RJ

Just a Catholic Creole from the bayous of Louisiana who wanted to make a difference. I’m a country boy who loves politics currently working as an attorney in Washington, D.C. 

DSCF2207.jpg

Yogi On the Mat


Preferred Yoga Style
    Vinyasa/power yoga
Age:   29
Random fact/favorite movie or book or word, food etc:
    Favorite movie- The Bodyguard (RIP Nippy)
    Favorite food- Louisiana boiled crawfish (not the kind of stuff they eat up here)
City:   A native of Natchitoches, Louisiana. A resident of Washington, D.C.  
What made you start practicing yoga? What brought you to it?
I started practicing yoga almost two years ago. Summer 2016 was a really rough time for me. It was the most depressed I’d been since law school. I was going through a tumultuous breakup after a long-term relationship. My closest friend and support system was moving away. There was a transition at my job. My social circle was changing.

DSCF2218.jpg

I was still grieving the death of my grandmother who I was really close to. I was going through the process of buying a home and it was taking forever to close, and Hillary was struggling to overcome the email issue. Everything around me was shifting, nothing was stable, and I was surrounded by transition and upheaval. I needed something in my life that was consistent so I turned to yoga to help me through all that was happening. 
What anchors your practice? Do you set an intention for yourself before you practice?
For me, it’s all about the breath. Yoga is the only part of my day where I’m not connected to my phone, social media, or email. Sometimes my mind will wander and think about all the things I have to do when I get home or the text messages I didn’t respond to or trying to solve my friends' problems or if my Instagram crush liked the last picture I posted- just really random things.

DSCF2237.jpg

I try to keep my mind focused on my breath and holding the pose to the best of my ability. At the beginning of every class, my intention is always to take my breaths as deep as possible, match the breath with the movement, and focus solely on the pose at that moment.  
Felt the need for a change? 
Absolutely. I’ve really been trying to bulk up the past couple of years but I’m super active and have a very fast metabolism. I run, play tennis, circuit train (shout out to SWEAT DC), and cycle. Plus, I never gain weight- it’s hereditary. All four of my mom’s brothers are about my height or taller and we all eat like hogs. I literally eat all day long- normally between 6,000-7,000 calories a day- and have never been able to get over 170. Yoga is the perfect activity for me because the intense sequences help with my stamina, which is perfect for my tennis game but also helps with my muscles that are sore from lifting. Especially during the winter months when it’s too cold to play tennis and I’m training and heavy lifting I practice yoga every day that I’m not in the gym.  


Tell me about your practice? Any aspects you'd like to share.
    My favorite part of practicing yoga is the arm balances. There is something so beautiful and sexy to me about having the ability to sustain your own weight with your arms and hands. To be able to do side crow or koundinyasna, it takes so much more than flexibility. You have to have strength in your core and upper body. You have to have breath control to hold your legs and sustain the position. You have to have mental strength and toughness to not get discouraged after falling 20 times trying to lift yourself up. It took me a year to be able to successfully get into the arm balances but once I got them I started flying and was able to lift my dormant leg and balance on one hand. 

DSCF2215.jpg


How does yoga impacts your life? both on and off the mat.
 As I said in addition to yoga I lift weights and in the warm months, I play tennis 3-4 times a week. Yoga helps with everything. My tennis matches can be really long and physically draining, practicing yoga the next day really helps with the soreness and aches in my legs. I recently had a 14 hour flight from Beijing and when I landed in DC my neck was stiff and really hurting. I went to yoga the next day and before class, I told my instructor about the issue and she incorporated back and shoulder exercises into the class to help with the stiffness. After savasana, I felt fine. Last year I rolled my ankle going for a backhand during one of my matches, I told my instructor and she really helped me during class with poses that would help my ankle to heal. I use yoga to improve every part of my life- physical and mental.  

DSCF2271.jpg

What are some things yoga has taught you about yourself/others?
There are moments when everything comes together and you finally conquer a pose for the first time and you feel amazing. Then there are moments when you keep trying and still can’t get into a pose. The first time I did side crow I felt like I had won the lottery. When I couldn’t get Firefly after trying for months I was discouraged. I’m extremely competitive and just keep competing with myself to get the poses and go up to the next level. Being okay with not being perfect is crucial in every part of my life.  
What challenges have you faced while practicing yoga?
Everything about yoga is a challenge. When I started I had zero flexibility, no arm strength, and could hardly hold any pose. I think that’s part of the beauty of yoga is that no matter how much of a beginner or how advanced your practice is, there is always another dimension of your practice that you can improve. As soon as you can do chaturanga properly you start working on doing it with one leg.

DSCF2264.jpg

As soon as you get side crow you start lifting the back leg. There are still lots of poses that are challenging for me but accepting the fact that I may not have it now and it may be awhile- years- before I get it, is the most challenging part of practicing yoga.  
 Most changing aspect of your journey? 
The breathing. In my moments when I feel most stressed or upset or angry or when I’m dealing with emotions I go back to my yoga breath- eyes closed, deep inhale through the nose, deeper exhale through the mouth. It helps me to calm down and keep my sanity. 
How your practice impacts other’s lives?
I live in a stressful town and work in a stressful industry. When I’m leaving work with my yoga mat or people see me on the elevator in the morning and they ask about my practice I tell them that yoga should be mandatory for everyone that works in this industry. I really believe that. I’m an attorney and I feel like after you get sworn into the bar, you should be given a yoga mat when you pay your bar dues for the first time. I’ve encouraged a lot of my colleagues who complain about tension and stress to try yoga.

Hopefully, through my journey and practice, I’ve encouraged other people to find what helps them deal with their stress, even if it’s not yoga. Since I started practicing, two of my close friends that live here, my best friend who lives in New Orleans, and my sister have all started or resumed practicing as well. Everyone needs a healthy outlet that doesn’t involve alcohol.  
How does Yoga make you feel?
——  while practicing, after, and generally
I feel my best out of my entire day after I leave yoga class. After I get up from savasana, it’s a feeling of centeredness and contentment. All the positive energy has been restored to my mind and body. My career is incredibly stressful and there are days when I’m in meetings listening to people talk and thinking that I just can’t wait to get to my yoga mat and breathe in child’s pose. Yoga protects my energy. During the practice I let everything go and release everything from my day and mind and that is so freeing and liberating. It’s the only time during my day and week where I’m free. It’s an amazing feeling. 

DSCF2240.jpg

The advice you have for new yogis/long time practitioners ( can be two different pieces of advice) 
Be diligent in your practice and the results will come sooner. There are several types of yoga and every instructor is different. Find the studio, the type of yoga, and the instructor that works for you and makes you feel most comfortable. Also, finding the right music for your practice is crucial. In class, the music is always the typical yoga music- indie or meditation, which is very calming and relaxing.

DSCF2252.jpg

When I’m at home, I practice to a playlist of my favorite artists- Whitney, Mariah, and Drake. I start every practice with Fire & Desire from Views and Focus by H.E.R. It’s the perfect tempo and melody for my practice. Find what songs relax you the most- that’s what will put you in the best frame of mind to practice successfully.  
How can someone alleviate hesitation to yoga
I hear people say all the time “I’m not flexible, yoga isn’t for me.” That’s like saying I’m too dirty to take a bath. Yoga is exactly for people who want to work on flexibility. My body changes every time I practice. If vinyasa is too intense then try restorative or yin yoga. Try all of the different types of yoga until you find which one works for you. 
If you are afraid to practice in a studio or in front of other people, watch youtube and practice at home until you build up the confidence to take a class. 

DSCF2281.jpg

Favorite/ most challenging pose
Side crow and koundyinasana. Really any of the arm balances. The arm balances are my favorite because they require so much coordination at the same time. I have really tight shoulders so the full wheel is challenging me. Peacock is also really hard to maintain. 

What benefits have you found in yoga?
Overall I can handle myself better and have a better control of stress management. Yoga has definitely improved my flexibility and stamina. My yoga breathing has helped me deal with tension and upsetting moments a lot more calmly and maturely. I carry so much tension in my lower neck, shoulders, and upper back. I’ve learned how to breath into that part of my body during childs' pose and downward dog and it really helps alleviate some of the tension. 

Quote that resonates with you and your practice:

it is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.
— B.K.S. Iyengar

Discuss


How does yoga influence your specific mental health? overall wellness?
In addition to the physical benefits- improved flexibility and stamina- yoga has helped tremendously with my stress and tension. I remember being depressed and stressed out all through law school and the bar exam. I wish I had practiced yoga during that time to manage all the stress because that was a pretty dark time for me, especially my first and third years. Sometimes if I have an email or text message that I am worried about responding to, I wait until after my practice to respond so that my head is clear and I have a better feeling about what I want to say. 

 

Yoga & Black Mental Health & Wellness
    I wish I could get so many of friends to practice on a regular basis. When I’m listening to my friends vent about their problems and issues I’m like first you need to see a therapist and then you need to try to yoga. The physical and mental benefits are worth the hour or 2 hours out of your day. 

DSCF2277.jpg


Body Image
    It wasn’t until recently that I was fully comfortable with my body. In addition to all of the other names I got called in school, I got called toothpick, noodle, Gumby, stick boy, all because I’ve always been super thin. When you hear that for years on end, it takes a toll psychologically and you start to believe it. My tennis coaches in junior high, high school and college would all put me on special diets to gain weight but none of it ever worked. Growth is being comfortable with who you are inside and out. A large part of that journey for me was being around people who had insecurities about their body that were the opposite of mine.

They wanted to tone down and lose weight and didn’t like the areas of their body where they were carrying extra fat. It taught me that we all have things we wish we could change about ourselves and that in itself is part of the journey of yoga.

 

   How do you feel about the representation of black yogis?
    We aren’t anomalies. At the studio where I practice, when I see another black person, it could be the first time we’ve ever seen each other, we act like Celie and Nettie at the end of the Color Purple. There could absolutely be a better representation of black people in the yoga community. If you look at any yoga magazines or websites, the models are always thin with long blonde hair. Yoga originated in India, where the people are darker than most black Americans. We can’t see ourselves where we don’t see people who look like us. I never saw myself playing tennis until I saw Serena lift her first U.S. Open trophy in 1999 and then Venus won Wimbledon the following year. I never saw a lot of people who looked like me practicing yoga before I started but I hope that changes soon. 

 

How does your hair affect your practice
    I’ve been rocking the man bun for almost 2 years now. During my practice I have my hair pulled up to the top of my head so that I can lay down flat for shoulder stand, plow, and other laying-down poses. I have to take it down for the headstands. When Mattel came out with a Ken Doll that had a man bun my friends told me that it was based off me so I created a meme based off of my life.  The caption said “Man Bun Ken is a proud feminist, having voted for Hillary. He also comes with a yoga mat, Soul Cycle membership, at least $50,000 student loan debt, and will ignore your texts while still liking your Instagram posts.” It went viral and there are still different variations of it but I made the original.  

DSCF2254.jpg

Tell a story/experience about something that’s happened good, bad, awkward, etc while you have been practicing yoga
My very first time taking yoga I somehow ended up in a level two class and was so lost. I didn’t even know the basic moves like downward dog and upward dog- it was an epic disaster. I was looking around the whole time trying to follow the people around me but they were going so fast and I was out of breathe. I felt like a cow on ice who was having an asthma attack.

DSCF2285.jpg

When we finally got to savasana and I laid down before I knew it I said something like “God is still sovereign,” or “I will bless the Lord at all times” or “His blood still works.” I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something extra churchy that I got from my friend Isaiah, who is Pentecostal. Everyone started laughing and I didn’t even realize I had said it that loud. The instructor came over to me and asked was I okay and I gave another churchy answer “I’m fine I’m just happy to be here” and dramatically laid out. The whole class laughed at that too. The best part of that story is that less than a year later my practice evolved to where I was taking the level two class by choice and mastering nearly all of the poses. 

DSCF2319.jpg

Recommendations
When I was in college I found the professors that I really liked and took every class that they taught. It’s really the same thing with yoga- you have to find the instructor whose energy matches the best with yours. Every instructor has different quirks, different patterns, and sequences. If you don’t like your first class try it again with a different instructor. There are some instructors who I really like and will take their class anytime they are teaching and there some who I avoid like the plague. Every instructor has a different style so find one that works for you where you feel the most comfortable and relaxed. An environment where you feel the most at ease will be most conducive to you maximizing your potential on the mat. 

 

Q: How deligent and intentional are you in your practice?