The Phoenix Rising Collective

Inspiring Women to be Self-Love in Action

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Where Are the Black Yoginis? (Part 1)


“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


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?


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


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.

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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is Tonya


Love Yourself First! Friday (LYFF) is part of our Shed Light series collection. We invite women to tell their LYFF stories to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to  “shed light” on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority.

This week’s courageous Phoenix is Tonya:

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

I love myself first by learning to take care of me and recognize that I need to practice giving love to myself as much as I do others. It means I have to be more in tune with myself.

I pay closer attention to signs when it comes to my body, my mind, and my soul. For instance, when I can barely drive home from work in Washington, DC to my home in Maryland, due to exhaustion, that is my cue to get home, eat lightly, take a quiet, relaxing bath, and immediately go to bed and sleep as long as I can. I also release stress by taking long walks and/or going to the gym for an hour. When I am done, the stress dissipates. While walking, I thank God for all that He created and has given to me.

Our brain handles a lot of information. There’s a dark side and a light side. When the dark side creeps to the front, I shut it down quickly by focusing on things that are going well. The negativity that creeps up is when that voice tells you cannot do something: “You’re not smart. You’re not qualified. You’ve messed up.”  I shut it down quickly!  Negativity has a tendency to consume us if we allow it. I try to keep my mind away from negativity. Even when I hear gossip, I attempt to steer the conversation to something positive.

My soul is my heart. I’ve allowed it to be hurt many times because I trust until someone gives me a reason not to trust them. I’m not that way anymore. I now put my total trust in God, and I’m more protective of my heart. By being this way, I do not get hurt as easily as I used to.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul?

I have a closer relationship with God now. I give Him all my cares. I exercise to alleviate stress and keep myself fit. I read motivational books that empower me to keep moving forward to fulfill my dreams. I spend quality time with family and we have movie nights and catch up with one another. Sometimes, we take walks and just talk. I also have date-nights with my partner. Although we have busy careers, we make time to be together and enjoy each other’s company.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?

Trusting people was my biggest flaw. As I trusted, I was disappointed over and over again. I believe I trusted others more than I did myself. It’s a big difference when you begin to trust and rely on God. My second biggest flaw was that, as my mother puts it, “People know where your buttons are.” As a result, people that I trusted knew how to hurt me because I showed my vulnerabilities. When I began to love me, I no longer allowed people to know where my buttons were to be pushed. I became stronger.

What have you learned from self-love?

Self-love is the most critical element of love. You cannot give love successfully until you learn to love yourself first. Now that I love myself, I’m more protective over me. I’m not as vulnerable or as accessible to being hurt. Self-love simply means loving who you are – and that’s what I do.


Tonya Barbee is author of The Little Girl Inside: Owning My Role in My Own Pain. She’s excited about encouraging others, particularly women, to find their way during transgressions and to never, ever, give up. She lives with her two youngest of four children in Bowie, MD. Check out her website:  I am Still a Rose.


Join the Collective. Share your self-love story with us. Send an email HERE. Put “My LYFF Story” in the subject line, and we’ll send you follow-up info. Sweet. Short. Simple!

Love Yourself First! Friday is a bi-weekly self-love series created by The Phoenix Rising Collective. Phenomenal women who fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self esteem share their stories‬.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.

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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is Faith



Love Yourself First! Friday (LYFF) is part of our Shed Light series collection. We invite women to tell their LYFF stories to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to  “shed light” on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority.

This week’s awesome Phoenix is Faith:

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

For me, self-love is very much intertwined with self-acceptance. Part of this is simply being my authentic self instead of trying to be the person others want or expect me to be – something I’ve struggled with in the past.

Sometimes it means accepting my limitations and not expecting perfection. My best is enough. I’ve learned to set boundaries and not take on too much, just to make someone else happy. Sometimes you have to say no.

At the same time, I think self-love is partially what enables me to push myself to achieve. I grew up knowing I wanted more for my life than I felt I was being offered. Because I love myself, I have worked hard to accomplish many goals. I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished so far, and I love myself enough to continue to strive for more.


“I’ve found that the larger variety of healthy foods I eat, the more I enjoy making healthy choices and love to try new recipes.”

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practices, etc)

I put a lot of emphasis on mental self-care. I try to keep my self-talk positive. If I wouldn’t say something to a friend or to my daughter, why should I say it to myself? Speaking of friends, I try to nurture my relationships and surround myself with positive influences as much as possible. My friends are a priority in my life and I feel lucky that they make me a priority, too. I think that a good laugh or conversation with a friend can soothe the soul like nothing else.

I love to eat healthy (and delicious) food, and drink lots of water. I don’t believe in “dieting” or depriving myself of food. Instead, I try to incorporate as many fruits, veggies and whole grains as possible- and when I want something less healthy I eat it, too. I’ve found that the larger variety of healthy foods I eat, the more I enjoy making healthy choices and love to try new recipes. I hate the way society has taught so many women and girls to count every calorie and associate food with being “good” or “bad.” I try to eat for longevity and health – not what society says I should look like.

I try to work physical activity into my life, although in my current state (month 9 of pregnancy) I have been slacking. I’m not a person who enjoys traditional exercise and I hate running, so I have to find ways to make being active interesting for me. I really enjoy taking long walks (especially with my family). I also like participating in classes at my gym, like yoga or Zumba. I really want to get a bike, too! Anything that feels more like an adventure or experience rather than work is right up my alley.

Finally, I make sleep a priority. I recently heard someone describe sleep as the only basic human need that we tend to delegitimize or look at as a weakness. Most nights I am asleep not long after 10 p.m.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?

As a mother with a full-time career outside of the home, I face many demands and really have to work at balance. There have been days when I cried after dropping my daughter off at the sitter’s in the morning and there have been days when I cried when I had to leave a work meeting early to pick her up. Not many of my co-workers have children (and most of those who do have much older children), so there have definitely been times when I worried about how my commitment outside of work as a mother impacted perceptions of my job performance. There have been times that I felt guilty for being away from my daughter during the day. At the same time, I enjoy and am proud of both aspects of my life, so I’ve learned to allow myself to embrace the positive feelings that both working and being a mother bring into my life and let go of the negative feelings of self-doubt or not being “enough.” I show myself love by giving myself permission to focus on the task at hand – whether work or being with my daughter- without guilt. It helps having an awesome and supportive partner (my husband, Matt).

Motherhood has actually had a strong impact on my self-love in a lot of ways. I think one of the things I was afraid of before becoming a mother was losing a sense of myself. Instead, I’ve discovered a lot about myself that I didn’t know before. Sometimes I’m amazed at what I’m capable of. The amount of love I have for my daughter has given me confidence that I didn’t know I had. I make better choices because I know she is constantly watching and learning from me. Also, some of the things I love most about her are traits that I can also see in myself. How can I not love the things we have in common?

What have you learned from self-love?

Simple gratitude. I am more grateful than I can express for all the beauty in my life. It really is reciprocal: The more grateful I am for my life, the more I love myself. And the more I love myself, the more grateful I feel.


Join the Collective. Share your self-love story with us. Send an email HERE. Put “My LYFF Story” in the subject line, and we’ll send you follow-up info. Sweet. Short. Simple!

Love Yourself First! Friday is a bi-weekly self-love series created by The Phoenix Rising Collective. Phenomenal women who fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self esteem share their stories‬.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.

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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is Tanu


Love Yourself First! Friday (LYFF) is part of our Shed Light series collection. We invite women to tell their LYFF stories to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to  “shed light” on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority. This week’s motivated and courageous Phoenix is Tanu:



“I read books on spirituality from around the world, attend weekly seminars, and meditate. I indulge in creative activities; I paint and sketch because it’s like meditation.”

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

Loving myself first means that I pay attention to my needs and ensure my progress, growth, and experiences as an individual.

I love myself first by taking care of my health: mental, spiritual, and physical. It also means to respect my time by focusing my energy on fulfilling and nurturing relationships. I surround myself with people who respect me and friends whom I can count upon.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice, etc)

To take care of my mental health, I push myself out of mundane and repetitive tasks and put myself in new and challenging environments. I play puzzles and games and maintain a healthy social life.

To cater to my spiritual needs, I follow the teachings of a live Spiritual Master.  I read books on spirituality from around the world, attend weekly seminars, and meditate. I indulge in creative activities; I paint and sketch because it’s like meditation.

I stretch twice a day. I love the outdoors: biking, walking, and hiking. I am a vegetarian by choice, and I don’t have a sweet tooth. I eat home-cooked food with fruits and vegetables, and I have a nutritionist in the family who is always available for sound advice about food products and the nutrients in them.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?

Spending a year being bed ridden and then bouncing back to life made me empathetic. It also made me respect my time, energy, and every moment spent without being in pain. I understand the real meaning of living every moment.

I suffered immense pain for six long years with a deteriorating back and hip joints mobility until I was finally diagnosed and given the right treatment for arthritis which had destroyed both my hip joints; by then I had been completely immobile. This was the time when a few things happened to me: One, the realization that a disabled person’s life is really hard. A lot of people don’t seem to give it a thought. I used to be one of them. Two, emotional pain, that of my parents. I saw in their eyes the look of helplessness as they watched me suffer. They were more miserable than I was. This made me look for solutions even more aggressively. Three, realizing that we are all fighting or have fought silent battles, and some struggles are not visible to the naked eye. We should always make an effort to be kind. While I look very normal from the outside – no bruises, no cuts, no bandages – within it’s not the same. Never judge.

What have you learned from self-love?

Self love is one of the most empowering facets of my life. If I love me, I can then take care of my surroundings and people who surround me.  It gives me confidence and immense inner peace. This helps me take on challenges in life, and also make balanced and courageous decisions.


Join the Collective. Share your self-love story with us. Send an email HERE. Put “My LYFF Story” in the subject line, and we’ll send you follow-up info. Sweet. Short. Simple!

Love Yourself First! Friday is a bi-weekly self-love series created by The Phoenix Rising Collective. Phenomenal women who fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self esteem share their stories‬.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.


A 6-Minute Workout: Never Underestimate Yourself and What Your Body Can Do (Video)


A few weeks ago, I held my first “beginner” class at a studio in Green, Ohio. The participants were shy and nervous, but they ROCKED it! So many of the women in my class had not exercised in years; some had injuries, most were not happy with their current weight, but all were motivated to make a change. Because of that motivation, they ventured out in a particularly cold and snowy northeast Ohio night to let some stranger work them out. The most exciting thing about this whole experience is that these ladies were NOT beginners! My classes are not easy; even when the title of the class says “beginner”, it is a tough workout. Too often, the first step is to believe in ourselves; to know that we simply…can.

My point to all of this? Do not underestimate yourself and what you can do. If you haven’t exercised in months, years, or never in your life – start now! Now is your time. Start slow and find something that you enjoy. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a gym membership or a trainer; most things you can do in the comfort of your home. A trainer or fitness coach is great for motivation and for showing you how to do new exercises, but again, don’t underestimate you.

Below are a couple of example workouts to get you started and for additional motivation!

Consult a physician before engaging in any type of workout. Warm up and cool down adequately.


Lunge Demonstration – Megan Weidner, The PRC Health + Wellness Contributor

Workout #1 – Lunges

High knees (step or jog) 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds

Side lunges alternating sides 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds

Repeat both

Jumping jacks (step to the side or jump) 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds

Step back lunges alternating legs 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds

Repeat both

Push-ups (from floor or wall; you can drop your knees on the floor and push up) 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds

Plank 20 seconds, rest 10 seconds

Workout #2 – Burpees

Tabata: Burpees – 20 seconds; and 10 second rest (Repeat 8 times)

[Also, click here to learn more about Tabata]

Jump or step side to side 20 seconds, 10 second rest

Squat walk (squat position, take two steps forward and two steps back, repeat) 20 seconds, 10 second rest


Here’s How to Do a Burpee:

Start by adding a simple 6-minute workout each day. Most of my clients find that getting the short exercises completed in the morning is best for energy levels and for their schedules.

In health, fitness, and love,



Megan_Weidner[PRC Health Contributor]Megan Weidner is the Health + Wellness contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective; she is a fitness coach and environmentalist in the Akron/Canton, Ohio area. She manages a global sustainability and corporate responsibility program for a large multinational company; her areas include environmental compliance, social equity, community engagement and health and wellness. Megan is also devoted to Rock. It. Fitness., her fitness and natural skincare business. She is committed to making the world a better, more environmentally friendly and healthier place through motivation and education. She is certified through AFAA and Tabata Bootcamp.  She has a B.S. in Soil, Environmental, and Atmospheric Science (University of Missouri), a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Management and Policy (University of Denver) and an M.P.A (University of Missouri).  She lives in Green, Ohio with her husband and three kids.

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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday: This Phoenix is DeDe


Love Yourself First! Friday (LYFF) is part of our Shed Light series collection. We invite women to tell their LYFF stories to inspire and empower others to also fiercely demonstrate self-love in action.  The questions are meant to  “shed light” on various ways our featured Phoenixes are making self-care and intentional living a priority.

This week’s courageous Phoenix is DeDe:

How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

Loving myself first means – putting myself first and being okay with it.  I have always valued my self-worth and put effort into keeping my mind fed with spiritual and positive affirmations and pampering myself at home/spa, etc.  I always knew God made me unique, and I’ve embraced my blessings.  The blessings I was foolish not to embrace in my younger years, I’ve learned to smother with a huge Bear-Hug today!  I love me, and that is why I’m always striving to have a center of peace, happiness, and love overflowing from my being.


DeDe, LYFF Phoenix Feature, “I’m learning to live for what makes ME happy.”

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice, etc)

Unplugging from the “in thing” to do helps me center my mind and spirit.

Give me a great novel, tea, and quiet time to myself – just me, my thoughts, and positive affirmations or soft music – and I come out of this peaceful place freshly revived! Reading also allows me to get lost in an adventure while blocking out life’s distractions (work, social media, errands, etc.).

Exercise rejuvenates me, too, in so many ways; and it’s one of my biggest stress relievers. Dancing is self-expression and makes me feel free.

Spending time with positive women also makes me feel alive!

Having a church home helps me start the week in touch with my faith and provides spiritual rejuvenation.  It’s also my check-and-balance for the life I want to live, along with daily morning and evening prayer to center and nourish my mind, body, and soul.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?  

An obstacle I overcame was learning to say no to things or people that do not enhance my life.  I’m learning to live for what makes ME happy.  I learned by going through a divorce how to make better choices for the right reasons.  It was a difficult decision, but because of the experience it strengthened my friendship with my ex-husband and gave me deeper understanding to ask the following questions: (1) What would I do if fear wasn’t a factor? (2)What is the lesson in this experience?

What have you learned from self-love? 

In the words of the late, but great Whitney Houston  I’ve learned “…Learning to love yourself is the GREATEST love of all.”


Thank you for sharing your LYFF story with us, DeDe. You are definitely a Phoenix Rising!


If you’d like to share your self-love story with The Collective contact us here.

Love Yourself First! Friday is a bi-weekly self-love series created by The Phoenix Rising Collective. Beautiful, diverse women tell stories of triumph, share personal affirmations, and declare love for their lives! The series is meant to inspire and empower women to fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self-esteem.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.


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How to Embrace Living Outside Your Comfort Zone to Create the Life You Really Want – An Artist’s Point of View


I have incessantly pondered how to begin this first 2014 article. What do I want to share with the readers this year on the subject of Art and Creativity? And how can I link this subject to The PRC’s theme “Balance”?

Let’s begin with a definition of balance. According to, balance means “a state of equilibrium; mental steadiness or emotional stability.” According to Traci Currie, balance also means recognizing the yin and yang in one’s life in order to help understand and explore the beautiful complexities that make life worth living. I don’t blame any reader for asking, “What in the world are you talking about? Yin and Yang. Really, TC?” And my response is YES! I am talking about the opposing forces that need each other to help create balance. For example, I am both comfortable and uncomfortable in the mental and physical space I presently inhabit. The opposition lies in living out my discomfort but also creating ease in my day-to-day routine.

You might wonder why life is uncomfortable for me these days. Well, I am on an unpaid leave-of-absence from work. I do not have insurance. I do not have my own home (as I once did). I no longer have a vehicle I can jump into and drive anywhere and everywhere; I am more dependent on people than I have ever been in my life. And believe you-me, I am a very independent person. Now, let’s look at the other side – what makes life comfortable? I have a warm place to lay my head every night. I am fed every single day. If there is an emergency I have loved ones who will help me. Most of all, I am faith driven. In other words, although I may not have the answers to my questions and concerns right now, I know or believe that the questions/concerns I have will be answered in due time.

Art and Creativity’s Connection to Life Outside the Comfort Zone

Now what does being uncomfortable have to do with being creative and artistic? Everything. At the end of 2013 I asked Discomfort to be my friend instead of my enemy or my phobia-driven antagonist. Discomfort replied, “Sure thing, TC. But I require something of you.” My response, “What do you want from me?” Discomfort’s response, “Trust. Walk with me all the way to the end of this journey and do not give up – no matter how uncomfortable it gets. Just find a way to keep going.” Finding a way to move through situations means I have to be creative and quite the artist. And guess what? I’m up for the challenge! After all, Discomfort and I are friends, and the great thing about an honest friendship is that you have the opportunity to learn each other and grow together.

So, this year I have sought out other artists who have impacted my life. Some of them are friends; some of them are people I have never met but read about or listened to; some of them have passed on and some have yet to be found. Although they come in different shades, ages and gender, I am focusing on women of color for my articles. In addition, I have also decided to rethink what art is and what it looks like to both the world (that’s a pretty big audience) and to me. In essence, I hope to broaden the understanding (mine and yours) of Art and Creativity.

Throughout the year I will talk to various women artists about balance and what that means to them. But most importantly I will link their responses to my life so that there is a connection as to why I have chosen them for each article.  I will not focus every month on a specific artist but I will always focus on the theme, balance, which is why I am calling this, “A Year of Symmetry: Creatively Finding Balance from the Artisan.” I specifically use the word artisan because it often defines a craftsperson or someone skilled in the applied arts. Not everyone is deemed an artisan. I have learned that artisans study their craft and most often become the craft itself – which leads me to my first artist or more appropriately named, Artisan.

The Unconventional Artisan: Carol

comfort_zone_quote[phoenixrisingcollective.orgFor February I have chosen to be a bit unconventional by featuring my mother. What’s unconventional about that? Well, she does not like being in the public eye. Putting her in the spotlight is uncomfortable. Moreover, people might argue my calling her an artisan, but hear me out, and consider her story:

Carol is a teacher. OK, actually she is a retired computer programmer, and she presently substitutes three days per week at a bilingual elementary school. Most of the students know her quite well and she is well-loved by some of the teachers and students. I am not just saying this because she told me or because she is my mother. I actually witnessed it. I visited the school and watched her in class this past January. I also watched her interaction with various teachers and administrators who made it their business to tell me how much they love her. She is an artist. She has a way with children that many of us WISH we had.

My mother has a rhythm in her Caribbean voice that is assertive, vibrant, and peaceful. For example, a fifth grade boy was getting smart with her. I held my breath for a moment wondering how this was going to play out. She said something to him calmly and walked away. He seemed to annoyingly fiddle around on the computer. He even looked at me once as if he wanted to take me down. She went back to his computer and talked to him again. Before I could blink he agreed with whatever she said and willingly completed his work. Now, I know this is a general example because the question one might have is “What did they say to each other?” For me, it was less about what was said and more about what she showed him – a teacher’s heart, wisdom, and skills. How is this art? Well, I have learned over the years that a good teacher isn’t just someone who gives you information and walks away. A good teacher, in many cases, is a performer. We perform for our students and find ways to make the material interesting, understandable, sometimes creative, and relevant to their lives. And as a performer we find ways to improve our performance for our audience. My best teacher was a statistics professor. STATISTICS?! (For those of you who loathe anything numerical). He made stats look like poetry because he LOVED the subject so much that you had no other choice but to enjoy it as much as he did. He cracked jokes, offered personal anecdotes, even acted out a few scenarios with numbers. And to think, I was told that this professor disliked women and Black people, which meant I was out for the count! But aha, I came out of that class with an A (or A-) because he taught me poetry with numbers. What am I saying about my mother and/or teachers? My mother does more than substitute-teach. She teaches these students with hugs, with words of encouragement, with the obvious technical instruction, and most of all, with love.

All the artisans I know, no matter what they profess as their occupation, are called by this rightful name because they know how to find the artistry in what they do. And even when the work becomes frustrating and uncomfortable they somehow embrace the challenge as a part of the road map they have been given to find their way to their appointed destination. Again, it’s a part of life. It’s what makes life worth living.

What have I learned from her? The question that I really should ask is “What haven’t I learned from her?” I now know that I teach because it is an art form that I can wheel and deal and reshape every time I step into the classroom. But then again, everywhere I go seems to afford me the opportunity to be a teacher and a student, which means ART is always at my feet. So, here’s to an artisan that knows her craft as well as she knows herself. And make no mistake, Carol knows herself well. If you need proof, simply look at what she has produced – ME!


About the Contributing Writer:


Traci Currie is the Art + Creativity contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She 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.  Read her latest posts here.

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5 Practical Ways to Stay Grounded and Get to Happy (Yes, saying no is one of them!)

balance_happiness_black woman[phoenixrisingcollective]

We’re not sure if there’s a concrete definition for balance, but we know that a huge part of it is self-love. We know that it involves honoring yourself as you take on that long list of To-Dos…or To-Don’ts. Because really, we shouldn’t be cultivating our twerk instead of writing that three-page response paper due in four hours—or should we? But, seriously—honor yourself in everything that you do. That means getting to know yourself, recognizing and voicing your limits, and knowing when to say no and when to say yes.

As a way to illustrate how we achieve and try to maintain balance, we’ve decided to share stories from our lives during graduate school, which basically never stops happening until it stops happening. Let us explain:

Aisha – Learning to Balance Graduate School and the Rest of My Life

I have to admit that learning to balance surviving graduate school with the rest of my life has been very difficult. At times I have felt completely overwhelmed – trapped “between a rock and a hard place” – by things like my homework, research, community involvement; and being a daughter, sister, friend, colleague, and girlfriend (whew, even that list was exhausting).  I think that this year in particular my feelings of being overwhelmed have come to a head as I have really begun to feel like a fish out of water in this graduate school environment. I often find myself needing to sit down and regroup. When I do make the time to do this, I reflect upon a few lessons I have picked up along the way – and these things help to ground me.

1. Learn to Say No

One of the most useful lessons in balance that I have learned is to say no. As cliché as this sounds, for a person like me who can tend toward people-pleasing, it is very difficult to say no to tasks, especially ones I would enjoy if I wasn’t busy with other things.  Often I would find myself looking at my calendar for the coming week and wondering how I committed to so many activities. I would push myself through that overbooked week, skipping out on sleep and self-care, and would end up regretting doing things that normally would have made me feel pretty good. Once I finally came to terms with the fact that this is what I was doing, I resolved (with some help from a trusted mentor) to just start saying no. As much as I want to be able to do everything and to help everyone, I have had to come to terms with the fact that this is not a real thing. I’ve had to learn self-preservation above all else. Don’t get me wrong though, saying no to people can be hard – but people who care about you will understand.

2. Celebrate Your Small Victories

Another lesson I’ve learned is the importance of celebrating small victories. Almost nothing I do in graduate school is something that can be started and completed in an hour, and that sometimes makes me feel completely unproductive. What I have begun to do is make my goals on my to-do list smaller. I’ve broken down bigger tasks into smaller tasks so that when the smaller tasks are finished I can celebrate them. This completely solved my issue of feeling unproductive. That in itself has been a huge victory for me.

Simone – Honoring How You Feel to Achieve the Balance You Deserve

Balancing is so damn hard to do sometimes, y’all. Often, I have to tell myself, “Simone, do not work on that assignment until you sit down for a bit. And yes, drink that glass of wine later.” As Aisha pointed out, graduate school can be exhausting and rewarding all at the same time. I used to think that a successful day in graduate school was all about quantity. However, between last semester and writing my intentions for the New Year, I discovered that a successful day is actually about improving your quality of life. It means that I do what I can without compromising or hurting myself. And of course, if I slip up and drink that glass of wine before noon, I know that I always have tomorrow. I think that honoring yourself is a beautiful process that will help you achieve the balance you deserve.

1. Establish a Daily Routine

Not too long ago, I used to sleep until I had only an hour and a half to be on campus. Sometimes, that meant skipping breakfast to get some extra sleep. Consequently, my energy levels were low and I had to force myself to check items off my To-Do list. That type of life became too tough for me to handle, so I decided to make some changes. Now, I give myself enough time to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, exercise, and do some personal reading and writing/prayer. This morning routine really helps me enjoy my day. I feel happy about going to school and work. I also feel energized all day long! Except today—I need a nap.

But, speaking of all day long, I often find that I have a lot of tasks and a bunch of deadlines. Just like you all, my friends want to drink wine all the time and my students want me to give them a detailed list of what they missed in class this morning, but, um, no. Similar to Aisha, for the sake of self-preservation, I’ve learned to say no to things I don’t want to do. And, I say it unapologetically.

Jan Post pic

You do not have to apologize or provide a reason for not doing something. Your time is your time, and you should be careful with it. Spend it doing things that you love and spend it in a way that will help you love and live life to the fullest!

2. Commit to Healthier Lifestyle Choices

In addition to prioritizing my time, I’ve learned to create a healthy lifestyle. For me, this means making sure that my personal life is in check. A few weeks ago, I fainted at the gym because I did not have enough water that morning. I learned my lesson as soon as I hit that floor! Eating/drinking well and enough has become really important to my life over the last few years. Eating/drinking well and enough not only keeps me on my feet in the weight room; this personal task helps me become the best Simone. You can bet that I have water and snacks with me at all times now!

3. Practice Gratitude

Lastly, Aisha mentioned the importance of celebrating small victories. I, too, have learned to tell myself, “Great job, girl!” I find that this pushes me to complete more tasks. Oh, after that nap, of course! I like celebrating my achievements, so I balance my life in a way that allows me to achieve the things I want and need at my own pace. I break my To-Do list into chunks so that I feel a lot more productive. Additionally, at night I thank the Creator for everything that I did and everything I didn’t do, and I journal about what made me feel good. Knowing that there are things to be thankful for and that I can feel good everyday motivates me to maintain balance. I think that it is the key to feeling and doing your best.

So, now that we’ve given you the scoop on how we twerk this high up, let us know what you do to achieve and maintain balance. What does a healthy/happy and productive day look like for you?

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and intentions, we want to invite you on our journey toward balance and self-love. To begin, try creating a new routine. Make a list of your limits and create boundaries. If you don’t want to talk about work at home, honor that. If you feel like you need some time to diddle your skittle or spend some time with your significant other, “Go ‘head, girl!” You’re the timekeeper.

Again, let us know how you’re performing that great balancing act! We’d love for you to share your secrets for staying grounded and getting to happy!


About the Contributing Writers:


Simone Savannah is an English instructor and contributing writer for the Project on the History of Black Writing at the University of Kansas. She is currently pursuing a PhD in English-Creative Writing and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Her poetry is based on personal experiences she can’t let go—imagined or otherwise. Simone also enjoys making green smoothies, attending Bikram Yoga classes, and laughing uncontrollably. Simone is teaming with Aisha (read about her below) to bring you a unique take on Life + Style.


aisha_reflectAisha Upton is a second-year PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her research interests include Black women in service organizations and violence against Black women. She is passionate about many things including community service, lipstick, baking, thrifting, knitting, and being a proud owner of a Cockapoo, Napoleon. At the intersection of being a diligent student, a fashionista, and an activist – you will find Aisha, attempting to find a balance.  Be sure to read Aisha + Simone’s unique take on Life + Style and the importance of letting who you are shine through when defining your personal style.

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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday – Our May Tribute to Mothers Ends with Yolanda


It’s Love Yourself First! Friday, and this is the last self-love story in our May Tribute to Mothers series. As you know, we extended an invitation to three mothers and they all accepted, so we asked them thoughtful questions about self-love, and they eloquently answered with wisdom!  The last story in the tribute series comes from Yolanda.

Yolanda is the mother of Akil Houston, one of the contributing writers for the forthcoming book, Chasing My Father, Finding Myself: Journeys to Healing and Forgiveness.  We extended the invitation to her because she is spiritually conscious, committed to helping women build healthy self-esteem, and full of inspiring words of wisdom and truth. Akil asked his mother these heartfelt questions, and here are her responses! Thank you, Mama Yolanda.


How do you love yourself first? What does that mean to you?

As I reflect on this question I am reminded of a piece of sage wisdom given to me by an elder: “Baby, if I don’t take care of me, I will not be able to take care of anyone else.” She provided this tidbit as she was preparing to take a road trip with her 18-year old niece. In order to take this road trip she had to find a caretaker for her husband who was terminally ill. She instilled in me the need to make sure that I lovingly took care of me, and to make myself a very high priority, as opposed to giving until I was worn out.

I have learned to embrace my passion for reading books or watching television shows that have absolutely no socially redeeming value, for example watching Scandal or reading romance novels. In the bigger picture of life, watching Scandal will not cure world hunger and reading romance novels will not bring world peace. However, what they will do is provide a bit of down time that brings me peace and feeds my soul.  Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t read books or articles of substance, it just means that I need a break to recharge my battery.

There are also times when I just need to be around small children who are able to smile and laugh as if this is the greatest gift anyone could ever give.

When deeply stressed, I will retreat to my altar space to have a good conversation with my Yeye Oshun only asking that she listen, allowing me to reach a place of clarity.

What actions demonstrate the self-care you provide to your mind, body, and soul? (Exercise, healthy eating, spiritual practice, etc.)

My spiritual practice demonstrates the greatest show of self-care. While sitting in my altar space is quietly refreshing, I know that I can access that spiritual essence from wherever I may find myself.

Alternative healing practices such as acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, and massage have come to be the most effective methods of healing for me. Now, that does not mean that I won’t use westernized medicine if needed, it just means that alternative medicines have been the provider of the greatest healing for me. It was alternative healing practices that discovered the root of my chronic ear infections, laryngitis, and swelling as opposed to the numerous medications provided by my western physician that only masked my food sensitivities and allergies. My basic and most enjoyable form of exercise was dance. I danced for over twenty years taking classes, performing, and teaching until I had a serious fall at work and suffered a back and knee injury.

I now find that there is no form of exercise that gives me as much pleasure as dance.

Is there an obstacle or challenge that you’ve overcome that led you to a deeper love for who you are?

When I met my son’s father, we were both in college. He was a junior and I, a freshman; it was instant love. He was so handsome, self-sufficient, and intelligent. We had talked a great deal about what our lives would be like once we graduated and were married.  He was going to be an educator and I had plans to become a school social worker. At that point, I felt as though I loved him more than life itself. We always used protection so I was not worried about becoming pregnant; however, at one point the protection did not work.  I had been sick with a seemingly endless ear infection and strep throat and was on antibiotics for several weeks. Little did I know, the antibiotics and my form of birth control did not mix.  Upon finding out that I was pregnant, he informed both me, and our parents that there was no way he could marry me or provide for our child. Graduation and attending grad school were his highest priorities. Once he achieved his goals, he would then be in a better position to take care of a child.

I was devastated and wondered how this man, whom I loved so much, who I would have given my last everything, could say this to me.  At that point, everything changed; I had to make it for my son and me. Knowing that I always had the support of my family, knowing that I could go home at any time, and knowing that I could ask for help and not have to be constantly reminded of how much my family had sacrificed for me, made the task of raising a child doable.

Being a single mom did not allow me to take the time to view issues as obstacles or challenges, I just had to make sure that my son was taken care of.  I also realized that putting my son’s father’s needs above mine was the greatest mistake that I had ever made. I came to realize that by loving him more than I was willing to love me, I had not set any expectations for his behavior, allowing him to do whatever he wanted while making excuses for his lack of responsibility. It was through that lesson, that I came to realize that self-love was not selfish, and that I was and needed to be important to me. If I was not aware of my value, no one else would ever be aware of my value.

What have you learned about yourself from being a mother? How has it helped your personal development?

I have learned the importance of having patience, humility, and the ability to laugh at myself. As a parent, just when you believe that your child would never do anything to embarrass you, they do something to challenge your parenting.  Sometimes your child will say something that makes you want to laugh, but you know as a parent that sometimes that laugh is really about something that you have told him/her, interpreting what you have said in a manner that you never intended.

Things that I thought were so important to being a great parent, really had very little to do with true parenting. Loving with expectations for behavior, setting limits, and being consistent were some of the greatest gifts I have received as a parent. The ability to multitask and listen beyond the spoken words have all been great assets to and for my personal development.

What have you learned from self-love?

I have learned that self-love is the greatest gift I can give to myself while showing others how I expect to be treated. It is looking beyond the pimple on my chin, the graying hair, the last ten pounds that I need to lose, or the self-sabotaging criticism that can destroy a person quicker than anything.

It’s about trusting in myself, being able to forgive me and not carrying those things I will never be able to change. It’s making sure that I love me and can have no less than one big heartfelt laugh a day. But most of all, it is about never lying to myself. It is about finding that inner peace, and appreciating the beauty of the simple things that life has to offer. It is also knowing that I am connected to spirit and how spirit is connected to me.


Love Yourself First! Friday is a weekly self-love series created by the Phoenix Rising Collective. Beautiful, diverse women of color tell their stories of triumph, share their personal affirmations, and declare their love for their own lives! The series is meant to inspire and empower women to fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self-esteem.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.