ZenG Interviews LaToya & Detra

My girls, Detra (l) and LaToya (r)

In a recent post, I reflected on the role my circle of sistafriends plays in my overall health and well being.  Taking on and accomplishing new health goals feels more attainable knowing that my girls got my back.  In this post, I am featuring a conversation with two of my girls who truly inspire me–LaToya and Detra.  They inspire me for several reasons.  I met LaToya almost five years ago when I first moved to central New York.  A wife and a mother of four school-aged children, she was working full-time and juggling the demands of maintaining her household.  And, at that time in her life, she was looking for something more so she decided to pursue her doctorate in composition and rhetorical studies.  The same year that she began her doctoral studies, she also decided to homeschool her two boys.  And, of course, she blames me for convincing her to add this new level of craziness to her already busy life.   We’ve bonded over homeschooling our kids, navigating the academic life as Black women, and our fierce pursuit of self-care rituals, including yoga.  She is now working on her dissertation, her four children are thriving academically and socially, her partnership with her husband is solid, and most importantly, healthy living is one of her main priorities.  Over the years, I have been in awe of LaToya.  She is my little sister, and I feel so privileged to witness her journey.  She optimizes the notion of getting her life.

I met Detra in 2006 when we were both fellows in a national mentoring program for emerging scholars of color.  Ours is a sistahood that has grown over time, to the point that it seems like we’ve known each other since forever.    We have a lot in common, especially when it comes to our diets–I’m addicted to Pellegrino and she’s addicted to Coke; she’s looking for a Shake Shack when I want the nearest vegan restaurant; she eats the Reese’s peanut butter cups and I’ll have the darkest chocolate.  What I love about our friendship is that we support what makes the other person happy–no judgement, period.  Detra is another woman to marvel at–she’s a wife, a mother of three children (one in diapers, one in middle school, and one at college), and an accomplished scholar and teacher educator.   Last year, she lost the first love of her life–her father.  I witnessed how she cared for her father in his final months and how she lived through his passing with such grace and strength.   She is a constant reminder for me that we must focus on what’s most important in life and eliminate the foolishness, as we like to call it.

My girls, Detra and LaToya, are both simply beautiful–in and out.  Through life’s ups and downs, they remain grounded, and I imagine that part of this is because they’ve found ways to incorporate a yoga practice into their lives.  So, a couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to have a conversation with them both about their thoughts about yoga, what it is, and what it means for them personally.  Here’s what they said:

What is yoga?

Detra:  Yoga is patience and grace.  It’s being patient with yourself–giving yourself grace to deal with your mistakes.

LaToya: It’s a spiritual practice that helps me to connect and be more grounded with myself.  It’s physical.  It’s an integration of the physical and the mental.  I really appreciate that.

Is yoga a religion?

LaToya:  That’s a hard question.  I see religion as something that is systematic or that has ritual.  I guess it depends on how a person practices it.  I think it can be a religion for some.  I treat my practice like I would treat prayer.  For me, I don’t label it but I see how it can be considered that.

Detra:  I need to think about what religion means.  Is religion a set of doctrines?  I don’t know that yoga is a set doctrine.  If it’s personal, I’m not sure if it can be a religion.  I don’t know.  I just think it’s a practice.

Do you think a person has to be vegetarian to practice yoga?

Detra:  I never thought about that as being a prerequisite.  Maybe there is something that says you honor the life of living things.

LaToya:  I practice yoga and I’m not a vegetarian.  I think it’s an individual choice.  You’re supposed to try to avoid doing harm but I eat meat.  Yoga allows you to get more in touch with yourself and pay attention with your whole self.  It helps you to be more attentive to what your body needs.

What benefits do you receive from practicing yoga?

Detra:  Mental health. Emotional benefits.  Social benefits.  I feel healthier.  I think about what I’m eating.  I’m more thoughtful about what I put in my body.

LaToya:  There are so many benefits.  The main thing it does for me is to help me relieve stress and anxiety.  They’re also physical benefits in terms of toning and flexibility and pain relief.  I have scoliosis so sometimes I have pain in my shoulders.  When I’m consistent with my practice, I don’t have those issues.  I think it also has helped me to be more mindful and stay in the present.  It helps me to make choices, to grow a lot.  It helps me to grow in a good way.  I feel more authentic.

Detra:  I feel more at peace.  I have a higher tolerance for foolish, ridiculous people.  I am kinder.  I feel more hopeful before and after.  I plan for my future in ways that are more thoughtful, and I am always thinking about the positive and possibilities.  After a session, I always want more people to have that feeling.  I want more people to experience it, and I want to share it with other people.

Namaste, my beautiful sistas.

The Power of Sista Circles

The other day, I watched this video of Lakeisha Shurn, a woman in California who took a challenge to videotape her workouts for 100 days straight.  At the time of the video, she weighed in at over 300 pounds.  She shares how, because of her weight and body image, she felt discouraged and depressed throughout her life.  At the start of the video, I could sense her feelings of defeat and even despair.  But by the end of the 2:59 minutes, I was rejoicing with her.  Her attitude and energy just came alive.  Over the course of 100 days, she lost 18 more pounds and made it out of the “300 club”, as she put it.  I may never meet LaKeisha, but I wanted to embrace her and let her know that she has my support to keep going.  I also wanted to let her know that her story inspired and encouraged me and all of the other thousands of people who have watched this video.  Thanks to social media, the video has gone viral, reaching millions.

Watching this clip and the way that LaKeisha is receiving love and positive vibes from folks all over the world also made me think about my own circle of support, the sista (and brotha) friends that have supported me along my wellness journey.  Having a community of support is paramount to maintaining my wellness commitments.  Staying the course has required that I stay surrounded by like-minded individuals who understand and can relate to the struggle.  These sistafriends bring light into my life in ways that they probably aren’t even aware.  So, I thought I’d make it plain and dedicate this post to my circle of sistafriends who,

Maintain a yoga practice despite having crazybusy schedules as mothers, partners, professionals, academics, and so on and so on, and share their journeys with me;

Convince me to sign up for 5Ks, not knowing that running would take my workout regime to the next level (good luck getting me to do a 10k though);

Drag me to spinning classes even though they know I hate it;

Go on spiritual yoga retreats with me when I know that’s not quite their thing;

Don’t look at me crazy when my order at the restaurant becomes so complicated because I have to ask the waitstaff to inquire about how the food is prepared;

Pick up the phone or chat with me on Facebook (because I refuse to text) about how to deal with the stressful moments in our lives;

Post tips and articles about all things health-related to my Facebook timeline;

Read, comment on, and share the ZenG blog.

I only hope to be half the friend my sistafriends are to me.  I want to give back to our sistacircle in ways that are meaningful and that help them to accomplish and sustain their health and wellness goals.

I’ve learned that as I evolve and grow in this life, not everyone is going to come along for the ride.  And, that’s OK.  I don’t want to impose my lifestyle on others, and at the same time, I do not want to be surrounded by naysayer or negative energy.  That is why, today and always, I am so grateful for the sista circle that embraces me, feeds me, and keeps me going.