I've always felt comfortable in this world.’ Esme freelanced alongside her yoga teaching and practice, doing social media and content creation for yoga studios, as well as contributing to health publications such as Self, before landing the dream job of Wellness Editor at Culture Trip. You should also check out her popular Instagram account, @adventuresinwellness, which spawned a video mini series that she presented and helped produce.
Esme is proof that wellness and social media needn’t be mutually exclusive, which is (one of) the (many) reason(s) I thought she’d be an ideal candidate for My Digital Life. Here is our convo.
NH: Did you always think you’d be working in digital?
EB: I graduated in the middle of the financial crash, and print magazines were hit pretty hard. At the same time bloggers were becoming a powerful voice in the industry, replacing big name editors on the front rows of Fashion Week, and digital publications were gaining momentum. Digital was so clearly the new direction and that was where opportunities happened to open up for me.
NH: Are mindfulness and a strong digital presence mutually exclusive? If so, how can they be reconciled?
EB: It's totally possible to build a strong digital presence in a way that feels authentic and positive, if we do it consciously. Sometimes that means unfollowing accounts that deplete your sense of self-worth in some way. Other times it's monitoring how much importance you're placing on the number of interactions a post receives. Mindfulness is simply the practice of being aware, so try to bring that awareness to your online habits and behaviours and adjust if you need to.
NH: Talk us through a typical day as Wellness Editor at Culture Trip.
EB: Normally I pick up a coffee or a matcha latte on the way to the office, which is in SoHo, Manhattan. I try to answer all my emails first thing and get any admin-y stuff checked off, then focus on stories (all editors must publish 15 per month, penned either by themselves or freelancers we work with). At the moment my goal is to highlight the characters, experiences and treatments that define wellness in NYC, so I'm quite often out and about conducting interviews or reviews. I've been able to try so many incredible things, from shamanic closet cleanses and crystal healing blow-drys, to Ayurvedic facials and trippy breathwork circles.
It's a travel site, so a couple of times a year I get to go on press trips for stories. Last year I flew to Bali to meet healers and hang out with surfers, and to L.A. (AKA wellness Disneyland), which I'm hoping to visit again in March. As you can imagine, organising logistics and researching angles for stories takes a lot of planning, but I love to travel so it's never a chore.
Several times a week I exercise after work. Right now my favourite studios are Bari for rebounding (otherwise known as mini trampolining), Monster Cycle for spinning, WOOM for yoga, and Vixen for dance. I try be in the know when it comes to new fitness openings in the city — Spider Bands is on my must-try list for this month.
NH: What would you say the major wellness trends were for 2017, and what will they be this year?
EB: Last year ‘woo-woo’ wellness went mainstream. There was a lot more curiosity with regards to crystal healers, shaman and astrology, even among skeptics. Also women started rallying and prioritising their mental and physical health in light of Trump and #metoo. As such, new innovations in the periods space took hold (if you haven't tried THINX pants yet I implore you to do so — they've seriously changed my life), a female-only co-working ‘coven’ called The Wing took NYC by storm, and women's retreats had a moment.
This year will be all about self-care and down-shifting. Expect to see gadgets and supplements for better sleep on your Insta feed, plus more hotels and resorts will introduce pillow menus and guided meditations for guests. I predict personalised wellness is about to blow up, too. Think vitamins, beauty products, diet plans, and even strains of weed (if you live in the USA, where many states are legalising) targeted to your individual body.
NH: What is your earliest social media memory?
EB: Joining Facebook in my last year at University and doing a huge photo dump from my clunky point-and-shoot after every drunk night out. Those were the days before I became self-conscious and learned to work my best angles.
NH: What was your first email address?
EB: Shadygurl85@hotmail.com *cringes* (I was a devoted Eminem fan)
NH: What is your favourite social media platform?
EB: Instagram is such a great tool for discovery. I shop, plan vacations, and network on Instagram, but it has started to feel jaded and disingenuous in recent years. I also love an app called SWNG, that creates smooth one-second captures which move like a living, breathing photo (great for fashion, FYI).
NH: Can you recommend any mindfulness apps?
EB: For meditation Insight Timer or Headspace.
NH: And any Youtube Yogis?
EB: Yoga With Adriene has a huge following.
NH: As a yoga teacher, how important is social media?
EB: The need for a strong social presence can be a hard thing for yoga teachers to absorb, especially because Insta-friendly poses are generally insane balances or extreme displays of flexibility, which can give people the wrong idea about what yoga is. Like it or not, though, social media is where we all build and promote our personal brands, and the same is true for yogis.
NH: What are your favourite yoga and/or wellness social media accounts to follow and why?
EB: Nude Yoga Girl (a naked ex-model performing beautiful poses in exotic locations sans clothing. I have one of her black and white prints framed on my wall), Mama Medicine (a Vogue approved healer. Her account is so peaceful, I want to inhabit it), and That's So Retrograde (my favourite wellness podcast run by a couple of comedians based in L.A., who just launched a private Facebook community).
NH: What digital tools could you not live without?
EB: At the moment I'm loving this app called Day One. It's an encrypted digital journal that allows you to upload images and maps with entries, but I mostly find it useful for clearing my head at the end of each day.
NH: What podcasts are you loving right now?
EB: That's So Retrograde, which is really informative in terms of wellness modalities and trends, while also not taking itself too seriously. On Being, in which Krista Tippett interviews extraordinarily smart/interesting people on philosophical and spiritual subjects. Cheryl Strayed's podcast, Dear Sugars, which is basically her old advice column from The Rumpus in audio. And Where Should We Begin — real life couple's therapy sessions from sex and relationship expert Esther Perel. She's amazing and I always learn something new about love.
NH: What’s your favourite practice for relieving anxiety and stress in this fast-paced, social media-centric world?
EB: I’m a big believer in the power of ritualised routine as a levelling and grounding force in our lives. For example, on Sunday evenings I've been attending a candle-lit restorative yoga class in my neighbourhood, which incorporates Thai massage and feels like such a treat. On Monday nights I run a bath, add oils and epsom salts, slather a mask onto my face, and soak for 30 minutes with a good book or Netflix show. If, like me, you have a bit of an anxious disposition, perform small supportive actions for yourself everyday rather than waiting until you're mid-mental breakdown!
Follow Esme at Culture Trip, on Instagram and Twitter.
Interview by Natalie Hughes; photograph by Matt Krant; illustration by Art Star Creative