I reached the quaint villa of a sustainable fashion brand, Nature Hedonist only to be greeted by the lovely smiles of Gulnar and Julia, their flowy linen outfit and gorgeous trees around. It felt refreshingly peaceful to go into a shopping experience without the harsh fluorescent lights or uptempo music. They, however, were perhaps greeted by me and my not-so-zen dog, Yoko, who ran circles in their garden and made herself very at home very naturally by lying down in the grass, smelling the flowers and so on. 

I guess this is what living close to nature makes us do, it naturally draws our body to flow and follow suit with the environment. But only if we allow it to do what it wants to. And the key thing is to listen. This seems to be the common thread (no pun intended) for both Gulnar and Julia who hit burnout, struggled in both personal and professional lives that brought them to pause and listen - to who their real essence is. And when they did, things around them seemed to fall into the rightful place.

Hi Gulnar & Julia, if you were to put a speed on your being (1-10, 1 being the slowest), where are you at in life today?

Gulnar: I love the question. I just think it is so timely because my rating for today’s life is probably 5. And the way I measure it is because I have the capacity to always be at 20 - a tendency to exhaust myself. I used to run a publishing firm and I constantly pushed the adrenaline level to its limits until I had a huge burnout - physically, mentally and emotionally. Although it is in a 5, I know there is still room for improvement to make it sustainable. Because some days in a week, I go to 7, 8 or closer to 10. 

This reminds me of the turtle and the hare story that we all read as a kid. The hare ridiculed the turtle and ended up the turtle won. Bringing into this context of today’s fast-paced world, we all have to learn to live with extreme peaks constantly and we find escapes on weekends or if it's too late we burn out. We must adopt more of the turtle’s pace where it keeps the output sustainable. One important thing that helps me slow down is learning how to create better boundaries around what I need to interfere myself with or don’t. Because when you are at the go-go-go speed, I realise we do a lot of things that are not even relevant to us.

Julia: I am still a work in progress on this. I am always at 7 or 8. I need to learn to pace my day because I like to start my day at 7 am and try to complete e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g by 12pm. This will completely exhaust me. I am glad that working with Gulnar helps me to recalibrate my pace - because I adapt to her pace too which is way more sustainable than mine. Sometimes you need to look into your circle - are they helping to add or reduce your speed? 

With my history of panic attacks, psychologists, doctors and spiritual teachers have told me that I need to start adding a meditation practise to my day. While this hasn’t been as consistent as I had hoped but I am slowly integrating this into my day. It is now back to me, can I show up and give myself permission to take breaks through the day in my own way? It doesn’t need to just be meditation.

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In life, to be forced to put on pause could sometimes bring us to a new direction in our path. When was your pivotal pause?

 

Gulnar: For me, I have 3 pivotal moments. The first was, Burnout from my previous business. I owned a publishing company with over 70 employees in Kazakhstan. I enjoyed every single day of it and it wasn’t the external factors but my own internal way of processing the daily stress and pressure. While we cannot avoid the day-to-day stresses or stressors, I believe we must find the tools to manage them - Do we practice yoga? Do we meditate? Can we find something that works for us? And at that time, unfortunately, or fortunately (I believe everything happens for a reason), I moved to Dubai. 

Second, my divorce after 17 years. This was my second divorce in my life. The first was after 2 years of abusive relationships. For me it was kind of challenging to acknowledge and to accept the stigma around it - that I am a two-time divorcee. It is like when something happens to you, we are conditioned to find justification and reason for why the marriage ended. It was polar opposites marriages, one was happy and another was not and both still led to a divorce. This triggered me to go inwards, to understand myself and know what are the triggers, and shifts I have to make for myself. 

The third, was when my father passed away in August 2020 because of Covid-19. At a time when many people are dying globally, it shifted my perspective of death. It is different to know that many in the world are dying in this pandemic but when it takes one of your own, it's very real and painful. I was raised by a single father. And to me, he was the number one person in my life. He is my rock. And I think these three events happening within a short period of time (within 6 years) shouldn’t be labelled as negative or positive. These are just life events and I acknowledge them all. 

Julia: About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with a serious chronic illness. I was in college at that time living that college life as normal, without any symptoms leading up to my diagnosis, I was then suddenly living in the hospital for 9-12 months. I was so scared, lost and depressed. I had to take so much medication and felt like my life had ended. I lost half of my lung and I questioned a lot like: I was a good person and God gave me this?  I placed a lot of blame and anger on both myself and God.

All of this brought me into a forced slowing down because there is nowhere I can go. I then took the time to relook at my life, do I truly want to be a financial analyst? And what does success look like in my terms? This hospitalisation got me to think more about myself. I also met my ex-husband then who was a strong supporter of me and after nursing me back to health, we got married and then moved to Italy. 

What were some of the key learnings from this experience?

Gulnar: For me, one of the things I learn from my father’s death is - the concept of time. There's no yesterday, today, tomorrow. But if my father has decided to let me go or I have decided to let him go, that just means that that is the time I am ready to become my own ‘rock’. This is how I think. Yes, there’s a lot of emotion I have to come to terms with but it was a lot of liberation as well. Along with that sadness. It is easy to put the grounding source to someone. And when you are ready, things around you start to change even without needing you to control or direct the outcome. Like a river flow. All the scenery you see around starts to make sense. Looking inside, through meditation, helps me to process my own thoughts and feelings at my own time. Not from society. 

Also, a time that seems bleak like this pandemic, we actually started Nature Hedonist two weeks before the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. You never really know the blessing/s in a breakdown. I met some of the most beautiful people in my life during this time and this is something I am reminding myself to be grateful for. The kindness, the sincere connections and the help that I’ve gotten to people I meet through Nature Hedonist are so beautiful it is giving me goosebumps. What we all really one I guess is not abstract goals or objectives conditioned by society. But the joy in little things, from simple sources - the joy of being a mother, having a pet, being around friends, having a project that you actually enjoy. This is life. We need to start appreciating it more.

Julia: For me, health is truly wealth. I will always remind myself how grateful I am to still have my health. To be able to recover when this illness has a high death rate. I also learn to live with my panic attacks and overwhelming thoughts. I have moments where I still have my traumas around hospitals but now I learn to manage my thoughts better.

 

Share with us your daily ritual of reconnecting with yourself?

Gulnar: A bit of movement, yoga and going to the beach. And meditation. I also love Yoga Nidra and sound healing. My favourite thing to do is to just sit in the garden, on the grass, and look up into the sky during the sunrise/sunset. I lay still without moving. Somehow that stops my thinking process too. That’s how I find my stillness daily.

Julia: Slow mornings with slow breakfast. And then dancing. I enjoy my dance class because movement helps me to connect to my real emotions and release them instead of holding them in my body. Music has a beautiful way of healing.

If you were to have an arsenal of tools to help you feel better, what would it be? List your top 3 choices and why.

Gulnar:

  1. Connecting to the water - spending the day at the beach brings me into my element and relaxes me.

  2. Connecting to plants - watering plants, checking if they are healthy, repotting, growing new plants. It's therapeutic.

  3. Reading and watching ted talks. I love seeing how brilliant minds of the world think. I love my daily mental stimulation.

Julia:

1. Traveling - by exploring the world, we are exploring ourselves, discovering our limits and extending horizons. As they say when we travel we rewire our brain. I completely agree with that, as you’re becoming more creative, having new ideas, looking at certain situations with a fresh eye. New experiences stay with you forever.

2. Dancing - I am a very emotional person. But often, I don’t know how to express them. I found dancing (or dancing found me) a few months ago and I fell in love with this activity. Letting your body flow does a therapeutic effect on me. It helps to release anger, frustration or stress, it uplifts my mood and opens up opportunities to connect with other people.

3. Kitesurfing - Kitesurfing for me is a kind of moving meditation when I am not thinking about anything, forgetting the past and the future and just being in the moment, feeling the wind on my face, seeing the waves break, cruising around that chop and watching the sunset from the water.

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Nature and sustainability seem to be the core beliefs for Nature Hedonist. Why is that so?

For us, Nature is our driving inspiration. Our clothes are inspired by the colours of nature. You can see the fade, softness or vibrancy of colours. The colours are in so much harmony that when you mix and match, they go effortlessly well together. Nothing gives pain to your eyes. This is also a reminder that despite living in a harsh climate like UAE, it is still important to be out in nature.

And the indirect relation is for people to be reminded of their inner nature. This is our hope that every single piece has vibrant and unique energy of love. We want you to feel the essence of yourself when you wear your clothes. 

Also, sustainability is a very important part of our brand. We use natural fabric - linen grows naturally wild in nature and doesn’t need much water. The beauty lies in the durability of the fabric and it ages so gracefully. Do not be scared of the clothes ageing. It is part of the process. We are human beings, we sweat, we move. So linen moves together with us. Plus linen doesn’t need much cleaning. It absorbs sweat and it can be air dry. It doesn’t need to be washed after every use which reduces our water and electricity consumption.

How has the shift to a sustainable and minimalist life affected you internally and externally?

Gulnar: It brought me personal transformation - change of perspective to things. After my divorce, I needed to move to a smaller space and I realised how much stuff I own. And it felt like a burden. Every single piece reminded me of my personal failure. I wanted to get rid of everything. This felt like a clean slate. So now I'm on a conscious journey of buying. Why do I buy what I buy?

Julia: It brought me an awareness of time for myself. Minimalism in how and who I spend my time with. Creating better boundaries. I realise I always overschedule my day because I want to do and accomplish so much. I equate my self-worth with how busy or how productive I am. But most times, I accomplish more when I am more relaxed, more in the flow of creating rather than forcing it. 

One thing people can do before their next purchase?

Ask yourself: Is it going to bring me joy and does it fit my lifestyle.

Reference: https://www.houseofpause.com/articles/people-who-pause/nature-hedonist

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