We had the good fortune of connecting with Monika McKenzie and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Monika, how do you think about risk?
I would classify myself as a big risk taker when it comes to lifestyle, financial and career decisions. The risks are calculated but risks nonetheless. Risks are majorly scary, and I am a person who experiences a lot of fear and anxiety in general, so it is kind of ironic that I do take such big swings in life. Moving to an island I’d never been to in the middle of the sea was a risk, starting a yoga studio and signing that years-long lease was a risk, and I’m in the process of building out a company among some other major projects in the works where my initial thought is “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but here we go.”
Each risk becomes more comfortable to navigate and push through. The fear is still there, but there’s grounding in knowing that I’ve moved through something similar before and not only survived, but thrived.
I encourage people to take risks because often that’s where the reward lies, and it’s not always monetary. We learn to deeply believe in ourselves when we set out in uncharted territory, and that might be the biggest reward of all.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
This is a layered question to answer because I am the owner of The Yoga Nest, a small yoga studio on the Big Island of Hawaii, but I am first a student & teacher of yoga. I opened the studio with the intention of creating a space that felt welcoming to as many people as possible after (ironically) finding so much competitive energy in yoga culture.
I think that what sets me apart from others is that I’ve never fully fit in. As a young girl I was largely misunderstood by peers and made fun of a lot, and in high school I never belonged to one social group, but instead many. Additionally, I am biracial, which means I have lived a life straddling the race lines of America. I know what it feels like to hold racial privilege, I know that I can move into white spaces with more ease than someone who is fully Black AND I have been on the receiving end of racism many, many times. I will never be truly embraced by those white spaces because they were set up to deny my humanity altogether. I am an embodiment of an uneven playing field, and perhaps that is why I’ve wanted so badly to see the field even out in the world.
I’ve been passionate about social justice and fighting for the underdog since I was young and I’ve really found my voice in integrating that into wellness spaces. I’m into holistic health, yoga, meditation, and psychic development but I am very much “boots on the ground” in my approach because we need systemic change to make these wellness practices equitable for marginalized communities.
I’m grateful that inclusivity has translated to my studio (although I still have more I’d like to do in that regard), and I recognize that the energy of the studio is due in large part to the students who make the space what it is. I am in the process of building out a company, CNTRD, to be launched in the next year or so that takes the intersection of social justice and yoga to the next level!
The path of getting here today was certainly not easy and continues to have its challenges. I would say the smoothest part of starting The Yoga Nest was opening it. It was learning to manage people and time, wearing 10 hats at once, and moving through new stages of growth and setbacks that were truly challenging. I was nine weeks pregnant with my son, Jai, when the pandemic hit and trying to keep my business afloat while becoming a new mother was the most grueling process I have ever been through. My spirit quite literally crumbled into a state of depression I had never experienced before and I was left with no choice but to learn a lesson I’ve mentally beat out of myself since I was young, which is to rely on other people. My people came forward in a major way to extend their help and support in my darkest hours, and I finally learned to accept the help without giving into old conditioning of feeling indebted, unworthy, and trying to shoulder it all myself. It has been really life changing to open up in that way.
The more I’ve embraced exactly who I am (which is some wild combination of an incredibly introverted outspoken biracial Black woman), the more the world has opened up to me. I’m a progress story for the social lone wolves and the hopeful but invalidated. If I could encourage one thing, it would be validate yourself against all odds, because you are valid. I hope my brand continues to grow into one that pushes the needle to make space for every beautiful form of human that exists on our planet.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This question is going to be pretty vague in nature because Hawaii is experiencing some warranted and heightened frustrations around overtourism right now, so out of respect for native Hawaiians I’m going to omit the names of locations.
Okay so every morning we would take our sweet time waking up because a morning person, I am not. We would enjoy a slow breakfast and then get ready for the day.
Five out of the seven days we would do something adventurous, like go on a hike to a stunning location or to a remote beach, explore a different side of the island, go paddleboarding in the bay nearby, take a boat to see whales if it were the right season. The other two days would be beach bum days where we chill, swim, play, and enjoy some drinks on the beach.
We would definitely eat at delicious local restaurants around the island for the majority of the trip, and throw one or two fancy dinners in there for good measure. My favorite thing to do is just enjoy the beauty of the island. We live a simple life over here compared to the mainland, but we like it that way.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There is an endless gratitude list playing in my mind right now of people who have consistently supported my growth, but I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to my best friend, Maxine. We have been friends since the second grade and are so very different in so many ways, but she has been an unwavering source of encouragement throughout the majority of my life. Maxine is a total badass but she is not a huge risk-taker. She is very grounded, her work ethic is nothing short of inspiring, she knew where she was headed from a young age and didn’t waste anytime getting there. I can’t say the same…I tried a lot of things before figuring it out! Sometimes when I tell her the next spontaneous move I’m making I can feel her hesitation through the phone because she’s picturing herself doing the thing I’m about to do. But she puts that hesitation aside and backs me with her full support because she knows that is what is right for my life. I think that is the epitome of a true friend, someone who can ride alongside you in a different seat, honor your growth and honor how that growth may differ from their own. I definitely would not be where I am in life without Maxine. She’s a really inspiring person and I’m lucky to call her my best.
Studio images taken by Kali Phillips of @photos.by.kali or www.photosbykali.com