Mariana de Oliveira Dias’ journey to the launch of Macau’s first wellness journal was surely eventful with being a yoga advisor, then a personal trainer, coach, and more. The secret to her success might lie in the fact that she always wants to learn more. She’s not only able to share her knowledge with the world, but she’s also equipping people with the tools to lead a better life with “wellness” and “empowerment” at its core. With a life philosophy strongly linked to whole foods, physical exercise, and a well-fed spirit, the coach, yoga teacher, personal trainer, and mother sat down with us to talk about life achievements and goals, important things in life, and her career.
First of all, congratulations on your beautiful and new project, My Wellness Journey. Can you tell us what’s it about?
The idea of creating “My Wellness Journey” appeared while I was in Hong Kong, three years ago. As a nutrition coach, I felt that I needed something more to complement my sessions and to give back to the clients. Also, there was nothing like this in the market and I needed something like that to work with my clients. Last but not least, every time I was coaching, I would always tell my client, “Write it down, on a piece of paper, your journal of the week, and next week we’ll meet again, go over it and work towards your goals and needs”. A lot of times, clients came over in a rush, search their bags, and unwrap a piece of paper; several times it was folded or stained with water. I didn’t like it and it didn’t match my concept nor philosophy, at all. The idea was to create something to connect with the client, something that they didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed of. That’s how the idea was born. It was born in Hong Kong and then I left the city (laughs).
Can you tell us about your journey until this point?
About 14 years ago, my father was diagnosed with a few health conditions. At that point, I was studying law in Italy. We got very concerned–my sister and I–so we decided to come back to Macau and speak to the doctors, of course. One of the biggest requirements he had to follow–amongst many–was definitely a change in diet and lifestyle. At that moment, I was completely ignorant about the subject, and there was little I knew about nutrition. That’s when I decided to switch my career path and dedicate my time to research and find ways to help heal my father but in a natural way; not so artificial. I didn’t want him to be loaded with medication and I wanted his healing to be as holistic and close to nature as possible. First came yoga where there was a yoga company opening in Macau at the time and there was a very interesting position as a yoga advisor.
I had no idea on the matter but I decided to give it a try because I knew that yoga could be a way to start my father’s healing. I ended up staying with that company for two years and after that, I wanted more. I started becoming more interested in massage, the touch aspect of healing, so I studied Reiki, aromatherapy, body massage, anatomy and physiology.
Was that in Macau?
It was in Hong Kong and was one year and a half of back and forth (between Macau and Hong Kong), but again, it was all worth it. I loved it! I had a purpose and I’m a true believer that once we have a purpose, it makes everything so much more natural–it’s not a burden. After my courses, I returned around the time Grand Hyatt Macau was opening its first spa. There was a nice position there and after talking with my family, we decided it could be a good opportunity. So I joined their pre-opening team for the Isala Spa–not as a massage therapist in the beginning, but as a spa desk host. However, there were a few delays in the opening, so I had the chance to learn everything: from training to massage protocol with massage therapists. It was a great school for me. The experience at Grand Hyatt Macau kind of made me the way I am with organization, the way I train, and how I manage my business.
How did you connect with yoga?
From there, there were a few changes. At that time, there was some demand for yoga instructors in Macau. I didn’t go for the course, and just had the experience of working for a related company so what did I do? I enrolled in a yoga course in Hong Kong. I left Grand Hyatt Macau then and I decided to pursue yoga teacher training, which was also long, about a year and a half back and forth once again. I loved it; it was a year and a half of self-discovery, patience, determination, commitment, discipline and so much more. It was like an awakening. I changed and started giving priorities to other aspects of my life. I became lighter, happier and I had the confirmation of what I wanted from my life–privately and professionally. During this year, I shifted to a plant-based diet and confirmed that I couldn’t live without yoga and that the message had to be spread.
I could start seeing clients and guide my father’s health. Slowly, I started gathering the confidence to build little wellness programs for people in Macau. One thing led to another and at some point, I started getting a lot of clients, I didn’t really know how to deal with it as it was unexpected.
A lot of clients and people I know are intimidated about yoga. I always tell them that yoga is not about how flexible you are but rather, it’s about the journey to becoming more flexible. Yoga is not competing with your yoga mat neighbor during a class. Yoga is about yourself, self-discovery, your journey, commitment, and discipline. We should never compare ourselves to others because we are all unique. And that applies to life off the mat as well. I practice yoga every day and meditation every other day. They are part of my self-care routine and rituals which I simply can’t live without.
All the clients I had wanted more–they wanted the nutrition side as well. “How can we put together nutrition with yoga and massage? How can everything be more holistic, the circle be more complete?” That’s where I learned that without nutrition, without knowledge of food, we can’t move the wheel. Nutrition feeds you, but it also gives you energy and life. The choices you make every day may not have a big impact now, but it will have a huge impact in a long term. I had the time and I didn’t have kids at that moment, so it felt right to do a nutrition course. It also took me around the same time, and also gave me the capacities to become a sports nutritionist, an area I also love, because I’m a fitness fanatic. I do hikes and yoga so I’m never stuck at home; I’m very active which came in very handy. It was then that I was able to do other types of wellness programs for the clients.
I then had to decide if I wanted to keep seeing clients or if I wanted to keep evolving in my career related to corporations, companies. There was a spa opening at Sheraton Grand Macao then with an amazing opportunity for a spa coordinator and I took it with the guarantee that I could still teach yoga to members which I did for at least two years. One of my duties was exactly linking the fields of nutrition, spa, and fitness. It was a bit out of my comfort zone; the part I didn’t have experience in was the relation with chefs because I was dealing with executive chefs. I couldn’t make all the decisions on my own, had to wait for approvals, and coordinate with them. A lot of times, things didn’t end up being as you wish but it was an amazing experience. I ended up creating eight wellness programs for Sheraton that was very well received by the community.
So people would go to their spa, purchase the package you created and enjoy it?
Yes, but they don’t offer it anymore because I was the one leading or hosting the programs. People would go to the spa or fitness center, choose their program, and enjoy it. Not only for the Macau community but also tourists, especially those from Hong Kong who were coming to Macau for long weekends. It went well. I stayed at Sheraton for over three years and left my full-time position before the birth of my first daughter at the end of 2012, I then came back as a part-time yoga instructor, and wellness and motivational speaker at events or workshops organized by the hotel. After leaving the company, I decided to open my first business in Macau. It was the perfect timing. One of my biggest projects in the nutrition course was to build a realistic business plan for whatever business I wanted to do in Macau, nutrition-related of course. That’s when I did the business plan for my juicery, Sattva Juicery and Kitchen, a cold-pressed juices and raw vegan snacks company. That’s how we started selling cold-pressed juices in Macau. I was 35-weeks pregnant when we–my amazing partner, my sister, and I–decided to open, but we didn’t stop. The idea was not only to give different choices to the Macau community but also to inject Macau with healthy choices, which were lacking at the time. I’m very happy to see that after three years of living in Hong Kong, the mentality (in Macau) is different; you see a lot of new yoga and pilates boutique studios, for example. A lot of things related to the physique, but not necessarily food, nutrition, or coach-related. I think everybody goes to the same nutritionist for the past 10 years.
Do you think Chinese medicine might also be one of the reasons this industry isn’t that developed in Macau?
Yes and no. I think there’s also a lack of knowledge. People aren’t educated enough and don’t know what to eat, how to eat, where to shop, how to include superfoods in their diets, and there are many misconceptions that hold them back when it comes to the subject of protein. It’s difficult to do this on their own, so it’s easy to rely on a nutritionist. I think that returning to Macau, the launch of “My Wellness Journey”, and the amazing support of other local companies–like Rawlicious, The Blissful Carrot, and Blissful Bombooch that catered the journal’s launch party–we are moving, step by step, towards educating people on how to eat healthier and make them understand they can make sustainable choices; people have to understand that to live with optimal health, they need to make healthy choices.
The keyword “wellness” is an expression we’ve been hearing a lot worldwide in recent years. What is wellness for you?
There is a lot of understanding and definitions for this term. Putting it simply, when we talk about wellness, it has to do with everything, not just nutrition. When you are well and healthy, you have to take into account every aspect: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social so the circle can be completed. There’s no point in having a very healthy lifestyle with healthy foods if you’re not emotionally or mentally stable. And the same for the contrary. There has to be a link that I see as a circle, where everything connects and rotates. That’s wellness for me. For me, this concept has to do with how you live your life, how you wake up, what you do during the day to make you happy, the small rituals you create for yourself to give you balance and happiness.
Even if your goal is to be well and healthier, this is a big one. A lot of people don’t know how to start but in my book, I managed to break down those goals into smaller achievable steps; it’s important to be realistic and know exactly what you want in order to achieve this. Otherwise, people will quit or rely on new year resolutions and then February arrives and they’ll be depressed or sad because they didn’t stick to them. They may rely on fad diets too, but what works for some might not work for them.
So this was basically something you created on a personalized level, for each person to enjoy?
Yes, absolutely. Because again, not everybody’s the same. It’s a fill-in book with no dates so you can start whenever. I was asked if I read my clients’ journal and I replied that as long as they’re comfortable because it’s something very personal. But if someone tells me “Mariana, it’s been three months, I need help”, then yes, we sit down, go over the book, start from the beginning. This is the information I need to know to work with my clients.
So now you work as a nutrition coach?
Plant-based means vegan?
This is actually quite interesting to explain. There’s the vegetarian concept; back in 2014, I didn’t know about plant-based diets or veganism–only vegetarian diets. Then all these new words came: pescatarian, flexitarian, vegan. Plant-based was the diet I connected with the most. After my yoga teacher training, I researched a lot on this. I’ve never been a big meat eater, just occasionally. I had to find my diet the same way everybody has to feel happy. I chose Sattva (diet) because in Hindu it means “raw”, “pure”, “organic” and that’s the sattvic diet, from the yogis. There are more extreme regimes, but that’s the one I connected with the most and it’s plant-based. Some plant-based eaters occasionally allow fish and meat, but not on a regular basis. If you don’t do so, you’re following a vegan diet. But vegan is not only about what you eat, it’s a lifestyle which includes vegan cosmetics, and more. I don’t eat meat, but sometimes I do eat fish. I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate fish though.
How did that influence you professionally?
The power that food has for healing, prevention or provoke illness made me open my holistic wellness online practice in Hong Kong back in 2019, as the culmination of all these hard, fun, and rewarding years. The practice is divided into two areas: the wellness consulting side where I work closely with hotels, retreats, restaurants, or corporate offices to create and develop wellness concepts, programs, menus, and more, along with the plant-based nutrition coaching side. Here, I teach clients to eat, and to feel good about themselves, to find realistic solutions for their needs. With their best interests in mind; it’s all about advising and guiding. On the website, you can choose between one-on-one coaching sessions with monthly packages or you can opt for the lifestyle pre-made plans where the person buys and downloads it then follows it. There’s almost no interaction with me in this version.
There was something very popular in Hong Kong, the Bespoke Meal Plan creation where you tell me what you like and don’t like, we do an assessment, and then I’ll send you a 15-day meal plan including juices. Some people asked me about the juices from Sattva, so I give people some recipes on how to make them.
Do you believe it’s easy to be healthy in Macau?
It could be so much better. That’s why I say that with companies like ours (mine, Rawlicious, and others), people with the same passions and goals, we can unite and fight for the same goal. I believe in collaboration, support and women supporting women. It was amazing to create this journal and see we were all women. When it comes to Macau, I think it always depends on motivation and how badly you want it. With a little bit of research on the right platforms, people you follow on social media, and with some recipes, you can go to the supermarket and slowly start to make lifestyle changes. It’s important to start small with baby steps.
You also collaborated with Green Queen, in Hong Kong. Can you tell us about that project?
Sonalie (Green Queen’s founder & editor-in-chief) and I worked very closely in Hong Kong to create the world’s first 28-Day Zero Waste and Vegan Meal Plan & Recipe ebook for the Climate Conscious, not only to raise environmental awareness but also to guide you to start and explore the benefits of a plant-based diet, to motivate you to cook more at home, to inspire your friends and family to be more climate-conscious, discover Asian-inspired home cooking and ingredients. We created 63 vibrant vegan recipes including breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks, recipe preparation tips, zero waste lifestyle guides including grocery shopping and beauty, detailed weekly and daily shopping lists in easily printable format and so much more. Absolutely doable anywhere, including Macau.
Have you always been passionate about cooking?
Yes! For me, cooking is therapy. I love cooking, the creativity, what I can do with it, learning about the ingredients, and the final results. I also took a vegan-raw chef certification while in Hong Kong. I love transmitting this passion to my kids; they don’t cook yet but they give opinions and I think they’re great critics. I go to the market with the girls and encourage them to smell the peppers and the tomatoes, and press and see if it’s ripe or not.
I gotta say my whole journey has been amazing. I had no idea that 14 years later I’d be here, launching a book. I honestly thought I’d launch a recipe book first, but, as I said, there was nothing like this in the market and it was needed. The journal was meant to be released in Hong Kong where I even had spas and boutique yoga studios as vending points and had no idea I was coming back to Macau. I wondered if I should launch it in Macau and then I decided to do so. Then Covid-19 happened and there were some delays, but it happened anyway.
Where are you selling it now?
Through my website, but also Livraria Portuguesa. The idea is to also have it in some Macau spas later.
What are some of your favorite places in Macau?
I love my hikes, the trails of Coloane–I’d say my home and the trails. If I had to choose one, my house. An outdoor space? The trails. I hit the mountains every day; I go and hike a trail or have a run. It’s a great place to clear the mind, hear the birds, smell the eucalyptus–it’s a getaway.
If you have friends visiting, where would you take them?
Definitely the old parts of Macau with the old streets. That’s like how I like to travel, to see how it all started. There’s a purpose in everything. I would take them to the narrow alleys of Macau, where they’d have a cultural feeling. Afterward, perhaps a nice typical Portuguese meal, maybe at the Macau Military Club. Macau isn’t just casinos or gambling; people have to see both sides. Macau has a wonderful history. I’ve been here for roughly 30 years and I have a lot of love for Macau. It’s time to help and to strive together.
What do you do in your free time?
I am really boring (laughs). I have three kids at home, so I dedicate my free time to them. They come with me everywhere I go, together with my husband. We like to be at home; we go out to celebrations but I really enjoy my home. I’d rather wake up fresh in the morning, grab the kids, go to the beach and spend the day, put the baby to sleep, and have a nice evening with my husband or with close friends. But nothing too crazy… those days are over (laughs)! I also enjoy reading, creating recipes and working out too.
Which beach do you like most?
Definitely Cheoc Van Beach. I grew up at this beach with my siblings and childhood friends and it’s amazing to see history repeating with my kids. After all these years, nothing really changed but the time and circumstances. I usually take my kids plus my nephew there so they can start making their own memories and also because I’m able to control all four at once better in Cheoc Van (laughs).
Let’s talk new projects…
The wellness consulting area. Back in 2018, I joined forces with a Hong Kong-based world-renowned spa, wellness, and leisure consulting company–Evolve-IC–owned by one of my previous bosses during my stint at Sheraton. We have been working closely together on exciting projects including creating a healthy eating concept for a hotel opening in Cambodia next year (2021). This is post-Covid, so it’s really challenging and interesting at the same time to see what people are looking for.
The second project is the creation of a wellness concept for a hotel opening up next year in Manila. This isn’t just about food; we’re talking about creating wellness programs, thinking about what works and doesn’t. This is amazing because it’s creative and demanding. In a way, I have a lot of freedom because I’m not working alone as there’s a team.
I will definitely keep evolving with Evolve-IC. For now, I will finalize the projects and focus on wellness talks and motivational talks I have scheduled already–all online. 2021 will be an exciting year. Being in Macau now I will definitely work towards a few interesting projects I have in mind for the community. Launching my first wellness event here was huge and definitely the kick I needed to start something really cool over here.