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Pause with Maryam Ajayi

The wellness multi-hyphenate, activist and self-confessed disco fanatic on mental health and building better life practices. Sit back. Relax. And... read.

 

Maryam wears vest and culottes by COS.  (Image: Stefani Pappas).

Take a deep breath and unwind as today we’re in the calming company of wellness expert Maryam Ajayi (she/her). ‘I live to self-care,’ she laughs. ‘But in all seriousness, I really prioritize my well-being by any means necessary. Whether it’s napping, breathwork, meditating, enjoying a nice natural wine or taking myself out on a date.’

‘I try to put me first and find time to care for myself, which is not something Black women are ever taught to do – and doing so is radical resistance. It’s revolutionary.’

Both Maryam’s dedication to mental health and her diverse background have led her to become a leader in the industry, working to make wellness available for all – whether it's through sharing simple everyday practices or providing a place where people from all backgrounds can have access to caring for themselves. ‘Often people are scared of wellness. It feels abstract and distant – unreachable,’ she explains. ‘But wellness doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as a home cooked meal, a day in the park with friends, or even an outfit that makes you feel like your best self.’

Maryam’s path into wellness was – in her own words – ‘strange and kind of jarring’. She was born in Nigeria to her African-American mother and Nigerian father who met at a disco in 1970’s Washington D.C. ‘A story I’ve always loved,’ she recalls, ‘And probably the root of my obsession with disco music!’ After many years working in the American corporate world, she soon sensed her spirit was becoming brittle and needed a change. ‘I started seeking healing through yoga and meditation, just for myself,’ she explains. ‘This led to connecting with mentors who helped me expand my wellness toolkit until it became not just my full-time job, but my life’s purpose.’

Now, Maryam has found the perfect balance by starting her own company and as a professional practitioner of Reiki, the Akashic Records and Breathwork. Embracing these new opportunities has led her to use her voice about issues, ‘near and dear to [her]’ such as equity, liberation, mental health and wellness, centring around BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). In 2019, she launched Dive in Well with the mission to right the inequities in the wellness business. ‘It was born out of a necessity to build a more inclusive industry, not just one that caters to white people only’ she points out. ‘I’ve always believed wellness should be accessible to everyone.’

We paused for a moment with Maryam to talk about mental health maintenance, building better life practices and her love of comfort dressing...

 

Maryam wears top by COS.  (Image: Stefani Pappas).

ON MENTAL HEALTH MAINTENANCE
‘We’re definitely experiencing a generational shift in how we talk about mental health – and I am here for it. It’s nothing new, but I don’t think previous generations had the tools or vocabulary to speak about mental health openly and vulnerably. This generation is doing so much work to remove stigma from it and see it as a product of our bodies being constantly in a state of change. I truly feel proud to witness this shift and so excited to see where the next generation can take it too.’

‘Setting boundaries and stillness are two ways I’m working on taking better care of myself at the minute. By establishing limits with others, with work and with your time, provides you with the stillness in your life to be able to sit with yourself and develop self-intimacy. To truly know who you are is a gift and when you know yourself, you spend less time seeking outside validation, which brings such blissful peace.’

ON BUILDING BETTER LIFE PRACTICES
‘You can start by really sitting with yourself and asking yourself questions: what does a better life look and feel like? What brings you joy? What does your life look and feel like with more joy? What do you need to let go of that may be holding you back? So many people’s definition of a fulfilling life is riddled with society’s conditioning or projections from others. I suggest doing as much work as you can to really strip as much of that away as you can. Get a journal and spend some time exploring the depths of your being and your heart's desires. Then, make a plan to move towards these things one at a time.’

‘When it comes to building regular practices, I lean towards a ‘go with the flow’ attitude because I believe that’s when magic happens. It also helps you strengthen your relationship with your intuition. However, there is a power in maintaining routines. Big or small, routines can really provide stability and teach discipline. Everyone should find their own perfect balance between the two.’

‘My favourite life practice is breathwork. It’s been a very powerful tool for self-healing in my life. With it I've been able to connect with my body, open my heart and deal with stuck energy and emotions that I’ve held onto. It’s also such a great on-the-go tool too. I feel like with some practices you feel committed to a certain space or have to dedicate specific time to practise it, but with breathwork you can practise wherever you are, and really heal in the moment when you really need it. It leaves you with a sense of calm and empowers you to create a deeper connection with yourself.’

ON HER STYLE CHOICES
‘What you wear can have such a positive impact on your mental health. I really believe in expanding the definition of what wellness looks – and feels – like. I am a quintessential Taurus, so I love comfort. It’s the first thing I look for when it comes to clothing because if I am comfortable, I feel like myself, and when I feel like myself, I feel more confident. Though I value this the most, I pride myself in my ability to incorporate a chic and fun vibe into my style.’

‘While I’m travelling, I love pairing versatile basics with unique pieces – whether that’s a flirty top, fun shoes or beautiful jewelry. I am a habitual over-packer, so the basics help me keep it simple and light, while the unique pieces keep things fun.’

‘I am absolutely obsessed with the new lightweight culottes from the Pause by COS collection. They are both comfortable enough for lounging yet sleek enough to dress up and hit the town – the perfect day-to-night pants!

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