Building Yoga community: Setu

An Interview with Setu founder: Libby Nicholaou

I was really excited to speak with Libby Nicholaou founder of Setu; An inclusive community-driven directory of yoga teachers that encourages diversity and positive relationships. Libby is launching Setu with an aim to represent yoga teachers of all races, ethnicities, orientations and geographical locations, uniting the yoga community and recognizing each and every teacher who contributes to it.

As a yoga teacher myself, I know it can be hard to register with online yoga networks - who often only acknowledge their own training programmes, and you usually have to pay a yearly fee. Libby's goal is to break down some of the barriers involved in being part of a larger yoga community - and build bridges (Setu means bridge in Sanskrit.)

Sarah: Hi Libby! shall we start by you telling us a little about yourself?

Libby: There’s my wellness practice and my career path. Until recently it felt like they were pulling in different directions.  On the wellness side, I grew up playing sports and aware of nutrition but mostly in the get fit stay fit way. I found yoga when running became too challenging. Yoga appealed to me for the benefits I observed in my body - overall strength, flexibility, better digestion, relaxed muscles and sounder sleep. Through practicing in studios I began to also see the benefit of the community. 

My career path has been entirely community focused. For the past several years I’ve lead partnerships between Adobe and independent designers or agencies. I coordinated events, collaborated on creative pieces and marketed our projects on social media. After a design friend founded Women Who Draw, I thought there should be the equivalent in the yoga community.

S: What was your inspiration for Setu?

L: I wanted to contribute to the yoga community by finding a gap to fill. When I was finishing my 200 hour teacher training, there were already so many incredible teachers out there. I wanted to support them and bring them together in a new way besides studios, periodicals or brands. After some brainstorming and research, I realized a new teacher directory could provide this. 

It would have taken me much longer to come to this conclusion if Wendy MacNaughton and Julia Rothman had not launched Women Who Draw, an open directory for illustrators; and Helena Price had not published the Techies project, highlighting diverse voices in the tech community. The topic of inclusion and diversity is one many are trying to address and Setu is my effort to contribute.

S: What is your vision for the Setu Community?

L: My vision for Setu is to nurture inclusivity within the yoga community. I want more people to feel like yoga is for them and that they are welcome at any point. I want teachers to scroll through the Setu directory and be inspired by all the different kinds of people who they have yet to meet. I want people to get outside of their Instagram network or local studio and realize the diversity of teachers out there who can enrich their practice. I’d love Setu to open the yoga community up to all of us and enrich our lives through new relationships.

S: How has technology helped?

L: Technology, the internet, has helped by providing a way for people to connect across great distances. In that way, it seems Setu is fitting for the time. In the past, local studios, community centers or print magazines were where teachers met each other. Today you can find your community online. Even if there is a slim chance you’ll ever meet any of them in person, their stories and photos can have a positive impact on you. I heard a conference speaker once say, the most powerful medium (for your message) is the medium of your time. I think the internet is still that for us today. 

S: Your website is beautiful! did you seek help from your community for the graphics and typography?

L: Thank you! I did seek collaboration from my design community. Jake, a friend from Adobe Typekit, did all the front end design through creating a custom Wordpress site. Others from Adobe Typekit, including my boyfriend Ivan, steered me towards the typefaces Bely by Roxane Gataud and Embury Text from Victoria Rushton. Eva, a friend from grad school, wrote and edited the copy. Loveis Wise, an artist I met through Women Who Draw, created the illustrations. Anna, a photographer, who I met through a design partner, is working with me on the upcoming photoshoots in New York. We have a postcard in the works, designed by Christine, a talented graphic designer I worked with in San Francisco.

With the overall site concept, I had a circle of yoga friends and other community organizers who confirmed the idea was sound. Among them was Kate English, the co-lead of my 200 hour training.

Thankyou to Libby for sparing a little of her time for us today, you can help support Setu by sharing the project on social media, and if you are a yoga teacher, join the tribe and sign up with Setu today!