You are greeted by the sound of soft music and the firm voice of a woman guiding your breath: Inside Outside. Inside Outside.
You see her watering plants in a sun-drenched garden and brewing tea as the golden light pours in through the kitchen window.
The woman continues to coach you, as you are enveloped by the heartwarming chimes of the crystal singing bowls and her clear direction to settle into your breath, your life force. You feel a sense of relief, of peace, as the music and beautiful images continue to flow over you.
Welcome: you have entered the Nalaverse, a online platform on-demand, live wellness classes designed by and for black women and other marginalized communities.
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Launched last August by Theresa Shropshire and Jane Maguire from Philly, Nalavese has grown to serve thousands of users from 78 different countries including the US, UK, Australia, India , Barbados and Brazil. The company is also part of the Sixers’ Innovation Lab, which offers free strategic, operational and legal advice, as well as a pre-seed funding round.
The road to Nalaverse
Overall, well-being is a $ 4 trillion industry, and growing every year. In the United States, it is still predominantly white, but according to a national health survey, the percentage of African Americans practicing yoga is on the rise. Indeed, several black-owned or focused businesses and organizations have sprung up in recent years, including Release, a three-year-old meditation app “designed for the black experience”; the National Alliance of Black Yoga Teachers; and, closer to home, Spirits Up from Sudan Green! yoga and meditation.
“I realized it was becoming more accessible to me because I was learning from a woman I could relate to,” says Shropshire. “And I wanted to make sure that other black women had this experience, to really connect with other black women who had been through it and who were really passionate about mindfulness.”
Yet “I always felt that wellness spaces weren’t totally created for me, as a black woman,” says Shropshire. But during her sophomore year of business school, as she tried to figure out what to do with her career, friends advised her to meditate, try yoga, or many ways to “connect with yourself.” -even “.
Shropshire has tried various meditation and yoga studios in the area, but nothing has really worked. She was often the only black woman in space, and she felt disconnected from her fellow practitioners.
Then one day, while browsing Instagram, she came across Aubrey Howard’s thread, a black woman who is a professor of breathing and “looked really free and happy,” Shropshire says. “I realized it had become more accessible to me because I was learning from a woman I could relate to. And I wanted to make sure other black women had that experience, to really connect with other black women who had been through it and were really passionate about mindfulness.
Maguire and Shropshire first met in high school at Germantown Friends School. They both went to college on the West Coast, studied at UC Berkeley (Maguire) and Stanford (Shropshire) and eventually found their way back to their hometown. They did not reconnect until Maguire contacted Shropshire to ask him about his experience in the MBA program at Wharton. Maguire eventually decided to drop out of the MBA program, but from their two-way conversations grew a partnership that formed the basis of what would become Nalaverse.
The timing of their launch on August 17 helped shape the model and direction of their platform. Even before the pandemic made online courses mandatory, the duo were planning to host virtual sessions, which they plan to maintain for its accessibility. Their mission-driven operation, based on greater black representation, also came at an important time in the racial calculation nationwide.
Since last summer, Nalaverse has hosted over 600 live lessons and now offers an on-demand library of recorded lessons, an ongoing program of live lessons, and a number of in-person events planned around Philly this summer. Classes range from 2 minute quick breathing sessions you can do during your lunch break to 30 minute yoga classes for a variety of experience levels. The company also runs private lessons for a number of companies, including Google, Red Bull, Lyft, and the 76ers (the corporate team, not the basketball team).
Music is a big part of the Nalaverse brand, with the team creating custom Nalaverse beats and live sound care for some lessons. “We’re re-examining what on-demand content can really look like and so we kind of infuse it with music video qualities,” Maguire said. “You watch the video and you’re like oh it’s so beautifull and then all of a sudden you are so relaxed… because you are meditating!
Shropshire says many people found Nalaverse on Instagram, or through events like a live Instagram session Howard and Shropshire did in remembrance of George Floyd in 2020. Other members of the community found Nalaverse because they followed the instructors who joined the platform.
“If you can’t see yourself in a space, it’s hard to think it’s something you’re supposed to do,” says Shropshire.
Memberships are structured in a tiered pricing system, starting at $ 19.99 per month for full access library on demand and one live course per month, at $ 39.99 per month to access all on-demand and live courses. For $ 69.99 per month, participants can also offer free classes to those who are unable to contribute financially. (All live prices are also a sliding scale, with $ 5 being the floor.)
So far, Shropshire and MacGuire say the model has worked well; those who can pay do, and at first when the payment system was not intuitive and the classes were actually free, some class participants were so moved and wanted to contribute that they emailed the class. company to ask them how they could pay for the course.
Nalaverse started with just seven instructors, doing one class every day of the week, and now has 24 instructors across three continents. Most instructors are people of color, LGBTQ or other marginalized groups; they receive a base rate and share the income from the courses they teach.
The business is not yet profitable, but is “funded by venture capital,” says Shropshire. They are currently planning their next phases of growth for the coming year.
Aubrey Howard, whose breathing teaching first inspired Shropshire, was one of the first seven instructors to teach on the platform and continues to offer breathing sessions on Nalaverse every week. She says that in her own practice she has dedicated herself to the effort to “change that narrative around who is represented in wellness” and feels “so, so happy” to have found Nalaverse and to do part of its purpose as a business. .
“Nalaverse is leading this movement, it’s a black-owned, female-led startup that offers healing practices,” Howard said. “Working with Nalaverse has been so powerful for me in my business to really strengthen and build these partnerships and expand my reach. “
For Maguire and Shropshire, representing black women and those from marginalized communities is at the heart of Nalaverse’s business, from the instructors who teach on the platform, to their promotional materials, to their tiered pricing system, to maintaining the commitment to offering online courses as a way to remove many of the barriers some face in accessing wellness courses and resources.
“One of the main reasons we really focus on this is just because if you can’t see yourself in a space it’s hard to think it’s something you’re supposed to do,” says Shropshire. .
The company donates 10 percent of all its revenue to organizations supporting mental health in the black community, including Therapy for black girls, a platform that Shropshire used to find a therapist she could relate to. This month, for Pride, Maguire says donations go to National Network of Queer and Trans Therapists of Color.
“Nalaverse is leading this movement, this is a black-owned, female-led startup that offers healing practices,” Aubrey Howard said.
Nalaverse has also partnered with Rail Park to offer a rotation of pop-up meditations, breathing sessions, sound healing and other modalities throughout the summer and is working with The block gives back, a local organization that seeks to foster community engagement and action in Philadelphia, to teach community classes on Fridays.
An invitation to Nalaverse
Shropshire and Maguire say the name Nalaverse comes from the founders’ focus on the limitless possibilities of what they seek to accomplish, imagining a whole different universe, while Shrophsire adds that the “verse” part also makes her think of song lyrics and poetry, forms of self-expression that are intertwined in Nalaverse’s offerings.
Nala, says Shropshire, comes from thinking about “the energy of a very strong black woman, a black goddess,” and adds that the word can also mean “successful woman” in Swahili, and “first glass of water in the wilderness, “The latter is an apt description,” she said, “of the vital relief and rejuvenation she hopes Nalaverse’s courses will provide.”
“Anyone can go to the Nalaverse, and it’s just that universe within you that you already have access to,” she said.
In June, Nalaverse and Gorilla Power collaborated on a pop-up event, Powerverse. Photo by Rian Watkins