It’s not always an easy feat to find spaces in life that don’t feel competitive. Where there isn’t a lingering narrative in the back of our minds comparing ourselves to others. And when it comes to exercise classes? It’s even more rare. But why is it that in a time we’re gifting our bodies to be taken care of, we’re focusing on what they’re not? Libby Nicholaou set out to change this. By founding Setu Yoga, she has created a yoga community driven by supporting and promoting diversity. Recently we were able to hear more from her about how diversity influences the perception of our own bodies, what wellness means to her, and her journey of creating a healthy relationship with her body.
How did the dream to create Setu come about? Was there a particular moment that revealed the need for a diverse, inclusive yoga community to you?
Setu came about when I was completing my yoga teacher training in May 2017. One of the final segments of the training covered diversity and inclusivity in yoga. Daba Briggs, a NY yoga teacher, led us through a conversation on the importance of being mindful of how we create a welcoming and compassionate space as yoga teachers for all students in the room. She put us in partners to brainstorm special projects we could create that facilitated inclusivity. I ended up partnering with her and shared my ideas, which were vague since Setu wasn’t fully planned. Her feedback affirmed my desire to support inclusivity in yoga as a larger project. About a month later, I realized what Setu was and began working on it.
Tell us how you go about creating this community filled with a variety of nationalities, races, gender identities, body types, and life stories.
I make sure wherever Setu shows up, it is through a group of people who embody diversity. You’ll experience this in our online teacher directory, our in-person events, our social media feeds, online video classes and the interviews on our blog. In each of these spaces, I’m trying to make space for diverse voices and bodies to be heard and seen.
Compassion, respect, and love are pillars that support these spaces.
Our image and perception of our own bodies, as well as others, has a great impact on us, whether we notice it or not. How do you think being surrounded by a diverse group of people influences this impact?
Being surrounded by a diverse group of people removes the notion that there is one ideal person who we should all be trying to look or act like. At the Setu events I feel this. You can look around the room and see many different people, all beautiful in their own way. You stop being concerned about how you fit in because everyone fits in by being themselves.
Mainstream media has fed us imagery of people that look a certain way for so long that we are subconsciously comparing ourselves to the standard they set.
But when there is no standard, when the emphasis is taken off of finding commonality in our external appearance, we start to look for commonality among our internal being - our experiences, feelings and thoughts.
Yoga itself helps us connect to our bodies on many levels. What has practicing yoga done for your relationship with your body?
Yoga continues do incredible things for my body. The longer I practice the more I learn, feel, and grow. Primarily it’s shown me how to have a positive relationship with my body. I grew up playing fast-paced sports and feeling the adrenaline rush. When I started practicing yoga about 10 years ago, I realized I enjoyed staying in one place and moving intentionally. Every movement counts in yoga. There are no throwaway parts of the practice.
The practice changed something in my mind and brought intentionality into other parts of my life. I started being mindful about the things I was putting in my body, how much sleep I was getting, and the environments I surrounded myself in. Making these adjustments to my day to day gave me more love for my body. Earlier in life, I struggled with my self perception and am grateful to yoga for helping me find peace in my body.
What does your wellness routine look like? When you fall out of that routine, how do you get back on track?
I feel like everything I do is part of my wellness routine. An ideal wellness day is one where the first thing I do in the morning is read, journal, and meditate, followed by making a smoothie with fruits, nut butters, and vegetables. Then I shower (the things in my shower are definitely part of my routine, using natural products on my body is a reminder of how much I care for myself), in the afternoon I’ll prepare lunch at home - often quinoa and seasonal produce, I’ll practice yoga and/or teach, and come home to make dinner and relax.
Staying on track means having patience and love for myself. I lived many years with a different approach and often felt like I was falling off track.
Now I see wellness as a way of bringing joy and compassion into everything I do.
My routine is an tool that helps reinforce the positive way I show up for myself and others. I definitely have challenging days and feel unbalanced, but by integrating wellness into everything I do, I’m provided with many access points to recenter and align.
What does Setu mean? Why did you choose this for the name of your community?
Setu comes from Sanskrit and means bridge. I chose it because I believe this community has the potential to authentically connect people. When I was looking for the name, I wanted one that meant something in another language – something with a legacy. Initially I was looking for a Greek name, since I’m half Greek, but many of those names were in use or really long [laugh]. I started looking through names of yoga poses to see if one had a meaning that resonated with me. When I found Setu, it felt on point.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or tools that have shaped your relationship with your body and/or your wellness that you would recommend?
My recent favorite books are:
Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
Curvy Yoga by Anna Guest Jelley
Practice You by Elena Brower (more of a journal than book)
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
Podcast: She’s All Fat
Tools: Aromatherapy things like essential oils + a diffuser, palo santo and sage, candles, salts. The smells they provide calm and ground me.
For any women out there who don’t have a good relationship with their body, what is a first step you would tell them to take?
Listen to your body and show it compassion. This may take many attempts - it took me a good 22 years and I’m still learning. Some ways to do this are through positive affirmations, using a kind voice in your head, keeping a gratitude journal, finding time to be in nature, and other ways that calm your nervous system. Through this process you’ll become your body’s best friend.
You’ll start to treat your body like you do your best friend - with patience and respect.
What is your greatest hope for the future of Setu?
My greatest hope for Setu is that people feel an abundance of love and respect through the community. In turn that they share it with others so we can heal each other instead of hurt each other.
Photos & graphics courtesy of Setu