This Female Founder Wants to Make the Wellness Industry More Inclusive

Mental illness is complicated, but not talking about it doesn’t make it less so. Part of our mission is to help people feel better, both physically and mentally, and while CBD can help, there are many tools you can lean on for support. Mental Health Memos is a series that delves into the importance of destigmatizing mental illness and shines a light on those who are using their voice to bring these conversations to front and center. 

For Maryam Ajayi, “self-care” was never just a buzzword, but rather, the beginning of both a personal and professional journey. “I found my way into the wellness world via Republican lobbying and chronic pain,” she says. After graduating from college, Ajayi joined a trade association that led her into the world of lobbying. “I had a ‘WTF are you doing with your life?’ moment,” she says. “I left the world of politics to go into tech and I found myself closer to having “it all.” Or at least that’s what I thought. In reality, I still felt disconnected from myself.”

Internal pain led her to deepen her yoga practice and meditation, while physical pain led her to start exploring alternative medicines. “I started working with healers and every single one told me I was a healer and after a lot of resistance, I finally answered my true calling,” she says. But it wasn’t until 2019, when she hosted "Diversity in Wellness," a bicoastal dinner series with over 100 leaders and influencers in the wellness space, that she was able to combine her personal journey with a professional mission: one of working towards a more inclusive industry, that reduces and reverses the oppression of marginalized communities. 

“Now, we are more than a dinner series; we are a movement,” she says. Ajayi shares how Dive in Well’s mission has been underscored and enhanced by both COVID-19, as well as the anti-racist movement sweeping across the globe. 

How did the idea for Dive in Well come about?

I found solace in the wellness world but at the same time, harm. It wasn't until I started to unpack and heal from some of the racist bias within that I started to see that what was happening was systematic oppression of marginalized communities that we all too often see in other industries. After writing an article about white supremacy and fragility in wellness that ended up going viral, I decided, “What if I took some of the things that I learned in my past lives of bringing people together through salon dinners in order to affect change, but this time, for something that truly aligned with my soul’s higher purpose?” It was then that Dive in Well was born.

What’s the one thing about starting a business that no one told you?

How completely isolating it can be. At times, I felt like I was screaming on a mountain top and no one would listen. To now have a team of people who are just as passionate about diversity in wellness, an audience that has grown to over 20k since COVID-19 and the current race uprising, and a community with a reach over three million people is something I am so grateful for. However, there are times I don’t want to burden my team of the loveliest humxns in the world or my family or friends, I have an idea that may seem outlandish to some, etc. and I am back on that mountain top alone. It’s the self-awareness that brings me back – and the fact that I am so supported and surrounded by folx who want a future where we are all well. 

How have you pivoted Dive in Well’s strategy since the onset of COVID-19?

If anything, COVID-19 has highlighted the gross inequities in access to healthcare and wellness, especially for marginalized communities.

Before the pandemic, we had planned to hold eight in-person salon dinners and a multi-city tour. Without our signature events, we have pivoted our attention online, sooner than we had initially planned. And brought our group of diverse and underestimated wellness leaders with us. We garnered a lot of attention and support for those looking for safer places for BIPOC to heal and when the racism crisis hit a peak, things sort of unexpectedly took off for us. 

We are now not only offering online experiences and resources but workshops and consulting. We saw our two- to three-year plan accelerate after only a few months of launching, which is totally mind-blowing. It’s just bittersweet that it’s happening under these circumstances.

It wasn't until I started to heal from some of the racist bias within that I started to see systematic oppression of marginalized communities that we all too often see in other industries.
How has your own wellness journey evolved?

I put wellness and self-care above anything before I started Dive in Well, but as of late, it has only magnified. It’s the most important thing. When I find myself disconnected from my meditation, tarot, reiki, breathwork practices, I dive deep (no pun intended), to get back on track, which means working with my spiritual advisors. I may have worked with folx once or twice a year, but as of late, I am seeing some of my advisors one or two times a month. I see my therapist every week: she is my best friend right now (lol).

If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

You are magic. 

How can you combat feeling isolated during a period of mandated isolation?

Lead with vulnerability. Reach out to people who feel safe to you. If you feel alone and isolated, it’s most likely that someone else does too. So, if someone is on your mind, reach out. Not only will you feel less alone, but I am sure someone else will too.

What does the future of wellness look like to you?

It is real, which means it is diverse.

Any daily rituals that have improved your overall outlook on things?

Breathing! We take our breath for granted. It is such a powerful and free resource. It’s a privilege to breathe right now.

Research shows people who breathe into their stomachs are less stressed than people who breathe into their chest. A simple ritual you can do is to check in with your breath. See where you are holding it in your body. If it’s in your chest, start breathing into your stomach for three to four deep, long breaths. I promise you will see a shift.

Which Instagram accounts are you following right now to stay positive?

There is no one more fun than Elsa Mpho Majimbo and no one more rooted in love than Joél Leon — they respectively keep me laughing and hopeful for a brighter future. 

Dive in Well’s first e-book, “Decolonizing Digital Therapy and Wellness,” details why BIPOC communities have a right to access to mental health and wellness and is available for purchase in their shop. Her latest digital workshop, "Pivot into Equity," a 4-week online course that focuses on building an inclusive wellness brand that's rooted in anti-racism, decolonization, and racial equity is going on now through August 12, 2020.

Charlotte SteinwayCharlotte Steinway LA-based content and creative director.

Likes: collaborative playlists, aquatic adventures, and orange wine.
Dislikes: Road rage and pâté.