Working as a psychologist for the Salvation Army early on in her career, Mary Hoang learned that the stigma surrounding her profession often prevented people who needed help from getting it. In order to engage the young people she worked with, Mary had to transform the way they viewed mental health services.
“Nobody gets excited about seeing a psychologist,” she says. “So in my work with street kids I utilised music and graffiti workshops to connect with them and I saw how it helped open the channels of communication.”
Mary has carried that lesson with her. Now, seven years on, she’s applying it to her own business as part of a quest to make mental health more accessible to everyone. The Indigo Project is one-part psychology practice, one-part mindfulness meditation studio and one-part creative workshop academy, all operating under the tagline: “Get your shit together.”
Based in Surry Hills, the three-story space doesn’t feel like your typical psychology practice. It offers holistic therapies – including naturopathy, remedial massage, exercise physiology and group acupuncture – and NapTime classes for clients who need a snooze in the middle of their working days.
“Get your shit together”
Design and branding was important to Mary, who says she wanted to create a psychology practice that she would want to go to if she needed to speak to someone. The phrase “Get your shit together” reflects the way The Indigo Project makes its services accessible to the community. “My previous work experience taught me the importance of being real and relatable as a psychologist,” says Mary.
The concept spawned a series of courses combining mindfulness training and the kind of life skills people aren’t often taught in a formal setting: communication, emotional boundaries, how to deal with stress and anxiety, and the power of gratitude.
Those are the skills Mary has needed to navigate the process of striking out on her own.
The Indigo Project was conceived while Mary worked as a psychologist for private practices following her stint at the Salvation Army. Finding that her ideas to make office space more comfortable for clients were often shut down, Mary decided to channel her creative energy into a vision for her own business.
“I’ve written countless pages in my journal on The Indigo Project,” she says. “I think it’s one of the most powerful ways to connect with ideas. It’s interesting to see ideas that I’ve had years ago just starting to come into fruition when the time is right.”
How to create the life you want
Creativity is central to The Indigo Project’s philosophy. The company offers a course in How To Create The Life You Want, and incorporates food and music into mindfulness experiences, such as The Mindful Belly (conscious cooking classes) and Listen Up (mindful sound journeys). There is also an in-house music recording studio offering artist residencies to folks such as the ARIA award-winning musician Bertie Blackman.
“[Creativity] offers an easy pathway for our community to understand their minds and mindfulness in a down-to-earth way,” says Mary. “It has also meant that I see a lot of people in creative industries as clients.”
To begin with, Indigo was a small business with a family-like atmosphere run out of Mary’s apartment. When she expanded the business last year, Mary found it challenging to implement a fixed management structure and adapt to becoming the boss responsible for big decisions and financial stresses.
“I try to be as mindful as I can, in regards to the impact that it could have on my mental health, but I am only human,” she says. “It definitely has pushed me to my limits at times… I think it’s really important to be incredibly strong mentally when you venture into entrepreneurship – anything can be thrown at you.”
When she encounters roadblocks, Mary turns to her network. “My partner is an incredible source of support and a great sounding board for my ideas, and I have a beautiful team of people and friends who are always willing to offer a hand,” she says. “It’s so important to maintain good relationships throughout life, as the help you need is usually only a person away.”
As for the future, Mary is committed to growing the company sustainably and finding innovative ways to bring mindfulness to the masses using technology. “I’d love to see Indigo in a few more cities,” she says. “We’ve been exploring virtual reality. Mindfulness is definitely trending and I’m grateful to be on the curve and loving the work that we are bringing to the community.”
Interview by Bridget de Maine.