Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2020 issue
Navajo yoga teacher Haley Laughter found harmony between
her indigenous roots and yogic philosophy. This connection, she says, fundamentally changed the way she viewed herself.
“My ancestors are the yogis on this side of the world,” she says. “There is a connection with presence and friendship with the elements. There is also a sacredness to the things that we do in ritual and ceremony.”
Laughter belongs to the following clans: Bit’ahnii (Leaf clan), Tódich’ii’nii (Bitter Water clan), Dibéłzhíní (Black Sheep clan) and Tá- chii’nii (Red Running Into the Water People clan). She explains how Indigenous people have oral stories, traditions and teachings that target the interconnectedness of the universe, similar to the self-realization philosophy in yoga.
“The Yamas and the Niyamas are a part of our culture, just in a different format,” she explains.
Laughter bridges her indigenous culture with the practice of yoga to create
a platform of health and wellness for a nation-wide Native American community. Today, listed as one of the Native Business’ Top 50 Entrepreneurs, she has paved the way for other Native American yoga instructors and practitioners to follow suit.
UNBURDENING HISTORICAL TRAUMA
Her journey began in a hot yoga studio in Salt Lake City, Utah at 28 years old. During that time, she was battling with her identity. She was living the life of a “city Indian,” as she called it, and was craving to learn more about who she was and where she came from.
She knew her parents were involved in the Assimilation Act, where they were taken from their homes and forced to assimilate into American culture by cutting their hair and enrolling in boarding schools. They suffered abuse and their own identity crises after being brainwashed from their heritage, so Laughter grew up without a deep connection to her Native roots.
Laughter’s only exposure to her true ethnic background came when visiting her grandmother in Shonto, Arizona. Her parents would take her and her siblings there twice a year. Her grandmother lived in a hogan composed of logs and mud. But it was beautiful, with vibrant red sand and pristine, rejuvenating air. She wanted more of it.
According to Native Hope, a non-profit that exists to address the vast injustices experienced by Native Americans, generations of Natives are troubled by trauma passed on through older generations, like an enduring collective consciousness. Their website states: “For many Native Americans, it is crucial to find avenues of healing, whether that healing comes through culturally appropriate counseling, exercise, life in community, or practices like yoga or personal meditation.” Healing practices like yoga help slow down these negative cycles of abuse and addiction by engaging the individual’s spiritual connection; this substitution allows for the emergence of more positive lifestyles.
By the time Laughter was 28, she sought to unburden historical trauma and her lack of connection to herself and her homeland. The first thing she noticed in the sweaty yoga room were the colors, the serenity. It reminded her of a sweat lodge. She loved it.
“I found myself in a position of either choosing alcohol or yoga, because it was just so overwhelming,” she divulges. “I decided that I didn’t want to place that energy or continue that pattern. So I chose to practice yoga … and that’s what really took me into a different path with my life, that decision.”
Laughter started a family and continued to practice yoga four to five times a week. In 2010, she enrolled in her fifirst yoga teacher training in Las Vegas. Shortly after, in 2011, Laughter and her four children moved to Gallup, New Mexico, known as the “Heart of Indian Country.”
I’m surrounded by my people, my culture, she thought when she fifirst arrived. Laughter immersed herself in the Navajo community and discovered the power of ritual and ceremony. She couldn’t get enough.
Laughter opened Gallup’s fifirst yoga studio with her sister-in-law, called FourCorners Yoga. Laughter’s goal: Get more Natives into yoga.
Laughter posted yoga pictures of herself on social media wearing her moccasins and tradi- tional Native hairband. She gained a following through online forums like “Healthy Active Natives,” and her life direction changed.
HOZHO TOTAL WELLNESS
She eventually went separate ways with FourCorners Yoga and created Hozho Total Wellness in 2015, which she calls a mobile indigenous yoga studio. “Hozho” is a Navajo term encompassing the interconnectedness between the beauty, harmony and goodness in the universe that results in wellbeing.
Laughter created online challenges to get her Native community involved with yoga and was soon teaching at various Indigenous events throughout the region. Her classes center around the sacredness of nature through the elements of fifire, water, air and earth. The response from her community has been astounding.
“They love it,” she says. “They love it, because they understand it.”
Laughter created a beautiful avenue toward healing by weaving indigenous teachings into her yoga classes. She has seen the transformation the practice has given her and wanted to share it with as many people as possible, which is why she started a 200-Hour Indigenous Yoga Teacher Training program, aligning with her mantra: Get more Natives into yoga.
Find her on Facebook @hozhototalwellness.
Photos by Elena Ray.