Oh, the difference that one little word can make. The story of this word is impossible to tell without telling you about the roots of La Dea Vita.
I’ll bring it back to 2009. Now, picture this: a pretty exhausted Mishel, pulling all-nighters at Bobst library on a nearly daily basis, trying but never fully succeeding to catch up on a ton of school work. I’d dived into the deep-end of grad school, swimming upstream on most occasions, because the carrot that dangled in front of me was nothing but a mirage I had of myself as a successful and much-sought-after international museum curator.
I’ve never, ever been so sleep deprived.
But on I carried. And it was in the early months of this year that I received an email from a friend of mine, asking if I was interested in joining her movement class. The words I read and the energy they carried were vastly different from the ones I’d been reading from books and articles way into the night. I couldn’t fully grasp it, but a very thirsty part within me uttered the words “yes” through truly dry lips, and truthfully, it’s a miracle I even heard this voice. So I signed up, and not long after, I showed up.
The class was designed for women only (it’s a class that is now called Qoya). As I was changing in the locker room, I heard women arriving into the space, and felt completely displaced when I heard the growing excitement coming from the hallway. I’ve never, ever heard women so thrilled to see one another.
I felt like I’d landed on a different planet. You see, I’d grown up both fearing and not trusting other women. For far too long, I was always proud to have been “one of the guys.”
So, I nervously asked a few of them after class why they kept calling each other “Sister Goddess”, and who was this “Mama Gena” they kept referring to.
“Oh… oh! Mastery, my dear. We’ve all done Mastery!”
Ummm…. okay. So like anything else one is ever curious about, I went home that night and googled all these key phrases. Sister Goddess. Mama Gena. Mastery. And that’s how I ended up in the virtual home of Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. There was something about this overly-pink website that appealed to that very thirsty voice within me. And as for Mastery? It was a 5-month intensive that took place right there in NYC, and the next one would start a month from then.
Despite being sleep and time deprived, I signed up. And I used my NYU scholarship money to pay for it.
I didn’t realize it then, but that was my fork in the road. For the next year and a half, I committed to finishing grad school, if only to finish what I’d started. But thing is, the carrot disappeared, and my heart was no longer in the game. Graduating from Mastery put me on a different path, though at first, I didn’t really know what to do with it.
I knew this much though: becoming a museum curator was no longer an option… for a few reasons. So after I graduated, I gave myself some time to ponder on what to do next.
I picked up a lot during my time in Mastery, though truthfully, what I learned there took years to digest, practice, and master (still doing so).
There was one thing, however, that I couldn’t fully wrap my head around. This whole idea of being a “Sister Goddess” and calling other women my “Sister Goddesses”. See, the “sister” part I got: we’re all interconnected and part of this very powerful community. But “goddess”? Mama Gena explained it as such: “because each woman has at least a drop, if not a whole river, of the divine in her.” Both my head and my heart could not fully grasp that.
How could I call myself “Sister Goddess” if I wasn’t even sure what being a “Goddess” meant?
So again, I took it to google. A brief google search of the word “goddess” circa summer 2009 produced the following: a melange of pornography and dungeons-and-dragons type websites. Yeah, not gonna work. So, I let that simmer for a bit.
Meanwhile, in my life, I’d finished my degree, but was now teaching Bikram full time, if only to give myself some time to figure out what would be next. And it was during this hiatus that I began to take an interest in what I wore to class, both to teach and to practice in. (Couldn’t avoid it- teaching full time meant I was in that hot room more often than not.) And one day- I remember it so clearly- something kind of clicked for me. As I was practicing, I took a real close look at myself in the mirror, and for the first time felt insanely uncomfortable in what I was doing because of the clothes I was wearing.
You see, 99.9% of hot yoga gear, for whatever reason, in so many ways resembles the ensemble that say, a cheap stripper might wear in a bar in the middle of nowhere. And fuck- not only had I been wearing that for the last few years, and owned a lot of it- but not once did I question it or even notice it.
Until that day. I remember going home and throwing out a bunch of the stuff I owned. The next day, I began to play with my clothes, and wouldn’t you know it: how I felt in the room, how I practiced, and how I taught completely shifted. I became bolder in my outfits: more and more I began to make them my own.
It was around that time that the lightbulb went off: why not start my own yoga line? Surely there are other women out there like me who are not crazy about what’s currently being offered. I signed up for a sewing class. I picked up a dozen or so books on how to start your own business, and I hired a lawyer to help me with the trademarking process. Oh yeah, baby. It was on.
It was then that I decided to call my line “Dea”, the italian word for “Goddess”. I was still very much submerged in Mastery and the whole “Sister Goddess” energy, and it was also around that time that I came back from a 3-month adventure in Italy. My amazing lawyer gave me a couple of reasons why it wouldn’t be smart to trademark a single word, but rather a phrase, and that’s when La Dea Vita was born. A sacred play on the phrase “La Dolce Vita”.
Now, this was in early 2011. I took just about every possible step to get this into motion. I adoringly look back at my enthusiasm, but what I didn’t understand then that I do now is that with business, you cannot rush the process! It’s like a baby, and you can’t very well rush a newborn to start walking, which is kind of what I did in some ways to my new business venture.
That voice, which had been so thirsty and dry two years ago during grad school, was by then more audible. It told me to slow down, and before I go on putting any labels on any clothes, to take a step back and understand what it was that I was creating. What was La Dea Vita? What did it mean to live the Goddess life?
So yeah, in many ways, I was back to square one. Though this time, instead of relying on google for an answer, I began to look around me. I took a close look at the women who in my eyes were not only thriving, but in my opinion, were modern-day Goddesses.
I began to notice that the one common thread between all these women was that they all took really good care of themselves. Something about the way they lived their lives just glowed through their skin.
And it was at that moment that it all began to make sense to me: taking care of myself, all parts of myself, would allow me to shine my best self forward. It would allow me to honor the divine within. I then spent the next 3 years befriending these women, interviewing them, working alongside them, learning from them.
For years, you see, I had been practicing all types of self-sabotage: I became awfully good at hurting myself. Whether it was through abuse of food, talking really meanly to myself, or trying too hard to be liked by people whom I placed higher above myself, I became queen of not caring for myself. Sadly, as a result, I would go on endless searches for quick-fixes and band-aids for my deep-rooted wounds.
So, I put the clothes aside, and I dove deep into understanding and living this lifestyle. Which has Exquisite Self Care at its very core.
And it’s through Exquisite Self Care that I finally understood what it means to be a Goddess: a woman deeply connected to her feminine energy, who loves and trusts her body which she honors and cares for, and who will take the time to listen to that inner voice that guides her forward.
As for the yoga clothing? I decided to allow La Dea Vita to continue to evolve, and give the clothes a different name. I’m thrilled to say that I found a perfect name for the line: Movement Couture. And the magical story of how that is unfolding, I shall leave for another time.