Have you ever walked into a yoga studio and immediately felt out of place, intimidated by the tiny women in their expensive athleisure wear? It’s no secret that many yoga studios have gained negative reputations for being a hub for affluent, white, and skinny women…
With Naaya Wellness, Sinikiwe Dhliwayo (who you may remember from this Beauty Minute!) is doing something about that! She founded Naaya Wellness, a yoga and mindfulness collective, in attempts to bring her passion for wellness to people of color and to others who may feel boxed out from more stereotypical studios due to stigma or finances. Sinikiwe encourages her students to “come as they are,” and to allow her to inspire them to “cultivate a personal relationship with wellness.” Within her practice, she stresses the importance of straying away from commoditized visions of yoga and “wellness culture”; instead, focusing on each individual’s personal journey through breathe towards healing.
Here at the Atelier, we’re all about women entrepreneurs taking it upon themselves to disrupt an established notion in order to create a more inclusive future! So when we heard about Sinikiwe and Naaya Wellness, it was a no-brainer to share her mission during Nourishment Month! Read on for more from Sinikiwe!
What does wellness mean to you?
Wellness to me is doing the work to become the best version of myself. Sometimes that looks like talking it out in therapy ( I’m not the best at talking about my feelings), practicing yoga, trying to cultivate a meditation practice, luxuriating in my intense skin care routine, or direct messaging my sister silly memes on Instagram. Additionally, wellness to me means agency. Having agency over my choices and the ability to hold myself accountable when I’m doing something that might not be in my best interest and taking steps towards correcting that path.
What prompted you to start Naaya?
I noticed a lack of presence of teachers and students of color. That reinforced my pre-existing idea of what a “yogi” was, looked like, and acted like—nothing like me. It came to a head when I started teaching with the non-profit Bent on Learning. I was placed as a yoga teacher in an inner-city public school. The majority of my students had no familiarity with the term “yoga” and unfortunately, like me, did not to expect to see faces that looked like their own being “yogis”. Naaya was created to spread and market yoga and mindfulness to a broader cross-section of people from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds who feel like traditional yoga is only for the affluent and people who do not look like they do. In short, Naaya was created for people like me.
What do you hope to accomplish with Naaya?
The current wellness landscape has set an ideal of what it looks like to be “well”. This version of wellness doesn’t include people who aren’t affluent, people with bigger bodies, and people with darker skin. My goal with Naaya is to begin to revise the current definition of wellness in the west. Additionally, I want to provide people with the tools to seek out and define what wellness looks like for themselves. Knowing that wellness isn’t one-size-fits-all or something that you can purchase to be well.
What does “Naaya” mean?
Naaya is the Shona word for healing. The practice of yoga was an impetus for me to start Healing in a real way. I started practicing yoga when I was going through physical therapy. In conjunction with physical therapy, I was working in a work environment that was less than ideal (lots of crying in the bathroom). The opportunity to get on my mat allows me to sit with myself. All parts—the good and the areas that could use improvement.
Photography by Laurel Golio.