What if you seem to be the one who always pours into others, and you suddenly find yourself totally depleted? What if the industry you work in is called "wellness" but you feel unwell and lonely?
This week, we bring you a brave and emotional story from Tonie Warner, a career yoga teacher based in Brooklyn, New York. She teaches at the intersection of Yoga Philosophy and Social Justice. She is the Founder of Yuja Soul: Yoga for Black Women, a space dedicated to healing justice for Black Women.
Her story pulls back the curtain on the yoga industry, as well as her own heart.
Her story is entitled "I Had to Forgive Myself".
See below for a full transcript of this episode (Episode 16).
Content: yoga, yoga for black women, wellness, yoga teacher training, social justice, black lives matter
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This episode was produced by Jamie Yuenger and Piet Hurkmans.
Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.
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Jamie: Hello, I'm Jamie Yuenger, and this is 'If you knew me' a podcast about the inner lives of women every week we walk into the heart and mind of one woman, each guest can choose to share her real name or to stay anonymous. This week we hear from Tonie, that's her real name.
Tonie is a yoga teacher just before the pandemic. She was inspired to offer yoga classes exclusively for black women. These days, Tony is feeling conflicted about the balance of giving to others. And taking care of herself and she's troubled by the wellness industry. It often looks so generous and tidy and peaceful from the outside, but sitting inside of it, Tonie tells a different tale.
Her story is entitled 'I had to forgive myself'.
Tonie: I'm pretty conflicted right now.
Feeling pretty lonely right now.
So I, I work in wellness. I'm a yoga teacher and I have been teaching full time for a really long time.
Since 2020, since George Floyd was killed and black lives matter was really galvanized into it's like most recent push and expansion.
I'm actually lost a lot of really strong friendships. What I felt was strong, due to difference in race. it was like every single moment of racism that I had experienced every micro-aggression. Every time, I didn't stand up for myself, haunted me all over again.
And in that time I had to like really forgive myself for not standing up for myself for not realizing what was happening to me for all the times that I. I don't know, pushed against my own blackness, my own black womanhood. Wasn't really standing in my sense of self.
But on the other hand, it was very clear what I wanted to do with yoga, with teaching yoga.
So I found myself working towards what I would say now is healing justice.
Tonie: I found this alignment with an ambassadorship program and, uh, teacher-owned cooperative, very social justice based work. And I was able to propel my own passion in Yuja Soul, yoga for black women, which was born from a place of loneliness and hurt.
And so here's this trend again of feeling really lonely and trying to turn prolonged abuse into something good. And to be honest, I'm just tired of,
I'm tired of feeling like I have to transform abuse.
And create community and create power and help people feel better because really lately, I just, I feel so commodified as a teacher.
The standards of the wellness industry, where black women, and other teachers who are not white, are copied and not credited, um, whose images are being used so a studio can make money, you know, exploited for whatever uh, business owner wants from, marketing for teachers.
It's all this continued commodification and it feels particularly lonely when no one else that I know is doing the work that I'm doing.
Every single person I grew up with has taken a very traditional path.
We all went to school together and then they, you know, got married, had children. They're doing these very like corporate big deal jobs. They have these very traditional routes and I'm the only one that does not.
And so there's no one who understands that I need to be poured into as much as I'm pouring into other people.
And it feels especially compounded because I'm a black woman
I don't know how much more I can teach. I don't know how much more I can keep choosing this life,
But at the same time, I can't imagine myself doing anything else. And I'm just really tired.
It's not necessarily that I'm doing this to like get brownie points or accolades, but I work really hard to be aware and kind and generous, and I'm not seeing the reward. I'm just getting depleted and depleted. And I'm trying really hard, not to regret choices that I made to do this.
I will say financially, that's the biggest piece. I think if there was more financial stability, maybe I, this wouldn't be feeling so tender.
I think that's the hard part about creating your own path.
No one in my family has done this, you know, forge their own way from what we're all raised to do - culturally and traditionally. So I don't even have an example.
I know how to take care of myself, but a lot of that requires time away from working. Time away from working means that I'm not making money. And if I'm not making money, then I'm stressed about paying my bills.
I think the industry is also just very, you know, there's this decision of who the cool kids are and who gets to be visible and who gets to be seen as originators of ideas. And a lot of people are not being credited for their, thoughts and their ideas. And the industry is not - there isn't this creation of space.
It's it's not an expanding framework. It's everyone just let's get in where we fit in.
And it's feeling really crowded right
Perhaps, especially those who work so hard to do good. I think we are swallowing our own loneliness. one thing that always comes up for me when these moments of loneliness happened is community and. I hope that we don't forget that, that we find someone or someplace, or even if it's like with our ancestry whatever you believe in that there is someone there with you.
Tonie: And there are people sharing the same experience in their own. I know that even though I feel lonely, I know that I'm not alone, completely alone.
I think people have this expectation of me that I'm this strong, powerful person.
And I feel, so, like actually no, I'm struggling right now. Then who am I to be teaching anyone yoga? If I share that I'm, this person is still figuring things out, who's going to want to hear what I have, like listened to me, you know?
Everyone wants to listen to a black woman and emulate a black woman until it's time to credit us. And it's until it's time for us to be in a spotlight that they're used to being in.
You would think that in the wellness industry, that you know,
The wellness industry, it's astounding how much harm is perpetuated and how little I get to actually be soft and explore my womanhood.
I had been teaching for a few years and actually was dealing with a really horrible breakup and part of the hard part of the breakup had to do with race. and it really, really, really devastated me this break up. And so I was feeling sad and noticed more than I'd ever noticed before, how white the spaces that I was teaching, were in terms of the students and in terms of fellow teachers, and I had this strong need to be around black women, Everything that I've been doing my life - my mom passing away, migrating to a new country,
a few traumas that I had experienced at the hands of men - the people who rallied around me were black women. And I was getting very resentful of teaching from my lived experience, my healing, my wounds, my strength, my weaknesses to people who were not black women. And so, I noticed around that time, how lacking the industry was in inclusivity.
Tonie: And so I remember sitting down after a class and my friend Arlean was in the lobby, um, in the studio and there was someone working in the front desk and I said, I'm going to do a class for black women. And only black women. And we're going to talk about black women things and do yoga for black women.
Um, and Arlean and this person were like, "You're not going to leave the studio until you post it to your Instagram." And that was the beginning of Yuja Soul. So Yuja Soul is yoga for black women, all black women, all practice levels. And, It started in person. Um, right now it's online. it doesn't have an official home outside of my heart space. Um, my teaching is really an extension of my belief for my hopes for black women and girls and for the wider black community, in terms of our collective healing.
Jamie: Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. Tonie Warner is a career yoga teacher based in Brooklyn, New York.
She teaches at the intersection of yoga philosophy and social justice at group classes and teacher trainings throughout New York City. Tonie is the founder of Yuja Soul. No, Tony is the founder of Yuja Soul, yoga for black women, a space dedicated to healing justice for black women. If Tonie's story spoke to you, take a moment and share it..
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