Ompractice Series: Practice Makes Purpose Episode 2 with Nicolas de Alejo

Ompractice – Practice Makes Purpose

A conscious conversation about the goings on in the yoga and mindfulness worlds and beyond.

We’re thrilled to be kicking off our new series, Practice makes Purpose, with episodes this season hosted by Reggie Hubbard. We’ll be hosting each new episode live on Wednesdays on our Instagram channel. (Listen and follow on Spotify) Catch up here, with Episode 1 with Chanel Sledge.

Epidsode 2 with Nicolas de Alejo

Nicolas de Alejo, founder and CEO (Compassionate Executive Officer) of Men Care Now

Read the Transcript:

Reggie Hubbard: Blessings and best wishes. Reggie Hubbard here, happy to be here for the Practice Makes Purpose, episode two, where today, we will be talking about diversity and inclusion with respect to how the yoga practice impacts men. So we talk a lot about diversity inclusion in terms of body type and race and those sorts of things, but especially in the Western aesthetic, the yoga practice doesn’t really seek to serve men. So I’m honored to be in community today with my brother, Nicolas de Alejo from Men Care Now. My homie in the struggle to talk a little bit about what he’s doing and some of the innovation that he has going on. So here we go. Yo.

Nicolas de Alejo: What’s going on, my brother? How are you?

Reggie Hubbard: I’m well, how are you today?

Nicolas de Alejo: I’m very well. I’m very well. Grateful to be on here, and good energy and just appreciate the conversation. So thank you for having me.

Reggie Hubbard: Yeah, I’m happy to be in community with you again and happy to be in this important conversation. So I’ll just give a brief introduction of you from my perspective and then we can talk about you from your perspective, because your perspective is far more informed about you than me. So y’all, I met brother Nick doing a Men Care Now Compassion Series for Yoga Alliance, and it was a delight to be in community with them because we rarely talk about compassion in the yoga space and definitely not in the context of how men should embody and not only should, but do embody compassion. So there’s this whole notion of who men are that is neither all the way false, but more importantly, not all the way true. So the way that me and my homie here have connected is because we just want to have conscious conversations in general, and that’s the whole purpose of Practice Make Purpose is to have conscious conversation centered around diversity equity and inclusion in the wellness space.

Reggie Hubbard: I would also offer something that I heard from one of my sisters in my Buddhist practice is that we should start calling it justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. So that’s Jedi, because in this work, you definitely need to use the force because people be on some bull-sh… You know what I’m saying. One of my brothers in the struggle too, Ravi Singh, I was talking to him yesterday and he said, “The greatest gift you can give someone is consciousness.” So if I, or we through the purpose of these conversations and this one in particular can shift your perspective, that is the biggest gift that we can give you and how we can better relate to all these people. So brother, I talked a little bit about how we met. Tell me a little bit about your personal story, how yoga found you, and let’s just get this going.

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah, so there’s always many layers to every story. So for me, the kind of quick and simple I think, one is, I grew up in a religious household, had gone to church, went to a Catholic school. So that was a staple of my growing up as there was this huge religious spirituality opening understanding and just community, which I did appreciate. I found it to be really powerful and enlightening. I actually love to just sing my heart out too when we do the hymns. So it was just something which was funny because in my RYT-200 years ago, I loved the chanting and so again, the parallel was there.

Nicolas de Alejo: I think the second part of it lucky enough, just in college, had the community, had the opportunity and went and took some classes and through some relationships and that just kind of opened the gate. So years later, when life caught up with me in terms of different pieces of my mental health, my lower back, I had three herniations in my back and different issues with knees and shoulders. So all of that caught up with me and at that point, all the other things that I knew about, I wasn’t really happy about the options. So yoga became something to explore a lot deeper, and then it just became deeper and deeper and deeper and then it’s just become now just like brushing my teeth. It’s that core to what I am and my path.

Nicolas de Alejo: Growing up in Florida, my background being Cuban American, for me, machismo, not yoga, it was a different kind of style. So I think this is a great thing that is so accessible and so powerful and the more I dove into it and not just asana but the beyond, it’s been just this evolving journey of how can I evolve? How can I bring some of this and be helpful to others and at least show that awareness or provide consciousness? So that’s been the paths, but I think I became one of those individuals where it was kind of a medical path that really interests me. The spiritual is my personal, that’s where my personal practice and what I really dive into, but what I’m trying to create and take and bring out is more on the, not medical in the sense of in a doctor’s office, but more intervention, prevention, things that we can start to gleam around behavior change so our lifestyles, our own health can start to have different outcomes.

Reggie Hubbard: Tell me a little bit more about how Men Care Now came into existence.

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah. So that was last year watching tele-health, the changes in reimbursement, a lot of the shifts that we saw and saw what that did for population health, it terms of accessibility, in terms of this whole notion that there could be a bigger opportunity out there to really create a lot of quality services to all populations, to all communities. That to me, right away translated into yoga, got the email in June last year from the Yoga Alliance and said, this is perfect. Let’s launch this teacher training program with as many perspectives as we can understand super, at the core of it being around inclusion around all different perspectives, because that’s what I think has been so powerful for my journey, is all these different people that I’ve been able to come in contact with and then share their wisdom, what they’ve learned, their insights.

Nicolas de Alejo: It’s every single one of those together that creates my healing, my journey, not this one person. Some of them have had more profound in terms of the time they’ve spent with me, but I think a lot of it just comes back to just perspective at the time and later on, and everything seems like it makes sense later on, but when you’re in it, it’s definitely a different game.

Reggie Hubbard: No, I appreciate that because one of the things that… and you, and I’ve talked about this quite extensively, but for the people who will either view this now, or view this later, I have struggled in the way that the wellness industry does not seem to care about men. I don’t think it’s willful all the time, but I do think there are certain things, whether it be phraseology or a lot of men weren’t dancers or former athletes in the way that some women were.

Reggie Hubbard: So the way that asana is sequenced isn’t accessible to men. For me, I started practicing yoga when I turned 40 and I’m 6’2″ and 260. So there are certain things that I can do with power, but I don’t necessarily have with respect to like hip flexibility or these sorts of things. I remember one of the first yoga class that went to, people were just like, “You should do this.” I’m like, “Huh?” Luckily for me, I’m a bit of a contrarian but some people may have walked out of that class. So tell me a little bit more about from your experience, how the yoga industry writ large, it’s not that they seek to exclude men, but sometimes lack of inclusion is like tacit or subtle exclusion. So tell me ways that in your experience, not only that you see that the industry writ large doesn’t seek to sell itself or avail itself to men, but what you’re doing about it.

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah, and I think you hit the nail on the head because it really comes settled down to even the sequencing. I think that’s one of the more powerful parts of it, in that men have different ways of approaching and it’s not always the same and every man is different and how people understand themselves and in the morning they might have certain energy in the evening, they might have certain energy. So just like a song, you might love a song today and the song might not be your favorite tomorrow and then for the next three months, you might play it everyday, I think that shifting sounds.

Nicolas de Alejo: So for me, it was more about, I was finding myself pushing too hard in certain areas and so potentially being injury prone, I was finding myself not being able to do certain things. So finding that lack of confidence or self doubt that was creeping. So there was just different parts of what I was experiencing that, and again, I don’t think it was intentional. It was just without that flexibility and wanting to push yourself, so the combination of a couple of things start to sometimes at least in a lot of the people I work with that are male, they will push themselves to try and do it. So if it does go beyond their current flexibility or strength or whatever the mobility might be, there’s still an attempt to go there. I think that is what I kept seeing in a lot of classes on my own.

Nicolas de Alejo: Seven years ago when I started teaching male yoga classes and meditation in New York City at different studios in the city, I would naturally attract more men and I think part of it was because I had herniations in my back. So how I taught was a much different, not a full flexibility type of approach, but it was a little bit more, okay, let’s really warm up a lot of these different pieces. Let’s go through and give permission, so the tree can be kickstand, it can be on the calf, it can be on the thigh. Let’s use the block and the demoing. So we actually use the block and the demoing and then everyone else can use the block and we start there. And then if we want to remove the block because for some reason, that doesn’t feel amazing, then fine, we’ll remove the block.

Nicolas de Alejo: So it was all these little subtleties for myself, for my journey that I found appealing and then working with a lot of male clients through the fact that these classes tended to be the majority of my classes at first in over the first couple of years, I think were more 70, 80% female. And then there was a shift where I started offering these classes outside of these studios. But even with my own style, I was bringing it into these other places. I would say, I started to go to like 50-50, 60-40 men and a lot of these people would show up. A lot with be men every time saying like, “Wow, my back feels great. I’m much more open, wow. Oh man, the meditation, I’ve never been able to relax in Shavasana.” I appreciate the fact that you just talk the whole time.

Nicolas de Alejo: I was told by all my teachers, you shouldn’t talk to as much in your classes, so I don’t know. Who knows if that’s good or not? I don’t think this is just for males. It can be for different types of people, but when you bring it all together with that as the intention, it does provide a potentially safer space. It does provide something that feels like, okay, this might actually be from my body with being less flexible, being a little bit more egotistical at times and machismo popping in when it needs to gray, when it doesn’t need to please, breathe away kind of thing.

Nicolas de Alejo: So I think that’s how I’ve approached it and it’s evolving, but at least the feedback and the experiences, a lot of the men that have come through the program has been, this is something that feels right and it does naturally… Okay, maybe this is really for my body. Maybe I can do CrossFit and be a little bit more going a little bit more faster pace and really doing what I need to do with that rhythm. But there might be an opportunity on another area to just slow down and take that to a different rhythm. So that combination is great. I think competition is necessary, just doesn’t need to be in the yoga.

Reggie Hubbard: Yeah, I love what you said there, because for better or for worse, our culture in the United States, but I would say also in the west, but more so in the States, dudes try to be the most, you know what I mean? There’s always this, “Oh!” I grew up watching wrestling. So I totally understand Hulkamania running wild, totally understand that because that’s just what we’re taught. But one of the ways that that yoga has changed me is that, and we’ve talked about this, I teach a hatha style, which is doing the most by doing the least. So for people, that are like, “Huh?” I’m like, “Yeah. So you think this is wimpy, hold Tree Pose for a minute. Tall spine, navel engaged, proud chest. Oh yeah, right.

Reggie Hubbard: So it’s that level of refinement and mastery that I think can appeal to men, whereas, vinyasa classes, especially some of the power vinyasa are like, “Go, go, go more and more and more” when in fact, that’s probably what a lot of men don’t need more of. We need permission to be softer. We need permission to slow down. We need permission to offer that vulnerability and you and I have talked about this as well. I talked a lot in my classes too. Why? Because we’re not conditioned to emote. We’re not conditioned to talk about some of the things. We talked a lot about this and that Compassion Series. If I go up to someone and be like, “Yo, I love you,” people are, “What?” Yes, dude said that to you, whatever. You know what I mean? So the way that we offer these practices and talk about these practices is very important. So tell me a little bit more about some of the innovation that Men Care Now is doing, not just with respect to broaden the practice to men, but just in offering wellness in a different way.

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah, so I think what’s cool about it. First, is it’s remote, all of it’s remote. So that in itself allows, which I think is where a lot of this is going, but there will be no kind of pull back in that direction at least for the time being. It’s great to have people from California, Michigan, all over the country that have such different practices and perspectives of what yoga means. So I think that’s been really beautiful, but I think what’s really cool about it is one, is I have a lot of learning and development background.

Nicolas de Alejo: So I’ve been trying to just introduce just really cool styles of learning, where when we start to do stuff, it’s the men create the sequence and then they’re teaching that for their final and everything’s connected. So there’s this whole buildup of confidence and understanding and that deep connection to what all these things are and I think on top of that, we’re actually going to start bringing in heart rate variability monitors, and started doing things around understanding stress and anxiety.

Nicolas de Alejo: So we’re going to have like twofold. One is more of the community side is going deep there and continuing with just allowing men from all different backgrounds and parts of the country to have an ability to feel like they can just do yoga and then just wherever that yoga takes them can have that opportunity and safe space to either talk, listen, engage, share or kick it in a more private setting.

Nicolas de Alejo: On the other side of that is more trying to engage individuals like Ernesto who’s on our team, who’s at Columbia Health, who’s a psychologist and trying to actually implement really powerful tools, so when individuals walk away, they have a tool set that’s like, okay, when I’m doing… I’ve actually reinforced that and seen that in my own action. So I understand it and to be something that can be true for me, and something that can be true in my own life, not you said it reduces my stress, great. I’ve never been able to do that, but I’m now actually seeing the heart rate variability monitor telling me no, actually you just did that breathing and it’s down significantly and you’re like, “Oh okay, so this actually does work.” That reinforcement, I think is a powerful thing and a lot of times, that’s really where it’s going.

Nicolas de Alejo: So it’s the self-confidence with the community and trying to build as much into a lot of it coming from different angles and different perspectives so you can see how it’s all the same thing, but LeBron plays different than Jordan, you know what I’m saying at the end of the day. So that’s how powerful this becomes, where I don’t think people look at it that way, where people can have almost a super power within this different type of practice that they can really bring both for themselves and for operating.

Nicolas de Alejo: So that’s been the innovation, it’s more from community awareness and really integrating things that are powerful and meaningful and then the other side of that is actual techniques taken from psychology and other parts of the medical field to see if there’s an opportunity to introduce it in more of a holistic type of program, so then more men can just come in, understand tools, share those tools and it becomes this whole collective sharing where the hope is more and more communities adopt what yoga means in their way. Maybe it’s in a dojo, maybe it’s out in the field. It doesn’t actually matter how it shows up. It doesn’t have to be with a yoga mat. It could just be asana. It could just be breath. It could just be whatever, but we’re trying to take all of it together so you can have all these tools and understand and contextualize in the community and then contextualize it in your own self-care.

Reggie Hubbard: Right. I love that. I appreciate that. So for those of you that are here, we’re here for you. If you have any questions, please let us know, just put it in the chat, feel free to let us know and engage. But I just have two other questions because you know my style homie, I like to be quick. I like a whole bunch of fluff or I like to get in, have a dope conversation and then prayer hands, and we out. Also, because people’s attention spans have been hella compromised over the pandemic and I’m mad sensitive to that.

Reggie Hubbard: So one of the things that has come to mind, whenever I think of you, the old school Paid in Full song comes to mind, you know what I’m saying? So being kind of a master plan, I always whenever I see your name, either my email or social or whatever, I’m just like, “Yo homie’s on some stuff.” So thinking of a master plan, what are you thinking about right now, man? What are some of the master plans that you got brewing for the next couple of weeks a month or whatever?

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah, I appreciate that. I think one of it is I’m actually writing a research report on fitness and wellness deserts to try and highlight just like healthcare system deserts, just like food deserts, all of what we’re talking about, all of this wellness, where does it show up in zip codes? How do we think about models where maybe 50,000 local residents who chip in $100 and all of a sudden, we have a $5 million operating budget for a yoga studio and three years of op ex to actually run the studio in certain communities, or we bring ultrasound machines and different things to local community hospitals through actual depreciation schedules where people can start to own this stuff and started to get so technical with that. But that’s something that I’ve been working on and it’s so powerful because it’s trying to be aware of the tools and then try and showcase them so maybe people will be like, “Oh wait, there is an opportunity to impact and create outcomes that can be also good for me.”

Nicolas de Alejo: I think that’s been something that’s been powerful. So it’s working with some really brilliant, mainly young women who are helping me put together this research report from all over the country and I think that’s really doing something I think that’s going to be really powerful to just really highlight that. You can come at it from a lot of different angles, but mainly from the founders and trying to say, how can we provide tools so more and more founders can want to go and understand some of these opportunities to impact population health, different communities that might not understand or have the same resources from a wellness perspective and just make wellness more equitable, make it more justice-friendly and something that is something that can be thought of in design phase around how it can be helpful to different communities.

Reggie Hubbard: Well, I think that’s beautiful and you use a bit of jargon that I want to tease out a bit. So you said opex and depreciation models and those….remind of your background background, where I was like, so you don’t come to yoga and wellness from a… You used to work in high money in high finance.

Nicolas de Alejo: I did. So I started my career in investment banking, where I was working with Chinese companies and US companies for healthcare and early actually wellness, smoking cessation fund, stuff like that, and then went to BlackRock for about eight, nine years, which is a large asset manager and there, I was doing really cool things globally, research, product innovation, ESG, a lot of sustainability work and then became a portfolio manager managing assets. So yeah, I spent 13, 14 years in that world and really even in that world, I think I had taught a couple of hundred yoga classes, did a lot of events around wellness and trying to really humanize the process. The background has been, I think, helpful to try and be mindful about how we can really make this impact and continue to scale the impact and make it something that can be accessible where more and more, I think capital dollars or funding can start to come into, where I think there’s a lot of opportunity, but also a lot of needs and a lot of opportunity to serve and help and that’s where it’s all at.

Reggie Hubbard: You said humanize the process, remind me your title again.

Nicolas de Alejo: In terms of-

Reggie Hubbard: C.E.O means what?

Nicolas de Alejo: A compassionate executive officer. So just trying to even change the chief to compassionate, just because we think that’s how we want to engage with everyone. That’s how we want the people that are leading organization to know that they’re not heading everything. They’re here to be compassionate officers for everyone.

Reggie Hubbard: I respect that because you know this about me. I’m the chief serving officer, Active Peace Yoga. So Active Peace is my thing but I am the chief servant. Even recently, I took a couple of weeks off because I sprained my ankle and then I sent an email to my community. I was just like, “What do you need?” So I sent a survey, I was like, “I’m here to teach you.” So serve it. How can I serve my community as opposed to we’re doing this this week, the world is changing. The world is hella changed. In conclusion, do you have any either closing thoughts or pandemic reflections? Leave us with some of the wisdom that you have based on your lived experience in this moment?

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah. I think for me is that practice is hard to keep up with and just the awareness of that is a special gift. It’s something that can be strong, but I think part of it is where can practice become a habit? Where can practice become part of what really defines your strategy over the next, whatever it is? I think for me at the beginning, I was really lucky and I say lucky, because I do believe in luck, but it’s more you put yourself out there to put in context is, I started just teaching on Instagram Live three classes a week. Well, that solidified my practice. It was beautiful. It wasn’t like I thought forward like that, but because I just did that, and that was for months, every day I would show up and teach an hour class, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and it was a hype yoga class. There was a little bit more power to keep people moving and active exactly.

Nicolas de Alejo: It was just thank you for whatever happened to that in the universe to present that decision and that energy at that time. I didn’t plan for that. So I don’t want to take a lot of credit for how that came out and be like, “Oh, I did this and I bought that.” The next day, the pandemic, and I couldn’t go to work, it was like, boom, IG Live and put on a schedule and just went and my family, friends, all these people that I didn’t even know also took it during that time and I got later on, feedback around like, “Thank you for that.”

Nicolas de Alejo: So it helped me, it gave me my practice. It solidified me in my own truth. I was just really, really happy for that. I’m glad that that was the path that was led to me at that time and it could’ve easily been a different path. We were right there. We could have fallen down the left side of the mountain or the right side and I was luckily handed kind of that opportunity. It was beautiful and it kept me really balanced, I think in my practice and I’m very grateful for that to be honest-

Reggie Hubbard: It’s a beautiful reflection. I’ve got something similar in that, I rejected the teaching mantle for quite some time. And when the pandemic hit, I had been working on Zoom for years, like two or three years. So the platform was native to me. And for whatever reason, I was just like, “I’m going to do it via Zoom” and 1,000 classes later, I’ve helped pioneer the new iteration of yoga online. The beauty of this moment in time is that it’s right for disruption. It’s right for opportunities. Things may have worked for some, but they did not work for all. So I’m really excited about a lot of this stuff that you’re doing and any other closing thoughts for us before we roll out?

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah, I would love if anyone has any men or people that identify as masculine that want to go through our program. We’re going to be having our upcoming cohort towards the end of July. So please reach out to me or radio anyone in Men Care Now. Look at our website, and it’s a free RYT. We do look at the people’s responses around empathy and compassion, and that’s how we come together and that’s how people are selected for the fellowship. It’s really about how they show up to their community, how they want to use these tools to go back and serve their community. So I’m happy to help, happy to answer any questions on that, but I think that’s what I’ll close with and thank you for the space, the time and really cool what you’re doing, my man. I appreciate you.

Reggie Hubbard: No, I appreciate you too, man. So one last thing just to dive back in, so tell us a little bit about the diversity of the people that are in your RYT, because I’ve spoken to the homies. That was so great. You have all sorts, all shades, all shapes. Talk a little bit about that and then I’ll close us out.

Nicolas de Alejo: Yeah, I think that the goal here is to be as inclusive as possible and Ernesto or Dr. Ernesto Lira De La Rosa, who’s at Columbia Health, he’s our head of inclusion and we’re thoughtful about the language, how we really want to show up and reach out. So part of this is also through word of mouth. It’s just continued to spread because people feel comfortable and safe in our space and that’s really created and I think a lot of great outcomes for more people wanting to say, “Okay, this might actually be something for me.” So yeah, it’s people that from all different, I think parts of the country, we really want to focus and really support different communities, Latinx, BIPOC, Asian-American, Native American, LGBTQ+, veterans, all of these different individual groups and communities and identities that we think are so powerful, we want to make sure that we can give space for what yoga at least has been able to do for myself.

Nicolas de Alejo: People have gone through this space and it continues to be something that we’re building on, where everyone that goes through it has opportunities to be part of it as we grow and things. So this is really a community thing. The whole goal is this… it wasn’t a goal in life. It’s just something that during the pandemic came about and I think it was something that was needed because obviously, as many of these men are going through it, they’re having really good experiences. I’m just so grateful that men that are 30, 40, 50 years old, that are either fitpros or musicians or psychiatrists, or what have you, can find value in yoga, can find value in where these tools can fit in their life. It’s just awesome, I think on that level.

Nicolas de Alejo: I think that’s what we’re trying to show up with. It’s open too. We’re really trying to support men that haven’t traditionally been in yoga studios as teachers, as leaders, or as mindful or wellness leaders. So the more we can just create that opportunity to go through this training, get a certification for yoga teaching and then from there, grow upon that experience and leadership, that’s really what we’re trying to at least support and provide the resources around that.

Reggie Hubbard: That’s beautiful and I fully support you. I want to thank you for being here. I want to thank those who’ve tuned in live and those who will watch later to Practice Makes Purpose, episode two. Next week, same time, same channel. We’ll be extending the conversation and talk about how yoga tools impact incarcerated populations and veteran populations with my buddy, Mike Huggins from the Transformation Yoga Project. So because I have all these bowls here, I’m going to ring us out. So tall spine, everyone who’s watching either now or later, I’ll ring this three times and then we’ll close. Inhale through the nose, exhale out the mouth. Inhale through the nose, exhale out the mouth. Last in through the nose, ex out the mouth.

Reggie Hubbard: Deep bow of gratitude to you, homie. Deep bow of gratitude to everyone who showed up. Practice Makes Purpose, episode two, over and out. Love and grace.

Liked this episode? Have questions? Looking forward to more? Connect with us on Instagram @ompractice and let us know in the comments. (Missed Episode One? Listen here!) Follow the series on IG or Spotify!