Black Wellness History

So it is February 2018, Black History Month. Let’s talk about Black wellness. In my experience, wellness isn’t a common topic at dinner tables in the black community. In conversation with fellow Black healers, it is usual to have to face side-eye, an abrupt conversation change, or “Jesus will fix it” mantras when wellness does come up. It’s not that we never show concern for each other but it’s typical that we may only inquire on a surface level. As long as Uncle Bob is functioning well enough to attend work on the daily, we probably won’t worry too much. However, wellness is deeper than that isn’t it? Indeed, our history has much to do with this state of mind so I’ll touch on it.

Although some of the current history books have attempted to rewrite this fact, many of us who identify as Black or African American did not have ancestors who ventured to America by choice. They were often sold or stolen and brought over not only to live out their entire lives as working property but to also endure a great amount of dehumanizing torture and trauma. There is no such thing as “well-being” in these conditions and after hundreds of years, the circumstances left a huge and lasting imprint on the minds of the people which is where I believe wellness begins, the mind.

In spite of the work we still must do, it is my belief that Black people have managed to overcome such terrible ordeals because of our roots. Africans are a strong people whose varying cultures traditionally stem from family connection and spirituality. The lifestyles were bred from an ancient understanding of the feminine and masculine energetic balance. The physicians were shamans, witch doctors, etc., whose solutions for health integrated ideas of the spiritual and physical. They understood that all aspects of our being are connected, there is no separation of mind, body, and spirit. Luckily, some of these beliefs remained preserved among a few and is beginning to gain more popularity in the states.

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This resonates with me on a personal level because I am one of the many who have achieved a sense of wellness in my adulthood via the journey of reconnecting with my heritage. I do not know exact story of all my ancestors (although aware of my general Native American and African roots) but it is important to me that I study and dabble in the ancient practices of people from the past. I had the joy of knowing several of my great-grandparents and was very close to one of my great-grandmothers who nursed herself back into wellness after suffering from obesity. Creating in the kitchen with her and learning her natural remedies are experiences I forever cherish. They assist me still on my journey to a better life. Imagine the changes we can make for our collective future if we improved our own wellness, shared and lead by example for the up and coming generations?

Of course, educating ourselves on the what it means to be well and how to go about achieving this will be the first step for many of us. On a wide scale, wellness for people of my culture will need to be addressed from many levels and thanks to those who have already taken a stance, we are well on our way to better fitness, finance, nutrition and spirituality. May we all find our place in this endeavor. Namaste.

Creating a Yoga Flow: Part Three

Yoga has been a significant part of my self-improvement. As explained in my What “Yogi Life” Really Means post, it is more than just exercise. Each asana has revealed something to me about myself in multiple aspects.

This week, my Inner Self chose crow pose or bakasana as the next addition to my yoga sequence. I struggled so much when I attempted to conquer this pose for the very first time. I had what felt like zero strength to achieve it. Although I still would not say I’ve mastered it, I certainly see my growth over time as I can now hold it for roughly 10 seconds.

I do not practice this pose as much as I should and it has been noticeable in my yoga practice and my spiritual life. My upper body strength is something I’ve always wrestled with as is trusting myself entirely. This pose requires both upper body strength and a enough self-trust to shift my entire body weight onto my hands with my forehead hanging in a way that it could potentially catch a mishap. Given my more recent personal struggles (that I will not dive in to in this post), I say the Universe/Higher Self is trying to tell me something, eh?

Namaste!

 

Creating a Yoga Flow: Part Two

In a recap of my 2018 goals, I am creating a Vinyasa yoga flow for myself that will grow weekly with a new asana. By the end of the year, I will have a 52-pose-long flow that will be a representation of my physical and spiritual growth. I began with downward dog, child’s pose and frog pose. This entry is a bit late as life has already become quite stressful this year which is why my second week’s asana is malasana or garland pose.

Malsana is a squat pose. The knees are to be separated as far as possible in this pose which stretches the adductors and lengthens the muscles around the sacrum. It’s a great asana for balancing the root chakra or Muladhara which has an effect on our level of groundedness. When accompanied with clasped hands at the chest, the heart chakra or Anahata can also be engaged which can help promote overall energetic balance.

During a week such as the one that has just past, this pose helped me to stay level-headed and balanced in spite of some obstacles I have been facing lately. I believe it has contributed to my ability to remain optimist and self-aware on an external and internal level. In engaging in a grounding pose that balances my foundational chakra, my other chakras are better able to flow which will, in turn, have a positive impact on my practice.

I am still encouraging everyone to join me. It’s never too late to get started. Namaste!

Vegan Diet or No Vegan Diet?

I have tried many diets over the years in search of something that would put me on the right direction towards a healthy lifestyle. Going vegan was something I heard of for the first time over 10 years ago and I had absolutely no intention of participating. I was and am still a meat-lover, and considered the debate on whether veganism was even a reasonable lifestyle. However, I’ve just decided to go vegan/vegetarian recently and I have felt better in the last two weeks than I have a in a long time.

The argument between meat-eaters and vegans is on whether or not eating animal-based products is a healthy choice and/or a compassionate one. It is apparent that humans, like other meat-eaters on our shared planet, are built with the ability to digest meat products as we have for the last few thousand years or so. Meat tends to be packed with proteins necessary for our health and partaking in meat does not exactly equate to lack of compassion for other living beings. We are inevitably born into a food chain, the great Circle of Life in which all living beings rely on each other for food and other resources for survival. For this reason, I do not find it fair to judge anyone who eats meat as it is in our nature to do so; however, if we can find adequate nutrients in plants, shouldn’t we take that route instead?

This is, of course, the side of vegans and vegetarians who have made their choice for the purpose of compassion. This position should, also, not be shunned. I made the choice to become vegan/vegetarian because I finally listened to my body when I’d consume meat and dairy on a regular basis. My taste buds thanked me but my brain and my digestive system did not. I am now in the process of learning new and exciting ways to cook meals at home and to meal prep for work. I feel lighter, more energetic and aware of what my body actually needs opposed to what it is craving. My choice was also influenced by my spirituality and desire to be more compassionate towards animals. However, when I feel like the vegan diet may not be supplying me with enough (which could be due to the lack of knowledge of all my options), I may turn to a vegetarian dish to remain properly nourished. I am also willing to admit that if I had no reasonable alternatives in front of me, I would choose meat over deprivation for the sake of my health. There would be some hardcore vegans our there who would detest my flexibility but that’s why I took the time to make sure I had a handle on the “why” for making my choice.

Indeed, there is a right and a not-so-great way to carry out either decision. If one is a meat-eater and gives no thought to the life or lives given for the meal, there is something to be assessed. On the same token, if one is vegan just to keep up with the Jones’ and ridicules the meat-eater without regard to the individual’s personal journey, there is something to be assessed. There are also things to be aware of in either decision. The over-consumption of meat (especially red and/or low quality) can put any person at risk for a number of illnesses and disorders. Likewise, the vegan should be mindful of their intake of soy which should be limited and what ever nutrients what may require supplement due to their lack of animal product consumption. Whichever side anyone takes, it would do us all well to diminish or perhaps even abolish judgement on the other as we all have our “whys” and what is right for you may not be right for someone else. Namaste.

 

Creating a Yoga Flow: Part One

Although now a highly ridiculed phrase, I’m on my “New Year New Me” game. Truthfully, every day is a good time to start enhancing ourselves and setting goals towards our ideal life. However, there’s something special about this season that seems to motivate us. Each year is like a new chapter in our lives in which we get to start fresh with new goals. Unfortunately, many of us tend to fall off the wagon within a few months, weeks, even days. Some find it scoff-worthy; you may even come across comical memes about it online. I think it’s unfair to judge the lot who strive for change even though many of us run into regular life obstacles which, frankly, don’t care about our timelines. On the other hand, some of us simply get bored or overwhelmed with all the goals we’ve set in front of us. I’m certainly guilty myself. So, for 2018, I’m taking a new approach to reaching goals by encompassing them into my yoga practice.

On January 1st, I will begin building a Vinyasa flow that will grow every week. For those new to yoga, Vinyasa is a yoga practice that uses a continuous movement from one pose to another opposed to holding a single pose for an extended period of time – although these methods can be somewhat combined. I’m beginning with 3 asanas and will add a different pose every week accompanied by meditation and a written journal in which I will explain my practice of the 8 Limbs. I will also post a video of the flow on Instagram for visual feedback. The goal is to track my progress throughout the year to see how much I improve mentally, physically and spiritually by the end of 2018. Weekly additions will hopefully ward off boredom and because I choose my own poses and because I am only adding one a week, I will reframe from getting too overwhelmed.

The initial three poses are downward dog, child’s pose and frog pose. Feel free to join me in this challenge and share your progress on social media also. Remember that yoga is more than just poses and physical fitness; it’s a lifestyle! However, it is what you make it and the possibilities are endless. Happy New Year! Namaste.

Episode

She sits as the onset rises

Welling up in her loins like a flood until it rolls down her eyes like the leaves of a willow

Memories invade with definitions at a loss

She scoffs at her outpour 

No consolation to be had. No one to say “sorry”

No words could undo the damage but it will pass

For now.

{This is a poem dedicated to those who battle depression, like myself, and cannot always find the words to explain the experience as it is happening. It is often more complex than this. However, this is a depiction of my usual experience when I find myself on that slippery slope.}

What “Yogi Life” Really Means

Yoga is all the rave these days. You probably have friends on social media striking poses with foreign names and calling themselves living the yogi life. Maybe, you’re one of them. However, do you really know what it means to be a yogi? If you think it only requires you to be athletic, limber and to give up meat most of the time, the answer is more than likely “no”. Yoga is much more than a fun way to get fit, it is truly a lifestyle.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, a sage by the name of Patanjali compiled a group of verses known as the Yoga Sutra. These verses became the foundation for true yoga practice. The text contains the guidelines of the Eightfold Path or ashtanga which literally translates to “eight limbs” in English. Each limb is a piece of wisdom aimed at developing one’s mental capacity and physical ability with the goal of achieving spiritual oneness. These limbs are 1. Yama, 2. Niyama, 3. Asana, 4. Pranayama, 5. Pratyahara, 6. Dharana, 7. Dhyana, and 8. Samadhi. Each limb is distinct in its purpose but collectively prepares the practitioner to reach one end goal.

Yama, the first limb, is summed up best with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you want done unto you. It is about how we move in the world and how we treat the other living beings around us. Yama is composed of five distinct parts with more specific guidelines regarding non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness. The second limb, Niyama, is about self-discipline and spiritual practices. It establishes the importance of meditation and is also split into five small principles regarding cleanliness, contentment, spiritual austerity, the study of sacred scripture and surrendering to God.

The third limb, asana, is the most popular part of the yoga practice. Asana is Sanskrit for pose or posture and is about more than just one’s physical ability and agility. The practice of asanas is to build concentration and consistency necessary for following the other limbs and eventually achieving advanced levels of meditation. The fourth limb, Pranayama, which translates to life force extension is about the breath. It emphasizes the importance of breath in meditation and how it connects the mind, body, and spirit. Some even believe that breath mastery could truly extend the days of one’s life.

Pratyahara, the fifth limb, is another common practice among people of faith although under a different name. Followers of Abrahamic religions often refer to it as fasting. This is the limb that challenges us to give up external distractions and habits that do not necessarily serve us, for example, unhealthy foods or excessive television. Pratyahara directly prepares us for limb six which is Dharana or concentration. With the absence of external distractions, one can better notice the internal distractions and prepare to eliminate them. This is done in the immersion of silence to perfecting the ability to focus on a single point for an extended period of time which is also necessary for meditation.

The seventh limb is all about reaching full awareness with a still mind. This is deep meditation and called Dhyana. It is distinct from the sixth limb, Dharana, which is about focusing on one particular point where as Dhyana is about focusing on everything simultaneously with great clarity and calm. This is considered a very high level of consciousness and very difficult to achieve but certainly possible. Even more complicated to achieve is samadhi, the eighth and final limb. At this level, the yogi is able to meditate with high consciousness in such a way that she becomes one with all things, even the Universe itself. A remarkable sense of peace is attained and the practitioner transcends what we understand as the physical world.

As you can see, of the eight limbs, only one is dedicated to the strength and flexibility of the body. If you are overlooking the remaining 7 limbs, chances are you are merely exercising and not practicing yoga as each pose or movement should be accompanied by an inward purpose or lesson. Let this not discourage you as yoga is for absolutely everyone. If anything, this should encourage anyone who has begun the physical aspect of the practice and those considering it. Acknowledging and implementing all the pieces of a yoga practice will only enhance not just the physical body but the spiritual being. Namaste.