Header photo credit: Anthony Tahlier/BIǍN
Let’s go for drips not drinks! Introducing members-only social wellness spaces that provide an antidote to social isolation.
Rather than barhop, Nicole Harvey, 30, would rather invite her friends to join her for a meditation class followed by Sunday brunch at BIÂN Chicago, a members-only wellness club she joined two years ago.
“We tend to think socializing means going out for cocktails, but it’s so much more fun being around people who radiate great energy than to go out to a random bar,” says Harvey, a software salesperson.
At BIÂN, there’s a restaurant—and bar—on-site as well as cooking classes, chess night and events like the one focused on manifesting your career goals. Throughout the space, the goal is to foster community.
“Gyms and spas don’t really focus on helping people connect,” Harvey says. “I wanted to put myself in a space where there were wellness oﬀerings, a place to help with my spiritual journey as well as an easy way to meet people.”
This quest to connect face-to-face is trending— big time. In fact, the Global Wellness Institute calls “social wellness” the biggest and longest- lasting trend of 2023. “With remote work, people need everyday places to be and belong—and younger gens, who are ditching booze and bars, seek healthier social spaces,” says Beth McGroarty, director of research at the Global Wellness Institute. “It’s a move from lonely to social self- care, from buying to belonging, from URL to IRL, from ego to empathy, from Goop to group.”
The proof of this concept is happening all over the country, including Remedy Place, deemed the first social wellness club when it opened in LA, SoulCycle’s Peoplehood, which features hour- long group conversations to help navigate social and relational health, and Othership, a communal bathhouse experience in Toronto featuring sauna, breathwork and ice baths.
With this in mind, even a yoga studio can become something way bigger than a place dedicated just to downward-facing dog. That’s the case for Rachel Hirsch, who never thought that her LA studio, Empowered Yoga, would become a wellness club. However, that’s exactly what has happened recently.
“We host community hikes, potluck dinners, we’ve had nutritionists come in and do talks and we host events with other wellness companies,” Hirsch says, adding that among the 1,000 members of the studio, many go out for coﬀee together routinely, or they grab brunch and go to the beach together. “All of this oﬀers ways for our members to get to know each other and build a strong community in the process.”
'Me Time' might be overrated
If these clubs are a reaction to how isolated we’ve been recently, that makes sense. While the mandate to find more “me time” was once a priority, finding ways to stave oﬀ loneliness has become a new and much-needed priority. And, this spring, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, upped the urgency for a solution when he deemed loneliness to be a nationwide epidemic.
In his advisory report, Dr. Murthy wrote that he found confirmation of what he was hearing about loneliness in the scientific literature, including the fact that “in recent years, about one in two adults in America reported experiencing loneliness and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic cut oﬀ so many of us from friends, loved ones, and support systems, exacerbating loneliness and isolation.”
And, while research by the American Psychological Association has also shown a direct connection between loneliness and “serious implications for long-term mental and physical health, longevity and wellbeing,” that same study found that social isolation doesn’t always lead to loneliness. The researchers defined social isolation as having a small social network and few interactions with others. By contrast, loneliness is defined as the painful feeling of having fewer social connections than an individual might want.
“Our spaces were designed to make it easy to connect with one another through a unique shared experience.”
— Sarrah Hallock, cofounder and COO of The Well
To answer that need to connect requires innovative thinking—and programming, says Sarrah Hallock, cofounder and COO of The Well, a wellness space in New York City with space for 700 members.
“Our members are meeting for daytime dates, whether it’s breakfast or lunch, for a spa date where they’re enjoying foot rubs together or catching up in one of our thermal experiences,” she says. “Our spaces were designed to make it easy to connect with one another through a unique shared experience.”
This same mantra applies to The Well’s three other locations in Costa Rica, Mexico and Washington, Connecticut. No matter where, members can tap into a series of seasonal retreats as well as a Visiting Masters program where The Well brings together world-renowned healers, doctors, specialists and practitioners who share their healing practices.
“People are seeking inspiration and connection with like-minded individuals more than ever before,” says Hallock, who is also an integrated health coach and nutritionist. “Through the unique wellness experiences we put together at our dreamy locations, we aim to create a space where our guests can form deep, meaningful bonds with one another that last beyond their stay.”
In some senses, The Well and other social wellness clubs like it have become something like a home away from home that’s diﬀerent from a gym, where solo workouts and keeping to yourself is often the goal and an expectation among other members who may want to be left alone while they lift.
These spaces also tend to be quite exclusive with many memberships costing into the thousands of dollars per month—if you’re accepted that is—as many spaces are quite selective. Some require prospective members to undergo lengthy applications, interviews and, in some cases, to get referrals from current members to ensure a like- minded community remains.
“This club is more expensive than SoHo House,” says Harvey, the member of BIÂN in Chicago. “But places like that aren’t fostering the community nor are the higher-end gyms.”
And it’s unlikely most of us would want to spend the day at our gym, no matter how much we enjoy working out.
“Through our movement classes, wellness conversations, self-care and, sure, a glass of organic wine and avocado pudding, we’re creating a unique environment for those looking for like-minded people,” Hallock says. “They get to meet other people who are also slowing down, and these connections enhance their overall wellbeing.”
At BIÂN, the focus on connection is baked into the experience—from day one of your membership. Mar Soraparu, Co-Founder and Chief Wellness Oﬃcer, knows her 800-plus members appreciate the club’s fitness and meditation programming as much as the collective energetic healing events and roundtables on topics like mindset mastery and mindful consumption oﬀered routinely in the space.
“These topics organically bring substance and depth,” says Soraparu, an executive life coach, yoga instructor and holistic wellness consultant. “They encourage openness and vulnerability on a human level that reminds us we’re all in this together.”
Ultimately, these wellness destinations are oﬀering a new and healthy way to combat the feeling of loneliness aﬀecting Americans nationwide. That’s clearly the case at Empowered Yoga in LA.
“What we thought was going to be a pure yoga studio has become our friendship circle,” Hirsch says. "It's also become, quite frankly, our family."
“Through the unique wellness experiences we put together at our dreamy locations, we aim to create a space where our guests can form deep, meaningful bonds with one another that last beyond their stay.”
— Sarrah Hallock