Sakara Story: Maya Finds Her Light
"SO THIS IS HOW YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO FEEL WHEN YOU WAKE UP"
It's always been our mission to help as many people as possible experience the transformational power of the Sakara lifestyle. In that spirit, last January we were honored to introduce the Sakara Scholarship, which allowed three deserving women to live the Sakara Life for an entire month. Their plates piled high with rainbow-drenched, flavorful, nutrient-dense plants, and they each experienced food as medicine first-hand. By embracing a new routine that included following our science-backed nutrition protocol, practicing healing rituals of self-love, and shifting to a mindset of manifestation, each forged their own path to transformation. Below, Maya pens her story of how rethinking food helped her step into her light. We're sharing it with you now as a reminder to shine, shine, shine.
In many ways, my own life experience is one gigantic melting pot: it has been an intersection of countless identities, cultures, religions, traditions, complex family structures, neighborhoods, and naturally…foods! An Indian Jew raised in Spanish Harlem by immigrant parents, I always had rich, colorful foods at the forefront of my day to day life—rice, curries, burekas, sondesh, horchatas—almost anything and everything that made up the colorful cultures of my own identity: except leafy greens—leafy greens simply were never the foods in the communities that I grew up in. And as a young girl, in turn, I never had a taste for greens and decided that I simply hated them throughout high school. Left to my own devices in college, I experienced American fast foods for the first time and became enamored with the fast food items around me: pizza and chicken tenders counters, Blimpie sandwiches, Panda Express, Taco Bell—you name the junk food, and it was a part of my food pyramid. I just loved it all—the American fast food world felt like a wonderland—my parents never allowed me to eat it as a child and I was in heaven. And at that age, as a ripe 18 year old and a part of our college dance team, my body was able to handle all of the garbage I would eat on a day to day basis because of how active I was day by day, and probably because I was just so young.
Beneath my poor eating habits, though, I had far less superficial, and much more wholesome personal goals: growing up in an Indian household against the backdrop of Harlem, I had bigger dreams of impacting the communities that I felt represented me. I dreamed of becoming a life-long teacher, and I became extremely passionate about my own personal career mission: to find a career path that would allow me to help break down systems of oppression and access in our country. I decided my senior year that I wanted to become a teacher in a community similar to the one that I was raised in, and support students in making sense of the harsh society that surrounded them.
Fast forward to my senior year in college, with four years of (what I now understand was) an addiction to the chemicals in my foods, I was accepted to Teach for America and began my teaching career in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. As I became a teacher, I was no longer just responsible for myself or my family, but rather, I was responsible for my beautiful students, which at the time was three classes of 5th graders, and I noticed a shift in what my body was capable of day by day, month by month, and year by year as this jolt into adulthood took over and I went from being a student to a teacher. As my days started before the sun rose and ended far after it had gone down, I noticed that something wasn’t right physically: I wasn’t sleeping well despite my 16 hour days that left me exhausted, I felt chemically broken down on the inside, and I started to notice changes in my physical body and my perception of self. I loved my work and my students so much—I felt that I had found my biggest purpose in life as a teacher, but something felt so internally off and I had no idea what the cause was—why was I getting sick so easily? Why was sleep so difficult for me? Why did I feel this heavy, twisted feeling in my stomach? I blamed it on the emotional work that my job entailed, continuing to carry on with my typical eating habits, not questioning how my own habits could be effecting me. My eating habits became a joke in my friend group—I was always the one running for snacks or looking for the pizza. But as a relatively slender person, I never realized how out of control this addiction had gotten. It was about three years into my teaching career that the wellness movement started to reach my friends, but I didn’t pay much attention to it at first—it felt like something designed for wealthier people, and so I never thought to look into it. I decided I never wanted to be a part of something that excluded others—not knowing at the time that I didn’t have to spend money to nourish my body.
I stayed at my school for five years, and I continued to focus on my goal of becoming the best educator I could be. I became a School Leader at what I still consider the greatest school ever, and while everything was moving forward in my work with my students and school community, I was never able to pinpoint what exactly was going on with me on the inside that felt so dark. In my 5th and last year at my school when I was feeling especially worn down, I discovered yoga, and I started practicing at an incredible studio named Modo. It was at Modo that I started to get in touch with my body for the first time. Through my yoga practice, I finally figured out what it was: I had spent the last decade unknowingly poisoning my body, mind, and heart with the foods that I had become addicted to.
While at first I put myself at blame for my poor eating habits all these years—after all, I was in control of what I was putting in my body—I started to look around the neighborhood I taught in, very similar in socioeconomic demographics as the neighborhood I grew up in. I decided to start looking for healthier options to put in my body—and my search for salad stands and plant-based restaurants and juice stores began! And as I started that search in Bed Stuy, I realized that these establishments only existed in the gentrified pockets of these communities, which were relatively new to the neighborhood—and definitely hadn’t started happening in my childhood neighborhood. With this realization, I started to wrap my head around the idea that healthy options were not always an access point for me, or for the people I grew up with—I was a part of the design of our nation’s food industry all these years. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks and only became clearer and clearer the more I looked around for healthy options. As I would attend my yoga class in Williamsburg, suddenly surrounded by Sweet Greens and By Chloes and Juice Presses, the journey back my to neighborhood became filled with the fast food restaurants and bodegas that I had come to love all these years. Thus, access to quality foods in many ways mirrored the equality gap in our country: in neighborhoods tied to wealth and whiteness, the healthy food options were endless (see: SoHo, Flatiron, the Upper East Side) while in neighborhoods excluded from wealth (see: Spanish Harlem, Brownsville, Bed Stuy) were also excluded from what our country now considers healthy: organic, nutrient-dense grocery stores, plant-based foods and restaurants, and even just places to get salads.
At just about two years into my own health and wellness journey, I became fully committed to trying to undo all that I had done to my body in the last decade! I learned of Sakara through a friend of a friend, and week to week, would check out the menu and dream of a world in which I myself could afford to try it. The thought of not having to think about the search and pursuit of healthy food and merely having it delivered seemed too good to be true! I started to research countless recipes and items, but often struggled to find the ingredients in my home neighborhood. When Sakara announced their scholarship program, a friend sent me the post and I immediately applied. I didn’t think there was any way I would get it!
I simply couldn’t believe my eyes when I got the email saying that I was a winner: I shrieked with excitement and texted all of my best friends—the idea that for 4 weeks I could be eating pure goodness already started to shape what I felt was possible for me. The Sakara team was so incredibly kind and accommodating, and about a month later I began my 4 week cleanse. Where to even begin… it was transformative in so many ways—from the inside out.
While I was constantly hungry at first, I realized that it was my body’s own come down of years and years of poisoning. I found it incredibly hard to kick my cravings—a few days in and I found myself reaching to make a box of macaroni and cheese, stopping to pick up a dollar slice, or running to get a bag of chips! (I know… how? After a colorful salad with beautiful flowers placed on top!) But even with my addiction give ins here and there in the first few days, the healing properties of the meals—mounds of leafy greens and vegetables that looked like the rainbow—took over my body and mind. For the first week I found myself taking pictures of each meal: each one more beautiful than the next. And I started to notice the tremendous difference between how I felt after an “only Sakara” day or a day that I gave in to cravings. The difference was so obvious, and slowly but surely, my body began to reject my cravings. The plan wasn’t only about the meals, though: Sakara created a program that encouraged me to savor my life in the same way that I savored my foods—I was asked to keep a journal of my feelings from day to day, I was given rose water and detox elixirs for morning and night, got in the habit of drinking tea, and I got encouraging emails and calls from the Sakara team. They checked in all the time, and sent quotes and encouraged intention setting with each meal, each day and each week, and with that came a lot of self-reflection as I stopped having to think about what meal I was going to eat next. It was the combination of all of this that helped me realize the power of a nourishing relationship with food—and how powerful this can feel when a whole community believes in it. The Sakara program and team taught me that I have to tune in to what my body itself needs to feel strong in other aspects of my life, and it taught me that all areas of my life impact my health.
As the weeks went on, I felt like my body was being cleaned, washed, and nourished from the inside out. I would eagerly run downstairs to the lobby of my apartment to pick up the deliveries every 2 days, placing the meals in the fridge and taking moments to just appreciate the color on my fridge’s shelves—I was so wildly excited about the food that I was eating—because of the food that I was eating. I noticed such an enormous shift in my mood from week to week, in my sleep, and in my overall confidence—I started really feeling an inner glow, and I couldn’t believe how many greens I was eating each day! So THIS is how I was supposed to be eating all these years…. So THIS is why I felt so weighed down and heavy… So THIS is what you’re supposed to feel like when you wake up…the revelations were endless. And as I started to feel this opening from the inside, I also started notice changes on the outside—or maybe it was just my perception of myself that was changing. I started to feel beautiful, I started to look at my face in the mirror instead of my stomach, and I started going on long walks in the park instead of sprinting on the treadmill with “body inspo” pics from Instagram on the forefront on my mind.
Most of all, though, this experience taught me the importance of sharing these lessons with my community and the communities that I grew up in. When on the phone with my mother back home in India (who eats very well—the true Indian diet is extremely healthy) I notice myself pushing her to bring more greens into her life, to take more moments of silence for herself. I’ve noticed my conversations shift with my students and the teachers I support—I have started to be more mindful and attentive to what they are doing to take care of themselves, our conversations often starting with notions of self-love or intention setting—and from that, the conversations have been so much more nourishing, substantive, and true. In myself, I’ve noticed a different way of life—I find myself being drawn to foods I have never appreciated—I now MUST have at least one salad a day, and find myself adding greens (even in the form of handfuls of spinach) to absolutely everything. What started off being something I dreaded has become something that I need to function. I am so beyond grateful for all of the lessons that this four weeks of mindful eating taught me: that in order to shine my own light for others, I first need to (quite literally) fill my body and mind with light from the earth—and when I am able to do that, I am able to show up so much stronger, so much brighter for the people I care about most.
Thank you Sakara!!