Yoga is an ancient philosophical tradition with its roots in India and other parts of South Asia. It is a practice oriented toward liberation from suffering through the recognition of union. Yoga is not simply exercise or relaxation, as it is often marketed in the U.S. and abroad. Rather, the physical practice of asana is only one branch of a vibrant system of techniques and disciplines for shifting and expanding consciousness. Yoga is not reducible to a single lineage but rather unfolds through centuries of different perspectives and teachings, some of which align with one another and others of which exist in productive tensions. Whatever their methods or philosophical differences, however, each pathway of yoga brings us closer to the realization of our true nature: that we are not separate, that we exist simultaneously in our countless distinct forms and in a state of divine union. This connection, this union, is at the heart of yoga.
During a consultation, I might draw on yogic philosophy to frame particular situations or possibilities. We might work with pranayama (breathing techniques), guided meditation, and/or asana (physical postures) as strategies for quieting the mind and grounding in body. I also work with chakras (energy centers) as focal points for working with particular qualities of energies.
I took my first yoga class in high school at the YMCA in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My teacher’s name was Diana, and I was a young dancer looking for a way to increase my flexibility. What I found in those early classes was a gentle and loving attention to my body and my breath. I began to notice more, and to notice that I was noticing more. Even though I had very little sense of yoga’s philosophical roots, my experience of the practice was already teaching me ways of perceiving myself with generosity and patience.
In college, I began taking yoga at a small studio called Butterfly Yoga in the arts district of Fondren in Jackson, Mississippi. My teachers were Scotta Brady and Edy McConnell. At Butterfly, I began to learn the Sanskrit names of asana, the energetic principles of chakras and nadis, and the practice of chanting mantras. I was first introduced to Anusara Yoga, a modern branch of yoga which draws on the teachings of Tantric philosophy. I began to read and study Tantra in conjunction with my physical practices of asana, pranayama, and meditation. In Tantra, I found a philosophy of innate goodness, what Anusara calls “grace.” In the threads of Tantra that I was encountering, nothing was taboo; any experience could become a pathway to enlightenment and bliss. It is in the consciousness of experience and perception that we encounter our union with whatever we are experiencing. Ham-sa: I am that. These were also the years that I was coming to terms with my sexuality and gender, which required unlearning much of the shame that I had received from growing up Christian. Inasmuch as witchcraft was giving me a path toward healing from patriarchy during those years, yoga was giving me a path toward experiencing my own goodness and belonging in an embodied way.
I began teaching yoga in 2009 while I was in graduate school at The Ohio State University. A year later, I was asked to teach a weekly Queer Yoga class in an art gallery near where I lived. Teaching Queer Yoga and yoga as a semester-long course transformed my practice into something that was not only about my own experience but also about service, giving support to others as they also expanded their perceptions of self, body, and breath. It wasn’t until years later—2017, in fact—that I felt the pull to complete a 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco. At Laughing Lotus, I felt steeped in the Bhakti tradition of yoga—the yoga of devotion: devotion to this practice, devotion to the tradition and its roots, devotion to my own growth and to the growth of others from whom I am not separate. Since then, I have continued to teach Queer Yoga in Columbus when the opportunity presents itself, as well as teaching a course called Yoga: Practice & Theory at Denison University.