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  • July 13, 2023 9 min read

    Wonders Await With Kat MacLeod and Laura Messer Through Yoga for the Wild

    Going to Africa on a safari ranks high on many people’s bucket lists, while yoga might be a weekly experience for those very same people. But have you ever wondered if the two could be combined? When Kat MacLeod and Laura Messer met fortuitously in 2016, they had no idea they’d start their current company, Yoga for the Wild, which offers just that: once-in-a-lifetime experiences, combining an African adventure with daily yoga classes. 

    Originally from Zimbabwe herself, MacLeod lives in Bristol, UK, while Messer lives in Greenville, SC, not far from her hometown of Asheville, NC. But even separated by an ocean, they’ve partnered to combine their love of wildlife and yoga, creating a unique, meaningful and movement-based experience for those who sign up for the retreats through Yoga for the Wild. Read on to learn more about how they landed on their special offerings, how they manage their partnership and the wonders they find in Africa.    

    SBS: How did wellness and fitness play into your childhood?

    Kat MacLeod: It didn’t at all. I loved drama, dance, music and partying. Fitness and wellness only made an appearance for me in my twenties.

    Laura Messer:  I fell in love with ballet when I was three years old, and I danced through high school and college. I also played sports and was always moving. However, as a child in the 80s (in the US) we ate a lot of fast food, and I struggled with body image, often going on extreme diets. For me, true health and wellness is more about balance and moderation. I didn’t really get that until much later in life.   

    SBS: What work are you doing currently, alongside Yoga for the Wild?

    KM: I do weekly yoga classes in Bristol, corporate yoga classes to select clients, prenatal yoga and online yoga classes and courses. I also have a part time job as a marketing executive for a luxury travel company, and I manage retreat bookings for other yoga teachers. I’m as busy as I sound! 

    LM: Our current Yoga For the Wild offerings include two retreats in Kenya and one in Zimbabwe in 2024. (We have a few spots remaining!) In addition, I also own Zen Mission Yoga, and I focus on private yoga lessons for individuals, small groups and corporate clients. I also volunteer locally with a few charities. 

    SBS: How did the idea for Yoga for the Wild come about? What was your original mission, and how has it evolved?

    KM: We wanted to raise some money for the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya which was really struggling during Covid lockdowns. Without sufficient tourism income, rhinos and all the other wildlife of the conservancy were at a high risk, and that really upset us. We offered online yoga classes to raise funds for the conservancy. Ol Pejeta got really excited about it and helped us a lot with virtual visits to the rhinos and the dogs, as well as having interviews with the rangers. It was amazing! Then we shared the idea of a retreat here and people jumped on it. So we did two back- to-back retreats, and they both sold out.

    LM: I have to give a little more backstory: I’m an animal person, and have always had a huge place in my heart specifically for African elephants and rhinos. When I was completing my yoga teaching certification, I had an idea to combine my love of yoga with my passion for wildlife conservation. I reached out to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and offered to do classes (in SC) as fundraisers for their orphans. I was so surprised by the turnout, support and success! I was also surprised by the number of people in my area that had no idea that these animals were on the brink of extinction and their numbers being decimated by humans. 

    My husband and I had traveled to Kenya for the first time in 2018, in hopes of meeting Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino on the planet, who was living at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Unfortunately, he passed away two months prior to our trip. I was devastated not to meet him, but my calling to help the species was even more confirmed. I also fell in love with the country: the wild and beautiful land, the friendly, colorful and vibrant people, and, of course, the wildlife. So, when Kat and I started the virtual classes in 2020, we were so excited to bring Kenya to so many people from all over the world that might otherwise never get to visit in person. 

    Our mission continues to evolve, too! We hope to expand our efforts in the future and work with other conservation groups in the future. That’s why the support for next year's Zimbabwe trip is so encouraging. It’s our first progression toward this growth, and we will be supporting the Bushlife Painted Wolf Conservancy in Mana Pools. I’m so excited! We hope to continue our momentum and, one day, work with conservation groups all over Africa supporting gorillas, cheetahs, pangolins…who knows!  

    SBS: What was your mission in starting Yoga for the Wild?

    KM: Our mission was to share the magic of Africa’s wild places and wildlife with people, and create a community of global wildlife champions whilst raising funds for important conservation initiatives. 

    LM: I’d add that building this community with yoga as our foundation allowed us to draw like-minded individuals to our mission and raise awareness through a peaceful approach.  

    SBS: What was it like putting that mission into motion practically? 

    KM: It was scary at first because we weren’t sure what to expect or how it would be received. But we have a really open, honest line of pretty much daily communication, and we make a point of supporting one another as much as possible. Organizing and executing retreats is always hard work, but having support makes a huge difference! 



    LM: It has taken a lot of time and patience. There were definitely a series of events that brought us together and led us to want to make a difference. Once we established our goal, we started to take action, which led us to finding other people who wanted to help. We’ve found a rhythm together. In Swahili, there is a saying, “pole pole,” which means to go slow and enjoy. I feel like this is sort of how we have been successful, too. We didn’t try to start a big business, or rewrite any kind of wheel. We just knew we shared a passion and wanted to make a small difference for the animals and places we love. 

    SBS: What advice would you give to other new business owners?

    KM: Make sure you have someone who can keep you accountable and excited. If you’re not partnering with someone, then a business mentor will make such a difference. And everyone knows to work hard, but be kind to yourself, too. We’ve always put our personal needs before work, and that’s okay with us both. You can’t run a marathon on an empty tank. 

    LM: Be as clear and precise as possible with your intentions and goals. Then, write them down and start saying them: to yourself, to others, outloud, in your head, on sticky notes…anything!  All the time. Even if it sounds odd or crazy to other people at first, keep talking about it. Trust me, as a girl from the Carolinas with a dream to save the elephants and rhinos in Africa, while doing yoga.

    SBS: What advice would you give to anyone starting yoga as a beginner?

    KM: Not all yoga is the same, and not all yoga teachers are the same. Try different teachers and different classes until you find something and someone that fits.

    LM: Don’t worry about what other people are doing, or be too concerned about doing a pose the way someone else does it. Try to tune into your body and notice how it feels. Then stick with it. Take breaks when needed. Keep breathing. 

    SBS: What is the experience like on one of your trips?

    KM: I’ve heard these trips described as the trip of a lifetime. We don’t waste a single moment, and every moment of every day is an opportunity to learn and discover and be moved by the experience.

    LM: Experiencing the African bush has an intense way of bonding people. Strangers quickly become friends. We have been really fortunate to witness some very raw, National Geographic type of scenes. The circle of life is powerfully clear and more beautiful than you could imagine. It’s more than a safari experience, though, because we’re incorporating yoga. Beginning and ending our days with mindfulness and intention really enhances everything we see, hear, smell, taste and experience throughout the day. 

    SBS: How did you land on the specific location and why did you choose it?

    KM: This is my parents’ lodge, and I built the yoga deck with the intent of one day, maybe, leading a retreat here. I never thought I’d actually do it! When we thought of where to hold this retreat, it was a no-brainer. 

    LM: So the connection with Kat’s parents is certainly fortuitous, but the decision to go to Ol Pejeta in the first place is because of the incredible work they do for the wildlife that call it home, and the multitude of conservation efforts they employ. The last two northern white rhinos on the entire planet live here now. They are mother and daughter, and neither can carry a pregnancy. Ol Pejeta is leading the way to turn things around for them. Working with a team of scientists and conservationists at Leibniz-IZW, Safari Park Dvur Kralove, and the Kenya Wildlife Service, they have created innovative ways to help save the species through assisted reproduction technologies. Additionally, they are the largest black rhino sanctuary in all of East Africa. It is home to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, established to rehabilitate animals rescued from the black market, and the only place you can see chimpanzees in Kenya. They manage a very successful livestock program, which tremendously supports the surrounding towns and villages. Ol Pejeta also contributes to the local people through education and healthcare initiatives, so, it was a no brainer for sure.

    SBS: What are your own wellness routines?

    KM: I’m currently pregnant with my second baby, so wellness for me means a lot of sleep, water, vitamins, collagen, yoga (every day if I can even, if it’s just 10 minutes) and preparing myself physically and mentally for birth and early motherhood. 

    LM: I walk a lot, usually outside, often with a friend or two. It clears my head. Most days, I teach a couple times, so I don't get to do proper yoga classes as often as I’d like, but I do so whenever I can. Time alone is always good for me, but time with my family (pups for sure!) is also therapeutic. Going to concerts, listening to music, and reading good books are also important to my mental and physical well being. And staying hydrated.     

    SBS: Anything else you'd like to share?

    LM: Everyone always asks how Kat and I met, and it is a pretty funny story. In 2016, when my husband and I started planning our trip to Kenya (which took about 2 years), we decided to use a travel company to sort out the details, and Kat happened to be our agent. The first thing we told her was that we wanted to go to Ol Pejeta to meet Sudan and the last Northern White Rhinos. While we were there, having breakfast with the lodge owners one morning, they casually mentioned that Kat was their daughter and that she also taught yoga. We were so surprised! Kat had never mentioned that her parents even lived in Kenya, nor promoted their lodge to us. We just knew we wanted to go there! Needless to say, we kept in touch after our trip, and I guess the rest is history. Is that fate? Luck? Serendipity? I don’t know, but it brought us together, and now we get to share a little of that magic with others. Come to Africa with us! 

    The best, zaniest part of being Kat: If there’s an opportunity for a Disney quote or song to come out in any situation, it’s going to come from me! 

    The best, zaniest part of being Laura: I guess I’m obsessed with animals. I love them all. I help any stray or rescue that I can. From birds, to cows, to penguins to turtles, they are all so amazing. If there is an animal in danger, I will try to help. I find the praying mantis particularly fascinating. I keep dog food in my car in case I see a needy pup. Once, on my way to a sales meeting, I stopped to help an injured wild turkey…in a dress and high heels.


    Kat’s SBS Mantra: Be Mindful. Gratitude, kindness, happiness and calm all begin here. 

    Laura’s SBS Mantra: Be Passionate. One little spark can start a fire.  

    Kat and Laura’s UK and SC Faves:

    Healthy Restaurant: Kat: Dangun, UK / Laura: Sun Belly Cafe, SC
    Splurge Restaurant: Kat: The Ethicurean, UK / Laura: Jianna, SC
    Fun Activity: Kat: Paddleboarding or a walk in the forest with my kid because everything he does is hilarious/ Laura: Traveling or a walk with Kat’s kid because he absolutely is hilarious and adorable! 
    Calming Activity: Kat: Restorative yoga / Laura: Being on, or in the water
    Fitness Studio: Kat: David Lloyd Clubs, UK / Laura: Adrenaline Dance Fitness, SC
    Yoga Studio: Kat: Elevate Yoga & Fitness, UK / Laura: Greenville Yoga, SC
    Athleticwear: Kat: BAM Bamboo Clothing or Lululemon / Laura: Vuori or Lululemon
    Athletic Shoes: Kat: Nike  / Laura: Brooks Running
    Books: Kat: I’m a diehard Wilbur Smith lover / Laura: Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter AllisonOnline Resources: Kat: JanetLansbury.com, TheBloomMethod.com. Laura: DailyOm.com, Thedodo.com, Wanderingourworld.com

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