The Alternative Approach To Business

Breathe and Sweat with Whitby Wellbeing's Daniel O' Connor
Melissa Davies
April 7, 2024

Daniel O’Connor never intended to build a network of saunas connecting Yorkshire’s coastline to a practice that spans not only cultures across the globe but across centuries. However, following nothing but his own intuition the Whitby resident and software developer went from free breathwork sessions for a clientele of one to eleven saunas across the North East in just three years. 

“I could have spent £20,000 on a horse box sauna straight off but I’d be coming at the business from a place of deficit. Instead I’ve just offered what interests me and people have come.

I’ve realised there’s a need.”

From our very first contact, Daniel’s genuine and generous character came across. He was happy to spare time to talk. Daniel’s deep belief in the power of breathwork filled our conversation with positive energy and he shared his knowledge so simply, I can understand why he’s experienced success. It was refreshing to talk about energy, meditation, body work and other ‘alternative practices’ with someone so grounded. Across the screen from me was a man who loves to be around people – in fact that is where he started.

“I pulled a piece of cardboard out of my paper recycling bin and wrote in permanent marker Meditation Session, Saturday am and stuck it on the beach. I didn’t know if anyone would even come.”

…and the first day no one did. But Daniel kept turning up every Saturday morning and slowly so did others. Admittedly the first attendee just happened to be sat on the wall when Daniel arrived and up for a new experience when invited.

So why sauna?

There’s a recent thirst for bathing culture developing in the UK as sauna trends creep west out of Finland, via Norway where architecturally splendid, public saunas have popped up in fjords the length of the country. So the step into sauna was a natural one. Daniel was introduced to the Finish-made sauna tents, used by the military, and it just made sense. Less investment meant he could explore uptake without falling into that place of debt which kills intuition. 

Despite demand, Daniel was clear with himself – and with me – instinct continued to decide the direction of the business.

“Sauna is a way of introducing people to breathwork and meditation practice,” Daniel explains. 

Most people are familiar with sauna, or have tried one in a hotel spa once or twice. It feels less alien or ‘alternative’. Once in the tent, first-timers were more open to trying basic breathing techniques, they began to understand how it could be a helpful tool for them. As customers flooded first to his sauna then his breathwork sessions, Daniel realised the need that exists among his fellow northerners, and Whitby Wellbeing exploded. 

We’ve been talking for almost an hour but Daniel’s fluid mix of no-nonsense scientific explanation and intimate knowledge of bathing practice, paired with his totally open approach to the business keeps me transfixed. At no point, he tells me, did he want to lose connection with individuals. He set up Whitby Wellbeing to offer people a break from the overwhelm of our everyday; to go back to the practice of our ancestors who used stone-built sweat lodges throughout the British Isles, as well as the more well known practices of North America and Eastern Europe.‍

Once he had an audience for his sauna sessions Daniel worked on bringing his personal passions into the business. Drumming sessions, sweat lodges, cacao ceremonies and cold-water immersion are just a few of the offerings from Whitby Wellbeing in the last year. 

This, Daniel says, is where his approach to business felt alternative. He wasn’t following a formal plan, he wasn’t developing a strategy. Whitby Wellbeing simply offered the next technique Daniel found himself interested in.

However, as the chain of saunas grew, events multiplied and the team expanded, so did the paperwork. It was in this space that our conversation took place. 

“I feel like an administrator not a meditation facilitator.” Daniel told me. Totally disconnected from the passion and overwhelmed by logistics, Whitby Wellbeing began to feel uncomfortably similar to his software development role. 

Time to bring intuition back to the fore.

This has taken the shape of routine. Weekly and monthly saunas happening up and down the coast, run by his team, have allowed Daniel to step back and reassess. Meanwhile Daniel O’Connor returns to where it all began: his own breathwork practice. 

So, I have to ask our very own Northern sauna guru (and business inspiration!): What advice would you give a sauna newbie? 

- Keep talking, is his immediate reply. Focus on conversation with fellow sauna users to distract your attention from the heat. That, and don’t overdo it the first time. You’ll get benefits after only ten minutes in the sauna tent. Keep it short and grow from there.

Huge thanks to Daniel for inspiring us in business and breath. 

The Mag North team are already planning a wild sauna session–see you in the tent!