While Southwest Florida has long been a haven for fit retirees and spry seniors, 34-year-old certified yoga instructor Alex C. Wilson saw the region’s potential as an emerging center for holistic wellness for the next generation. In 2022, after seeing how the pandemic left people simultaneously starved for connection and interested in increasing their health consciousness, she held the first annual SWFL Wellness Fair at Fort Myers’ Wa-Ke Hatchee Park. The free, one-day, walkabout event aimed to bolster the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of the community, with a focus on making wellness more accessible. “We all want to make it to retirement one day,” she says. “We want to get the most out of those years because we feel our best. We don’t want to reach retirement and come to this place of, ‘My body hurts, I’m tired, and all I can do is rest right now.’”
The holistic nature of the festival was partly inspired by Alex’s own mental health battle. Ten years ago, she turned to yoga to manage stress and anxiety. “I started noticing how valuable a tool yoga was for me,” she recalls. “[It helped me] find it a little easier to let go at the end of the day, settle back into my own center.” As she became more involved in the local wellness scene, she realized other people her age weren’t having the same success finding health solutions. A candid conversation with a colleague overwhelmed by the search for a mental health counselor sparked the idea that there might be a market for an event that would connect those in need with local wellness-focused companies and providers. She posted on Instagram about the idea and saw her followers grow from 50 to more than 500 in the six months leading to her first event in March 2022.
Following the success of the first SWFL Wellness Fair, this year’s event—held on the Alliance for the Arts campus in April—drew more than 50 local businesses. “The majority of our vendors and partners offer some sort of alternative or holistic wellness,” Alex says. “I think younger generations are more interested in those approaches than they are in traditional medicine.” In between free yoga sessions with instructors from Indra Yoga Studio and fitness classes for adults and kids, attendees could shop for products, including jewelry, tinctures, houseplants, crystals and art. Or, they could take advantage of mini sessions of acupuncture, chair massages, sound healing, compression therapy and tarot readings while noshing on juice shots and protein bites from Rawfully Delicious or CBD-infused botanical elixirs from Gather Beverage Company. Rows of booths encouraged attendees to meet with prospective practitioners, offering trending modalities like cryotherapy, red light therapy, IV infusions and salt-infused oxygen treatments, to more traditional healthcare providers, fitness trainers, yoga teachers, physical therapists, concierge nurses and mental health counselors. (In keeping with the idea that improved health also lifts up a community, the event included a blood drive in partnership with Lee Health.)
A key objective of the fair is to promote small businesses in Fort Myers and the surrounding towns. “I do this not just to make wellness more accessible to the community, but also to uplift people who support wellness through their businesses,” Alex says. To that end, she has expanded the brand into SWFL Wellness Co. To complement her annual event, Alex is building out a membership-based online directory where people can search for providers by category; adding smaller events throughout the year, including free yoga sessions; and planning a series of networking opportunities to strengthen community ties and encourage referrals among like-minded wellness companies.
Ultimately, she’d like to extend the SWFL Wellness Fair’s reach by bringing similar events to Naples, Bonita Springs and Cape Coral. “My goal is to educate people and show there are a multitude of ways to explore well-being,” Alex says. “Wellness is not just one thing. It’s a well-rounded lifestyle, and every person’s recipe for well-being looks a little different.”