Flexibility has always been something that has come naturally to me. If you have any sort of dance or even any sports background, your body is used to being pushed to the limit. However, the older you get, if you don't use it, you lose it, as my grandmother used to say. Doing a split without excruciating pain is a thing that I truly miss from my youth. Since discovering that I no longer have the hips and joints of my younger years, I have been in search of ways to remedy this in 2021. The most common answer to my problem is yoga. Yoga has been out here saving lives, hips, knees, backs, and all the joints.
Like most things, finding out where to start with your yoga journey can be a little confusing. If yoga has been on your mind but you don't know where to start, let this article serve as a reference to get started. There is a lot of Instagram content that shows many beautiful images of people practicing yoga who are of all walks of life. Some of the poses can look a little intimidating but everybody has to start somewhere. And just like anything else, it takes time to perfect your practice. To get the best answers to how to start a yoga journey, I reached out to The Hippie Heathen, CEO and founder of Sisters of Yoga. Below is the insight and wisdom she had to share:
Determine Your Why Before You Start
How many times do we start things just for the sake of starting things without really thinking about why and if we should even start? Tie says starting your yoga practice has to begin with intention. “Before you even start yoga, it is good to take a moment to determine what is your reason for even starting yoga," she explains. “Like any other goal, you need to know why am I doing this. This can keep you going when it gets uncomfortable, uncertain, and, difficult.”
Whether it's to lose weight, gain strength, or become more flexible, understanding your why will push you through. To confirm your needs and intentions, Tie says to asks yourself, "Why yoga, why now, and what are three things you are hoping to gain out of your yoga practice."
Practice Alignment With A Beginner Yoga Class
We are still in the midst of COVID and trying to deal with the resulting pandemic. Even though gyms and things are still open, we still need to practice social distancing and wear our masks. It is recommended that when starting a yoga practice to do so under the direction of a yoga teacher. Tie acknowledges that this helps with getting the poses and alignments correct. With a yoga teacher in your presence, you can get quick direct assistance to avoid mistakes. However, with COVID, things are a bit different. "I recommend starting with online instruction where there are specifically true beginners and start with alignment," Tie notes.
This will give you the correct foundation so you know what you need to watch out for in certain poses. Also, this will save you from future injury. Tie tells us that she started her journey from home seven years ago and was self-taught for two years. She suffered a few injuries by not going to a yoga studio in the beginning and this is the basis for why she believes starting with an instructor in a studio is best. A great alternative to adjust to social distancing is looking into doing a private 1-on-1 with a yoga instructor if you feel comfortable. During the pandemic, it is a great time to sign up for virtual private sessions, as they are more common right now. Whatever class you decide to take should be based on your comfort level.
What To Expect In For Your First Yoga Session
"Expect your teacher to help you flow through your poses. You can also expect some hands-on adjustments if that teacher wants to do that. If you don't want hands-on adjustments your instructor will give you a cue to let them know. Most of the time if you are new they will not touch you." This is important because as we already stated, yoga involves a lot of alignment and adjusting your body, so consider that before you take your first class.
When you go to your first class Tie says that you should go in with a positive attitude, "Go into a class with an open mind. If you go into a class feeling like this isn't for me, it's not going to be for you."
If you put negative energy in the space then that is what you are going to get out of it. "Expect to be challenged," Tie clearly states, "Expect to surprise yourself. Expect to find some calm that you didn't know you could find, you can expect to find so many different things."
Beginner Yoga Poses
Downward Facing Dog
This pose stretches out the full body and helps with building a foundation for all of the other poses in yoga. It is the foundational pose in yoga for building strength in your shoulders and your legs. Downward facing dog is an all-around full-body stretch.
Child's pose is really good for grounding down. It is a really good pose for doing root chakra work, surrendering, stretching your hips, and just checking in with yourself. It is a pose that is dedicated to going into yourself. (Sidebar: Tie says this is a really good pose for women when they are on their cycles to relieve pain.)
The plank pose is another really good arm strengthing pose and a good pose to prep for other poses that are commonly practiced in yoga.
This is a great pose for building a solid foundation in your legs and building confidence in your practice. It is also a great beginner pose for opening up your full body in a strengthing pose.
The cow-cat flow are two poses that are made into one small flow. It is a great pose to open up the body and great to do in the morning. This pose actually helps to limber up your spine. It is recommended for lower back and back stretching. It can be used for synchronizing your breath because one movement is an inhale and the other is an exhale. This flow is a great one to start your practice with.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Forward pose is always a yes. It helps with low back pain and helps you open your hips. It can also be helpful for relieving headaches and tension in your neck and back.
Tree pose is the first balance pose. You are learning to balance with this pose and it is a foundational pose.
Another great pose that is always a YES! It is literally the pose that you go to when you just don't have anything else to give. You literally lay into the floor. It is a beautiful pose of surrender and connecting to the earth and to the Source. It is a great pose for meditation and for you to practice at the end of your flow.
You can find this pose in alto of flows because it is a foundational pose for building stability in the body. It is going to open up your hips and it is going to ground you down to the earth. It is a confidence-building pose because you feel like a warrior and you will feel in control of your body.
If you are working on splits, low lunge is a great pose to begin work there. This pose will help you open up your hips and your hamstrings. If you are a runner or you lift a lot of weights, this is the pose you should add to your stretch routine. This pose should be done daily for optimal results.
Also known as cobra, this pose is perfect for beginners because it a backbend that will not make you uncomfortable. Furthermore, it is a backbend that will help you build the foundation for more advanced backbends. Use this pose to warm yourself up before you go into practicing backbends.
The Emotional Component To Making Yoga A Practice
"When you are practicing these poses, there are a lot of times where you are moving energy around. You are shifting energy in your body around and a lot of times things that you have trapped in your muscles that you haven't dealt with and can come up as many different things. It can come up as joy, it can come up as anxiety, fear, or sadness. Heart-openers, which are a set of poses that open up your heart space, we feel vulnerable or more open. It will cause you to have many experiences if you allow it and tap into it." Tie notes that off of the mat is where the real gold is. "On the mat, these same practices you are learning are preparing you for off of the mat.
"The balancing you are learning on the mat is teaching you how to have balance in real life. Learning to strengthen your heart space is to teach you how to be open in your life and your relationship with yourself. Increasing your flexibility on the mat teaches you how to be flexible in real life."
She continues, "Many people say how does this teach me things in real life? Well, with flexibility, it is mental. Do you know how many things you go through every day mentally. You are literally taking yourself through a process [that strengthens you mentally] and it becomes a domino effect that spills over into your life."
How To Make Yoga A Practice
Once we decide that we are going to try yoga in our routine for health and wellness, Tie suggests that we practice two to four times a week for at least 15 minutes or at the most 60 minutes with an instructor. As you begin to search for an instructor, remember it is about trust and finding someone you vibe with. Similar to the process of finding a therapist. It is very important to work with someone you like.
To connect with Tie Simpson follow her on Instagram and check out her Beginner's Guide to Starting Yoga for more. Also, check out Sisters of Yoga for many resources about yoga for Black people on Instagram.
Featured image by Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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