Shannon, one child of three. A school psychologist who helps our children learn, grow, and heal during the week, and who likes to take naps and do good on the weekends. Always and forever a lover of words, children, and people of color. A daughter, friend, and partner with both hippie and ratchet tendencies coming into her own as a soon-to-be-mama determined to raise a free child in a cold world.
Yogini on the Mat
Preferred Yoga Style: I love a good meditative flow or a Dharma-style class.
Age: A fresh 29!
Random fact/favorite movie or book or word, foodTargetetc.
Randoms: I eat my cake upsidedown because I’m not really a fan of frosting. Once upon a time, I played the drums.
Alice Walker is my godmother in my head and my favorite book of ALL time is her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden.
City: Currently in District Heights, MD. But born/raised in Rochester, NY :)
What made you start practicing yoga? what brought you to it? I first came to yoga in college. I was working in a research lab part time and one of my coworkers went regularly to a Hot power yoga studio in Pittsburgh. I went to my first class with her during a rough period of a breakup/that wasn’t really a breakup. Afterward, I kept going back, again and again, realizing that the 60 or 90 minutes of class was a much needed moment of sanity and solace. After that summer, when I felt like my refund check couldn’t support a regular studio yoga practice, I ended up registering for a Phys Ed class in Power Yoga. In graduate school I was juggling full-time studies and as many as three part-time jobs at once - so while I probably needed a regular yoga practice, it took somewhat of a hiatus during that time in my life. I moved to the DMV area in 2012 and I started to get back into yoga, by taking a donation-based meditation class hosted by Yoga District. I later began interning and eventually working there, which allowed me to not only rediscover my yoga practice in a new light but to also go through yoga teacher training, which was transformative, to say the least. While I’m no longer working in that space, I certainly carry the yoga and the lessons with me everywhere I go.
What anchors your practice? Do you set an intention for yourself before you practice?
Self-love. From the first time I experienced yoga, to the most recent, in some way or another I did so out of a need/desire to see myself, hear myself, and care for myself. Occasionally I set an intention to spread love to others, or with a particular mantra. But usually, my only intentions are to be present and remember to breathe.
Tell me about your practice? Any aspects you'd like to share
Interestingly enough, my physical and meditation practice has kind of taken a back seat over the past few weeks/months, and it’s something I keep urging myself to return to. About three months ago I found out I was pregnant, and with that came nausea and an unbelievable fatigue. At first, it was hard enough for me to make it through the day at work, much less to come home and practice.Going to a studio was out of the question. Sometimes my after work naps would last 3 hours, just to wake up, eat and go back to sleep. Along with the fatigue, came a wave of intense emotions and other shifts. I honestly didn’t feel like I had the physical or mental energy to take any active time for myself, so my yoga shifted from morning meditation and practice 3-4 times a week, to time for naps, rest, and rejuvenation. It was a not-so-gentle reminder that yoga does not always equal movement, but that often times it’s simply listening to your body and your spirit, and allowing them the space to reconnect...
What challenges have you faced while practicing Yoga?
Right now the most challenging part of my practice is relearning how to practice in my newly pregnant and ever-changing body. Even the slightest of movements that would have been simple before have now become difficult, impossible, or even harmful. Along those same lines is the challenge of continuing to love, honor, and listen to my body through these changes. Pregnancy is amazing, but it’s also been weird lol.
How does your practice impacts other’s lives?
I like to think yoga by affecting how I interact and speak to myself, has, in turn, affected how I interact and speak with others. Although I make mistakes and need reminders, I’m able to tell myself to take a step back, not take things personally, to begin to learn to put space between an event and my reaction. My practice has also allowed me to share yoga and mindfulness with others around me, especially with my students and the staff at work. I’m able to work yoga into individual or group sessions with children, and since August we’ve had a weekly after-school yoga class with teachers and staff.
What are some things yoga has taught you about yourself/others?
I’ve learned that everyone has a starting point.
How does Yoga make you feel?
—— while practicing, after, and generally
A great practice leaves me feeling lighter and grounded… at the same time.
A quote or phrase resonates with you and your practice
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” - Arthur Ashe.
The advice you have for new yogis/long time practitioners
Always remember that yoga is more than the poses. While that may be what initially intrigued us and brought us here, don’t let it be the only reason to keep us. We deserve EVERYthing that yoga has to offer.
How can someone alleviate hesitation to yoga:
Honestly - just try it! Teachers, classes, and even studios/spaces are different and leave you with different experiences. So if you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to do so! If you’re hesitant and don’t want to “jump” into it in a studio class try online classes offer by wonderful folks like Yoga Rachael or Yoga with Adriene. If you’re ready to try a studio class - I’d say make the best of those newcomer weekly deals that many studios have. Try your best to read the descriptions before you go and see if you think it would be a good fit - Try two or three class types with two or three different teachers, or if you find one you love on the first try - stick with it!
Go early if you can and introduce yourself to the teacher, let them know you’re new to yoga and ask any questions you may have. Always running behind like me? You can always stay after and chat if that’s better. The incredibly good teachers, always stick around after class. Don’t want to go by yourself? Go with a friend and if none of your friends are into yoga… let me know, I’m SUPER down to be a yoga buddy. Go where you feel comfortable and supported to relax and try new things.
Black Yogi Stigmas:
I feel like the limited understanding of Black yogis is two-fold: People assume we don’t exist. Despite the fact that yoga was birthed from and for communities of color, for whatever reason, Yoga in the “western” world has become synonymous with skinny white women and $100 yoga pants . And to be honest, when I go to a studio class in many places - that is by far the norm. I did a quick google image search for the word “yoga” and a page full of white women showed up:
Visibility is SO important not just in yoga, but in everyday life, and what is visible here would suggest that yoga is not for me or for anyone who looks like me. Gladly, this is beginning to change with the help of social media, Black-owned studios around the country, teachers who set up intentionally inclusive spaces, and prominent faces like Faith Hunter, Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., Jessamyn Stanley, and others. But we have to keep going. Keep inviting our friends to practice with us, keep showing our families that it’s okay to take time for our selves, and keep showing black folk (including Black MEN) that yoga can be for them too.
2. The assumption is often made that if you are a Black Yogi, that you are a rasta/hippie/vegan/Buddhist who sees the world through rose-colored glasses and will Namaste in the face of all wildness and simply let it pass you by. True there are many of us who embody the spirit of ahimsa in vegan and vegetarian diets. It is also true that the practice of non-attachment on the journey to becoming illumined is a crucial one, and that many Black yogis adhere to the teachings of Hinduism and Buddha. But sometimes people forget that Black yogis are still human, which means that regardless of the practice of yoga in our lives we still have a choice, and we still have the freedom of agency within our own lives. That means that many of us chose to eat meat, to straighten our hair, to practice Christianity, Islam, another type of spirituality or no religion at all. And while there are some of us who are able and willing to practice non-attachment in the face of disrespect, there are also those of us who are ready and willing to clap back as needed :)
Yoga & Black Mental Health & Wellness
I don’t think that we talk about mental health and wellness nearly as much as we should. As a mental health clinician in schools, I have a chance to see the importance of mental wellness not only in adults but also in the children around us. Adults, children, and PEOPLE, in general, go through things that we need to cope with, especially black people, people of color, LGBTQ people, differently abled people, or people from other marginalized groups. Sometimes just existing can be exhausting. So often, people disregard the need for mental health care as something that makes us weak or incapable, or people only seek that help when they are forced to. I hope that we can get to a place where we see that taking care of our mental and emotional state is JUST as important as taking care of our physical health - in a proactive way, not just in response to something that’s already happened.
A daily struggle.
Favorite or most challenging pose:
Favorite pose. Tree pose is an all-time favorite, and lately been working on hip openers - not uncommon for me to chill in a squat or bound angle… in preparation for baby :)
Tell a story/experience about something that’s happened good, bad, awkward, etc while you have been practicing yoga:
The first time I cried in a yoga class, I didn’t know what to do or how to feel, so I just let it happen. The instructor began class speaking on how he always thought the world would have become a better place, a place that loves and affirms people of all paths of life...but that somehow we still aren’t there yet...
"I cried because I agreed with him. I think I cried, because I felt sorrow, but also because I felt hope. Cried because I once felt lonely, helpless, and powerful in a community. I cried, because I realized that in a world that doesn’t always appear to love us - we are still here and we are still moving, still breathing.
Wear whatever is comfortable for you. For me, that usually means leggings and a tank top. While I have been tempted by the pretty Lululemon leggings that never seem to need to be adjusted, the majority of my yoga clothes come from Target, Old Navy, or Marshalls.
Mat - I LOVE my “THE MAT “ FROM LULULEMON! Never before had I met a yoga mat that not only gave me enough cushion but also didn’t have me sliding all over the place in my own sweat. If you work up a sweat like me during an asana practice, I’d recommend it. They say it’s reversible, which I guess it is, but it’s really the cushion, absorbency, and durability that do it for me.
In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, by Alice Walker.
Also - Read the Yoga Sutras, but get a copy with footnotes/explanations. Reading it helps put the whole of yoga into perspective.