ICYMI, October 3rd was Global Smoothie Day! If you aren’t familiar with this celebration, then get familiar with the woman behind the movement who started it all. Rhea Mehta, PhD is a health coach, yogi, and singer-chantress on a mission to share South Asian mantra magic with the world. Global Smoothie Day is a playful, plant-based movement she founded to advocate for accessible wellness.
This year, she celebrated the day by releasing a new single called ‘Bright Light‘ (Gayatri Mantra mix) on Oct 3, which is from her debut album ‘Soul Ceremony’, set for an early 2022 release. The EP was produced and composed by award-winning John Capek of Nashville, TN and blends her Indian spiritual mantra tradition with western contemporary rhythm to bring forth a harmonious east meets west dynamic.
The whole album is centered on collective healing, decolonizing wellness, and authentically carrying ancient mantra wisdom to the west. Mantras have always been central to Dr.Mehta’s journey, from helping her fall asleep as a child to calming her adult mind. It is now her mission to bring these ancient tools to the modern world as we go through a collective time of healing.
Mantras are melodic words, phrases, or sounds that originate in one of the oldest spiritual bodies of wisdom, known as the Vedas. In South Asia and across the world, they are uttered and revered as magic spells with spiritual significance. Dr. Mehta’s first single features the Gayatri Mantra, which is considered one of the most important and powerful Vedic mantras. Historically it has been recited by everyday people of India in their homes, as the sun rises or sets, for purposes of purification and divine guidance.
The healing rituals of mantras have often been appropriated in modern yoga culture, and we had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Rhea about her new album, her mission to decolonize wellness while reclaiming her culture, and the important role of healing at a time when the world is collectively experiencing so much turmoil. But first, take a listen to ‘Bright Light’ below:
Tell us about your background as a molecular toxicologist and biochemist, and how you made your way into the wellness world?
Growing up I had a debilitating chronic health condition that couldn’t be resolved by the western healthcare approach after nearly 10 years of trying. My bad experience motivated me to pursue science and get my PhD. I thought if I could become an authority in the space that maybe one day I could help those who were also excluded from the one-size-fits-all approach to western healthcare and contribute to changing the system.
My thesis project was on the toxicity of the Western Diet and I examined the role of nutrients and natural compounds in preventing and reversing stress at the cellular level. It was my first time being exposed to the idea of nature as medicine, and to the idea that toxins in our food and environment can badly hurt us.
About half way through my PhD, I had a painful health episode that left me desperate for new solutions. In that state of despair I was reminded of my research and got curious about what a shift in my diet and environment might do to my symptoms. What started as a series of successful self-experiments in my own home and kitchen eventually turned into a deep passion for helping others wholistically heal from debilitating conditions as a practitioner, educator, and guide.
One of the things we love about you is how you are working to decolonize wellness. Can you explain what this is and why it is necessary?
So much of what we know as wellness in the 21st century is rooted in ancient traditions and cultures from across the world, often with complex histories. It is naive to think that these communities just handed us over their medicine and wisdom without asking for anything in return. The unfortunate reality is that many of the practices, foods, and rituals that are marketed to us in the West were taken or stolen from the land and lineage where they were birthed. What’s more, many of these cultures and communities who have been stripped of their healing tools continue to experience oppression today.
The idea behind decolonizing wellness is to bring attention to this injustice and seek to bring more balance through education, acknowledgement, and investment in the communities “we” have taken from. It’s also an opportunity for those with authentic connections to the lineages to reclaim their ancestral practices and carry the wisdom to the west in a healthier way. This is my mission.
There are some people who might see the word “wellness” and immediately get scared off, give the huge amount of misinformation available, as well as people being taken advantage of by certain health and wellness brands. How do you seek to bring a more wholistic focus back to wellness?
Due to its unregulated nature, wellness does attract both experts and quacks. We have to vet practitioners and brands versus blindly trust them. If you come across somebody or a brand who claims to be a panacea for health and healing, I would not engage. My approach has always been grounded in facts and research, and I’m clear if I can’t be of service to someone’s needs or if something I’ve shared is based on anecdote.
Along with your healing and wellness work, you are also a musician! Tell us more about your new single “Bright Light” off your forthcoming album Soul Ceremony?
My music is an extension of my life’s work in democratizing health and wellness! In this case, I’m focussing on using my voice as a healing tool, specifically through chanting ancient mantras from my ancestral lineage, upbringing, and spiritual practice. Mantras are melodic words, phrases, or sounds that originate in one of the oldest spiritual bodies of wisdom, known as the Vedas. In South Asia and across the world, they are uttered and revered as magic spells with spiritual significance.
When chanted in rhythmic repetition, they create reverberations in the body, leading to a more peaceful and grounded state. Some practitioners say that after some time of chanting mantras, eventually they start chanting us. In essence, we become one with the mantras we chant or silently listen to, and naturally begin to absorb their meaning.
My first single “Bright Light” features the Gayatri Mantra, which is considered the essence of all mantras. Historically it has been recited by everyday people of India in their homes, as the sun rises or sets, for purposes of purification and divine guidance. I chose to lead with the Gayatri Mantra to support our collective in finding light during these darker times. This mantra celebrates the sun, our ultimate source of light, and asks for it to cleanse us so we can shine more brightly.
Can you share about your musical background and where it all started for you? How has this been an integral part of your wellness journey also?
My love for devotional and Indian classical music is all thanks to my dad and mum, who, given their rough journey to rural Canada as a refugee and immigrant respectively, worked so hard to preserve their culture and rituals of which melodic mantras were a core feature. My mother in particular was the singer and ‘mantra chantress’ in the family. I would tear up whenever I heard her soulful voice and secretly wished I could convey love and healing through music just like her.
I was gifted music lessons about 7 years ago from a special human who felt my calling in music. After years of classical training in music and simultaneously deepening my own spiritual practice, I’m finally realizing my dreams of chanting like my mum and using my voice to channel ancestral wisdom. What’s powerful in training the voice is that we are indirectly activating and nourishing our energetic center of truth and expression, which in yoga is referred to as the throat chakra. The more I train and chant mantras, the better I can hear my own voice, inside and out.
You are also a pioneer in the wellness space, founding Global Smoothie Day! Can you tell us more about this movement you created and the message behind it?
Global Smoothie Day is a movement I founded 7 years ago in honor of my late father to advocate for more accessible approaches to natural healing and prevention. Besides playing a role in my own healing journey, I’ve also had a lot of success in helping my community and clients onboard health through the adoption of a smoothie routine.
My goal with Global Smoothie Day every year has been to mobilize my community to both reignite their own smoothie routines and playfully inspire others to onboard the smoothie lifestyle, both online and offline. I supply all the content with a focus on simplicity and solidarity. The result is a ripple effect that’s grounded in values of collective healing, play, and justice.
As a woman of color in a space that has been saturated with white, Western people appropriating ancient Eastern forms of healing, why is it important that people see more WOC and BIPOC in wellness?
If we want a more inclusive wellness industry, I believe we need to be voluntarily taking up space versus waiting for the invitations. The more we step into leadership roles and build platforms to share our stories of struggle and reclamation, the more we’ll inspire others to courageously do the same. I’ve always been the token brown person at wellness retreats, yoga trainings, and conscious music events, and as much as that makes me want to scream, I know the better approach for me is to take all of that frustration and channel it into wisdom and opportunity for WOC and BIPOC in wellness.
So many of us whose families and ancestors were displaced from their homeland were forced to forget their roots–whether it be for reasons of trying to fit into a new white-dominated world, or the traumas and pain of remembering the dark colonial past. With my music, I hope to inspire those who have lost touch with their native roots, including those in the South Asian diaspora, to forge a reconnection to their motherland and lineage.
With so much uncertainty happening in the world right now, what has kept you grounded throughout 2020 and 2021, and how would you encourage others to do the same?
My go-to grounding practice throughout the pandemic has been ancient himalayan breathwork and mantra ritual. The breathwork ensures my parasympathetic nervous system, ie, my rest and digest center of my brain is activated so that I can stay calm and embodied during these uncertain and polarizing times. I use mantra ritual to turn my thinking mind off and to seed it with positive affirmations. I’ve also been very intentional about going to the park when I’m in the city or for hikes and bike rides as much as I can. Finally my daily smoothie is another key grounding tool that keeps my microbiome and cells very happy.
While one off grounding experiences are great, I’d recommend aiming for something we can do near daily that’s low barrier, to ensure we feel good about doing it on even the busiest days. This can be as simple as breathing in stillness while laying down or crawling on the floor for a few minutes everyday. The other piece is to acknowledge or celebrate the practice, no matter how simple you think it is. That will naturally motivate you to keep going.