There are as many types of yoga as there are people, but what so many agree on is the transformative nature of a regular practice. What struck me about Olaronke’s journey was how she shared how yoga healed her wit her community. She used the strength that yoga gave her and in turn gave that gift back. I think in the end, that is so much of what yoga is all about. I know that you will find Ola’s journey as inspiring as I did.
When did yoga enter your life?
Yoga first entered my life several years ago when I was pregnant with my daughter. They were offering prenatal yoga classes at the birthing center where I planned on giving birth. I was seeking out ways to strengthen and stretch in preparation for labour & delivery, I was so nervous about how my body would handle childbirth and I just knew yoga would help me get it together. I also thought the many lessons in pranayama would come in handy, when those contractions started kicking in, it seemed like the perfect idea at the time. Looking back now I realize that I was too focused on the physical aspects, now I know the mental and spiritual also matter.
When did you decide to teach?
I decided to start teaching yoga after about five years of a consistent daily practice. I started to really feel and notice the transformative effects in my body, mind and spirit. Many of my friends also noticed the change in my physique and general state of being. I’m prone to depression and even in my darkest moments, yoga has been there to offer me comfort and relief. Being a single mama on a tight budget these spaces made it possible for me to have access to something that had one point felt out of my reach. I became so strong and limber and developed a deep sense of body awareness. I had been athletic in my younger days and a bit of a dancer. As I got older I became so much more flexible and in tune with my physical being through yoga. The many lessons I learned on the mat spilled over into my life.
Back then I felt I had discovered some amazing ancient knowledge that I wanted to share with all of my community. If I could I would have been on the busiest street corner of Brooklyn with a megaphone preaching! ‘Yoga has healed my life!!’ I wanted to bring this gem to my bed stuy Brooklyn community, back then there were NO yoga studios in Bed Stuy [Brookyn, NY] and it didn’t feel fair. My plan was implement pay what you wish yoga classes in Bed-stuy. Classes that were easy and accessible. My teaching yoga has always been about community, I feel its a way for us to come together and get in touch with our own divinity. Its like church, which is why I call my pay what you wish Sunday sessions the church of hatha. Yoga was and still is a sacred healing ritual for me and I wanted to share this with as many people as possible becoming a yoga teacher seemed like the best and most efficient way to make it happen.
Why do you teach the kind of yoga that you teach?
I teach this kind of yoga because I found it is what worked best for me in regards to what my body, mind & spirit can understand, demonstrate & feel good in sharing with my community. I have tried many different types of yoga over the years, Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, etc.
Breath & body movement synchronicity is what works for me. It resonates with my spirit. I want to offer poses that are easily understood and sequences that are slightly challenging. I don’t believe in making it easy, but I also don’t want the class to feel intimidated after a class. I come from a place of compassion, I pray that people feel comfortable and enjoy the experience.
The yoga sessions I lead are joyful, fun, light hearted, slightly challenging, confidence building and self-loving. I craft them because this is what I want for myself and others. It’s categorized as hatha which is a basic understanding that the breath and the body are working in sync. In my classes we are constantly flowing and moving, I encourage folks to make sounds, whether its laughter, crying, moaning, deep breathing. Its all good! Release! Yoga for me is prayer and ritual, it’s self love and body glorification. I know my relationship with my daughter is much more awesome when I practice regularly. I am a Black and African woman, I cannot help but bring elements of my culture into my yoga sessions. Music has always been a spiritual tool in my life.
I like to start the day with a prayer of gratitude first, its not overly involved, sometimes it comes in a mantra and sometimes is song, I wake up before sunrise and move through my morning ritual with thankfulness before anything else. Its a gift to rise up and be blessed with the chance at life and watching the sky change from day to night feels so mystical. I practice sadhana, within my yoga I go through phases where I am so in love with specific poses, i work on those for awhile. They are usually very challenging and balance related. I do asana around building core strength and flexibility. I do whatever my spirit guides me to sometimes its a a lot of binding and twisting. I always finish up by working on my handstands. I’m seriously addicted to going upside down.
Who are your yoga inspirations?
I’m inspired by the people who take my yoga classes, they are AMAZING. I am inspired by nature, sun, moon, trees, sky, birds, and children. I am inspired by my daughter. I am inspired by my sister friends who are living their lives on their own terms, making their own rules and setting their own standards of beauty and excellence, I am so grateful for their example. I am inspired by the ups and downs of life and the blessings and lessons disguised as challenges and conflict. I’m a huge fan of Rainbeau Mars she has been a great resource for me. I also love the Williams sisters and Gabby Douglass for their athletic prowess, focus and grace under pressure. I feed off the words of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Assata Shakur and Zora Neale Hurston. I consider them my harem of muses.
The face of yoga in the mainstream is starting to change very very slowly. It’s often still white, young, female and slender but luckily thanks to digital media and there is a humongous world beyond the image tha mainstream yoga provides. Thanks to social media I have discovered the world of Black yogis and yoginis and its AWESOME!!! I have also enjoyed finding yogis that are fat, older, trans and just different from the standard skinny white woman archetype. This is so needed. There should be space within the yoga world for teachers & students of every race, age and size. Happily online I’m exposed to many other Black women like myself who are about sharing yoga with their community and it feels good to see their faces and read their stories!
How is yoga a part of your life?
Yoga is definitely both spiritual and physical its also mental, emotional, revealing, humbling and magical.
What advice do you have for people new to yoga?
Take your time. Be gentle and patient with yourself. if you are going to a studio do not compare your body to anyone else’s , trust your instinct and don’t do anything that feels unsafe. Do not force your body into poses, if you stick with yoga over time things will become easier, this is [art of the beauty of the practice. Constant effort yields constant rewards. Drink water, its very important to stay hydrated as yoga can be very detoxifying to the system. Let the teacher know you are new to the practice, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. Go with an open heart and mind, enjoy your breath and have fun.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY into a Nigerian family. I’m happy to say my parents have developed a good understanding of what yoga is although at first they were quite skeptical. I also work as a production designer and art director for films and music videos. I have a deep passion for creating beautiful interesting spaces. I enjoy telling a story through the use of furniture, paint colors, fabrics, lighting, imagery. In this work I get to be crafty and creative and I love that. I love getting into the details of colors, texture, tones. I have tried for years to figure out how my two main points of life interest connect and so far what I’ve gathered is that it boils down to transformation. In film as a designer, I’m transforming spaces and supporting the arc of the story. In yoga I pray that I’m also guiding people in a transformative process and offering them the support they need to venture through life fearlessly. I think this might be the connection between my two loves, yoga and set design. I’m still figuring it out, either way they are both heart led interests so it feels right for now. I have a beautiful daughter and I’m grateful to be a mom its been hands down the best thing to ever happen to my life, my child is my joy and main reason why I strive towards being my best and most truthful loving me.
If you or someone you know would like to be considered for the Yogis of Color series, let us know, we’d love to talk to you!! You don’t have to be a teacher to be considered, just passionate about your practice! We’d love to hear how yoga changed you life so you can inspire others!!