I’ve practiced on and off for about 10 years but have re-dedicated myself to my practice over the past year. It’s changed my life. I’m healthier, less stressed, more flexible and sleep better. There are transitions that have been happening in my yoga practice. Similar transitions have been happening in my life and I’m not sure if it’s a chicken or egg thing. Do I bring issues to my mat to get resolved or does my deepening practice- physically and spiritually allow me to see things differently when I’m off the mat. It’s truly a toss up.
I practice yoga on 27th St. in Manhattan. The 6:30 class is always jammed. People are there 30 minutes early to claim a spot. And even though people try to maintain a little space we end up having to get close to each other because of the headcount. In a city where roominess equals luxury this squishing somehow connects everyone. There’s no eye rolling or huffing and puffing because yoga has a way of transforming people even cranky New Yorkers. But what I love most about the class is the diversity. There’s a range of colors, ages, sizes of students.
This is fairly unusual. While it’s decidedly more mainstream than ever in America yoga is something that is thought to be practiced by upper class white women and celebrities. But I knew that I loved yoga and so did other Black people I knew, my mother has practiced daily for years. However, I still struggled to find many black yoga instructors. A search began. I was curious to see if were teachers out there who looked like me and what made them begin to practice yoga.
Welcome to the Yogis of Color series. Every few weeks we’ll spotlight a yogi and find out why they have been inspired by yoga. Some of their stories are straightforward and some are not but every story is unique.
We hope you find these teachers as inspiring as we do.
B.A, E-RYT- 200, RYT-500, Reiki Level I
When did yoga enter your life? When did you decide to teach? Why do you teach the kind of yoga you teach?
Yoga entered my life in 2000 off and on. I took classes at the YMCA as a way to simply increase my flexibility. I did not take my yoga practice seriously until 2006 when I took a studio class and learned there was more to yoga than just the physical practice. I decided to teach in 2008 and went through the teacher training program at Blue Anjou Yoga Studio. I teach Kundalini yoga because of its emphasis on the energy body, meditation and healing. I also teach Yin because it brings a calm and peace that balances me. I am not the most flexible of yoga teachers and Yin opens my tight hamstrings! I consider meditation the highest form of yoga practice. I teach mindfulness and mantra meditation.
What do you love most about teaching yoga?
I believe we teach what we need, so I teach for my own self healing. Just as important, I feel like I am making a real difference in my student’s lives. As a teacher I feel like I am able to witness deep change over time with my students. Seeing the light come on is a very inspiring thing and I am blessed to be able to be a part of it.
What does your personal practice look like? Who were/are your yoga inspirations?
My personal practice consists of almost daily mindfulness meditation and asana. When I made the commitment to this daily practice it took my teaching to a new level. I also make an effort to practice the other 8 limbs of yoga. I am far, far from perfect but it is a standard worth striving for. I truly am first and foremost inspired by my students. They teach me something every time lead a class. I learn about myself, my strengths and weakness. My primary teacher is DeAnna Nielsen. She introduced me to the deeper aspects of yoga and I continue to learn from her daily. Finally a co-teacher Jan Guinn inspires me with her stability and teaching skills.
Do you think the face of yoga has become more inclusive?
I’m not sure. I think there is a change coming slowly, but there is a very long way to go.
How is yoga a part of your life?
It’s hard to put into words, but yoga has changed my life completely. Sounds dramatic! In the most important way it has changed me spiritually most of all. I am more inclusive, and more open minded. I meditate, I breath better, I am more comfortable in my skin. Yoga is a holistic practice in my life.
Is yoga physical for your or spiritual or both?
Yoga is a wonderful physical practice, and I do practice for that reason, but for me it is mostly a spiritual practice.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone just starting yoga?
I would say try as many styles and teachers as possible until you find one that resonates with you. I’d say make sure you work with your body and not try to keep up with anyone. Look for a studio without mirrors! Anyone can do yoga at any age, weight or ability. I would emphasize that yoga is so much more than a physical practice and you can breath and meditate and do acts of service and be practicing yoga.
Do you think there is something political about yoga? Do you follow the 8 Fold Path?
I do not consider yoga political. In my opinion that would ruin the practice! Politics separate, yoga unifies.
I am not a Buddhist, so I do not specifically practice the 8 Fold Path, but I do respect their universal truths.
More about Debbie….
Debbie is a certified Hatha yoga teacher with specialization in meditation, Yin and Kundalini inspired yoga. She has been in the health and fitness field since 1998, but started her personal yoga journey in 2000 when she took a class at the local YMCA. Since learning how yoga integrated mind body and spirit, Debbie pursued her RYT, 200 with her main teacher and mentor DeAnna Nielsen, E-RYT, 500, owner of Blue Anjou Yoga Studio and the director of Breath into Awareness teacher training program. Debbie has also studied with Kundalini teacher Shakta Khaur Khalsa and meditation teacher Chris Greene as well as several other local and national teachers. Debbie finished her RYT, 500 and joined the teacher training team of Breath into Awareness in 2010. She leads modules for 200 and 500 hour trainees on meditation and incorporating Kundalini yoga techniques into Hatha based classes. She created a 6 week meditation series “Meditation Made Simple” that is designed to make the practice of meditation attainable for all learning styles. She recently led a group of students on her first yoga retreat to Retreat in the Pines in Mineola, Texas. Debbie is known for her strong root chakra energy, down to earth personality and ability to see beyond the physical practice of yoga to where the true magic lies, the yoga of self awareness, compassion and forgiveness.
If you would like to be featured in the Yogis of Color series please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org