Diversity in Yoga:
Our community speaks out
There are words that are loosely used in the wellness community such as awakening, enlightenment, and guru. We hear these terms so often that it seems the true depth of their meaning gets lost in the perception, circumstances, and beliefs of the masses. We commercialize the same words that once attracted us to this spiritual way of life. Among those are the term and language connected to healing and being a “Healer.”
I have practiced at several wellness centers and sat with many self-proclaimed healers who promise healing if only we do things in a sacred way, which has always flushed out to be “their way.” As 2020 glared the shortcomings of our country, fears, and beliefs, some of us raised our eyebrows to the response, or lack thereof, from spiritual and sacred wellness groups. Where are our healers?
The racial tension in the U.S. rapidly spread globally following the consecutive murders of African American women and men during the COVID-19 lockdown. As many began protesting in the street for weeks and months, yoga and mindfulness practitioners of color wondered, “Where are our healers?”
Many yoga and meditation spaces and practitioners had fallen silent. They preferred not to align themselves or their brand with organizations such as Black Lives Matter, which they deemed as making a political stance. There were studios who posted to social media about diversity reluctantly to avoid scrutiny. Sending positive affirmations, memes, reposted hashtags with a surface promise to support inclusivity in the holistic community. Some even proposed financial support. But, where were our healers?
Where were our self proclaimed healers and gurus? Where were our beloved studios that always offered catchy quotes in savasana, simple but tangible resolutions to all of our daily challenges? Where were our People of Peace?
I had the pleasure of virtually meeting with three of my close friends in the wellness community to discuss words like HEALING, especially during times such as these.
Joshua Dorfman is a meditation teacher, life coach, and spiritual advisor. Lauren Solomon is an international yoga instructor, birth doula, and energy worker. Quentin Vennie: International speaker, author of “Strong in Broken Places,” and advocate for humanity. Here is our talk on healing, healers and our ideals of how wellness should begin to motion forward.
What does “healing” mean to you?
Quentin: Healing is moving beyond our trauma and not allowing it to dictate the value of who we are. It’s learning from our experiences for the betterment of humanity.
Lauren: Healing is a journey of physical and metaphysical alchemy. Healing/Healer are terms used too liberally and inappropriately for capitalistic reasons/opportunity. These terms are overused and undervalued.
Joshua: Healing is a process to liberation. Liberation of being susceptible to stress, anxiety, trauma, and fear. Of course, healing is a general term. There’s the mental, physical, and spiritual level. Healing is the process of freeing ourselves from those bondages. Our eyes are open. We begin to ask questions. We begin to seek truth and we wonder, “How can things change?” ”How do I live better?” What I’ve learned is, whatever trials, tribulations, and traumas that we go through, we are supposed to share our solutions with others. We are supposed to share our tools and techniques with the world.
How would you describe the importance of wellness in communities of color?
Lauren: Holistic wellness is vital to African Americans and POC ability to survive and thrive as a people. Illness of all kinds will continue to kill and destroy. One of my favorite quotes by Toni Cade Bambara is, “Wholeness is no trifling matter.”
Sometimes generational trauma plays out in our classroom. Some instructors are more authoritarian which can be perceived as a superior/inferior dynamic and also create trauma bonds. How can non-POC instructors and students support POC on their journey to self-healing?
Joshua: We must begin by irradiating ourselves from the sickness of separatism and competitive mentality.
Lauren: Non-POC must courageously become acquainted with their own darkness. They must focus on the inner work so that they will teach and be willing to learn from a space of authenticity and balance.
PTSD and trauma informed trainings are commonly talked about in the wellness community. We don’t often talk about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) or Shadow Slavery. Many POC, specifically African Americans, have been triggered by the systematic injustice and police neutrality that has gone overlooked for centuries. Have you, or do you plan to implement classes that support healing in this area?
Lauren: All people can experience PTSD but only Black People can and have experienced PTSS. Let’s unapologetically acknowledge that first, and then we can begin the work. My work, experiences, guidance, offerings, and language all implement the process of healing specifically in this area. For example, it is important to me that I am unapologetic about centering myself and my work for people who look like me without seeing it as a hindrance, limitation or exclusion.
I don’t see anything wrong with that! I think many establishments do and feel the same way. They may not openly say it but their business strategy screams it. Hiring predominantly one race, price point for classes, marketing campaigns, etc. I think sometimes we (African Americans) feel uncomfortable with saying this particular program or guidance for healing is specifically for us. We may feel bad or as though there will be a consequence for not sharing.
Joshua: I think we have POC, become conditioned to GIVE…
Ahhh! I love that! Are you proud of how the wellness community represented African Americans, POC and BIPOC during the several acts of violence from police brutality and racial injustice last year?
Lauren: No. They did not support us. What many studios and centers did at best, they showed us exactly who they are and who they are not. They engaged in superficial disingenuous optical allyship and hashtag activism. If they didn’t care, then I would prefer that they truly do not care. What many studios showed us was our money mattered but not our lives. Breonna Taylor’s face was trending. George Floyd’s video of him being murdered went viral. Our trauma became a way to monetize our suffering. To me, it felt like modern day lynching and several wellness studios participated in it. It was capitalistic and opportunist. But we didn’t need a civil rights movement to show us what African Americans, POC and BIPOC meant to these centers. We knew that based on their leadership and their marketing strategy. We always knew who and what mattered to them.
Quentin: Lauren’s sentiment is my sentiment. For real. There is nothing more that I can add to that that she hasn’t already addressed.
Quentin, your wife is white. How does that affect your household dynamic if at all? What are some of the conversations that you, your wife and your children have around race and wellness? Having two totally different ethnicities living under one roof during a civil rights movement, how has this been for you?
Quentin: The reality is that all of this is personal. And to be honest, my wife is one of the rarities in this space. She holds me when I need to be held, she can console me when my soul is weary, not as a Black man but as a human. Society will tell me I am a Black man and then society will dehumanize me for being a Black man. They limit my experience of humanity. Thinking back to the reason Blacks were selected for slavery was because of our propensity to “endure.” So if I am expected to be strong, who is going to see me when I am weak? My wife does. The conversations that we have are geared towards the Black experience and the white impression. And even with her, helping her to identify where she is actively fighting against racism and or passively moving towards it.
Joshua: When Gorge Floyd passed, it really sparked a fire under me to get the message across about racial and social injustice in the wellness community. I remember companies reaching out to me because I am a person of color just so that they could say they had a POC on their platform. It felt inauthentic so I turned them all down. It felt like a branding opportunity to say that they were a part but it did not feel like they authentically wanted to help.
How do you believe non-POC in the wellness community can authentically help?
Lauren: I don’t need to be affirmed in my life’s value from non-POC. What I would like is for non-POC to turn the work inward. Focus on you. No more “I’m not a racist” or wearing BLACK LIVES MATTERS shirts. Let’s focus on deepening the work by looking inward. “Where am I?” or “Where have I contributed to what’s at hand?”
Quentin: It starts with self, I agree. You can’t authentically do much to change the past. What you can do is begin to change self. I think it starts with acknowledging how many non-POC have upheld white supremacy subconsciously just by rules of society and continued to sustain a system of oppression. Deal with that discomfort that comes up. Sit in it and continue to heal from it.
Joshua: If non-POC want to authentically help, it has to come with humility and the acknowledgment of oppression.
What is your vision for the future of the wellness community?
Joshua: Seeking out those who have a genuine calling to serve and find truth. I want to flood the wellness community with realism. “Humans always want to do something about death when we should want to do something about life…”
Quentin: I want to see the continuation of these types of dialogue, of this level of humility and vulnerability, and stripping away the fear so we can begin to trust. Too many people have died without knowing that this can exist. This conversation was healing for me.
Lauren: We must decolonize ourselves in all ways. We must create that which we want to see, do, and be. Additionally we must be considerate of how we wield our collective energy and consciousness, and permanently do way with disempowerment.
Celebrated wellness expert, philanthropist, keynote speaker and author of the bestselling memoir, Strong In The Broken Places. His work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Entrepreneur, Chicago Tribune, NBC News, Fox News, MindBodyGreen, and others. Quentin has been recognized as one of Black Enterprise magazine’s 100 Modern Men of Distinction and by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for his contribution in raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, as well as appearing as the wellness keynote speaker for Colin Kaepernick’s “Know My Rights” Camp. Quentin has guided meditations and given talks at the Wagner Youth Facility at Belize Central Prison, shared his journey of healing childhood trauma for the University of Maryland Medical Systems & University of Maryland Symposium “Not All Wounds Are Visible”, and was recognized by Lululemon at their annual Here To Be Conference.
Having spent years practicing yoga and meditation, Quentin has found a recent passion in gardening and interior design as forms of anxiety management. He continues to work with youth in under-resourced communities, helping them understand their traumas and turn them into triumphs. He spearheads initiatives that support positive mental health and challenges food insecurity by teaching and promoting sustainable vegetable gardening, as well as making yoga and mindfulness accessible among communities and populations that don’t ordinarily have access to them.
A former Wall Street professional and graduate of Columbia Business School, Lauren boldly transitioned from a decade-long career in Finance and Project Management to a lifetime journey as a certified international yoga instructor, reiki practitioner and birth doula.
From Lauren’s most recent feature in the 1st volume of “My Yoga. My City” photography table book showcasing Lauren as among NYC’s premier yoga instructors, to her inclusion in NY Yoga + Life Magazine recognizing her as a trailblazer in the “Teachers We Love” section and in WELL Summit’s “7 Black Women Making Waves in Alternative Medicine” – to Lauren’s leading international yoga retreats, and her dedication as a birth companion centering Black women and families on the childbirth continuum, she radically affirms her community in a myriad of meaningful and deeply impactful ways.
For over 15 years, Joshua has been self-taught, accepting wisdom and influence from teachers along the way while adhering to his inner guidance and direct connection to Source. Joshua stepped into his role of leadership in 2014 offering healing, meditation and life coaching services as a walking embodiment of Light.
He is a community builder and space holder for unity and communication, creating a safe space for people of all walks of life to evolve through self-realization and the integration of Spirit into the human experience. He has been offering his services one on one and in group
environments and has even brought meditation to corporate settings such as A&E
TV Networks, Broadway productions such as Hamilton, in addition to the fashion
industry while simultaneously working with your everyday man and woman. Joshua is a certified Reiki Master and holds multiple certifications in Vortex Healing.