Over the month of February we were delighted to connect with Sonja Mapleston, an extraordinary woman with an abundance of talent, knowledge, and heart. As a Uniform 2022 ambassador, Sonja graced us with a night of yoga and relaxation at our Brisbane boutique — opening us up to the etheral experience of her moon guided meditation. We spoke with Sonja. And it was a pleasure to dive into her world.
IN CONVERSATION WITH: SONJA MAPLESTON
Photographs by Caroline Attwood.
SL: Hi! Please, tell us about yourself.
SM: My name is Sonja Mapleston. I’m Australian, of Serbian heritage. My parents migrated to Australia in the ‘70s, where I grew up in a small town in Arnhem Land - a remote region of the Northern Territory. I am a yoga teacher, writer & PhD student based in Meanjin (Brisbane), Australia. I am also a mother of two young children, so my cup is pretty full.
SL: Tell us about your industry, and what you do in that space.
SM: I work across a few industries – education, yoga, the arts - so let me take a moment. The core of my work is empowering women from the inside-out: to centre their mind, feel within their body (interoception) and trust their wisdom. I teach, research and develop programs on creativity, entrepreneurship and leadership at university alongside running yoga classes, meditation circles and retreats for women around Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I see my yoga practice as indivisible from my other work, as the former informs the latter – actually, everything I do: how I operate in the world, how I work, how I mother.
SL: What platforms or people do you work with most?
SM: Social media platforms like Instagram, to promote yoga and meditation events but it’s taken some getting used to. I try to avoid posting, unless I have to promote a yoga event coming up, and am very wary of how addictive technology can be. My friends know me so well they have to text me to check my What’s App or Facebook pages, otherwise I try to limit time spent on my phone. I don’t want to miss out on the good stuff in the moment, particularly with my kids.
I mainly work with women: I am co-developing a leadership program for academic women at university. I run monthly meditation circles for women at Silk Laundry Brisbane (shout out to the beautiful Silk Laundry team – Carla and Candice, who help me run the series). I also run seasonal retreats for women around Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.
SL: What do you love most about your job? And what was the journey you had to take to get there?
I love that I am living with integrity: in alignment with my values. I also love the diversity of experiences I am able to have. With yoga - I get to build my awareness practice through breathing and moving my body, and help others do the same. A complete joy. I especially enjoy facilitating women’s circles and retreats. A chance to be still, connect with likeminded souls and have some fun in the process. With my teaching and research, I feel like a kid in a candy store: curating creative learning experiences, connecting with others from all walks of life and exploring different ways of being and working in the world.
I’m a bit of a truth seeker, curious about a range of things. I studied journalism & international relations at university, and have always been interested in writing, politics, and culture. However, life in a newsroom or working for the government absolutely did not resonate at the time (believe me, I tried). I felt stifled and just wanted a tonne of different experiences - to eat the world. My motto from those early years was really ‘earn money, will travel’. And I did all that and more – lived in 7 countries, travelled everywhere, worked with the UN and managed and created partnerships for not-for-profits for ten years or so.
When I had my first child, everything changed. I paused. I was lucky enough to be able to have the space and time to inhabit this new, lifechanging gig that is motherhood for a few years. I took time off full-time work with the support of my partner. It’s important not to sugar coat this - it was brutal to our finances. But what a foundation it provided our family. It awakened the dormant feminist in me, along with my creativity and the desire to explore new ways of being and working in the world. My husband Dave is also now a yoga teacher and embarking on further study – a domino effect perhaps? It’s funny, when I was very young, I originally wanted to be a teacher but told myself I needed to have a lot of life experience first before I came to teaching, which is exactly what happened. Yoga was just a welcome surprise on the journey that has helped me re-connect with myself and find my purpose.
SL: What are the most challenging aspects of the workplace, for you?
SM: Gender inequality and how the current system is not designed to support women at work, especially mothers. I experienced this for myself coming back into work and study. The Covid crisis revealed the dual-pressure upon caregivers like nothing else, as the veneer between work and home collapsed.
It’s crazy to me that it took an epidemic to begin to change the way we approach working more flexibly, as well as question more deeply the need to pursue a ‘growth-at-all-costs’ model. I see burnout and anxiety on the rise, I observe it in my students, particularly those glued to their phones when they come to class, as well as from friends and colleagues who are overwhelmed by the lack of boundaries between home and work. Something must change.
What gives me hope are new models of working, that challenge the status quo. I love Carol Sanford’s thinking, taking the concept of regeneration from biology and applying it to business. A regenerative business acknowledges its place in the entire system – all parts work together to support life and growth. A regenerative workplace sees itself as a more human, interconnected workplace, putting people and the planet first so they can thrive (and thus contribute more in the process). Patagonia is an obvious leader here, providing on-site child care amongst many other benefits to help staff integrate their life with their work.
SL: How do you see fashion and your industry integrating in the future?
SM: Fashion helps you feel good. Comfort-first, leisure style fashion promotes relaxation. This is why I tell students to come to meditation wearing loose, comfortable clothing – they can breathe better and it helps calm the nervous system down. Not just lycra please! I would love fashion and the yoga industry to incorporate more natural, breathable fibres and ritualistic elements to encourage people to build a daily practice at home.
At the heart of all contemplative practices like yoga and meditation – is consciousness. Awakening your consciousness and connection to the Earth so you do less harm to the environment. When you care for the planet, you may start to consider choosing quality clothing and sustainable fibres over fast fashion. Mending your clothing to reduce textile waste. Not exploiting workers who make the garments (and avoiding brands that do). And so on, so that sustainable, ethical fashion becomes the norm. It’s a long process, but being more conscious is the beginning.
SL: There's the common conception that we are our career. What's your stance on this?
Great question to grapple with. There is much to unlearn from our culture and conditioning about the value placed on career. My approach is very much influenced by the European sensibility – work to live, not live to work. Leisure time is exalted in my family – but during my PhD I have admittedly let it go out the window. Like the adage goes - you can have everything, just not at the same time.
SL: What are some of the things that are most important to you?
SM: Family cuddles. Maintaining a daily practice – a mix of movement and seated meditation for me, just half-an hour every morning (or longer if the kids are asleep). Connecting with nature, in some small way every day – park walks with my kids, digging in the garden & hiking with friends. I love to unwind with a cup of cacao.
SL: What's on the horizon for you, now the world is reopening?
SM: Honestly, life with small children has not changed my plans too much. However, wanderlust is real, and like many of my friends I have been craving travel and a break in routine. Cue more local camping trips and planning my first overseas yoga retreat next year (fingers crossed). I look forward to bringing the whole family along – as it will be our first time catching up with friends and relatives across Europe, post-Covid.