“We’re seeing a lot of unhealthy and unrealistic expectations around self-care and personal wellness encouraging unrealistic ideals.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lizzie Brown, CEO and co-founder of Yoga Wake Up, an app for iOS and Android designed to wake you up peacefully with short, audio-guided yoga and meditation from bed. Prior, Ms. Brown co-founded KAMALA Collective, a PR, marketing and app development agency with her husband, during which she managed and launched PR campaigns across more than 50 fitness and wellness brands including some of the most sought after, recognized athletic wear labels in women’s apparel. A born trailblazer and entrepreneur, Ms. Brown has owned three successful businesses, launching her first agency at 23 years old. Now she is merging her two great loves — personal wellness and relationship building with the intention of improving the lives of us all, shortly after we wake up to begin our day.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
I was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, mostly by my mom, who emigrated here from Cuba, alone, when she was 11 years old. My dad, a hippie in every sense of the word, was from Brooklyn and wasn’t that interested in being “tied down”. They both instilled in me from a very young age the importance of taking pleasure in the small things in life and placing a strong emphasis on health and wellness, particularly through food and being active. My mom’s motto, which has stuck with me, is “happiness is a choice, not a condition.” I believe above all else, this is the biggest factor in achieving mental wellness.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I never in a million years thought I would be CEO of an app. A wellness business, definitely, but tech was very much not in my wheelhouse. But then in 2013 I met my husband Joaquin, a 23-year software vet who was drawn to develop for iPhone soon after it was announced by Apple in 2007, and as it turns out he had a dream of starting his own app. You could say it was great timing, because my PR agency (a fashion and lifestyle boutique for emerging brands that I co-founded with one of my first colleagues in 2007) was beginning to feel like it had run its course. I was at a crossroads and Joaquin seized the opportunity to co-create with me. It was a big leap for us both, but it just felt right in every way. Yoga Wake Up was the third app we created together (the first two were unsuccessful) and now it’s all we do.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
In May of this year we took our first investment for Yoga Wake Up with a small friends & family round allowing us to wind-down our agency and begin working full time on the app. It’s true that energy flows where attention goes because Yoga Wake Up is very much hitting its stride. We launch the Android app this month, have a corporate wellness program launching this fall and are recording in french and spanish languages and translating the app as well before the end of the year!
Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?
Is it really that high? That is terribly sad and scary! The obvious effects are the physical ones — obesity and all of its related disease, sore eyes and vision deterioration. But the effects that most concern me are the ones that have only recently become part of the conversation thanks to people like Arianna Huffington and Tristan Harris bringing this to the forefront, and they are depression, anxiety and feelings of low self-worth. Particularly in the health and wellness space, there is this influence on social media to “eat clean” or perfect your handstand or other challenging yoga pose, and it’s just not the right message for wellness companies like mine to send. We’re seeing a lot of unhealthy and unrealistic expectations around self-care and personal wellness encouraging unrealistic ideals. This becomes the opposite of “fitspo” and it is a dangerous tightrope we see women walking on. When we spend more time on social media than we do in real life, and we spend more time communicating through our devices, we ultimately lose that critical connection that I believe makes us human. We actually lose touch, pun intended.
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
I am a strong believer in developing a healthy routine — AM, PM and throughout the day. I am not the first to say that it is critical that we DO NOT look at our screen upon waking up and before bed, but it’s important that I make a distinction, since I am co-founder of a mobile app. Yoga Wake Up is audio-only therefore while we encourage the use of your device at your bedside, it is only to listen to the audio, which is an alternative to your traditional alarm and essentially a short, 5–15-minute-long guided yoga or meditation sequence. Once it concludes you’re hopefully on your feet and ready to move through your day. At bedtime, we have audio-guided wind-down sequences and ideally, you’re asleep before they conclude!
With that said, (1) my mornings begin with a “yogawakeup”, followed by dandy-blend tea. I have found that since I began substituting this for my coffee, and trust me, I LOVED coffee, I have experienced major mental clarity and my body doesn’t miss the caffeine (2).
Third (3), Joaquin and I have developed a healthy habit of preparing our meals in advance at home and always eating them tech-free. This is so important. It gives us quality time to connect with each other distraction free and we can practice mindful eating, which has been proven to aid in digestion. Food is really important to me. I care deeply about what I eat and try to give it the attention it deserves! Simply by making a rule to always eat without tech frees up at least a couple hours a day, I hope, of looking at or being distracted by a screen!
In the evenings, I will plug my phone in in the bedroom and it pretty much stays there until I come to bed (4). I enjoy feeling disconnected for awhile. Yoga Wake Up has a bedtime reminder which can also be helpful for keeping me in a routine of going to bed at a reasonable time, as sleep is so important for health and happiness. When it is time for bed, I will select and download my wakeup for the next day, put the phone in airplane mode, and lock the screen.
For me, (5) what has helped the most has been a mental shift, a decision, a choice, to be an individual that is in control of their tech and not the other way around. It sounds silly but I will self-talk and say something like, this device is addictive and what do you do with addictive things, you manage them, you acknowledge that they’re trying to persuade you and you replace them with something healthy.
For coffee, it was Dandy-Blend, for my phone or other screens, it is often nature, a workout, a healthy meal, a good old-fashioned conversation or a guided meditation, whatever I need to do so I am not sucked in. I also have made a habit of leaving my device at home on the weekends. We’re very active and I find it incredibly freeing to be without my phone for hours on end — hiking, spending time at the beach or dancing with friends. For me personally, I find it more difficult to disconnect when I know my device is accessible ie. in my pocket or purse. So I just CHOOSE to put some distance between us so I can BE HERE NOW with whomever or wherever I find myself on the weekend.
51% of Americans say they primarily use their smartphone for calls. With the number of robocalls increasing, what are ways people can limit interruptions from spam calls?
I’m not sure if this is a really helpful solution, but I usually only pick up calls for which I recognize the number. I don’t have time for spam callers, plus I am too nice and am often sucked into a survey. If it’s important, they will leave a message. At home/outside of typical office hours, my phone is typically silenced.
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
First, it is our responsibility as parents to limit cell phone and screen time use for our children. I don’t feel guilty as a parent taking away the device or putting firm limits in place. Joaquin and I are very united on our feelings about screen time for kids and since I am helping raise his son, who is 12, we have agreed that he is not ready for a cell phone, despite the fact that I see many kids his age and younger with phones as they exit the middle school, more often than not looking at the screen while riding a skateboard or crossing the street.
For myself, I have notifications turned off for social media. With the younger generation, I think we have to be really clear about why we are limiting use because what they hear is that you’re trying to control their social life. It’s a fine line between accepting that this is how the younger generation communicates and also helping them to realize the dangerous effects of overuse and abuse of our devices.
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
When you check your notifications, particularly those from social media, upon waking up you immediately shift focus from you and your morning routine to a less healthy one inviting FOMO or “fear of missing out” and feelings of lack into your day. Tristan Harris calls this a “hi-jacking” of your morning.
Instead, I recommend having your device in airplane mode while you sleep and setting a Yoga Wake Up for the time you prefer to wakeup. This is ideal because the audio instruction and soft music will be the first thing you hear (not a ding from emails coming in) and once the wakeup concludes you’ve already come to your feet and set a positive intention for the day. For me, my next stop is a shower or putting on a pot of boiling water. So with very little effort or change at all, I have now taken control of my morning routine and made it work for me, not the other way around!
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“Happiness is a choice, not a condition” from my mom, and also “work to live, not live to work”, also from her and how she describes the Cuban people.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Thankfully Yoga Wake Up has the ability to reach 2 billion people, or anyone with a smartphone, and why shouldn’t we all wake up more peacefully and with healing, positive intention? If more people woke up this way, it would encourage a happier, healthier lifestyle for all — more compassion, more kindness, more love, and that’s the ultimate goal with what we’re building.
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Thank you for this interview. It was very insightful!
Originally published at medium.com