Meditation: It is an ancient wellness practice that focuses on training awareness, attention, and compassion. It helps you slow down, be present and put a stop to the incessant chatter in our minds. You can learn more about the practice, view tips and find resources on our blog.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheba Zaidi and Genevive Savundranayagam, founders of Mahara Mindfulness — a contemporary lifestyle brand with a mission to create products and experiences that offer people a stepping-stone into a world of mindful practices and personal transformation. Mahara’s first product,
The Human Being Journal, was created as a direct response to the global pandemic to help people manage mental health and reflect holistically. The journal has been featured in Oprah Magazine as part of Oprah’s Healthy Living ‘O’ List, Jessica Alba’s wellness blog and Lauren Conrad’s gift guide. Learn more at maharamindfulness.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
We are the founders of Mahara — a contemporary lifestyle brand with a mission to create products and experiences that offer people a stepping-stone into a world of mindful practices and personal transformation. From years of personal experience with journaling, meditating and breathwork, we came to deeply understand the immense healing power of a lifestyle rooted in mindfulness and wanted to share that with others. In early 2020, we left our decade-long corporate careers to launch Mahara — never anticipating a global pandemic to hit just weeks later. But with every challenge, comes an opportunity. We decided to develop our first product, The Human Being Journal as a direct response to the pandemic to help people go inward, gain perspective and live more fulfilled lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Having launched just seven months ago, we remember one particular 48-hour period where we got three pieces of amazing news back-to-back. Firstly, we found out that the Oprah Magazine was going to feature The Human Being Journal as part of Oprah’s Healthy Living ‘O’ List — a full circle moment for us as the journal was inspired by a conversation Oprah had with Eckhart Tolle. Secondly, we closed our first North American retail partnership with one of our favorite stores. Lastly, Jessica Alba, who we admire and respect for her socially conscious brand Honest Company, showed her support for our journals on her social media channels with over 19 million followers. Needless to say, those two days were a whirlwind and we felt unbelievably high from all the positive traction our product was getting so early in our launch. However, all of this positive news had come off the heels of a few bad weeks and our biggest takeaway from that was the understanding that running a business requires a kind of tenacity and resilience because there will be days where you will experience high highs and others where there will be low lows. You have to be able to navigate the emotional pendulum of building a business with a measured attitude.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There was a day a few months ago where we woke up to news that our biggest competitor had just launched a product that was extremely similar to ours. Compared to them, we were a small fish, and we had just launched a month prior. There was a period of 24 hours where we felt defeated. We were a team of two and poured our heart into developing our journal. After many setbacks, and with the pandemic layered on top of everything, we experienced one of our lowest moments that day. We felt that we would be drowned out by competitor noise because they were bigger, more established and had a massive marketing machine behind them.
However, our biggest lesson from that experience came from us changing our relationship with competition. That moment taught us an invaluable business lesson — that competition is healthy. It helps validate your idea, reminds you that you’re on the right path and that there is a market for your product. Despite the initial mistake of wallowing in the low moment, we turned it around and it motivated us to keep going and understand that there is room for everyone as long as your product can speak for itself. We also reminded ourselves that our vision and mission was much bigger than one product and we were just getting started.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In many ways, we would say we are grateful to each other for getting us to where we are. In 2018 we were both at a crossroads in our career and personal lives and wanted to move into something more mission driven and aligned with our values. We helped each other take the leap to leave behind our careers and supported each other every step of the way in building the business.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
We launched Mahara during the pandemic as we saw there was a need for people to find a way to manage mental health (with numbers skyrocketing!). Our first product, The Human Being Journal, was developed as a direct response to the pandemic to help people gain much needed perspective. We found that many people were struggling and could not afford mental health treatments due to unemployment and limited benefits. Plus going to see a therapist was hard because of lockdowns and long virtual wait times. As avid journalers ourselves, we knew that it is scientifically proven that journaling is one of the most cost-effective ways to deal with anxiety and stress. We wanted our journal to have an impact globally in helping people manage their mental health with an effective mindfulness tool. In addition, giving back is baked into our philosophy and a percentage of all journal sales goes towards supporting mental health organizations.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
Here are our five “lifestyle tweaks” that we believe help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing. The best news? They are all simple and easy to adopt!
- Meditation: It is an ancient wellness practice that focuses on training awareness, attention, and compassion. It helps you slow down, be present and put a stop to the incessant chatter in our minds. You can learn more about the practice, view tips and find resources on our blog.
- Journaling: The art of writing down thoughts on paper can be one of the most effective mindfulness practices. Its benefits include managing stress and anxiety, building self-awareness, synthesizing your thoughts and cultivating self-understanding. You can learn more at Mahara’s blog.
- Practice gratitude: In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
- Breathwork: Remain conscious of your breath during the day. Most of us breathe shallow and need to retrain our lungs. Lamaze breathing — mostly known for childbirth — is a powerful tool to help relieve stress. According to a Japanese study — six, deep, prolonged breaths alone can instantly drop your blood pressure, raise alkalinity and change your mental state.
- Spend time in nature: Connecting with nature has immense therapeutic benefits — especially given our busy and digitally loaded lifestyles. Simply being in nature, such as walking on grass or sitting by a tree, has been shown to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and restores us. Scientific studies have also shown that spending time in nature aids in attention recovery, is emotionally restorative, and promotes general psychological well-being.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
We believe that practicing compassion would bring the most amount of wellness to the world (the ultimate goal of mindfulness!). This includes having compassion for yourself and others. For example, when things don’t go your way, instead of self-judgement and criticism, being able to demonstrate kindness and deep compassion for ourselves is paramount. Compassion can take the form of a mindful practice like meditation, journaling, expressing gratitude, giving back or connecting with a loved one. These acts of kindness help us not only bounce back from bad days but maintain a healthy sense of self.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
There are many bad days when you are building a business from the ground up. The five things we wish someone told us before we started are:
- Know your why: On bad days you need to be able to come back to your “why.” What is driving you to solve this problem? Why do you care to put your blood, sweat and tears into this every day? For us at Mahara, our intention was clear from the start. It was deeply personal — we wanted to make a meaningful difference in the world and inspire humanity to live mindfully.
- Be compassionate: The highs and lows of entrepreneurship can often feel like whiplash. This is why it is so important to have compassion towards yourself. For both of us, the mindfulness practices we had in place, including daily meditation, journaling, exercise and good nutrition helped us ensure we prioritized self-care. It was our way of showing kindness and deep compassion for ourselves which helped us bounce back from bad days.
- Keep perspective: Perspective allows you to remain optimistic, while keeping your eye on the long game. Having perspective helped us manage extreme shipping delays resulting from COVID, deal with damaged inventory, not having warehouse space to store product (so we converted our apartment into one!), and so on. We knew these struggles were part of our journey and that in a few years we will be able to look back and appreciate the lessons we learned during these early years.
- Display grit without ego: Courage allows you to display grit, without ego. This is one of the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs in order to navigate the daily fires. When the pandemic hit, it would have been easy to give up, return to our corporate careers and chalk everything up to bad timing. Instead, we had to dig deep and find the courage to move forward with Mahara and trust the process, despite not having a clear roadmap in front of us.
- Stay Curious: Curiosity arms you with the ability to stay hungry and find new solutions to problems that will inevitably arise as an entrepreneur. We experienced this early in our journey with Mahara — just two weeks after quitting our careers, the global pandemic hit, and we had to change course. Instead of wallowing, we got curious about what problems we could solve, and we decided to move into creating a product that could help with the mental health crisis that was unfolding all around us.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
All these topics are close to our heart, but we feel most passionately about mental health.
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) say that one in five North Americans experience mental illness each year. Plus, with the recent global pandemic and collective trauma we have all lived through, improving mental health needs to be a top priority in the coming years.
Studies show that Americans and Canadians will face a potentially explosive increase in mental health even years after the pandemic is over. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 69% of American women aged 18 to 29 report a negative impact on their mental health and more than half of young men reported negative mental health impacts. Estimates say that 6.3 million to 10.7 million Canadians will visit a doctor for stress and anxiety-related disorders which is a 54 to 163 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels.
Our shared belief in the power of mindfulness to unleash the human potential and improve mental health inspired us to create The Human Being Journal. We believe the simple act of journaling can transform lives by providing perspective and direction. We know it’s hard to find down time, so we created a simple, guided monthly journal that can be seamlessly integrated into busy schedules but still offers immense mental health benefits now and in years to come.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
We are building a beautiful and engaged mindfulness community on Instagram @maharamindfulness where we offer wellness tips, advice and giveaways. We’d love for you to follow along!
Thank you for these fantastic insights!