Finding Sanctuaries: Self-Care, Intersectionality and the Power to Transform

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by Shaneda Destine

August 2016 will mark a year since I decided to engage in a consistent practice of Bikram Yoga. Over the years I have tried countless diets and exercise regimens ranging from counting calories on My Fitness Pal, buying gym memberships, and lifting weights at home off and on. Though, I still struggle with reaching my goal weight and being consistent throughout my daily life as Ph.D. student, wife and provider—yoga is more than exercise to me.

 My first time trying yoga was on my winter break as a first year Ph.D. student at Howard University. The workload and commute caused stress on my relationships, overall ability to time-manage and my own self-care that I require as a self-proclaimed introvert. My first year of graduate school consisted of me waking up early to read for class, traveling an hour from Baltimore County to Washington, D.C., reading some more and taking night classes. There were times that I forgot to eat or didn’t have time to hydrate while chugging up Howard’s infamous hills from my parking space, blocks away. So, investing in yoga was about meditation and caring for myself for just an hour or more. Though my first encounter with yoga didn’t yield a consistent practice after school was back in session, it left an lasting impression.  When I moved closer to school, I tried Bikram Yoga in my second year at Howard and by my third year I was determined to put myself first and make it a consistent practice.
"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." - Audre Lorde

Yoga works for me because I had an injury years ago that left me with metal in my right ankle, and it strengthens these muscles. It is my time to acknowledge the divine from within, appreciate myself and heighten my self-awareness. Yoga has become my sanctuary, my space to pray, meditate and be gentle with myself in a world that is often hostile to my being and everything I embody. I am a Black queer woman, married, academic struggling to breathe in many spaces such as this academic climate, queer space, Black space, white space hat often doesn’t value all of the intersections of my identity at once. When I walk into my regular practice at my yoga studio, I am taking my health into my control, valuing myself and appreciating all that I embody for an hour or two. That often reverberates throughout my day and gives me a new sense of reverence for all those struggling to breathe around me and with me.

Though my yoga practice is more about my spiritual and emotional decompression, the health disparities we face as Black women are important to note. Black women’s health disparities are a source of systemic injustices, but with knowledge of this we can begin to shift this paradigm by applying an intersectional lens.

Now when I think about the power to transform our health and the effects of the compounding inequalities we face as Black women, I can’t help but contextualize it within the many obstacles black women have faced throughout American history and beyond. I think about how my activism and scholarship, the overlap of my work and my being, often leaves me overwhelmed and underappreciated. I think about the struggles to breathe and survive in capitalism, heteropatriarchy and under white supremacy. And although it is overwhelming at times, I know that Black women realized a long time ago we have to demand space and time for our humanity. Activists, scholars and regular folk already knew what the world has yet to realize, that we are mothers of the universe, powerful beyond measure.

Putting our health first is also putting our rights to live, breathe and exist first. Yoga has connected me with the indigenous and ancestral practices that we have lost over centuries, that doesn’t divide holistic health, but values our spiritual, physical, emotional being all at once.  I’m reminded of a talk last year with Angela Davis at University of Maryland, when she spoke about the fear of telling her comrades in the 60s that she had practiced yoga during her time in jail and continued when she was released. Davis expressed her shame to tell her community that she was taking time to care for her wellbeing. This highlighted to me the complexities of our oppression and the need for us to continue to demand space for our own self-care.


 “I saw Gloria Richardson standing face to face with National Guard soldiers, bayonets sticking form the guns they point at the demonstrators she led in Cambridge, Maryland. I saw Diane Nash speaking at Fisk University, leading black and white Freedom Riders onto Greyhound buses that got set on fire when they reached Alabama. I saw Ruby Doris Robinson holding a walkie-talkie, dispatching the fleet of cars that transported civil rights workers across the state of Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer” -Kathleen Cleaver, 1998
Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” challenges Black women to write as a form of radical self-care, to write our truths and our own frameworks. So as a Black Queer Woman conscious in this space and time, who dreamed of writing as a child but didn’t know of any role models—I hope this transforms someone else struggling to lead a healthy life--one that is both spiritually, emotionally and physically beneficial. I hope this encourages other Black woman to share or begin their journeys to healthy lifestyle as part of a practice to value all that we embody. Through yoga, writing, exercising and liberating ourselves, we can inspire others to do the same. 

Photo: iStockPhoto

Shaneda Destine is a wife, aunt, god mommy a yogini, Ph.D. student and professor in the DMV area. Her research focus on Black women activism and self-care. She is a sociologists by trade and a kid from Long Island, NY that loves poetry, yoga and cooking.

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