"Have you tried Reiki yet?"
"Nah, that’s too woo-woo for me."
Here’s the thing: I’m obsessed with wellness and I have a deep respect for those who have mastered their personal practice. I’m still figuring mine out, but the process is enjoyable. I experiment with new things often like doing yoga naked in public, an Ayurvedic cleanse, auricular healing, the creative #100dayproject, hosting a moon circle, and ganja yoga—all to write about, of course—but that’s secondary. The truth is I always want to be learning. I’ll try anything once.
How do we use woo-woo?
It starts innocently enough: Perhaps you sign up for a full moon ceremony at your local yoga studio or download a kundalini soundtrack you found on Spotify. Or maybe you’re a runner dabbling in yin healing practices, like meditation and sound baths. Whatever your path, this much is true: The deeper down the wellness hole you go, the more esoteric it gets. Things like quantum living, past lives, astrology, medical mediums, shamanic healing, and underground ayahuasca ceremonies are all gaining mainstream attention. As the global wellness industry balloons to $3.7 trillion, it’s quickly becoming one of the largest economies in the world, demanding more than the primarily fitness- and diet-based wellness trends of the past. Healing is the new guard of wellness, and it is textured, complex, and out-there... Some might call it woo-woo.
I’m not entirely against the phrase; every once in a while, a well-placed woo-woo is acceptable. But tossing it around as casually as wellness folk are wont to do these days slaps on a layer of ignorance and (albeit unintentional) disrespect. With rising interest in wellness comes responsibility to preserve the traditions and knowledge our teachers and our teachers’ teachers shared with us—many of them come from ancient lineages that deserve reverence and proper acknowledgment, even if they are mysterious or unknown to you. In other words, we shouldn't be calling them woo-woo.
What does woo-woo really mean?
It's easy to let it slip off the tongue when talking about the unknown, but let's examine it deeper. It might be more derogatory than you think. According to the good old dictionary, woo-woo is more of a synonym for quackery than it is for magic.
Merriam-Webster says woo-woo is "dubiously or outlandishly mystical, supernatural, or unscientific." Urban Dictionary echoes this sentiment. "Belief in talking to the dead, belief in telekinesis; in fact, any belief not founded on good evidence; the poorer the evidence the more woo-woo the belief." Synonyms include bunk, airy-fairy, New Agey, insane, vapid, dodgy, sketchy. Used colloquially, woo-woo also implies a distance between yourself and whatever you’re describing and suggests a closed-mindedness.
Here's where we mess up. We use woo-woo to describe something unknown to an individual.
But calling something woo-woo doesn't simply translate to "unknown" in a positively mystical, mysterious way. It implies that what you're describing doesn’t work or that it's known not to work. It layers a personal disbelief onto these ancient healing techniques deeply rooted in cultural, religious, and spiritual practices. It's fine to be skeptical, but using woo-woo as often as we do now is downright disrespectful.
What other evidence do you need, other than what you know to be true?
We're always looking for the empirical to validate what we feel, but healing is more art than it is science. Some people—myself included—have tried and never felt the effects of Reiki, and that's OK. But to call it woo-woo by definition suggests that it's shoddy, ineffective, and devoid of magic. Our word-slinging is taking away from the mastery of TCM, Ayurveda, the chakras, herbalism, kundalini, yoga pradipika, yoga nidra, shamanism, mediums, astrologers, and countless more that have made their way by carrying these teachings and passing them on to a new, digitally oriented generation who needs them! If an ancient healing practice you've never heard of is working for someone else, is calling it woo-woo the best we can do? You probably won't offend anyone, but if we're truly being mindful, woo-woo isn't the phrase we want to use.
Let's do away with woo-woo and let magic be magic.