These days, all you need is a basic knowledge of superfoods and an iPhone upgrade to be deemed a social media influencer. So how do you distinguish between the people on Instagram who can provide solid info, inspiring ideas, and encouragement along your own health and wellness journey and the many one-trick ponies filling feeds with butt selfies? We can help you cut through all the noise (and smoothie bowls).
Welcome to Who’s Good, a regular interview series from the editors of What’s Good that catches up with the best, brightest, and boldest social media has to offer.
Up this week: We talked to Sara DiVello, yoga instructor, Athleta brand ambassador, and author of the best-selling book, Where in the OM Am I? One Woman’s Journey from the Corporate World to the Yoga Mat. You may have seen her work in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Marie Claire, or MindBodyGreen, where she shares inspiring, friendly advice on how to bring Zen to a busy lifestyle. (More on that below!)
Sara, thanks for chatting with us! Let’s start with your yoga practice. How did you come into it, and what are your focuses as a yoga instructor?
So happy to chat! I love The Vitamin Shoppe and find myself in-store a healthy number of times per week. I started doing yoga because my heart was broken—I continued because it gave me tools to manage my anxiety and insomnia, which totally changed my life. The full story is, my boyfriend at the time dumped me, and shortly thereafter, I got laid off when my company was acquired by a much-larger one. Talk about a personal-professional double-whammy! I felt rejected in both spheres of my life and plummeted into depression—and the fact that it was a dark, dreary, freezing cold winter in Boston probably didn’t help. The post-practice peacefulness I felt after yoga helped me through that. I then stayed with my practice for next 17 years because of the ways yoga changed my life. It helps me feel calm, grounded, and centered, which is literally life-changing for a chronically anxious person like me!
My focus now as a teacher is to share the same tools that helped me. I lead a slow, mindful, therapeutic-oriented practice, and I set a tone that is warm, welcoming, and accepting of ALL, regardless of age, ability, or experience. I have people in their 70s and 80s in my classes and I also have super-flexible professional dancers. Often, I have people who tell me they hate yoga but somehow like what I teach. But they’re all there because something resonates with them in some way.
My theory is that when you set a tone of welcoming acceptance, and give people the tools to slow down, tune in to the deepest parts of themselves, and—in the process—connect to something sacred, you provide a key that they can use for their unique journey and healing.
I don’t teach, preach, or practice any of the “cool stuff” you may see on Instagram (like headstands or arm balances). I’m here to give myself and others the tools to slow down, connect, and heal anxiety, insomnia, and the terrible sense of being chronically overbooked and undernourished when it comes to time, energy, and resources.
Tell us a little about your book, Where in the OM Am I? One Woman’s Journey from the Corporate World to the Yoga Mat. It was an NIEA winner for Best Memoir and Shape Magazine selected it as a best book. Who is this book for?
OM is for anyone wondering where they are in their life, what the heck is going on, and if this is all there is. It’s for people feeling stuck, who have a gnawing sense of deep-down dissatisfaction, or a gentle yearning for more. It’s also for people who just need a good laugh. One of my favorite reviews said it’s “The Devil Wears Prada meets Eat, Pray, Love….” And, I would add, “with some humor from The Office thrown in on the side.”
All kidding aside, the book is about finding what you want to do in life, as told through my transition from working in financial services to teaching yoga, and all of the super-crazy “characters” in both worlds. It also addresses how women can be so mean to other women both in the workplace AND in the yoga world (and let me tell you—the yoga mean girls really caught me off guard!).
Overall, I wanted readers to know that they’re not alone, that this is their one glorious life and they deserve to pursue what would make them extraordinarily happy. And, that if I can make a shift, anyone can.
Tell us about your work as a brand ambassador for Athleta.
I was incredibly honored when Athleta chose me as one of seven U.S. yoga ambassadors when they launched their ambassador program in 2015. I continue in this role today. As an ambassador, I provide free health and wellness events to the Boston community, which is super-important to me. I fully believe in Athleta’s mission to support and empower ALL women—of all ages, sizes, abilities, and backgrounds. Athleta also provides educational opportunities to the women who manufacture and sew their clothes, and that is equally important to me.
You recently spoke at the WELL Summit, an event series aimed toward self-improvement. As a keynote speaker, what did that mean to you—and what did your speech revolve around?
Even though I do it all the time, I’m actually a very nervous public speaker, so to get up in front of 500 people and share an intimate story is vulnerable and scary for me, but it’s also deeply meaningful. I passionately believe in the power of storytelling—in each person’s ability to positively impact someone else’s life. It’s the same foundational belief I have about writing a book—if you have a story and are called to share it, you probably should. Because if you can open someone else’s eyes, heart, and mind, you can change their life–and that is one of the best and most powerful things we can do in our lifetime.
My speech was about creating and embracing your best life. I focused on how my mother’s terminal breast cancer diagnosis made me committed to living each day fully, to dreaming big dreams and pursuing them with unyielding focus and unrelenting dedication, because to do so is to honor the gift that we have each been given and that is the gift of another day. That commitment is part of what motivated me to leave my “safe” career in financial services and risk going after my dream to be an author.
You do a lot of free events and workshops. Can you tell us about why you offer communities services like these?
I grew up poor and consequently didn’t have access to a lot of opportunities that I would’ve wished for. I was the first in my family to go to college and I worked my way through. I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity and for all the opportunities that came about as a result of it. So now I’m committed to doing what I can to give back.
Yoga, health, and wellness can get pretty pricey, which can squeeze out a lot of people. So as an Athleta ambassador (and in other volunteer/donation capacities), I provide complimentary yoga, meditation, mindful eating, and other health and wellness events and classes to the community, in an effort to make these accessible to ALL.
I’m really excited because I just completed my fourth year of teaching Yoga on the Charles for the Esplanade Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining green spaces in Boston, where they then host free health and fitness classes for the community.
It’s one of my favorite things to do. We gather between 300 to 600 people each week, and it’s so wonderful to be outside, breathe fresh air, and do yoga together as the sun sets over the Charles River. The sunsets are spectacular and the classes, while always wonderful, are also always unique. One time the mounted police rode two horses past the class and we all kind of paused to laugh (and take photos)!
But whether I get 600 people, or 16 at a more-intimate event, what really matters to me is seeing that spark of awareness click on. That “Ohhhh…Yes! This feels good! I can do this!”
Speaking of horses, you recently talked to Elite Daily about a new trend called HORSE YOGA (we didn’t know that was a thing). We actually published an article on eight adventurous yoga styles, but this is a new one. You must give us the scoop.
That was so fun. I love Elite Daily and the writer who interviewed me is hilarious. But when it comes to horse yoga, my take is this: I love horses and I love yoga. I also love spaghetti and ice cream, but I do not love these things smooshed together.
I’m a yoga traditionalist. My focus is on getting people out of pain and in that state of profound stillness, where they can connect to the deepest parts of themselves. In that stillness and connection, they can calm, ground, restore their energy, and rejuvenate.
Again, I don’t teach, preach, or practice any of the “cool stuff” you may see on Instagram, like horse yoga or balancing on one pinky over a ravine. I don’t need it. I’m here to relax, rest, and recharge (and to share those tools with others).
What are your top three tips for living a well-balanced life, especially for the busy folks out there?
1. Don’t try to do it all as defined by anyone else. Do what feels good for you.
2. Take time for the deep breaths every day.
3. Get enough sleep and eat well. I know I’m a wreck without sleep and I need to eat every few hours—sort of like a two-year-old (but taller). If you’re well-rested and well-fed, everything else is possible. But you’ve GOT to have that strong foundation.
Do you have any go-to vits, supps, or smoothie recipes that keep you feeling high-energy?
Yes! I take a women’s multivitamin every day, as well as fish oil, and vitamin D supplements (again—I live in Boston. It gets dark a 4:30 p.m. during the winter! I need extra vitamin D!). And I start every day with a cup of green tea and honey, followed by a protein-packed, fiber-filled smoothie.
What can we expect to see from you as the year goes on?
I’ve got a ton of awesome events coming up. From the Nantucket Yoga Festival July 9-10, to Yoga on the Charles in Boston every Wednesday July through September (free!), Day of WELLness in Boston in April, WELL Summit 2018 in NYC, and many more events up and down the east coast and around the country. Come hang with me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or my website where you can sign up for my mailing list and be the first to learn about what I’ve got cooking (not to mention—you can get my friends and family discounts!).
When I’m home, I’m working on my next book—it’s actually a true crime murder mystery, so stay tuned! All this and more is on my social media and newsletter so follow me if you like healthy recipes, yoga you can do at your desk, restful sleep hacks, and other tips, tricks, and tools you can weave into your day to help live your best life. I also do a lot of giveaways.
Lastly, I truly LOVE what I do so if you’ve got questions, send me a message! As you may have noticed, I like to chat.