Often without us realising, self-care asks us to tap into the practice of ritual. At Aéde, we see ritual as expanding on the things we do to support our wellbeing. What we love is that this can be the most simple of actions, or ones that allow us to indulge a little more than usual. The most important thing? Does it speak to you, bring you joy and contribute to your personal sense of wellness?
Neil O'Sullivan is the co-founder of Nimbus Co, an infrared sauna and wellness studio with locations in Sydney, Melbourne and Byron Bay. As a huge advocate for mental health, Neil speaks with us about the practice of ritual and how he sees this having significant impact on our everyday lives.
Tell us a bit about yourself and Nimbus Co.
Our journey began in January 2016. Su is a qualified nutritionist by trade, and I was working in the advertising industry. We both had our own health story and we felt there was a gap to provide a preventative and modern approach to holistic health.
We also wanted to give something back to the community as things around the world were really starting to weigh on us. We came across infrared saunas on a trip to the US but quickly realised that no one was doing it, or even had heard of infrared saunas, in this part of the world. Furthermore, as the first exclusive infrared sauna studio in Australia, we wanted to create a lifestyle brand that everyone could access and resonate with - a safe place for you to welcome your own wellbeing. Enter: Nimbus Co.
With 90% of our staff (non-intentionally) being female, we’re powered by a group of astounding, strong, empowered women. We’re very proud of that ratio split (sorry guys, and that includes myself I might add, ha). Of course balance is important but it was nice for a change to be able to support women and get that support back in droves. We hold a lot of our success down to the intuition, innovation and altruism of this amazing band of women.
I’m also a very passionate mental health advocate myself. I recently started a podcast called These Lads Are Mental on Spotify and Apple podcasts with my co-host Gary Rafferty, a strength and conditioning coach and fellow soccer comrade. The podcast has now grown legs of its own and hopefully for good reason, for at the end of the day we’re simply trying to normalise mental health so eventually we can all speak about it freely, just as we would talk about something like our dietary requirements.
What does the practice of ritual mean to you, and how is this reflected in Nimbus Co's offering?
Routine, preparation and structure are things I certainly stand by personally. But I would also like to mention balance. I’ve gone down my own personal emotional and physical health journey over the years and too often I found myself in ‘fight or flight’ mode. Constantly looking to do a jog, or hit the gym, rather than doing a yin yoga class or meditating. I’m still learning, I might add. When you do dedicate the time to slow down, to ground yourself, and offer space to yourself, you start seeing both immediate and long term benefits.
This is why we use mantras like ‘balance’, ‘release’ and ‘restore’ at Nimbus. Because, like most things in life, we already have the tools and opportunities to support ourselves but often it’s about getting you there and bringing you to the place where you can achieve such things. The first step is often the hardest. Every time I go for a massage, at the end, I always say the exact same thing: “Why don’t I do this more often?” I can guess that I am not alone in that train of thought either, yet I still leave it weeks or months before my next one.
Having rituals help us to come back down to earth, so to speak. At Nimbus, our whole experience revolves around ritual. We’re obsessed with the five senses, and that’s something we want all clients to feel and experience when they come into one of our studios. Each location has its own personality, identity, and feeling, yes, but we want that sense of smell you get when you walk in, to the products on display, the in-room experience all to be consistent. It's about setting up our spaces so you can feel at home, feel like you, and be present with yourself when you come to a Nimbus locale.
People are starting to speak about separating the idea of ritual from routine. If this resonates with you, how do you personally define the difference?
Yeah I tend to agree. My take on this would be that although ritual and routine seem the same on the surface, there’s one subtle difference for me.
When I think about routine, it’s about a system, something that makes you think and that keeps you on track and motivated while giving you a purpose. But, in the same vein, does it take you to places in an instant, does it make you feel calm in the moment, or can it evoke emotions that you can’t just get as you navigate the inertia of life? I don’t think so.
Say hello to ritual. I think that it’s almost like a sub-layer into something you like to do or practice in. To put it into context, going to a yoga class might be your routine, whereas your ritual might be what you do before, during and after. Maybe it’s what you wear, how you like to grab a coffee, or taking a walk to a song that reminds you of a loved one. You might not do that ritual everyday but when you do, it’s magic.
What are some of your personal self-care rituals?
My pre and post shower time is invaluable to me. I’ve started to get into cleansers and using my exfoliator more. I am currently using Foile’s Marula Oil for my face. As a guy, I tended to just use moisturiser as my go-to and when I thought of oils, I sort of had the sense that it would make my skin even oilier. So this has been a game-changer for me, especially as I edge towards 40 and the crow’s feet start showing.
As far as my mental health rituals, which are paramount to me, getting meditations in where I can is vital. I’ll be the first to admit this is not daily, sometimes not even weekly. But I try not to beat myself up about that. Getting into habits like turning your phone off, lighting a dutchie stick or swishing some palo santo to cleanse your home seem to work wonders for me when I’m trying to calm down. My mental health story has been a big part of my life since being a teenager, even more so over the past 4-5 years so I’m constantly seeking to work on it in order for me to find balance and be content in my true purpose.
Where do you feel we are headed with regards to the importance of rituals and mental health?
I think rituals are intrinsically linked to better mental health. The latter isn’t something that should be locked away and not spoken about. I for one get panic attacks and struggle with anxiety. But these aren’t necessarily bad things, it’s our body simply telling us something is out of balance.
If you think about our physical health, we have gyms where we go to get stronger, to work our muscles, to get fitter. Or when we break an arm, we automatically know what needs to happen - we go to the hospital, we see a doctor, we get a cast, our friends sign it, then we go home and our bone is stronger than before. Why don’t we have that pathway for mental health?
Consistent rituals, in my opinion, are the key to supporting our mental health. The tricky part though is that in the moment you might not necessarily notice your health getting worse if you don’t practice rituals, nor might notice them making you better, if you are doing them. There’s a great quote to put that into context, “Having a great diet won’t make you a better sports player, but having a bad diet will definitely make you a worse player”. Trust me, rituals work, especially if done in a regular fashion. Don’t stop doing them, they make us who we are. So whatever your rituals are, please keep them up, do them more often, they mean a lot more to you than you can ever know.
Imagery by Sam Riles