As the new year begins, the internet floods with lists of the top trends to add to your resolution list. Since the pandemic, the trends have emphasized holistic wellness and mental health (think less beach bod, more self-care). This year, the focus on wellness continued, with creators promoting trends from “movement snacks” to creative emotional expression as the latest ways to care for our minds and bodies. Perhaps surprisingly, some of these wellness trends have Catholic roots.
The Catholic Faith celebrates the whole person, body and soul. Think about what we celebrate at Christmas: In the Incarnation, God takes on human flesh and shows us the dignity of our bodies by becoming one of us. Our movements at Mass also reflect this emphasis on the physical: we make the Sign of the Cross when we pray, we kneel, and we stand.
This year, some of the practices that Catholics have long incorporated into daily life are making an appearance on social media. Take a look at these three wellness trends that have Catholic roots.
Poet and activist Tricia Hersey has sparked conversation about what it means to rest. Her phrase (also the title of her recent book) “rest as resistance” has social media buzzing. She argues that resting resists America’s toxic grind and productivity culture. It is not laziness, but rather a necessity, and even a type of activism.
Her website, The Nap Ministry, argues that our bodies “are sites of liberation, knowledge, and invention that are waiting to be reclaimed and awakened by the beautiful interruptions of brutal systems that sleep and dreaming provide.” All over the internet, people are taking up Hersey’s call to celebrate the kind of rest that fills us up and honors our bodies, whether it be napping, reading, playing music, or just laying around.
The command to rest is one of the most fundamental in both Judaism and Catholicism. Genesis tells us that when God created the world, He rested on the seventh day. In Judaism, the third commandment instructs God’s people to follow this model and rest on the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath.
For Catholics, the Sabbath commandment is fulfilled by Sunday, a day devoted to God and when we rest from work to relax our minds and our bodies. In fact, the Catholic Church describes it as “a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” – in other words, a protest against the grind.
The commandment to rest is a gift: Jesus himself tells us that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” This gift teaches us a truth that the wellness trends echo: We are not made for work alone. Not only is it physically necessary to slow down, but also a consistent practice of rest teaches us to care for ourselves and for each other. It allows us to listen to our bodies and cultivate grace and space for them to just be.
Mindfulness and Meditation
One popular form of resting has been on the rise for years: meditation. Currently, TikTok has 5.3 billion hits for #meditation. Creators walk us through various practices from sound baths to nature walks. The goal is usually to achieve peace and feel in touch with one’s inner-self or the universe. Methods engage the body through breath, movement, or touch. Creators say that practicing meditation will bring clarity, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and even provide health benefits like lowering blood pressure. And studies do show a significant link between meditation and improved physical health and mental health outcomes.
People usually think of the Eastern religious roots of meditation, but Christianity has a long-standing tradition of meditative prayer. During this prayer, we focus the mind and imagination on holy images or words in order to seek what God is asking of us. The goal is to grow in love of God. St. Teresa of Avila, a nun and reformer from the 16th Century, described mental prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him whom we know loves us.”
“Cycle Syncing” and Natural Fertility Awareness
Natural fertility awareness is another trend sweeping TikTok – the tag #naturalbirthcontol has over 4.1 B hits. Creators express concern with hormonal birth control and its side effects, and share their experiences switching from birth control to fertility awareness methods (FAMs). They advocate a variety of natural methods that allow women to track their bodies and cycles for avoiding or achieving pregnancy, as well as to identify and heal numerous hormonal health issues.
Advocates of “natural birth control” and fertility awareness have also pointed out that much of society is arranged to align with the male cycle - one that runs its course and starts over every 24 hours. Meanwhile, the female hormonal cycle aligns to a different rhythm, one that lasts an average of 28 days. Many influencers have begun sharing how women can begin “cycle syncing” everything from self-care to exercise to better align with their hormones and maximize results.
This more seasonal focus on life mirrors that of Mother Nature, but also the Catholic Liturgical Calendar. Throughout each year, Catholic traditions are aligned to different “seasons” - like Advent, Lent, Ordinary Time and special feast days for saints. Living life “liturgically” or “seasonally” can help us maintain balance and fulfillment - both spiritually and physically. This approach is an important counterbalance to the daily grind and pressure to function more like machines than human beings.
This concern for the whole human person is also what prompted the Catholic Church to express concerns about birth control in the 1960s, including that it would promote objectification of women. Therefore, many Catholic doctors and organizations actually pioneered research into fertility awareness, cycle charting, and how this information can allow doctors to better treat many women’s health conditions.
Want to Try These for Yourself?
If you’re looking for practices that are spiritually and physically enriching, consider adding these to your list of resolutions:
Learn how to schedule rest into your calendar.
Take this quiz to find the best meditative prayer option for you.
Learn the scientific benefits of charting your cycle.