Updated: Oct 25
Sometimes what we are running from is the very thing that we should be running towards.
For years, I ran from yoga. Growing up during the Crack Epidemic in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn was no easy feat. Witnessing lots of dreams being deferred like Langston Hughes poem " Harlem" was the norm.
Counting empty crack vials with colored tops ranging from red, green, yellow and blue on our way to and from elementary school was a common game for us to play. Seeing brown boys and men in the morning and seeing a makeshift memorial site filled with tall candles from the corner store and empty liquor bottles and sometimes those sites would be the mural dedicated to another fallen one, was very common. Seeing healthy beautiful woman that I looked up to one day and seeing them strung out on crack weeks later was also a thing.
This white stuff was wiping out my community and I was too young to internalize what was happening but I didn't feel good about it. We didn't have the language that we do today to understand how traumatizing that was for the residents in these brown communities, especially on children.
Being an empath and sensitive soul didn't help either. Absorbing pain and trauma and not having an outlet was tough for lack of a better word. At that time, I had never heard the words yoga and wellness so I bottled it all up.
Fast forward twenty years later and I take my first yoga class, I don't remember the level or style that I took but I remember how I felt afterwards. I felt lighter and more free, like I had a handle on life. Over the course of the years, I would take a few classes a year, I was always seeking a studio that felt inclusive, more like home. There were many instances where I was the only Black woman in the class, it was common for the room to get silent or for me to feel tolerated and not welcomed which was disheartening at times. That's one reason why representation is everything.
Sitting in the back of the yoga class was my thing because I could use it to my vantage point to see what the others were doing and move my body like theirs because I didn't understand the asanas ( poses) in Sanskrit. Being in the back was my novice attempt to get in and out of asanas seamlessly. I was turned off from yoga for a while because I felt alone.
I wrote on my bucket list that I wanted to to become a yoga teacher by the age of 40. I did!
In 2017, I had two coworkers tag me in a post for a yoga program specifically for educators called Breathe for Change. I was apprehensive about signing up but so glad that I did. Finishing up on my second masters, teaching full time and completing a yoga training program all at one time may have not been the best idea.
During the intense training, change was inevitable. Pushing and trusting my body in ways I hadn't done before was a confidence booster for me. Ideas that once served me were challenged, food that I used to love stopped loving me, I lost interest in things and people that no longer served me.
Finding a Black owned yoga studio Urban Asanas in Crown Heights, Brooklyn ran by Jyll Hubbard-Saulk felt like home. She saw me and always encouraged me to give my body what it needed. For a brief time, I was able to clean the yoga studio in exchange for her classes. Talk about paying it forward. Shortly after realizing that I was burned out from almost two decades of teaching public school in New York; resigning in 2018 and moving to Georgia felt right despite my fear of leaving behind all that I knew for the unknown.
Months before the pandemic, I found Indigo Gypsy, a Black owned yoga studio near my home and met Edna Abney. For two months, I attended her weekly Monday morning classes where I was reminded to stand in power through my yoga practice. Then we had to pivot because the world closed down. I shared with Edna that I was a yogini too and she welcomed me into the Mindful Life Services family.
During the pandemic, offering some sentiment of reprieve from the heightened fears that many of us stored in our body was my contribution to the world. It was my was my way of holding space for my former students, family and anyone who wanted to partake. I began offering free and donation based gentle yoga virtually from my back yard to provide respite for those in need. Three years later, I am still offering classes and offering those that do not have the funds to pay a chance to attend for free on a merit system by paying it forward. They are encouraged to do an act of kindness for themselves and others. No one is ever turned away for not having money.
My classes are unorthodox and very newbie friendly. Providing a safe place to learn and grow as a yogi is our objective at Mindful Life Services. You don't need to know the Sanskrit words to move in and out of asanas but you will learn about our chakras and how they inform our thoughts and actions. Yoga is a practice that requires continuous learning where you learn very quickly that it is not a competition with the person on the mat next to you. There are asanas that our body may not be able to do and that's okay.
Yoga teaches the practitioner to give grace and be gentle with their body. One learns to appreciate their body for what it can and can not do.
My vision and mission is to bring more brown bodies to their mat. There is power just by sitting on one's yoga mat because the mind and breath begin to power down. In a world where intensity is often the headliner, slowing down can have healthy affects on your mind and body.
I am grateful for the familiar and not familiar faces that I encounter while exposing and teaching yoga to communities that may not have access for various reasons. I left teaching 180 days in a classroom setting to teaching a weekly class on the mat called Aligning Them Chakras. When I am not feeling my best and my vibes are low, making my way to my yoga mat provides clarity and solace. I'd love to see you on your mat. But until then, keep breathing, that's yoga too. Visit us at www.mindfullifeservices.com