If you follow most major artists on social media these days, you’ll find that their pages are filled with images of themselves, the expensive clothes they wear, the extravagant places they travel to, the videos they’re in, and the poses they can hold. Superficial stuff. But if you follow singer Mya, you’ll find that the 38-year-old Grammy winner uses her platform to show people they have options when it comes to trying to eat and live healthy, and it’s refreshing to see.
She has health challenges every quarter (14 days in the first quarter, 28 days in the final quarter) where she challenges people to try and share evidence of a meatless diet. Or take it a step further and try a vegan diet. Or take it another serious step up and see what their palate thinks of raw vegan food. The winners get to spend personal time with the singer and even travel with her. Educating people on such matters is something the star has been motivated to do since going vegan four years ago, and since then, switching over to raw vegan.
“It can be torture but it’s worth it in the end,” Mya said of the challenges. “Every challenge winner is completely converted, and this is their new lifestyle. They’re taking on the challenge. A vegetarian has taken on the vegan challenge. Vegan winners have taken on the raw vegan challenge. It’s been amazing to see for what started as a little thought in the compartment of my brain.”
But just because sharing the benefits of a healthier lifestyle (and even crafting a vegan guide) has become a passion project for Mya doesn’t mean she’s not still focused on her music. We talked to the beauty about having longevity in career and health, her new music, what inspired her to take the vegan plunge and why she could never go back to meat and processed foods after what she’s seen and learned.
MadameNoire: You’ve always been in great shape and I know that you dance. In what other ways were you active growing up?
Mya: I’m the oldest in my family and I grew up with brothers, so we would be on the front lawn every day playing football, whether it’s tackle or tag. I did grow up as a tomboy so I was very active outdoors, which is a little different from what kids do these days. I was also involved in gymnastics, cross-country in middle school, and the regular sports like basketball and volleyball in middle school and high school. But it was predominately dance since I was a little girl, throughout high school and career.
So you did pretty much everything!
I mean, here and there. But I was very active, very athletic always. I was captain of the pom-pom team, which was still dance, but we were athletes. We trained on the track and did workouts every single day after school. I was very active, I’ll just say that [laughs].
What spurred your decision to go vegan? Were you originally a vegetarian or pescatarian or did you just make the jump?
I’m an extremist, I’ll start there. I always set these absurd challenges for myself. I started doing that when I went independent in 2007. I started stripping something from my life every year and putting myself through willpower and disciplinarian challenges so that I can do without something because I had to do without a major label. So that’s how it started, with conditioning my mental and physical body because I knew I had to carry a big load moving forward in a space that I wasn’t familiar with, with the world watching. So that’s how it started. I started with no alcohol for 365 days, not that I drank heavily, but I started there and then I went pescatarian and then vegetarian. Just very odd challenges that I would do. I did vegetarianism and then I got into a relationship. I started eating meat again and cooking and gaining a lot of weight and looking a lot older and like I lost myself. That situation didn’t work out and I said, “How do I get myself back, but then take it further?” So I went back to vegetarianism, which was what I was doing before that relationship, and then took it a step further by entering the vegan world. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I went vegan, but so many things changed. I shed 30 pounds. I felt better. I was doing better mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I was healing myself from the inside out. I didn’t have to work out as much and I cut my budget in half. I just saw all of the benefits in every area in my life, including the creative aspect, and a lot of that has to do with the pineal gland. So I took it a step further last year by wanting to do better after three years of veganism. In the fourth year, which was 2017, I said “What about raw veganism?” [laughs] Like I said, I’m an extremist. That’s what led me to these challenges, doing them publicly, because I was once again walking into a foreign world. In order to do it and stick with it I just said “Nah, I like to cook too much. How am I going to do this?” Do it publicly. Accountability. And that’s what happened.
I always wondered how you get to the point where you feel like you can completely do without meat. Not even turkey or chicken? That seems really hard. Were you never really a carnivorous person?
Oh I grew up on everything you can imagine. I’m talking about chitlins, I’m talking about ribs, I’m talking about barbecue. Pork chops. Everything! But also, I’m getting older. My mother has had cancer twice — breast cancer and colon cancer. My father has issues, he’s diabetic. A lot of my family on both sides is suffering. I have nieces and nephews now that have to go on diets because of the way they’re eating. And it’s scary to me. I’m at the age where women start thinking about kids, and I’m like, no. There are some things I need to know before I bring kids into this world because this is not right. And in particular, the Black community is suffering the most. It is alarming to me, and just looking at my family, it hurts. I know I need to be the one to create the change and stop that downward spiral because health is truly wealth. And I’m really concerned. So that’s where it’s coming from now, along with the knowledge I have acquired going vegan four years ago. There have been some shocking, harsh truths that won’t allow me to go back. The body physically adjusts, but spiritually, it’s a place I can’t revisit because of what I now know. And it’s shocking. So this has truly changed my outlook and my life in the midst of learning in foreign territory.
What other ways do you maintain physical activity when you’re not on stage?
I had to learn really quick from an ankle surgery where I gained 25 pounds, you can no longer just do cardio or impact training. So I had to figure it out. And still, I just had to protect the knees and joints. So what I do is stationary workouts, especially with being on the road. I can’t always get to the gym. But I make a gym wherever I am. On the floor, or on a yoga mat with bodyweight-bearing exercises like sit-ups and crunches, push-ups, lunges, squats. And stretching is really important. I pack resistance bands, a speed rope for cardio, some TRX bands. Really lightweight travel for total body exercises. And I make little adjustments, so instead of taking the elevator at hotels, I’ll take the stairs. Quick way to get it in on the road. But when I do have down time, I like to hire a trainer and pay them in advance so that I’m married to the budget [laughs]. I have to get up and go so that I’m pushed to limits I realistically wouldn’t be pushing myself to. And here and there I will make it to the gym, or throw some outdoor hiking or swimming in, but that’s once in a while. But the stationary bodyweight-bearing workouts are the best because you can just roll out of bed and do them yourself. But the vegan thing is helping me out in not having to go to the gym all of the time, otherwise I would. But there are some things I need to do every day for conditioning so that when I have a show, I’m ready.
You recently released new music, specifically “Ready for Whatever.” What’s next for you in terms of not just music but the direction of your career with acting and more?
Earlier this year, I was nominated for a Grammy in the category of traditional R&B for an album I released last year titled Smoove Jones. This year I’m in the studio wrapping up a contemporary R&B project. It will be project number 13 for a 2018 release, which is also my 20th anniversary. Crazy! I’m getting old. But “Ready for Whatever” is going to be on that project and last month I released a ’90s R&B remix called “Ready Part II.” And that’s also part of that contemporary R&B project coming. This year I also filmed a television series on Bob Johnson’s new network, UMC. The name of that series is Fifth Ward, based in Houston, Texas. I am playing the role of Mina, which is a lead role, and also working on some of the music for that project, which will also be out in the spring of 2018 on the acting and music front as well.
You’ve stayed pretty much the same since coming out. Your youthfulness, your voice, your dance moves, you’ve been able to maintain everything about yourself so well. So what’s been the key to longevity both in terms of your career and your body as a vessel?
I’ve evolved as an artist and a woman, but to answer your question, I think the key to longevity in life is definitely through health and wellness and trying to find peace of mind. Not everyone wants longevity in certain industries and corporate worlds because a lot comes with that, which many can’t mentally handle. I’ve been able to become an entrepreneur and an independent artist. It was attached to peace of mind, as well as the desire for full control and just being in the know with a lot of clarity and freedom. And freedom is peace of mind. But I think longevity in any area of life stems from love and passion. I really have a strong love for music and art and dance and creating something that I don’t think I can live without. It’s something I do every day whether it’s on TV or not, on radio or not. It’s something that really fuels my soul and makes me feel alive. I would connect longevity to a passion and passion is usually what makes people feel alive. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to any particular industry, or profession or job. But it’s something we can’t leave alone because it’s in our blood or our spirit. It’s our calling. And it makes me happy. Some would say I stepped away from the industry. But I have not. I just have taken a different route in the industry and I really love it with all of my heart. I work harder now as an independent artist than I ever have as a major artist. I love music and I love the way it makes me feel and all art forms, so I would attribute longevity to that.