Latinas in wellness HipLatina
Photo: Courtesy of Yadira Garcia
Lifestyle

9 Latinas That Are Changing The Way We Look at Wellness

In recent years, the global wellness industry has turned into a 4.2 trillion dollar biz. There are countless products and practices available now, to help you live your best and healthiest life. It’s inspiring to live in a time where folks — women especially — are finally putting their health and well-being first. But what we don’t talk enough about is the wellness industry’s diversity issue and how women of color are often ostracized. Not seeing enough Brown or Black women leading businesses or movements in wellness, while society continues to perpetuate “white skinny girl” body ideals, often does us far more harm than good which is why women of color are finally taking things into their own hands. Not only are they recommitting themselves to wellness and self-care but they are also making it their mission to make these things accessible to communities of color because after all, EVERYONE deserves access to a healthier and fulfilling life. Here’s a look at a few badass Latinas who are unapologetically changing the way we look at wellness.

Annya Santana, Founder of Menos Mas

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“How can people who have experienced systemic economic and social oppression feel wellness in their lives? You have to keep pushing the message that wellness is about making adjustments to your life, not losing who you are and what you love.” – I had the incredible honor to sit down with @crystalgenay for @nytimesfashion to share my #wellness journey, how it’s become a luxury to white women, and how with @menos.mas I aim to make a #healthylifestyle speak to my community. Surreal. Me. On The Times. I’m geeking the fuck out! but when you have a purpose that’s more than just about you and you’re authentic to who you are, be relentless in the pursuit of being heard. A million thanks to my girl @joannanikasnyc for believing in the message and spreading it to the world. I’m here for US, para #migente #ForTheCulture 📷 @indiasl #MenosMasMob #MenosMas

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On how she got into wellness:

This Bronx-born, Paris-bound Dominicana fell into wellness while trying to desperately treat her own acne. “Finding a solution to my acne problems put wellness on my lap and rather quickly,” she tells HipLatina. “I read the China Study and after doing a 10-day juice fast and immediately turning vegan and drinking 3 liters of water a day, I saw my skin clear completely, my anemia went away, and my energy levels and mood were the best I’d seen. I knew it was important to know what I put inside and on my body.”

Working out and eating plant-based drastically improved Santana’s life. Her holistic approach to being healthy eventually inspired her to create her own gender-fluid clean line, Menos Mas.

“The inspiration for Menos Mas the skincare brand started with a balm I created. It was a combination of all these natural ingredients, most of which I had in my kitchen, that pushed me to experiment. That very balm is part of our collection now. It cleared my skin and friends and family kept seeing incredible results from using it,” she says. ‘The incredibly positive feedback and push of friends and family lead me to really take it as a serious venture. I wanted to also create a space that really made people understand that beauty starts from the inside out. That it’s not just clean products but a clean lifestyle. After years of being in White-oriented fitness spaces and still not seeing any Latin representation, I knew Menos Mas was that space. Menos Mas at its core is simply bridging the gap between wellness and culture, our roots, our way, and within that uplifting our community to take care of themselves.”

On how her Latina roots inspire her wellness lifestyle:

“The very root of being Dominican is being DIY. Every Dominican family has remedies caseros. a.k.a. there’s a remedy for everything in your kitchen, in the food our planet grows,” she says. “I almost feel like Menos Mas is full circle because it brought me back to that. To understanding that my culture has been making nature its source of health since the beginning of time and all these advances in science and medicine are incredible in some areas, but the foundation of everyday good health starts with what you feed your body from the inside out.”

On what she wants the Latinx community to understand about wellness:

“I wish I had a megaphone everyday so I can just tell my community that we are the root of health and wellness. That we don’t need to sacrifice any part of who we are to be the very best to ourselves. That it’s simply about a few minor changes in mind-framing in adapting a healthy lifestyle that drastically changes your life.”

Anita Shephard, Founder of Anita’s Coconut Milk Yogurt

 

On how she got into wellness:

“I stumbled into wellness. I was a chef and I was working in a bakery and with a catering company. I also had my own home-baking business on the side and it was mostly desserts, pastries, and baked goods,” she says. “The focus was on quality and ingredients. There was no focus on health or wellness. The chef that I was working for used yogurt a lot in his baking recipes and that is where I got into yogurt as a baking ingredient. The main focus was always on the ingredients — not wellness. I myself — as a result of working in the business —became very unhealthy. It kind of backfired because it was a lot of animal products like cream, butter, and eggs. I started having digestive problems and weight gain and just felt gross all the time.”

Shephard’s boyfriend at the time (now husband) had inspired her to go on a vegan detoxing cleanse and after sticking with it, she immediately noticed a difference in how her body felt. The cleanse eventually inspired her to go vegan and consume a plant-based only lifestyle. “I never went back,” she says. “I started to feel amazing. I felt better than I ever did in my life and I realized this was for me. That’s how it started. When I decided to do this for myself, I then decided to do it with all of my recipes.”

On what inspired Anita’s Coconut Milk Yogurt:

“I got to a point where I realized I couldn’t bake for other people and not taste or believe in it myself so I started to convert the recipes I had been perfecting with no animal products. The biggest challenge was replacing yogurt because a lot of other things were very easily replaceable. Yogurt was the one thing I’d go to the stores and look around for and nothing was suitable for recipes. Most of the yogurt products back then were filled with additives and most of the additives made them taste fake. They also didn’t have a yogurt-like texture.”

Shephard’s coconut yogurt is the first culture blend of its kind and has the highest probiotic strain count in non-dairy yogurt. It’s made from organic coconut milk and contains a luxurious yogurt similar — if not richer to dairy yogurt.

On what wellness means to her:

“Wellness is something I grappled with. I have some negative connotations around wellness and one of my negative connotations is that sometimes I feel it’s this isolating thing that becomes all about the individual and wellness becomes this thing where you’re just cutting yourself off from the world, cutting yourself off from your problems or the negative forces affecting you. I can see why that’s necessary especially in our country where things are becoming increasingly hostile and dangerous for women. Of course, we need a retreat, we need a place to go where we feel whole, where we feel safe, and we feel like it’s for us. I think that’s the good aspect of wellness. It feels very women-centered and it feels like a safe place you can go to in an overall hostile world. But I’ve been trying to figurer out how to help make wellness more of a community thing… I’ve been trying to figure out to incorporate social activism in wellness. I think that’s going to become increasingly important. Where it can be this avenue to connect us and not hide out from the hostility of the world but attack is at the same. When I think of myself, I think, I can’t have wellness as an individual unless there’s wellness in the community — in the world. Especially as a Latina, when I see other people under attack I feel like it’s not enough to just take care of myself and make sure I’m okay. I want to make sure it’s beyond just me.”

Gloria Lucas, Founder of Nalgona Positivity Pride

Photo: Courtesy of Gloria Lucas

On what got her into wellness:

“The common belief is that chubby/fat people cannot be considered healthy and that there is this urgent need to make larger bodies more aligned to a thin ideal at any cost. The way wellness has more recently been commercialized has been within a capitalist, white supremacist, ableist, fat phobic, and classist stance,” she says. “Additionally, Native/Indigenous teaches and practices from around the world have been dishonored and commodified. I come more from the perspective that wellness is a stance with a lot of privilege and that yes, health and wellness is important but I don’t wish to moralize it. It is hard to achieve wellness where there is fat discrimination, environmental racism, food disparities, and poverty. Disabilities, aging, chronic illness, and death are natural and will always exist. Nalgona Positivity Pride was created in order to combat the idea that one of the ultimate goals for women of color is to maintain a “moderate” weight and appearances in order to be deemed as valuable and healthy.”

Lucas battled with her weight and struggled with eating disorders throughout her life — since her pre-teens years. She felt pressure to be thin and the lack of eating eventually put her at her lowest weight but also at her unhealthiest, most self-destructive, and unhappiest state. Coming to a better place with her body and no longer feeding into the lies society was telling her about her body, inspired her to help others to combat fat-phobia and find self-love and acceptance.

On how the wellness trend is hurting women:

“The wellness industry is built on fat-phobia. Over and over again, evidence proves fat-phobia is detrimental to people’s health, fatness is not an indicator of health status, dieting can lead to disordered eating. There is no long-term evidence based method for weight loss so why continuously encourage weight loss when it is harming people? Instead, why not meet people where they are at instead of pressuring weight-loss? We wish for Nalgona Positivity Pride is to serve as a reminder to folks of the resiliency that exists among ourselves. We wish to encourage a culture in which Black, Indigenous, and people of color of all sizes can live without shame and for people to come in tune with their bodies instead of depending on external factors to do all the defining.”

On what she wants people to get about wellness:

“If people really care about wellness, then they should fight socio-political disparities. Wellness is not an individual or self-will matter but a collective effort. Also, not all traditional ancestral practices are meant to be shared, sold, or consumed. Ancestral knowledge comes with a responsibility to ancestors and groups of people. When the medicine is misused it can create a lot of harm.”

Jacquia Rodriguez, Reiki Master, Vibrational Alchemyst , and founder of Wave of Healing

Courtesy of Jacquia Rodriguez

Rodriguez started her career in fitness after years of weight training, first as a trainer and then as a fitness director and in management and eventually found her calling in reiki healing and energy work.

On what got her into wellness:

“It was when I was in general management that I started to become unhappy with the fitness industry. The focus became less about helping people — which is why I went into the work because of what it had done for me — and more about numbers, stress, and burnout,” she says. “I knew it was time to let it go but I didn’t listen so my body gave me an ultimatum in the form of a hip injury and forced me to take a time out. I did and went back to my basics — the things I loved before I started prioritizing everything but me which were writing, meditation, and finally getting reiki certified.”

On what got her into reiki healing:

“I always had a strong intuition but I never trusted that sense. I didn’t listen and boy did I learn from not listening. That feeling I ignored and made excuses for would always prove itself true. At the time there was no one going around teaching about intuition and energy, at least not in my surroundings. It was taboo to have interest in the metaphysical — the occult. Being Catholic-raised, anything other than a set of organized beliefs (deeply rooted in religion) was considered demonic despite the fact that we all went to get our cards read, participated in baños and fiesta de palo on the hush.”

Fast forward and Rodriguez finally found her calling after years of going back and fourth about making energy work her main focus.

“One day I found myself writing about how I got started and I remembered that when I was in my teens my dad showed me a prayer from Dominican Republic, they call it Ensalmo and he said I could use it for headaches and to remove warts. He did it all the time and helped people but I never really put much thought into it or saw it as healing… When this came back to me, I shared with a friend that insisted I ask more about it and I did and that was when I discovered my grandfather was a healer who healed animals and people of all different ailments. This is where everything really came all together for me.”

On what wellness means to her:

“Most people think wellness is only associated with food and exercise, but it expands beyond this including out emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. How we view and treat ourselves, what we engage in (conversations, people etc.) how we interact with others, confronting and healing our own toxic patterns, as well as limiting toxicity in whatever way it shows up. Wellness encompasses the nourishment of our complete self. Rooted in emotional awareness, self reflection, healthy boundaries, and self-acceptance. Ultimately, it is to live in peace.

Indhira Santana, Founder of My Wellness Solution in NYC

Courtesy of Indhira Santana

On what got her into wellness:

“My mom inspired me to get into wellness. When we came to the U.S. from Dominican Republic, she made a living by selling herbs and supplements. My sister and I were raised on preventative care and avoided getting sick,” she says. “It’s always been a way of life for my family so transitioning into the field from corporate America was a natural move. I think the major shift happened when I was working with a big pharmaceutical client and realized that those medications do more harm than good and really what our community needs is education.”

On what inspired My Wellness Solutions:

“At my Wellness Solutions, we believe in creating experiences that support and facilitate the pathway to vibrant health by simplifying complex health conditions and providing a holistic, step-by-step solution that begins with detoxing. With this in mind, we create all our services and programs ensuring that it’s not just a one-time experience but a lifestyle change. [My mom and I] wanted to create a space that was accessible to our community and fill the education gap between the general market consumer and Latinos/African Americans. Our communities just do not offer spaces like this and we are so blessed to be able to bridge that gap.”

On wellness trends she thinks are doing more harm than good:

“[Contrary to popular opinion], I think one trend that is doing more harm than good is the ‘vegan craze.’ I see a lot of clients becoming vegan because of trends or after watching a movie but transitioning without understanding balance and the nutritional repercussions can potentially do more harm. Without making educated and informed decisions, you can end up missing out on a a lot of nutrients that your body needs, or even worst, being an “unhealthy vegan” who eats French fries and other fast foods. It is particularly important in our Latino communities because we already are under-educated when it comes to our health.”

On what she wants the Latinx community to understand about health:

“I would love for the Latino community to understand we can achieve optimal health through BALANCE. We have such rich cultures and many fad diets and trends don’t take this into account. We can enjoy the foods from our countries AND a green superfood smoothie at the same time.”

Yadira Garcia, Certified Natural Foods Chef, Community and social justice food activist, and founder of Happy Healthy Latina

Photo: Courtesy of Yadira Garcia

 

On what got her into wellness:

“My junior year of college — at 20, I fell down two flights of stairs, herniating 4 discs (2 in my neck and back), 2 pinched nerves, a broken shoulder and tailbone. I am thankful to be alive and in a continual state of healing, however, life changed overnight and I went from being a first generation college attendee contemplating a semester abroad to full disability and learning to navigate a world of epidurals, cortisone shots, pain management, surgeries, home attendants, food stamps, Medicaid, SSI disability, and heavy narcotic medications,” she says. “This is what western medicine had to offer me in the form of healing and ‘wellness.’ I never felt less well or farther away from myself than at that point in life. I call it my ‘Ghost in the Shell’ years. I started thinking of my great grandmother often, the strong woman I have known who lived to 99-years old, still cooking for herself and taking care of her house until she passed. A small spark started in me that fanned into a flame to learn not just what wellness meant to me but what it meant to my ancestors and community.”

On what inspired Happy Healthy Latina:

“Happy Healthy Latina is a battlecry for education, unity, equity, justice and yes — even enjoyment within a broken food and healthcare system. What started as a personal journey, brought me directly face-to-face with a need in my community that I have a daily passion to speak on and fulfill. I quickly found out that being well is something we all want but not something we all have equal access too. The playing field is not leveled and what’s being affected is our quality of life. Tell me where in schools we are learning about nutrition or self-care. Tell me what respected public forums have been created for us to source ancestral healing modalities, culturally relevant knowledge, share our health issues, crowd source solutions and be open without companies trying to profit from our pain.”

On the wellness trends that are actually doing the Latinx community more harm:

“I want the villainization of our foods to go away. Even in our own community we villainize foods. You can’t be eating pastelon everyday and expect to feel well, just like you can’t eat hamburgers everyday. Life is about balance. You can however eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables, greens, healthy proteins, and fats especially those from our culture, and feel good about it. I also don’t ascribe to extreme workouts or diets that call you to completely deprive or vilify an entire food group. Examples I can think of are Keto, Atkins, Paleo, Gluten-Free (unless you have a verifiable Gluten Intolerance). Carbohydrates are not bad! You need carbs for energy. You don’t want to set yourself up for nutritional deficiencies that will later need to be addressed. You have to balance that need. Don’t shock your body into any result because that often begins the cyclical love-hate relationship with your own body image.”

Ysanet Batista, Social Justice food activist and founder of Woke Foods

Photo: Courtesy of Ysanet Batista,

On what inspired her to get into wellness:

“I decided to learn more about how to take care of myself after observing many of my family members struggling with illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart issues. I started to learn that many of these illnesses could be prevented or reversed with lifestyle changes such as eating a diet with more plants and vegetables, having access to green space, and moving your body,” she says. “From there I started to immerse myself in other wellness practices like mental (therapy and meditation) and spiritual (astrology, crystals, herbs) wellness.”

On what inspired Woke Foods:

“Woke Foods was inspired by my lived experiences — particularly my own health scare in 2015 when I got parasites and salmonella from eating street food. Part of my healing process included natural remedies made from garlic, papaya seeds, and honey. Soon after, I decided to shift to a plant-based diet and through cooking noticed how much Dominican and Afro-Caribbean food is innately plant-based.

On wellness trends that are harming the Latinx community:

“I think the biggest harm is the trend of weight loss and using powders and pills to lose weight. We have been led to believe that weight loss equals optimal health and that is a lie. I want to see that ideology go away and for us to focus on the wellness practices that have been around for centuries before the word existed. If you want to get well, go back to the medicine of our ancestors which was land grown food and plants. I’d like to see all communities have access to fresh food, plants, and green space and use it to nourish and preserve their health.”

Candy Calderon, Wellness coach, speaker, and founder of the Glow Wellness Tour

Photo: Courtesy of Candy Calderon

On what got her into wellness:

Everything started with my mom’s cancer diagnosis. I have loved health and wellness all my life but I also love business… My grandfather had passed away a few years before my mom was diagnosed but after my mom’s breast cancer I knew I had to do something; she was and still is my biggest inspiration and drive in life,” she says. “I took it upon myself to learn everything needed to help her heal faster and naturally (without negating traditional medicine of course). After her miraculous recovery, everybody started asking me to share my story — which I did and soon discovered that helping others to learn about prevention and how to lead healthier lives fulfilled me in a way I have never experienced before. I then decided to go back to school and get certified as a holistic health and wellness coach and my health and wellness career began!”

On what inspired the Glow Wellness Tour:

“After attending hundreds of wellness events that left me empty — I couldn’t relate and found many unrealistic [solutions] to the health and wellness challenges we face as women of color, I soon decided to help change the narrative. That’s how the event was conceived, a wellness event that caters to us, to our challenges and to our cultura… I wanted to create a platform where we would feel safe to interact to get in touch with our racies, our inner brujas, talk about mental health (which is very taboo in our society), drink green smoothies, and create wellness potions like the ones our abuelas used to make.”

On how Latinas can embrace wellness and a healthy lifestyle while still holding on to their Latinx traditions:

“Culturally, we Latinas are the the original curranderas using mother nature to our advantage for our health and wellness which is ingrained in our culture — in our blood. Part of my mission is to keep bringing awareness to this and the fact that being healthy does NOT have to be expensive when we tap into our culture. Just look at how much trust [we have] in our abuela’s potions, which are basically home-made remedies passed on generation to generation. For a minute we were losing that, but luckily with the boom of holistic health becoming more mainstream thanks to celebrities, millennials, and younger generations, we are now again embracing more natural healing methods, seeing health in a more holistic way which can also provide low-cost alternatives to modern medical care.”

Annie Flores-Nunez and Christina Villanueva, Founders of Push Pedal NYC

Photo: Courtesy of Annie Flores-Nunez

These two Washington Heights-based Latinas noticed that boutique indoor cycling studios at affordable rates in Latinx communities in NYC were nowhere to be found. 

On what inspired them to start Push Pedal NYC:

“We used to work out together, we would always travel outside of our neighborhood to find fitness options. When we became mothers, it became harder to dedicate time to leave our neighborhood of Washington Heights just to work out. So we decided to bring boutique fitness uptown and that’s when our idea was born.”

On the wellness trends that are doing the Latinx community harm:

“A fitness trend that is doing more harm than good and that we need to see go away is the notion that everyone who works out is perfectly fit; or that you have to look a certain way to be interested in wellness and fitness. The Latino community is truly diverse and you can be a mother from Washington Heights and show people how to have fun working out in your own neighborhood.”

On what they want the Latinx community to understand about health and wellness:

“What people need to understand is that you have to begin by being kind to yourself. Try to manage the mental aspect and know you can do it, you’re worth doing it and it can be done. Once that is mastered, you’ll see see that you’ll be committed to your health and fitness. Look into how you like to work out.”