We all tend at times to employ labels to help identify or categorize various thought systems and ideologies. We use them as a way to sort and classify the enormous amount of information we are presented with each day. That is especially true when talking about the Body-Mind-Spirit industry, sometimes misdescribed or misnamed as the New Age movement, the New Thought movement, or even the Conscious Living movement. Even those who work primarily in the BMS arena often have difficulty defining or articulating the category industry themselves. Is the ‘body-mind-spirit’ simply the balanced connection between those three things as a way to achieve wholeness and wellness? Is it a substantive path to spirituality? Or the core of non-dualistic spirituality at its best? After all, many types of businesses are using both the term ‘body-mind-spirit’ or ‘mind-body-soul-spirit’ to promote their offerings, including day spas and wellness centers of all types.
The BMS industry is considered as a subsegment of the $10.6 billion U.S. personal development industry, loosely described as body-mind-spirit products: CDs, books, tapes, seminars and Yoga, fitness, weight loss, and spiritual products and services.
How about the term ‘New Age movement?’ Britannica defines it as a “movement that spread through the occult and metaphysical religious communities in the 1970s and ʾ80s. It looked forward to a ‘New Age’ of love and light and offered a foretaste of the coming era through personal transformation and healing.” According to the same source, the movement united a body of diverse believers with two simple ideas. First, it predicted that a New Age of heightened spiritual consciousness and international peace would arrive and bring an end to racism, poverty, sickness, hunger, and war. This social transformation would result from the massive spiritual awakening of the general population during the next generation. Second, individuals could obtain a foretaste of the New Age through their own spiritual transformation. This movement is perhaps more fundamentally pointed toward spiritual growth than body-mind-spirit, but it also seems clear that it is the predecessor, or door opener, for today’s industry-based ideologies.
Another term frequently used in the industry is the Mindfulness movement. Most often attributed to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD – internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and mindfulness meditation teacher, and the originator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. To convince the mainstream public to meditate, he raised interest in mindfulness practices as an outlet or antidote to the stress of modern life. He did so using common, everyday vocabulary that bore no relationship to the words and terminology often associated with New Age. I have often heard mindfulness described as “the heart of Buddhist meditation” and Kabat-Zinn’s approach is to offer training in mindfulness in ways that were implicitly anchored in Buddhist teachings, but offered in a universal and mainstream Western framework. The Mindfulness movement has caught the attention of many people of all ages and different religious around the world, and it has substantially increased interest in the practice of meditation, and for many, has provided a path to inner calm they did not find through other spiritual or life-enhancing technologies. Some consider it trendy, but it is a movement that has re-packaged the practice of meditation to appeal to those who might be turned off by language that brought forward associations with Eastern philosophy.
A few other categories are growing nowadays and merging in the market, opening doors for a broader category – Conscious Living. Like the name itself suggests – a lifestyle and thought system that seeks to balance the three primary aspects (body, mind, spirit) in a lifestyle decision in which one chooses a life imbued with compassion, awareness, mindfulness, and presence. People dedicated to a conscious lifestyle often make a concerted effort to reflect their values through living practices that do not harm themselves, others, or the Earth. They commit to living in awareness of and to actively seek solutions for conscious crises that may include lack of sustainability, racism, bigotry, human trafficking, animal testing, and animal abuse, genetically modified foods, global warming, and many other similar issues. Many use the term ‘conscious living’ interchangeably with the body-mind-spirit.
The movement embraces ways to live in harmony with life around them and according to their values. Members of the movement are often politically active and try to live their values daily. Conscious Living practitioners embrace a strong sense of social responsibility, which is a core distinguishing feature of the Conscious Living philosophy.
Where are we then? We have these different beliefs, some very closely aligned, few with different labels to describe them. There are no fences around any of these philosophies and we often find a blending of beliefs as many work to craft a lifestyle and philosophy that provides them personal meaning. What does it mean for those engaged in a business that serves the needs of one or more of these philosophies? Does the name or label matter?
As the current president of the Coalition of Visionary Resources, the trade association for the Body-Mind-Spirit marketplace, I deal with these questions on a daily basis, as both members and prospective members reach out to inquire about what they should name their businesses, how they should describe their core offering, or even if their businesses qualify for membership. These conversations are often quite fascinating and bring me daily awareness of how alive the issues of labeling are in today’s world.
First and foremost, titles and products designed for any or all of these thought systems are not the exclusive property of body-mind-spirit/conscious living/New Age/mindfulness businesses, and more and more, are mainstreaming into other types of retail businesses. Books on mindfulness may be found in airport bookstores as along with well-known titles such as The Secret and works by well-known BMS authors such as Wayne Dyer. Courses about mindfulness and meditation are prolific and are offered or sponsored by such disparate groups as AARP and Montessori schools. Many spas readily advertise their services using terminology strongly evocative of BMS philosophies. I view this as an incredibly good thing, not only for the individual authors, publishing houses, musicians, jewelry makers or product manufacturers, but also for the growing awareness and health of our industry. This does not detract from the businesses of core BMS, New Age, Conscious Living, or Mindfulness retailers. In fact, it highlights the fact that their retail locations are centers for these types of products and information, providing a fuller, more complete offering of what other mainstream retailers might offer in an abbreviated fashion. Many of our COVR retailer-members report their clientele is changing from what many might describe as ‘hippies’ and ‘New-Agers’ to lawyers, doctors, persons from mainstream religions, older and younger customers, and newly-minted ‘seekers.’
To me, the label doesn’t matter. What is important is for purveyors of products meant for any or all of the four categories above to continue to present and provide the books, art, music, jewelry, information, tools, and technologies that consumers can select from as they navigate their paths. They must market their businesses so that message is well-presented to the buying public. A good friend, years ago, picked up a copy of The Secret at Costco, of all places, and is now a certified Reiki master, yoga, and meditation teacher. Her appetite was whetted by reading The Secret. She immediately sought out stores in her area where the proprietor and staff could point her to ‘what-next’ titles and tools that served her growing awareness and interest. But even if labels truly don’t matter, should our industry overall seek to adapt a common label or nomenclature to help consumers more easily find us? Would a common search term on the internet better serve our industry? Should store owners adapt a particular phrase, such as New Age, Body Mind Spirit, Mindfulness, or Conscious Living as a part of their business name? I believe what is more important is for every retailer, vendor, and product developer to assure they are meeting the needs of the four cornerstone philosophies discussed above.
A common terminology or industry name might help us, but might also disinterest those who don’t understand the breadth, depth, and the overlap of those four foundational areas. It is as important that we don’t pigeonhole our customers’ needs and that we don’t also limit our offerings to only serve a narrow portion of the buying public. Because the four philosophies above are so closely aligned, committed retailers should have a relatively easy time in selecting products and services with a wide, but meaningful, appeal.
If you are a retailer, vendor, or product developer, take a hard look at your product line or inventory and ask yourself if you have offerings of interest to each of the four schools of thought that underpin our industry as a whole. It is the extent of your offering that will separate you from other stores and businesses. It is the substance of your offering that matters more than how you label it. This, along with the knowledge and expertise you offer your customers, is what truly differentiates your business and serves the needs of your current and future customers.