Celebrate Black History with Mikela, our Studio Collective Assistant Director as she shares her yoga journey, her thoughts on Black History Month and her experience being part of the Yoga District community!
Tell us about your background. Where are you from? How do you like to spend your time?
I’m originally from the west coast, about 40 minutes south of Seattle, Washington. We moved around a lot when I was a kid – from Texas, to Arizona, to Florida then back to Washington. I settled in the DMV in 2014. Shortly after I moved here, I discovered my passion for movement: dance, yoga, acrobatics, running, pilates, aerial arts (did I mention dancing?). I’m a master at none but enjoy all. I also enjoy a variety of arts and crafts – sewing, costume making, repurposing/upcycling. I recently had the opportunity to test my crafting skills and worked on an art installation for an event on the National Mall. I’m looking forward to doing more installations post-COVID times. I love nature and animals and will talk about cow cuddling to anyone who listens.
Why did you come to work/volunteer with Yoga District/Activist? How would you describe your experience so far?
I started volunteering with Yoga District in 2016. I’d just moved to DC, had no friends and was healing from a work related accident that left me in physical therapy for over a year. I was feeling really disconnected from my body and in desperate need of support. After the accident, I struggled to do high intensity exercises so I decided to try a yoga class at my gym instead. I was immediately hooked. My first class made me feel so much stronger than lifting weights had ever made me feel – not just physically but mentally and spiritually. I felt a peace that I hadn’t felt before. I wanted to learn more so I began searching for local studios. Joining Yoga District was a pretty easy decision for me. Not only were the classes inexpensive (which was very important to me on a teacher’s salary) but I really appreciated the emphasis on diversity and accessibility. During my first few classes at Yoga District I cried through savasana; I was so moved, so relieved to have finally found a home. After a few attempts, I finally secured an internship position at the 14th St studio as a deep cleaner. From mopping floors to scrubbing toilets I found such safety and security walking those studio halls. And the rest was history. Six or so months later I quit my job, completed yoga teacher training and eventually started serving in management where I’ve been ever since.
What’s the best part of being a yogi?
The breath. Practicing yoga has made me so aware of my breath even when not engaged in an asana or breathing practices. I think about my breath when I stand in line at the grocery store, when I’m cooking, when I’m upside down. It’s such a simple recognition but it’s gifted me such a greater connection to my body and life force. Having that ability to check in with myself by using my breath is such a powerful tool that’s given me a greater appreciation for life.
What do you think about when you hear “Black History Month?”
To me, it means reflection. It’s a time to honor the Black lives that have been lost to racial injustices and senseless violence. Looking at our past can help us pave out the direction of our future. As a country, we have so much more to learn; we need to be better. Black History Month is a reminder of that and that the fight isn’t over.
Is there a specific black person from history who inspires you? What about a black person from today?
I love Nina Simone. Her music, her attitude, her activism. She wasn’t afraid to be bold or to take up space.
Was there ever a point that you did not feel included in a yoga class? / How can other yoga students and teachers be more inclusive toward BPOC in yoga studios?
There was one time I took a by-donation/free class outside of Yoga District. The teacher made a point to distinguish us, the non-paying students, from her other students who were members of an elite gym in the District. I’m not sure why she felt the need to constantly refer to “us vs them” but it created a strange feeling of alienation, like we had done something wrong for not paying or being part of this fancy gym. Instead of drawing the divide between students, teachers should welcome all students as the same regardless of if they pay or not.