• Healing The Wounded Black Gay Kid In Me

    But, coming out of the closet was just the first step. It would take nearly two decades for me to get to a place where I could deal with the pain of the childhood rejection I experienced. Yoga would be a conduit for that healing.

    The following is an excerpt from “Embodied Resilience Through Yoga:30 Mindful Essays About Finding Empowerment After Addiction, Trauma, Grief, and Loss” edited by Kat Heagberg, Melanie Klein, Kathryn Ashworth, and Toni Willis, Llewellyn 2020.

    Where I grew up, men were expected to act like men and little boys were expected to act like little boys. During the 80’s and 90’s, statistically, most young black men would be involved in some kind of street violence and would also spend some part of their lives incarcerated. So, many black fathers, grandfathers and uncles who had connections to young boys had to have it in their minds to groom young men that could not only survive the violent streets of Washington D.C., but that could also survive jail.

    I was also a light-skinned kid. So, there was even more reason for concern because light-skinned high yellow boys were seen as weaker. And the men I knew weren’t having any soft-acting, high-yellow black boys coming out of my neighborhood if they could help it. They had to make sure that I would be strong. “You got to be all boy! You got to be the All-American Black Boy!” was what a substitute gym teacher in my elementary school would say to us male youth often, his eyes focused mostly on me, it seemed.

    As we lined up and filed out of the school gym, a classmate’s grandfather that volunteered with the physical education program whispered to me as I walked by him, “Every soldier, every hero finds his own glory, young, man. You’ll find your own glory!”

    He seemed to be speaking directly to my wounded heart. I guess he saw the insecurity on my face. It’s like he was telling me that despite what the substitute gym teacher had just said, that it was all right to be different from the other boys. Like many elder black men in our community, he’d proudly served as a Lieutenant in World War II. Having led so many different kinds of men with so many different temperaments into battle, perhaps he had first-hand knowledge that surviving a war depended upon much more than physical prowess. I felt like this elder was letting me know that he saw my uncertainty and that I was going to be okay. Even though I didn’t fit the image being projected onto all of us, better days were coming for kids like me.

    The All-American black Boy rode mopeds and dirt bikes. The All-American Black boy could handle himself with his fists if someone disrespected him. The All-American Black Boy played sports, knew his way up and down a basketball court and knew how to catch a football. The All-American Black Boy was a champion. The All-American Black Boy was source of pride for the men in his community.

    I never really took a liking to any of those things.

    By my last year in elementary school, I knew that I was gay. I also knew that I couldn’t tell anyone.

    I played with the girls. I jumped double-dutch. I read books.

    I was jumping rope with a group of girls in an alley behind my house one summer day when the words, “That boy ain’t gonna be shit! He’s gonna be gay.” directed to me from the mouth of a loud intoxicated man out of a car widow hit me like a brick.

    Even though there were always slivers of inspiration that would bolster my hope for better days in the future, like the grandfather in my gym class whispering to me, for the most part, the words coming from the mouths of men I looked up to devastated my young spirit and my confidence. I would go through my days and nights with those words echoing through my head. I’d look at other boys my age and wish I could be more like them and less like me.

    Many young boys’ reaction to the pressure to be manlier would have been to become overly masculine to win the approval of others they looked up to. But, that wasn’t my nature.

    I was a gentle spirit. I had a poetic soul.

    By the time I reached my teen years, I felt rejected and alone.

    There were no LGBTQ clubs at D.C. area high schools. There were no gay pride parades happening in Washington. D.C that I knew of. There were no same sex couples raising children that were visible. They were not preaching inclusivity in the church that I went to.

    If you were a gay kid growing up in Washington, D.C. in the eighties and early nineties, you were on your own.

    There were many days when I just didn’t want to live anymore.

    Once I hit puberty, I began to pull away from friendships with males and females.

    I didn’t go out partying like other teens did. I just focused on academics.

    I’d check out a book each week from the library to read during the long bus rides out of my neighborhood to attend magnet schools that I’d been accepted to in Downtown, Washington, D.C.. I’d become what people may consider a ‘gifted child’ and that got me into schools away from my neighborhood. Away from anyone who really knew me, I spent time on the bus with my head buried in books communing with some of the most inspirational minds to ever live. And that’s exactly what a young gay kid like me needed: inspiration.

    James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, the voice of Malcolm X through Alex Haley’s book, Alice Walker, these folks became my allies. These were black writers who wrote mostly about their experiences with racial discrimination in America. But they also wrote very candidly about their experiences as children coming of age and how painful experiences shaped them into activists and advocates for the underdogs of this world. I could relate to them.

    They weren’t talking about being gay, but they were talking about being black and being different and oppressed. They were talking about how black people deserved better; how difference deserved to be celebrated; how difference deserved a voice. Since they were poets and writers, they did all not fit the stereotypes of what men should be or women should be for that matter, but they were successful and powerful.

    Their books taught me that I could pour everything that I was going through as a teen into the arts. I could convert my pain into creativity; into creative projects. And that’s exactly what I did.

    I joined drama clubs, signed up for speech competitions, went away for summers to study in academic programs and I began to shine in those areas. So much so, that I began to win the approval of many people in my community.

    As a teen, my love for the arts and books took me all over the country and eventually away from the streets of my hometown to college. It was in Boston while in college that I was able to find the space to allow my true identity to begin to come out.

    But, coming out of the closet was just the first step; It would take nearly two decades for me to get to a place where I could deal with the pain of the childhood rejection I experienced. Yoga would be a conduit for that healing.

    “You are enough” that’s what yoga says. “Your life matters. You are special. You are a hero on your own journey. Come as you are. Accept yourself for who you are!”

    No one had ever said that to me quite the way yoga teachers had.

    *****

    Yoga brings me to a place where I can watch my thoughts and separate out the voices in my head. I can distinguish between the abusive voices—the ones put there by society and some of the men I grew up around that oppress LGBTQ people—and the voices that are for my greatest good and that uplift me.

    Yoga helps me to constantly assess the damage that life has done to me and creates the space for me to be able to heal that damage.

    Yoga invites me to be my own hero.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

    By Dorian Baucum

    LA based singer, Dorian Baucum won yoga studios over with his Dorian’s Live Neosoul & Yoga – a fusion of his conscious, live, feel good neosoul music you can groove to with yoga classes to create a concert-style yoga experience.

    He guest-starred on CSI: Las Vegas with country music group The Rascal Flatts and the hit TV show ER. He’s a registered pharmacist with a Certification in Integrative Pharmacy, Reiki Master, Certified in Bodywork by the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, served in the Music for Healing Program at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, holds an MFA in Acting from the University of California, San Diego and a B.S. in Pharmacy from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He’s just completed his 200HR Social Justice Based Yoga Teacher Training at The Tree SOUTHLA Yoga Cooperative.

    Dorian has released two albums: EVERYDAY WARRIOR: Acoustic-Neosoul for Your Soul and Turn It Into Gold!

    Website: dorianneosoul.com
    Social Media: INSTAGRAM @dorianwarrior

    Photos by David Young-Wolf

  • Intersectionality & Yoga

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and action of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all. – Be here and Love.

    It is time to live in the reality that Yoga and Intersectionality are intertwined. Find the spiritual
    crossroads of the life you so desire on our mats, and apply them in your everyday lives
    Ferociously!

    Yoga in itself is a life built on intersections. We know this, we live our lives moving through the
    paces; we struggle and grow through the day to day to find meaningful purpose. We do this
    daily work to combine our physical bodies, spiritual bodies, and mental bodies. We know there
    are crossroads between our celestial and metaphysical channels. And the goal is to find the
    bridges between the things that make you, you, and connect that to the energetic points that
    surround us.

    Intersectionality is the crossroads between Gender Identity, Socioeconomic Status, Race,
    Sexual Orientation, Religious Beliefs, Lived Experiences (including trauma), Political
    Orientation. Yoga is the crossroads between physical, mental, and spiritual practices including
    but not limited to breath control, meditation, and bodily postures.

    Once we know one, we know the other. The work on the mat teaches us our ability to navigate.
    To understand one side of the spectrum, whilst being engaged in another. It is important for you
    to realize that you are already familiar with this work. You now must adjust the tools in your
    beautifully built tool box-sphere to be applied to the dismantling of white supremacy. Your anti
    racism work is an everyday practice. Schedule time in your day to build the foundations of this
    work! It must first start at home, it must start with you!

    Take into account the culture of yoga is not just the individual, but the community. We ascend
    ourselves into the astral plane, leaving the constructs of the breathing body, to traverse to an
    energetic plane to connect ourselves to the universe.

    Adjust your thinking. The time of who is worthy of the gifts of enlightenment, has passed. To
    ascend you must be as connected with yourself as you are with everyone else. If there is
    suffering in the world, a part of you is also suffering. You can not be connected to your practice
    as you continue to ignore the micro and macro pains and sufferings of all.

    White culture thrives on who is deserving. The feeling that ‘I am the one that is deserving of this
    space’ is your racist systematic programmed mind. There is no ‘I am worthy if someone else is
    unworthy’. This is the place to start your work. The answer is that we are ALL deserving.
    Recognizing this hostility is so familiar that it may have become second nature -so innate that
    you don’t see it for what it is. Know when you come from this space you are already lesser than,
    and the journey will be unnecessarily longer. Then ask yourself why you are ok with that? I
    encourage you to observe yourself.

    By Yemie Sonuga

    Yemie Sonuga has spent the last half decade expressing her love through yoga. She is a 200-hour RYT yoga teacher, and a forever student. Yemie teachings are based in Vinyasa, Meditation, Dharma Yoga, and Visualization. Her approach to teaching is one of encouragement. Empowering you to believe in yourself, allowing the dismantling of fear, and the re-imagination of your true self. She has taught yoga across Canada and the US. Yemie offers a weekly Zoom class, as well as group Visualization sessions. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Follow her on Instagram

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  • Dismantling Racial Barriers in Wellness

    Yoga studios in general have an open door policy. Anyone, of any size, background, ethnicity and sexual orientation is welcomed. Yet, the majority of students and teachers continue to be White. Surprisingly, these statistics don’t shift much with demographic. Even in the most diverse neighborhoods, yoga studios are filled with White bodies. The open door policy is not working.
    Why not and what can we do about it?

    Uncovering your own Implicit Bias:

    The first step to diversifying your clientele as a teacher and studio owner is to be mindful of your own implicit bias. The Perception Institute states that “thoughts and feelings are ‘implicit’ if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people”. As yoga teachers we know that most of our daily actions are played out without our conscious input. It is imperative to take these biases into account when we interact with BIPOC in our wellness space. Implicit racial bias shows up when we encourage and support certain types of students to attend a teacher training over others. It shows up in who and how we mentor and how we build relationships with our students. It even shows up in deciding which business platforms and organizations to partner with.

    As a yoga practitioner it is easy to to lean into the simplicity of escapism and spiritual bypassing. We say things like, ‘all humans are equal, everything happens for a reason’ or even ‘I don’t see color’. Although these statements might make us feel better in that moment, the only thing they actually do is validate our own inaction. These statements feed into our own ego, and allow us to comfortably rest in complicity. They do nothing to promote and nurture diversity in yoga spaces and classes. The practice of karma yoga asks us to take action. In order to shift the current white washed landscape of yoga, we have to take intentional and actionable steps to uncover our own implicit bias. Even if we are not racist, and we ‘wish’ our classes would be more diverse, if we are not intentionally stepping outside of our comfort zone to implement lasting change in our environment, we are actively contributing to the white supremacy and racial divide in yoga.

    Financial Barriers to Diversity:

    Income inequality is a direct effect of systemic racism and oppression. Inequality.org states that the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median the Black family and studies have shown that this racial wealth divide only continues to grow. These inequalities directly affect the level of diversity in yoga spaces. Many studios have both strategically and sometimes inadvertently placed themselves in the luxury wellness sector. Studios charge $20+ a class, and yet believe their classes are financially accessible to the public. Clients mostly pay for yoga classes and memberships with disposable income; income that was allotted to them by the intentional oppression of others. Thus, BIPOC have a very different relationship with their money. Further so, self-care, healing and spirituality are often portrayed as a luxury rather than a right.

    Too often the environment that yoga studios cultivate only reinforce this belief system. It is important that we prioritize the well-being of our community as a whole (including Black people) over potential profit margins. In this climate as many yoga studios struggle to keep the doors open it might seem difficult to envision a way to manipulate the current pricing structure. However, even with current business models, an overwhelming amount of yoga classes remain partially empty. Creating inclusion and diversity in wellness spaces is not only our duty as practitioners, it is also good business. Instead of ignoring an entire demographic of people, what would it look like to remove the financial barriers, and foster an economically sustainable relationship?

    Creating a safe space for Black People:

    The reason many Black people do not feel comfortable in yoga spaces is because they are predominantly occupied by white bodies. Historically, Black people have not been safe nor allowed in spaces occupied by Whites. One might argue that the past is the past, however racial segregation was only abolished in 1964. To put this into perspective, that was 56 years ago as of 2020. Now, if we believe that trauma and PTSD can be generational, it is no surprise that certain fears and safety mechanisms are ingrained into the Black community. The trauma is passed down and only validated by the daily racial micro and macro aggressions from White counterparts. To this day, Black people can’t walk into certain establishments without being scared for their life, can’t run through certain neighborhoods without being killed, and can’t even be in their own homes without being viewed as criminals. So why do yogis think that an all white yoga studio would seem like a safe space for Black people who are majorly suffering from conscious and subconscious trauma.

    Creating a safe space doesn’t start with a diverse clientele, but a diverse teaching, management, and desk staff. If potential clients look at your website do they see diversity? When BIPOC enter your studio, do they see themselves represented? As teachers and studio owners it is not enough to just open the doors and hope that diversity will inevitably occur. It is your duty to take actionable steps to define yourself as a diverse culture. This means not being passive and naive, but intentional and aware of the barriers black people encounter when entering any wellness space. It is not enough to claim inclusivity, you must actively challenge white supremacy. Dismantling the status quo and fighting for social justice has to be a daily practice.

    As yogis it is our job to pull apart our own patterns, to evaluate the why behind our actions and to hopefully progress and step into a new way of life. Can we evolve in our opinions and our actions the same way we evolve in our teachings? Through dedication, hard work and the desire to be and do better.  Can we as teachers lean into the discomfort of change the way we lean into our practice? Through patience, action and breath. Now is the time to take your practice off of the mat. This, is the Yoga!

    Patricia Luensmann

    Patricia is a NYC based Yoga teacher, founder of Yoga While Black and lifelong student. Her teachings aim to cultivate mental, physical and emotional well being through yoga, meditation, and reiki. In a society where healing and spirituality have become a trend, her offerings are rooted in digging deep, finding vulnerability, and doing the work. With a belief that healing has no shape, color or gender, Patricia works to bring awareness around the lack of diversity, specifically Black representation, in the wellness industry.