We had the good fortune of connecting with Aubree Gilbert and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aubree, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
My business, Mindful Skulls, was built out of unemployment and all the other chaos that unfolded in 2020. I was in survival mode after schools and gyms shut down leaving me without work. I was working with youth in high schools and SF juvenile hall as well as taught adult classes at the YMCA. I am a trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness instructor who specializes in Mindfulness for mental health. A lot of the young people I work with live with anxiety, depression, ptsd and other forms of stress. I first started Mindful Skulls on Instagram as a way to keep offering practices and Mindfulness resources for mental health to my students. Some of the staff at the high schools I was serving–teachers, counselors and social workers told me that students were in need of practices and were asking about me. I went into mama bear mode, especially with the heightened emotional states around COVID and the lock downs. I was eager to do my best to keep serving my community. Instagram was my way of being able to offer practices as an independent since there was no longer work for me with my organizations.
I started using instagram to post mini practice videos with the main goal of helping people cope with the weight of the world and let them know they are not alone in how they are feeling. This then lead me to hold weekly Zoom classes focusing on Somatic Movement. If you aren’t familiar with Somatics and yoga, basically emotions are stored in our bodies so we can move and breathe with awareness as a form of healing.
I would go for long walks as a way to still get outside during quarantine and it broke my heart to see how many small businesses were suffering. I wanted a way to support those around me while building something for my self in desperate and devastating times. After my friend Alina helped me design my logo, I immediately wanted to keep a circle of independent artists/businesses going. I found other entrepreneurs on Etsy to make patches, stickers, stamps etc. I went to a few of my favorite mom and pop shops in SF where I bought a variety of beanies to sew my patches on and sell. I made aromatherapy essential oil rollers and candles candles with herbs from local farms to support emotional wellness needs that can be incorporated into self care routines.
This has all been a gradual process that involves risk, creativity and community. It has been moving to see how many people have helped make my visions in the past year come through by making purchases or offering a trade. I want Mindful Skulls to be a mindful community for sustainable living and while slow at time, it feels like home sweet home.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think what makes my classes different from your typical yoga or meditation class is how I incorporate what I call Creative Expression. All my Mindful Skulls classes have a mindful art piece, usually before we get into bigger movements. I use art prompts to fuel my students imaginations and give space for them to process whatever they are going through. Writing or drawing can be an effective outlet outside of verbal communication. No writing or art experience is necessary. The whole practice is about being curious and trying your best. I am proud of the prompts I have come up with and excited by the responses/ reflections I get from my students.
It was not easy to get to where I am in the sense that I have had a hard time with my own mental health my whole life. The hardest part in what I do is holding a mirror to myself and working to be better so I can show up fully for those I work with. I would say, however that it is easy in the sense that I feel the most like myself when I am doing the work whether its my own safe care practices or leading someone else. Growth is hard but it is easier than staying in unhappiness.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is I can only take care of others as well as I take care of myself. If I am not keeping up with my mindfulness practices, I am less equipped to guide my clients. Since I am leading Mindfulness for mental health, a lot of what my students are going through comes up and gets shared with me. I am NOT a mental health professional so there is only so much I am qualified to do in these situations. It is my role to use what I know about the science and philosophy of yoga, somatic movement, and neurobiology to guide them into movement, breath or art practices as I see fit.
I’m really just trying to keep it real and give people tools for emotional wellness. I’ve struggled with my mental health most of my life and have found the biggest changes in my lifestyle through the techniques I teach. My goal is not to make anyone rely on me but rather to help people learn how to take care of themselves. Nothing in life is a one-size-fits all, so I aim to focus on the individual or shared needs of a group of people to find what works best. I am here to serve those around me the best I can and let the gift of self care keep on giving.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in San Francisco so I would definetly take them to some of the big tourist attactions with my favorite food spots sprinkled in.
We would start with my Mindful Skulls Park Chillin’ class in Golden Gate Park for some creative expression, breath work mindful movement, conscious rest then community picnic
We could walk through Golden Gate Park after class to visit the different gardens and museums (museums could have their own day)
We’d walk up to Underdogs for some burritos and the best fries you will ever have.
Another day we could rent bikes or walk across the Golden Gate Bridge-do a little hike
Breakfast at Saint Francis Fountain for all your go-to breakfast munchies. Then walk around Valencia street to check out all the little shops and cafes. Grab a coffee or a smoothie from really anywhere to take to Dolores Park where we can people watch. Then walk to Indochine for some vegan crispy chow fun and spicy tuna roll.
Hop on the train to the MOMA downtown to stroll some art. Vegan Mob food truck for the best Vegan Soul food you will ever have.
Walking everywhere and anywhere. Theres so much to see an experience.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel honored to be doing the work I do. I had the confidence to branch out on my own as an independent because of all the amazing feedback I’ve gotten from my students.
To my high school students–your vulnerability, self reflection and willingness to try new things inspires me everyday. Your feedback around the practices and how they have served you outside of our time together assured me that what I’m doing matters even on the hard days.
My students make my job layered in all its raw human emotion that gets explored. I’ve laughed, cried and listened with my whole heart with my students and I feel grateful everyday to be able to make a living off my passion. I hope to keep paying it forward.