Because of unbalanced society standards, wellness has been dominated and almost became exclusive to white people. This must never be the case, and reclaiming wellness to become accessible to all has been the center of Jovanka Ciares’ crusade. This integrative herbalist and executive health coach joins Whitney Lauritsen to share about her education initiative that gives the minority access to proper wellness knowledge. Jovanka explains the work needed in raising awareness on plant-based living in BIPOC communities and solving various issues caused by cultural appropriation in her line of work. She also discusses decolonizing the mind from the idea of achieving perfection and simply doing the best for your body.
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Decolonizing The Mind And Reclaiming Wellness With Jovanka Ciares
Healing At The Community Level
I spent the past 30 to 40 minutes diving into so many different conversations with our guest, Jovanka, who I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for quite some time. I don’t recall when and how we met. Do you know off the top of your head, Jovanka?
I don’t, but I know that I have been following you and learning from you for years.
Imagine as we are talking, a memory will come back. I remember how supportive you were when my book came out. I’m so thrilled to support you with your book that we’re going to get into this episode about Reclaiming Wellness. There are so many directions. I want to say that I don’t think we’re going to be able to cover all of the topics that I would like to or that I will organically get into because you have such an interesting background professionally and personally. You have fascinating passions.
I was digging into your Twitter account and felt like I could read through every one of your posts and learn something. I have only skimmed the surface of your book thus far, but you touch upon things that I want to learn more about, especially hearing more about your experience being Black and Latina around health and healing.
That is something that I’m trying to better understand as much as I can by learning from people like yourself and knowing. First of all, what does it mean to be a Black-Latina woman in the United States now, where it feels like there’s a lot of racial tension, but also helping the BIPOC communities as you understand the power of herbal medicine and plant-based living, which I don’t see enough education on and don’t see enough people talking about this. Through my journey with this show, it became very humbling when I realized towards the beginning of the show that I was amplifying the voices of a lot of White people and men.
When I stepped back and examined it, I thought, “That’s because there I’m used to hearing from their voices.” I’m curious to start off for you being non-White. Do you feel like you’re hearing a lot of those voices too? Do you feel like maybe White people like myself naturally start to pay more attention to other White people? It’s a complex question, but it’s something that I’m constantly asking myself like, “What will it take for me to balance this out?”
Right now I still feel like I end up taking in a lot of information from other White people when it comes to wellness and has to be very proactive to not. I’m curious. Is that something that you experienced? Do you have a different experience given that you’re not part of that White community in terms of how you look, even when you’re talking about your heritage when you did your DNA test and see it finding out that you’re 24% White? It is also interesting. Somebody might not make that assumption if they look at you. The idea of not making a lot of assumptions is important. I want to pause and know from you in terms of that question. Do you feel like wellness is dominated by White people?
The short answer is yes. Certainly, things are slowly shifting. When I discovered this concept of wellness and the practices around it, I was often the only person of color. Think about whatever you can think about, like yoga classes, meditation, retreats, conferences, and even the products that were being advertised and marketed to a very homogeneous community, somebody that looks female that is White and often wealthy or wealthy by society’s standards. It was a little bit disheartening at first, but I was in so much pain and discomfort that it pushed me to continue to look for more.
Fast forward from my journey and now the work that I do, I see a lot more people of color in the wellness world. Still, we have a diversity and inclusion problem where we’re still seeing products and services being promoted, marketed, and used by a very homogeneous group. It’s important that we recognize ourselves. To answer the second part of your question, as people in the wellness world, whether we are those that hold this space, you have a show, a yoga studio, a product, or a service that you want to, we must recognize that these practices come from communities of color, which is what we know today as multicultural communities.
Most of them stem from these communities. It’s critical that we learn its history to understand the nuances and the beauty beyond. There’s always something you’re going to be able to learn and, hopefully, open those spaces. Open your mind first. You and I talked about what you can do as the dominant culture to open the space and allow some of these multicultural communities to reclaim the practices of their ancestry. This is, in essence, what the book is all about.
I’m so thrilled that you wrote about that because it’s a question I reflect on a lot. I’m also curious. Do you feel, coming from Puerto Rico, and now that you live in Los Angeles along with me, what is the culture around the wellness in those two places? Have you lived in other places that have contrasted the environment here? Los Angeles is also associated with young White women in wellness culture.
It feels like we are the poster child of Los Angeles in a lot of ways because we see young White female celebrities and influencers pushing products, talking about yoga, and all of these things. Certainly, that has influenced me. That’s probably part of why I had to consciously pull myself away and say, “Can I listen to other people?” Do you feel like that’s your experience in Los Angeles as well? Whether or not it is, how does that contrast with other places you’ve lived?
I moved from Puerto Rico to New York when I was in my early twenties to go to college. I remember taking it for granted when I was writing the book, but in a relatively simple, uncomplicated childhood with homemade foods and tropical fruits that were accessible from the neighbors’ trees and whatnot, and moving away from that and moved into what I believe was the diet of the modern societies. As a young twenty-something-year-old, I was eating fast food, pizza, and snickers all the time, and my body rebelled.
When I realized that I was having issues that Western medicine couldn’t solve and needed to look elsewhere, I went to places in New York City. I happened to be living in New York City at that time, which is such a rich, cultural city that it was easy for me to get lost deep in communities like the Chinese community and Indian community. Even the Latin American community and South American community, where I learn a lot about shamans that have been living in the United States for 50 years.
It brought all these practices with them from South America, the Ayurvedic practitioners, and the traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. My first foray into wellness came from people who also looked and sounded different from normal or the general population. That’s whom I learned from. Moving to LA years later, I was a little bit taken aback by it like, “What is going on?” By then, I was fully vegan, so I would be going to these vegan restaurants. I will be looking around and like, “I’m the only Black person in this room. That’s okay, I guess.”
It was not until the beginning of the pandemic that I started to realize that even as a practitioner and as a person that practices and uses some of these practices, I also moved away from the multicultural aspects of these practices. I then made it my goal with my educational initiative, which happens to also be called Reclaiming Wellness, to bring some of these practices back to these communities at no cost or very low cost. From the educational communities, it stemmed into what then became the book.
It’s so great to know your perspective that’s so honest and refreshing. It has me thinking about the ignorance that I had because I didn’t have a reason or a motivation to focus outside of my experience as a White woman. That changed over the last few years. I always, hopefully, was not paying super close attention to color.
I remember hearing and meeting people in the Black vegan community. I thought like, “They’re included and equal. There must be enough representation.” From your perspective on the work that you’re doing, do you feel like there’s a big imbalance? What have you been doing to shift that to make sure that there is more diversity and inclusivity?
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There is. Even in my own practice as an herbalist and coach, 99% of my clients were White. There could be a million reasons for that. It could be that if you have disposable income, then you’ll be able to go to a practitioner and pay for the services that are not covered by insurance or Medicaid. As I said, it was when the beginning of the pandemic started. You started to hear these statistics about the co-morbidities affecting people, people struggling with COVID dying from COVID at a faster rate, and the reasons why. Those are people that didn’t have access to preventative practices or measures. I was like, “This is not acceptable.”
It was heartbreaking to me that the practices that came from our ancestry, we moved away from them, and we needed to find a way to reclaim them. I created this initiative. I started from my house during quarantine, like everybody else. I am emailing every and any nonprofit and educational organization I could find and letting them know who I am and I will happily show them how to live better, do herbal medicine classes, and cooking lessons, show you how to buy, eat the rainbow, and eat more plant whole foods.
That became a big deal because people got not only excited. I realized how big an impact something like an hour’s worth of education a week can make in the lives of many. Eventually, I decided to start reading and educating myself a little bit more deeply into the history of those cultural practices and how modern medicine is now giving us the realization we’re now realizing the proof that these practices are incredibly effective.
That’s why I created the book as a way to marry the old with the new and show people that there is a way for you to reclaim these practices. There are thousands of years of anecdotal evidence, but there’s modern science evidence showing us how effective they are and how we can incorporate them into our wellness routine.
You touched upon something that I would love to know more about, which is the income side of it. This is part of recognizing privilege. I thought that I had a perspective on what it was like to “struggle.” I think back to being a kid and depending on my parents and their income, like what foods we would buy. I remember when I first heard about Whole Foods. It was seen as an expensive store so we didn’t go in there. We wouldn’t shop at places like that. That was my experience with the journey to access a healthier lifestyle.
I remember in college when I went vegan and how expensive it all seemed to me. Technically, it wasn’t that far out of reach. I lived in Boston at that time. I was going to a private college where I had access to education and other people where I could learn about these things. I had access to the grocery stores. They were a stretch for me. They weren’t inaccessible. I was surrounded by people that were talking about things. It was easy for me to add more of them into my life when I decided to move to Los Angeles, which is also a privilege of being able to relocate.
I had access to enough resources where I could seek out communities. It didn’t feel that hard. It was relatively challenging for me, but not relatively challenging for other people. I would love to know more about the income challenges, like what you are saying, the high percentage of White people that are clients of yours. You mentioned the income side of it. Tell me more about that. I want to learn statistically. What are people struggling with financially? What are their challenges? Where does access get in the way of them learning about the things you’re teaching?
The keyword here is access, like access to information and foods. You would be surprised how much people want to eat better and incorporate practices that make them better. We’ve all heard the concept of food deserts. There is news that you may have seen with that shooter in the supermarket in Buffalo, New York, who went to a supermarket, which happens to be the only supermarket in that entire part of town. It’s a great example of inequalities. We can talk about how that came. This is probably a topic for another episode.
It’s been going on since the beginning of the 20th Century when cities and highways were built, and the people that were responsible for all of that decided, “We’re going to separate certain communities because we don’t want certain communities to be together.” That could mean building big avenues, high rises, bridges, and whatnot to separate communities. On top of that, certain people didn’t have the opportunities to educate themselves and get out of the cycle of poverty. In some other cases, there will be situations where people don’t have the opportunity to buy houses in a better neighborhood where the resources are more accessible and available.
Fast forward 3 or 4 generations and you have an entire generation of people who have never lived near a supermarket or have never had access to a green area like a city park. You have a group of people that are struggling to learn how to eat better, but they don’t know where to start. That’s part of what I teach. My ideal avatar is always a single professional woman, but that professional could be making $150,000 or $40,000 and be a single mother of two who works hard and is trying to keep her children out of trouble, get them out in the world, and hopefully, get them to a better educational stage than she ever got to.
How are you going to tell that woman, “It’s important that you eat only organic food, and have only certain types of foods and vegetables,” when she herself, all she knows is what the marketing lobby has been telling her, “It’s all about these foods. You’re supposed to have protein. It is the only thing that matters. You’re supposed to have this, that, and the other thing.” Once you start educating people and letting them know with very simple techniques, it doesn’t have to be complicated.
One of the things that tell people is to eat the rainbow and start with what you love. If you love potatoes, let’s start there. Let’s find ways to cook potatoes in a different way. Maybe the next step will be finding different kinds of potatoes. Maybe it will be a Japanese sweet potato or a regular sweet potato that might have different nutrients. As I teach you how to cook that and how to make it palatable and exciting for you to share with your family, I’m going to show you the nutrients that that food is going to bring into your life and how it can potentially expand your lifetime.
People get so excited. People cry and tell me, “My children are asking me where the asparagus is. Jovanka said to buy asparagus to make asparagus fries.” We don’t have asparagus because you have to drive 40 minutes to the next supermarket to find the asparagus, mushrooms, or whatever it might be. We have to learn to be compassionate and recognize that there’s always a backstory to the person that you see in front of you. Learn about that story so that it can inform you and hopefully get you to open up to learn and bring your knowledge into those communities.
The way you are educating me now is so beautiful. I was thinking about how much of a privilege it is to be ignorant about the history of other people because someone like me can easily grow up in a bubble. The way we look at life is relative to our personal experiences. Part of the mission that I’m on personally is I want to get outside of my bubble and my biases because it feels so limiting and disrespectful. I think about how I have gone on this journey of learning about plant-based eating, environmentalism, holistic living, and all these things I’m passionate about.
There seems to be a lot of bias in those spaces, especially around this idea of access, where it feels so privileged to say to somebody, “You need to eat organic. It’s not that much more expensive.” The truth is that organic can be twice as much as something else is sometimes. For somebody struggling to get to the grocery store, now they have to spend more time finding and spend more money buying the organic food, which could be vastly different price point-wise in a different city, like in California.
We also have the privilege of living in a state where access to fresh fruit and vegetables is plentiful. I can walk to multiple stores and farmer’s markets. I’ve had to say, “I need to step back and not make assumptions that other people have the same access as me, let alone the same income.” That concept that I’ve been bothered by is, and I’ve said it too, I’m working on not saying these things anymore of like, “If I can do it, you can do it.”
Even saying this now to you makes me cringe because I’m like, “Who am I talking to?” Saying a phrase like that can be so offensive to somebody who’s different than you because it’s not true that if I can do it, you can do it. The times I’ve walked into people’s houses and made judgments about the type of food in their cupboards to friends of mine, and I’m like, “I need to stop doing that.”
It’s a journey for all of us, and we evolve. What a beautiful thing you are doing, Whitney. With every good, there’s always something bad and vice versa. What a gorgeous thing it is that out of the horrendous thing of this pandemic and the racial reckoning that happened immediately after the beginning of the pandemic, I’m seeing more and more people like you with a platform and the power to say, “I need to do better.” I don’t need to necessarily do more because I know everyone has their stuff. Everyone is busy and trying to do the best that they can.
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What a gorgeous thing it is for me to hear people say, “I want to do better. I want to learn from other people. I want to see their perspectives.” You’ve heard the stories about, “I can’t be racist because I have a Black friend.” Do you? Have you heard about their history? Do you know about their grandparents? Do you know why their grandparents never went to college? I hear that all the time, “Why can’t just Black people get together, move on from their entry-level work, and go to college?”
Do you know what it takes to go to college? Do you know what it cost? Do you know what happened in the life of that person that probably was incredibly smart and a wasted talent? How much more compassionate can you become? It’s a gorgeous and beautiful thing that people like you or even like me to some extent because I consider myself a person of privilege in any respect, even as a person of color that I can say I’m not interested in seeing this pain anymore without making a difference and doing something to change this.
I love the way you phrase that because it is also tricky with this idea of doing enough. You pointed this out in your book, and even now when you’re saying your target audience is a single woman who maybe has children and low income because there is so much challenge in that. I don’t have experience with that, but I hear about it a lot. I recognize how challenging that must be to be trying to do it all on your own, taking care of people, and being faced with all of these obstacles, yet it still seems like they’re pressured to do more.
The idea of not doing enough or not being enough is rampant in our society. That in itself feels like an epidemic of like, “Why do we constantly feel like we have to do more and more?” In some cases, it’s all relative to what we’re talking about. It’s important to be better. We want to be better in the way that we treat other human beings. We want to do more to advocate for the rights of everybody.
We want to work on paying attention to our health. The latter can be very challenging. I love to know your perspective on this because, first of all, health is very relative. It can become unhealthy when you’re obsessive about constantly improving. That can have the opposite effect on you. Do you agree with that?
Absolutely, and recognizing that you are a universe. Even if you are a twin, you’re so much different than everybody else. You have to recognize that your state of wellness, or what we know as homeostasis, the state of being healthy, will mean different things to you than to me. I’ll give you a perfect example. I have a teenage nephew who had a stroke at birth. He is partly paralyzed. He is otherwise a very healthy and smart young man that is lovely and happy. If you look at him behaving and moving around the world, you will think that this person is not well, when in fact, he is. He is well in his reality.
Whether it is that or somebody struggling with cancer or any kind of health condition, there is a way for you to be balanced and well. That is what we’re striving for. It’s not necessarily to be healthy, skinny, or whatever it is that society tells us. It’s balanced in a way that we can feel content and at peace in body, mind, and soul. I wanted to also make a quick note about something you mentioned about us not doing enough. Especially for us women, it is so true. We are natural givers.
If you think about a woman who is a mother, a professional, and takes care of her community, partner, and children, when is it time for her to reclaim her space, time, and whatever practice she wants to incorporate during that time and space? One of the things that I mentioned to every client, and in my book, I mentioned it too because it has to be repeated over and over, is to spend time on a day where you don’t have a lot to do. Spend time walking around your space and reclaiming that space, whatever it might be. It might be the bathroom, backyard, den, and spare bedroom.
Find the time that you need to reclaim. It could be that you need to wake up an extra half an hour early to find that extra half an hour. When you have that space and time, what are you going to do? Is it making a nice cup of grounding tea? Is it cooking something that you know is going to be yummy and healthy?
It can be listening to a podcast or music, having a good cry, and letting it all hang out. It’s critical as women, especially, that we recognize we don’t have to do it all. We are doing enough. If tomorrow is your last day on this planet, chances are people will miss you and somebody will recognize how much you’ve done for you. It’s important that we recognize that as well.
Isn’t it amazing how that’s such a simple piece of advice and a simple message, and yet we need to be reminded of it constantly? That’s because we’re fighting against the other message of, “You’re not enough,” which is so loud and strong. It also reminds me of something else I want to touch upon when it comes to that power. Before we started this session, we were discussing how power imbalance can feel so overwhelming and can lead us to feel like we don’t have control and can’t do anything. You and I were talking about this in the context of all of the tragedies.
In just the second half of May 2022, some awful things have happened in our country. A lot of them seem to be either targeting race or involving racial injustice. As you mentioned, the grocery store shooting is horrific. That are just a few examples of things that happen so much in this country. I was saying how my perception is that there are a lot of older White men in government or places of power who are trying to minimize the voices of people saying, “This is not okay.” They’re trying to say, “We’ve got this under control.”
The reality is so many of us feel like, “You do not have this under control. You may be in control, but this is not okay with us.” That’s a very tender issue for me. I felt so much in my life of people minimizing me. A lot of that experience has been that my brain works differently, and I’ve had needs that have gone unaddressed because I didn’t even fully understand my needs until later. I went so much in my life being someone who would say, “I’m not okay with this.”
I can’t tell you how many times people in my life have said, “Whitney, it’s okay. You’re too sensitive. What you’re saying isn’t important.” It’s that minimized experience I’ve felt. Maybe that’s the reason I feel so drawn to help others who are marginalized. I have had at least some version of that of my own. I’m not okay with that. If somebody is shouting and saying, “I’m in pain. I’m unhappy. I’m afraid. My needs aren’t being met,” it is unacceptable to ignore those voices. We live in this time where so many people’s needs aren’t being met, and I’m not okay with it.
It comes down to power. I talk all the time with my partner, who happens to be a White male, about this dynamic of power and how we have slowly realized that a lot of others now have a voice. We always have kiddingly said if you’ve been in power and have been the only one in power for millennia, and now you’re told that you have to share in that power, you’re going to rebel. You’re going to get not happy. I recognize from a compassionate level why society is having so many struggles because, as you said so beautifully, White men are in control, but this is out of control.
It’s out of control because people are not given a forum and not being allowed to say, “I have a voice, and my voice is valuable. It is important. I am worthy.” What I can say to that is we have to compassionately continue to fight. This era will eventually pass. It may not happen in our lifetime. I believe that eventually, we will get to a point where it’s more of a softer, feminine energy type society, where we will lead with kindness, compassion, and empathy. We don’t have any empathy towards anybody that we don’t know about.
It could be extrapolated to almost every part of society, like wellness and everything else. It’s very hard to love what you don’t know, so let’s start there. Let’s start by being curious about other people, other perspectives, others’ history, and others’ practices, and recognize the beauty of that history to learn to fall in love a little bit more with something that doesn’t look or sound like us.
I have chills hearing you share that because it’s so true. That leads me to something else I want to make sure that we address, which is cultural appropriation in the wellness world. I got called out for this in my book, which you are so supportive of, which is The Vegan Ketogenic Diet Cookbook. There’s a recipe in there that my friend, Nicole, the recipe developer of the book, named each of the recipes and named one of them a Buddha Bowl.
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Before somebody brought this to my attention, I didn’t take any issue with that term because I’ve heard it so many times. I see it in restaurants and other cookbooks. It’s something I associate with a bowl of food that has a lot of different types of things in it. It wasn’t until someone said, “That’s cultural appropriation,” that I had an opportunity to step back and go, “I had no idea. Thank you for pointing that out.”
I have done multiple episodes on that, including one with Tony, who runs Plant-Based on a Budget. She came on to address some of that too. It created some great dialogues with us stemming from my ignorance. It opened up my mind to how many things have been culturally appropriated, but for someone of privilege who’s never had to acknowledge that, I just brush over it. I’m like, “This is fine with me.” I don’t see any issue with it until somebody else from a different culture says, “There is an issue with this. You probably didn’t notice it because you’re a White woman.” It’s like, “Thank you. This is extremely humbling.”
I’m curious. Are you sensitive to cultural appropriation? Does it come up a lot in your work? How can we avoid being culturally appropriated? How can we speak out against it? I certainly don’t see it going away very quickly, but I want to advocate for saying this isn’t okay and I don’t want to be part of it. I also have to take off my blinders because it’s still happening around me without my awareness.
Cultural appropriation is everywhere in the wellness world, from the Lululemon-cladded women going to yoga classes all the way up to the billion-dollar supplement industry utilizing foods, supplements, and botanicals, marking them up and selling them to you for exorbitant prices. We’ve all been appropriating wellness for many years.
It’s recognizing that we don’t know where these foods come from and the price that it costs, not just to bring it to your home, but to grow them in some other part of the world and the people that are attached to the process of growing and transferring that foods into your country. Remember, we’re all very much interconnected. It’s important that we recognize that, and more importantly, to your point about how we get around it.
You said it right. I don’t know that it is about all of a sudden deciding I’m never going to use this because otherwise, it’s considered cultural appropriation. These practices have been passed on from generation to generation for a reason, and they’re incredibly valuable and incumbent upon us to continue to use them and benefit from them.
Instead, what I like to ask people is to focus on cultural appreciation. It could be as simple as, “I’m having a recipe that I’m going to call Buddha Bowl. Before I post the recipe, I’m going to tell you a little bit about why this is called a Buddha Bowl. Who was Buddha, what food did the people back then eat, and why we are now so excited about eating these kinds of foods.” It could very well be that it was the original type of food is very different than what we see now as a Buddha Bowl, but it stemmed from this place, and we prepared it with our own modern ways in food and became richer still.
What a beautiful thing that is. I don’t ever want people, especially people in the dominant culture, to feel like, “I can’t do anything right. I’m always wrong. What am I supposed to do, not ever do this or go there?” No. I want you to open your mind and heart and find ways to incorporate the history, people, and culture that brought us these amazing practices so that we can learn to appreciate them in a more fulfilling way for all of us.
I love the way that you state these things. You have such a powerful way with words. It’s so comforting. It leads to your skills as a teacher and a coach. I feel like I’m simultaneously learning but also feeling better. You were living out that mission. Along these same lines, I was watching called the Kardashians Show on Hulu. I find myself fascinated, as many people are, by these women that have such a huge impact on our society now. In the episode, I saw Courtney. She’s trying to get pregnant.
She went to an Ayurvedic spa in Los Angeles. It was neat. She’s doing a whole cleanse. A huge part of the episode is about the Ayurvedic side of it. I was watching it having some mixed feelings. First of all, I was thinking, “Is this cultural appropriation at all?” There’s this huge Ayurvedic spa. You probably even know it because it’s not that far from where you live. It’s wonderful to give people access to it, but I’m imagining it’s quite expensive to do the treatment that she’s going through.
I kept thinking about it. The woman that owns the spa comes to Courtney’s house and gives them private consultation. She then takes them to the spa and does a seven-day cleanse and all of these services. In my head, I’m thinking, “This must be so expensive.” In the episode, the woman who owns the spa is teaching and sharing a lot. I’m thinking like, “This is neat. People are learning about it.” I then start thinking about how Courtney has her company Poosh. In an upcoming episode, they tease that she’s partnering with Gwyneth Paltrow on her website.
You’ve got these two very wealthy, powerful women talking about a lot of wellness practices but charging a lot of money for the products they sell and advocating for things that aren’t that accessible financially to a lot of people. While I appreciate that they’re talking about these things, these women are also on the high-end of wellness constantly. I wonder how does that impact other people.
Is that advocating for people to be obsessed with status, money, and buying things that are way overpriced when at the end of the day, isn’t Ayurveda something that can be practiced for far less money? How do you feel when you see these things? Do you also have mixed feelings about powerful celebrities and influencers promoting things that have been well-marked up and marketing them?
I don’t follow the Kardashians, so it’s interesting. I might actually Google that and find out. It sounds to me what you were talking about is they’re doing a Panchakarma-type cleanse, which is very detoxifying. People do it either when they’re in the middle of chronic diseases or trying to cleanse. That’s a very popular thing to do when you’re trying to go get pregnant and have had issues. The Kardashians are completely different topics. I truly believe that they’re the poster children of cultural appropriation. You don’t have to hate them or go against the grind.
You can recognize that they’re not in business, whether Poosh or Gwyneth Paltrow. They’re not in the business of making you well. They’re in the business of profiting. That’s the reason why they can do Jade eggs for I don’t know how many hundreds of dollars, and cruise ships for $2,500 or whatever it is. They’re not interested in making you well. If they were interested in making you well, the first thing that they would ask you is like, “What are you eating every single day? What are you feeding your mind? How was your stress level? What kind of mindfulness techniques are you doing to help you reduce stress and center every single day?” All of which you can do for a few dollars a month.
You were saying Ayurvedic medicine and even Western medicine. You can go to the supermarket and for less than $20, buy 4 or 5 herbs, blend them in your house, use them for the entire month, and help you with whatever it is that you’re struggling with. It depends on what you’re struggling with. Once you find the ones that you know are going to help you, you can use them and find them relatively easy for very little amounts of money. It’s important that we take all of these fancy people from it with a grain of salt.
I would love it, whether it is the Kardashians, Gwyneth Paltrow, or all those people, to bring in more of these multicultural-type practitioners and healers into their platform. They have an immense platform. They can do so much better. You can continue to profit if that’s what you want to do. I’ll be the first one to applaud you for that, but let’s find a way to truly make a difference in the life of those people that follow you and hopefully attract a different demographic that could also benefit from these practices.
It’s hard to avoid the Kardashians. I’m curious so I get drawn into it. Sometimes I don’t even know why. I’m like, “Wow.” It is that they’ve marketed themselves so well that they play to my curiosity. I’m almost being manipulated into being interested in them, in a way. If I have to step back there, they talked about so much and you almost can’t help it. Even the controversy is all this one big machine that you hate to watch people or watch them just to find their flaws. It’s hard to get away from it.
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If you see the Kardashians start practicing Ayurveda, it might be promoting it and teaching people about something that they don’t know about, but are they simultaneously thinking, “That’s not for me. It’s too expensive?” If the Kardashians aren’t promoting inexpensive access to things like that, someone’s only associating it with the high cost.
If they’re only going to these expensive stores and buying expensive things, like going to the high-end markets as they often do and buying the high-end package food, you could start to associate Ayurveda, yoga, or plant-based eating, all of these things that they talk about with being inaccessible. Part of your point is that we need to promote different kinds of levels of this from the beginner’s mind, not just promoting the advanced techniques and the perfect people. Even for me, the issues when it comes to our physicalities, which is something that you touch upon in the book too, about how health can look differently.
There are things like fat shaming and how we’ve been conditioned through marketing to think that health looks a certain way. That’s not just skin color. That’s body shape and age, and how if you don’t fit into those models that we’re constantly seeing, you may feel like, “Am I not healthy? Am I going to be shamed if I show up somewhere with a different size body, whether it is something like yoga? Am I going to be shamed because I’ve never done yoga before? I’m afraid to go to a class because I don’t want to look foolish. What about donations? Yoga is a whole thing. There are all the different challenges, whether it is access like you don’t have a class around you. Are the classes too expensive?”
My mind’s blown when I think about all the years of yoga and various forms of exercise I’ve done. It’s pricey in a city like Los Angeles. The pandemic has opened up my mind, and I’m reminded that I can do yoga at home for free. I don’t have to pay some expensive yoga studio a monthly membership like I used to.
What I pay now to work out is 1/10 of the price of what I used to pay before the pandemic when I was going to in-person classes. Now it’s like, “Why was I paying so much money to do that?” I valued it, but it was very financially challenging to justify paying that price. I wonder how many people associate something like yoga with only a high price because not enough people remind you. As you said, you can do this stuff at home and at the grocery store. You don’t have to do all these high-end experiences that you see celebrities and influencers promoting.
It’s the part that is the most heartbreaking for me. It’s the reason why I created the Reclaiming Wellness Educational Initiative. It’s because I realize that I had so much pushback from people. Plant-based eating was the stuff that I got the most pushback, “Veganism is for the elite, wealthy, fancy, or is White people.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that. Every culture in the world has had plant foods that they consume the most. The bulk of their diet consisted of plant foods.
If you go back to the time when the paleo-people lived, because the paleo diet became so popular a couple of years ago, those people who ate meat ate meat only when they could afford it. It was the flesh that was the food of the rich. It was the whole foods that were the foods of the rest of us. We need to go back to that. We need to reclaim it in some way. To me, it was heartbreaking to see what you are talking about and what you’ve experienced yourself. Yoga is not just for privileged people that can afford to pay $25 a class and whatever other herbalism and Ayurveda.
I appreciate the wealthy celebrities and the influencers bringing awareness, but I also urge them, because they’re the owners of the space, to do more and bring other types of demographics. At the end of the day, it will benefit the brands you’re working with, the products you’re trying to sell, and the community as a whole. Remember, we are the sum of us, just like there’s this concept called Ubuntu, which is the African philosophy I mentioned in the book about how I am because we are. If we can only figure out a way to heal at a community level, it will be so much easier for us to stay healthy.
I could bask in all of your statements here. It’s so wonderful. I’m deeply grateful for all of these discussions that we’re having. There’s so much to say around all of this. This idea that you bring up in your book about decolonizing the mind is fascinating. I would love to know what decolonizing the mind means to you. What does that statement mean? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.
It’s a concept that I started to explore when I was researching the book and started to interview all these beautiful women of color that are in the wellness world. They were the ones that opened my mind to the idea that we cannot, as people of color or as people that I have never incorporated some of these practices into their lives, continue to go at it from the lens of the colonizer because that lens is most likely very different from the original practice and intent.
When we decolonize the mind, we also move away from the concept that we need to be perfect and fill in the blank before we incorporate something. You hear it all the time in society, especially when it comes to body shaming, where you hear people say, “I will go to that yoga class when I lose the 30 pounds because I don’t want to be wearing this clothing when I’m a little bit heavy. I will wait until I find the level of my life before I learn to cook.” This is something that I hear all the time, “I’m single. I’m not interested. Once I get married, I will.”
That’s a very colonizer mentality, the mentality of the people that told you that you need to fit in this form in society or you need to be married by the time you’re 30, have a career, a house with a picket fence, three kids, and live happily ever after. We know nowadays that this is not the reality for most of us. Our concept of happiness does not need to conform to whatever society tells us that it does. That’s a great way to start decolonizing the mind. We need to stop looking at the people that created those rules in society hundreds of years ago because that society was very different than ours.
We need to make the rules that are ours that work for us and our reality, and from there, recognize we’re completely imperfect and what a beautiful thing it is to be imperfect. We are unique. We’re a universe. I’m going to find a way to go into this space. If the spaces are not open yet, let’s create space. Let’s find a way to decolonize the practices by creating the spaces in our communities, whether training to become a yoga instructor and opening your little studio in your community, and offering classes. I promise you that people will flock because they’re so good that you will try once or twice in a space that is inclusive and welcoming. You will be luckily and happily ready to go back to those spaces again.
That leads me to the final thing that I’m curious about at this moment. Although everything you’ve shared, I feel like I could ask so many follow-up questions. Before we started this session, you talked about how making money for you is a way for you to help other people. I want to give you an opportunity to put that into your own words and also answer the question of how we find the balance between doing things for profit versus true wellness. I’ve believed for years that the two could go hand-in-hand.
It’s a bit complicated because I’ve experienced how all the different ways in which I can monetize my work. There are times when it’s easy to slip into a place of focusing so much on your financial well-being as an individual that it can take you away from a mission to support other people with their well-being. It’s a lot harder than I initially realized. I believe people should be paid for their worth, but then it becomes tricky of, “What about the people that can afford to pay people things? How are they served?”
That’s something that I ask myself constantly when I’m charging and promoting something. I’m like, “What about the people that won’t be able to access this?” It’s complicated in my mind. I’m curious how you navigate that and see other people doing it. Are there examples, like the Kardashians, of people who may be missing the mark and excluding people in their work because everything seems to be driven more by profit? That probably sums up why I am curious about people like the Kardashians.
I’m constantly asking myself, “Who are these people? Why do they do what they do?” You could view them as a family that’s obsessed with fame, status, and money, but I also see the humanity in them. That draws me in, but I also don’t know how much of the humanity I’m witnessing has been marketed to me.
Part of what makes it so tough is that a studio could be very performative in its approach. They try to bring in diversity, but are they trying to include people so they can make money off of them? Are they trying to include people and just happen to be making money? This is the challenge. How have you approached this in your work? What has gone well, or what has been a challenge for you in this?
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I agree with you. I’ve struggled with this. I’ve been in business for years and I love educating. I am a teacher at heart at the end of the day. I recognize that as a teacher, I cannot make money just by teaching, building my own generational wealth, and making sure that I’m well taken care of, especially as I grow older. At the heart of it all, the desire to make a difference in someone’s life has always been present. For me, it has been a combination of things. Number one, there is the realization that I have a lot of knowledge, I can make a significant difference in somebody else’s life, and as a business person, recognize what the market value is for the services that I provide.
I charge based on the market value for the services that I provide. Like you, I spend years wondering how I can monetize this and who are the people I’m leaving behind. Once you get wrapped up in the day-to-day, you walk away from that thought process. It was not until this smackdown of the pandemic that I had to take a step back and take inventory of my life as a business person and recognize what I came here to do, I’m doing, but only to some extent. I am making a difference, but am I truly making a difference the way I wanted to when I left the corporate world?
That’s when I decided how I could compliment my salary in a way that frees up some time to allow me to teach and educate people that cannot afford the regular prices of a coach. That’s when I created this initiative. Luckily, in the United States and as freelancers or entrepreneurs, we have resources where we can write off certain expenses and things and balance your way that way.
To give you another example, one of the things that I’ve been struggling with for years is I want to create an herbal supplement line. I’ve been working on this for seven years. First of all, there’s not enough money. You need hundreds of thousands of dollars to start a proper company. Secondly, somebody like you is critical to me that I follow a lifestyle that protects myself, the community, and the environment as a whole. The supplement industry is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to using plastic that cannot be utilized as single-use plastic. That makes me cringe. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I want a brand that uses the least amount of plastic, is packaged in a way that is sustainable, and uses products and ingredients that are also sustainable, effective, and priced at a level that most people can use. What is the point of talking, writing, and educating people about this if tomorrow I’m going to come up with a supplement line where each bottle is $30? I can’t do that. If that means I have to wait until there’s even more money in the bank for me to make that shift, that will be what has to happen.
It’s heartbreaking because it’s been in my heart and soul for seven years. It hasn’t happened yet, but I refuse to walk away from these basic principles that are important to me and that I know could make a big difference. Imagine if tomorrow, every supplement company did that. We could start educating people in more ways than one. It’s a struggle on it, but the passion is still very much there. I love what I’m doing. I hope one day to be able to do it. If I’m 50 or 60 when that day happens, that’s what it needs to be.
I fully support you in that. The supplement industry is something else we could go on and on about because it’s all complex. It’s fascinating to me how it is simple yet complex at the same time. It’s acknowledging that it is not easy and straightforward, but if we do simple things day-by-day for ourselves and think about other people along the way, at least we’re making some progress versus standing still and feeling unsure about what to do.
Thank goodness for people like you that have broken it down through your book, social media, and advocacy. It’s just so wonderful. I would love to leave off with this. Where can somebody go next? Jovanka, in your own words, can you share with us what the journey is like for someone who’s read this blog and want to dive more into your work and take the next step with you? Where do they begin?
If you want to learn more about me, you can type in my name, Google my first name, or Reclaiming Wellness Jovanka. Chances are you’re going to find me. Even beyond there, what I want people to take with them is when you reclaim some of these practices, regardless of what part of the world you come from, who’s your ancestry, or which practice calls you the most, remember that when you incorporate them, you’re not only honoring the lineage of the people that passed on that knowledge all the way up to now.
You’re honoring this amazing thing we call body, and you’re honoring the people that come after you. You are a vessel for education. You have the ability to pass on that knowledge. It won’t benefit just you. It will benefit generations to come. Whether it is with the book, any other book, podcasts or books like yours, or anything else that calls you to reclaim some part of your wellness practice, do it. You won’t regret it.
Thank you for everything you’ve shared with us in this episode. Your honesty and transparency have blown me away. I’m deeply grateful because I’ve been wanting to talk about these things and better understand them. You did such a great job. Thank you so much for being here, Jovanka. I’m deeply grateful to you.
Thank you. It has been such a pleasure as always. Thank you so much for having me for the conversation.
- Jovanka Ciares
- Twitter – Jovanka Ciares
- Reclaiming Wellness
- The Vegan Ketogenic Diet Cookbook
- Tony Okamoto – Previous Episode
- https://www.Amazon.com/dp/1608687848 – Reclaiming Wellness
About Jovanka Ciares
Jovanka Ciares is a former entertainment executive turned Wellness expert, detox specialist, nutrition educator and author. She is the creator of the Wellness Smackdown™, a proprietary detox and weight loss program for natural weight loss that will be featured on the first season of ABC’s “My Diet Is Better Than Yours”.
Jovanka studied nutrition with best-selling author Dr. T. Colin Campbell at Cornell University and life/wellness coaching at the Spencer Institute. She offers lectures, workshops and wellness coaching in both English and Spanish.
She has spent over 10 years studying and experimenting with alternative therapies, nutrition, herbalism and more. Jovanka has personally experienced the healing power of a holistic lifestyle and proper nutrition. Her journey towards self-healing, peace and happiness became her motivation to inspire and support others to do the same.
Jovanka is a featured expert at Whole Foods, Veria Living, Fox News LA, NPR and CBS Radio. She’s also a regular contributor in Spanish-language media outlets like Telemundo and a contributing guest expert at The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, BlogHer and PositivelyPositive. Jovanka gave her first TEDx talk on “Rethinking Failure” in November 2013.
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