This woman is challenging some big yoga assumptions


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Photo: Emily Knecht

Well+Good presents Wellness in Color, a new series highlighting prominent wellness practitioners of color who are doing healing work in their communities. Featuring conversations led by Latham Thomas, a Well+Good Council member and the founder of Mama Glow, these stories shine a spotlight on energy workers, nutrition experts, sexuality doulas, and other wellness luminaries. Here, Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, the founder of Naaya Wellness—which creates yoga and mindfulness programming for people of color—explains why she’s so passionate about her mission.

Photo: Joel Arbaje

Latham Thomas: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do with Naaya Wellness?
Sinikiwe Dhliwayo: I was born in Zimbabwe and left when I was about two. After I was injured while training for the New York City Marathon, my physical therapist suggested doing yoga. I kept going back to the practice because I was working in an environment that wasn’t very supportive, and yoga became a respite. Then I worked with Bent On Learning, a nonprofit that puts yoga in public schools for kids. With Naaya, I’m working on an accessible teacher training program, and I’m always thinking of ways to push a visual narrative of what wellness looks like. Despite the fact that there are teachers of color in yoga or meditation, there is no visibility. To me, it’s important to change the conversation visually as well.

What inspired you to do this work?
Working with kids and seeing how they were benefiting from yoga. But also, I often didn’t feel comfortable in a studio but wanting to allow for that representation to be there.

What do you do to support the well-being of others? What do you and Naaya do that’s unique?
The way I approach teaching is that I am here as a vessel. I have studied this information, and I care about it. But at the same time, it’s not about me. The practice that I’m leading you through— it’s for you. So if something isn’t feeling good, don’t do it just because I’m leading it. I also try to give a lot of options. The most important thing when I teach is that people are getting what they need in that moment. I’m only serving as a guide, essentially.

When you think about holding space for others, how do you hold space for yourself? What are some of the practices that you engage in for self care to really look after your mind, body and spirit?
I’ve been trying to progress through The Four Agreements. I’ve been on the first agreement for a long time, which is “Be impeccable with your word.” That’s something that continues to show up for me—especially when it comes to getting into disagreements. I’ve had this shift in my mindset where I’m like, “Do I want a resolution with this argument or am I doing this just to stir the pot?” That leads into another method of self-care for me, which is holding myself accountable. I want to make sure that what I’m putting out there is coming from a place of integrity. On another level, it sounds silly, but I end every day with a dance to shake off the day. I also spend quality time away from my phone—I try to be vigilant about that. And I love to read.

With a practice like meditation and yoga, it’s just not going to be perfect.

What’s your wellness mantra?
Oh, that’s intense. I think I’m always just striving to do good, be good, and just make things better. With a practice like meditation and yoga, it’s just not going to be perfect. One mantra might be “You can’t win them all.” As long as I know that I’m showing up and putting in the work and doing my best, that’s all that I can do. But I always want to try.

Is there a piece of advice of advice that an elder shared with you?
My mom tells me all the time to avoid comparison and to focus. I wake up excited every morning because I have so many ideas and so many things that I want to do. So I try to focus on what I’m doing and not on what everyone else is doing. Another thing that my mom teaches me all the time is the value of fellowship and being in relationships with other women. The way my female friends and my sister show up for me is huge. I don’t think that I would be where I am in my life without those friendships.

Sharing a connection or knowledge has never served me wrong.

Are there any ancestral practices that you pull from that inform your work?
I always lead with the fact that I’m from Africa. The culture of Africa informs how I’ve moved in the world and how I perceive myself in the world. My favorite place is my grandmother’s house in the countryside of Zimbabwe. Just thinking about being barefoot in her backyard fills me with so much joy, even though I haven’t been home to Zimbabwe in 16 years. Even the name Naaya—Naaya means healing in Shona, which is the language spoken in Zimbabwe. Yoga has healed me and continues to heal me, so it was important to have a name for my company that was really rooted in my culture.

What hope do you have for the community that you touch? What do you want them to take away from their experience with Naaya?
One thing I think a lot about with wellness is this idea that you need to buy expensive athleisure or a fancy mat. All of these external things take away from the idea that you’re enough. Especially when it comes to the practice of yoga, all you really need is your breath and your body. I want people to take away that wherever they are in that moment, they are enough.

How has your intention to connect with others served your work?
It’s always been very important to me to connect people. I think a lot of times there is a mentality of scarcity, and one thing that’s continually coming up for me is that sharing a connection or knowledge has never served me wrong. I would love to see more of that, especially in wellness. There is way more than enough and having that ability to share with other people makes me better.

Latham Thomas is a master manifestor and the founder of Mama Glow, a healthy gal’s guide to actualization in the modern world. Her second book, Own Your Glow, was recently published by Hay House Inc. 

What—or whom—should Latham write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to experts@wellandgood.com

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