Derrick Weston Brown
Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in Creative Writing from American University. He is the founding Poet-In-Residence of Busboys and Poets. He is a graduate of the Cave Canem and VONA summer workshops and is a participating author in the PEN-Faulkner Foundation's Writers-In-Schools-Program. His work has been published and featured in such print journals and online publications as, The This Mag, JoINT, Colorlines and The Tidal Basin Review. His debut collection of poetry, Wisdom Teeth was released in 2011 through PM Press. He resides in Mount Rainier MD.
Yogi on the Mat
Preferred Yoga Style: Dharma or whatever Rodney Yee is doing on his DVDs
City: Mount Rainier
Random fact/favorite movie or book or word, food etc:
For a long, while I thought I was the only published writer in my family but I have a second cousin named Wesley Brown who is a writer and was very active in the Black Arts Movement.
How does your hair affect your practice?
I've had locs for nearly 20 years and it hasn't affected my practice at all.
What made you start practicing yoga? What brought you to it?
I would practice very sparingly; every now and then at home. I even attended a Bikram class in Harlem nearly a decade ago. However, when my long-time friend Simone Jacobson started training to become a yoga instructor I was one of her first students and naturally joined her class because I sought flexibility and strength.
What anchors your practice? Do you set an intention for yourself before you practice?
I would say consistency. I was never one for practicing when I was a kid. I generally winged quite a few things like the trumpet and some sports. However, I would definitely develop a consistent practice for anything I was passionate about.
Did something happens in life propel you into your practice?
Gained weight. Got older. My Dad died in 2015 from PTSD, Spatial Dementia and other ailments as results of the Vietnam War. He also did not take very good care of himself and I had been taking small steps to do a better job of treating my body right.
Did you feel the need for a change?
I did! I realized how inflexible I was in many aspects of my life. I would be in pain simply reaching around to pull my wallet from my back pocket. My shoulders were killing me. I also wasn't a fan of gyms but I really needed to get stronger. I was having a hard time simply getting up off of the floor if I had been sitting for a while.
Tell me about your practice? any aspects you'd like to share:
Every Thursday evening I head on down to the Yoga District 14th street to take Simone's class. I never miss it. If I do, it is because of travel or a major schedule conflict.
How yoga impacts your life? oth on and off the mat:
On the mat:, I'm battling so many things: My overly critical mind. A feeling of competition with everyone in the room, even my well-hidden self-consciousness about how my body looks while I'm practicing. However, on the mat is where I sweat, concentrate and trust that my body is working as it should and that I'm growing stronger and developing a balance I've never had before, as well as a sense of focus that is steadily becoming more intense.
Off the mat: I was much more aware of my body and how each muscle, tendon or joint feels. I also have never walked out of a yoga class without feeling some sort of adjustment or change in my physical and mental state that feels very much like growth or gain.
What challenges have you faced while practicing?
Probably dealing with the demons self-doubt and impatience because I sometimes get intimidated by a particular form if I don't learn it and perform it correctively in a short amount of time. Then the voices come saying that I should quit or stop trying when my body doesn't respond the way it should. I also had a slight injury when I first started that hindered a lot of movement during my first few weeks of class. I had to slow down and that was very humbling.
The most changing aspect of your journey?
My breath. I breathe so differently and purposefully now, then I did before. I really, really, pay attention to my breath these days.
how your practice impacts other's lives? I'm not sure. If it does, you'd have to ask them. I will say that Simone seems to get a kick out of seeing me do a headstand quite easily these days.
What are some things yoga has taught you about yourself/others?
That no matter the teacher or the teachers' style or intensity or practice, I have every intention of making my way through any class.
How does Yoga make you feel?
Relaxed, Stronger, Sweaty, Philosophical, Focused, Extremely emotionally vulnerable depending on what chakra gets opened during class.
What benefits have you found in yoga?
Flexibility, Better sleep, Increased Stamina (I'm a swimmer) helps with digestion too.
A quote or phrase resonates with you and your practice: "Its Time To Go Upside Down" I get so excited because it means we can do inversions or headstands and I love going upside down for a headstand specifically because I practiced my ass off to be able to hit one with no help.
The advice you have for new yogis/long time practitioners ( can be two different pieces of advice) Check out different classes at different times if you can and don't eat so close to class it will mess your digestion up. Eat earlier enough in the day where you won't have that problem.
How can someone alleviate hesitation to yoga:
Good question. Maybe visit many types of classes or attend a class like Simone's Yoga For Every Body class because it is warm, inclusive. Plus finding a place that works at a pace you are used to or familiar with can help alleviate the stress.
How does yoga influence your mental health? overall wellness?
It is something that I eagerly look forward to every Thursday. I often feel like a kid waiting for the designated day and time before their favorite TV show comes on. In my case, yoga class is like my own holistic Muppet Show (except with no puppets). In regard to my own wellness, since my class falls on a Thursday it is part of my overall wellness trifecta on Thursdays because in addition to Yoga class on Thursday I also visit my therapist and chiropractor on. So It is a great addition to my steps to better and prolong my life on all fronts.
Favorite/ most challenging pose: Favorite Pose:
A tie between Child's Pose & Headstand
Most Challenging: Pigeon Pose & Dolphin?
Back Yogi Stigmas:
Maybe because I am part of a class that purposefully was created for POC and LGBTQIA folks I haven't dealt with much stigma though in a sense it has helped me dispel some of my own stigmas about Black folks and Yoga. There was a time where I felt the black folks who did practice were super duper esoteric, skinny, weed smoking, alfalfa sprout eating vegan zealot elitists.
I blame that on the few yoga experiences I had in my early 20's in college at an HBCU and my interactions with the folks leading those classes. I couldn't connect them because I just wasn't comfortable with my body yet and the instructors were a bit too preachy for me. I wanted flexibility and all I kept getting was dogma and doctrine. So I said peace.
Yoga & Black Mental Health & Wellness:
I really started on this path of wellness and physical and mental health after my father passed away in the fall of 2015. I was really sad, I wasn't active, I had a very demanding job that really drained me and I simply did not feel good. However, aside from having a good circle of friends and loved ones I could talk to and express my sadness, I was still very unsure about any physical exercise, even though I would feel good after a run or a swim, I wouldn't keep it up even when all those negative thoughts would go away at that time, I wouldn't continue the practice.
I was sadly devoted to this job and was fearful of not being asked back after my first year there if I didn't meet all that was required of me. To be black and healthy meant I had to leave that job at the end of the year despite the security of a steady paycheck and I felt more like a drone than a prized employee and unfortunately, that is the state of many black people herein. I had to save my black mind and my body and I knew I wasn't going back to that job. I literally escaped or at least that was what it felt like when I wrote out my resignation letter. Money aside, I hoped I would be all right but I needed to get as far away from that job to even have the clear and quiet headspace to think about what I would do to keep afloat financially and mentally.
As a black cis male, I battle with my body image every day. There are advertisements and media that present the black body as everything it isn't, plus, at 42, the ol' metabolism doesn't work like it used to, so there are times I look at my body as if it has betrayed me. That its only a body to be desired and not loved. However, to see all the Yogis in a class of various shapes shades and sizes simply trusting their thick thighs and wide hips to hold them steady in a headstand was an inspiration to me and a reminder to love this black body that has sustained my spirit in these ever-changing four decades of life.
How do you feel about the representation of black yogis? I'm still a newbie but I am steadily learning that they are out there. I am also quietly excited when I see other black men in class with me and even more pleased when the brothers are short and stocky like myself. It's like "We UP In Here Baby!!
Tell a story/experience about something that's happened good, bad, awkward, etc while you have been prating yoga: I think my poem about hitting my first headstand can tell it better. Read it here!
Recommendations: Maybe he's old school but I swear by my Rodney Yee Power Yoga DVD
You can follow him on social media on Facebook, Instagram @theoriginalDerrickWestonBrown or through DerrickWestonBrown.com