Yoga. Juice cleanses. Meditation. Is cupping next?
As Americans become more health conscious, they are starting to embrace holistic wellness treatments that were once way out of the mainstream, including the aforementioned increasing-blood-flow-via-suction remedy, as well as acupuncture, reiki, and energy healing.
But will alternative health practices ever achieve the success of yoga and equally popular practices that were once esoteric too? The startup SereneBook is counting on it.
Think of SereneBook as an aggregator of wellness practitioners: a platform that offers users one-on-one sessions with thousands of seasoned experts in holistic health. Its network features more than 1,000 specialists and 120 types of healing, ranging from the relatively familiar (acupuncture) to the seriously obscure (craniosacral therapy, which involves gentle touch to joints of the cranium). “Let’s make wellness commonplace and holistic health universal!” reads the website.
SereneBook was created by Jordan Daly, Millana Snow, and Tegan Bukowski, who are also the cofounders of Serene, an event group that coordinates high-profile health activations, like wellness lounges at New York Fashion Week or hotel rooftop yoga classes. Throughout the running of their event planning business, they took note of the growing curiosity in alternative therapies, as well as the lack of infrastructure to properly introduce them to the public.
“We noticed there was a real need for people to find well-being practitioners, but also to even know who they should see,” says Bukowski. “[Yoga] is the gateway drug to wellness, but they don’t know where to go next.”
In the world of standard Western medicine, your GP can refer you to a specialist. But for nonconventional therapies, who do you call? “If you want to find an acupuncturist or a nutritionist or a doula, you really have to Yelp them or ask your Facebook friends,” says Bukowski. “And that isn’t going to work for a lot of people.”
The trio launched SereneBook last year as a centralized platform for holistic health care. For $150, members get access to three one-on-one, in-office sessions with a wide variety of holistic healers who are recommended based on the user’s needs. Members set their own objectives, called “intentions,” which run the gamut from “healthy pregnancy” to “wound wellness.”
“It’s a way for people to discover new types of practitioners,” says Bukowski. “The ‘intentions,’ for us, are really a way for us to meet people where they are,” adds Daly. The $150 price point is meant to to lower the barrier of entry for consumers who are new to alternative medicine. Users have the option of booking one-off appointments at market price, but the model is best suited for a membership option. (Serenebook takes a commission that’s between 5%-20%, depending on a sliding scale that factors in whether the booking is via subscription or a full-price session.)
So far, practitioners have welcomed the idea of joining a network that helps spread the holistic word. Certain communities—or Goop readers—are more conversant in alternative wellness, but even they have much to discover about the less popular branches of alternative health, according to the founders.
“Living in New York and L.A., the conversation [around] holistic health and wellness is running rampant, but it is still not being talked about as mainstream,” says Daly. “The reality is that ‘wellness’ is a word that is so popular right now, but it’s actually not any different than ‘health.’ Wellness and health are one and the same.” Daly hopes a broader audience will start to view holistic wellness treatments as part of the general health sector, and that SereneBook will play a part in encouraging people to seek both emotional and physical well-being.
The idea is already gaining momentum. The popularity of meditation (and meditation apps) suggests that Americans are beginning to see the importance of mental health. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 8% of adults in the U.S. (18 million people) practiced meditation in the last year. That’s almost on par with yoga, which 9.5% of Americans have incorporated into their lifestyles.
All told, Americans spend $30 billion a year on alternative medicine. More than 59 million paid for some sort of alternative or complementary treatment in 2016, averaging $500 per person a year.
The SereneBook founders are currently in the process of bringing more practitioners on board and getting feedback from industry insiders before hard-launching the site later this spring. Another 1,200 practitioners are slated to join in the coming weeks.
Once the service providers pass a vetting process and join the network, the SereneBook team helps them market their services and products more effectively. “We’re finding that wellness practitioners are incredible people, but not always incredible businesspeople,” says Bukowski. A good portion of them have second jobs and are struggling to sustain an entire business. SereneBook, Bukowski says, is “almost like an incubator.”
Securing a more steady stream of clients is appealing to Ramesh Narine. The New York-based massage therapist admits he spends most of his time trying to ease clients’ aches and anxiety, and doesn’t always have the time—or the tools—to promote his business.
“It’s not a natural proclivity for me to reach out to people who need [my services],” he says. “Now all of a sudden I have something that allows me to change the scale of what I can accomplish.”
Narine hopes SereneBook will push people to take holistic health practices more seriously and even perhaps reduce their dependence on Western medicine. More and more, he says, people come to him for ailments that are both emotional and physical, an area he’s not certain is being addressed by mainstream doctors.
“We’re dealing with a pandemic of inflammation and [type 2] diabetes and a whole host of other things that are promoting stress in the nervous system, and I think the turn toward meditation and holistic health practices is a natural byproduct of that,” he says. What’s holding many people back, he says, is perception.
“People in this culture have permission to seek the help of an accountant, but after 30 years of sitting nine hours at a desk or driving across the country numerous times, there is still this gap of seeking permission to come and see someone like me,” he says.
Ssanyu Birigwa is a reiki specialist who performs a host of services, including relaxation techniques, hyperthyroid treatment, and something she calls “spiritual surgery,” or helping individuals release what she believes to be physical pain caused by mental anguish. For her, SereneBook offers a community of peers that she’s never had. “We all feel supported and connect with each other in various ways,” she says.
Fostering entrepreneurship among the service providers is a top priority for SereneBook, which is set to launch a marketplace in Q3 where practitioners can sell retreats, seminars, curriculums, and products related to their field. The company also plans to work within the health care community to promote a greater awareness of holistic healing by jumpstarting a pilot program with big insurance companies, partnering with medical schools on joint projects that integrate holistic medicine in their programs, and participating in clinical trials.
Ultimately, SereneBook wants to be much more than a booking engine, which is one reason the founders don’t relish being called “the ClassPass of healing.” Yes, the structure between the popular fitness-class network and SereneBook is similar, but “that’s kind of where [the resemblance] ends,” Daly says.
She and her partners have taken into account the long-term sustainability of their company—and of struggling practitioners who can set their own appointments and handle the backend. The platform does not offer an unlimited amount of services for a fixed amount, which ClassPass did, and having underestimated the demand, found themselves reimbursing gyms beyond their initial projections. In a way, SereneBook is more like “the Airbnb of holistic healing,” says Daly. “We are here as facilitator tool, a marketing tool, an acquisition tool, a biz dev tool.”
And maybe even as a life coach. Bukowski notes how people often seek out yoga for a “firm ass,” only to discover there are also psychological benefits to performing sequenced poses that are thousands of years old.
“People are super stressed by what’s going on in the world right now, and they need more than just going to a doctor who will prescribe them drugs.” she says. “They need something more—they need somebody to talk to them or teach them to talk to themselves, which is what all our practitioners do.”