Choose an area of expertise that excites you. For example, My passion is to teach people mindfulness based tools so they can break unconscious bias. I’d encourage you to find a niche that similarly excites you. The global health and wellness industry is valued at 4 trillion dollars so naturally there are numerous choices in this industry. PIck one that makes you come alive!
Anu is a scientist, educator, lawyer, and the Founder of BE MORE with Anu, an education technology company that trains professionals in breaking bias to advance DEI and belonging in workplaces and communities. A certified yoga and mindfulness coach, he has logged over 10,000 hours of meditation and brought BE MORE’s science-backed, compassion-based approach to over 200 companies reaching over 20,000 professionals impacting more than 10 million lives. He has spoken about this work at TED, SxSW, and the Oprah Conversation.
Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I grew up bi-cultural. I was born in India and immigrated to the United States when I was 10 years old. As a young person, I lived the dichotomy of what poet Tagore so poignantly calls the ‘home’ and the ‘world.’ The world felt like a ruthless place where because of my color, name, sexuality, and accent, I felt like I didn’t belong. Home, on the other hand, was a colorful place filled with sounds of Bollywood music, the smells of a nostalgic place my mother kept alive through the foods she toiled to prepare, and magical stories of supernatural people like Gandhi, Yogananda, and Vivekananda who in spite of the conditions of the world, preached compassion, nonviolence, and love. I feel that who I am today is a bridge between these two worlds for my students; a bridge that helps us create a home within ourselves and bring that feeling of home into the world so we can together create a world where we belong everywhere.
Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to live a wellness-focused lifestyle? Can you tell us about your main motivation to go all in?
As a young person, I was brutally bullied for being “different,” for being perceived as a savage, a “Hindu-heathen,” and many other racial slurs because of my skin color, my name, and my ethinic background. I rarely spoke up against these attacks and focused on my education and my work. As someone with immigrant parents of little means, I wanted to make them proud by making something of myself. For me, the best way to do that was to assimilate.
I changed everything about myself: the way I looked, I lost my Indian accent, and I even went by the name Andy. My young mind couldn’t comprehend at the time how destructive this all could be to my identity, and so instead I went with these newfound identities simply to fit in. Yet, all too often I would be walking down the street and hear a voice shout out “Hey! Osama, go back to where you came from!” and my heart would sink. At this point, I changed everything I physically could about myself, what more could I do? All I could do was shove those remarks deep within me, continue on, and ignore it.
This only lasted until my early-20s when the accumulation of the racial trauma and self-hatred I experienced came to a head and I attempted to take my life. I found myself on the ledge of my 18-story window contemplating jumping off. As I stood there looking at the tiny cars below me, I had a moment of insight: the stereotypes I had been reduced to were just ideas.
It was that moment 12 years ago, when I came off that ledge that I committed myself to my own wellbeing and to my healing. Over the subsequent years, I immersed myself in numerous therapeutic modalities from traditional talk therapy, to EMDR to somatic experiencing or SE to Indigenous-Focused Oriented Therapy (IFOT). I attended numerous yoga and meditation retreats and went on to become a certified yoga and meditation teacher. Up until a few years ago, I would spend at least 30 days a year on silent meditation retreats. Throughout this time, my motivation was my healing so I could better serve others who have been wounded like me in our society and world.
Most people with a wellbeing centered lifestyle have a “go-to” activity, exercise, beverage, or food that is part of their routine. What is yours and can you tell us how it helps you?
I have a pretty important morning ritual that truly helps get centered into my day. It begins with a cup of coffee and morning journaling and then transitions into a 20 minute silent meditation sit. In Buddhist psychology, the objective of mindfulness practice is to rid our minds of three defilements that cause suffering: greed, hatred, and ignorance. These defilements are like toxins in our emotional and psychological spaces, and through mindfulness practice, we aspire to heal the wounds that keep them alive and gently transform them into the three virtues of generosity, compassion, and wisdom. I begin my daily meditation sit with a short contemplation on where in my life I am still caught in these defilements and identify the deeper wounds that sustain them.
This daily contemplation helps me remember the big picture of who I am — consciousness having a human experience — and why I believe I am here — to serve and alleviate suffering. This morning practice comes in handy when the day to day of running a small business or interacting with my clients or students trigger in me feelings of lack, fear, or frustrations. It helps me surrender and return to the present moment more fully, and remember my aspirations of generosity, compassion, and wisdom.
To live a wellness-focused life is one thing, but how did it become your career? How did it all start?
It happened by accident! As I shared earlier, after coming very close to taking my life, I deeply felt that I was given a second chance. I became a student and practitioner of various healing and wellness modalities for my own healing. This was solely a personal interest that I was pursuing. At the time, I was a practicing lawyer and a scientific researcher. Particularly, I was working in the field of criminal justice reform and researching ways to address the root causes of issues like mass incarceration, school to prison pipeline, and our compassion-less “tough on crime” policies. The more I interviewed people who’ve been impacted, the more literature I read, and the more I witnessed the inequalities in our courtrooms or prisons, I started seeing a pattern of what we call “unconscious bias.” Personally, the experiences I had with bias led me to my wellness-focused lifestyle. And as I went to the literature, and the research on mindfulness and compassion, I started seeing that these same tools that helped me heal, have also been shown to diminish and transform bias. This was my big AHA moment. Call it an accident, luck, or serendipity, but I really couldn’t ask for anything greater. Six years ago, I began teaching what I had been practicing for myself to others — so they too could heal and transform the harmful effects of bias in their personal lives, workplaces, and communities.
Can you share a story about the biggest challenges you faced when you were first starting? How did you resolve that? What are the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
The biggest challenge I faced when I started was the perception I had in my mind about what other people thought about mindfulness, meditation, trauma, and the healing modalities I was practicing and teaching to break bias. In our society, there is a meta-narrative about meditation as woo-woo, cultish, or bogus. In the beginning, I would overcompensate for that by citing scientific studies, by replacing the word “meditation” with “practice” or “exercise” and engaging in a whole lot of mental gymnastics to prevent others from typecasting these practices as illegitimate.
Then, one day, as I was writing a pretty large proposal for the National Science Foundation, I had a flash of insight. Just as people have created stories about me because of my color or ethnicity, they have created similar stories about these practices. And while they may choose to believe those stories, their belief system does not make those stories true. I felt deep in my bones the liberative and healing potential of these practices and I have read the hard science demonstrating their efficacy. So it was that day that I decided to stop pleasing others, trust, and surrender. I am sure I may have lost some clients or funders as a result. However, what I gained was time, energy, space, and clarity to do my work more effectively and to truly work with people and organizations that desire and value this work for it actually is — versus their ideas of what it should be.
Can you share with us how the work you are doing is helping to make a bigger impact in the world? Can you share a story that illustrates that?
I serve people like me. People who are very well educated and work as professionals across sectors. People who are doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, nonprofit executives, bankers, and the like. They have worked very hard to be where they are and they want to grow and be better to themselves and others. And I help them break unconscious bias using an approach that is rooted in science and compassion. Specifically, I help them do two things: bridge the information gap that makes them feel separate from other people — whether it is race, ethnicity, gender, or another human identity — and train them in five mindfulness tools (what I call PRISM: Perspective-Taking, PRosocial Behavior, Individuation, Stereotype Replacement, and Mindfulness) so they can build the competencies needed to shift unconscious beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors that create instances of unconscious discrimination, inequality, and injustice. These competencies include optimism, curiosity, skillful communication, wellbeing, empathy & compassion, collective identity, empowerment, and social cohesion.
I have been so lucky to have thousands of students who have truly embraced the quality of this work, not only to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplaces, but also to enrich their personal wellness. One person that comes to mind is Tanya Lopez. Tanya is a Senior Director at the American Medical Association (AMA) and she completed my five-week Breaking Racial Bias program earlier this year. As a woman of color, she has not only struggled with not only being on the receiving end of bias, but also how to care for her family and children while not being able to change people and systems around her who enact bias. Coming out of the program, her way of carrying herself shifted and she deeply understood that people make up systems that contribute to structural racism.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on three upcoming projects! The first is a free DEI challenge that we’ll be launching later this Fall to get more people to understand the relationship between mindfulness and the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am also very conscientious about making this program free of charge so it can be accessible to as many people as possible.
The second is a seven-day mindfulness course that I’ll be launching around the holidays. The objective of this course is to help people practice the five mindfulness tools that have been shown to break bias, all with a 15 minute practice daily for seven days. Again, I want to make this program accessible and easy to incorporate in people’s daily schedules so we no longer feel debilitated, shame, or guilt for not knowing what to do to break bias.
Lastly, in 2022, my team and I are excited to launch a mindfulness-based program to address and transform sexual harassment in the workplace. I have wanted to build this program for almost a decade, ever since I worked with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch, and felt that deep-seated issues of bodily safety, dignity, and integrity female-identified people (and other genders as well) experience in the workplace. I won’t say much more about that right now, but in the era of #MeToo, my genuine hope is to offer a pathway for healing and reforming our workplaces of the harms of sexual objectification and harassment.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Absolutely! The three characteristics that have been most important for me have been: discipline, curiosity, and trust.
Discipline, for me, is a simple understanding of being aligned with my heart’s deeper desires and passions. It is the ability to conduct immediate cost-benefit analyses when I am presented with choices that impinge on my levels of energy, time, and financial resources. My north star is always to care for healing and alleviate the suffering of others, and discipline supports me moving towards it year by year, day by day, and even moment by moment.
Curiosity, to me, are three essential words: Tell Me More. I work at the intersection of two industries: health and wellness & DEI. Both of these people concern our most valuable resource: people. And because I work with people, I have to constantly be mindful of “not knowing.” Curiosity helps me create space to listen and hear deeply the places where people are not well so I can, if I am able, support them with words or action that may direct them to wellness.
Trust, to me, is another way of saying “faith” or “confidence.” There has been absolutely nothing in my life experience that has been pre-planned. If you had told me as a teenager that I was going to a mindfulness coach and a DEI educator, I wouldn’t have even understood what those things meant. And yet, I feel a deep sense of trust in life itself and that I will be led to the right people, experiences, and places as long as I keep my north star clear: caring for myself and alleviating the suffering of others.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. Wellness is an incredibly broad topic. How would you define the term “Wellness”? Can you explain what you mean?
I like the World Health Organization’s definition which defines wellness as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well being, not just the absence of disease.” The only thing I would revise in this definition is that for me, “wellness” is not a state, but rather a result of social, mental, and physical wellbeing. As you may have noticed, the keyword in understanding and defining wellness is “wellbeing.” This is why wellbeing is one of the competencies I train my students in strengthening.
Wellbeing is a state of being at ease, happy, or comfortable. Within the definition of wellness that ease includes physical, mental, and social wellbeing. Physical wellbeing has to do with our bodies being at ease. Mental wellbeing has to do with being at ease psychologically and emotionally. And social wellbeing is relational and has to do with being at ease with all our social relations, including our families, our workplaces, our communities, and the larger collectives we are a part of, e.g., our faith communities, our nonprofit commitments, our state or nation, etc.
As you’ll notice, there are many factors contributing to our wellness. There are likely rarely any times in our lives where all three aspects of our wellbeing are perfect. With that said, we can each have an aspiration of attaining an optimal state of wellness as we balance across the three types of wellbeing.
As an expert, this might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Can you please share a few reasons with our readers about why focusing on our wellness should be a priority in our lives?
I love this question. As a practitioner of nonviolent communication, with rare exceptions, I have been trained to look at shoulders as a red flag. This question is one of the rare exceptions: focusing on our wellness should be a priority in our lives. With that said, I still don’t want to prescribe a should, I don’t want you to beat yourself for not being able to care for yourself, or make our wellness another task on your never ending list of to-dos.
Let’s bring some gentleness here. If you’re reading this, I’d like to ask you: what motivates you to wake up in the morning?
Your answers may vary from: family, community, serving the world, raising my children, getting that promotion, making more money, or even things like, buying that Tesla, or getting that beachside home in Hawaii. Don’t worry, I’ve had those thoughts too. 🙂
Now play with me for a second and imagine, what is that feeling you would feel once that was fulfilled?
You may notice that you have access to that feeling you’re chasing, right now. That feeling is what our minds may tell us as our wellness and it projects it into the future. But I can guarantee that once you get that raise, that promotion, or buy that Tesla, the mind will replace that motivation with something else.
I often remember some of the most “successful” humans that ever lived: Robin Williams, Whitney Houston, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade. I loved each and every one of these people. And we now know that they were suffering. They had the money, the fame, the status, the cars, and all of the luxuries many of us only dream of. And yet, they were in so much pain that they went to the great extent of taking their lives to relieve themselves of their pain. I have so much compassion for them and for anyone who feels that tortured within. As someone who came very close to taking my life, I have come to understand that no “thing” and no “person” can bring us lasting happiness. That happiness has to arise from within us, and each one of us has that potential. That is known as our wellness. The work is to shower ourselves with the self-care and self-love we need to heal our own wounds. And what that means for each one us varies.
My job as a Health and Wellness coach is to show you some options, but the beauty of this path is that you get to try and test what works for you. That is why this work is so individualized.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increasingly growing understanding of the necessity for companies to be mindful of the wellness of their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, can you share steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees’ mental and physical wellness?
COVID-19 has certainly made work very difficult for millions of people who are juggling their professional responsibilities alongside various obligations to their families and communities. On top of that, the racial reckoning we have experienced since the murder of George Flyod, has compounded stressors on individual wellness, especially those most impacted by bias.
I believe just as each individual’s health and wellness journey is unique to their needs and circumstances, each company’s journey is also unique based on the needs of their people. I do not believe in one size fits all models, and before introducing wellness programs within companies, I encourage them to do a pulse check on challenges their people are experiencing. With that said, I’d like to share with you three different approaches I’ve witnessed various companies take in order to enhance the wellbeing of their employees.
- Access to mindfulness classes and resources. Many companies like Kaiser Permanente have partnered with the big meditation app companies like Calm and Headspace and provide access to these apps for any and all of their people. This approach has made many of these services accessible to people who otherwise would not have sought them.
- A mandatory wellness week off. Some companies like Spotify have taken the dramatic step of mandating all employees to take a mandatory wellness week off. This approach encourages employees to disconnect and use this paid time off in any way they find rejuvenating.
- Collaborative culture transformation. Many companies like PBS and the American Medical Association have engaged other companies to bring behavior change education, training, and on-going programming to build trust within their teams and organization. This approach gives employees direction and gets them engaged in creating new models for enhancing wellness in the workplace.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Health and Wellness Industry”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
Hi, I am Anu Gupta.
I’m the Founder & CEO of BE MORE with Anu.
BE More with Anu is an education technology company that trains professionals in breaking bias using mindfulness-based tools so they can advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplaces and communities.
Health and wellness is the core of what we do. And after being in the industry for almost a decade, here are five things that are essential to create a successful career in the health and wellness industry.
Number one. Choose an area of expertise that excites you. For example, My passion is to teach people mindfulness based tools so they can break unconscious bias. I’d encourage you to find a niche that similarly excites you. The global health and wellness industry is valued at 4 trillion dollars so naturally there are numerous choices in this industry. PIck one that makes you come alive!
Number two. Become the expert. The industry is saturated with thousands of businesses that promise people the moon and back. Time and time again, what makes someone exceptional in the industry is the depth of their experience with the expertise they claim to have. My rule of thumb is 10,000 hours. For me, I truly felt I could train people in breaking bias using mindfulness after I had practiced myself for at least 10,000 hours.
Number three. Know that YOU are your ideal client. Unlike other industries, the health and wellness industry is unique because it demands us to speak from personal experience. As a scientist, educator, and a lawyer, for me, my ideal audience are similarly situated professionals. So think about the specific aspects of your personal demographic, psychographic, experiential, or professional profile who you’d like to serve with your expertise.
Number four. Build your Council of Healers. Working in this industry demands us to give and serve all of the time. But just as we are giving, we need to be able to replenish our bodies, hearts, and minds to ensure that we are taking care of ourselves so we can better serve others. My council of healers include my business coach, meditation teacher, nutritionist, and therapist. Your council of healers will likely change over time, but know that you’ll always need one to truly flourish.
Number five. Practice what you preach and teach. This is mission critical because it defines your credibility and reputation. You may have become the expert of your niche field, but you need to continue to hone your craft for deeper mastery. I believe this is how you will gain and keep the trust of your target audience. For me, this means daily mindfulness practice, annual meditation retreats, and staying abreast on the latest research and literature on bias.
I hope this is helpful! Lots of best wishes on your endeavors ahead.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would promote the most wellness to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement that trains and promotes feelings and attitudes of hope and optimism. I feel this could be game-changing for so many of us, particularly being in isolation for almost two years. When we look around our media, politics, business, and even entertainment, we are often met with news that is rooted in criticism, cynicism, and everything that is wrong with the world. What we need at this juncture of our human history are creative solutions and innovations to address the challenges we face as a collective. I find that an attitude of hope and optimism provide the space and confidence that is needed to actually vision what is possible. While what I am saying may seem cliche, developing such an attitude is extremely difficult because our nervous systems for reasons of survival are built with a negativity bias. Our minds are like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive experiences. However, a movement of hope and optimism can socially reinforce us to build and sustain habits that allow us to notice and acknowledge all the things that are also going right with the world. Our world, despite its shortcomings, is a magical place. The fact that our technology works where I can get fresh, clean water out of a tap and video call my friend in Hawaii from New York at the same time is absolutely magical. And these little ways of appreciating and being grateful for what is going right can help us stay optimistic and reinforce our social, mental, and physical well being that is central to our collective wellness.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Absolutely! I would be honored to have a private meal with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry. For me, their collaboration on the series “The Me You Can’t See’’ was visionary and pathbreaking in ways I can’t even verbalize. All of the conversations were about wellness — physical, mental and social wellbeing — but unlike most other programming on this subject, I felt this series actually touched on the real things that got in the way of people’s wellness: mental illness, racism, sexual assault, refugee crisis, child sexual abuse, and many others topics that are socially considered “taboo.” Well regardless of how we label these experiences, for most people, including myself, that is the reality of the human experience. And even for people who have not experienced such things, watching and hearing other people’s stories builds in us empathy and compassion — essential skills needed for us to help and change our own ways of being to reduce harm.
For me, they have charted an important path in the wellness movement of encouraging others to stop suffering silently and alone and truly seek help for their own wellness. I would be honored to have a follow up conversation with them on ways these conversations can be made mainstream, so there is an actual stake within our businesses and economies for the true and whole people wellness.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please go to bemorewithanu.com to learn more about my courses and programs and follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or LInkedIn @bemorewithanu. Also, please join our newsletter to participate in my upcoming free DEI Challenge and the seven-day mindfulness course.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!