On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation sounded the alarm to a global pandemic. The resulting effects are not without deep emotional trauma, fatigue, economic, social, and financial ramifications.
Today, a stronger emphasis is placed on mental health than ever before. Conversations are deepening on the irrefutable link between healthy societies, healthy people, and the impact this has on economic growth and happiness. These newly found appreciations aren’t exactly ‘new’ but like a rip that tore into the earth, mending this gap requires an intentional look at how our preexisting mental and structural prerequisites collide.
Taking us deeper into the conversation from Istanbul is wellness pioneer Belgin Aksoy. Belgin is the Founder of Global Wellness Day and shares her insights, experience and story as we talk along the boundary of — the road to recovery.
Belgin, it is an absolute pleasure to have you and your take on the road to recovery. Can you share a bit on your backstory with our readers that led to the incredible life journey you’ve built and continue to lead in wellness?
Nerissa, it is a great pleasure to be a part of the “Global Wellness Conversation — The Road to Recovery” and I am delighted to share my story with your readers.
Until 2004, I believed I had a fairly healthy lifestyle. I was eating well and doing regular exercise. I was living a happy life and thought I had it all. However, in 2004 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to immediately change many things in my life. I have experienced that the balance of health and happiness is an indispensable scale. First of all, I decided that I should change my relationship with life because, during radioactive iodine treatment, I was in isolation in a room for 9 days. Moreover, my son was only 17 months old at the time and as a new mother, I had to stop breastfeeding. My hormones were all over the place but most importantly, I had a lot of time to think while I was all alone in that hospital room.
Wellness was a new thing for me in those days. While I was trying to educate myself for a better lifestyle, I was also looking for answers to my questions like…how to get rid of radiation or why I got sick. Little did I know that blockages in our chakras could make us sick and in my case, the sentences I did not say, the words I swallowed had made me sick.
Between 2004 and 2012, I worked on myself to become the new me. I was feeling healthier than ever before. In 2012, I started hearing a whisper in my ear, that was never silent and at some point, it even started to become disturbing… “Okay Belgin, we made you sick and got you healthy. You now read life differently. So what will you do for the world?” One day, as I sat in front of my computer, I started to research when Global Wellness Day was celebrated in the world. To my surprise, I saw that there was no such day. Therefore, I decided to create a celebration at our hotel, back then it was called Wellness Day and we chose the second Saturday of June. In 2012, we held a modest event with 150–200 people at Turkey’s first destination spa, Richmond Nua Wellness-Spa.
It was a day filled with physical activities, nutrition workshops, reiki and skincare. At the end of the day, a middle-aged woman said, “I did yoga for the first time today. I always thought yoga was for fit and young people; I tried and enjoyed it very much — from today on, I am starting yoga.” I was very happy and I thought, “How can one day change a person’s life?”
Now, with the slogan “One day can change your whole life!” Global Wellness Day is celebrated on the second Saturday of June every year in tens of thousands of locations across the globe. It is a not-for-profit day, a social project dedicated to living well with the purpose to ask the question, even if for just one day, “How can I live a healthier and better life?”, to direct the thoughts of both individuals and society towards “living well” and to raise awareness.
What an amazing journey of self and community! This is proof that we are definitely capable of reshaping the world for the better one idea at a time. — Now, when we look at the world today, conversations have deepened on the irrefutable link between healthy societies, healthy people, and the impact this has on economic growth and happiness. What role do you believe businesses need to play to chair the global conversation on recovery? Can you share a few ways on how your company is leading the process to heal in business and community?
Ten years ago I said, “wellness is not a luxury, it is the inherent right of every individual.” And that, “there will be a Minister of Wellness for every country.” I stand behind my words — and I believe that each business should have a “wellness department” that focuses on the well-being of its employees which in return will definitely increase not only each individuals production but also loyalty.
For example, this year Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Accor Hotels once again celebrated Global Wellness Day by making it a part of their corporate-wide wellness campaign. Mandarin Oriental offered 24-hours of wellness via Instagram Live from across their hotels following the theme of “Inner Strength — Outer Strength.” Accor Hotels honoured GWD with its luxury and premium hotel brands by educating and encouraging colleagues and guests to celebrate the day around the world with various activities ranging from meditation during meetings to morning power walks and healthy snacks.
There has been a great deal of information that aims to reshape our perceptions as we attempt to rebuild and secure a better, more sustainable way forward with health and wellness full centre, yet we often get this wrong. What are a few areas from your research, interviews and experience we often lose sight of when trying to create cultures of care and wellness whether in business, community or our own homes?
I usually see that everyone often lose sight of what is important — our wellness. If we are not well or healthy, we cannot function. Prior to the global pandemic, I believe, many brands and individuals have jumped on to the “Wellness Band Wagon” trying to be trendy. However, now — since Covid-19 took over the world — I believe brands, global companies, influencers, communities and literally, everyone around the world truly realizes the true importance of both mental and physical wellness.
Where do you believe the biggest change(s) in the road to recovery needs to come from and why should it matter?
The biggest change on the road to recovery needs to come from the individual — if you personally do not want to make the necessary changes for yourself, then no one can force you. First, you have to fully accept the required change and then ask for help or make a plan to live a healthier life.
Our aim with GWD for the past 10 years has always been to make “wellness” a part of every individual’s life — using seven simple steps that are reachable for everyone without considering their social or economic background, in order to make wellness a way of life.
GWD’s 7 Step Manifesto
1. Walk for an hour
2. Drink more water.
3. Don’t use plastic bottles.
4. Eat healthy food.
5. Do a good deed.
6. Have a family dinner with your loved ones.
7. Sleep at 10:00 pm.
What are you most grateful for today?
Today I’m most grateful for my health, my family and the journey I have started 10 years ago with Global Wellness Day. Today, I’m happy to say that as a non-profit social movement, we have once again touched the lives of millions around the world, and I am grateful to the global community we have built together. Along with much heartwarming news, this year Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia has taken the lead and we will see more iconic buildings lighting up in magenta — the colour of Global Wellness Day, in the following years. Every year I want to clone myself and participate in every GWD celebration taking place simultaneously and since I can’t do that, this year I decided to celebrate GWD up in the sky paragliding with my son. It was awesome. The sky is the limit and we’ll keep working tirelessly until everyone in the world is celebrating GWD!”
It is often reflected, ‘if you know your history, you will know where you are going.’ –what have been your biggest learning points over recent events and how has it reinforced your beliefs in health and wellness today as we look to the future?
The biggest challenge and learning points I faced in all GWD celebrating countries were to make certain communities of the societies aware of the “wellness” concept. Yes, today due to the pandemic the concept of wellness has gained more awareness but is often confused with terms like health, well-being, and happiness.
While there are common elements among them, wellness is distinguished by not referring to a static state of being (i.e., being happy, in good health, or a state of well-being). Rather, wellness is associated with an active process of being aware and making choices that lead toward an outcome of optimal holistic health and well-being.
Many are well-aware that eating healthy and doing physical activities is a great way to live well, but still many people think that wellness is only for the elite that can’t be reached easily. In this context, the fundamental purpose of Global Wellness Day is to make us aware of the value of our lives; even if it’s for one day of the year, to make us stop and think, to get away from the stress of city living and our bad habits, and thereby ﬁnd peace within ourselves.
Belgin, we can never have too much ‘feel good vibes’ in the world –what is something you are optimistic about? Share with us!
I am a strong advocate of the understanding that, living well is the simple necessity for every human being on the planet and that wellness is not a luxury but the inherent right of every individual. I believe the pandemic has proven this to us all. Wellness is multidimensional, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental. Our goal is for Global Wellness Day to help support individuals and societies to maintain a better lifestyle amidst these unprecedented times. The past year has given us the opportunity to take a step back and really think about life and how we want to live it. Most importantly, although Global Wellness Day lasts for 24 hours, our message is intended to last a lifetime and the day Global Wellness Day gets accepted into the United Nations Official Calendar will be my celebration day — because it will be the day Global Wellness Day becomes a day celebrated by future generations.
Amazing! Belgin a big thank you for this amazing interview. Your story and incredible advocation for wellness in the world is both admirable and necessary. Keep on going!
— Bio, Belgin Aksoy
Belgin Aksoy received her degree from Institute Hotelier Cesar Ritz in Switzerland. She has been in the tourism and hotel industry for 25 years. Her mission is to create a physically, mentally and spiritually better world for years to come. With 16 years in the wellness industry, Belgin Aksoy is the founder of Global Wellness Day. With the slogan “One day, can change your whole life!” GWD is celebrated across the globe in thousands of locations with complementary activities on the second Saturday of June every year. In 2016, the Global Wellness Summit honoured her with the “Leading Woman in Wellness” award. In 2019, Belgin Aksoy was selected as the first non-French person to receive the “Personality of the Year” award by La Fédération des Professionnels du Bien-ētre.