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Austin sisters behind reusable bag brand create new meditation chair, program

Pebbl provides good back support anywhere someone wants to meditate. The chair was created by sisters Melissa Nathan and Paige Davis, who live in Austin.

Sisters Paige Davis and Melissa Nathan introduced Austin to reusable bags made by Blue Avocado, when they founded that company in 2008 with fellow Austinite Amy George. They were possibly ahead of their time. Their goal was to create awareness about challenges to the environment and spur change. 

"That category is exploding right now," Nathan says. "It's finally catching on. We were early movers."

By 2013, they had stepped away from the day-to-day operation of Blue Avocado, just as it was starting to take off, but they remain shareholders. At the time, Nathan says, it was still a push to get the public to embrace reusable bags. "Now there's a pull. They want it," she says.

Once again, Nathan and Davis are launching something that they might be a little early on but that they hope will explode in popularity.

The sisters have started Soul Sparks Collective, a business centered around meditation. Through its website, soulsparks.com, the company offers weekly meditations and resources like apps and spotlights on favorite teachers. 

The company also is creating products for meditation. Its first is Pebbl, a portable, supportive meditation seat. Pebbl also can be used for non-meditation practices, such as kids soccer games, picnics, trips to the beach — anywhere you need instant seating with back support. It sells for $189 and comes with meditation resources that are part of the Soul Sparks Collective, as well as the new Pebbl Studio video platform that is launching. 

"What we love doing is creating products that people don't know they need it, until they need it," Davis says. 

"I actually don't think we are early," Nathan says. "We are right here in the moment." 

As pandemic-weary people look for relief from months of monotony, the sisters hope that meditation can help. It's certainly helped them.

Sisters Melissa Nathan and Paige Davis first helped found Blue Avocado, a company that sells reusable bags. Now they've created a meditation company and a meditation chair, Pebbl.

Turning to meditation

Both Davis, 46, and Nathan, 50, came to meditation on their own and have a different style from each other. Nathan describes hers as spiritual, while Davis' is more about being centered.

Nathan started meditating in her 20s. "I've always been a spiritual seeker," she says. "I feel like deep down, I wanted to be a rabbi."

Davis started practicing meditation as she was winding down her time at Blue Avocado. 

"I was a stereotypical entrepreneur," she says of the time when she started her training. Leaving Blue Avocado, she says, "gave us both time to step away, to dive into taking care of ourselves in meaningful, different ways." 

'A devastating moment'

Davis' need to pursue meditation as a practice and a profession really solidified after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. 

"I had an initial breakdown," she says. "I was aware that I was having a devastating moment in my life."

She had six months of chemotherapy, as well as a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries. 

Paige Davis left Blue Avocado, which she created with sister Melissa Nathan and friend Amy George, and then had a year of breast cancer treatments and surgeries.

"It changed everything," Davis says. "It really was less my crisis moment. ... It was such a meaningful time to be present to the transformation that was happening, and that includes the difficulty and the challenge and the crisis. Most people want to run away from it. When you're present, you became aware. It's in my body. I breathe into the spaces, and it ultimately moves through." 

The cancer diagnosis, Davis says, "was the seed of creating Pebbl." 

"I knew I wanted to deepen my own practice," she says. 

She needed to slow down and listen to her body, and her thoughts, and be OK if those thoughts filtered in as she tried to meditate. Getting comfortable was important to the practice.

"It's OK to have back support," Davis says. "If our bodies aren't supported, we can't relax." 

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Turning to meditation in crisis

Davis and Nathan believe they are introducing Pebbl and Soul Sparks Collective at the exact right moment. The pandemic has been a tough year for many people. Davis likens it to when she had cancer and wondered what her new normal would look like. 

It's been like a collective grief, she says, but what cancer taught her is there can be a peace in the middle of difficulty. Meditation can be the thing that gets you through a difficult time.

"It's been such a touchstone for us," Davis says.

The Davis family lived in Tulsa around a culture of entrepreneurship, Melissa Nathan says.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Nathan was talking to their mother, Karen Davis, who lives in Tulsa, and she just didn't sound right. Nathan and Davis decided to drive up to Oklahoma together the next day to see what was going on. Their father, Barry Davis, had been in a clinical trial for melanoma that got stalled because of the pandemic, so they already knew that things weren't good with him.

What they didn't know until they got there was how bad things were with their mom.

As they were leaving to take her to the doctor for a check-up, their dad fell and ended up in the hospital for two days. Their mother went on to the doctor's office, and she was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. 

"From that point on, it was a downward spiral," Nathan says. 

Their other sister, Megan Davis-Lightman, came to stay with them, too. 

They first thought they were talking about nursing care, but then they realized their parents both really needed hospice. 

Barry and Karen Davis were married 55 years before they died within 10 days of one another. Meditation helped their daughters get through the grief.

"Each day was something new and different," Davis says. Meditation, though, gave them the "tools and capacity to stay connected to each other and to them. I don't know how we would have got through it without those tools." 

Meditation, Nathan says, "allowed us to love them through it instead of being in a state of constant worry. We had the training to stay present. It's such a gift. It was hard, but it was beautiful."

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The sisters would each take the time they needed to meditate. For Davis, that meant moments each morning to sit with herself. For Nathan, it was listening to one of her meditation teachers' recordings. In Davis-Lightman's case, it was to do Pilates, her form of meditation. 

They would communicate to give one another what they needed. "It would be 'man down,'" Nathan says. 

In many ways, the act of sitting beside their parents as they were going through the passage into death "felt like an ongoing meditation," Davis says. She noticed she was breathing to the cadence of her father's breath. 

Their meditation practices would show up in this difficult time, and bring them back into the present and out of the worry.

"It just creates space for new things to come in that are really inspired. It's a connectedness thing," Nathan says. 

Their mother died first, on July 15. Their father died 10 days later, on July 25. After Karen Davis died, Barry Davis only had a few moments of lucidity, except when he recited the mourner's prayer for his wife at her memorial service, which happened over Zoom. 

Creating a community

Davis and Nathan have followed their spiritual journeys and been a support to each other. Now they want to build a community as Soul Sparks Collective and be something more than an app. 

"We're here to provide a gateway," Nathan says. "We're not just selling a chair. We're selling a beginning to a journey."

The Pebbl meditation chair also has accessories such as a bag, covers, a blanket and a carrying strap.

Davis says, "We like to say we literally have your back." The duo aims to provide tools and resources: "We want to be a community that is supportive." They will collaborate with their favorite teachers to bring meditation to people who haven't found it before. 

"There are people that just want to try the apps," Davis says, which is fine, but this was designed for people who want more. "We know it's an investment. It will come back to you in the sense of ease in areas of high stress." 

Creating the right chair

The chair had to be right, and something people would want.

Just like with Blue Avocado, where they introduced reusable bags for snacks and then people used them for all kinds of things, they hope that Pebbl becomes a chair that is used for meditation and then brought to the hillside at Barton Springs or onto the soccer field.

"When people sit in it, regardless of why," there is an exhalation, Nathan says, letting out a breath herself. "There is a moment. There is some serious 'cush for the tush.' It doesn't matter if its meditation or not."

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To find the right materials and design, Nathan bought foam and fabric and used paperclips and staples to test it out, because she doesn't sew. Then she worked with a seamstress and realized they really needed an industrial designer. 

The name Pebbl comes from the idea of stacked rocks that people find in nature. The chairs can be stacked on top of one another when folded up, and their rounded shape evokes those rocks. 

It's also a touchstone to remind people to meditate when they see it. 

They thought of a pebble that is thrown into the pond, creating ripples in the water. For Davis and Nathan, that symbolized the ripple effect of what meditation can do for a person, as well as what they hope to do. One percent of sales will go to Austin's LifeWorks, which helps people in transition, including those who have aged out of the foster care system. 

Taking a Pebbl moment

The sisters' parents got to see their plans for Soul Sparks Collective and Pebbl before they died. And the next generation is, too. 

Nathan has two children, who are ages 14 and 17, and they are used to seeing their mother meditate right in the living room each day. "It's the best thing I can do for them," Nathan says. "It's there should they choose it." 

She knows that forcing it on them won't work, but watching her and being around it makes it more accessible to them, she says.

For Davis, this is about making meditation easier and more comfortable for people because of the chair and the resources: "We want to meet people where they are." She says the dream is for people to say: "'I'm going to take a Pebbl moment."