View part one of Khadeshia Beam’s story here.
Khadeshia Beam is the founder and owner of Akoma (Heart) Bloom Wellness in Atlanta, Georgia. She opened the holistic wellness business in 2016 and transitioned to running it full-time in 2019. Khadeshia’s intention is to help people of all ages and walks of life begin the process of healing, cultivate mindfulness and complete wellbeing through offering various yoga, meditation, mindfulness and wellness experiences. Lexi Reich, editorial manager for YOGA + Life®, asked Beam about her journey to discovering the practice and how she’s since evolved her offerings to serve those in the black community.
How would you describe your yoga practice?
I would describe my yoga practice as healing. Yoga has helped me to honor and actively participate in my own mind, body and spirit wellness. My practice has been and continues to be instrumental in assisting me in identifying and working through layers of trauma that manifest in my inner and outer world. I live a life centered on holistic wellness in the sense of my efforts to cultivate harmonious relationships within me and outside of me. Yoga is more than asana, quoting sutras and even the philosophy, it is the acknowledgement and accountability of the makings of you and others, the makings of our world. My practice is constantly being designed and redesigned according to my personal growth and even periods of personal stagnancy. Meditation, journaling, nature, intuitive eating, mothering of myself, children, friends, students and the communities I am blessed to experience are all encompassed in my practice. My practice is always being present as the student and the teacher because understanding oneself, life and humanity is an ongoing journey.
What was your first experience with yoga like?
My first identifiable yoga off the mat experiences were during my early childhood years when my mother sent me to summer camp in upstate New York and I experienced nature for the first time. I remember feeling a sense of peace and connection to God in nature. I remember nature hikes, farms and gardens. This was significant to me because I grew up in Red Hook Brooklyn projects in New York. You were fortunate if you noticed the trees in the midst of shootouts, broken glass and remnants of drugs on the ground. My mother also bought my first diary when I was about 8 or 9. So before I had even heard of the word yoga my mother was introducing it to me through her need to expose me and my older brother to more than the poverty and destruction in our neighborhood.
As I am answering this question, I realize my mother is my first yoga experience. Her love that she gave me in the midst of her healing and trauma is what opened me up to even looking inside of myself and exploring the world. My mother always told me to listen to my heart. The tools that she gave me such as summer camp, feeding me intuitively based on me being born premature and anemic … She planted the seed of using writing as an intense source of healing by buying me a diary with a lock and key. That diary was my first safe space in addition to my mother’s arms. My mother introduced me to svadhyaya through her love, exposing me to nature-centered summer camp, sharing and reading back to Eden remedies to me and encouraging me to empty out my feelings in my diary.
My first conscious asana experience was in 2006 when a friend gave me an Egyptian Yoga DVD by Muata Ashby. I remember being in my bedroom and feeling a sense of home in my mind, body and spirit. Seeing the picture of health on that DVD cover pictured as a black man and black woman inspired me to be consistent in taking care of myself. The DVD came right on time because I had just moved from New York to Atlanta, jobless with my oldest son who was then 4 years old. I did the DVD for weeks and then began searching for studio yoga classes. My first studio experience was actually not at a studio, it was at LA Fitness in Atlanta. However, that class was the one that made me want to offer myself as a teacher of yoga. During that class I felt teaching yoga was the work that would bring happiness to my life. Though the class was heavily based on movement, I remember feeling so much of what I was holding onto in my body releasing as I allowed myself to transition slower than the rest of the class in the poses so that I could feel everything; my breath, the space, my body and the speed of my thoughts.
Were your expectations confirmed or changed?
My expectations from my first yoga experiences to now have changed tremendously. I realize that the expectations I had of myself and yoga teachers in general is unrealistic. When I chose this path, I expected an intensity of love no matter where I stepped foot. I was in search of a community inside of yoga which is what we are taught is a pivotal part of the practice. Yet I found segregation, clicks, corporations and bullshit. I found love, compassion, support and understanding, too. I realized my expectation was that the yoga culture as a whole would be more mindfully operated. Then I realized that the practice does not negate human conditioning, life’s happenings, trauma, hate, growing pains or ignorance. This practice brings awareness of that to those who connect to the practice. We notice the toxicity not only in others, but within ourselves, and the practice helps us to start going underneath the layers of the inner and outer toxicity. We notice the love we sought outside of ourselves within the depths of our hearts. I am reminded with each discouraging interaction to be encouraged in the very fact that we are all on a unique journey — some of us more to move through, some less to move through. Instead of being silently heartbroken at the separation, I could speak on it and try to mend it inside of the work I do.
What does yoga look like in your life today?
Yoga in my life presently looks like intense awareness of what is going on in the world around me and identifying how I can be of service during my healing process. Yoga looks like acknowledging why separation may be necessary during the beginning of many black people healing and the process of black healing. Yoga in my life continues to look like how I can continue to identify trauma scars through my practice, how I can identify narratives with myself that are defeating, work through it, heal it and encourage my students to do the same. Yoga looks like reaching out more and not basing present movements and relationships on past experiences. Yoga looks like offering events specific to black healing, work life balance, cultivating home practice and becoming your own wellness accountability partner. Yoga continues to be a tool that I use to cultivate mind, body and spirit wellness. I see myself more and I see others more — that is yoga for me today. I feel the pain of the world more because I have told myself that I am not allowed to tune out consistently and retreat into my Zen bubble because that feels easier sometimes. Yoga today for me continuously calls me to nature for restoration, unspoken conversations with God and moments with my sons. What yoga looks like to me is constant transformation, growth and increased awareness to embody mindfulness in my stillness and movement. Yoga looks like mothering myself, my children, loved ones and students, too. Yoga looks like considering the wellbeing of all living things. I find myself putting more bugs in cups and setting them free away from my house!
In your view, how prominent is the racial divide in the yoga community?
In my view, the racial divide in yoga is extremely prominent. I have walked into many classes as a teacher and student and been the only black person in the class. Yoga publications and brands do not reflect cultural diversity enough. It is important that black people see themselves inside of wellness and yoga publications, studios and media. It is important for us to cultivate a true yoga community overall where we all see each other.
Yoga can be a very powerful healing tool. How important do you find black spaces in yoga communities to be?
After being present at the Yoga and Race Relations seminar that Yoga Alliance offered, I was called to look deeper at the term “safe space” as it pertains to black people. While I am an active participant and enthusiast of creating self-space within, I am becoming more aware of the barriers repeated trauma can create to going within. Because of those barriers it is important to see someone that looks like you, who can speak to some of the experiences you have experienced ancestrally and presently yet can bring themselves to do the inner work. If you are disconnected from my story, how can you have an intense impact on my healing? Black people who have experienced immense levels of trauma need more than affirmations and physical yoga practice. We need to have access to various holistic wellness practices, to be seen, heard, related to and supported on our healing journey by someone who can understand our pain on a family level. I found this very sentiment came to life in connecting with Tyrone Beverly via Facebook after listening to him speak about the condition of our world and the divide in yoga during the panel. The effortlessness connection Tyrone and I experienced on that first call is the definition of what I envision being created among black people with the Embrace Me event I am offering each month centered on black healing. That connection birthed collaboration. IM’Unique supported my first Embrace Me event on July 5 and Tyrone Beverly was my guest speaker. When we talk about the importance of black healing spaces, I intentionally reached out to black men and women who are doing wellness work to be a part of bringing this offering to life. It is important that we understand the power we have to create opportunities for ourselves and one another through doing work that heals our world and the people in it.
However, the effects of slavery are that of segregation amongst us due to being dispersed into different parts of the world and taken away from our home. We need a reminder on how we need to show up for each other, as this will be cemented in our new history books to create a new story that will live on for generations to come. The pain that is televised for the world to see and have a response to, is the pain that black people have experienced generationally and ancestrally. This pain is reflected in new ways in our current world in the form of corporate owned and operated yoga studios not hiring black teachers or offering true diversity in classes and workshops; it is at the jobs that many show up to in hopes of getting promoted and paid based on their worth regardless of the color of their skin, but often times do not. It is time that we tend to our pain in a space where triggers are minimized. When racism is the cause of murder, you cannot put the traumatized in a room with anything or anyone that reminds them of injustice, murder and disregard. That in itself distracts from healing. While the very practice of yoga calls for us to sit in discomfort, we must have love and see the image of ourselves to aid us in experiencing that discomfort. I believe that the genuine we possess within is reflected in our desire to love one another and can serve to create a healing space to begin the process of pulling back the layers of trauma, inspiring black people from all walks of life and social statuses to begin doing the work to heal and cultivate a yoga community that cultivates unity of all. But first give us space. Give us the space to mend our connection with ourselves and each other. Give us space to discover the African roots that are evident in yoga but seem to have been erased like much of our culture. Give us space to tap into the unconditional love that will allow us to see past your ancestors, past our racist government and law enforcement to see that you are not all a reflection of the injustice, hate and heartbreak. Now is the time for black people to strengthen our relationship with each other.
What do they look like?
It looks like my “Embrace Me” event which is online due to COVID-19. Embrace is a monthly holistic yoga experience facilitated by me and a special guest speaker that is centered on black healing through history, yoga and dialogue. When the opportunity arises for classes to be held in physical spaces, I see nature outings and retreats, bright and open indoor spaces with an abundance of natural light. The scent and feel is welcoming and infused with remnants of our culture. The room is filled with black people from all walks of life who feel at home. The classes are led by black yoga teachers. These spaces offer education, engagement and holistic wellness tools to all students, some exposed to yoga, others experiencing it for the first time.
Do you wish more communities with systemic trauma had access to the practice?
Making yoga easily accessible to communities with systemic trauma is imperative to the elevation of those struggling inside of the pain, depression, poverty mindset and mental roadblocks stemming from societal conditioning and unhealed trauma. It is imperative for our own transformation. Yoga practitioners have the power to share the practice and offer classes that assist those who are experiencing systemic trauma in identifying their trauma and beginning to work through it. I do hope that as a collective we can come together more to expand the reach of the practice to those experiencing systemic trauma. I am committing to doing this more in the current times and beyond. I began my teaching journey offering donation based and/or free classes at city organizations focused on assisting people experiencing hardship and/or infectious disease. This expanded to me offering donation based and sliding scale outdoor classes and day retreats at local/state parks in Georgia. Based on my own experiences in school as an adolescent and as a mother of two, I began offering wellness and yoga classes to teachers and students in Gwinnett and Dekalb County. There is a forgotten culture when we limit our work to studios. We will not get the student who has a mental obstacle of time, students unable to pay for a yoga class, let alone travel to them. And what about our seniors? A student and dear friend of mine broke her hip and she was limited in her physical movement — during that time our sessions were primarily focused on meditation, breathing and gentle upper body stretching. She fully recovered. We owe it to our students to equip them with the tools they need to commit to their healing with or without an in-studio class. The work that we do requires us to look beyond studio walls out into our world to serve those who would not otherwise be exposed to the practice.
What do you wish was different in the yoga world today?
I would like the segregation amongst teachers based on race and yoga clicks to end. It would be uplifting to see more diverse yoga spaces throughout the world and online. I wish the ego that comes up with the training of different styles of yoga was relinquished. There have been times I have distracted myself in trying to prove the relevance of a certain style of practice versus another. Yet, lately I keep reminding myself that everyone will not get to their mat the same way. Everyone does not get an awakening through the same words, experiences or movement. This is the beauty of being a human being. We all have a unique journey, perhaps we are seeking some of the same things on our journey. However, the paths we are to travel are different in order for us to learn lessons specific to our growth and transformation. Inside of traveling those different routes on our journey, we reach the people we were placed here to reach.
I would like to see more black yoga teachers seen in yoga publications, brands and festivals. I would like the encouragement to contort your body or force it to do something that may not assist in its openness or healing based on your level of practice, curvaceousness and even what serves your practice to stop. When this happens, it detours a person from committing to yoga as a practice in many instances. I would like more self-study to be encouraged in the physical practice. I would like more financial support to be offered to hidden gem yoga teachers, specifically when doing work that is centered on cultivating community and work that impacts social change. There are so many of us out here who have under 1,000 followers on social media, but we are doing the work every day in our world. It would be great if social media did not factor into being featured in many wellness publications. Many of these large publications would benefit from having more features on hidden gem yoga teachers and yoga off the mat practices.
What advice would you give to someone (yoga teacher or practitioner) who wants to be an ally?
Yoga teachers and/or practitioners wanting to become allies can take time to examine their intention behind seeking to become an ally. Examine your definition of support and the ways you are open to supporting. I would say examine your heart and mind before reaching out. Take the time to look at the work I am doing. Ask are we aligned in some way? Can we add to each other’s lives beyond putting on an event? Can we be of service to each other? How can we serve the world collectively in the work we will do together? Make time to connect as close to an in-person meeting as possible. During COVID-19 we are called to do more video calls, yet that is a start.