“There are no accidents. Everything happens and doesn’t happen for a reason,” Tabay Atkins says as he reflects on his first encounter with yoga nearly 10 years ago, at the early age of seven. Atkins became one of America’s youngest certified yoga teachers at the age of 10 and has been discovering and sharing tools for wellness since.
After his mom’s battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer in the lymphatic system, which is responsible for the body’s immune response), she serendipitously found herself and at a 200-hour yoga teacher training. She was new to the practice, physically and emotionally broken down from the effects of cancer and chemotherapy and reluctant to participate in the class but, nonetheless, committed to the training. Her young son tagged along, observing the yoga classes from the corner of the room.
“I noticed that within the two and a half months of her training, by the time she finished, she could walk on her own again, she was completely healed and recovered from the effects of chemotherapy and cancer — physical and emotional effects — and that just blew me away,” Atkins remembers.
After his mom received her yoga teacher certificate, Atkins wanted to follow in her footsteps. “I discovered yoga, and I immediately wanted to teach it,” he says. He witnessed the impact yoga had on his mom — the unfolding of healing — and wanted to provide others the opportunity to find healing, too.
He began helping his mom in her yoga classes as a teacher’s aide. His mom’s passion was bringing yoga to kids, and out of their combined ambitions a kid’s cooking and yoga summer camp grew. “I would always be her teacher’s assistant … but one day she had a sore throat and couldn’t talk, and instead of canceling that day of summer camp I said I’ll teach,” Atkins says.
As soon as Atkins started earning money from teaching yoga classes, he began donating his earnings to organizations that support cancer patients and their families such as The Jessie Rees Foundation and Saving Sophie. The Jessie Rees Foundation connects with kids fighting cancer and their families, brings awareness to their stories and offers them resources and encouragement throughout their journeys. Saving Sophie is a foundation involved in pediatric cancer research and therapeutic treatments for cancer immunotherapy.
Erik Rees, co-founder of the Jessie Rees Foundation says, “Because of Tabay’s compassionate heart and generosity from his yoga community, we have been able to send more JoyJars to kids fighting cancer. It’s so great seeing kids helping kids.” Each JoyJar contains toys and activities intended to help children smile.
Tracy Ryan, founder and executive director of Saving Sophie, says Atkins’ unwavering support and kindness has been a bright light in their lives. “He has been vital to both our foundation and in his direct support to our family. He’s truly one of a kind and we are so grateful to call him our dear friend and avid supporter,” she shares.
Atkins, now 16 years old, is a 500-hour certified yoga teacher, Reiki master, vegan chef and certified plant-based nutritionist. He has had opportunities to share his enthusiasm for wellness with countless people; his in-person and virtual classes impact students worldwide.
Atkins believes that yoga is a vessel equipped with the tools people need to live a more mindful, objective, peaceful and kind life. “When you are introduced to yoga, you’re given a tool box … from now on, even if you don’t continue yoga ever again, you always have your tool box with things that you’ve learned from yoga,” he explains. “Yoga gives you the tools to deal with stress and anxiety and so many other things.”
One of the most profound lessons Atkins has learned is that yoga is infinitely more than the physical practice. He shares that the movements help facilitate breath patterns, breathwork helps focus the mind, and mindful meditation guides self-regulation.
Each element of yoga is another tool in a yogi’s toolbox. “Each step is an important thing to learn in your journey, but it’s also an important thing to learn it’s not the end of your journey,” Atkins proclaims.
Atkins is a zealous vegan, and he believes that yoga and veganism are deeply intertwined. “Yoga and veganism go hand in hand,” he believes. “It’s because they share the same values. Yoga is about health; it’s about staying healthy and staying well. Yoga is about compassion, it’s about nonviolence, ahimsa, the biggest principle of yoga. Yoga is about being objective and aware.”
Atkins is newly certified in plant-based nutrition, and he is using what he has learned about the relationship between diet and disease in his cooking classes. “Some of the United States’ top killers can be prevented, and even reversed, through diet change, which is quite astonishing,” as he points out.
“I thought my dharma was yoga when I discovered it, but then I realized along my journey … it’s all wellness,” he says. Atkins believes that everything he does is to pursue wellness and guide others on their wellness journeys. To Atkins, yoga, Reiki, veganism and nutrition are all different avenues with the same destination: wellbeing in body, mind and spirit. “Everything that I’ve done, everything that I’m doing and everything that I will eventually do that I don’t know about yet, it’s all centered around wellness,” he says.
Atkins enthusiastically weaves all his passions together and uses the tools for wellness to encourage others lead healthy and compassionate lives. As he says at the end of all his yoga classes: “Think good thoughts, speak kind words, feel love, be love and give love.”
Photos by Ben Cope.