When did you start teaching yoga?
I started practicing yoga — really was introduced to it — around the end of my college (undergraduate) time here at Spelman. And then I practiced a lot more and was a lot more committed to my practice as the years went on, and I ended up becoming a certified yoga instructor. I took a course in 2005 and completed the training in 2007. So I’ve been teaching yoga here in Atlanta since ’05 really.
Your journey towards where you are now is so inspiring, so please can you share what was the catalyst that helped you start your weight loss journey.
I started reading books on yoga. Really I just wanted — I knew– there was something more. I had been up and down with being concerned with my weight and my health for some time, and I was tired of having these quick fixes. I’d lose some weight, and then I’d gain it back. I just wanted something more and deeper. So although I realize that yoga is so much more than just a physical practice, I do want to say that, it was something that contributed to me having an overall awareness of myself, both physically and spiritually.
So how can a person cultivate that type of awareness?
Well, I think it looks several different ways for several different people. It just happens to be that yoga was the thing that worked for me. And I feel like all people have their own yoga, their own form of yoga.
The word yoga literally means to unite, to yoke, to join. And so I feel like anytime you have a community that can support you, even though we can do a lot of things on our own, I think it’s very helpful to have a supportive community, whether it’s a spiritual community or a bootcamp. So as long as you have a community of support and people who can also hold you accountable with a lot of compassion — and I stress that more than anything — because I know there were times during my journey that I’m on that I can often be a little bit harder on myself.
As a yogini, how has your perception of yoga changed, if at all, and what are your thoughts about the state of yoga?
With yoga, it’s so complex. It’s so simple yet so complex in a way. I may learn something different about myself through my practice each time I approach it but the way that I see yoga — even though it has changed my life tremendously — I have to be careful not to force it upon people.
There was an article in The New York Times about how yoga can wreck your body, which I don’t think gave the full picture of a healthy yoga practice. And then you have the issue with the lack of diversity in yoga in terms of who you see practicing yoga. I think, initially, when I saw yoga, I didn’t necessarily see images that were reflective of who I was — a woman of color, a full-figured woman of color as well, in these magazines or advertisements. So it has really transformed my notion of yoga to be so much more than these beautiful physical postures that often attract people, aesthetically. It’s so much deeper than that.
Can you speak on the lack of diversity in yoga communities around America? and was that the reason you felt impelled to create Chelsea Loves Yoga?
It catches someone’s attention when you do see multiple people of color in spaces where one practices yoga, so it’s very clear that the issue does exist … People of color who practice yoga do exist, but I don’t know if that is necessarily something that is reflected in the mainstream.
What inspired me to create my blog Chelsea Loves Yoga was because I love yoga, and there is so many other people that are silenced in our community, whether it’s intentional or not, that also share this same love. And what I’ve learned through my interviews, so many people approach the practice [of yoga] because of some type of obstacle they were trying to overcome.
What do you think the yoga community can do to overcome the lack of diversity in images, in classes, and in its discourse?
I think that an obstacle that the yoga community has to overcome, which has been my experience, is that this mantra or this discourse of oneness is constantly repeated but not really looked at on a critical level of to think deeper of what oneness truly means and that there is diversity in oneness and that you can’t think that just because we are all one that means that we ignore all of the realities that we all face in our own lived experiences.
During your numerous volunteering and teaching experiences, is there any concerns communities of color express to you about yoga, and what do you do to alleviate any concerns?
It is a concern for a lot of people. I’m a very practical and realistic person, so I often think about the community that I work with. I taught in Title 1 schools and the majority of the students that I meet are coming from below the poverty line and are under-resourced, so I have to remember, as this person of coming in, presenting this activity to a community, I can’t go in with this missionary mentality.
There may be times when I don’t even call it yoga because of the separation between religion and schools … So I might call it mind and body awareness; it may be [called] movement.
But at the end of the day, whatever you want to call it or label it, it’s moving with the breath and moving the body in coordination with the breath, and being reflective, and taking a moment to just let go of all the obstacles, the chatter. Just to really tune-in to what’s going on in the moment, so I have to be creative in how I present [yoga].
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