Danae Laura is changing the face of yoga by incorporating her passion for social justice into her business, Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio and inviting all to practice with her. When interviewing Laura, I assumed that I would ask all the questions. Little did I know, she had a few questions of her own. Before we started the interview, Laura asked me how I identified in terms of gender and race, this gave me a glimpse into the theme of the interview. Throughout her life, Laura has developed a passion for social justice that she expressed through both of her businesses; first Compassionate Commerce and second Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio. A few minutes into the interview, Laura pulled out four different yoga magazines and one by one she asked me to describe what I saw on the cover. The first, a woman in her late seventies practicing yoga. The next two featured African American women in yoga poses. The last, featured Seane Corn, a stereotypical “bendy white woman”, however; Corn acknowledges her white privilege and uses her platform to educate. Laura used this exercise to explain how her business, Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio is not about not including women in the majority rather, it’s about making sure that all can benefit from yoga. The majority of yoga practices market to white women, therefore most yoga studios are in predominantly white neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods have limited access to these studios. Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio works to eliminate this disparity by bringing yoga classes to students who have less accessibility to stationary studios due to implicit discrimination.
Laura’s passion for social justice developed at a young age. She grew up in a blended family; her step father was white and her mother was Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Filipino. While her mother never hid her identity, she grew up without her culture and therefore identified as white. As Laura got older she became involved with METCO, a bussing system that enables inner city children to attend better schools in suburban areas where she became exposed to more diversity. This inspired her to study social justice at New York University where she was a Martin Luther King Scholar. Through these programs she was encouraged to explore her own identity for the first time. Laura explained how she is a person of color; however, due to her skin color she has experienced the privileges of whiteness. She is able to use both of her experiences to educate communities that cross segregated lines, including her business.
Both Laura’s parents pursued entrepreneurship and while they did not pressure her to follow in their footsteps, entrepreneurship was normalized. Her first business, Compassionate Commerce was a marketing company for the natural food industry that focused on sustainable and fair trade products. Laura’s step father had a large influence in her first business. He introduced her to the idea that a business should be both for the community and for mercy, hence the name Compassionate Commerce. When building a business or product, “if we do not think about the people involved along the way, we will not think about the people along the way.” Laura incorporated social justice into her first business, Compassionate Commerce by marketing only for fair trade products and brands that cared about the people behind the products. After seven years of growth along the East Coast and Colorado, Compassionate Commerce took a natural but dramatic downturn due to the economy.
During this uncertain time in her life, Laura turned to her yoga practice as a powerful resource. She understood the weight of the decisions she needed to make for her company and she recognized that in order to make these decisions her mindfulness had to become a priority. Laura felt as though the mindfulness she acquired from yoga gave her an advantage. In other words, Laura effectively made her company national, whereas most entrepreneurs would have given up. While Compassionate Commerce had an upswing, it did not gain the traction needed. Yoga allowed Laura to view the situation for what it was rather than negatively. As she began to deconstruct Compassionate Commerce, she simultaneously started building her current business, Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio.
Throughout her first business, Laura learned “that there will always be a rollercoaster, really no matter what business you’re in . . . there is always going to be a wild ride but it’s how you . . .prepare yourself to be resilient” that differentiates successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs.Successful entrepreneurs have the mindfulness to view situations in different lights and make the most effective decisions. Laura emphasized how yoga allowed her to practice mindfulness, which allowed her to view her decisions from alternative perspectives. Laura does not measure her success by profit, rather takes small accomplishments and evaluates how she made an impact on someone. In return, that person will hopefully leave an impact on someone else, resulting in a community wide impact.
Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio is unique in that Laura travels to her students, allowing for a more diverse student body. All are welcome to practice at the Selfmade Travel Yoga Studio but Laura targets a non “bendy white woman” audience.
In popular yoga, most people hyper focused on the physical training, whereas Laura caters each class to the students. The self-made part of her business comes from the idea o f “our empowerment coming from inside out versus being taught that if we look a certain way, behave a certain way, which even happens in the yoga community, which even happens in the yoga studios, that we will then be accepted.” One of Laura’s most loyal customers started practicing with her because he was experiencing tension in his life due to his work environment. Laura told him she could not solve his problems; however she could give him the tools needed to evaluate his problems. After practicing for a while, he gained a new perspective on his situation and decided to change jobs. He no longer has negative tension as a result of work and he is living a more fulfilled life.
Selfmade Travel Yoga is working to normalize yoga for all people and Laura believes that
normalization of all identities can help close the race gap. Implicit bias presents the greatest
obstacle in the race gap and if all identifications could be normalized in schools, then that would translate into the workforce. Laura uses her dual identity of colored and white to creates a space where all identities are normalized and people can practice acceptance alongside yoga. By creating an accepting environment, Laura is empowering all people to become allies to one another. Laura believes the greatest advantage of being an entrepreneur is the ability to decide who she works with as well as shaping her work culture. Working with mindful people creates a more positive and accepting environment.
Selfmade Travel Yoga allows people to try yoga who originally thought they were incapable for some reason. Watching people not allowing age, ethnicity, or other obstacles stop them from trying inspires Laura the most. She currently teaches a weekly class at Cambridge Hospital which allows for a diverse student body in terms of race, age, gender, and ability. Laura explained that “a few students feel destined to do chair yoga for the rest of their lives, when in fact their main issue is asking for help standing back up at the end of class.” Laura’s works to normalize diversity in the yoga studio by helping students feel comfortable in their skin and give them the ability “to act from a place of authenticity instead of trying to fit into this culture ” of the “bendy white women.” When students let go of their self consciousness, they discover they are more capable than they thought and they build a sense of confidence, explained Laura.
Through her diverse upbringing and exposure to a variety of cultures, Laura has developed a unique dual identity that inspired her to create a traveling yoga business in order to incorporate diversity into yoga practice. She has incorporated a passion for social justice into her businesses by bringing the “bendy white woman’s” world to minority neighborhoods and creating an inclusive environment for all. Laura hopes that students develop a mindfulness where they feel comfortable in their own skin and have the ability to view the world from different perspectives. Laura believes that fighting the racial gap begins with normalizing diversity in all aspects of life, and she emphasized that “everyone can be an ally.”
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Header image courtesy of selfmadeyoga.com.