Self care has been a buzzword for quite some time. But now, it has evolved beyond pretty pictures of brunch and #SelfCareSunday hashtags, into a more meaningful form of emotional sustainability.
Part of that movement is the concept of healing cafes, which originated in South Korea. The idea is to create a dedicated space that is calming and relaxing, with a centre point on mental wellbeing.
The key difference between a healing café and a space that happens to be quiet is the idea of focus, but also to provide an immediate dose of calm for those who want a quick pick-me-up. Arguably that sounds like the opposite of relaxation, but it’s almost like a charging bay for an electric car – a chance to recharge in the midst of a busy day.
In the UK, there are initiatives involving cafes which have a focus on mental health such as Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Cafes and in 2017, there were a series of pop-up Happy Cafes.
But the distinction between spaces to address mental health and healing spaces, is that the latter almost acts as a preventative for mental burnout. Last year, an installation by Anya Hindmarch at London Fashion Week called Chubby Cloud, dubbed the ‘world’s largest beanbag’ was designed to provide a space for people to unwind and relax. There were lectures on sleeping and meditation, and it sold out.
The attraction here is that while people can attend meditation classes, just the presence of a whopping big bean bag allowed people to de-stress in an unstructured way.
Shim Story (pictured above), in Korea, is a space that allows urbanites to do just that in Seoul. Located in Gangnam, one of the city’s busiest areas, it has massage chairs and heated beds, as well as soothing music and diffusers puffing perfumed steam into the air.
The founder, Jung Oon-mo, said: “I refer to it as a convenience lounge. City life is stressful because work can be competitive, and people are increasingly on their phones and playing video games, which can impact sleep. A coffee shop isn’t very comfortable to take rest, so I wanted to open a place that had the same conditions as a person’s home but that they could just visit for an hour, if that’s all the time they had.”
Oon-mo has found that people of all ages use Shim Story, and truly believes that we will see a cultural shift in spaces being designed specifically for relaxation.
Amanda Wayne founder and producer at Holdspace – a venue in London that has a ‘healing garden’ and hosts a ton of wellness-related workshops and events, agrees that having such spaces are so important for city-dwellers. Living with a chronic illness, Wayne credits wellbeing as huge part of her healing, so much so that it led her to create Holdspace.
“In this fast-paced city,” she says, “it's important to have spaces that are about creating slowness and sanctuary. People really appreciate having a space to retreat to where they can relax, unwind and discover self-development practices.
“When making time for your mental wellbeing becomes as convenient, accessible and simple as buying a cup of coffee, then we might begin to see a shift in the way we treat mental health. To begin dismantling the stigma around mental health, we need more spaces, where people can go, to be seen and heard for whatever difficulties they are facing.”
Rather than viewing wellness or taking a break as optional, ‘waking rest’ as it is called, is actually able to make you better at work, and life, in the long term. In 2013, a study revealed that this kind of rest improves your memory, and helps your brain to review and absorb new things it has learned. In London alone, there are plenty of places we can think of as being peaceful, from the National Poetry Library at the Southbank to the Conservatory at the Barbican. But specifically designated spaces dotted in and around the busiest parts of other UK cities and beyond are yet to hit.
That doesn’t mean they won’t. In the same way that the UK followed Korea’s lead by opening cat cafes and ‘pop-up pug shops’, it’s only a matter of time. As more green spaces get chewed up for urban development, Wayne says it will become even more important to have these spaces.
“Having spaces to pause, slow and ground ourselves are the key to taking care of ourselves,” she says. “One of the quickest ways to ground yourself is to be in nature because it has a naturally soothing vibration - the trees, the greenery. In cities we see a lot less of that, so instead of feeling grounded, we get a little stuck in our heads - where finding a little nature isn't possible, finding a retreat space like this can be the next best thing.”