The Phoenix Rising Collective

Inspiring Women to be Self-Love in Action


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ARTIST FEATURE: Letting Your Spirit Be Your Guide – An Interview with Dr. Joyce Piert

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The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, interviews women artists who use their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion.

This Artist Feature is Dr. Joyce Piert:

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“As a God-being we are creators. We create the world.” -Dr. Joyce Piert

What a difficult and easy article to write this month. Why? “Because we are of each other’s likeness,” the feature artist said to me. When you sit in the presence of your likeness sometimes you aren’t ready to see or hear a truth about yourself. Her name is Joyce Piert, affectionately known as Dr. P in the community in which she resides. I have spent some time with Dr. P this past summer, and the experience has been extraordinary. I begin by defining her as Limitless. Energetic. Overabundant. Infectious. All-empowering. Encompassing. Divine. Imagine being surrounded by this sort of energy: Pretty powerful!

We begin with age because she says it’s a vulnerable subject for her. She explained, “Society has predetermined that there’s a certain experience you begin to have at different ages.” We are constantly reminded of these expectations that shape our identity. Dr. P continuously destroys these societal expectations. Having been on earth for almost six decades, she has honed in on tackling the spirit of age in the body in which she dwells. “I feel a societal pull that says you should have 50 bottles of medication, concerned about your health, less active when you pass the half-century milestone. There’s all these expectations that aren’t healthy and wholesome, because it’s the downward pull that attempts to speak to me versus the upward mobility that I wish to actually live.” This vibrant woman is of many ages. At one point she mentioned being 35, 18 and 5. She had me recall what those ages were like. There’s a vitality and youthful glow surrounding our existential being. This is attributed to the innocence of our youth. She talked about experiencing a spiritual rebirth. “We tend to separate this spirituality from this creative way of living. But it’s only in spirituality that we can create. As a God-being we are creators. We create the world.” As children, we develop those skills to create. Moreover, the wonderment to creating is limitless in a child’s mind. Have you ever seen a child that wants to touch everything, go everywhere and say as much as possible in whatever language befitting to that child? Yes, that’s Dr. P.

She Shares Her Story: Mapping the Spiritual Evolution

I was in class talking to students and I said, “What is it you are passionate about?” They turned it around by asking me, “What is it Dr. P that you are passionate about?” And I said, “I create masterpieces. My masterpieces are people.” Once I assist people in finding out what they are passionate about then I assist them in that creation so they can create their own masterpieces. She gave an example. She referred to one person being a diamond hidden among rubble. It’s easy to discard gems that don’t look the part from first or second glance, which is why, she explained, it takes a trained-spiritual eye. This instance led to her sharing her journey as an artist-writer, educator, masterpiece creator and so much more.

I grew up in the civil rights era. It was in the 1970s when the Black Muslims opened a school and I taught 2nd and 3rd grade. I was 17 years old. I actually became a Black Muslim at age 12. I was considered the revolutionary in the family. At 14 or 15 I was a squad leader meaning I was a leader over a group of Muslim women. During this time I was being mentored to lead others who were older than I. At 17, I started teaching in our school and two years later I was married. The philosophy I lived by was Black Nationalism. It was being fused into my being daily. In my mid-20s Elijah Muhammad died and a transition occurred. I started to work in a factory and my views began shifting.

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In my 30s I became Christian. I believe this was evolution. I was at a point in my life where I wanted something else and my attachment to Islam was diluted. There was a call in my soul for something, and people started showing up and coming into my life. But I was too radical for the church. For instance, I ended up being put out of two different churches because of my radicalism or energetic spirit. Bottom line, I had a strong spiritual connection through unction. I spoke aloud in the spirit and this made others uncomfortable or at least they felt I was disrespectful. My understanding was that I let my spirit speak. However, the two churches thought it was out-of-order. Interestingly enough, I was asked to come back to the churches – even to teach a class. There was a lot of growth and discomfort in this realization.

As I progressed and developed, my relationship with the Creator strengthened. I learned that the church was not the key to my direct connection to my Higher Power. My church was without walls. So, at this time, I am working at General Motors as an electrician and I recall through prayer I was told to quit my job at GM and return to school. I did and pursued education. During this period, I also had two children in high school. My children had always struggled in a traditional public school, although they were in a two-parent home, middle working class community, with everything being copacetic. Something wasn’t right, though. The other kids around them were struggling as well. I started volunteering at the school. As a volunteer I saw students get D’s and E’s, and I wept, because I was wondering how were they going to get into college with these grades. So I returned to my roots – “self determination.” I knew if this work was going to get done, I had to be the one to step in to help and do it. Also during this time I divorced after 21 years of marriage.

Once I got my bachelors I started a summer program that ran for 5 years. It featured language arts, mathematics, and African American studies. Then I remarried and moved to Shreveport, Louisiana and pursued my masters. These studies focused on charter schools. Soon after I returned to Michigan State University for Education Administration; that’s when a book idea came to me.

So here I am in my Ph.D. at Michigan State. I started to look at identity and who we are as Black people. My research looked at African American experiences in an African American centered based school model. In my research I wanted to find out if it was worth using this model. Over the years the research and application shaped this book I published June 2015: Alchemy of the Soul: An African Centered Education

I asked what present space she is in. She responded: I started this school, I AM Institute for Learning. It wound up being a school focused on consciousness and metaphysics. I had no idea what it would become. I simply listened to spirit. And it became a school that evolved as I evolved. It was reflective of my own spiritual journey. The people around me that joined me in shaping this school were playmates. They were having the same experiences I was. And they all found me. They evolved and are evolving at their own rate. Unlike traditional schools, there is no requirement or grade level, and there is no assessment. Wherever you are is where you are supposed to be.

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I end the way I began; the challenge and ease in writing this article is linked to the question I asked her – “Why do you think we were drawn together?” This question is important, because I do feel like I am in a turning point in my life and it appears Dr. P stepped into my world very intentionally in a head-strong/heart-strong way. She said, “I called you forth and you came as a playmate. You agreed to come and play.” She’s right. I am in that playful phase in life. I have been serious for so long. I followed rules to a tee, even if the rules made no sense for or to me. There’s nothing to regret in my journey, even if there are moments I choose not to revisit. But Dr. P shows me that there really isn’t much to fear except fear itself. And that sort of phobia is frightening – the idea that fear simply shows up and hovers over your thoughts and abilities! She repeatedly says to me, “Stop overthinking. Stop. Stop. Stop. PLAY! Be passionate in your playing. Play and watch the world play with you.” Oh how I love to play in the world of ART. Because when I play I am at the height of my game – Unstoppable. Energetic. Limitless. Overabundant. Divine. It’s time to PLAY BALL!

 


 

About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help young women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Check out more of her posts.

 


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SELF-LOVE TIP OF THE DAY: Find Happiness that Comes from Within

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AFFIRMATION: I delight in the happiness that comes from within.

It seems simple but is often hard to do because we’re sidetracked by the busyness of our daily lives. However, the happiness that we are seeking and that is sustainable comes from what our ancient African ancestors referred to as MAAT or balance which is achieved through the practice of things that bring harmony and personal growth. Examples would be: Meditation. Prayer. Solitude. Kindness. Forgiveness. Gratitude. Reciprocity. Truth.

I was going through a folder and came across a few clippings that I’d taken from magazines I love; they were quotes and affirmations I wanted to remember (or probably post to my inspiration board). It was the quote below that sparked the idea for the Self-Love Tip:

“Happiness does not depend on external factors; work to cultivate the kind of happiness that comes from within: Volunteer your time to help those less fortunate, practice forgiveness to calm your spirit, limit time spent on the Internet, and embrace an attitude of gratitude.” -Andrew Weil, MD, from the book Spontaneous Happiness.

Identify what will center your life, then find time to actively and consistently do those things. Period. Sure, some practices will be challenging and uncomfortable to do; however, there is growth in being uncomfortable. Forgiveness, for example, (of yourself or otherwise) can take time depending on the circumstances, but the end result is you letting go of the past to make room for your life to grow (see the Forgiveness Diet exercise as a resource). So, do the awesome work that is required to create the  happiness that can only manifest from within.

Share in the comment section below how you practice cultivating happiness.

 


 

Ayanna_Prof_Headshot[Mktg_Phoenix2]Ayanna Jordan is founder and self-esteem education consultant of The Phoenix Rising Collective; she is also the editor-in-chief for Phoenix Shine, The PRC’s blog and spirit-affirming online community. She has always had a passion for inspiring others through writing, coaching, and teaching. Her diverse career experiences have positively shaped her overall perspective on what it truly means to be a change agent: “I believe a change agent is someone who is in alignment with what she loves to do, and then connects, utilizes, and shares that love to make a difference and transform lives.” Learn more about Ayanna HERE.


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SELF-LOVE TIP OF THE DAY: Trust Your Inner Wisdom

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Trust your intuition. It’s a gift, and it’s always right. Yes, always! That inner knowing (gut feeling, hunch, whisper, etc.) is your God-given guide, your innate GPS. Don’t doubt it; identify the ways intuition reveals itself and practice strengthening your awareness, as “intuition comes to each of us in its own personal way.” (See the Phoenix Book Pick of the Week, Art of Intuition by Sophy Burnham).

Trust yourself and then observe your life positively transform!

Love + light, Phoenix. Be self-love in action.


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Where Are the Black Yoginis? (Part 1)

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“Yoga is the Journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” Bhagavad Gita

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Yogini, KaNeesha in Natarajasana – Dancer’s Pose

One, two, three, four, five…I count silently measuring each inhale and exhale by the rise and fall of my contracting abdomen. Pearls of sweat roll from the widow’s peak of my hairline, down the bridge of my nose, glistening on my upper lip, nuzzling with my chin, and eventually finding respite on the damp towel beneath my left foot. My right leg is extended in mid-air behind me. I’m tightly grasping my right foot with my right hand holding for dear life. I pray to the heavens I don’t lose my balance. I feel strong and confident as I’m holding steady in one of my favorite Yoga asanas: Natarajasana a.k.a. Dancer’s Pose.

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten…my counting is interrupted by a baritone voice gently thundering over the Bikram yoga studio sound system, “Kick, kick, kick aaaand release.”  As I mentally prep myself to balance the left side of my body in Natarajasana, I peer around the room and settle my gaze on the 20-something year old crunchy, and the exceedingly hairy white guy in front of me. By the way, crunchy is a term my cousin made up. It describes anyone that falls into the stereotypical “tree-hugger” category: eats granola (hence crunchy), drinks hot tea year-round lovingly clutching their mug with both hands that rock fingerless crocheted gloves, wears Yoga clothes all day (most days of the week), and could easily be mistaken as hippie or any other “crunchy” characteristic across the spectrum. No shade or disrespect. I’m pretty crunchy 50% of the week, but I digress. As I’m attempting to strike an equally fierce Dancer’s Pose with the left side of my body, I sneak a quick glance at the petite white woman standing next to me: not too crunchy but is a beast with the execution of the posture. Then, I’m met with the recurring thought, “DAMN I wish it was some sistahs up in here!” Sistahs, black women, women of color, with mesmerizing hues of sun-kissed bronze and beige skin. Black men, too! Where are the brothas? For this specific class my instructor was a black man (whom for whatever reasons WOULD NOT make eye contact with me, but whatever). Calling out all the brothas, black men, men of color, with cosmic melanin shades ranging from midnight blue to heavenly milky way. As a practitioner of Yoga for the past 10 years (on and off) and a recently certified RYT 200-hour Yoga instructor, I have yet to visit and/or join a studio where minimally 50% of the racial/ethnic demographic looks like me!

I ponder; at what point did Yoga become a sport exclusively practiced by white people, specifically white women? The dominant imagery fed to us by media and marketing sources in the United States is very slim, not-so-crunchy, Lululemonwearing white women. Public Yogic practices that I’ve experienced – including my instructor certification training – has been comprised of predominantly white women and men, and Asian women coming in second majority; with black women, Asian men, and black men closing out an extremely low population of the statistics. Please note: these statistics are based off my own experience and observation. Yet even more intriguing, while conducting research for this, there was nary a source to highlight the racial breakdown of Yoga practitioners in the U.S.

This leads to the title of my article: Where Are the Black Yoginis? Yogini is a term that refers to women that practice yoga extensively. For Part One of this article, I’ll be delving into a brief history of Yoga and how Western practice perpetuates the cultural appropriation of Yoga.

Historical Roots of Modern Western Yoga

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Padma Asana – Lotus Pose

While it is difficult to trace the exact geographical and cultural origins of Yoga, it is said to have been practiced thousands of years ago throughout ancient Egypt a.k.a. Kemet and ancient India. Cultural, religious, and spiritual influences were heavily integrated into the practice of Yoga within both of these areas. This makes the approaches somewhat different. However, prayer and intense study and practice of meditation along with the art of proper breathing are sacred rituals and fundamental components of both. With the exception of certain practitioners (which I’ll discuss in Part Two) many posit the notion that modern day Western Yoga primarily draws lineage from East Indian Vedic spiritual belief system, Hindu culture, Eastern Buddhism, and several other Eastern religious and spiritual practices. Some of the major gurus and yogis of this lineage are Maharishi Patanjali, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Vivekananda, T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar to name a few.

There were a myriad of connections between these gurus and the Western world stemming from collaborative scientific research based in Yoga, Yoga seminars and retreats held in major U.S. cities, establishment of Yoga studios in the U.S., mentoring and teaching individuals that have become well known U.S. yogis, and a multitude of written publications. The spawn of all this work is Western Yoga. Newly decorated yogis within the U.S. began spreading the Sanskrit “word” – the message of yoking the mind and body through meditative practice and choreographed postures into sequences.

At some point (which I’m still investigating for greater clarity) the major distinction between Eastern and Western Yogic practices became a large omission of prayer, intense study and practice of meditation, and the art of proper breathing. Now, I’m not talking about the quick inhale/exhale breathing that happens for 15 seconds at the beginning and end of a Yoga class concluding with Namaste. Or even the fire breath at the end of a Bikram session (which as a newbie to a class several years ago, I wasn’t even instructed on how to do it appropriately). I am talking about chanting mantras that promote balance, praying to evoke our ancestors, maintaining meditative states of consciousness for hours, and pranayama breathing as a method of healing. In Western Yoga, these have been far removed from the source.

However, there are many exceptions to this including my Yoga Instructor Trainer, Lex Gillan, who founded the Yoga Institute in 1974 in Houston, Texas. Lex is one of the few Western Yogis that has immeasurable appreciation, respect, and admiration for many of the specific elements inclusive to the voluminous Eastern Yogic traditions. Thus, it’s provided him with a robust, impressive, and long-standing personal and professional career within the world of Yoga on a global scale. I’ll discuss more of these “exceptions” in Part Two.

Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Appreciation?

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Yoginis – Top Left: Dianne Bondy; Top Right: Queen Afua; Bottom Left: Maya Breuer; Bottom Right: Jana Long

While researching, I was fortunate to uncover a jewel written by Dr. Amy Champ; Race and Yoga: Negotiating Relationships of Power. Dr. Champ is a scholar of feminism, author, speaker, and Yoga instructor. This article summarizes key themes from her dissertation which explores women and Yoga pertaining to race. Dr. Champ references Sociologists and Race Theorists, Howard Winant and Michael Omi’s term racial rearticulation which is used to “describe the acquisition of beliefs and practices of another’s religious tradition and infusing them with new meaning derived from one’s own culture in ways that preserve the prevailing system of racial hegemony.”

I also analyzed numerous sources, their usage and definition of the term Cultural Appropriation. Cultural appropriation is socially defined as, “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.” Oxford Reference suggests that the definition of cultural appropriation includes, “ …Western appropriations of non-western or non-white forms and carries connotations of exploitations and dominance.”

So, considering the history of Western Yoga, the terms and definitions of racial rearticulation and cultural appropriation, it is my summation that Yoga as practiced in the U.S. pervasively demonstrates the acquisition of a singular element from ancient multilayered Eastern religions, spiritual practices, and cultural traditions, and thus has been manipulated to preserve and fortify the dominant racial and socio-cultural hegemonic Western identity. This identity is whiteness. And whiteness being portrayed as the creators and innovators of a way of life that is proven to have existed in different parts of the world B.C.E.

People of color have long suffered from the effects of colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, neo-imperialism, capitalism, all based in racism as unwilling participant-observers whose ethnographies reek of cultural acquisition, demarcation, marginalization, commodification, and exploitation. The constant relegation as other has transcended into marketable products pushed for Western cultural consumption. Thus terms like exotic, aboriginal, African, Asian (as if Africa or Asia is uni-cultural), ethnic-inspired, oriental, tribal, native, etc. have shape-shifted into phantasmasgorias and likenesses wholly detached from the cultures they’ve callously been extracted. Western Yoga is no different.

Generally speaking, Western Yoga is promoted as an exercise and competitive sport with primary focus on executing asanas (postures) with acrobatic and contortionist precision. Accuracy, poise, and form is the crux of what’s taught in many Yoga studios throughout the states, especially the popular ones associated with “celebrity” trainers and practitioners who’ve gained millions in revenue off this one aspect of Yoga. I am of the opinion that this deceptive propaganda postulates a continued blatant disregard for the totality of Yoga.

Minimal consideration is given to various body shapes, weights, sizes, and to how certain modifications may be needed to support reaping the full health benefits of a posture. Or the complete opposite perspective that assumes a fuller body shape, weight, or size is unable to perform certain postures. Again, nary a Yoga magazine, Yoga based website, published article, Yoga clothing ad that features and celebrates women of color, specifically black women. Many black women in the U.S. like Maya Breuer, Dianne Bondy, Jana Long, and Queen Afua to name a few have been long time students, practitioners, instructors, trainers, and Yoga studio owners since the birth of Western Yoga to the present. Drawing from both Kemetic and Eastern traditions, prayer, meditation, and pranayama breathing are integrated into their practices with equal attention given (if not more) to the asanas.

In Part Two of this article, I’ll link cultural appropriation to the mainstream media invisibility of black women in Western Yoga and conclude by highlighting the global movement of Black Yoginis and Yogis.

For now, I’ll leave you with the powerful Oneness; Moola Mantra in Sanskrit:

Om Sat Chit

Ananda Parabrahma

Purushothama Paramatha

Sri Bhagavathi Sametha

Sri Bhagavathe Namaha

OM– We are calling on the highest energy there is

Sat- the formless

Chit– Consciousness of the universe

Ananda- Pure love, bliss and joy

Para brahma- The supreme creator

Purushothama– Who has incarnated into human form to help guide mankind

Paramatma– Who comes to me heart and becomes my inner voice when I ask

Sri Bhagavati– The divine mother the power aspect of creation

Same tha– Together within

Sri Bhagavate– The father of creation which is unchangeable and permanent

Namaha– I thank you and acknowledge this presence in my life and ask for your guidance at all times

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About the Contributing Writer:

FullSizeRender (6)KaNeesha Allen is an educator and Yogini with extensive community outreach and project management experience in education and non-profit sectors.  She is also the mother of two extremely high spirited and intelligent boys – Ausar and Mikah. While often seeking to master the balance between being a highly engaged mother and taking time to BE with herself in the Divine Energy of the universe, KaNeesha finds peace, solace, and regeneration through meditation, Yoga, writing, traveling, and building with her “SiSTARS.” As the Motherhood Empowerment contributor, she welcomes mothers from everywhere to join her on a journey of self-discovery and evolution towards harnessing, embodying, and emoting the Goddess power within.