This woman entrepreneur quit her corporate career to start a wellness startup that combines modern science and Ayurveda
Nuthan Manohar was working in Hong Kong in brand consulting and had come to Mumbai in 2010 for a product launch when she had an epiphany - she had to change course in life.
Nuthan was suffering from many physical and mental ailments that led her to reconsider her life’s meaning. She had depression, anxiety, insomnia, menstrual problems, hormonal changes, weak knees, etc., and was on medication.
“I was going for therapy, but it was not helping me much. On the contrary, one of the side effects for antidepressants is you can get suicidal. I was never a person who would consider that, but I started having those thoughts. I started researching more on this,” Nuthan tells HerStory.
After the realisation to change course, Nuthan quit her job, joined a two-week yoga programme in an ashram, and had a mental detox. At the ashram, she realised that wellbeing was her calling.
Soon, she became a yoga instructor, went back to Hong Kong and taught at a premium chain of yoga studios. She also started creating Ayurvedic essential oil blends. Interestingly, the first blend which she created was for heartbreak.
In 2013, Nuthan shifted base to Kochi, India, to start Me Met Me, a wellness startup that offers workshops on wellbeing to corporates and communities in India and abroad.
She has conducted sessions for the Indian Navy, Hyatt,, Cognizant, Kerala police, My Spiritual Soul - an LGBTQI+ community, and Gofriendly - a Swedish app, to name a few.
She has also created 90 modules of mind body interventions for various ailments like back pain, bipolar disorder, menstrual disorder, anxiety, stress, sleep, and more. She has made 15 essential oils to go along with her wellness sessions, six of which are tested and ready. Her sleep audios are available on yoga and wellness apps SARVA and Aham.
Pivot and persist
Speaking about setting up a unique wellness startup, Nuthan says, “I just did not want to work from a yoga perspective, but wanted to include other Vedic concepts as well as understand psychology, neuroscience, and behaviour-based perspective.”
Apart from conducting sessions for large groups, Nuthan is also involved in conducting primary research on wellbeing.
According to FICCI, the Indian wellness market was estimated to be worth Rs 49,000 crore in 2019.
Even though the wellness sector is burgeoning in India, Nuthan had her fair share of challenges.
Her expertise was not getting enough traction in Kerala. For instance, while she was giving a talk about neuroscience, brain, and wellbeing, someone asked her about weight loss, she recalls. She says that she would end up giving a lot of weight loss sessions, which she took up because she realised there were underlying mental issues.
"Even if they are coming for weight loss, there are underlying problems. For instance, according to a WHO report in 2018, India is the most depressed country, Kerala has the highest rate of suicide, and we have one of the highest global rates of psychiatric disorders. So, for me, in terms of research, it was brilliant. The amount of cases I got to see here, I'll never ever get to see anywhere. That made a huge difference in my own learning, my ability to study and document,” she adds.
Owing to this and other challenges, Nuthan is in the process of shifting base to the Netherlands to focus her growth in Europe, where her sessions have high acceptance. The wellness market in Europe is far ahead of India, especially in aromatherapy products. The market is expected to reach $2.7 billion by 2024, according to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports, Netherlands.
With most of her essential oil components like ingredients, bottles, testing, etc., coming for Europe, it is easier for her to set up base there. The Ayurvedic component that she takes from Kochi-based company Synthite also has an office in the Netherlands. She also believes that her research can get more funding abroad where research in wellbeing is increasing.
The idea to pivot and focus on the European market was suggested to her by Sunil Handa, an IIM-A professor whom she met while her startup was incubated by IIM-B’s NSRCEL in 2019. The incubation also helped her venture into personalised essential oils to make the blends more effective for each person. She also works in collaboration with Dr Madhavachandran, a leading Ayurvedic researcher, who has created many products for prominent Ayurvedic brand Nagarjuna in Kerala. She also uses the expertise and research facilities of Synthite Industries.
However, she was planning to launch into the European market with her workshops and personalised oils in April, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, her plans were halted.
The effect of the pandemic
Like all businesses, Nuthan’s startup was also affected by the coronavirus-induced lockdowns. Taking the opportunity provided by these grim circumstances, she has now shifted to digital sessions.
The pandemic has led her to focus on two important factors - stress and sleep. It has also led her to drop the personalised perfumery section for a while, and focus on six generic blends for stress, sleep, menstrual discomfort, heartbreak, depression, and the ability to focus and bundle it up with her sessions.
During the pandemic, Nuthan says, happiness levels have gone down, people are stressed, and insomnia is a huge problem.
“The problem I have seen is that it is a fairly stressful situation, even for me. Many are still not aware the tummy-ache they are feeling is actually from stress,” she says.
For those finding it difficult to cope with the ‘new normal’, Nuthan suggests taking up precautionary practices like slow, deep diaphragmatic breathing, which helps reduce stress levels, or box breathing, wherein you inhale and hold your breath and exhale and hold your breath. She says that practicing these for 3-4 times a day lets the body calm down better and experience instant shift from stressful to relaxation.
Speaking about the effect of wellness practices on her, she says, “I got out of stress and insomnia, and I haven't had a disease for long. My knees are fine, my skin and hair is better. My ability to learn and resilience has gone up. I don't think I would have survived it earlier, because I tend to be very passionate about what I do, so I put my heart into things. Earlier, if it didn't happen, I would sit and cry my heart out. Now, I am like 'Okay, let's see what we can do now.”