‘Yoga saved my life.’ You hear that. Lots of people say it. If you’ve never had your life saved this may not make a big impression. If you’ve ever needed your life saved, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We’re usually not drawn to take drastic change until our backs are up against the wall. Illness, addiction, a break-up, a make-up, getting fired- you get the picture. These changes can put us in a state of physical, sometimes spiritual (I don’t mean this religiously) or mental crisis. We look for a hand to help us up or bring us back from the abyss. Yoga has done this for so many. Yoga did this for me.
In doing the Yogis of Color series there are stories about how yoga has transformed lives. This in turn inspires others to share this gift. I know you’ll feel moved when you read about Moniek’s journey.
When did yoga enter your life?
My first formal class of yoga was in the mid-90′s. It was a Bikram Yoga class and I went because I was tired of working out at the gym but still knew that my body needed movement and a workout. So I wanted to try something new. I didn’t know the words for it at the time but that (what I call ‘extreme yoga’) made me very aware of my first chakra. Survival!
I had survived many things in my life (abusive childhood, cancer at 14, near death experience, on my own at 16, etc.). Unknowingly that style of yoga began to move me out of survival mode into living more of a joyful life. Actively healing the wounds of my past that I hadn’t quite gotten to yet. This led me to a different style of yoga no longer feeling compatible with a controlling yoga lineage. More authentically drawn to a compassionate kind of yoga and teacher. The journey continued…
Meet Moniek Johnson
When did you decide to teach? Why do you teach the kind of yoga that you teach?
A few years later, I felt drawn to go back to a very controlling fundamentalist religion that didn’t approve of yoga. In hindsight, I’m able to see it really was the only way to get close to my mom (her religion) so that I could heal the last of my ‘mommy issues’. At the time I felt I was there because it was the ‘right/true’ religion. During this time I didn’t go to formal yoga classes much.
Eventually, I could tell I was free of the mommy wounds that had played a major part in my decision-making processes thus far. I landed in a spot that I could understand and love my mother, without betraying self by embracing the decisions she made that constantly kept my siblings and me in harms way.
At that point, I began to experience opportunities to free myself from being enslaved by the beliefs and concepts of the religion that was no longer compatible with me living an authentic, free flowing life. But by then my self-worth and identity was all entangled with the religion’s definitions, rules and concepts. I could sense something was no longer compatible with me but I couldn’t put my finger on what.
I started doing longggg walks were I would pour my heart out to the universe (at the time who I called god). I became aware that my journey of life was alive like I had never known it to be before. I began to take my hands off the wheels of life a bit; to build a trust in my journey of life, my innate being and an ability to meet each moment without having to control or know what comes next. Interestingly enough, that was quite similar to how I lived before adopting the fundamentalist religion’s way of responding to life. Not adopting an attitude that religion was ‘wrong’, it just was no longer compatible with me personally.
I would be drawn to yoga classes with certain styles and teachers. Yoga became my partner in soothing my fear of living consciously without the security blankets that I had been taught to attach to my whole life. The style of yoga I was drawn to at this time met me wherever I was in each moment. It held me as I let go (open my hands) in life. It cleared the clutter of my internal map so I could find and rest in my center, resulting in clear vision and connection to live my best life. THAT’S when I decided I had to share the experience with others (i.e. ‘teach’).
After many trials and tribulations, I was out of the religion. I felt like I had died to many self adopted identities, internal and external. I had embraced my freedom, no longer living from a place of fear and control. This opened up sooo much spaciousness for love and compassion not entangled with expectation, obligations and judgments. I soon met my Boo (husband) who saw my broken wings and shattered illusions from the war to reconnect to my center and experience life in freedom. He was the answer to my request of the journey to send me help and support to walk this earth in authenticity, living the path that is to be my life. One of the first to truly SEE me without all of the titles and identities I had adopted in this life. And through that sight, he cherished and embraced all of me and I him. He remains my greatest experience of love and inspiration.
What does your personal practice look like? Who were/are your yoga inspirations?
Now my personal practice is more off the mat than on. It is life itself and living life authentically in each moment. Staying fully conscious so that when I sense I am no longer moving from my center, getting back on the mat to clear away the clutter and connect back to my innate freedom and center.
On the mat, my practice is more Meditation in Motion, a beautiful style of yogic movement that combines breath, yoga and meditation with innate freedom and connection to your source. I found the name for this practice at Kripalu. This is one of the main reasons I teach Kripalu yoga which so happens to mean ‘compassion’, one of my favorite words. This continues to be the most inspirational movement modality that I have ever experienced.
In yoga, anyone who is able to consistently facilitate a Meditation in Motion experience that partners with my soul to inspire a greater connection to my innate freedom are ones that I call inspirational. Such as Grace Jull, a beautiful Kripalu staff and teacher. I have also found Devarshi Steven Hartman, Dean of Yoga at Kripalu, inspirational as well. His passion for his experience of divine existence coupled with his expansive way of expressing it, inspires me. (Thank you Grace and Devarshi for letting me experience who you are!)
Do you think the face of yoga has become more inclusive?
I’ve encountered some exclusivity issues in yoga with studio owners and some ‘teachers’ but that is so incompatible with my expression of life. I sensed individual worth issues motivated it so I can understand it but have no use for it.
But as far as participants/students are concerned, I guess I would say yes. When I first started visiting yoga institutes all over the US there were very few people of color. Now, as I visit places like Kripalu and such there are usually sprinkles of diversity here and there.
I have experienced some that still consider yoga as a conflict with their religions beliefs and practices. Having experienced both sides I would say that it can be but it doesn’t have to be. The participant/student finding a compatible yoga style and teacher is of the upmost importance. I am personally conscious of keeping my yoga classes, workshops and retreats free of any potential religious conflicts. Thereby making my classes ‘inclusive’ and friendly for any and everyone who wants to explore yogic benefits. I even teach at a local Baptist Church Health Fair each year, mostly made up of people of color. I find that ‘languaging’ flexibility is the key as a facilitator/teacher.
For anyone who has the courage to explore something new and is connected to their innate freedom yoga is inclusive.
How is yoga a part of your life?
Externally – Yoga now is a tool that I use to assist me in helping people connect to themselves with love, compassion and non-judgment. To clear the clutter of the mind, honor the needs of the physical body so that the spirit is free to soar uninhibited by the shackles this life can bring.
Internally – Yoga continues to be my partner in life to help me do the same. It also supports me to keep living a free flow life. I have never practiced yoga for mastery (even though that can be a by product of the practice). I practice yoga for liberation … for freedom. I like to think in the yoga I facilitate, I inspire others to use yoga in the same way if it resonates with their being.
Is yoga physical for you? Or spiritual? Or both?
I would say yoga is both. Physically it keeps me flexible and strong which is mirrored in my energy (spirit) world. For me, all 5 Koshas are aligned in my yoga practice as well as my life. When they get out of harmony is when you will find be back into my practice full force.
What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone just starting yoga?
Well I think ‘advice’ is like 2 cents that wont even buy bubble gum anymore. Teheheee… But the balls I’ll throw in the air as possibilities (feel free to dodge them) is … If you have even the slightest interest in yoga… Try It! Try many different styles (lineages) and instructors. Be aware of whatever the instructor is working on, going through or have gone through in life will affect how the yoga is presented in class. Find a style and instructor that resonates with your soul. Be conscious of not attaching but allowing your innate wisdom to choose your class because your needs may change as you progress in your yoga exploration. enjoy the journey and have fun!!
Do you think there is something political about yoga? Do you follow the 8-fold path of yoga?
I don’t experience myself as a political being so I have no idea. Since yoga is so malleable, and able to become whatever the participant need or want it to be, I would say it probably is political for some.
I explored my do’s/dont’s from a different tradition. By the time yoga started doing me I was moving into living inside out instead of using external rules/paths to govern my behavior. It’s a beautiful path as many traditions’ offer beautiful paths to get on. I have found them all to feel very similar.
If I was to define my personal “path” … I would say it is written inside of me and flows out, moment to moment and at this point I don’t use a guide book to direct or regulate it.
After reading, studying and living many traditions/paths/religions I have found my expression of life is best described in the first few sentences of the Tao Te Ching (even though I do not experience myself as a Tao-’ist’, ‘ian’ or ‘ism’ of any kind).
Thank you so much for the opportunity to revisit and relate my yoga journey thus far. I would love to expand my experience of this life by meeting each one of you in person! Until then, continue to have a BeYoutiful life journey!! Namaste & Hakuna Matata!!
Moniek Johnson, BA, E-RYT, is a Professional Level Kripalu Yoga Educator & Teacher, certified through Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. She received her Yoga Nidra certification studying with the world renown Kamini Desai at Arizona State University’s Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA) and is also certified in Thai Foot Reflexology. Every year Moniek travels to a variety of workshops and yoga institutes around the world to enhance her knowledge and training. Having experienced yoga and/or meditation in over 15 countries, Moniek effortlessly weaves expanded international understanding into each of her retreats, workshops and classes.
When Moniek is not traveling or teaching you can find her at local non-profit organizations, conferences and symposiums speaking to the benefits of yoga and meditation. Moniek is the Founder of Namaste Yoga Retreats™ and YogaWalkk™. She enjoys teaching various classes and workshops, facilitating retreats and modalities of movement such as JourneyDance, Core, etc.
YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/YogaWalkk?feature=mhee