Relaxation is a lost art for many Americans. We pride ourselves on multi-tasking and checking off the “done” items on our never ending “to do lists.” The mind is always active, moving like a wild bucking horse from one thought to another that may lead to chronic conditions such as insomnia and depression. Unfortunately, many of us equate self-care with an indulgence in superficial activities such as shopping, cosmetic applications and expensive vacations where we party, keep long hours, eat and drink too much only to return home in need of a vacation from the vacation! Although these pleasurable activities give us a momentary feel good, they do not have a lasting or transforming impact on the body, mind and spirit.
This year at the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance 2016 Conference Dr. Gail Parker, Ph.D/RYT-500, CEO of Conscious Living, LLC and Dana A. Smith, RYT-500, founder of Spiritual Essence Yoga, will present workshops to share their expertise and wisdom in restorative yoga and practices in self-love and care that will bring lasting and positive change in your relationship with yourself and others.
BYTA interviewed both teachers about their workshops, individual yoga journeys and the future of yoga.
BYTA:What do you envision for your presentation and time at the BYTA conference in August?
GP: “I envision providing a safe space for participants to take a deep dive into their hearts, to mine their hearts for its wisdom, and to find the courage to follow their heart’s deepest desires.”
DS: “I see my presentation as deep breath. I created it to encourage hard workers to take a break and give themselves permission to take care of themselves. It is way for participants to reconnect with their passion, purpose and happiness through the sacred art of yoga. ”
BYTA: How long have you been practicing/teaching yoga? What was your motivation/inspiration? What keeps you going?
GP: “Curiosity brought me to yoga 50 years ago. I was fortunate to be introduced to the practice by one of Paramahansa Yogananda’s foremost disciples, Yogacharaya. At the time, I was 21 years old and involved in a physically abusive relationship, before domestic violence was considered a crime. Yoga helped me escape it by teaching me to listen to my inner voice. It led me into the wisdom of my heart and gave me the courage to follow it. Over the years, my yoga practice has evolved from being just an asana practice into a lifestyle. I have incorporated the eight limbs of yoga into my very being. Although I practice asana regularly, four to five times weekly, as I have matured, Svadyaya and meditation have become my priority and my daily practice.”
DS: “Yoga has helped me to heal several health issues. I have been practicing yoga since 2001 (15 years). I came to the practice in order to reduce stress and have a healthy pregnancy. Yoga keeps me connected to my passion and purpose and is the longest practice I have ever stuck to. It encourages me to grow and it helps me to celebrate my strengths, work through limitations and accept my life in the present moment.”
BYTA: What, if anything, has been your personal evolution? What is your most significant contribution or seva, to date?
GP: “The physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual benefits I derive from the practice keep me engaged as well as inspired. Yoga taught me then, and continues to teach me, that whenever I need an answer to a question or am faced with a dilemma, I have a trusted inner teacher to consult. Yoga brings me into alignment with what is best in me. I have been teaching Restorative Yoga and Meditation for fifteen years. My broad expertise in behavioral health and wellness include trailblazing efforts to integrate psychology, restorative yoga, and meditation, as effective self-help strategies that can enhance emotional balance, and contribute to the overall health and well being of practitioners, and of the community of people each of us influences. I author a blog called Taking Yoga Off Your Mat™, http://drgailparker.wordpress.com., whose purpose is to teach ways of applying the lessons yoga offers to everyday life.”
DS: Last year I decided to bring yoga out of the studio and sponsored a community day that focused on getting people moving and eating healthy. A few other businesses who focus on the moving arts partnered with me and we had nutritional experts. The event was for individuals and families. It is my intention to make it an annual effort and take it to other communities who may not necessarily have access.”
BYTA: What are your views on the future of yoga? What would you like to see unfold in your life/family/community/nation/world as a practitioner/teacher?
GP: “Yoga has the power to evolve consciousness for the betterment of humanity. I would like to see the continued expansion of yoga as a practice that can benefit all who practice it, and by extension, all those with whom practitioners/teachers come in contact. Yoga invites us to go deep into the practice of self-study, where we encounter our inner-guidance system. It invites us to open our hearts and to be compassionate and kind toward others as well as ourselves. It has the capacity to heal our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds, bringing us into deeper connection with our core self, with all sentient beings, and with mother earth. Beyond our personal growth, yoga can inspire us to build communities of diversity, making us better acquainted, and better friends than we would otherwise be, with people who are different from us. I would like to see the next evolution of yoga reflect the diversity that actually exists within the larger culture. To facilitate this, I would like to see attention paid in teacher trainings to instruction in: the awareness of the value of racial and cultural diversity; the awareness of the racial and cultural biases that inhibit and sometimes prevent inclusion; the awareness of how yoga shapes consciousness; and in the awareness of how to support a consciousness of inclusion that manifests in behaviors that feel welcoming to all.”
DS: “I believe that there is a wave of change happening. People are starting to speak up, we are creating a platform to show that yoga is much more than what you are seeing in popular media. The BYTA conference has a great opportunity to be part of the catalyst for changing the way yoga is being presented. If we won’t be invited into the mainstream we must create our own and invite others in. I want to see yoga presented as a tool for EVERYONE to heal. I want it to be accessible to all who need it. For this to happen we must see representation.”
BYTA: There’s a great deal of conversation around the issue of diversity in yoga. What are your thoughts on the subject?
GP: “Diversity strengthens community. My ideal community is one that is racially, culturally, and ethnically diverse; a community that offers opportunities for a fuller experience through sharing our unique gifts, talents, and perspectives with each other, rather than one that requires sameness and conformity in order to have a sense of belonging. It is a more complex way to live and requires effort, but I like complexity and I don’t mind making the effort. Racial and cultural diversity are natural outcomes of conscious intention. When we intend to be inclusive and engage respectfully with those who are different from us we attract diversity. Like yoga, inclusion is more than a theory. It is a practice. Once you set your mind on practicing it, you increase your chances of actually manifesting diversity. Since yoga is about engagement and connection, the yoga of inclusion asks us to go beyond our capacity to endure or put up with difference. It invites us to enter into relationship with that which is “other” and/or unfamiliar even if it makes us uncomfortable. In this paradigm, rather than fear the tensions of diversity, we embrace them as a path of learning and living.”
DS: “It is frustrating to see the lack of diversity in yoga and how people of color are severely under represented. Whenever there is a list of yoga experts or the most influential teachers you have to search long and hard to find a person of color. Yoga has become a popularity contest, one that we are rarely invited to. The mold for standards needs to be broken once and for all. People need to see the many colors, shapes and ages of yoga.”
BYTA: What is your opinion about having a black yoga teacher’s organization? What would you like to see and experience as the organization grows and evolves?
GP: “The need for association is one of the deepest needs of the human heart. The yoga community is a microcosm of the macrocosm, mirroring all of the best and the worst that exists in the larger culture. Yogis of color have been marginalized in the yoga world just as they have been marginalized in the larger culture, thus the formation of BYTA. As I see it, BYTA is a necessary affinity group that offers yogis of color a place to feel welcomed, to feel visible, to shine, and to receive the much deserved respect, acknowledgement, and recognition for our participation in and contributions to the overall yoga community and to the world in general. In a culture that demeans and invalidates persons of color, BYTA offers an emotionally safe space where, without having to deal with the distraction and pain of racial wounding, which is an energy drain, creativity and innovation can flourish. I think BYTA can take the lead in supporting the development of the consciousness of inclusion as a universal practice. It can become the voice of change and an advocate for those, within the organization and beyond, who want to be actively involved in challenging cultural stereotypes, breaking down barriers to inclusion, and building bridges to understanding within the yoga community.”
DS: “I think it is needed. Black yoga teachers need a forum where we can get together and discuss how keep the art growing in our communities. I believe that SEVA should be the heartbeat of the organization and we should gather to discuss a plan of action and take it to the community and make things happen. I would love have a way to stay in regular contact and find a way to support each other and hold each other accountable to our mission.”
Dana A. Smith will present “Yoga for Self-Love and Care, Friday, August 26, 2016, 9:00-11:00am.
Dr. Gail Parker will lead a workshop, “Receive, Restore, Renew: The Art and Skill of Restorative Yoga, Friday, August 26, 2016, 1:00-3:00pm.
Both workshops eligible for Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Credits.
Register to attend the Black Yoga Teachers 2016 Conference, August 25-28, 2016 at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in Stockbridge, MA.