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Reinventing Traditional Wellness in India

May 2014

By Shreya Ray, Delhi

To the urban Indian population that grew up in the post-1947 Independence Era,  the values of austerity and upward mobility were paramount. So, learning to save money and follow the Western ideals, sometimes even moving abroad, were common goals.

The exact opposite could be said for the generations that grew up post-liberalization. The children of the 90s were born into a more prosperous India: they travelled abroad for education and for holidays. As opposed to the previous generation, that caused the so-called "brain drain" of India, they have been termed the “reverse brain drain” generation that studies abroad and comes back to rebuild the nation. 

Modern Indians embrace their origins– a direct result of their globalized selves having travelled abroad and experiencing the West– yet adopt Eastern traditions as a need to revisit their roots.

In beauty, for instance, there is a heavy leaning towards using natural and organic ingredients for body and skincare. Brands like Kama, Forest Essentials, Shahnaz Hussain, Aroma Magic, Fab India and Khadi are the most popular brands in the beauty industry now, embodying a grandma’s-home-remedy-meets-Ayurveda school of beauty. Their retail outlets have a particularly traditional aesthetic too. Kama’s stores, for instance, boast gentle strains of Hindustani classical sitar playing in the background, product testers resting in brass-copper vessels, reminiscent of ancient Vedic tradition, and store managers dressed in crisp cotton kurta-pajamas.  

But here lies the twist– despite embracing tradition,  these brands are very global in their appeal. Kama’s tagline reads "Les Jardins D'Inde," and price points certainly address Western pockets. A bottle of moisturizer costs INR 1500 (30 USD) and a body scrub INR 2000 (40 USD), as compared to a typical moisturizer from a standard brand that would cost INR 200 (USD 4).   

The same trend reflects in people’s health and nutrition choices. Goodbye fast food and packaged, processed, almost-stale foreign cheese. The emphasis is on local, organic ingredients, whole-grains and Ayurvedic diets. Sanovide, a health studio based in the tony neighborhoods of GK2 and Gurgaon, doles out nutrition advice and therapy, all according to Ayurvedic principles. Hotel chains such as the Oberoi and The Leela have all embraced wellness in a big way. Oberoi has Ayurvedic menus in its Delhi branch with menus categorizing dishes based on your body type: vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth). Leela has a wellness program made solely from local ingredients.    

Fitness too reveals similar trends. Some of the biggest gyms and fitness studios in Delhi like Talwalkars and Olympia offer a series of group classes from aerobics, Pilates, intensity workouts, Zumba and, of course, yoga, in its different variants, including power yoga, intense yoga, prana yoga and more. Although millennials prefer Zumba and kickboxing, instructors here often incorporate yoga asanas in classes of these varying disciplines. The bhujang asana, for instance, is a popular spine-strengthening tool at the end of many kickboxing and intensity workout sessions. Also, the breathing exercise component of yoga, called prayanam, is recommended by fitness instructors across the board, no matter what they teach.

Beauty & Cosmetics
Food & Drink
Vedic-Inspired treatments with western branding and price points
Traditional Indian Teas, Re-Branded
Plant-inspired wellness in Delhi

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