Make It Work is a column by Justine Haemmerli that takes a peek into the lives of folks with unconventional careers — the entrepreneurs wearing many hats, the doers of many things, the folks with full-time jobs and big side hustles — to shine a light on those doing good in unique ways.
Vegan cooking. Yoga. Poetry. Self-care as social activism. Aromatherapy. Thai massage.
Any one of these could be a calling; any one could be a career. Helanah Warren has made it her mission to create experiences that live at the intersection of these healing modalities and forms of self-actualization.
For the founder of Yogetree, a normal week looks like spending a full day responding to emails, teaching at a different nonprofit “lunch and learn” Monday through Friday, then in the afternoon teaching one of the 30 summer camp or after-school classes she runs throughout the year.
Sprinkled throughout the week are trainings and weekly meetings with her seven interns, and time set aside to record ideas for the over 80 wellness workshops, 35 professional development workshops and 30 cooking classes she teaches each between September to May (including one workshop ending this year’s Electric Lady Series). She’s also running an ambassador program that has 25 community members conducting outreach and promotion for Yogetree to help spread the word around her offerings.
And of course, there’s keeping up her charming Instagram, replete with sun salutations and vegan smoothie bowls.
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🌿Always working my way back to the beginning. 🌿 #yogadaily #yogetree #yoga #yogaforlife #wokebaes #veganlife #blackvegan #vegetarian #blackyoga #blacklove #blackwomen #blackrelationships #healthyfood #healthyeating #healthy #naturephotography #travelingram #travelingtheworld #yogapants #yogaofcolor #yogaforlife #yogaeverydamnday #yogainspiration #wheelpose #backworkout #meditation #mindfulwalking #mindfulness #liberation
Warren went full-time with Yogetree just eight months ago, but you’d never know it — her cool precision and calm focus communicate the confidence that comes from feeling you are doing what you are here to do. Attendees consistently refer to Yogetree workshops as an experience that “strengthens the soul” and is “amazing,” “healing” and “full of love.” In eight months, she’s been able to build a calendar of over 175 workshops throughout the year through word of mouth and grassroots networking.
It also comes from years of training in a high stress position in the corporate sector, which taught her how to maneuver gracefully, communicate boldly and run a company effectively.
Twelve years ago, Helanah felt like she was “living in two worlds,” working in Washington D.C. as a linguist for a major financial company. Fluent in Arabic, German, and Spanish, she would translate verbiage in company negotiations and contracts to make sure it was culturally sound. It was a career that was lucrative, intellectually stimulating, and allowed her to use her natural gifts for language, listening and empathizing.
And then she was laid off unexpectedly.
“I felt like it was the universe putting its hand on the small of my back and pushing me into wellness work,” she shared.
It was a push that had been percolating for a long time. In high school, Helanah would take out dusty yoga VHS tapes from the local library and practice moves in her living room. It was a private curiosity and not something that found a public venue until she studied in Germany after high school, and her host family got her a fitness membership to the local gym where she took her first yoga class. Her host mother, heavy into Ayurveda, also introduced her to the world of natural healing that would one day become Helanah’s own calling.
Helanah noticed something was missing from the spaces in which she was a student.
“I was going to all these wellness workshops, conferences and classes, and they were just focusing on one thing,” she said. “But all these modalities overlap; they point to the same things. I wanted to created a space where they were all brought together.”
Yogetree started as a hobby — “or a side practice, you might say.” Then it became a small business in 2015, once she’d accumulated enough clients.
“I was combining yoga and poetry in customized workshops, hence the name Yogetree,” Helanah said. “I started to incorporate the different modalities I was learning — Thai massage, energy work — and then it started to gain momentum and take on a life of its own.”
Listening to Helanah, I was reminded of familiar insecurities and fears that I have struggled with as a multi-passionate entrepreneur, and have heard countless clients, colleagues and friends grapple with too as they try to forge their own multifaceted path forward: the feelings of not knowing enough. The times when I’ve seen people’s faces glaze over when they ask what I do and I can’t answer in three words.
I asked whether Helanah, too, has struggled with imposter syndrome; with worries about being seen as flakey, or too all-over-the-place. Worries around being taken seriously as a professional in a culture suspicious of crystals and chakras.
“Nope,” she calmly replied.
Her firm resolution felt like a gust of cold air into a stuffy room: refreshing, and a bit of a shock to the system.
I was, frankly, a little suspicious. Was it hubris I was hearing? The over-confidence of someone less than a year into self-employment? The sunny fake-it-till-you-make-it steely outward patina of perfection small business owners need to put forth to make it work, especially at the start when the luxury of uncertainty isn’t granted?
Or was it just a formidable and rare confidence that I was unused to hearing — especially from other young female business owners, who often spend more time on self-flagellation than promotion?
“I felt confident that there would come a time when I felt I had spent enough time studying a modality or technique to be able to incorporate it into my repertoire,” she said. “It’s not about being an expert at it. I am an endless student — I don’t believe in arriving at a final place of expertise. I don’t need to practice from that place.
“There comes a time in my studies when I feel a sense of ownership over a practice, and it can join the others I know in my repertoire of healing and teaching techniques. That doesn’t mean I stop being a student of it, though.”
Helanah’s confidence and calm are hard to ignore. Most people who are running such a dynamic and multifaceted small business would be somewhere on the spectrum between three espressos and a bottle of wine.
But Helanah speaks slowly, with intention and grace. Her many years as a trained linguist combing legal documents for cultural sensitivity are reflected in her careful choice of words and precision with her own language when discussing her business. And that intention extends to the way she’s structured her days, and her company.
“My two highest ideals are freedom and balance. They are at the center of all my goals and all my actions,” she explained. “It was essential to me that if I worked for myself, that I have flexibility. To others it might feel all over the place, but to me it flows easily. My work is so responsive to the spaces and people I work with, that it is always new. Which is exactly what I want.”
From the powerful momentum of Yogetree, we can learn two things: Let the universe push you, and then proceed with power.
Confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you wait until you’re completely ready, you’ll never do it. If you ignore the pushes of the universe, you’ll simply spend all your energy pushing back. Start now before you’re ready. Begin while you are still learning. Make the learning a part of the work itself. Center yourself at the heart of your business, not what you think will appeal to the masses.
For many, the hardest part of this is valuing what you have to offer as its own thing, without measuring it against some certificate program’s pronouncement of what it means to have arrived at a place where you have permission to share your natural gifts.
This is a knot Helanah sees within her own students, and which she works to unravel in her workshops.
“I have seen so many people have gifts that were cut short because they didn’t care for the vessel that came through,” she said. “I work to heal, I work to connect, and I work to help them open up and let those natural gifts out.”
If you’re ready to start untying your own knots and drink up what Helanah and her team are pouring out, Yogetree is offering two stay-cation retreats this summer full of fresh local food, writing and yoga workshops, with the “goal to refine, wine and dine you with love, good vibes and authentic connection until you burst at the seams, ready to head back out there and be your best self!”
Yes, please. The first, on Aug. 19, is sold out, but the Sept. 23 edition still has tickets available. Get them here.-30-
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