Meow Wolf’s Encyclopedia of Weird Wellness
By Erin Barnes
Art by Chris Gipple
Published Issue 116, August 2023
From cupping to karaoke to goat yoga, here are some strange ways to achieve mind, body and soul satisfaction.
Wellness can come in many forms: a cathartic late night karaoke session, a lifelong spiritual practice, or a simple moment of feeling the summer night air on your face while driving with the windows rolled down.
The Global Wellness Institute says that wellness is the individual pursuit of holistic health: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental health. Wellness is not a passive activity — it’s a proactive pursuit, and an individual act of intentionality. Detractors say that the concept of wellness places too much responsibility on each individual to single-handedly balance these tenets while simultaneously earning a living, caring for family members, and contributing to a society that doesn’t provide that much in the way of help in these areas. Some think it’s empowering the individual rather than relying on organized systems like healthcare and the government. The word can evoke toxic fads, diet culture, celebrity trends and downright appropriative movements that whitewash traditions from other cultures.
Wherever you stand on the concept of wellness, the truth is that we all need help. The pandemic was a collective mental health crisis, and it created a butterfly effect of stressful situations (job loss, grief, sick loved ones) that made returning to “normal” more difficult. The good news is that there are so many compelling new ways to heal the world that are as idiosyncratic as the people in it. And if we share that information, collective healing can take on a butterfly effect.
We present to you the Meow Wolf Encyclopedia of Weird Wellness. We asked community members and Meow Wolf employees, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done for wellness?” We wanted to look outside of the box. We strongly urge you to do your own research before embarking on your wellness journey, as some of these practices haven’t been studied at length, and we recommend working with a certified expert in each realm. Most importantly, we urge you to ask your friends, family and colleagues, “What’s floating your isolation tank these days?” Let’s look at what’s working for some:
The Simplicity of Everyday
Nothing Therapy is a term we just invented for a wellness tactic that was shared with us by one of our employees: doing nothing. Banishing your phone, taking social media breaks, playing hooky. Take your Nothing Therapy to the next level and go on a hiatus or sabbatical from work, if you’re lucky enough to do so. Speaking of abstaining, some members of our informal wellness study had wonderful things to say about going on a silent retreat because it taught them about the intentionality of words. Many also mentioned fasting and intermittent fasting, to take Nothing Therapy to the culinary realm. People have practiced this abstinence of eating (usually for 24-72 hours) for centuries, and even weave it into their spiritual practices. Science says that fasting might be good for weight loss, boosting brain function, enhancing heart health, fighting inflammation and promoting blood sugar control.
Is nothing too hard for you to do, Busybody McGee? There are plenty of other therapeutic activities that are available in everyday life. Cold plunges are the newest trend in wellness and purport the benefits of freezing temperatures including a rush of endorphins, decreasing inflammation, spiking dopamine and reducing stress. If you don’t have a freezing lake to jump into, try turning your shower freezing cold for 10 seconds at a time and working your way up. Some even use cryotherapy in their facials or as a whole body experience, subjecting their bodies to freezing temperatures from 3-5 minutes — anything longer can be fatal. Coloradoans can also experience a safer, more natural therapeutic combination of hot and cold by visiting hot springs in the winter.
Walking barefoot in the mud, getting your hands dirty in the garden, or other ordinary sensory delights run the gamut, from cuddle puddles with your loved ones to baking. Speaking of which, The Great British Bake-Off was mentioned as an antidote to depression, and we couldn’t agree more. Something about this wholesome, creative, sweet and gentle competition in the gorgeous countryside makes us feel better about the world. At home, you can download wellness apps, watch baby animal videos on the internet, or fall asleep to ASMR videos (autonomous sensory meridian response). Whether or not you experience ASMR tingles — the warm shivers that some feel when experiencing something relaxing — ASMR videos can be relaxing for all types of people. Or weird. Or both.
For those looking for something active in our everyday lives, try roller skating at Skate City, roller coasters (check out Kaleidoscape at Elitch Gardens!), cathartic karaoke sessions, forest bathing, walking for miles and miles, taking up a hobby (like curling!) where you’re not only using your mind and body, you’re becoming part of a social community.
One of the most interesting everyday therapies offered up to us was suffering. After doing something intensely hard, there is a feeling of peace afterwards. The popularity of CrossFit makes us think that this theory checks out — or, try volunteering in a community garden. Your hard work will give you a sense of peace and help your community at the same time.
The Sweetness of Sound
Sound bath healing might sound like something you need to join a commune to experience, but you can find the top 10 places to experience a sound bath on Yelp. Sound bath practitioners might use tuning forks, crystal bowls or gongs to create an immersive listening experience that is said to slow down your brain waves and put you in a dreamlike state. Audio vibrational therapy has participants lying on a crystal mat while the practitioner rings tuning forks at different “high energy” spots over the body. Audio aficionados can even take a pilgrimage to the Integraton in 29 Palms near Joshua Tree. Their website boasts a fusion of art, science and magic as they offer 35 minutes of 20 quartz bowls in a giant dome structure.
If you can’t make it to Joshua Tree, try searching for music at home that has solfeggio frequencies: 9 electromagnetic tones that are said to have healing power and have been found in ancient sacred music — like Gregorian chant — as early as the 8th century. This is just one of many forms of sound people believe to be healing — some praise the merits of “green sound.”
Denverites can check out an ITCHY-O concert for a noise bath, which they describe on their website as “a combination of audio, visual and spiritual submersion, transporting you to a higher level of inner space via meditative practice.” Dance parties can also be an immersive way to bathe your senses in sound while releasing tension, finding community and getting a workout — in Denver, consider Lipgloss, goth nights, Weird Touch, Beacon Denver, Mile High Soul Club, or Scorpio Palace.
Forest bathing (i.e. a natural hike in the forest) can be a form of sound healing, because according to Sensory Integration used by occupational therapists, sound coming from different points (think birds chirping all around you) is grounding to the nervous system because it reminds your mind and body where you are in space. Last but not least, might we suggest a walk through our swamp world at Convergence Station, Numina? The sound in Numina was designed to give the feel of something botanical and lush, but not from this world.
Altered States of Consciousness
What do isolation tanks, breathwork, psychedelics and immersive art have in common? They’re all ways that people access altered states of consciousness.
Sensory deprivation tanks are an incredibly popular way to experience a different state of being without drugs. Participants float in a tank where external stimuli is removed as much as possible. Floating without light and sound has the effect of making one feel like they’ve left their body behind. It can have myriad effects: it can be relaxing, cause participants to go on a mental journey, or even feel like a time warp.
After LSD was outlawed in the 60s, psychologists developed a practice called Holotropic Breathwork as a way to access psychedelic states without psychedelic drugs. Participants go through certified practitioners to learn how to breathe rapidly so that a form of hyperventilation causes a dreamlike state. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s risk-free; Verywell Mind says that while it can be a therapeutic tool, it can come with risks, so do your research beforehand to see if you’re one of the people who should avoid it.
For a totally safe, accessible, drug-free and natural way to achieve a state of transformation, we recommend immersive art. Meow Wolf exhibitions offer the chance for escape from everyday banality, adventure, and a way to get lost in your senses. Scientists are interested in the psychology of awe; research says that experiences that include awe are “self-transcendent: they shift our attention away from ourselves, make us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves, change our perception of time, and even make us more generous toward others.”
Cupping was possibly the most-mentioned alternative therapy in our informal wellness study. In this form of therapy, deriving from traditional Chinese medicine, the practitioner places cups on the participant’s back that act like a suction, which is said to increase blood flow to that area. There is dry cupping, wet cupping and even fire cupping. Just be careful to research the safety and efficacy before you embark, especially when embarking on wet cupping, which pierces the skin. True devotees believe that “qi,” or life energy, is at play in the healing modality of cupping; but even those who were non-believers swear by cupping’s ability to relieve pain, stress, inflammation and a host of health issues. Places that offer cupping are often acupuncturists and alternative health clinics.
Everyone should be familiar with the benefits of massage, but what about some other forms of bodywork? Here are a few: Lymphatic draining massage was recommended by our wellness study participants, which focuses on stimulating lymph nodes in an effort to detox. Tibetan cranial therapy was developed 3,000 years ago in the Himalayas. During a Tibetan cranial session, the practitioner will kneel at the head of a patient who is lying down fully clothed, sensing natural “pulses” in the cranium and body and making adjustments using pressure on the head and neck in complete silence. It’s bodywork meets energy work. Watsu was developed in 1980 when Harold Dull, a practitioner of Zen Shiatsu (the Japanese method of acupressure), noticed that his patients relaxed more in warm water. Thus, Watsu (a fusion of the words “water” and “shiatsu”) was born. Also called hydrotherapy, Watsu involves stretching, massage and acupressure in warm water.
Surely you’ve heard of yoga, but how about adding some baby goats into the mix? Rocky Mountain Goat Yoga combines the wellness benefits of doing yoga in a beautiful outdoor setting with the absurdity and cuteness of goats. What’s not to love? Bahhhh.
Rewiring the Brain
EMDR therapy is a highly successful form of therapy that’s been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Defense for its ability to treat PTSD and harmful memories. EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) uses a system that involves eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation (between the two sides of the brain) to target distressing memories and help the patient feel stronger about the experience. Hypnosis can also be used with a certified practitioner to address insomnia, anxiety and quitting smoking. Sensory integration therapy was developed by an occupational therapist to treat children with sensory processing difficulties; children with behavioral issues and anxiety can be treated by swinging, squeezing, pushing and pulling. Accessing these parts of the brain, which were engaged more often when our lives were more active, can be grounding to the nervous system.
Shadow work is more of an emotional rewiring of the brain. It involves uncovering the parts of your psyche that have been repressed — because of trauma, or because you consider these parts to be undesirable — and accepting them. Everyone has been taught that certain behaviors and modalities are acceptable or not acceptable in society; therefore, everyone has a public face that they use to engage with loved ones, friends and the larger community. Embracing the parts of us that are in the shadows can improve self esteem, creativity, relationships, compassion, clarity and more. Consider seeking out a licensed therapist who specializes in shadow work.
Sensational Spirituality + Non-Spiritual Churches
Imagine an energetic realm that is a library of all of the universe’s events past, present and future. This is the Akashic Records, which catalogs “everything in existence since the dawn of time” (Central European Journal for Contemporary Religion). Anyone can find an Akashic Records reader to learn about their own soul journey, which spans multiple lifetimes.
“When I access your Akashic Records, I’m speaking directly to your master, teachers and loved ones,” Krista Rauschenberg, a certified Akashic Records reader, told Well+Good. “Your masters are a body of energy that have been with you since the inception of your soul, so you have access to past lives, [the] present and future possibilities.”
At this point, we’re all aware that spiritual practices can be a vital way to feel more connected with humanity, the world and even a greater power. But let’s look at some newer spiritual trends.
The occult has gained popularity over the past decade thanks to a resurgence of witchcraft, Tarot, astrology and more. Modern Wicca, Witchcraft, or Paganism is about tuning into the rhythms of nature with celebrations that honor the changing of the seasons, and ritualistically finding ways for humans to fit into that greater rhythm. Rituals and spells can be a way to use intentionality to achieve goals, regardless of your belief in magic. Just visiting Ritualcravt in Denver, which sells metaphysical and witchy wares, is a healing experience. Ritualcravt also teaches workshops and offers sessions with their own list of healers.
Do you want the benefits of spirituality but have this pesky trouble with … belief? Maybe non-spiritual communities can help!
Secular Hub is part of the American Humanist Association (AHA) and a place for atheists to find community, altruism and fellowship in a non-religious forum. Warm Cookies of the Revolution is like a church where instead of exercising your spiritual side, you flex your civic muscles. Warm Cookies offers community talks and events that range from Civic Stitch ‘n Bitch, which merges civic issues with crafting, and Stupid Questions / Talents, where participants can ask important questions such as “Where does my poop go?” all with a side of humor.
Well, it’s been a journey just learning more about wellness journeys. Whether any of these unconventional wellness practices resonate with you or not, these are just the tip of the cryotherapy iceberg; there is something for everyone who wants to feel better. Go forth and be well!
This feature was produced in partnership with Meow Wolf.
Erin Barnes is “A born writer… she’s also a synesthete, whose mixed-up senses serve as a gateway to multiple creative mediums.” – Westword. Check out more of her work on her site | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter.
Check out Erin’s August Meow Wolf piece with Quinn Fati, Denver Is Burning: Following The Journey of Ballroom Culture From NYC to Denver, or head to our Explore section for more of Erin’s and MW’s past published works.