So, let’s be real for a moment.
Did seeing white fragility on full display at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday distract you from your goals this year?
No judgment if all that craziness threw you off. That’s understandable. Consider this inspiring story about Birmingham’s Black yogi, Adi Devta Kaur, to get you back on track.
This time last year, Kaur, also known as Phree, had 200 registered yoga teaching hours and was just blooming her yoga studio in Birmingham. Now, Kaur has leveled up to 500 training hours, enough to create other yoga instructors. If Ms. Rona calms down anytime soon, Kaur will expand her yoga studio, THEBLKYOGI, by hosting her first Melanin Mantra Yoga Retreat in August.
Her Black joy mantra for 2021: “Peace of mind comes piece by piece,” she said.
But all of this success was not snatched easily. It was a journey that involved her being stranded in India from March until August during a global pandemic.
Now, I am not expecting y’all to read her story, become inspired to purchase a yoga mat and start practicing your sun salutations. But I do believe we can learn from each other’s journeys. We may be walking down different paths, but we are still marching together.
So here are some key lessons from Kaur’s story that I hope will help you stay on top of your goals.
Lesson number one: “If you’re going to do it, do it scared”
Kaur tried Yoga for the first time while on a date in Tampa in 2015. At that point in her life, she was having difficulty processing her emotions due to manic depression and just changed her diet to treat her ovarian cysts. Her first lesson was through a Black yoga instructor crowned with dreadlocks who played India Arie’s song “I Am Light” during their session. She remembers crying on the floor as she felt connected to her body for the first time through breathing exercises.
“When your mind is running so fast, it’s like you don’t have time to really sit in any space of discomfort because you’re reaching for the next space,” Kaur said. “So breathwork really allows you to go deep within your body and kind of clean up. You can do self-surgery with breathwork.”
She did experience some fears as she started practicing yoga regularly. She grew up Methodist, so the chanting threw her off at first, but that is where she learned to lean into the fear and started researching the meaning of the different chants and mantras. For example, the mantra “Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo” means “I bow to the divine teacher within.”
Kaur’s advice is that we need to lean into fear in order to start our journeys.
“I like to tell people, ‘If you’re going to do it, do it scared,” Kaur said.
Lesson two: Once you’re on the journey, find your purpose
Kaur’s journey to tap deeper into her inner calm led her to predominately-white yoga classes located in the predominantly Black city of Birmingham.
Now, Kaur will tell you that the vibe is just different in Black-led yoga classes, where the instructor would often adjust her body as the class flowed through poses while listening to R&B songs. In white-led spaces, Kaur said she often felt alienated and overlooked as both instructors and clients questioned her yoga practice. Kaur decided to challenge those problems by starting her yoga teacher training classes in 2019.
Kaur said she decided to become a yoga instructor so she can share the gift of yoga with everybody Black. Fun fact: the B–L–K in BLK Yogi is not only a call out to diversify the yoga workforce, but it also stands for “Breathing living knowledge.”
After making the decision full time, Kaur had to navigate both the microaggressions she faced in white yoga classes and the miseducation in her own community. No matter your race, religion, body weight, or flexibility, Kaur said you are always welcomed just as you are on the yoga mat.
“That’s really what inspired me to let go forward and give this to my people because I’ve heard so many times, ’Yoga’s not for Black people. Why are you doing that white people mess?’” Kaur said. “I felt strong enough to be able to bridge the gap, to be able to be like, ‘Hey, we’re black. We’re here. This is for us.”
Lesson three: “Live for yourself”
Kaur’s decision to go to India was a spur of a moment decision. She was looking for a space to learn more about Kundalini yoga, a spiritual type of yoga that focuses more on cleaning a person’s deeply rooted trauma. So on Dec. 5, 2019, she started setting aside the money she made from teaching community yoga classes with AIDS Alabama and started planning her teacher training in the yoga capital of the world – Rishikesh, India.
Traveling across the globe came with its apprehension, but the fear didn’t belong to Kaur. Friends and family members bombarded her with their own worries as they asked her why she would want to go to a third-world country and what if she became sick. But other people’s concerns, even if it is from friends and family, shouldn’t have the final say on the trajectory of your life, Kaur said. So, she hopped on a plan and off she went to India on Feb. 28, 2020.
“Live for yourself. Don’t let anyone live vicariously through you,” Kaur said. “Some people’s ceilings are other people’s floors, and some people’s floors are other people’s ceilings. You are infinite and you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Lesson four: Don’t be afraid to lean into the discomfort of change
Kaur’s plan was to begin yoga teacher training in early March. Training would end on the 28th, which gave her a few days to sightsee a new land before returning to Birmingham on April 1st.
Yeah, the pandemic said nah to some of that. And it started a series of adjustments.
One moment, Kaur was just happily soaking in the culture shock of being in India – from the food, to the language barrier, to the peacocks, monkeys, and other animals running around freely. The next moment, Kaur said those trying to get out of the country were in a frenzy. Kaur’s flight was cancelled, and she couldn’t afford the more expensive flights.
Kaur decided to switch her perspective instead of giving into panic. If she was going to be on lockdown, she would rather be near the Himalayan mountains while practicing something she loved.
So, if you ever find yourself lost in a swarm of changes, Kaur advises against running from your emotions. Instead, move through your feelings with optimism.
“Sit in that space of discomfort and really feel it in your body,” Kaur said. “If you say ‘Oh, I’m angry.’ Well, where do you feel that anger? Do you feel it in your big toe? Do you feel it in your chest?”
“I always tell people to go within and just notice why you’re going through this change and to view the positive even though it is hard sometimes,” she continued.
Lesson five: Go with flow
Kaur doesn’t like to say she was stranded in India during the pandemic. She had an enlightening experience in a place where she could explore the land after completing yoga teacher training in late March.
She moved into a cheap hostel that was a short walk from her school. People would kiss her hands and feet because Kaur said Black women are praised like goddesses in India – a drastic difference from what she would have experience in America during a summer of racial trauma.
She credits higher powers and her grandmother’s prayers for not contracting COVID-19. She lived off the donations from friends and family back home. Living in India during lockdown gave her the space to read, frolic, and get used to the go-with-the-flow culture. A store that says it will open at 10 a.m. may not open until 12:15 p.m., she said.
“They say (in India) all the time, ‘Aaram se. Aaram se,’ which means relax. You don’t have to be going and going,” Kaur said. “I think that’s what (the trip) really taught me. Go with flow.”
Lesson six: Be more selfless
As Kaur was settling in her inner peace, her family was losing their minds. After spending months hunting down airline tickets, Kaur’s father finally found her flight. She said she had to sign forms promising to quarantine for 14 days and agreeing to be held responsible if she infected anyone.
She was on fire with all the knowledge she had learned when she landed in the States. While lockdown prevented her from teaching large groups of people, she held a small event on Nov. 11. She’s publishing yoga exercises on her YouTube page every week. She will continue to look for more ways to share her craft.
Because that’s what you do with the gifts you have learned along the way. You give back selflessly.
“I just want to share more, touch more lives, give more and become even more selfless,” she said.
This story is part of the Black Magic Project, a Reckon brand celebrating Black culture, community, excellence and joy. Join our Facebook group to join our conversations about Black Southern life.