In the current climate of our country, self-care is not just helpful; it’s a necessary lifeline. And the specific need for women of color to find safe places to recharge and renew their spirits from a lifetime of racism and emotional trauma is so important. Yet, it can be difficult to find. Several months ago, I began taking steps towards broadening my self-care practices and started going to a yoga studio near my house. I left those sessions feeling physically invigorated, but I knew something was lacking. I needed another element to my practice, but I couldn’t put a name to what my soul was seeking until I found Black Girl In Om.
Black Girl In Om is a holistic lifestye brand which uses its platform to enrich the lives of marginalized communities. Through its podcast, which has featured women from around the world, BGIO provides listeners with tangible ways to cultivate inner wellness. BGIO also has an online publication which regulary shares wellness practices, ignites inspiration among readers and highlights multifaceted women contributing to change. This ground-breaking group of women also holds wellness sessions for people who identify as women of color.
Based in Chicago, Black Girl In Om was founded by Lauren Ash, a woman who is breaking open the confines of the wellness world and dispersing its power to women often left out of that conversation. Ash is currently an artist-in-residence with Arts and Public Life and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, and is also the co-founder of several award-winning platforms which celebrate black womanhood. She started this mission to give women of color a space to breathe, a sacred place to convene and talk about our struggles in the day-to-day world and to practice meditation and yoga, together. In October, I attended one of the bi-monthly Self-Care Sundays that Black Girl In Om hosts. I invited a friend along, and the two of us made our way through Chicago’s busy traffic for a morning yoga session. When we walked into the room, it was full of women laying down their yoga mats. We found a corner in the back of the studio and set our mats down next to women with bright smiles.
Being a woman of color in today’s landscape is difficult and nuanced. You’re often reminded that you’re considered “other.” Having a space to go to for self-care where you are entirely able to exist as you are is rare and needed for truly being able to take care of your mental, emotional and physical health. Walking into that room and seeing so many black and brown women with their natural hair was familiar, exciting and revolutionary all at once. The class hadn’t even started, and already I could feel something shifting, settling softly into place.
I sat cross-legged on my mat ready to begin class, but the session didn’t start with yoga. Instead, Ash had all of us turn our mats so we could face each other. We sat in a circle that spanned the entire length and width of the room. Ash told us this is how Black Girl In Om opens each Self-Care Sunday. She asked us to share ways we stay woke and well, highlighting the importance of these intertwined forces. For the whole first hour we talked and the more we shared, the more intimate our confessions became. In the safety of that space, each woman sitting in that circle aired out her heart. We shared everything from the stress of daily micro-aggressions to the emotional labor of dealing with casual racism, to how we can show up and continue advocating for social change. Pieces of life stories were shared, tears were shed and hopeful words were spoken. As we sat in the circle, that internal shift clicked further into place, and something inside me whispered, “This is it. This is what you’ve been looking for.”
Yoga honors the connection between mind, body and soul. My practices up to that point only hit two out of those three, but in that space each element felt nourished. I had the opportunity to be in a space with other women who know the struggles so many of our hearts bear, who understand the complex ways racism can weigh you down. What truly touched me was being offered needed advice on how to navigate this world as a woman of color. Being there helped me to realize, even more so, that we are not meant to bear the weight and emotional baggage that racism can leave on our minds and bodies. It’s not our job. Our job is to chase our hopes: to heal, to inspire and sometimes to simply be.
After our hour-long conversation, Ash led us through guided meditation. She asked us to focus on what we hope for, on what enlivens our spirits. She encouraged us to hold on to that. And then we started soulful yoga. As she led us through carefully chosen yoga poses, I couldn’t help but think about the deep void Black Girl In Om is filling. Some women commuted all the way from a different state to be there that morning.
When you’re a woman of color growing up in a country rooted in the supremacy of another group, the act of declaring love for yourself and the pieces of your identity society has taught you to shun becomes a beautiful and defiant one. The very act of taking up space, of walking down the street in brown skin and textured hair becomes an act of self-love. I’ll be honest; I’m still learning to do this. I’m still on the journey to feeling comfortable in certain spaces without feeling stripped down and bare. So, seeing the very things which, as a woman of color, you’re conditioned to believe are a deficit being embraced and valued was an experience in itself.
Being in that room I couldn’t help but think, “Every woman here is a movement.” Each one had experienced so much, and yet each of them was moving through life with bravery, vulnerability, depth, hope and the belief in our ability to continue making an impact despite the barricades that have existed since the foundations of this country were built.
Our time together was sacred, memorable and healing. Lauren Ash and the whole team of Black Girl In Om are creating community, a thriving, breathing being with a heartbeat and a story whose mission resonates globally. If you’re a woman of color living in Chicago looking to expand your self-care practices, stop by one of the BGIO sessions. I’ll see you there.