Haley Laughter’s yoga studio is Mother Nature and conference venues. “Giving Natives access to yoga means that I have to be mobile. I’m bringing yoga to our people,” says Laughter (Navajo), founder and CEO of Hozho Total Wellness.
Laughter launched Hozho Total Wellness in 2015 to help Natives release stress and historical trauma through yoga, a practice intended to heal the mind, body and spirit. Today, she travels to host energizing yoga classes and brief breaks of stretching and movement at business conferences across Indian Country.
Her first business conference collaboration was the inaugural Native Women’s Business Summit, held at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 13-14, 2018. Laughter lead 15-minute yoga sessions before each conference break for the 200-plus Native American businesswomen who attended to share their collective experiences and grow social capital.
“The attendees said they felt so good; they felt re-energized,” Laughter says. “Everybody’s busy and they have all these demands. Learning to take care of self is important.”
Building a Brand
Laughter cultivated quite the following with creative self-promotion—a challenge for the professed introvert. She originally garnered attention for photos of her holding yoga poses while sporting moccasins on Healthy Active Natives. To promote Hozho and its vision, “Be Indigenous Yoga Inspired,” she maintains an active social media presence on Hozho’s Instagram @hozho_total_wellness and Facebook @hozhototalwellness accounts.
“It was challenging for me to put myself out there online, but I thought, if you don’t do it, then how are people going to be able to practice?” Laughter says.
Hozho’s International Yoga Day events at Monument Valley are testament to the company’s reach. Laughter envisioned “yoga in a beautiful setting where people can disconnect from their everyday lives, from social media, from the voicemails, the emails, the demands, the different titles—and really reconnect with the elements and feel their vibration in a beautiful place practicing yoga.”
Laughter hosted her first International Yoga Day at Monument Valley on June 17,2017, drawing nearly 100 people to the red-sand desert for a full day of flowing through asanas, sharing meals and performances. She charged $150 per person.
While her first International Yoga Day event was a hit; it drew 95 percent non-Natives, because she splashed promotional flyers across New Mexico and Arizona. Her second annual event at Monument Valley, hosted June 21, 2018, attracted a roughly 95-percent Native attendance. “That was the goal, because we’re creating an indigenous yoga movement,” Laughter says.
Laughter achieved the shift by focusing heavily on her followers, who are primarily indigenous. Consistency was key. “Everyday, I posted something new,” she says.
Seven indigenous yoga teachers helped lead the second annual Indigenous Yoga Day: Tria Blu Wakpa, Nicco Montaño (Navajo UFC fighter champion), Rinzler Ridge, Acosia Red Elk, Aqueene Simran, Cecelia Lookingback and Anita Lara-Beckler. Native Hope Media, a nonprofit organization that honors the indigenous oral tradition of storytelling, filmed Hozho’s 2018 International Yoga Day as part of their new documentary series.
In addition to selling tickets per head, Laugher sought sponsorships. The Navajo Nation VP Department sponsored the catering; Native American Behavioral Health Services donated; Sundance Dental covered the cost of t-shirts; OXDX, artist Jared Yazzie’s clothing line, sponsored leggings for a prize drawing.
“Be Indigenous Yoga Inspired”
Laughter emphasizes that yoga is for everyone, and her classes are filled with beginners and first-time yogis. “In Indian Country, they’re often brand new students. It’s really intimate,” Laughter explains. “Afterward, they share their experience. Sometimes people get emotional and cry, because they were given permission to release something. The body holds trauma, the body holds stress and emotion. Yoga allows you to recycle that and turn it into something positive.”
Hozho’s indigenous approach to yoga incorporates the four elements: fire, air, water and Mother Earth.
“In our module, Mother Earth represents the body. We talk about taking care of the body, exercising the body, stretching the body,” Laughter says. “Fire would be emotions. With historical trauma, we have a lot of anger and unproductive energy within us. You can either have a fire that burns and hurts you and everybody else, or you can create a fire that promotes growth, that cleanses the earth,” Laughter explains. “You can take emotion and recycle it into something positive. Because energy is energy – it’s just how you decide to use it.”
“Our brains are protected by a water substance, which allows the firing of the electrons and protons. We talk about education, learning new things, keeping the mind strong, thinking ahead, planning, and having good thoughts,” Laughter says.
The final element is air. “Air would be our lungs. We teach breathing deeply to use the full lung capacity when needed. As time goes on, with stress, trauma, age, we only use 1/3 of our lung capacity, the top of our lungs. But as babies, we use the entire lung capacity. Breath is connected to the central nervous system. Slow, deep breaths allow for our body to calm down the nervous system.”
Hozho Total Wellness will host its first Indigenous Yoga 200-Hour Teacher Training (in collaboration with Kiva Yoga) in October. Every Indigenous person who is interested in bringing yoga to their community is encouraged to apply.
To book Hozho Total Wellness for your business conference, contact [email protected] or call (505) 879-0723.