What did she say?...
Yea. You heard me right,...Before you dismiss it, judge it, or try to figure out what Kool-Aid I drank today, let me explain. Please. Please let me explain. First, let me be sure to share that I am not a yoga expert, practitioner or even a reasonably good yoga student. Second, know that there is a method to my madness... I am sure you are wondering how long I will take to get to it already!
sI have practiced yoga off and on since my now 16 year old son was born. Initially it was used as a way to relax and reset my system. My pregnancy was especially amazing and stressful at the same time. I really found peace and a place to restore my sanity even if only for the hour during the classes. As I returned to yoga over the years, whether in a class or via YouTube with my daughter following along (that was fun and cute!), there has always been this one concept that I have heard repeated over and over... "Strength and softness", "be strong and soft", or some other variation. Coming from a family of strong black women, (my grandmother raised 5 children solo for the most part while building a business, my aunt runs a business while raising children and keeping a home for her and her husband, my mother raised me as a single mother building her business, and the list goes on and on) it was not a question of what type of woman I would be. There was a single phrase I remember my grandmother drilling into me over the years:
"Don't let nobody tell you you can't do something." Sometimes her gaze was stern and there was a finger wagging in my face. At other times the passion seemed to radiate from her chest but the purpose and point was clear and received. I never found out exactly where that tenacity came from but she definitely passed it on to me.
Another lesson learned (through osmosis) was to be strong, independent, self-sufficient (that's a topic for a later post), and upright. So, my practice in yoga was often colored by the desire to do everything correct. My energy was very forceful, intent on getting it right. Trusting the process, relaxing, being "soft" was not in my toolbox and, as they say, when the only tool you have is a hammer- everything looks like a nail. I remember the yoga instructor coming over to me and mentioning that just by watching me he could tell that I was a perfectionist. So concerned with "getting it". I remember kicking myself inside for letting my edges show... still in perfectionist mode!
So, with that little backstory behind us, why do I dare make such a bold statement about black women? I mean WHO DO I THINK I AM to make such a broad and seemingly prejudiced statement??! I honestly thought the same thing when the thought crossed my mind. Trust me. I am not one to make blanket and generalized statements without much forethought and research.
Then, after getting over the shock of it, I started thinking... (that helps, right?)... I thought about our collective history as African-blooded women whose ancestors at one time or another (more likely than not) fell to colonization's owning of her as property, stripping her from her male-counterpart, the de-masculinization of the men in her life and community, the stripping of her protection and grace as a woman,... and I realized how HARD we have had to become in one way or another just to survive. To some degree our need to "hold it down", get over our disappointment in our community and "take care of everything", that need to sacrifice our desires and needs in order to protect, serve and nurture has taken a real toll on us that I don't think we have had space or time to deal with and process.
I was in a design meeting recently with a graphic designer to work on a new logo for The Women of Inspiration Project and we were throwing spaghetti at the wall- just throwing ideas out there to see what sticks, ya know?. I mentioned that throughout painting all of the thirteen portraits of these powerfully beautiful women I kept seeing flowers. I repeatedly wanted to include a flower with each portrait that embodies the same character trait each woman was created to represent in the series (check it out- it is pretty dope), and there was strong energetic resistance to that idea. Now, my ideas are rejected all the time. I'll throw it out there, we'll take a look at it and go...naaah. This rejection was different; it was visceral. You could feel it in the room. Upon discussing it, it was laid bare at the table that we, as black women, have had to be so hard (look at any image of Harriet Tubman to find my point),... we have had to be so hard that we have, on some spiritual, soul level, become disconnected from our softer, vulnerable, feminine side. I share this (my) truth not as a judgement, accusation or conviction but as an observation with compassion. As we continued discussing the ideas, it became apparent that we have been trained to not show our femininity, vulnerability,... our softness. It was a powerful moment to be in a room with women from different generations and see how this one thread connected us all.
So, what does this have to do with yoga? Be sure to follow my blog posts for "Part II: Wow".
Keisha "I Make Everything Beautiful" Whatley,