Use Your Voice : Dr Anesu Mbizvo on Coping mechanisms, asking for help and prioritizing your health

In the latest episode of Use Your Voice Levi’s Haus of Strauss Africa addressed Mental Wellness in a conversation with professionals from various industries who are vocal and vulnerable with regards to this matter. The episode covered topics on recognising triggers, developing coping mechanisms, asking for help, prioritizing your health, and how to manage to re-enter work and social environments post lockdown. We caught up with Dr Anesu Mbizvo to get her take on health, The Nest Space organisation and sustainability.

What inspired you to start The Nest Space?

Having worked as a junior doctor for some years, I found myself feeling sleep deprived, burnt out and unenthusiastic about the path I was on. This led me to search for a non-competitive outlet for my stress. Growing up, I had always enjoyed practicing yoga and so I decided to make this my self-care wellness practice of choice.

Unfortunately, when I began stepping into yoga studios and spending more time in wellness spaces, I began noticing that I was often the only person of colour in these spaces. This made me feel hyper aware of my appearance and “performance” in my own healing journey and because I felt “other” I felt like I was not able to bring my authentic and whole self to the table of my healing.

This became my main inspiration for The Nest Space – a deep personal desire to have a safe space of healing that welcomed ALL bodies regardless of colour, shape, age, gender, sexual orientation and ability. I was searching for a space where I could be fully seen and heard and so I decided to create it for myself.

After a couple of months of running The Nest Space I met my now business partner Banesa, who had exactly the same experiences as me and together, we made it our mission to make wellness and healing inclusive and accessible to all, especially those who are usually othered in these spaces.

How is it running a The Nest Space organisation, what are some of the challenges you face?

Having both worked in a variety of different work environments, my business partner and I both wanted to consciously run our business in line with the very mindfulness and wellness principles we were teaching and providing at The Nest Space. This meant running our business with healthy boundaries, having authentic and real conversations in times of conflict and choosing to self-reflect and accept accountability in times of challenge. We always like to say that our business is our teacher or guru and that our work is an act of devotion and service to our people and community.

I think that running our business mindfully has definitely assisted us in building the space we so longed for and dreamt of, but it also has its own challenges. We are constantly working on making our services more accessible which can sometimes be a challenge in terms of generating profits. We choose not to negotiate on the sustainability of all of our shop products which can make procurement a challenge, and we purposefully ensure that our team represents our ethos of inclusivity and fair representation which can also present its own challenges but on the other hand we are always working according the values and principles that we deeply believe in which is a constant reminder of our “why” and the reason for what we do.

The Nest Space is a space intentionally built for our community and while most of our society says that you need to compromise on your services, prices or offerings to make a profit, we actually believe (and have found from experience) that in our line of work, our community always comes first and that by making them our focus that the money and success flows in organically, authentically and more sustainably

How does Yoga contribute to your mental and physical health?

Yoga in Sanskrit can be directly translated as “union”. The union of the body, mind and spirit. As multi-dimensional beings, yoga teaches us how to take care of ourselves and heal ourselves holistically and it does this by helping us change our relationship with discomfort. In yoga we purposefully fold and stretch our bodies into uncomfortable positions. This of course helps to build our physical strength, stamina, endurance and flexibility which is great for our physical wellbeing, but perhaps more importantly, by consciously teaching us to breathe and sit with discomfort yoga teaches us that we can sooth and control the mind through breath and just simply being in the present moment. In so doing, our time on the yoga mat teaches us how to understand and work with our emotions off the mat when life brings us change, chaos or discomfort and by helping us tap into this side of ourselves we then begin to tap into our spirit and the part of ourselves that is connected to our life purpose and inner wisdom.

What are some of the benefits of Yoga that people don’t know of?

Apart from the above, yoga is also an excellent practice for healing. While yoga can help us adapt our response to challenges in the future, many of us are still holding onto trauma and pain that we experienced in the past and so no matter how good we make ourselves feel in the present, we often are brought back down by the heaviness of all we are holding onto. Both yoga philosophy and modern psychology state that trauma, pain and past suffering is stored as tension in the physical body and so when we do yoga and purposefully stretch and work into these areas of the body, we shake this tension loose and give ourselves the opportunity to deal with and thus heal from this past trauma. Healing is a lifelong journey but the more we practice, the more we release and thus the lighter and happier we feel.

How would you define “wellness”?

To me wellness is balance. I think I grew up thinking that wellness was all things positive and achieving this all the time – a healthy and happy body, a happy mind and a happy spirit but as I’ve gotten older, I have come to learn that shying away from the negative is also a form of trauma. Being a human is hard. Some days we get it right and some days we don’t, so for me, wellness is now acceptance of both the ups and downs of this existence and the ability to find a sense of neutrality, stability, balance and contentedness in the midst of the storm.

How do you ensure sustainability in your craft?

While wellness, self-care and healing are sometimes considered to be self-centered or “selfish” practices, what we find is that the deeper we go into understanding ourselves, the more we realise how connected we are to everything and everyone around us. Our physical environment is always a reflection of our inner space. We feel a certain way internally and then make decisions and pursue actions in keeping with how we feel that affect our outer space, so when we see things such as pollution, excess waste and climate change – the ugly truth is that this is a reflection of how we all collectively feel inside.

Once we begin to become more intentional about our thoughts, we also become more intentional about our actions. It’s because of this link that we make an active effort to link sustainability to wellness at The Nest Space. All of our cleaning products at The Nest are eco-friendly and kind to both our bodies and the planet. Our store stocks only natural, vegan, biodegradable and local products which boosts our local economy while also ensuring we aren’t damaging our beautiful environment, and our cafe is fully vegan which is better for the environment and also ensures that our own health and wellbeing is not at the expense of the suffering of others.

We also make an active effort to remind our community that sustainability is an Afro-centric philosophy. As part of our ethos of inclusivity, we want our community to realise that sustainable living has always been an integral part of African society and community and that by taking care of nature and our environment, we are also coming back to and rediscovering ourselves as Africans.
How do you ensure inclusivity in your wellness center?

Inclusivity infuses every single aspect of The Nest Space. Having encountered gender and racially based microaggressions and trauma ourselves as black women, we have drawn upon our lived experiences to create a space that is a refuge from this unfortunate aspect of our world.

Practically this is related to the optics of our space – we consciously ensure that both our social media as well as our staff team at The Nest represent all of the different flavours of our community. By ensuring that every type of body can see themselves reflected in The Nest Space, anyone who enters feels like they are safe to just be themselves in their own uniqueness.

Having found that most exclusionary trauma happens due to structural inequities, we also make a conscious effort to ensure that our language, prices as well as the physical layout of our space are inclusive.

Lastly, we ensure that our services encompass all aspects of healing and wellbeing. We love offering our clients a wide range of wellness practices from around the world, especially our own traditional African practices which have been previously demonized and made taboo and we make sure that these practices are taught authentically and respectfully by the healers belonging to these diverse lineages and cultures. No knowledge system is seen as superior to another and so in this way, we try to decolonize our understanding of healing, health and wellbeing.

What are your future plans on The Nest Space & how do you plan on expanding?

If 2020 and 2021 have taught us anything, it’s to set a North Star but to be flexible with the path of getting there. Right now, we are working on moving into our new physical space in Joburg while also providing our services in a variety of different spaces as well as online. We are working on strategic partnerships with co-working spaces to bring our work into the corporate and working environment while also partnering with non-profit organisations to take our work out into communities where geographical and economic access have been an issue, such as in the townships and rural areas.
We are also making an effort to involve nature more actively in our work and are taking strides to take our community outside to explore our beautiful country with a different range of retreats, workshops and events.

Lastly, we are working to change the dynamics of the yoga and wellness landscape by training more people of colour to become healers and yoga teachers. In this regard we are hosting our 3rd Inclusive Yoga Teacher Training course in 2022. We have currently graduated 30 new yoga teachers of colour from our previous two cohorts after beginning our training programs during the pandemic and we cannot wait to keep adding to this number this year. 

The work continues.

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