Dara (pronounced Dare-Uh) is a Philly native who currently resides in the DC Metro area. When she isn’t working as an Educator on the SoufSide of DC, Dara is teaching yoga and exploring different opportunities that aim to benefit Black people, especially those who are considered impoverished due to systematically imposed barriers. While seemingly quiet, Dara enjoys engaging with and inspiring others to encourage spiritually healthy and whole lifestyles. Dara is currently building her brand to spread the message – Yoga Is For Black Girls, to increase awareness of the significant number of Black women who require healing and have never taken yoga, or are ostracized when attending a yoga class at predominantly white spaces.
Yogini On the Mat
Random fact, favorite movie, book, or food etc.
Can I pick 2? The Color Purple & Coming to America
Your City – Originally Philly, currently NOVA living
How do you incorporate your practice/ passion for yoga in your everyday life?
I like to do my best to ensure that I move in love, peace, and honesty in all events. I also attempt to remove judgment and be flexible in my thinking.
What made you start practicing yoga?
My HU/Philly sister invited me to get a Groupon for a yoga class in Adams Morgan. So I blindly stepped foot on a yoga mat in October of 2011. I had a terrible experience my 2nd time attending class, so I didn’t go back to any yoga class until November of 2014. By that time I had graduated from Howard University and, after spending a year in Chicago for an internship, my partner (at the time) and I went to live in NC.
I have trouble remembering what made me go back to yoga. I remember riding around our NC neighborhood and seeing the sign “Jenny’s Yoga” in the window. So I decided, after a long hiatus, to attend a class; I call it Divine Order. I found solace and love from a kind yoga teacher. Life became stressful living in the south; I was away from family and friends, I gained weight, and was at my breaking point. I was one step away from knocking at depression’s door. Yoga was just the most magical thing that had ever occurred.
What anchors your practice? Do you set an intention for yourself before you practice?
Yoga is a part of my spiritual practice. Once I get to the mat, the intention varies. As of lately it has been “just flow.”
Did Something happen in life? Felt the need for a change?
Life has been good, although growing up in a religious background was limiting and restricting. After deciding that religion was not ideal for me, as it caused more harm than good, yoga helped free me up even more. I view the world with so much clarity and a realistic perspective on life and its true meaning. Yoga (and the lifestyle that comes with it) helped me learn to live by nature's laws. And as a result, I’m lighter in my heart, and I know how true happiness should feel. I also learned that I can say no to anything that does not serve me.
Tell me about your practice? Any aspects you'd like to share how yoga impacts your life? Both on and off the mat
The practice of yoga helps me get in touch with me, so much so that I tend to quiet the world out (sometimes a little too much lol), but to me that’s what it’s about, silencing the noise and shining your inner light. At times when I don’t practice yoga for a few days or so, I notice that my vibes are lower than what they would be with consistent practice. So it increases my mindfulness.
The Challenges & Impact
What challenges have you faced while practicing Yoga?
I don’t know that I could consider anything about my journey a challenge, as it’s just one big process. I’ve faced a lot more gains than challenges since the beginning of my yoga journey, and have the opportunity to influence those around me to practice yoga!
How does your practice impact or influence those around you?
As an educator at an elementary school, I often get “you’re so calm!” lol. It’s funny because I’ve always been calm. But my practice has amplified the “peace” that everyone sees. I noticed my friends and family getting into yoga. I noticed changes in their overall attitudes towards their health. It has been amazing to witness. My goal is to influence the Black communities that I serve- life may not be glamorous, but everyone deserves peace, and you have to go within to get it.
What are some things yoga has taught you about yourself and others?
That none of this matters. You’re more likely “struggle” and be depressed or feel disappointed if you continue to seek attachments to inanimate objects (i.e. cars, jewelry, toxic relationships), instead of connecting with sources that give life and allow you to vibrate at the highest.
Relationship Between You and Your Practice
How does Yoga make you feel? — while practicing, after, and generally
It’s indescribable. I would say I am lighter or renewed (typically) after a yoga practice.
A quote or phrase resonates with you and your practice:
Trust the process
The advice you have for new yogis and long time practitioners
There is always something new to discover about yourself, whether it’s your 1st time on the mat or millionth. Don’t be hard on yourself looking for this fictitious idea of “perfection.” It is. And accept how you show up as “is.” No judgment of self or another’s journey.
How can someone alleviate hesitation to yoga?
Stop thinking about it and just try it. Maybe take a friend. Remove all judgments and expectations. Know that you literally can go to your mat and just lie there and breathe if that’s what you need. And don’t look at yoga as a “white people thing.” It’s not. There are plenty of Black spaces and Black Yoga teachers in the DMV area.
How does yoga influence your specific mental health? Overall wellness?
I’m able to recognize what I need and know that I am the holder of my happiness and have to make the best decisions for myself based off of my inner- knowing.
Favorite or most challenging pose
This is bad to say, but I HATED Crow because I couldn’t do it right away and it always burns your arms lol. But now, I love trying to get into the pose and trying to hold it for more than 2 seconds.
How does your hair affect your practice?
I have locs now so I only struggle when I have two ponytails in, or depending on how my hair might be wrapped. But I’ll snatch the ponytails out or the scarf off if necessary.
Tell an experience about something that’s happened good, bad, awkward, etc. while you have been practicing yoga
I can’t think of anything! I just know if I take a friend or family member to class with me, I can’t focus on my mat because I want to make sure they are good and taken care of.
I believe the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an important book for everyone to read.
Thoughts Off the Mat
Discuss Back Yogi Stigmas
I don’t think I know of any particular Black Yogi stigmas. I do realize that Black women become hypersexualized by others because of their physical capabilities or the yoga body they may gain through the practice. That’s annoying and makes the yoga space very uncomfortable and no longer safe. I see more Black men getting into yoga, but there are still so many who look at yoga sideways and see it as “feminine or gay." Historically it has been said that mainly men practiced yoga. Even the yoga gurus were men! And nothing more attractive than a man who is mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally sound and strong! Sooo….
Discuss Yoga & Black Mental Health & Wellness
I feel like we are moving in the right direction. We continue to have so much stacked against us, but we maintain the resiliency of our ancestors so I know we’ll be good. I am proud to be a millennial because we have each other's backs in an entirely different way. Social media sheds so much light, and even those who have yet to take a serious look into their mental health are starting to at least scratch their head at the idea of going to therapy, getting to the gym, or changing their diets for the better! I know we have more to do, but I think we’re heading in the right direction. We just have to stay true to the mission and stop doing it for the Gram.
How do you feel about the representation of black yogis?
Well, my IG, where I practice, and where I teach is biased lol. I know plenty of Black Yogis, especially teachers. But I would love to see more Black people walking around DC with yoga mats in arm. As everything else, we’re still underrepresented and typically uncomfortable practicing in some studios I’ve found that my students have been excited to have a practice with fellow black folks. So if we continue to keep black yoga spaces available, we’ll grow in the representation.
Meet the yogini
If you would like to learn and practice yoga with Dara, follow her and stay connected!