Meet Helanah Warren, a holistic health healing artist and the founder of Yogetree™, a program that combines movement, mindfulness, and meditation to deepen connections to the self and one's community.
Liz: Will you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Helanah: Do you remember the dandelions that used to bloom in the summer? And as a kid running around green spaces in yards and parks grabbing those blooms and blowing their little white fluffy seeds all over? Growing up for me was kind of like that.
There was a time when I felt very full and other times when I felt ready to burst. There were times I felt so scattered, just blowing all over the place. As I've grown, I've been able to really piece together some of the most difficult times of my childhood, some of the most confusing and unpleasant aspects, and understand that they have gifted me the skills I use today, all the time. I'll even go as far as to say, my most difficult childhood memories have blessed me with many of the skills that bring me success in my personal life, relationships, and business.
Liz: I love that. Where did you grow up? Who was a significant part of your childhood?
Helanah: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio bouncing between suburban school districts and inner city low-income housing. We moved a lot when I was little, so I grew to become a very adaptable child. You could put me in most any situation, and I would find a way to make new friends and get good grades. I learned how to hyper-focus on my assignments because not coming home with all A’s was a big deal in our household. It was like, my mom sacrificed so much for me to go to a good school, in a good neighborhood (even if that wasn't where we lived), that the least I could do was ace all my classes, and so that's what I did. But out of that also grew my love for words, and for learning. I still refer to myself as a student, even now. (laughs)
The most significant moment of my childhood? Whew, that's a tough one. My parents divorced when I was young and both remarried, but my relationship with my dad never really got repaired. I still miss him alot, and I wish we were closer. He has since moved on and remarried and had more children, but my heart still aches to be "daddy's little girl." It's funny; my uncle says each child has a hole in their heart the size of their dad, and that's something no one else and nothing else can fill. For me, that's so true. The hardest part of my childhood was my dad not being a part of it.
Liz: Thank you for sharing that with me. It sounds like your mom really fought for you.
Helanah: Yes, she definitely did. My mom is my shero, legit. I haven't always appreciated her enough, but like they say, as you grow older you learn to appreciate the little things and make more room for them. I love my mom so much, and she is my rock. My only regret as a child was not telling her that more often and taking for granted how hard she worked just so I could have the basics. Luckily, she is still a big part of my life now, and I'm definitely making up for lost time.
Liz: I love that. I think that is true for most kids. It takes time to appreciate your parents. Are there words you would use to describe yourself as a child that are also true today?
Helanah: Describe myself as a child? Well, that's easy. I was (and still am) very silly, light-hearted, optimistic, and hard-working. I love traveling and exploring new places. My grandmother says that when I was a baby she would sit me by the window, and I would watch the people go by, stare off into the sky, and that I was always content to play by myself. That's still so very true even now. I can be very social, but I love staying home. (laughs) I take my time and I am definitely still a daydreamer, and I love people-watching. I feel like I can learn so much about human relationships by simply observing what we do and how we do it.
Liz: You seem like a very curious person. Did you have a lot of different kinds of friends as you moved around?
Helanah: Yes, I definitely had tons of interesting friends as a kid. My mom always said she could walk into my high school any day or time of the week and ask any random kid, "Have you seen Helanah?" and they would always know where to find me. For one, my name is so unique, so there was no mistaking who she meant. Second, I find that so funny because I never thought of myself as a "popular kid," but something about the way I was able to relate to the "cool kids," the "theater kids," the "athletes," the "tech kids," the "goth kids," the "smart AP class kids," the exchange students, the teachers...made me who I am today. To me it never mattered where you came from—I was, and always have been, more interested in getting to know people for who they are and what they bring to our world and this human experience.
Liz: I can definitely see how that interest in the essence of people transfers to your work. What was college like for you? I know you went to Ohio State (because that’s where we met).
Helanah: College was a funny experience. I moved abroad right after high school to take a gap year in Germany on full scholarship, and that experience totally changed my trajectory and career-life path. I had a blast at Ohio State, but I graduated in three years because I tested out of so many classes and had crazy language credits, so I never had that "true" college experience. I lived with my grandma when I moved back from Europe and transferred to OSU, so I never lived in the dorms and somehow just breezed through undergrad. OSU still holds a big place in my heart; I knew who I was before I went there, but I really came out having a more defined sense of self and a better idea of who I wanted to become.
Liz: Ah, awesome. Thank you so much for these lovely answers. I'm learning so much! Did you major in German?
Helanah: You're most welcome! These questions are great! Got me teary-eyed on that last family reflection set! (laughs) Yup, I majored in Linguistics, German, Arabic and minored in Spanish.
Liz: Wow. So what was the path like from OSU graduation with a linguistics focus to Yogetree in Philadelphia?
Helanah: Hmm, I can’t say exactly how that happened. I worked in finance, sales, marketing and translation for most of my post-grad career, and all along I taught yoga on the side (I taught my entire time at OSU and haven't stopped teaching since). I got my Holistic Health Certification and became really serious about studying the body. I had been doing massage on my own for fun, but I started looking into massage therapy schools, hydrotherapy, reflexology and acupuncture. I went way deeper into aromatherapy, essential oils and herbs, and started sharing what I learned with friends and family. Next thing I knew, I was laid off from work and Yogetree was born. For me, it was the Universe's way of telling me this is what I'm supposed to be doing, this is where I’m supposed to be. So I listened, and now, I couldn't be happier. I wake up everyday looking for new ways to share what I've learned to help people reconnect to themselves, to find true peace within and to trust their instincts. It's challenging work, but what in life isn't?
Liz: Yes. Do you feel like Yogetree is a fuller expression of yourself than your previous work?
Helanah: Absolutely! I know the amazingness that Yogetree has grown into, and will continue to become, is at its core an expression of who I am, what I love, and what I value. I intentionally curate each experience to offer a gentle introduction to health and wellness practices...basically giving folks a chance to experience wellness in a way they never have before. As an educator, I know that exposure and environment play a big role in the learning process. I merge those factors with my wellness background to allow Yogetree to really wrap its arms around the participant with support, resources, and community.
What's special about Yogetree is not just me. It's you. It's the folks who come through the door, ready, open and curious. It's about taking a chance that you may learn something new, and you may like it, maybe even enough to incorporate it into your daily practice. It’s the possibility that you may find your tribe inside those four walls and not feel so alone in your journey. It's about connection. It's about faith, it's about truth, and more than anything it's about love. Sharing the light and love that lives within, first with yourself, and then with your community.
Liz: If Yogetree ran the world, what would it look like?
Helanah: If Yogetree ran the world, we would be ballin’!!!!!! Just kidding. Yes, but if Yogetree ran the world, we would see our sisters and brothers in a whole new light. We would be able to work diligently together because we would be taking care of our personal needs first. If Yogetree ran the world, the motto "Each one - Teach one - Reach one" would be in full effect worldwide. Peace and harmony would be more abundant because, just like one Yogetree participant said, "Love is something we give to another person to help them heal."
Liz: We are so excited to collaborate with you. Are there any "sneak peaks" you can share for Woo Woo Weekend?
Helanah: Woo Woo Weekend is going to be amazing. We will have all kinds of healing folk jam-packed into one beautiful historic space to collaborate and share in the name of social justice and community. You honestly can't go wrong with that! Come expecting nothing and open to where the experience will take you! Seriously cannot wait to see you there! And if you can't make it, keep checking our Facebook page for info about attending the Yogetree experience in your city. Much LOVE! Thank you LIZ!