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How to do wellness culture right in 2021

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Sanchia Legister, lululemon’s new global ambassador and the founder of Yogahood and Gyal Flex, reflects on how we can make the year ahead more inclusive, fun, and sustainable in wellness

‘Wellness’ as a term and movement has become imbued with misconceptions, mistruths, and stereotypes. But railing against the celery juicing detox disasters and seizing the narrative from the rich, white, and thin is an emerging cohort of fitness experts, teachers, and influencers that call for diversity and dynamism. 

Sanchia Legister, a yoga practitioner, the founder of Gyal Flex and Yogahood, and most recently lululemon’s newly announced global ambassador, is one of them. Her dynamic, hip hop beat-driven classes are known for their good vibes and welcoming atmosphere. Both of her underground movements were born from a frustration with the exclusive and stale-feeling wellness circuit, and so she began to pursue something more fluid, welcoming, and representing those marginalised by the current strain of mainstream yoga.

“There’s something really special about seeing someone dive into their full potential, to explore and play with what they find, to take personal responsibility and find deeper connections with self and others,” Legister tells Dazed. “I see this happening on the yoga mat with my yogis all the time and via my lululemon community. People achieving dreams that set their hearts on fire and living in alignment.”

Speaking of aligning with the yoga and activewear brand, a company that has championed inclusion, connection and fun across decades, she continues: “I’m really happy and pretty gassed about being a lululemon global ambassador. For me, lululemon feels like a human company. They are all about connection through community, authenticity, and supporting people to achieve their goals. 

“I’m all about offering my community a space to practice showing up, connecting with themselves, strengthening and hearing that inner voice and making space to ask questions.”

As we continue to wade through the global crisis of a pandemic, worldwide, our mental health has taken a hit. Many of us are facing unprecedented challenges, and our wellbeing remains ropey – 80 per cent of respondents to a YoungMinds survey said the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse, while six in ten people in the UK say they’re finding it harder to stay positive during this lockdown. As we emerge bleary-eyed into the new year of 2021, it can be difficult to feel grounded. How do we keep resilient and bolster our mental stamina?

“The pandemic has been wild and I’ve found myself being pushed and pulled between, trying to make a routine, and leaning in to what I’m feeling and taking each day as it comes without letting myself slip into the darker grips of our times,” says Sanchia. For Sanchia, it’s making feeling “alive and connected to myself and the world” a major priority. She does that through running, yoga, kettlebells, epic walks, hula hooping, and more recently roller skating.

Below, we shelve the toxic resolutions rhetoric and lay down how to swerve the most problematic, exclusive traits of wellness culture for something more inclusive and optimistic. 

SHELVE THE JUICES AND FADS, AND BRING WELLNESS BACK TO YOU

Wellbeing isn’t all green juices, candles, and salt baths,” Sanchia firmly says. “Now, these are nice things and I’d encourage anyone to indulge in them, especially if you don’t ever have the time for them. But, for me, being well is about me; my heart, my mind, my hara, and how these things communicate and dance with each other. It’s about coming back home to myself. It’s tiring, messy, and often painful, sometimes when you least expect it. No amount of turmeric can help that.”

CONSIDER INSTAGRAM AND THE MEDIA YOU’RE CONSUMING

“Instagram is awesome, but facts mixed with opinion and experience can be confusing by itself,” Sanchia says. “If you’re interested in learning about something, find a way to research it and consume it in a different way, podcasts, documentaries.” With that in mind, seek out science and evidence-based media. Try out Women’s Health’s Going For Goal podcast, hosted by Roisin Dervish-O’Kane, as she interviews qualified professionals in health, fitness, nutrition, and emotional wellbeing to help you instil longterm goals and lifestyle changes. There’s also leading nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert on socials and on the excellent Food for Thought podcast, the sex-positive Salty newsletter, and Amaliah, a media platform for Muslim women co-founded by sisters Nafisa and Selina Bakkar, who established ‘Soul Sessions’. There’s also Sanchia’s very own Yogahood and Gyal Flex, with live virtual classes. “I use my social media to keep it real and show that all you need is to be yourself,” she says.

“When resources are little, when money is low, when the fiyah is in your belly, or there’s no other option, humans make shit happen,” adds Sanchia. Going online has been the ultimate trend and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I’m still amazed at how connected I feel when participating in and delivering live online stuff.”

BE WARY OF TRENDS THAT LACK INCLUSIVITY

In the last year, we’ve seen movement across culture and society to bring about considerate representation and diversity. In the wellness industry, same goes. “Right now on the surface it would appear that a lot is happening, but it will take some time to see how performative it is,” explains Sanchia. “Most trends have a lack of true inclusivity, but on the plus side, this has also led to a lot of exclusive, safe spaces being birthed and communities growing. I think the biggest challenges this year will be seeing what lessons 2020 taught us and what we’re doing differently, with a dash of patience.”

Often, wellness spaces, though they’re marketed as sanctuaries for everyone, have a one-size-fits-all approach and can often come with exorbitant prices. And for many people, they can feel inaccessible and unwelcoming. This is particularly the case for marginalised groups who don’t feel represented within the industry. A plethora of groups are beginning to carve out separate spaces for their respective communities across the world, IRL and URL. Some cursory research throws up some of the most exciting spaces and communities centred around wellbeing. As well as Gyal Flex and Yogahood, there’s OYA Retreats, which offers immersive holistic wellness events and retreats for Black women and women of colour. There’s also Eve & Grace Wellness Studio, a fitness and wellness studio that caters to all bodies, and Soho’s ClinIQ’s LGBTQ+ centred yoga classes.

“Access can be challenging, and everyone deserves wellness and to experience ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. If you’re Black or brown, you probably need the space even more. Look at what 2020 highlighted, and what Black and brown people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. I think inclusive and accessible spaces allow for more empathy, compassion, human experience, and a better more caring society,” Sanchia asserts.

“Whenever I have hosted an event for black and brown women exclusively it’s a magical feeling and atmosphere. It’s like a big collective sigh of’“we’re home’. It’s a feeling and a place you don’t have to code switch and wear different guises, or censor yourself.”

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET MESSY, STOP-START, OR GO THINGS ALONE

There’s a glut of virtual classes out there, and, at one time or another, we’ve all experienced the dreaded Zoom fatigue. Sometimes, you need to get creative in the IRL. “I’m very tempted to get a home pottery kit and get messy,” says Sanchia. Across lockdown, there’s been an uptick in more traditional hobbies and crafts, from pottery to knitting. You don’t have to resolve to have knitted your A/W 2025 post-pan wardrobe or kit out your kitchen with a collection of post-modern ceramics, but having a hobby just for you and you alone can be a worthwhile, mind-settling venture. 

TAKE TIME TO CHECK IN ON YOURSELF AND OTHERS

It’s easy sometimes to move through the world at the speed of our broadband connection, but making time for yourself and others is key to resilience. Through her work with Gyal Flex, Sanchia “was always about offering a space where I would want to go, a space that I would be able to be free in, without judgement, to explore and be present in, and feel good vibrations and supportive energy around me”.

“I know I’m responsible for my own happiness and growth and I’m at my best when I’m being myself,” she adds. I check in with myself daily, a day doesn’t go by where I don’t break out into an impromptu skank or wine, I check in on my people – real and virtual – and share how I’m feeling to see if it resonates, and I ask them if there’s anything I can do to support them. When something isn’t sitting right I ask myself questions, journal, and meditate.”

YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE POSITIVE

“I’m not sure there is enough being said about being with what you’re feeling and going through it,” Sanchia says. “I’m a really positive person, but I have learnt over the years that I don’t have to look for the positive all the time, I’m a human being, but am I being human enough with myself? There have been many days when I have felt like I was in a film, when my body hasn’t quite felt like my own and I just can’t make sense of things, where things aren’t what I signed up for!” The last year, through some tumultuous times and the stop-start of lockdowns, people can feel stuck, existentially overwhelmed by global crisis, and without purpose. Recognising that negativity and the stress of the right here right now feels all the more pertinent in a world with rising mental health issues and an uncertain future. “I definitely don’t want to be in that space all the time, but it’s also ok to feel and not ‘push through’,” says Sanchia. 

ENJOY THE JOURNEY

“I’m not a fan of the language and noise around New Year’s resolutions, the hype and potential for quick failure is all too much for me,” Sanchia says. For Sanchia, that means keeping a lower profile through January and February to instead reflect on what she consumes and who she spends time with. “I absolutely use the time to reflect on the last 12 months,” she adds. That doesn’t mean setting unsustainable or quick-fix resolutions for the year ahead – but how do you actively instil change? “I ask myself what do I want more of, how do I want to feel in my life, and I write down the answer. I think understanding how you want to feel, and then remembering or discovering how you get that feeling is just magic.”

“For bigger goals, I start to look at the path towards it and I recap to see what’s already got me a little closer to them. Don’t overlook the synchronicity of things, you might be closer to your goal than you think. A big lesson for me over the years has been not to miss out on the journey. Living is supposed to be a full experience. Living in, or worrying about future goals, has stolen time from me that I can’t get back.” 

Discover more about lululemon and its ambassador programme here