Raven Ishak
March 08, 2020 5:30 pm
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Sinikiwe Dhliwayo

Sundays are a day to recharge and reset. It’s a day where you can put your mental health first, hang with a few friends, or turn off your phone and bathe for hours on end. That’s why we choose to celebrate this holy day by showcasing people who love Sundays just as much as we do. Tying it to our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series, we ask the hard-hitting questions that embody what a perfect self-care Sunday means, whether it’s about mental health, physical health, community, and personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night. 

Trigger warning: this story discusses suicide. 

One would think that a founder and creative director of a wellness company would worship the idea of self-care. But for Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, the founder of Naaya, a company that serves to empower people of color to define what wellbeing is for themselves, that is far from the truth.

“I think the word self-care has been grossly overused,” she says. “To me, taking care of myself is anything that I need to do to maintain my wellbeing.” For Dhliwayo, this means simply paying rent on time. “Without paying my rent, I would seize to have a place to live.”

The truth is, while Dhliwayo loves doing a mean skin care routine, she also loves having the opportunity to consistently do the things that might not seem glamorous to most. “I am grateful [to] just [have] the ability to pay my bills and do seemingly mundane things, as I haven’t always had the ability to consistently do those things,” she says.

For this week’s Self-Care Sunday, we asked Dhliwayo about her journey with therapy, how she maintains mental clarity, and the advice she would give to women of color and company founders about self-care.

Mental Health:

Her journey with mental health

The vernacular of mental health didn’t come into my knowledge until my late twenties. When I was a teenager, I told my parents I wanted to commit suicide. I was extremely bullied and I didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want, to acknowledge my pain. I didn’t go to therapy or anything after the fact—I just found ways in which to deal. 

I then went through my parents’ divorce when I was a senior in college and once again, I didn’t really deal with it. I moved to another city, and I ate my feelings but I didn’t fully deal with it. I did my best to read all of the self-help books, but it got to a point where I just had to acknowledge that I needed professional help. So finally, I did it and went to therapy, and I truly wish I had done it sooner. 

That said, as much as my therapist helped me, I know firsthand through friends how many therapists aren’t equipped to deal with Black and brown folk. I say this given that there are lots of folks who haven’t addressed their biases and this impacts their ability to effectively help folks who aren’t like them. 

Go-to best practices for mental health

I have a few: Yoga (obviously). Meditation. I love my Samaya cushion. The founder of the company is a fellow female-identifying human and a great person. I also just started doing breathwork with a teacher named Jennifer Patterson who just released a book called the Power of Breathwork

I was doing acupuncture religiously until my amazing acupuncturist Allison Unterreiner moved to the South. It helped me tremendously with my periods that were debilitating. 

Samaya

Wind-down practices

I dance off the day. I get home and I change out of my street clothes, put on something comfortable and some bops, and I dance. Dancing to me feels so freeing. I can just shake and shimmy until my heart’s content. 

How she maintains mental clarity

I can’t say that it’s something that I do weekly, but I make a really concerted effort to be in nature. I live for that shit. I was a Girl Scout—some might say for too long (until 10th grade)—and there is something about being outdoors, preferably around a fire, that I’m a sucker for.    

Physical Practices:

Incorporating new routines into freelance life

I’m figuring out new routines. I’m navigating the Wild Wild West that is freelancing and feeling a bit unmoored. I’ve been accustomed to having a set schedule and a routine that corresponded with that schedule. The nature of freelance is that things pop up, so I’m working on cultivating a routine that accommodates for some flexibility. 

Sunday rituals

Sunday is the Lord’s day. So I fully try and dive into that meaning and try to do the least. If possible, honestly, I might not even leave my house. I like to read, schedule emails to go out the following week (best feature on Gmail), and mostly try to relax. 

Body image

I have a great degree of respect for my body, and on most days, I like it. It seems radical in some ways, though, to like my body, especially as a person who inhabits a Black body. Everywhere I look, the image of “good and right” when it comes to bodies is generally one that is skinny and white. 

How she keep physically healthy

With all of this talk of Coronavirus, I’ve become fanatical about wiping shit down. Namely my laptop, since it’s always out and about. I’m actively trying [not] to touch my face, and I’m really trying to tune into when I need to sleep versus force myself to keep going.    

Sinikiwe Dhliwayo

Community Care:

Why she chooses to “opt out”

I think the biggest boundary I’ve been cultivating is opting out. Opting out of people who don’t make me feel good or who have shown me that they don’t have my best interest at heart. I’m learning to put boundaries on my social media. I talk a lot about race, privilege, and white supremacy and I think that often leads people to think they have an opening. When really [they’re] asking me questions outside of what I’m posting, [which] is asking for me to do labor and to educate you. These topics are integral to the work I do, but, I repeat, I do not have the responsibility for making someone understand these concepts. 

How she creates community for her company, Naaya

People can be really finicky. What they like one minute is not what they like the next. I’m trying to follow my gut and create a brand that I wish existed in the world. I put out content when I feel like it and not on a set schedule or every day like it sometimes feels I have to. Generally speaking, I prefer to do things in real life versus over the interwebs, but events can be really challenging. As much as it takes money to build a business, I also don’t want anyone to not be able to garner important knowledge or partake in important conversations because they can’t afford something. 

Alone time

10/10 I like to be alone. It’s hard to truly get alone time in New York. Sunday is also the Lord’s day or at least, that’s what I call it. What better way to appease the Lord then by chilling the F out. 

Personal Joys:

Skin care routine

My skin care routine is really intensive to the point that Into the Gloss did a deep, deep dive into it. My current favorite products are. SuperGoop Unseen Sunscreen, Replica- Jazz Club Perfume, Praz Natural Face Revive Oil, Youth to the People Cleanser, and Ole Henriksen Babyphat Mask

Supergoop

Reading

I think I need to reassess and join the library again. I’m impatient, so I don’t want to have to wait for someone to bring a book back to the library. That said, I just dropped some serious coin at the bookstore despite banning myself from buying books. Quarter two—it’s on, baby. No book purchases for three months. 

Singing

It’s not something that I do often—save for the end of my yoga classes—but I love to sing. I was in all the choirs growing up and would love to invite that practice back into my routine.

Life Advice:

When Sunday plans go awry

I try and maintain the outlook that if this particular Sunday needs to be busy, then I will do my best to have a calmer, more relaxing Sunday the following week. 

Advice for women of color who want to better their mental health

Find something you like to do and as much as you can, do it because you want to. I have a really hard time doing things I don’t want to do. I think the same can be said for most people, which is why you won’t find me doing CrossFit or killing myself on the treadmill.

The caveat to this is doing things that you like and that will challenge you. I was on a very heavy Pilates kick for a while, and holy shit it was hard, and that’s ok. I think when it comes to doing hard things, like going to therapy, it’s important to know that it’s going to challenge you and it’s ok to wait to do it when you feel ready.

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