Monique Herrera never considered herself a morning person, but for the last six months, she’s been waking up at 5:30 a.m. every day to work out with Kathy “Kat” Novoa—founder of Babes of Wellness. Herrera is a domestic violence survivor and says the class has completely changed her life and mental health.
“You think you can’t move from anxiety and then suddenly you’re grateful to be sweating it out as a calm, loving voice motivates you to keep going,” Herrera tells Remezcla.
Herrera is just one of the many people who Novoa and her venture, Babes of Wellness, have catered to in the South Los Angeles/Compton area since 2018. Novoa was born and raised in LA and grew up in a large Mexican family. She grew up witnessing domestic violence and drug use, she explains, but quickly realized no one ever talked about it. She became determined to change that in 2017 after publishing a blog post that shared her personal experience.
“It stirred up something inside of me to want to do something about all the messages I was receiving. I got invited to speak at a shelter in Long Beach,” Novoa says. “I went in with the goal of sharing my story to inspire and give them hope but left feeling touched by their stories of survival. [That] is the night I decided to become an advocate.”
Novoa’s advocacy work at women’s shelters exposed her to how survivors of domestic violence struggle to start over and prioritize self-care. Her own personal healing journey made her aware of the power of releasing negative energy from the body through movement and she felt compelled to share that in order to help others “unlearn [a] toxic mindset.”
To Novoa, it was essential to create a calm and safe space in the male-dominated fitness industry. A significant portion of her clientele is composed of domestic violence survivors and she estimates that 99% of her entire roster are women of color. In many ways she sees her “mom, cousins, and tías in [domestic violence survivors],” she says.
She offers complimentary services to domestic violence survivors because she sees it as a way to end the silencing of the masochistic behavior exhibited by men and to break the cycle of violence in order to help the community heal as a whole. In a 2016 report, Los Angeles County Commission for Women (LACCW) found that there were 39,145 domestic violence calls in LA in 2014. According to a 2006 report from the Women of Color Network, 23.4% of Latinas are victimized by intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
For Herrera, who works as a director at a non-profit, taking Novoa’s classes gives her a chance to work out her body and heart simultaneously.
“Before you become a ‘survivor,’ you’re living in the trenches. You feel lost, confused, helpless, you’ve given up all control and live by someone else’s choices in hopes of staying alive. Being in class with Kat has given me an opportunity to feel strong in ways I didn’t think possible,” she said. “She builds character and muscle simultaneously… The body often remembers trauma before our heads and Kat is mindful of this throughout the program.”
Babes of Wellness claims to be the first Latina-owned wellness boutique studio in Los Angeles. Novoa operates the studio inside of her home because she wants to cultivate a space that’s focused on healing. She established a cycle of programs to that end—with classes that include everything from heated sessions centered around sensuality (Babes After Dark) to CBD-infused sessions.
“CBD [cannabidiol] has previously had a very bad stigma in our community,” she explains. “So I wanted to re-introduce it as a tool in their wellness practice. Incorporating CBD into the sessions came as a result of noticing how many clients and survivors would have difficulty with meditation, resting in stillness and calming the ‘monkey mind’.”
She uses CBD from a female-owned company called Tonic, which develops CBD based topicals from organically grown, hemp-derived CBD.
”I am a big believer in the mind-body connection, so when our mind is all over the place, our bodies react to it. Being able to use this alongside the meditation and mindful practices has been a game-changer,” she says.
In the face of trauma, the workouts are meant to be a fully healing and empowering experience with their motto being “more than a body.” The safe space she’s established is what made 33-year-old Jacqueline E. Reyes—a social worker who has one-on-one coaching sessions with Novoa—so comfortable.
“Once I learned about BOW, I felt a sense of relief as if I had finally found my safe fitness space,” she tells Remezcla. “Exercise aids your mental health and as a mental health professional, I know this, yet struggle with it so much. Up until I met Kat my mental health and fitness seemed like enemies. She has provided a space where I can tackle my fitness in a way that is positive and healing… There have been times where I have walked in for a session with heaviness and have left feeling like I can take on the world.”
Novoa hopes to open an official location in the South LA area and provide internships for young domestic violence survivors or those who have witnessed domestic violence. She also hopes to employ survivors whose stories would further inspire others in the wellness space.
For now, she’s developed a community of women and survivors who have come to rely on her workouts and the camaraderie she’s helped cultivate. Inez Rodriguez—a 22-year-old who grew up in an abusive home—has been with BOW for a year and four months now. She says part of the appeal is the community of fellow survivors she’s met in class.
She recalls shared stories and tears in her first class.
“Taking these classes has been so beneficial for me because I’ve learned the importance of self-love… forgiveness and of health both mentally and physically. I consider BOW my safe place,” she says.
For Rodriguez and the other roughly 40 women Kat works with, it’s evident that BOW is more than a wellness center—it’s a place for acceptance, community and most importantly, healing.
“[Domestic violence] is not really talked about, so by advocating for survivors and creating dialogue we open the doors to real conversations, healing and empowerment to take place. This is what being a part of BOW means. It’s more than just a cute boutique studio in the hood.”