Jivana Heyman 17:19:39
Hi everyone, its Jivana I just want to come on for a moment and thank our sponsor Offering Tree. They're an all in one easy to use community back business that saves you time, energy and money as a Yoga teacher. Offering Tree allows you to create a website in less than 30 minutes. Plus you get a discount to Accessible Yoga. Just go to offeringtree.com/accessibleyoga to get your discount today. Okay, here's our Episode
Tristan Katz 17:20:10
Hi, my name is Tristan Katz. My pronouns are they and sometimes he. As a member of the Board of Directors at the Accessible Yoga Association for the last several years and a lover of podcasts in general, I'm honored to be taking over the love of yoga podcast for Anjali Rao this summer. For those who aren't familiar with me and my work, I'm a digital strategist and equity inclusion facilitator specializing in marketing through a justice and equity lens, and Trans competency training and consulting. I am a writer and editor, a dog parent, and a longtime practitioner of yoga. I began studying yoga in 2000, over 20 years ago now, and I've since taken countless trainings, and I taught yoga myself in outreach settings for several years. Over the course of our upcoming episodes, I'll be hosting conversations with a variety of special guests, some Yoga teachers and practitioners and some not. And I'm looking forward to sharing these discussions with you as we explore topics such as social change in Yoga, decolonizing fitness, embodiment and consent, parenting and yoga and so much more. Anjali Rao will be back this fall to resume for radical work on the podcast. Stay tuned for her much awaited return. And without further ado, here's our latest episode.
Hi, everyone, welcome. This is Tristan, my pronouns are they and sometimes he and I am here on my first takeover episode for Anjali Rao. I will be speaking with Michelle Cassandra Johnson. Michelle, would you like to introduce yourself and share anything about your work that you care to, for folks to hear?
Michelle C. Johnson 17:21:53
Yes, first, I want to thank you for being here with me. And more than that for being a comrade and friend and colleague and all of the things throughout the years since we've gotten to work with each other and gotten to know each other. So, I'm grateful for this conversation and for the podcast. Thank you for inviting me into this space. And I'm joined by my dog Jasper, who's in the background. So if people hear noise right now, he just ate food. He's, I don't know what and he's about to get on his cushion. So it's likely they'll be scratching and situating himself. And my name is Michelle Cassandra Johnson, my pronouns are she and her, I live on the ancestral land of the Catawba, the Cheraw, the Tutelo, this Saponi, the Occaneechi, and many other tribes, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And my work in the world is centered around healing and all of the different ways. And often that is in a Yoga or spiritual space. And I also have been a racial equity trainer and dismantling racism educator and disrupter for over two decades, in community, in corporations in organizations. And these days, I'm thinking about, more about and you've heard me speak about this Tristan, like circle and ceremony and ritual and bringing that into healing spaces, be that a space focused on dismantling racism or oppression, or some other kind of space. And they don't feel separate to me, but but some spaces define themselves separately is what I'll say. And so I'm just, I'm like leaning into more magic and the mystical, but also very grounded in what it means to be a human. In 2023, on a planet that feels like at times it is spinning out of control. And daily, if not multiple times a day, I contemplate my role and work and how I want to show up. And my practice of being human or learning how to be a better human. Not just other humans but to the planet. Since I am nature as the planet is in reflects back to me. So there's more I could say, that's a little bit about who I am and how I'm thinking about my practice and work right now.
Tristan Katz 17:24:24
Thank you. It's really good to be in space with you. We've done many podcast episodes before and I know you were on the podcast, before it became the Love of Yoga. Back when it was the Accessible Yoga Association Podcast. And I'm curious if you could share for folks, I'm going to assume that most of our listeners are familiar with you and your work and more than likely your book Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World. And I'm sure folks have heard you speak to this before too, but just to ground listeners who are maybe newer to you, would you share a little bit about your own Yoga journey? How you came to Yoga? I've heard you speak to this. But I'd love for you to speak to it again. How you came to Yoga, how you started teaching, and maybe what led to Skill in Action?
Michelle C. Johnson 17:25:13
Yeah, I'm like Tristan could tell the story about me at this point in time. Because you've heard it although pieces new pieces emerge, or how I describe it, it changes. So how I came to Yoga, it depends on how we define Yoga, is what I'll say. I have learned to think about the practice of Yoga, and relate to the practice as an ongoing practice and learning journey, and as a way of being and living. And so if I think about Yoga in the way I just described, I think I've been practicing curiosity and had questions about disconnection for a very long, like, I was a curious child, I was a pensive child I was, is that person lonely? Can we bring them home? I was that kind of kid. I don't want to have kids, mom, like that kind of because the world doesn't make sense to me. I was that child, which while I wouldn't call that, I wouldn't call that Yoga then because I haven't been yet been exposed to it. It does feel like it is connected to the liberatory practice of Yoga and the questions that it surfaces for me and others about being in this human experience being a spiritual being about connection and interconnectedness. And what I was noticing as a child about disconnection, so there's that answer of how I came to Yoga, even though I didn't call it Yoga. And then I have no idea how I receive I don't know where I got maybe the library, a Jane Fonda Yoga, VHS tape. No one in my family practice movement in that way. And I don't know if we want to define what that was on that VHS tape as Yoga. But now that I understand more about the asanas, what I was practicing at 14 in front of the TV, in the family room, I was moving through what looked like asanas. And I don't know what made me curious about that. I do know I was regarding it as a workout and had body image issues and was like wanting to change my body. But I could have chosen aerobics or something. And for some reason I chose Yoga, or what was what was being presented as Yoga through movement, primarily not meditation, and not the other parts of the path. And in college, I practiced Yoga as part of a gym credit. And then I went to grad school for social work. And my dear friend, Eric took me to a gym to practice Yoga with a teacher who was very well known in our community in Carrboro, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And this teacher was the first teacher who presented Yoga as a spiritual practice. And I remember being like, oh, there's something deeper here. It's not just about movement. And maybe I knew that all along. But I had no teacher ever said that to me. The teacher, he read from a spiritual text. I know he read from the Yoga Sutras, I understand that now. But he read from some other spiritual texts and was guiding us through asanas and meditation and really devoted to Eight Limb Path and teaching what felt like a fuller practice and representation of yoga as I understand it, now. And even though it was learning about spiritual practice, from him, I was still one of the only if or if not one of just a few Black Indigenous or People of Color from what I could tell in this space, in this room of 60 people, his classes were full. And I remember feeling like, oh, he's talking about liberation. He's talking about spirit. He's talking about us being devoted to a path and I'm wondering why there are not other Brown and Black folks in this space. Coupled with he is a white man. And I think I was like, oh, what does it mean that this white man's teaching this to us? I was curious. He was a great teacher and I'm glad I had him as a teacher and I was curious about that. And that led me to practicing with him for many years, led me to a studio where I practiced almost every day. I was exposed to different teachers from different lineages, most of them white bodied. I think I had one Black teacher in that studio and going to practice every day asana, meditation, although I was exposed to some other parts of the path in that space too, really piqued my interest. And I wanted to go deeper into this practice. And I was a practicing clinical social worker at the time. And so I wanted to bring Yoga into the healing space of clinical social work, because I worked with a lot of people who had experienced trauma. This is a long story. But all of that led me to have I mean, there are so many parts and not saying, but all of that led me to teacher training, like deepening and practice a daily practice and went through 200 hour teacher training and 300 hour teacher training, whatever that means, and I have lots of thoughts about that, even though I lead my own program. The credentialing of yoga, and who gets to decide that. And I went through these trainings, again, with the like, curiosity of why am I the only or one of two Black or Brown folks in this training space? Consistently and in the classes I was taking. And in the teacher trainings, I remember the question of like, I don't know that I understood, I did actually know the term cultural appropriation, but I didn't know it in the context of Yoga. I did know it from dismantling racism work. And so I think that raised the question for me of like, whose practice is this? Where's it from? And why aren't we speaking to it more? And also, why are we, why aren't we talking about what's happening in the world? Like, this practice is a way of living. And so let us talk about the experience we're having in these bodies, right? And the way we are mining and taking from the earth, or the way we are taking from whole groups of people without any relationship or connection to them. And in a way that it made me want to deepen my practice even more, and also have more reverence for the practice. And I was a dismantling racism trainer at the time, as well as a clinical social worker. So it, it also made me begin to think about disembodiment as a tool of dehumanization, and as connected to systems like white supremacy. It made me think about the practice of Yoga, inviting us back into the body, and also the awareness of us ourselves as spiritual beings. And so I wanted to bring it into those spaces. And it also made me think about the, you know, power and the practice of Yoga to really speak truth to what is happening to us and around us. And also the healing nature of the practice. And it had, in my experience, it has everything we need to heal individually and collectively. So that's what led to Skill in Action. Curiosity. I would say anger at like, the exclusive nature of the industry of Yoga. The deep questions I had about what's going on and who my teachers were, and myself as a teacher, and like, why? Why did it, I still have this question, you know, does it make sense for me to be teaching and calling it yoga? All of that led to Skill in Action, the first edition, which was really a, you know, 99 page book, a tiny book about my experience as a Black person, within the industry of Yoga and wellness, and those who are less proximal to social and institutional power, and the experience we have and how the industry feels like it's so the way it operates is so antithetical to the core of the practice of, of Yoga, as I understand it. And so I think it was like, it was anger and curiosity that led me to like, sit late at night and write that book. After a long day, I was working with, you know, five or six clients a day, I was an elected official at the time, I was teaching six yoga classes a week, I was probably doing many other things in my community. And I think the like, the anger was connected to desire, the desire to say, to offer some a narrative, a counter narrative to a whitewashed industry of Yoga. So that's where where it came from. I know that was a lot, but that's the my journey and the journey of Skill in Action.
Tristan Katz 17:34:04
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing. Could you I'm curious about the chronology. What year did you do your 200 hours and 300 hour and what year did you start writing Skill in Action?
Michelle C. Johnson 17:34:18
I went to 200 hour teacher training in 2009. And then I believe I started a 300 hour and 2011 it may have been late 2010. I did a program where we had modules and we had five years to complete it. I think I completed it in like two and a half years. It wasn't local, although it wasn't that far away. It was in Asheville, North Carolina. And I started leading a 200 hour teacher training in 2012. Prior to that, I had led Yoga for social change weekend immersions within a Yoga studio and then at a spiritual refuge, that is no longer. It was called stone house, it's actually been reclaimed by Brown and Black folks. And it's called Earth Seed now, the land and the space. So lead workshops on that land and in that space. And I feel like I was teaching my third Skill in Action cohort when someone said you should write a book. And I thought, oh, well, I've written a teacher training manual, which is not Skill in Action. But I was like, I took time to sit and write that I can write a book about what I'm teaching them, I have a whole curriculum I'm offering. I imagine it would have come to me anyway. But I remember Marsha, is this person's name, Marsha saying to me, like, like planting the seed, do this. And so I began writing it in 2016. Although I think I started to talk, I probably had my first planning session with Tatum, who you know, in late 2015, early 2016. And started writing and then I completed it in what was mostly done when I moved to Portland and lived there for a year. But I added the where I'm from poem last, actually, which became like people send their where I'm from poems to me all the time. So it's so interesting, it was the last piece I added to the book. So I completed it in, you know, the fall of 2017. And then I self published that edition, had no idea what I was doing. I mean, it came out into the world. It's wonderful. But I really didn't know that world and had to, like, do all of these things that I didn't really understand how to do. And it actually came out in 2018, March of 2018.
Tristan Katz 17:36:51
Did you ever think that it would become such an anchor for your growing work or make such a ripple in the Yoga community?
Michelle C. Johnson 17:37:03
This is such a funny question to me, because my intention with Skill in Action was for it to become part of as many teacher training programs as possible, like the part of the core curriculum. And so and I said that I was like this is I'm writing this thing that feels like it would fit into a teacher training curriculum. I want it to like, be everywhere in teacher training curriculums. And so I, I knew the potential for that to happen was there like I knew, and I called that I said, this is my purpose with this book and the story. And I didn't know it would be, I don't know if this is true, I was about to say, I didn't know if it would be as transformative. But I don't ever know, I don't I'm not sure if I ever really know. Like, think about the other books I've written since then. Or just like teachings or feedback I get from people. And I just do we, like ever know how transformative something we birth is going to be? Even if there's a clear intention around how we want it to manifest and be used or of service in the world. And so I think I am, well I know I'm grateful. And I'm also constantly sort of surprised when I see posts about Skill in Action, or someone's, or I have Skill in Action facilitators now! Which you know, like, just the growth, the 99 page book and what it's become and how pivotal, it seems it has been within the industry of wellness and Yoga. I don't know if I could have imagined that, even though I had the inkling it would. It would change things because I didn't know many other people who were talking about it in that way, who had a clear analysis about oppression and white supremacy and dominance and that hierarchy of bodies, right, through constructs. Like I didn't hear other people talking about that in the wellness space. I heard plenty of people in organizing spaces talking about that, who needed spiritual practices, but I didn't hear. So I just think, I think maybe I was aware of this is an offering that feels unique, right? And certainly now there are many more people talking about this and teaching at the intersection of justice and Yoga and really being true, I think, to the practice and what it's intended for as we live in it, we're like living in this context.
Tristan Katz 17:39:44
Yeah, I want I mean, I think you know this, but I just want to say, it was transformative for me. I feel like getting my copy of Skill in Action, sitting down to read it. And I still remember. I remember being on my couch. I remember sitting with a lot of memories that were running through my brain and my body through like, of instances in my life, where suddenly things were clicking together and reading your book. And something was integrating and shifting in me. And I was gifted the language to describe things that I had witnessed, but wasn't able to understand. It was a pivotal moment for me in so many different ways, reading that book, and I feel like Skill in Action changed my life, like truly. And so I know, you've heard me say, like, so many times your work has impacted me, your work has changed me. But man, that book was it, that book was it. And I think if it changed my life in so many ways and impacted me in so many ways, that it must be true for other practitioners. And I can only imagine that it's, it is hard to know, for sure how transformative it's been. And it's hard to say, because in my mind, I think would we be seeing the proliferation of justice focused teacher trainings, or even modules that are social change oriented or DEI oriented? Would we have seen that proliferation if it weren't for Skill in Action? It's hard to say, I'm sure the need was there regardless, obviously. But I think that Skill in Action started a widespread conversation in a very public and accessible way. And obviously, that conversation, then, like, took a new turn in 2020 when I know the book gained even more wider recognition. Yeah. Yeah.
Michelle C. Johnson 17:41:38
Yeah. Thank you for saying that. And sharing. And you have shared with me before, and I appreciate you sharing again, like how Skill in Action changed you and landed with you. And, and I do know that it changed other people, because people have told me, right? Like, I do know that. And I feel like, I'm grateful because I got to be of service in that way, like, yeah, so I just feel deep gratitude for people's willingness and openness to change in response to a story and the conversation around the experience people who are less proximal to power, myself included, were having within a context that was supposed to make us well, when in fact, it was just leaving us out. And that never sat right. And so I'm glad the conversation is more widespread and centered. And, and integrity is really important to me. And so, you know, when we birth things, we don't actually know what's going to happen, or how they will be used or what. And I feel like alignment and integrity just feel important, because I've had questions about whether or not it's like people co opting or sort of commodifying Yoga and justice, right? It's like, and I also trust, there's real, because I'm in relationship with many people who are doing the work for real, for real, right? I trust that's happening too. I think I want to call people into like, how we do it, right? How do we practice? How do we center this conversation and experience? How do we evolve the conversation over time, and the like, there's an invitation to continue to be open because I'm in a space of learning all the time about what Skill in Action means. You've seen me, like, in real time, what does it mean to be skillful in this moment? What does it mean to call each other in because we believe in our shared humanity? You know, what does it mean to like push a little bit or a lot? So I just want to offer that as well.
Tristan Katz 17:44:01
So since birthing Skill in Action, you have birthed several other babies.
Michelle C. Johnson 17:44:08
Book family. Book babies, that's true. No human baby.
Talk to us about your other book babies. We'll start, let's go chronologically, we'll start with Finding Refuge. And I want to, the reason I'm asking these questions is because I want folks to understand, like so many different things about you in your work and how you're what's interesting to me to witness you is that you continue to stay rooted in the same, like it's the same, it's the same mission, it's the same passion, it's the same set of values, it's the same practice. But the way it might look to an outside perspective is that it's, it's evolving and changing in these, quote, "new ways." And so while Skill in Action is very much rooted in, in Yoga teachings, and finding refuge incorporates Yoga, very much so. It's also a it's also like a departure and away from being like an explicitly "Yoga book" (I'm putting that in quotes). I would love for you to share about how Finding Refuge came into being we'll talk about the other book babies after that.
Speaker 3 17:45:19
There's so many book babies. Um, I love this question, because I feel like I've always been someone who has done many different things that may not make sense to folks on the outside or who who are like, wait a minute, is she a Yoga teacher? Is she a social worker? Is she an intuitive healer? Is she an activist? I'm talking about like, what people might think about me what, as if we can't do multiple things or be multiple ways and fulfill different roles at the same time. And I know some of that is like conditioning and, and shaping and how we think about career and work. And I mean, I've always been interested in many different things. And you're right, I think, every book I've written thus far, so the core is the same. It's like, are we going to do what we need to do to get free? That's it? Are we going to do it? Are we not going to do it? What is our practice toward that mission? Right? And why are we suffering in the first place? And how I relate Finding Refuge to Skill in Action is, I talk about Skill in Action, because I do think it was this for many people. And I certainly experienced this in 2020, when so many people needed a tool, right? In response to the murder of George Floyd, in the global uprisings in the middle of a pandemic, people were reaching for something and it was it was already there. I think Skill in Action is a disruption to the industry of wellness. And it's like calling the question about, you know, if we say we're practicing this, and we are excluding so many people, are we really practicing? What are we? What are we doing, right? How have we moved away from our shared humanity? Where are we out of alignment and integrity? I think this disruption, and I saw this in my many years of dismantling racism work prior to writing Skill in Action, this moment of disruption I've experienced in my own life and the awakening that the world is not the way that I thought it was. And the constant reminders of that. That creates grief, right? It's like, oh, wait, I'm not who I thought I was. I'm not positioned where I thought it would be. Someone's made up these boxes that they placed me in and it means I'm these identities. And these certain characteristics are attached with me. It's like, you know, when the world and on top of like all we were moving through, right, globally, and so I just think there's the disruption, and then the grief, and Finding Refuge, in part, I will say, is in response to that disruption and the grief and the need to attend to our grief collectively, because of what we're losing because of systems of oppression that are dehumanizing and marginalizing and attempting to annihilate whole groups of people. Which Skill in Action speaks to through the lens of wellness and Yoga and Finding Refuge is, okay, well, now that we know this, what what are we feeling in our hearts? Where's our heartbreak? Because when that disruption happens, there's heartbreak. And what what do we risk losing when we do not attend to our heartbreak? And what better tool do we have than spiritual practice to actually turn toward our heartbreak? And in my opinion, again, Yoga has what we need, in my opinion. It has what we need to heal, and we can't bypass the heartbreak and expect to heal and so Finding Refuge is much more than that. I said, in part because the other part, I believe, that is central to Finding Refuge is my mother, Clara and the first chapter about her navigating the health care system, which is not a departure from the wellness system, right? And my awareness of understanding systems do these things to people, especially Black elders, who are bigger bodied and have disabilities, right? But knowing that intellectually and then living through that was a completely different, those were two different things. And so I just want to name that I mean, Finding Refuge is deeply vulnerable. There are stories about my experience of grief and loss. And it begins with my mother and her particular infection with which was like, at our root chakra and her cervical spine and the parallel of that to like, we have to get to the root of the root of the root, and actually heal that if we want to create something different. If we want to create conditions for us all to be free. So that's the conversation I would say between those two books.
Tristan Katz 17:50:15
I love that. Tell us where because We Heal Together, which is for those who are unfamiliar, Michelle's most recent book, tell us about how We Heal Together fits into that conversation.
Speaker 3 17:50:30
I love this too, because I did not know I was going to write Finding Refuge when I wrote Skill in Action. Or We Heal Together when I finished Finding Refuge. I knew I would write another book, but I didn't know and We Heal Together feels like the, okay, now that you're like in the shitstorm of your heartbreak, right? Now that we're in it, we're in it together, you're like being with the disruption, understand the world is not the way that you thought it was dealing with your own traumas and grief and the on the collective scale. We Heal Together is and we need to like actually do this in community to come into a state of, I don't know if I want to say balance, but connection is what I'll say. That like living into our shared humanity through ritual, and practice feels like the core of We Heal Together. And it explores some of the same themes as Finding Refuge that feels like the people can go through Finding Refuge on their own and not actually bring that into community. Although it lends itself to being in community. And We Heal Together, people can try to do it on their own, but I don't feel like it works that way with with We Heal Together. I don't know about other people's experience, but it feels like it's, hey people, we have to be in circle, and ritual and ceremony together as we reckon with these things, as we acknowledge the grief, and as we heal. And here are some practices to move into that healing ancestrally with our connection to the Earth, through the practices of not ever leaving anyone behind and building accountability to self and in community with others, right? Through lineage and legacy. So that there's more but that feels like the connection to me that it's that there's no other option, but for us to do this together, with one another. And it is it speaks to what I said earlier around, we can't bypass the grief. Right? And so the power of being in community, knowing that our like mourning and celebrating and silence together and listening to one another and ritualizing, right? And engaging the elements, that all of this is in the spirit of of what I actually think our systems and the system when I say that I'm thinking about the planet and natural world. This our systems, I do believe want to come back into balance. I know things are not balanced right now. They're deeply unbalanced. And I feel like there are ways that people are moving, or working to move into a place of of balance. So We Heal Together is that, like how do we do it?
Jivana Heyman 17:53:16
Hi, everyone, I just want to pop in here really quick and remind you about our sponsor Offering Tree. As Yoga teachers, we our own business managers, website, designers and producers, it's a lot. And Offering Tree offers an all in one platform that makes it easy to succeed while we're doing all the things. And I just like to say that through this partnership with the Love of Yoga Podcast, Offering Tree has shown that it's committed to supporting accessibility and equity in the Yoga world. Offering Tree is a public benefit corporation and they're driven by a mission of wellness accessibility, which we share with them that Accessible Yoga. As an Offering Tree user, you'll get to join a supportive educational community. And you'll also get free webinars with top experts in wellness and entrepreneurship. And of course you get a discount so go to offeringtree.com/accessibleyoga to learn more and to get your discount. Okay, let's go back to the episode.
Tristan Katz 17:54:17
And so it's, in my mind, Skill in Action was like an after work night project that moved through you and Finding Refuge was another kind of project that sounds that it was much more influenced by your experience of your mother of growing up with her, of her health crisis. And I've heard you talk a little bit about We Heal Together being about your grandmother. And you're not remembering even writing this book in contrast to the previous two, which it sounds like you were much more, I don't want to say present because your present in a different way, but your experience of writing was different. Do you want to talk? Do you want to call Dorothy in? Do you want to say anything about that experience?
Michelle C. Johnson 17:55:05
I love this. I'm so glad you called Dorothy. And, and I did call in Clara, my mother. And so you're right. I remember every part of Finding Refuge because I had to, like build altars about to all the people I was writing about. And they would direct me, right, and I'd sit I didn't write at nighttime. It was during the day, when I wrote often in the morning in a particular room. But one time, I had to go outside and build an altar for Eric, because he wanted it outside and he wanted to fire it was like that kind of okay. And I don't remember. And I remember Skill in Action too, because it was like, as you said, nighttime after work. I was sitting there moving things were moving through. I do not remember writing We Heal Together. And I only began to remember the stories when I was recording the audio version, the audio book, and was kind of like, oh, that's the story you told about this. Oh, like there's a chapter about communion in church, when I tell you that that is not the chapter expected to write about sacred community and how we come into space together. And yet it is the story that wanted to be told, and that I didn't remember, it was just so it's fascinating to me this channeling, being a vessel. And, I feel like it is because my grandmother Dorothy was just moving through me and this, We Heal Together feels like Dorothy's book. You've heard me talk about this. It feels like I mean, I know I shared the stories, but I was being led by her the entire time. And just not aware of how much until I went back and read the audiobook and recorded the audiobook. And I think this is like, you know, Dorothy's a way of calling us into the healing and offering medicine we need at this time when there's so much division and the news cycle is unrelenting, as we know. And things feel like, very uncertain, I will say, and I don't know how it's gonna turn out. And I think this was her way of being like, and yet, sit in circle with beloved's and practice together. Because what else do you have? Like, I think it was her like, which to me makes sense. Because she was so devoted. She went to church, every Sunday Bible study, every Wednesday, she went and sat in circle at least twice a week, if not more, right? And then we sat in circle in our house, after church, around the dinner table. And for like, every holiday, and so I feel like of course, this would be the medicine that she would offer, to be like, you have each other this is what you have. So like, be in space with one another reckon with these different things, and work toward healing. So, Dorothy is, I'm grateful for Dorothy and feel her all of the time and feel her and every word and every page of this book.
Tristan Katz 17:58:14
Do you want to share about the upcoming book? About a Space For Us and about the book project that will come after A Space For Us, if you care to.
Speaker 3 17:58:31
So obviously, I had been writing a lot during COVID. Although I thought about, yeah, Finding Refuge, but the proposal went in before I understood COVID was happening, just to give people some context. And then I wrote a book about collective grief, but didn't know what was going to happen, which is, it was an ancestral assignment. And so on August 8th, A Space For Us: A Guide For Leading Black Indigenous and People of Color affinity groups is coming out published by Beacon Press. And it I'm so excited about this book because it is for bodies of culture for BIPOC Folks, and in so many ways, feels like a love letter to BIPOC people and a call, I mean, the title A Space For Us, which also feels connected to me all together, if I think about it, right? For us to have our own space to process what we've internalized, our shaping, and to heal with with one another and to dream up things that, that I believe exist outside of the constraints of systems and conditions that are in place because of, of systems of dominance and superiority. And so, you know, I've been talking about We Heal Together as like a spell, and it feels like a spell. And A Space For Us does as well, because it's, it's sort of like we're gonna, we're gonna be in space anyway together, and we are going to prioritize our healing, right? Even as these systems are trying to take that away from us and to like, steal us away from ourselves and each other, right, like the core of who we are. And it is both a guide for how to lead affinity groups. And I also feel like it's a journey for people BIPOC body, people in bodies of culture, and however people regard themselves. But it's a, it's a journey to think about, how do I think about myself? And my racial identity? And what has my shaping been? And what is my perception of other People of Color, like it feels like, well two things are happening. Yes, here's a manual for how to lead groups and also, who are you? And how did you come to be? And which communities are you a part of? And what does it mean to be in community with one another? Like it feels like that to me, which I love that about it, because it's not, I don't really write manuals in that way. Like, it's not, it's not the workbook, even though it has a gazillion journaling prompts. And it has content and curriculum to be used and agendas in you know, to guide affinity groups. It's also like about one's personal journey too, which feels so important to dive into if someone's going to lead an affinity group, and do this kind of work. So it comes out August 8th, and it's available for preorder now. And I just led an affinity group earlier today, which was one of the preorder incentives, and there's another one coming up. And there'll be a launch in August, for space for us, which is that is open to anyone, the affinity groups are for BIPOC people, but the launch is for anyone.
Tristan Katz 18:01:56
How do you, is there anything you want to communicate to white folks who might be interested in reading the book for BIPOC affinity spaces?
Michelle C. Johnson 18:02:05
Yes. I'm glad you asked this question because, I don't want to say it feels complex, it, it's really also like how to facilitate. And so um, part of me is like there there, there's information that would be useful. And I'm also aware that the experience I describe in a space for us related to race, there are likely I am sure some some similarities, connected to other identities that are less proximal to power. And so I wrote it for BIPOC people. And there's useful information. And what I wrote in the introduction is, is white bodied reading this, ask yourself why? Like, there is a guide about how to lead white bodies affinity groups, and there are actually many books about whiteness, right? And so I just, I'll say, I'll leave it, like I'll say both of those things. I do think there's useful information. And there are not many spaces where I, as a Black person get to be without the white gaze. And so...and I think there can be discomfort when people feel like, oh, she didn't write this book for me? I didn't, I didn't write it for white bodied people like it is not, it is about decentering whiteness, actually, it is not about centering whiteness. So people can people can do what they want with that. I know I didn't give a clear answer, because it does feel nuanced to me. And what I would say to white bodied people is, in addition to what I just said, is that, you know, white bodied people can share this book, if they're in solidarity with or in community with BIPOC people can share this as a resource can buy it wholesale copies of it as a resource, right to share with communities, again, in relationship, not just sending a bunch of books to some people who not that. But like if you're in relationship with people who do racial equity work, dismantling racism, work, who are BIPOC, who might want to know about this, set that up. If you work at a university, and you want me to come lead an affinity group for BIPOC people in that space, and there is a white bodied person who can lead a white affinity group in that space and we're doing some work like that in solidarity, cool. Think about that right? Or other BIPOC people in the community who are doing this kind of work. Certainly there are many of us. And then my friend Stephanie Ghoston Paul, who is your friend too, is one of the contributors in a space for us and we are going to offer a course in, it begins in January of 2024, based on a space for us and white bodied people can donate funds so that BIPOC People can just attend that course, without having to think about finances or any barriers that might exist there, we want to remove that. So those are some like actionable things white bodied people can do in relationship to a space for us.
Tristan Katz 18:05:12
I'm realizing we're spending an hour talking about all of your books, like that's all I want to talk to you about so, dear listener, I hope that's okay for you. Send us away with some thoughts, or, or, or musings or reflections on what's to come after these two books that you're that are coming out this year.
Speaker 3 18:05:39
We are talking about books, we're also talking about life and connection and practice and community. So, I think I imagine people have heard that too. Like, it's, I always say like, the book I'm holding is bigger than the book, right? Like it's a body of work, it's ancestral, it becomes something different once it's out in the world, be that a book or something else someone has created. So I...what is next? Well, there is another book, which I'll say something about, because now I know when it's going to come out. Um, and I'll also say that I'm really interested in continuing to engage in transformative work and community with people that feels like ceremony. And I'm really interested in what, you've heard me say this, like soul nourishing, generative collaborations with people. And I say that here, because I don't know who's listening. And so like, someone may be listening who's like, oh, yeah, that resonates with me. What do you want to do together? You know, that kind of thing? I have been working inside of institutions and corporations and organizations for a long time. And I'm still doing that kind of work. And in just really sitting with how to bring more spiritual practice and teachings into it, and how to bring more magic into it. So if I think about like the evolution of my work, I like really, you just want to do rituals with people around these things that we're talking about. And that can take many different forms. I want to be clear about that. Right? It could happen in the context of a dismantling racism training, as we build an altar and come into the space together, that's a ritual, or as we call in the directions, that's a ritual or as we call in our ancestors. So I want more of that, because I feel like that it feels more rooted in healing justice work. And that's just where I'm where I'm going. So I'll say that and I have a book coming out on June 4th, 2024. I do not know the title, the working title is Our True Nature, but it will have a different title, because apparently there are too many books with nature and true in them. And so it will be something else. It is about the Yoga Sutras, and specifically the Klesheas. Anjali wrote the foreword, for what we are now calling Our True Nature and it will become something else. And it was really hard to write this book, and it took 15 chapters. And so when I was about six chapters in I felt like, oh, I can write this. And the reason it was difficult is because I had a question about whether or not I should write it, because I'm a Black person in America practicing Yoga, and learned yoga from a teacher who learned it from a teacher and a teacher, who is from India, and so had a lot of questions. And similar to the questions I had about Skill in Action, so funny to be coming back to that in a way, but a much deeper way with a deeper analysis. And it's also the first book project that didn't come from me and that my editor at Shambala, Beth, I love Beth. Beth asked me to write it. And she asked me to write it because she saw me teach about the Kleshas. And I was kind of like, oh yeah, I could probably do that. Not knowing how that would feel it is quite different to be invited to write something. Versus like I I'm gonna write Skill in Action or about grief now or about healing, there's the process felt different. And I trust Beth. And I know that now that I've turned in the manuscript, and she like, loves it, and I know it will be of service, I feel like Beth saw something in me, and knew that I could write the book. But I had to come to that on my own. And knew I could write it in a way, I do feel like I wrote it with reverence. I do feel like I said, this may not land for you is that, you know, like I was, I was, I think I was transparent about like, this is who I am and I'm offering this. And I recognize it may not speak to everyone or everything. And I still have learning to do I think I was like, saying that, in many ways. And I'm excited about it. Because I also think, you know, the thing people say the most about my work is that people use the word accessible a lot. And clarity, like, it's clear, it's accessible. And I do think the stories about the Kleshas, which are the afflictions, the five afflictions, the reasons we suffer our condition tendencies that get in the way of us being free individually and collectively. I think the way I wrote about them, people will find themselves in the stories like, oh, yeah, I'm attached to things like that, you know, like people will, I'm afraid to let go, what does that look like? So it feels like Skill in Action in that way too, in the people can apply it to their lives right away. That's how I feel about it. I know I wrote it, but that's how I feel about it. So I'm very excited. June 4th. And between now and then I'll be teaching all sorts of retreats. And we have work together and yeah, I'm excited about about what is to come.
Tristan Katz 18:11:29
Is there anything you want to say, as we end, anything you want to offer to the listeners about the role of practice in these times?
Michelle C. Johnson 18:11:42
Tristan Katz 18:11:45
I know. That's why I'm asking.
Michelle C. Johnson 18:11:48
Y'all you've heard me say this, you need a practice. You need a practice we need a practice. And I don't, I don't know. I don't know if we will survive anyway. And I don't know how we could survive without a practice. I just don't, I don't know be that a practice of like sitting and coming back to oneself. Or practice in circle or practice through conversation and friendship. Or practice of prayer, right? Or a practice of a walking meditation to your favorite space, like in the natural world, or reading the Bhagavad Gita over and over, which is what I did for the first like, year and a half of COVID. It sat on my desk, it was there every day. And I was reading it. And I'd read it many times before, but it was like, I need to read a verse in this because it's helping me understand what might be happening in the world, or a practice of rest, or a practice of not knowing. Right? Just being in that not knowing which is not always comfortable. And you know, you, I think you were in the space when someone asked or said something about you know, how to what if the practice isn't working? And and I responded and said, I don't know if, like, I don't know if my practice is is working. And I do it anyway. It's like it's what I have to hold on to. I will say it is always there. If I choose to engage it. I don't always do that, it was always there. And I just I think I know we are we are like...we've been through a lot and there's more to come and what I will say and I'm not saying that because I'm a fortune teller although somebody asked me a young child asked me that they came up to me and said, are you a fortune teller was very funny! It's like all right, um very funny. I'm not a fortune teller in that way but I feel things in my spirit. And I also am responding to what's happening in real time and we need something to hold us and often I say like practice will will hold us right when we do not feel like we can hold ourselves when we feel like there isn't anything else it will hold that which we do not believe we can hold this is why we need to practice. So yeah, people practice. Whatever it is, have a practice. And I know I'm not, you know there are many teachers who talk about the why it is essential for us to have a practice at this time.
Tristan Katz 18:14:34
Unfortunately, I feel that the call I hear is often um rigid in, like, make sure you're getting on your mat every day for 60 minutes, like, you know what I mean? Like this, this rigid, white Western understanding of what it means to practice which has been commodified by capitalism and white supremacy and all the things and so I appreciate the way that you detailed so many different ways that practice might look. So thank you.
Michelle C. Johnson 18:15:06
Yeah, yeah. I feel like we have to, I remember I started saying this at the beginning of COVID, that the practice I had wasn't meeting the magnitude of the moment. It was like, what is what is happening to us? And it was a real teaching for me. And I don't think I was rigid before with practice, actually. But it was a real, I know what you're saying though, it was a real teaching for me to be like, and you may have to change your practice, because you're facing something you've never faced before. Yeah, that's interesting. And what does it mean to be open to like, each day, you actually might encounter something you haven't encountered before? You don't remember or you're not sure how to respond to, what does your practice look like in that moment? So that's why I feel like I'm, I talk about practice and that way, because of what I understand about practice, and really the eight limb path, offers, I mean, we want to be practicing all of it, right? And strive to do that. And there's so many different ways to practice. So yeah, I would encourage people to think broadly about practice. Because there there's, you know, a web of practice many different ways we we are held.
Tristan Katz 18:16:18
Thank you, Michelle. Anything else you want to say, as we say goodbye?
Speaker 3 18:16:23
I want to thank you for, again, for conversation and connection and questions and your thoughtfulness. And, you know, you always tell me how much my work has influenced you. And I want to tell you how much your work has influenced me and, and our, just like the growing body of work that we have in collaboration with some of our beloved's and friends who are probably known on this on this podcast, and I'm so glad that (and you've heard me say this), that you came up to me and that Skill in Action workshop long ago, and introduced yourself and responded to the call for support. And it's been awesome for our relationship to evolve in this way. And I'm not surprised by it. I'm grateful for it. So I want to say that.
Tristan Katz 18:17:23
Thank you. Same. And I will practice receiving.
Michelle C. Johnson 18:17:28
Receive, receive it. Take it in.
Tristan Katz 18:17:31
Thank you, Michelle.
Michelle C. Johnson 18:17:32
Jivana Heyman 18:17:34
Special thanks to our Accessible Yoga Ambassadors and Supporting Organizations. This week, we'd like to thank Accessible Yoga Sacramento, which is a sister organization of ours, serving the Sacramento, California area. An Accessible Yoga Sacramento class is a place where you can be yourself and practice with an inclusive community. All humans are welcome. You're invited to practice from the mat, or the chair or the wheelchair or the floor or the wall. Your practice may look different from your neighbor and that's okay and encouraged. Their volunteers are here to serve you. Learn more about them at accessibleyogasacramento.com Or @accessibleyogasacramento on Instagram and YouTube. Thank you!
Tristan Katz 18:18:26
Thanks so much for listening to the show. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review wherever you're listening and we'll look forward to joining you again soon for our next conversation.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai