Why Holistic Spaces for Women of Color are Important

Lauren Ash is going on tour and helping women of color take a deep breath.

By Kristina Bustos

At the beginning of 2017, my co-workers and I were asked what we did for self-care during a staff meeting. When it came to my turn to share, I said the sisterhood I created with other Filipinas through our live production “Raised Pinay” had helped me a lot last year. If you would’ve asked me that same question two years ago, I might have said, “getting my nails did.” That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with a mani and a pedi as a form of self-care, but my definition of truly caring for myself, as a woman of color living in a hostile social-political world, has evolved.

Sharing spaces with other Filipinas or self-identified women of color —whether it’s gathering to support each other, cooking with each other, or taking part in Inner Dance — gave me the chances to just be in my own skin with other women who can share or relate to what that means without speaking on it.

“Holistic, communal spaces for women of color, whether focused on yoga, meditation, journaling, art, (or) cooking allow for us to remember that we are not alone, that we’re not crazy, and that, on the contrary, we’re actually among the most magical beings on earth,” says Lauren Ash, a certified yoga teacher and founder of Black Girl In Om, “a mindful lifestyle brand, a global community, and a tangible platform for an increasingly marginalized audience around the world.”

Ash has been “curating culturally-specific wellness and self-care spaces for over two years.” After continually hearing from other women of color who wanted to experience what Ash is “cultivating through Black Girl In Om”, she is now taking her holistic skills outside of her community in Chicago. Starting this month, Ash will be touring her workshop called “Yoga + Self-Care for Women of Color” in multiple cities, kicking off in New York City. With the workshop, Ash and her students will explore both what it means to be mindful about taking care of one’s self, while also being mindful of the current social-political world they live in through “restorative, slow-moving yoga flow, guided meditation, dialogue, and writing.”

“Since earning my yoga teacher certification in 2014, I’ve been really invested in holding space for women of color, black women in particular, to gather together without the microaggressions, racism, and lack of representation found in too many mainstream wellness spaces,” says Ash.

“Additionally, now that we’re living in a political climate that is bound to attack the bodies, spirits, and overall energy of women of color, I felt it necessary to intentionally create more spaces for women of color to breathe easy.”

In addition to fielding direct racism and microagressions, along with internalized detrimental monologues, “we are oftentimes the ones taking on others’ burdens” as Ash puts it.

A recent example of this is the Women’s March that took place all over the United States on January 21st after Donald Trump’s inauguration. While the event was something special, black women held signs that served as a reminder of their contributions in building this country and of their votes at the 2016 Presidential Election (94% of black women voted against Trump). Yet, black women still have to keep marching and protesting for their own and for other’s rights. When they and other women of color choose to opt out, say, from the Women’s March, they are then blamed for the divide. It can be maddening, frustrating or disheartening for many women of color.

That’s where workshops like Ash’s come in.

“Holistic, communal spaces for women of color are actually quite radical, considering this,” says Ash. “It’s powerful (and sometimes scary) to get in touch with ourselves. It’s powerful to come together with other women of color and say: I see you. You see me. We’re going to find a way to survive, and even thrive, regardless.

Ash isn’t alone in creating holistic, communal spaces for people of color. In her “Black Health Matters” article, journalist Jenna Wortham highlighted artist Simon Leigh’s wellness sessions last summer that included acupuncture, group meditation, herbal remedies and dance classes aimed for the black community “in the age of Black Lives Matter.”

What Leigh created, and Ash is set on doing with her own workshop, can help people of color find their own version of self-care while answering the question of what self-care really means for them.

“Well, what motivated me to attend one of Lauren’s classes is my search for self care,” says Synthia Hogan, who is going to Ash’s workshop in New York. “I never really took this step before…so I am unsure of what to do. Honestly I have been seeking on Facebook whatever kind workshop for this process.”

Yoga mats aside, self-care can definitely exist outside the “often capitalist paradigms and understandings of what self-care look like” says Ash. For example, Wortham recently shared her own self-care guidelines, which included small rituals, redefining personal luxury and protecting one’s own schedule and time.

Many women of color may be on a path similar to Hogan’s as far as learning and discovering their “self-care” in a world that either can’t handle them or doesn’t want them — which is why holistic, communal spaces centered on black and brown bodies are so vital for the mental, emotional and spiritual health that occupies these bodies. It gives them a chance to be in a space with other women of color while not only caring for themselves, but simply breathing with other women of color. And that is magical.

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Kristina Bustos is a contributing writer to The Riveter – a Filipina feminist raised in the Midwest, who now calls New York City home. When not writing about food and women of color stories and their representation in pop culture, she’s leading cultural studies course for older adults in the non-profit sector. You can find her other work on Paste Magazine, Digital Spy and Essence. Holla at your girl at @krisbustos.


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