March 15, 2022
This week, we are proudly launching our program collaboration with YogaRoots on Location, LLC.
Children in kindergarten through 5th grade at After-school All-stars in Los Angeles, Communities in Schools at Hampton Roads, and Madison Square Boys & Girls Club will enjoy a 9 week series of virtual, healing-centered classes.
YogaRoots On Location develops and conducts culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate Antiracist Integrative Raja Yoga sessions with youth. Through this program, children will be able to explore topics of Raja yoga, social justice, mindfulness, and movement.
VP of Products & Storytelling, Dr. Ari, had the privilege of interviewing Felicia Savage Friedman (founder), Maya Savage (Director of Programming), and Heather Manning (Director of Marketing & Social) from YogaRoots on Location, LLC about their specific practice and the collaborative work ahead.
The transcribed interview below has been edited for clarity. Click the video for the full length interview.
I'm Dr. Ari and, I'm going to pass it to Maya.
I'm Maya Savage. I wear one of many hats. I am the director of programming for YogaRoots On Location, juvenile justice programming currently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but, by way of Florida.
I also own my own business, a health advocacy and youth advocacy organization, Reclaiming Savage LLC. I also work with the Soul Focus Group as a human solidarity consultant and facilitator. I have been doing this particular work, it feels like the 30 years I've been on this planet — in all the ways of me being able to access my own healing journey. And so me being an entrepreneur was me being able to access the restoration that I knew I needed, [and] that was not going to be accessible within the confines of currently constructed corporate America. And so, [as] I've transitioned out, I've continued to learn and heal for myself so that I can be able to share this knowledge with others. I'm currently writing my two books, one on healing and the other one on a wild experience of the school year of 2017 to 2018.
So looking forward to it and excited to be here.
I'm Felicia Savage Friedman. I am the founder and CEO of YogaRoots on Location, which is an anti-racist Raja yoga school where I certify yogis at the 200 hour level. We conduct professional development, keynotes, moderated discussions, all in an effort for us to collectively be liberated. I firmly believe that when one of us can't just be free, we all need to be free and we all need to be free together and have equity in our joy. And so I'm delighted to be here with you, Dr. Mamma Ari and Maya and Heather. So I guess I'll pass it to Heather.
Just want to lift up the work that my sister Maya is doing and the work that Felicia continues to do. It never stops being inspiring for me. And, you know, we inspire to inspire. And so I have the privilege and honor of receiving inspiration and being here to inspire.
I'm a facilitator, I'm also an advocate. And so I started out advocating for myself. Right. I learned so much through that in various ways. I became a certified yoga teacher a few years ago, which was another means of advocating, right. So advocating for my wellness and my peace. And I've always been, outside of an advocate, someone who fought, right. So I've always been a fighter. And I learned how to embrace my peaceful warrior in the last few years. And that's looked like teaching in a variety of capacities. And so, currently I teach and work with youth who are in the system and outside of that, I hold various community yoga and meditation classes. So, that is the work that I'm doing currently. I'm honored to continue to be able to do. Yep.
Before it leaves my mind, and it's not quite on par with the interview, but, Heather, your class for caregivers was the first one that I can remember attending where it was for a specific group or a specific kind of labor. And it really inspired me because one of the first classes that I got to teach, in this position, was for people in the nonprofit system — the employees... It was also for caregivers. So that was the language that I was using. I'd not really been introduced to the language of caregiving as a profession. Whether in a professional field, you're getting paid for it as like a domestic or emotional labor. So your class has stuck with me because I'm like, “wow, there are so many ways that we're using our bodies to care.”
You know How Mama’s Love Their Babies is a great book if you are not privy to it, but also just in the ways that you had us move with our bodies and really take the time to be gentle with them. It was just so life giving. That was like last year at the start of the pandemic, or somewhere in there. And so I think about it often. So thank you for that.
Thank you very much for that, for sharing that.
Yeah. That was a, that was special because it was a class I created for myself. Honestly, like all the work I do begins with what is going on for me — what is showing up, how can I navigate this, and [I] usually come out on the other side with this message to share what I've learned in that navigation. And for a while, I was a caregiver to my family. And so I I'm so happy that I was able to have class with folks who are part of this larger community that started with YogaRoots On Location. And it's just growing, it feels amazing, feels like a miracle.
So I woke up this morning saying like, “yeah, Heather, you are living your dream. That is what you're doing.” And, I just am feeling really supported in that, and feeling supported through myself. And I'm glad that I get to share that Ari. Thank you. Thank you for reminding me that this has been, you know, we, for time isn't real anymore. So I'm like when was, when was that class? Oh, okay. Yeah. I got to go back and read my notes. Thank you.
Definitely. There's so much more to it that I won't get into now, but my mom was in the class — both of the [classes]. So like to think about the ways that caregiving is intergenerational and to be able to share space even virtually, maybe especially racially at the start of the pandemic and it to be designed around caregiving, because I do think in a pandemic caregiving look differently.
So it was very beautiful and it actually brings me to one of my questions that I shared which is, and I'm going to partially answer it for you, because you just answered it: How can adults support children and youth as they develop a healthy mind, body connection. And I think like you just said, Heather, it starts with like, what do we need?
And then making sure that we're always aware that we too have needs that are being unmet. So if anybody wants to take that question in any direction they want — how can adults support children and youth as they're working to develop their own healthy mind, body connection?
I'll jump in just because I do have this thought that came to me, which was [about] my therapist for years. One of the reasons I feel really lucky to have met her, outside of the fact that I get to go to a Black woman which if we can find more Black women therapists and support them — But, she started out doing work at CIS and doing work with the kids who were in Shuman. And so kids who had gone through a lot of trauma, and [she] did it for years and ended up realizing that it wasn't the children that needed the therapy. It was the adults, right. So [she] started making that pivot. She works with somebody like me, who was a kid who had experienced a tremendous amount of trauma. And one of the things we really focus in on is capacity — is noticing when you've extended yourself beyond capacity. I feel like that's one of the ways that as adults we can teach children, and we can show up for children, is being honest about where we are.
So the transparency that comes with noticing your capacity is realizing like, “oh, I have, I can give, and I can come from, I can give from a place where I'm not overextending myself,” but also noticing when the system isn't supporting you. And noticing that instead of shaming yourself and blaming yourself, which is, I think where a lot of this uninterrupted self neglect comes in and is that we are blaming ourselves for circumstance that are acting upon us.
So you don't have enough money to make your kids whatever meal you want to make, but you can make this other meal and you can make it fun. I've really learned that the more I am honest about my capacity, knowing when I'm tired, I can adapt what we're doing when I'm working with the children to support their needs. So if I’m tired, a lot of time, kids are tired. We're not acknowledging that we have our inner child. And, that is like the first step — what is my inner child calling for? Because oftentimes that's what the children need.
Anytime I'm teaching kids in CIS, and I’m like “Im tired.” And they’re like, “yeah, miss Heather, I'm tired too.” Like, you know, we're all experiencing this together. And so I think just honesty and noticing and being real about our capacity. I think is for me how I try to show up for kids. Thank you. I think I answered the question.
Brilliant answer. I just want to have a literacy moment around Shuman. Can you share what Shuman?
It’s a children detention center in Pittsburgh. And so they have a pretty grim history as far as having been held accountable for mistreatment of youth. You can do a quick Google search and look up youth detention facilities, and you will find that none of them support any rehabilitation or growth. So Shuman's among them in Pittsburgh. I can't imagine what it may have felt like to be a therapist working in that environment, let alone, for a sustained amount of time or a yoga teacher. I did not work in Shuman, but I know we have folks on this [call who did], not to talk about others or disclose others, but there are folks who've had to work there who are trying to do the work and it's difficult to do that work in those sort of institutions. When I say the work, I mean, any sort of healing thing, or actually being there for our kids.
That was powerful. Heather. I would really ditto what Heather has said. I don't know. For some reason having this conversation about Shuman, I'm really emotional.
I had started working in Shuman in 2015. I worked the calendar year, and I brought in to do work as an integrative Raja, yoga therapists, yoga teacher, trainer. It is, it's a very violent place. It's not intentionally violent. I think that's the piece of it.
And Heather, you talked about the honesty of the adults working with the children - that's crucial. And what I've realized in that calendar year, 2015 - 2016, even more intensely, was that I had to do a yoga teacher training that was steeped in anti-racist framework. And having the Raja yoga is the foundation because you are correct the adults, us as adults, we are the people we serve.
I worked for the healthy Black family project many years ago. And that's what Dr. Ford used to say is “we are the people we serve.” And so it keeps me humble and it kept me grounded and rooted that yes, the children are not well. It's an old African adage — asking how are the children doing? Our children aren't well there because the adults aren't well there.
Heather is a hundred percent correct. It's not a place of healing. And so I knew in that year that I needed to bring as much healing to that space as possible. And it was just me then. That was a rough year because I couldn't give enough. I couldn't be there enough. I could be there eight hours and it still wasn't enough. And so what I needed to do is I needed to train and empower of lovers of our youth, as well as the adults, because love is the only way to truly transform that system.
I get it, the policies and procedures of us, that those of us who have worked there were under it's, it's extreme, it's so violent. But that good news for me was that I can still access my joy and I can share navigating violence with joy, which is really weird, right? But it's so real and personally share the stories of my own trials and tribulations and navigating the violence with the adults as well as with the children. And that's all I could really give, and that was my word, and that was my experience. And it came from a convicted heart. It came from a convicted heart of being a single mother, raising children in Pittsburgh, to access their joy as much as possible, even in the environment of trauma, um, me perpetrating trauma on my own children and what that really means. Just trying to figure out and doing the best we can.
But that honesty piece is crucial, which you all know we've been acculturated as a society to lie and to smile through it and put on the face. And our youth who are in that cultural system are just symptoms of the violence — the continued violence and the continued lying. So being honest and sharing of ourselves authentically and noticing when we need to take care of ourselves... I couldn't spend more than six hours straight up at Shuman. Cause it wore on me. So what did that look like? That looked like I had to say no, and I had to tell people, “no, I can't. I can't do this.” “I can't spend more time.” It was painful, but it really did me good and creating a curriculum that I was able in real time to be able to share with other people, honestly, my own trials and tribulations and access of restoration and how important it is. Yeah.
Yeah. Thank you. So, we have being aware of our capacity and our needs, and being honest with our capacity and I needs, and saying no. So setting boundaries.
So I would say that too, because what comes up for me, in addition to what mom and Heather have shared, is this level of boundaries. I have a new friend of mine — I will say a friend of a friend — had seen me for the first time over FaceTime and was like, “wow, Maya, you really look like boundaries.” And I had never heard that, but I took it as such a high compliment.
I think about [how] in my previous career — which is so crazy that now I'm at the age of 30, I feel like I've lived multiple lives in my adulthood — I was an educator within the charter school system for four years. And in those four years, I learned in so many ways that as educators, we don't take care of ourselves, due to this feeling of being a sacrificial lamb in some capacity. And I had really started to change that narrative, to notice that my students actually needed more boundaries, and not boundaries in the way that the society has taught us. But the ways that we're able to actually notice our rest, notice when we're in pain, and being able to share that from a place of vulnerability, versus as mom said, wearing that mask, and in the same way of really helping youth develop that intentional practice of the mind-body connection only really happens when you're still.
And so realizing that [in] that stillness so much trauma can come up. The reason that we're constantly moving is because most of us are dealing with unhealed trauma, unhealed pain, that when we are sitting still it's activated. And so it's important that we do find that boundary and that balance between us being still and also being in our practice of movement. And so that's the way that I really tried to demonstrate and teach our youth. Sometimes we're going to be silent and that's okay. And if you don't want to be silent, then that's okay.
But so much of the way that we usually are engaging with youth is like, “don't do this, don't do this, don't do this.” Like, “sit up straight.” These are the ways of being versus like, “let's create a completely new way of being in relationship with youth instead of just once again, youth that we're working with,” but how am I then engaging with the people who are even in my community? How am I engaging when I'm at the grocery store and a child reaches across me, right. Like, how am I really engaging in all these ways? And so through that level of being able to first start with my own stillness practice and notice when [I am] fidgeting, because I'm a fidgeter, I wear rings, I have things on so that I'm always able to navigate because it's usually just the anxiety coming up. And so if we are allowing ourselves to have that level of playfulness with ourselves, then we're able to still engage with youth, [and not come] from that place of the authority. And I know what's better, but realizing that also our youth have so much already, they're not coming to us like, “please help me be a better human being” because they're already [that.] Like, they don't need anything else. They don't even need us. Right. But it's about us being able to be in a reciprocal relationship and learn from students as we are educating them on different ways that we've been practicing this.
Thank you. So a lot has come up for me and I just have to speak them. First thing is that I think you can tell when I'm really in my element because I'm connecting things people are saying to books.
Like, I'll have a stack of books to share, children's books specifically, based off of each of you all's comments. And I know that this is a group that will appreciate them, so I will be sending them. The second thing, Maya, specifically to what you said: For me personally, that's something that I really grappled with — silence with my son, Remix. I feel like we are quiet all the time. Like we're just looking at each other quietly. And a part of me is like, “oh, I should be talking. His brain develops when he hears the sound of my voice and I should be singing or I should have more to say.” But then I try to not push that voice down, but push it kind of to the side, or push it away, because he is going to constantly hear my voice cause I am a talker, but he's also constantly being stimulated by sound and noise just [because] we live in a technological world. And so I keep trying to challenge myself to make sure that I'm okay with silence and quiet because that's what I want for him — not just quiet and silence with another person, but with himself too. And I do think for me, it's anxiety. It's just like, “what is he thinking? Am I doing enough?” You know?
And I think that comes up in conversations, especially as like a teacher, when you're standing in front of a classroom and the students aren't talking suddenly, it's like, did I do something wrong? Are they not getting it? What am I not doing right? And that's how I also feel in front of my own child.
Sometimes I'm like, what am I not doing right. That I don't have more to say, you know? But I think you're right. It's an anxiety, it's an impulse that is rooted in something else that has nothing to do with him.
So I appreciate you saying that because it brings me to another question that I have, and I really do want us to kind of correct this narrative. Is there a difference between mindfulness and yoga?
If I could request, I want to go after Heather and Maya go.
Okay. And okay. I stuck my people. I'll be, I apologize.
I'll go. Cause you know that I'm just gonna have opinions. I saw that question and then I immediately told myself not to read any more questions.
It was definitely the first question.
Yeah. Cause I was like, oh, you're going to start preparing an answer. And then I laid in bed and I was thinking about the answer now it's like, “Nope, breathe through it. Let it go.”
I was like “we gotta pull back from this.” I'm answering this from this moment. And when I heard you ask the question, I think there's a collective reaction to know — even how you asked it, there was a playfulness in your voice, which I appreciate.
Because that's something that, for me, it actually connects to what it means to be a practitioner of yoga as a biracial Black woman in America. Right. And that to me is the nexus of the question, the thesis, because it's like, okay, here we are, it's called yoga, but what are we practicing? What is, what is this physical movement? What is this spiritual movement? I had someone ask me.
I went on a trip with a few friends recently and there was a new friend and an old friend and her sister. The sister was like, “what's your spiritual foundation? Are you a Christian?” And I was raised in a Christian church. I was raised in a very small country church with like six Black women who loved up on me. And that's probably why I am the way I am.
That was a part of my founding, that my spiritual practice, but my spiritual practice is the eight limbs. And I can say that with confidence because at this point I draw on a lot of things, but the eight limbs [keep] me coming back for that stability and support that I'm looking for in my life. And, not from the outside world but from my interior world. And so when I hear mindfulness, it to me is another way of taking what I think is a spiritual practice of yoga and commodifying [it], or just a spiritual practice and commodifying it into something that is palatable mostly for white people.
In Pittsburgh you go out to eat and it's always challenging because all the food is bland. And you know, I go to my in-laws, I love my husband. I love my in-laws, but they're white folks from Ohio and I'm always like, how did you manage to subtract flavor from this? Like, how did that happen? It's not just like, there's no flavor. It's like subtractive. Like, did you put water on it? Like, I'm curious. I'll eat the food. Cause I'm curious. I'm like trying to investigate, like swishing [it around]. Maybe there's a flip though. So, I think that's what mindfulness is — like this. Like, how did you take flavor from something that you don't have to do anything to it. We don't have to, you don't have to tell me that you practice yoga. You don't have to tell me that you are mindfulness practitioner, just what are you doing? You know? So when I say [that] my spiritual foundation is the eight limbs, it's because when I checked in with myself — [and] it's not like, did you pray today? Did you, did you move your body? It's like are you using self restraint? Are you being honest? Are you even thinking about non-violence? Cause you just talk shit on that girl real hard. And you know, I don't know if that's not violent, you know?
So I would love to hear other people's opinions because I could go on about this obviously for awhile. But I will cap it with, I do think that mindfulness is reductive and unnecessary and it's not something that I practice or a phrase that we'll use, but that's me. So that could be something different than what anybody else wants to offer and [I] pass the mic on.
Yeah. Yes, and. Yes, and, I think it's when we really look at the definition of yoga, it's yoking the mind and the body. So where mindfulness came from is technically new.
Like I think about the ways that things are trending, mindfulness is trending, right? Yoga is even trending. And in those ways, you can't have a separation of what already is. And so I think that for myself I would have loved to see mindfulness be called intentionality, right? Like, cause that's really what we're practicing. I'm practicing intentionality in my life. I'm practicing pausing so that I can actually respond in a kind way because sometimes my initial reaction can be really wild. Right. And so in those ways that it's, how am I actually practicing intentionality? That means I'm intentional in everything I do.
And my issue has been that yoga and mindfulness, in particular, is something that you do for only an hour a day. It's something you only do when you're on your mat. It's not something that you do when you're watching TV. It's not something you're doing when you're washing the dishes, but the real practice of yoga and true intentionality is I'm doing this all the time. Even on my phone, I'm intentional about when I'm responding, right. When I don't want to, right.
Like, even when it hurts.
My phone is intentionally on do not disturb most of the time, because if not, I'm not going to be intentional. I'm going to be doing all the other things. And so, in those ways it's really, how am I integrating my own intentionality into my everyday practice?
I could say that we would achieve this status of humanity if the people who were actually saying that they were practicing yoga were really practicing yoga, which is really that level of intentionality. And I don't see that, right. Like, and I would say in the masses, when we do see it, it's performing; it's performative, right? So much of our society has now come into this level of performing health and wellness. Y'all don't need to know my downward facing dog really ever. Like really that's actually something that's really private for me to be very honest because some of my yoga practice is literally just me sitting in this chair right now and making sure that my head's back so that I'm accommodating my shoulder, making sure that I drink enough water, making sure that I rested enough. That's yoga.
That's the practice. So we've been trying to separate these two ideals that are already together because, as Heather said, the trendiness of it, that, that we have not seen true mindfulness and true yoga. And I don't personally use the word mindfulness because it has been a trending word. I didn't see it really arise until the last, I would say 10 years. As somebody who was born into this Raja yoga practice, I've seen what it looks like when people [are] I'm like, “oh, you just sit in there, deep breathing. That's weird.” [And I’m like] “oh, but now you're doing it. But because you're doing it on Instagram now it's accepted, right. Because you're fully in yoga clothes. Right.” But like I'll do yoga in my jeans. And because I'm doing that in my jeans, this [is] me being just comfortable with me and in the moment. And so I'm not going to go off, but I'll round that out as well.
Ms. Felicia, I suppose you'd like to go, [or do] you want me to say my quick piece first?
Take just the strand of the conversation, I do think that there's a relationship between mindfulness and yoga as it's trending and being perceived, [and] that is play deprivation. I think there's a standard right in the middle of time, the two together, it's much easier for us to sell mindfulness in a school setting because they don't have to move their bodies. And so if we're doing yoga in class, I might need to [move my body] actually. Because we've been taught that yoga is movement, right. If I have not let go of this limited notion of yoga and I want to bring yoga into my classroom, that might mean I need to ask my students to get out of their seats and to be in their bodies, which might mean I don't feel I have control over their body.
And so it's used differently to say mindfulness and do 10 minutes at the little cow bell or whatever sound [or] noise that lets them know it's time to be quiet and still for 10 minutes, as opposed to allowing them to get up and stretch and move and breathe on their own for 10 minutes. I think a lot of it has to do with control and in the process children are being deprived of a moment, not only to be in their bodies, but to play because yoga is play for me, you know?
And so a lot of it ends up in this play deprivation, like mindfulness, as it's being sold, packaged — and sold specifically to school as an institution is a form of play deprivation.
Yes. Yes. Ari
And I'm sorry. Can I just say this one thing? Because when you talked about, in particular, in the classrooms, that's exactly what it was capped as. That's what it was.
So I think about a very quick synopsis of my educational experience. We do these things in charter schools called advisory. And so advisory is technically the first 30 minutes of school that, personally, students could have just showed up to school a half an hour later. Y'all don't need to be there, but they're forced to be there.
And through that, they were forced to do mindfulness. So mindfulness had to be taught in the time of advisory. And so the lights had to be off. Kids had to be silent. That's silly. Right. That is. as you said already, it's true play deprivation. And in that way, it's so inhumane. And so I just had to share that practice being actually forced upon educators as well as students and still to this day. That, like instead of students having 30 minutes so that they could go to the bodega, do whatever they wanted to, at that point in time, run around the gym. Instead you're telling them they have to be in a classroom. They have to be seated. They have to be silent and it's, it's so inhumane. So thank you, Ari, for that.
Yeah. Thank you. I agree. I think about how, then, what happens is that negative experiences get attached to something that should be a positive practice. Like, if the only time he gets to play is if you're in timeout in an isolated space, just the concept of play is going to be warped. And so even if mindfulness, because mindfulness is something I do think... like at least having a mindfulness practice of your own; I think those things matter, like basketball, crafting, whatever it is, those things matter. But if the only time you've ever experienced it is when you were being forced into the dark, in silence, in isolation... Under the coercion of an institution, then you're not going to want to have anything to do with it. Even if it's something you already do positively for yourself.
Just the intentionality of marketing that's, that's really what's coming through for me — is like the intentionality of how they market things and why they reduce things to the sort of phrases.
It's so violent.
You know for me, I've had this practice, this Raja yoga practice of [mine. Maya is 33.] So I started doing yoga the year before she was born. So going on 32 years of having a Raja yoga practice before it was trending.
I'm listening to you all and this is... I love it when I really am able to listen. You know, I love that you all understand the violence that has taken over more thoughtful practices, and how capitalism and oppression misuses them for capitalistic or power gains.
And as a school teacher, I was one of the first teachers that I know of, when I did my master's in elementary ed at Pitt, and I did my student teaching at Lincoln elementary school. I was the first teacher in that school for sure, to bring yoga into the classroom. And really it was an opportunity, you know, without knowing Ari and the importance specifically on the research side of Black children in play, it was an opportunity to allow us — and when I say us, I mean, me too, because I'm body kinesthetic. That's the way I learn. I don't learn by being still — So, it was really antithetical — it was against what I knew.
You know, sitting still was not the way that I learned best. So as a teacher, I didn't bring that into my classroom. Because that was me. Like, how could I make them sit and be still — like, no, you need to get up. I'm just asking you to be thoughtful about how it impacts, when you stand up, the person behind you. So what do you do? You bring thoughtfulness like, “oh, okay. I need to stand up in this moment. Let me go to the back of the room.” And no, you don't have to ask how about that.
Just get up and go to the back of the room, just be respectful. Right. Without using those words, you know, so for me, really bringing yoga into the classroom was about being thoughtful, giving our students a chance to just rest and be in their bodies and sit with, without saying, “sit still,” “be quiet.” I brought in my metaphysical kind of music, the theatrical music, the sounds of whales. I turned the lights down, and I also had a whole lot of conversation before I did that. So I asked for consent.
How about that? Bringing a level of thoughtfulness into a space that traditionally is bright lights and movement. It's erratic. Standing in line, we did all the yoga poses, the tree pose, whatever. Break, break it down, do whatever pose you [want to] do standing in line to go to the bathroom.
And so, yes, it may look in a snapshot of time that my children were unorganized, but they were really accessing their power and their own agency, which for me was much more than that language arts lesson that I taught them because this was something that they can take into their life for the rest of their lives — to have agency.
One of my kids was 20, several years ago, and she was in that first class at Lincoln. And she said, Ms. Felicia, do you know, sometimes I still do yoga when I'm just standing in line. Like, that's it. Like, cool if she learned the language arts lesson. But she learned how to manage herself. That’s what this is about. I'm not going to be distracted by the mindfulness community, Maya and Heather have shared. Like I'm too old for that.
I'm not going to be distracted. Like call it whatever you want, do whatever capitalistic kind of notion that you need to do to satisfy yourself. I'm clear that this has been a more thoughtful practice so that I can be respectful of myself and being a model of being, being respectful of myself. And what does that mean? And being a role model for the kids, as well as the adults in my life.
Heather and Maya really said it all as well as you Ari about mindfulness of how it's play deprivation. It's another form of punishment. And the way I was taught is, to the Raja yoga practice is quite severe. It's a severe discipline. It's a severe discipline that can be reduced to negativity. But also it can uplift, play and joy. It's just what you choose to practice. I strongly believe in freewill and I get an opportunity to practice moment to moment. How am I going to practice this?
A lot of what you've said to connects back to Heather's initial comment about how we support children in this space. And that's knowing our capacity. If you know that you're a kinesthetic learner, why restrict yourself to these traditional means behind a podium. It’s not good for the children, it's not good for you and if it's not good for you, it's not good for the children. So like you have been saying so much of the children at Shuman were not well because the adults were not well. And I think it's because the adults are not being conscious of their capacity.
So I see I'm seeing a lot of threads here.
And so my last question, which is really two questions, I'm combining into one, because I just know that one answer will give way to another, which is what is the relationship between yoga and racial identity? And then the second one is what makes your practice anti-racist.
You can answer them as one. You can answer them apart. You can answer just one. However you want to fade that. Feel free.
I would love to start. It's wild to be raised by the great Felicia Savage Friedman into this practice was not easy. Because it was the time, It was not 2021. TI'll say when I first start remembering is 1994, we wake up at 5:30 in the morning and practice yoga, the physical practice, the Raja yoga, the eight limb path. And, as I learned, we really learned about Hindu culture. We learned Sanskrit, we learned chants. We went to temple. So to be fully immersed as a young Black child and being literally like the only Black family at the temple, SV temple in Monroeville, and getting the bomb food after... My mouth's watering in this moment. So if you even just go up to the SV Temple just to get food, you can do that. Because it's fire.
But in those ways as I got older, I started to be told from the outside world that there was a disconnect that like, oh, you're Black, but you do yoga. So I started to then hear it be associated with white culture, which was hella confusing to me because I was like, this is not white culture. There is nothing about the practice of yoga is steeped in — by white culture, I'm talking about being racialized as white in America; we know that the conception of race is a specious and made up ideology, but racism is made very real in our lives — And so the ways that I saw the contortion of yoga being taken really from east India and shifted into this Western culture, this white facing culture was incredibly violent for me. So violent that I started to reject the culture that I knew. I started to reject yoga because I was like, well, if y'all keep on saying that this is something that only white people do, I know I'm not white, so I don't want to practice it in that way. And so, my full rejection of what I already was raised in and what I had learned and what I knew was a rejection of self.
And so as I've gotten older, I don't speak a lot of the Sanskrit language anymore publicly because I'm not a Sanskrit scholar, nor do I desire to be. My languages that I speak is English and Spanish. And Spanish is definitely secondary. I have more comprehension then speaking as I continue to learn again.
But me feeling that my identity was being called into question made me hold on to what I knew. So I was, and have I still am a Black woman who is practicing yoga. And in that way that I am a mesh in a mold and a melting pot of truly so many different ways of being. So I bring in, sometimes when I do my physical Raja yoga practice, I do it to my trap music because that's what makes sense to me. So like I was swag surfing yesterday on my mat. I'm listening to “No Ceilings” by lo Wayne, right? Like, so that's the way that I practice it and that's just my physical practice. And so my spiritual practice is a combination of baptism of Christianity, of Hinduism, of like just universal practices and universal thoughts and truths while integrating also the history, the violent history of race and racism in America.
And, and the ways that race has also created a different narrative within the yoga community of yoga for so long, only looked like skinny, white people doing contortions of the body. And that was not the practice that I was raised in. So in those ways, it's a remembering, it's a coming back and it's also really doing whatever the fuck you want. But in those ways that it's like, I check myself on making sure that if I do speak Sanskrit, that is me culturally appropriating because that's not the language that I know nor is that the language that I practice often.
And so, there are some other ideas that I just make sure that are not part of my practice, because it does feel like that wasn't what our culture of Raja yoga taught me. Like we did it with Black and Brown bodies. And white folks as well. I have white folks in my life while called aunt and uncle. So our yoga practice was so much more universal. And for so long, we didn't talk about the aspect of race until it came up later.
Maya, I'm just taking that in, and there's like so many aspects of that that I relate to. And so many that I'm also just like you articulated it perfectly, like how does racial identity and anti-racism relate to my yoga practice.
I feel like if it weren't, I'll just start here. And, um, you know, the reality is if, if I hadn't been living in Pittsburgh and this, at that particular moment that Felicia offered her second round of yoga teacher training. And if I hadn't stumbled upon that ad through Instagram or wherever I found it, if I hadn't chosen to show up and meet her and realized that I had an opportunity to study with yoga with a Black woman, I would not be here, like I would not be who I am in this way, and I would not be practicing yoga. I wouldn't have had this opportunity.
And the irony is Felicia taught in east Liberty, Larimer, for years, right at the Kingsley. And it was right beyond where my sister lived in the projects with her kids and her girlfriend. And the reality for so many Black families, including my own, is that poverty and lineage of suffering gets carried on and passed on so that we are our own roadblocks into accessing our own healing.
So my sister... I wouldn't go past her house because I had so much trauma associated with this place. And so I wasn't able to access Felicia's classes in person at that time. And just thinking about that, thinking about these barriers that are created for us. And I think that is where the intersection of racial identity and race and anti-racist is in for me.
I was talking to my mom a couple of days ago and she was like, you know, I have the weekend off, but you know what, I don't have anything to do. And I was like, yeah, it's hard. I kept saying, it's hard to relax. And she was like, yeah, yeah, I guess it is. But also like, am I going to just sit there? You know, she kept emphasizing that this idea of just sitting still was so unappealing and as Ari pointed out earlier, when we are not in practice of being still even with our most intimate folks, it can draw awareness where anxiety is.
And so I come from a lineage of women who are not still, from people who are not still and practicing stillness has been the most anti-racist thing that I can think of for healing this in my own lineage. Because I am choosing to say, I will be still, I will send her my old peace every single day, as much as I can. And that is in direct contradiction to what so many folks who I come from are told.
Outside of the church, and even within the church, there's restrictions on what that looks like. You're praying, or you're in relationship with God, but that's outside of you. How do you learn about the relationship with the God that resides it within? And that's really what God, my God, wants me to be a relationship with — is this inner knowing this inner sense of intuition. I don't have to look outside of myself to know what the next step is. I don't have to rely on assimilation to access my power. I'm here to disrupt those ideas that I have to perform or behave or be the way that race has projected onto me as a biracial Black woman. Like these expectations that I'm going to show up in a certain way are violent. And so I get to every day choose to lean into my non-violent practice. And that is incredible. It's a gift. And it's an honor, and I'll just lift you up again, Felicia for allowing me to practice this lineage and always reminding me that this isn't me, this is yours. And, I'm humbled. I'm just humbled by this practice. I'm humbled by the ability to, to be my full self. And for me, that's also part of what an anti-racist a yoga practice or how biracial identity shows up in my yoga practices — that I'm honest, and I can be honest and I don't have to be anything else. So I guess this is just going full circle here, just coming back to honesty.
Oh my gosh.
This question takes me back to Maya so eloquently put it — me and her dad raising her in this yoga tradition — in our family and our nuclear family. I was the first one to start yoga. Gerald came in, my first husband, came in after I did. I'm just thinking about the intensity of the six years that I practiced. And this practice was involved, the teacher, who was extremely disciplined and at times violent in that discipline.
And the lessons that I learned about what my teacher imparted to me and how I use that to even deal with the negativity of their ego coming at me cause I divorced my husband. Well, I was dismissed from my yoga teacher and then my husband wanted a divorce. He was still studying with her.
And I'm just thinking back to being pregnant with Maya — I was on the board of directors of the Eastern food co-op in Pittsburgh. And even though the Raja yoga path, our teacher did not specifically talk about race, they were very strategic in us being Black people and standing up for ourselves without using all of the $15 social justice oppression words that we use now. So it was really about the living.
So I was pregnant with Maya being on the board being excluded.
So from meetings because they did an executive committee, which was predominantly white men. So to exclude us from being able to be decision-makers. I mean, there was a lot of racism, sexism, patriarchy, capitalism that we dealt with on the board. And so I was a yoga student being pregnant with Maya, going through this process, which has informed who I am now [and who] I can be. I am an advocate for myself and also teach other people how to be an advocate for themselves. And so this is the lineage of Dr. Treya, which is a form of Shiva and Shiva is that aspect of God, that is the destroyer of ego. So this lineage is not for the faint of heart. And it has, for me the answers to everything because it really goes back to what Heather and Maya have said in their own special ways of yoga, about yoking, joining the individual back to our creator, you know, that higher power be and the higher power is within us it's within and without, and being incarnated as a Black cisgender woman.
I go into my first PISAB training six, seven years ago, after writing the curriculum that I knew I wanted to certify other yoga instructors. I knew that's what I was missing. I had to bring it in. I had to bring the anti-racist framework, but I also had to bring in an anti-oppression framework. Right. So it wasn't just racism, it's patriarchy and capitalism, which is really powerful —understanding and everything. Everything makes sense to me, everything is like, I have this matrix kind of moment often that I can just have clarity of mind.
I can just really see because it makes so much sense why I am a Black cisgender woman in this time and place dealing with this oppression, but I can see it. And it's almost like the song I can see clearly now because I can see clearly now because of the Raja yoga practice, because of understanding unconditional love, culturally, that there's. There's no lie that they can tell me that I believe because I can see. I really see, and the reason why I can see is because I see myself, I see how I operated on the board of directors, Carrie and Maya, why I needed to do that, why I needed to have this Raja yoga practice, why I needed to have that teacher, why I needed to be an advocate for myself, with my yoga teacher and how I can run trainings and not perpetrate that same violence. There may be some different violence, but it won't be that violence. And prayerfully it’ll be less because I'm being thoughtful, because I'm being intentional and thoughtful. And also I'm being honest. I'm able to say, Heather, you're right. What I said was violent or how I acted was violent, or Maya, you were right. You know, thank you for that. I appreciate that correction. Cause we're all in this together, and at the end of the day, I'm able to lay down and have peace. My sleep isn't disrupted because I'm being honest with who I am as a human, as a mother, as a wife, as a teacher, as a business owner. And I'm able to be honest about my shortcomings and how I'm just marvelous, all of them, it's an honesty. That is powerful. So I don't know if answered your question, Dr. Ma mama Ari.
Oh, you all three did and so beautifully. I appreciate it. I appreciate the vulnerability. I appreciate the honesty. I appreciate the intentionality, to use all of the words.